For most of my adult life, I was a perpetual human doing. Even when I was “relaxing”, my mind was always busy. I didn’t know how to just be. I lived in a constant imbalanced state that eventually showed up as illness, and dissatisfaction in my relationships and work. I know that am not alone; in our fast-paced lives with technological advances, we are in constant state of doing, but is this really good for us? Can you sit still without reaching for your phone, turning on the TV, or checking social media?
We are born human beings and as babies, we simply are and completely rely on the support of others, but as soon as we are old enough to be independent, we shift into little human doings. When we are small children, we are encouraged to strive, to achieve, to become. We are not taught how to maintain a healthy balance between being and doing.
Doing is as important to our survival as proper nutrients, water, and physical exercise; however, in our modern world, we put so much value on doing that it takes over our whole existence. We pride ourselves on being multitaskers to the point where we forgot how to unitask. We rarely just eat, just exercise, or just talk. Even when we should focus on only one thing, we get easily distracted. We no longer remember how to pause and appreciate the single task at hand.
Our nervous systems are in a constant state of overstimulation, so we don’t know what it means to just be. Being is different from doing—to be creative, to be in love, to be passionate, to be authentic—requires us to pause, to stop doing, to get out of autopilot, and to connect with ourselves and just be.
It really is no one’s fault though. Today’s science can explain why we are in a constant state of doing. Most of us have heard about our wonderful protective mechanism of the fight or flight response. It is necessary for survival and hard-wired in our brains, but when not kept in check, it can become a problem in our day-to-day lives.
Doing and being go together like west and east or left and right. Unfortunately, in our contemporary society, we are in a constant state of doing, which makes us distracted, reactive, and judgmental. When we don’t give ourselves time to just be, we often react from habitual patterns, assumptions, reactivity, or previous templates. We often project or ruminate based on our past experiences.
Our wellbeing and the health of our society are in great need of balancing the doing and being. Mindfulness helps us achieve an equilibrium between the two. Mindfulness brings us out of our autopilot state of doing to a place of being present with what is unfolding in the moment. A state based on clarity and stability. It helps us to return to stillness.
Even though being present sounds simple, it is difficult to achieve and maintain. Try it for yourself: how long can you sit still without reaching for your phone or looking for a distraction? How long can you sit still and simply observe your breath?
If you find this difficult to do, you are not alone. Today, many people are seeking ways to reconnect to that place of stillness within. Some find it in nature, others find it in the quietness of their own homes, or through spiritual practices. Whatever resonates with you, try finding that place of stillness within and don’t give up when you find it difficult. It takes practice.
Our nervous system needs at least 8 weeks of practice to develop new neuropathways and even longer to change our habits. It is possible though. We all have the power to return to human being.
Iwona Sienko, RN, BScN, MBA. smartUBC facilitator.