It’s easier to be a human doing than a human being.
I have the good fortune of spending two hours each morning with a little bundle of energy known as Lucy. She recently became interested in bringing me books to read to her. I enjoy this new level of interactivity, even though the subject matter is less than stellar. The ones she seems to enjoy the most are the ones with the least regard for a plot (unless you consider journeying through the alphabet from A to Z captivation of the highest order).
During our time together, I too often I operate under the premise that I only have two options in how I spend the time. One allows me to be actively engaged with her, reading books or playing side-by-side. The other option, if she is playing contentedly by herself, insists that I should have my laptop open and use the opportunity to get something productive done. Like coming up with an idea for a blog post.
I was reminded today that there is actually a third choice.
The third choice, effectively labeled “none of the above,” is a pretty simple one, although surprisingly hard:
So I tried it. I just sat on the ground, with my back against the couch, in silence. I gave myself permission to leave my laptop right where it was — closed. I watched Lucy go about her business from one toy to the next. I started paying attention to my breathing, making a conscious effort to slow it down. I marveled at my ability to easily detach from myself and get lost in contemplation. Then I looked at the clock.
Exactly one minute had passed.
Undeterred, I got back to breathing. Eventually, I really was able to let go. I watched Lucy play, without giving in to the urges to help her correctly stack the blocks or shower her with positive feedback. Instead, I chuckled at how she waddled from one thing to the next on legs that weren’t as fast as her mind. I noticed the sunlight shining on her hair. I marveled at how tall she’s gotten. I just enjoyed being in her presence.
All in all, it was the best fifteen minutes I’d spent in weeks. Peaceful. Relaxing. Energizing.
It took a while to let go of the idea that I should be “doing” something. But once I was able to finally let go and just “be” in the moment, an amazing sense of peace came over me. I felt present. I wasn’t worried or anxious about anything. I experienced a deep sense of gratitude for my life, my home, and my little girl.
And lo and behold, I came up with the idea for this blog post.
There’s a good chance that this little story sounds appealing to you — a chance to do nothing? How great would that be?! But alas, the loudest of the inner voices shouting within you exclaims that you don’t have the time to just be.
The loudest of your inner voices is often the stupidest.
During the course of your day, you have plenty of opportunities to just be, even for just 5 or 15 minutes. In the shower. During your commute. Waiting in line. The real problem is that you don’t take advantage of the opportunities when they come, because the whole process is so dang uncomfortable.
Your mind is uncomfortable with the silence because you are so conditioned to the noise.
The lack of movement is unsettling because you’re always on the go.
Not to mention, it’s almost impossible to feel productive when you’re just “being.” And productivity is our favorite drug of choice.
So since it is easier to be a human doing, that is exactly what we do.
The thing that makes music beautiful is not just the notes, but the space of nothingness between them. Were it not for the spaces of nothingness, music would be like an annoying fire alarm. And when we busy ourselves doing anything we can, doesn’t life sometimes seem like that? Loud. Frantic. Unrelenting. Overwhelming. Stressful.
It takes practice to embrace those five minute chunks of time each day provides and use them to just be. It’s hard. But don’t let the difficulty discourage you. It gets easier the more you do it.
It may be easier to be a human doing than a human being. But if you want a life that isn’t burdened by stress and Adultitis, you might want to practice the “being” part a bit more.
Let some quiet spaces into your life and enjoy for yourself the symphony of the human experience.
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I discovered Simply Noise a little while ago and it can be quite helpful when just “being”.
I use the brown noise generator at work (which blocks out everyone else on the phone etc), and can use that to concentrate, but they also have a downloadable ‘soundscape’ of a thunderstorm that I listen to on the train while commuting. It blocks out people noise, and for some reason makes it easy to relax and just watch the world go by through the window.
Thanks for sharing that great resource. I have a similar app on my iPhone called White Noise but I don’t utilize it nearly as much as I should. Thanks for the reminder! P.S. I LOVE listening to thunderstorms. One of God’s best sounds ever.
Jen Robinson says
I like this post a lot, Jason. I’m going to give it a try!
Thanks, Jen. Good luck; let me know what you learn from trying it! I’m sure you’ll discover some new wisdom to add…
“And productivity is our favorite drug of choice.”
HOW TRUE! This post reminds me of how God tells us in scripture to “Be still and know I am God.” How often busyness replaces my attention to God and all the other little enjoyments He gives me, such as the ones you mentioned here.
Thanks for sharing your experience with detaching from doing!
Hey, Libby! Yes, I was pretty proud of coming up with that line about our favorite drug of choice. But it’s sad how true it really is.
I think being still is one of the hardest things ever. It sure is for me, at least.
Karl Staib - Work Happy Now says
There are some days when I try to clear my mind and “just be” and I struggle to make it happen. I need to practice this more.
By not forcing the issue it’s so much easier to be happy and creative. Anyone can practice this technique even someone sitting in their corporate cubicle. I would even argue that it is even more important for them to try this. We all need a way to balance out the mind, but corporate working can especially drain a person if they aren’t careful.
Boy, how true that is, Karl! Good point mentioning that this is something that can apply to anyone, including cube dwellers. I’ll also add corporate CEOs, moms, bus drivers, and circus performers (just to name a few.)
I think practice is the key word you mentioned, because if we ever think we’ll be perfect, we’re setting ourselves up for failure and it’s too easy to give up.
Once you become a grandparent, it is much easier to “enjoy the moment”. I babysit Hazel on Tuesday and Thursdays so Dad can have a career he enjoys. (and insurance). Last Thursday, I told her she didn’t need my attention the entire time I was there and I was going to read my book and she could play with her stuff. So she did. My book was soon forgotten when I glanced up and saw her trying to put her wooden pizza tray under her shirt to make a “pizza baby”. BUT she was trying to do it from the neck of the shirt. She worked for a good five minutes pulling that shirt out, trying to stick this 12″ circle down the front of it, not succeeding, trying again and again and again. By this time, the tears of laughter were rolling down my face. She didn’t catch me laughing at her. All of a sudden she looked up, and said, “Gwamma, can you help me with this thing?” I said, “Sure, and I’ll show you an easier way to do it.” So I pulled the shirt up from the bottom and stuck the circle in between her shirt/pants. She said, “That is lots easier.” And went on to deliver a 12″ wooden circle pizza baby. Every age is wonderful but this 2 yr. old has me wrapped around her little finger and I love it. Enjoy each day and take time with your kids. Those dirty dishes, clothes, phone calls will still be there at a later time. And if you spend good time with your kids now, when they become adults, they spend great times with you. Enjoy!
Great, GREAT story, Lynne! Thanks for sharing! You’re right: to heck with the dirty dishes; bring on the pizza babies!
And in regard to you being able to demonstrate an easier way to do it, isn’t it nice to actually have some real answers to offer? (I know that the older I get, the less answers I seem to have :)
Hey–as a Buddhist who is baby-stepping into the practice of Zen, this is exactly where we need to be–in the monent completely rather than stumbling through life like drunken monkeys. The most beautiful sound is silence–that’s when you hear everything.
Thanks, Kim. Yes, drunken monkeys are bad role models indeed.
Loved it, loved it, loved it! This post was just what I needed. :-) Such a timely reminder. I’ve been too caught up in hurrying to get to where I’m going instead of enjoying where I am. :*)
Share moment – I did take 5 minutes the other day while the snow flurries where falling just to enjoy! Just sat in the car in the parking lot while the wind blew and watched the riot of falling snow. Nature is beautiful and amazing. When you don’t have to rush somewhere you can really appreciate it. I wanted to get out and stick out my tongue to catch a flake, but since I was at work I just enjoyed the view. :0)
Thanks for the great reminder and the fun mental picture of Lucy playing. Watching children laugh and play can inspire you at any time. It did today.
Thanks, Shirley. I love the sound of falling snow. By the way, does the place you work have an anti-catching-snowflakes-on-the-tongue policy? Lots of people get to take advantage of smoke breaks, I think breaks for catching snowflakes would be even more beneficial :)
I really enjoyed this post…it has a very zen-like quality. In any case, your advice to “just be” is important to everyone, but especially those of us working from home a lot when “work time” and “play time” often blur together. Heck, we hear about productivity on the news all the time and I think subconsciously we feel the need to be in motion working all the time. Thanks for a great reminder.
That’s a great point, Tim. Working from home offers its own set of challenges, and it’s easy to pile on more busyness in order to overcompensate for anyone thinking we might be slacking off just ’cause we can wear pajamas to work — wait, is that just me?
Laura Hegfield says
It is so hard for most of us to let go of the doing thing. But so, so essential. Bravo to you for taking the time to just sit and be with Lucy. This is wonderful modeling for her…as a baby, she already knows the gift of just observing…perhaps seeing that you just sit still sometimes will cultivate the idea in her that grown-ups are aloud to just BE too!
Yes, letting go of the “doing” is hard. I definitely need more practice!
I sometimes go to a Trappistine monastery for a personal retreat, and one of the things they practice is silent contemplative prayer. You sit or kneel for up to a half hour in silent prayer with God. I find it incredibly difficult to do sometimes. There have been times when I’ve done it here at home that I’ve had exactly the same experience Jason had with Lucy. I’ll think an enormous amount of time has passed – and it’s only a few minutes. I find the best thing for me to do is think of all the things that are “getting in the way” of my conversation or quietness and, one by one, symbolically give them to God. Once that’s done, I seem to be much more able to be quiet and “with Him”.
Great tip, Minette. In another life, I imagine that I’d like to be a monk. But I think I might get kicked out within a week…