Human Being, Not Human Doing

Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961; Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst; father of analytical psychology.)

The rain was steady and heavy all night. I say “all night,” but I’m not really certain when it started. It’s not as if it awakened me, and I looked at the clock and whispered to my sleeping self, “Ah, it’s raining.” But I could hear it, even as it lulled me into a deeper and more restful slumber.

When I awakened, the raindrops were pearling their way down the window panes. As I lay in bed–looking and listening–I knew that Plan B would govern my day.

Plan A had been to continue my yard work. This year, my focus is more on “taking out” than on “putting in.” I have lots and lots of shrubs–especially rhododendrons–that have outgrown the spaces where I planted them. For some, a heavy pruning will restore their vitality and their appearance. For others, pruning will neither restore their vitality nor their beauty. They have to be removed. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Pruning. Removing. Hauling truckload after truckload to the landfill. That was my Plan A.

But I had checked the weather forecast before going to bed and knew the strong likelihood of rain.

That was when I came up with Plan B. I could spend the day doing some extra indoor biking. Then, I could start rearranging the artwork in my office–a task that I have needed to tackle for months, but one that I have managed to avoid doing with full success. And betwixt and between, I could make Ukrainian Sauerkraut Soup–perfect for a chilly, rainy-day dinner–and I could bake Jumbo Sourdough Banana Nut Muffins–a perfect way to use up this week’s sourdough discard. 

It was settled. Plan B, it would be.

But before I started to execute that plan, I perused my smartphone news. As I did, I was ever aware of the rain, still falling hypnotically. For a second, I considered stopping the pendulum on my grandfather clock so that the only sound would be the rhythm of the falling rain. Then, in the next second, I looked out the window onto my deck. I could see the raindrops dropping one by one off the scalloped edges of my Asian patio umbrella–all wet with green bamboo, red sun, pink blossoms, and blue happiness. And for another second, I considered trying to count the drops as they fell, starting at the 6:30 position on the umbrella, proceeding clockwise, counting every sliding raindrop, working my way back home, and then beginning anew.

As I considered those thoughts, I glanced down at the next news flash to discover an article from Open Culture: “Stephen King Recommends 96 Books that Aspiring Writers Should Read.” I knew immediately that it was not newsy at all. I had read that same article nearly a decade ago. I perused the list anyway, discovering that I could not claim to have read any more of those books now than I could claim to have read them then. As I reached the end of the article, I found that King had updated his list: “Stephen King Creates a List of 82 Books for Aspiring Writers (to Supplement an Earlier List of 96 Books.)” I scanned that list quickly.

Somehow, I was brought back to the reality of my grandfather clock still ticking. I had not stopped the clock as I had considered doing. I was brought back to the reality of the raindrops still falling off the scalloped edges of my Asian patio umbrella. I had not counted the raindrops as I had considered doing.

I was brought back to the haunting reality that my day was wasting away.

I still needed to meditate so that I could get started with my Plan B. Meditation does not come easy for me, even after years of daily practice. I’m finding, though, that I can sit with myself for longer and longer periods of time without my mind being pulled in the direction of all the other things that I could be doing.

But on this day, when the “all” of the day seemed to be wrapped up in the “all” of the rain, I decided to sit for a shorter-than-usual spell. Ten minutes. No more. I had things to do on my Plan B.

I was drawn to an 11-minute mindfulness session. Surely, I could spare an extra minute, especially since the title tugged at me: “Human Being, Not Human Doing.”

“If you’re like most people, you probably feel like you have to be constantly doing something.”

I was stunned. How on earth did acclaimed meditation coach Lynne Goldberg know so perfectly how I was feeling? How I feel so often?

In her meditation session, she explores the roots of our obsession with doing, tracing the origins all the way back to our childhoods when others praised us for doing things that we were good at doing. Art. Dance. Music. Sports. Wordplay.  She continues her exploration–even into relationships–noting that the praise we receive for the things that we do begins to validate us and our self-worth.

And then she drives home her point. Validation through doing is external, controlled by others. It leaves us with the feeling that we have to continue to do–to perform–in order to get those accolades. To feel loved. To maintain that sense of self-worth. Interestingly enough, we’re not even aware that it’s happening.

“At your essence, you are a human being, not a human doing. You are loved and worthy and enough exactly as you are. The only approval that you need is that of your own.”

“Well, of course,” I say to myself. The notion of loving yourself–of approving yourself–goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks even if it did not enter mainstream psyche and pop culture until the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the Hippies of the 1960s.

More, I’m not quite certain that I agree with Goldberg’s tack of tracing our emphasis on doing to the praise that we received from doing things well as long ago as our infancy. It seems to me that we need to consider other possibilities. The joy and love of work. The joy and love of doing. The joy and love of creating. The internal, self-validation that doing things well brings us even when others are totally unaware that we’re doing them.

But I’m not going to quibble over any of those possible disagreements right now.

For now, I’m just glad that I stumbled upon Goldberg’s meditation.

For now, I think that I will revisit King’s recommended reading lists and start to read–or reread–one of the books that I find there.

For now, I think that I will count the raindrops as they fall off the scalloped edges of my Asian patio umbrella.

For now, I think that I will stop the pendulum on my grandfather clock.

For now, I think that I will continue lounging in my azure blue linen bathrobe as noon approaches and as rain continues.

For now, I think that scrambled eggs on toast might be perfect for dinner.

For now, I think that I’m really enjoying doing nothing more than just being.