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The other day a friend was telling me about being in an uncomfortable emotional place in her life. The specific details about her discomfort were very real, totally accurate and completely understandable. Most people in her situation would probably have felt the same way. I know I would have. But since I wasn’t in her situation but listening from the safe distance of my own life, her struggle really seemed to boil down to doing vs. being. That is, she was frustrated and worried about what she ought to be doing when, it seemed to me, she was experiencing one of those times in life when there really isn’t anything to do and it’s best just to be. A time when you need to stop trying to figure it all out and just wait to see what happens next and then respond appropriately.
Of course, because it is my nature to advise (whether I know what I’m talking about or not), I told her my observations and suggested she just lie down on the couch and read a magazine until the urge to “do something” passed. And of course, because it is the nature of most advisees (at least those who have not asked for advice) to reject such simple and succinct assessments of their complex situations, she said, “Yeah, maybe. Thanks.” And that was the end of the conversation.
Interestingly – at least to me – only a couple of hours later I was talking with another friend who, though not expressing the same angst as Friend One, was expressing the same confusion about what he ought to be doing to achieve his stated goal. And again, it seemed a clear case of needing to simply be, see what happens, and respond. Since Friends One and Two know each other, I thought they both might find it interesting that they were going through the same thing in very different ways and told them so.
Surprisingly – at least to me – neither found it interesting, helpful or even true. Have you ever noticed how often people don’t see their own traits and characteristics in others?
But it’s really not my problem and later that same day I arrived at an undisclosed location for a much-needed spiritual and creative retreat. My plan was to spend time alone, taking long, solitary walks in nature, maybe do a little reading, writing and singing. And just, well, be.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that for the rest of that day and most of the next, I had spent the entire time making lists – mental and physical – of things I needed do. Errands to run and supplies to get. Books to read and inspirational DVDs to watch. Destinations to reach on my nature walks. And on one of those walks, just short of my self-prescribed destination, it suddenly hit me that I had yet to simply sit and look at the sky and just be. Then I realized the reason I could see so clearly what was happening with Friends One and Two, is that I was “doing” the same thing!
Most disturbing was that even though I could see it, I couldn’t stop. I watched myself turn being into opportunities to do. So I’m going to sit down and look at the sky. Okay. Well, first I need to decide if I’m going to do that right here or would deeper into nature be better? Do I want a chair or blanket? What if I get thirsty? Should I take water? Would tea be better? Will I need sunscreen? Maybe I should have a book with me in case I feel like reading. Are these the best shoes to wear? Do I need a hat? You get the idea…
But even as I’m sitting there in nature, looking at the sky and trying just to be, part of my mind – a pretty loud part, actually – is thinking about what I’m going to do about dinner and whether the DVD player works and whether instead of sitting here looking at the damn sky, I ought to be back in the cabin writing about this doing vs. being thing for my blog and at least try be a little bit productive, for God’s sake!
Oh dear. . .