August 2014

Being and Doing

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When you have a crowded "To Do" list, it can be hard to let yourself take a break. Even during the summer—a time of year we’ve associated with “vacation” since we were kids—it can be tough to allow ourselves enough time for rest and relaxation.

Summer does seem like a particularly good season in which to reflect on the value of slowing down. In our day-to-day lives, there can seem to be so much emphasis placed on tasks and accomplishments. “Doing” seems to get so much attention. But we need to remember that we are human beings, and that “being” in and of itself is hugely important.

Press the “Pause” button

In order to focus on being, we need to periodically pause in our lives. We can even imagine that we have a remote control to operate the “doing” part of our lives, and we can regularly press the “Pause” button. Pausing gives us the opportunity to catch our breath and to look at the bigger picture. When we’re in the midst of a busy period, it can be easy to lose perspective. If we can pause and step back, a situation might come into clearer focus.

Pausing also gives us a chance to shift momentum. We can get so caught up in a project or endeavor that we might forget to consider on occasion whether staying the course is in our best interest or whether a change might be beneficial.

Pressing the “Pause” button can help us to act authentically and with integrity. It gives us space to consider the possible impact of our choices, before we proceed.

In Your True Home, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “When we learn to stop, we become calmer, and our mind becomes clearer, like clear water after the particles of mud have settled.” Periodic pauses give us a chance to calm ourselves and clear our minds. Then we can press the “Play” button and we can feel refreshed as we resume our productive activities.

We need to take time to replenish ourselves each day, each week and each year. In a day, we might be able to take brief breaks during the course of the day and then have a longer period of relaxation in the evening; during a week, we might be able to devote part of each weekend to rest; and during the course of a year, we might be able to take at least a week or two off from our regular activities in order to refresh ourselves. If we don’t get enough rest and relaxation, we’ll be more likely to develop an illness such as a cold or the flu, and then we’ll be forced to rest.

Ways to pause

There are so many different types of rest and relaxation that it can be difficult to know where to start a discussion of them. Let’s start with quieter ways to pause and then move on to more active ways. Sleep is such a valuable type of pause; many of us don’t get enough sleep, except perhaps on weekends and on vacation. Taking a nap can be an excellent way to pause. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, meditative reading and other meditative activities can provide our bodies and minds with restorative rest on a busy day. Our minds don’t get sufficient rest when we sleep, as dreaming occupies them during part of the night. But meditative activities can really give our minds a break.

A low-key activity such as reading a novel or listening to music can provide a lovely type of pause. We can return to old favorites or find new books and music to enjoy. Another type of pause involves reflection and/or planning. We can thoughtfully reflect on past efforts and endeavors and see what we have learned from our experiences. And we can set aside time to carefully consider possible plans for the future. We’re not talking about dwelling on regrets about the past or focusing on worries about the future; instead, this type of pause can involve gently learning lessons from the past and exploring possibilities for the future.

Having fun is, of course, another way to rest and relax. That can mean all sorts of different things: seeing a movie or ballgame, enjoying a leisurely chat with a friend or relative, playing a game or sport, savoring brunch with family or friends, playing with a pet, pursuing a hobby, just to name a few possibilities.

It’s vital to realize that we’re talking here about the kinds of rest and relaxation that nurture us and not the kinds that numb us. Watching low-quality television programs is sometimes thought of as “relaxing,” but that sort of TV viewing tends to numb us rather than restore us. Similarly, eating a lot of junk food has more of a numbing effect than a restorative effect. We can consciously choose types of rest and relaxation that truly nurture our bodies, minds and spirits.

Spiritual side of being

When we focus on being, we have the opportunity to expand our awareness and experience spiritual growth. Various types of relaxation, and especially meditative practices, can help us to be in touch with our inner self, our deepest self, our truest self. Many wisdom traditions from around the world encourage using meditative practices as techniques for spiritual awakening. Such practices can also help us strengthen the connection between our inner and outer selves, so we can live with a greater sense of harmony and peace.

Various meditative practices can aid us in being more mindful, in being more aware of the present moment. When we’re more mindful, we can appreciate our day-to-day lives more. We can appreciate even the littlest things more, such as drinking a cup of coffee or tea in the morning.

Focusing on being reminds us that our existence matters in and of itself. Our consciousness matters and so does our awareness; they have intrinsic value that is beyond measure.

“Being” in the 21st century

In modern society, it can feel like we’re encouraged to be busy constantly. But it can be helpful to remember that life often has a cyclical quality to it. We can have a more active phase, in which we’re accomplishing a lot, and then it can be natural to have a quieter period; during such a period, we can enjoy the fruits of our labors, and reflect on what’s happened and allow ourselves space to consider what might come next.

Because it’s so easy to stay in touch electronically and do work anywhere, some people nowadays feel they can’t pause for relaxation in the evening or on a weekend or even on vacation. When you do try to pause, electronic communications can make it more difficult to enjoy quiet time. All of the emails, texts and tweets can pull us to engage with the world when we need some downtime.

There are some hopeful developments that counteract this pull to always be electronically connected. In the past couple of decades, there’s been a growing interest in the U.S. in mindfulness and various types of meditative practices. Millions of people have taken classes in meditation, yoga and tai chi. There have been a number of popular books that discuss topics such as mindfulness, meditation and being, by authors such as Sarah Ban Breathnach, Tara Brach, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Eckhart Tolle. And in February a cover story in Time was all about “The Mindful Revolution”—the article discussed how mindfulness training offers “a strategy for coping with the stresses of an increasingly wired world.” Meditation has certainly gone mainstream.

Although doing tends to get the glory, being is what makes the doing possible. Doing comes out of being. Consider allowing yourself enough time each day to simply be, to rest, to relax. You might choose to meditate for a few minutes, pick up an engrossing book, listen to your favorite type of music, watch a new movie or go for a walk. Whichever you choose, let yourself appreciate the fullness of being.

-- By Mary Jablonski

See features from the August 2014 issue

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