Being, Doing: Finding Balance

Okay so I admit, I’ve been so oriented to doing and achieving all my life that the core of my existence – my being – has felt threatened time and again as I’ve hurried through my daily personal To Do lists. But it’s the being side of living that gives meaning, joy, and a potential spiritual center.

This tilt toward doing is not just me, I know. Most of us in the Western world swim in the waters of activism, of “activity-ism.” And just like fish unaware of the element in which they swim, many of us these days underestimate the influence of our surrounding culture.

“Being is not rewarded in our society today,” says celebrated author Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.1 “Doing is what counts.” Just about all of us experience this pressure regularly: the hurry; the worry; and the need to be productive, however that’s defined. So how can we enter into a life that moves more fully into the being of life, to marvel at this world and to be present to God’s presence surrounding us?

Reading, writing, meditating, studying anything, learning and growing in any endeavor – all those quiet-side activities – come more out of who we are than because of what we are doing. But they still are activities. They are actions that may naturally arise out of a receptive mindset, out of a sense of being present in this unique moment and place.

I confess also that I can’t easily divide who I am from what I do. This is not because I’m overwrought or life is complicated (which sometimes may be true), but also because doing and being are constantly intermingled, and they require balance. As with the old-time term, “praxis,” often people act their way into a new way of thinking. They come to understand a situation or an issue differently because of their firsthand experience.

Maybe once you were afraid of water, but then you learned to swim and now you no longer fear it. Once I was afraid of bikers, but I had never gotten to know one personally. Then I became friends with someone whom I later discovered rides a motorcycle, and I quit seeing all bikers as one stereotype. What I do has the potential to change who I become. Thankfully we can change, if we’re open to the fluidity of our experience.

So how can we encourage a healthy balance of doing and being? Calhoun suggests several practices to resist the compulsion to go everywhere and do everything all at once. But they’re not meant to become yet another list of activities to check off. The point is to lovingly gaze back at our Creator; to notice life in the now; to see other people and other creatures more fully; to relish art, Scripture, and other things that point to the mystery and meaning of life.

The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is the One in whom we “live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) And here’s a more recent favorite verse of mine: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) For those, like me, who can be addicted to doing, these are statements of both challenge and reassurance.

1 – Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, Revised and Expanded.