Greetings from Southern France. I’m in Plum Village for the next three months, embarking on the next chapter of what is shaping up to be quite a journey. I’m here for a variety of reasons, primary of which is to just be. Yes. To just be.
I’ve been a frantic do-er for pretty much my whole life. Busying myself with to-do lists, taking on lots of responsibility, trying to be better, faster, bigger, stronger. And I’ve been rewarded for it. Good grades, good schools, good jobs, lots of praise, some money…but somewhere along the way I realized this wasn’t quite as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be. Short-lived satisfaction, and needing to constantly look outside myself for happiness left me feeling a bit empty when things weren’t going according to plan (which they almost never did). Reading Peace is Every Step and learning about mindfulness years ago was a breath of the freshest air, and revealed a whole universe of territory to explore. As I learned more, there were many realms that I immediately resonated with: strengthening attention, raising awareness among them; there were some realms I took some time to warm up to and see the value of: non-judging, acceptance; and then there was one which I couldn’t quite wrap my head around: non-doing.
Unfortunately, this is pretty important one. What is non-doing? It is just being. It is making yourself available to the fullness of this moment, with no other agenda but to be present. It is the realization that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete.
Out of this way of being, cultivated with mindfulness and meditation, a much more pure ‘doing’ arises on its own. How?
A well-articulated description of doing arising from a state of being is found in the book Mindfulness in Plain English:
The highest level of morality can be termed ‘ethics’ “At the level of ethics, a person does not follow hard and fast rules dictated by authority. A person chooses to follow a path dictated by mindfulness, wisdom and compassion. This level requires real intelligence, and an ability to juggle all the factors in every situation to arrive at a unique, creative, and appropriate response every time…The person has to see the entire situation from an objective point of view, giving equal weight to his or her own needs and those of others. In other words, he has to be free from greed, hatred, envy, and all the other selfish junk that ordinarily keeps us from seeing the other person’s side of the issue. Only then can he or she choose the precise set of actions that will be truly optimal for that situation. This level of morality absolutely demands meditation, unless you were born a saint. There is no other way to acquire the skill…Unfortunately, this very fact constitutes the drawback for certain students. They enter the practice expecting instantaneous cosmic revelation, complete with angelic choirs. What they usually get is a more efficient way to take out the trash and better ways to deal with Uncle Herman. They are needlessly disappointed. The trash solution comes first. The voices of archangels take a bit longer.”
Now this isn’t saying that doing is bad or should be stopped altogether, but that the doing should be informed by an inner calm, instead of by greed, fear, envy, and the like.
So for the next two months I’ll be putting this practice first and everything else second. I’ll be examining this habitual “doing” mode I often find myself propelled by, looking at where it comes from, peering into how it makes me act and feel. I’ll also be relieving myself of the pressure of writing a weekly post for a little while, and come back to the blog when it feels appropriate. I’ll be taking time for long slow walks, for enjoying my food, for deep listening, for stargazing, and for some table tennis with my fellow brothers!
If you’d like to know more about what I’ll be contemplating, check out the reading I linked to above or for some wonderful audio try out Jon Kabat-Zinn. There are many articulations of mindfulness; choose your own door.
I’ll wave goodbye for now with Thoreau’s reflections at Walden pond: “There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hand. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness…I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been.”
Happy Holidays to all. May you be well.