Summary: Eveline talks about her first coloring page in a million years, why she doesn’t like the word “busy”, the difference between Being and Doing and her first meditations at home. Part 3 in a series about mindfulness.

Doing versus Being – The journey towards becoming a Mindful Metropolitan

Author: Eveline Stolk
Reading time:
5 minutes

This blog is a follow up on my previous post “Automatic Pilot: About our routines and wandering minds“.

Today I went to the store to buy colored pencils. My sister gave me a little book with creative exercises, like solving a labyrinth, connecting the dots and – yes – coloring. It’s a book filled with anti-stress activities for adults. You can imagine the people of my favorite coffee spot now think I’m crazy. I usually come there as a lone wolf, to write, and now they see me doing a coloring page. “That girl is going downhill”, they probably whisper behind the counter.

On the contrary. I love my new book and it perfectly suits my experiment. For very busy Metropolitans, the subtitle states. Do I consider myself one? I guess. Even though I stopped using the word “busy” quite some time ago, because I don’t like saying it. The most common answer on the question “How are you?” is nowadays: “busy”. And although it might be true, I decided to erase the word from my vocabulary.

Mindfullness Doing versus Being

First of all, “busy” is not a feeling and thereby not an appropriate answer to someone who’s showing interest in your well-being. I’d rather say something about my true emotions, for example that I’m feeling anxious or tensed. Second, “busy” sounds like a complaint, while it seems we are all very proud of being it. Apparently, we think “busy” equals “important” and therefore we like to spread the word – literally. Sometimes I cannot even tell if a person is looking for pity or trying to impress. Probably both. Third: “busy” is a choice. And I want to emphasize I am no Saint. My life can be pretty hectic too, but I realize I am not forced to combine a demanding job with sports and a full social life. If it’s too much or not worth it, I should make a change. That’s my real challenge (and it’s a hard one). Telling people I am busy is, however, not solving anything.

Last, but not least: “busy” also means preoccupied and thereby being less present. As soon as you say the word “busy”, your mind instantly starts to run through your to-do-list again, that was chasing you anyway. You’re focused on Doing, instead of Being.

So who’s up for a little more “being here and now”? Not again, I hear you thinking. Yes, again! Let me explain something I learned about Being versus Doing. When we were kids, we did a lot of things that were just for fun. When we were dressing our Barbies or building a tower of blocks, it was mainly about the activity itself – not about the result. As soon as the doll was wearing her evening gown, we’d change her into her tennis outfit again. And when the tower of blocks was finished, we’d be probably done with it. The purpose of playing was playing, not achieving anything.

Doing versus Being – the journey towards becoming a Mindful Metropolitan

This is Being. And that might be confusing, because you are Doing something. But Being is not about inactivity or doing nothing. It is about experiencing the current moment, without judging, having expectations or achieving. Or, as Kabat-Zinn states: “Letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way”. 

Doing is different. Doing is usually goal oriented: getting things done. It brings us a lot; the world economy is driven by Doing. It arises when we consider a mismatch between how things are and how we want things to be. By generating thoughts and actions, Doing aims for closing that gap. We anticipate, think about potential consequences, use our previous experiences, etc. Therefore, in Doing mode, the mind often travels forward to the future or back to the past.

With Being, the mind has nowhere to go.“You can know it only when the mind is still”, Eckhart Tolle explains in his best seller The Power of Now. “Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally.” So if you don’t get it (which was my first response as well and I’m still not sure whether I understand completely), that’s ok. It will come in time, when you practice. One of the ways to experience Being is by meditating. As promised, I will tell you about my first practices at home.

Our homework is a daily body scan, the first exercise on our USB-stick. Why we do this? Because when you’re present in your body, you’re not in your head. Your body doesn’t think about yesterday or tomorrow, does it? Connecting with your body is connecting with Now; it’s your gateway to Being (I know this sounds woolly – please forgive me – but it is true).

So let me explain how it works. You are lying on your back (eyes closed) and focus your attention on your body, being aware of all parts (one at a time). Our guided practice starts at the toes of the left foot; you notice how they feel. Sensations might include tingling, pressure, temperature, or maybe you feel nothing. That’s fine; observe that too. After a while, you shift your attention to the ball of your foot, doing the same thing. You work through your whole body this way. Every time your attention wanders (and this will happen a lot), bring it gently back to your body. Do not judge yourself, there is no right or wrong.

Doing versus Being – The journey towards becoming a Mindful Metropolitan

It. Takes. Forever. Forty-three minutes is long. I am quite an impatient person and always want to make the most of my day, so initially this feels like a waste of time. Either I get restless half way or I am distracted by other thoughts that come to mind. One time I even get really frustrated, because I feel tensed and I just cannot let it go. As a result, the soft voice of the female on the tape starts to annoy me big time. But her message, she keeps repeating every few minutes, is consistent: however you feel, it is all fine. And it has to be said: after each body scan, I am more at ease.

“At times it went well, but I had problems staying focused,” I tell my teacher in the next meeting. The others nod. They were facing the same challenges. The teacher smiles. “It is not about you’re practice going well,” she says. “We are not aiming for the perfect mediation. Just experience it and let it be.”

Well, I think that’s enough Being for Now. I go back to my drawing. Enjoying the coloring pages in my new book, without aiming for “the best result”. Just being: a very mindful metropolitan. To be continued…

Try it yourself: spend the next minute feeling your body, wherever you’re seated. How your feet in your shoes are on the floor, how your sitting bones contact the chair, how your shoulders feel, etc. Don’t change anything, just experience the way it is right now. That’s it. You’re now being present. Do you like it?