Being and Becoming: A False Dichotomy

Being and Becoming: A False Dichotomy

Wolf eye

It’s common to hear spiritual seekers berate themselves for “doing” and not “being”. What exactly does this mean though?

To most people it means sitting quietly, not having to be busy, and not distracting themselves with activity.

Which I get. Compulsively being on the move as a defence against feeling, or dealing with one’s life situation is something to bring to awareness for sure.

But my take is that there is no such thing as a “pure being” state for human. Setting up an ideal for oneself to be in an elusive spiritual state is a recipe for suffering. As in, there’s some “there” to get to which eludes me. I want it. And don’t have it. So I get busy, ironically, going to meditation retreats hoping to achieve this rarified state. I chase the state of “being” by doing more.

Humans act. All the time. There is no such thing as “being”. Even when you sit under a tree and meditate for an hour you are doing — meditating is doing something.

But there is the experience of being in what you are doing. This is what is meant by being “present”. You are not lost in thought (which is always being in the past or being in the future.) You are in what it is you are doing. In this condition there is actually no “you” separate from the experience. “You” are in the experience, one with it.

If you are not in it, get out of it, because you are suffering. But if you are actually in it there is no suffering, because there is no discrete you having an experience. You are in the experience. This is freedom from self-consciousness, freedom from the suffering of believing that you are separate from what you are experiencing.

When we feel separate from our experience it is because we don’t want to be doing what we’re doing. We are not “into it”.

Well, then, get out of it. ASAP.

Do what you want to do. Don’t do what you don’t want to do.

If you want to serve the homeless in a soup kitchen, then do it. Be in it. But if you are serving the homeless in a soup kitchen because of some ideal of “being of service” then leave the soup kitchen and go play tennis — or whatever it is that you actually want to do. Nobody, especially the homeless, want to be served by somebody who doesn’t actually want to be there, but whose ego is being stroked by his supposed selflessness.

Jesus tells a story about sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha stays at home serving the men food and cleaning the house, while Mary is one of the guys, following Jesus and getting served by Martha. Martha is pissed and tells Jesus. Jesus tells Martha that Mary is doing the “better part”. What he means, ( I imagine), is that Mary is doing what she wants to do. She is in her experience, whereas Martha is attached to a socially prescribed gender role (which is causing her to suffer) because she’s not in it. Every Christian preacher on this story uses it as an example of the difference between being (Mary) and doing (Martha). Which in my reading misses the point.

Mary had the courage to do what she wanted to do while Martha didn’t. But if she actually knew that what was on offer by this maverick Galilean peasant was freedom, she’d have taken her apron off and chosen to suffer the tsk…tsks of society over the suffering of living somebody else’s life.

Our entire life is a meditation, of bringing awareness to when we are not “in” what we are doing. Stop seeking after being, and simply be in, really in, what you are doing.

Bruce Sanguin Psychotherapist

Written by Bruce Sanguin

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