“Doing” vs. “Being”

“Many people come to me asking how I can pray… how I should think… what I should do… and the whole time, they neglect the most important question… which is how should I be?” (Meister Eckhart)

I have an almost compulsive habit of “getting things done.” Some people say that I am efficient. However, I do not recall anyone ever saying that I excel in the grace of relaxation. For example, when I take my 40-minute ride to work, rather than gradually waking up with some music or a cup of coffee, I tend to listen to educational or inspiring podcasts.

A few years ago, I was listening to the latest installment of my favorite podcast, On Being,” with Krista Tippett.” The program consisted of an interview with the late Celtic mystical writer, John O’Donohue. I deeply resonated with many aspects of the interview, and felt compelled to listen to it many, many times.

One particular component of the interview caused me to pause and wonder. It is the quotation that begins this post. In particular, Meister Eckhart’s question, “how should I be?,” stirred in me. I often have wrestled with what I want to do. I set goals, for instance, for the short-term and long-term. I make plans. However, rarely have I considered how I want to be.

After stumbling over this question a few dozen times, it struck me to write down specific ways in which I want to “be” in the world.

Below is my tentative list of 20 ways of “being” that I have identified.

I want to be…

1. Grounded.
2. Sincere.
3. Whole.
4. Healthy.
5. Mindful.
6. In awe.
7. Curious.
8. Grateful.
9. Patient.
10. Hopeful.
11. Joyful.
12. Courageous.
13. Hard-working.
14. Self-disciplined.
15. Just.
16. Empathetic.
17. Kind.
18. Compassionate.
19. Faithful to my call.
20. Connected in community.

I have experimented with meditating on these different ways of being as I start my day. I pray, using my imagination, about how I might bring these states into particular encounters I anticipate that day. Many times, I am uncertain of what I want to “do” in my life. No matter what I do, though, I have found it helpful to consider how I can “be” like this.

Of the 20 ways of being that I have identified, some tend to resonate more deeply, however.

carl-sagan-pale-blue-dot

From Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” Imaged from the Voyager 1 space craft as it existed the solar system in 1990. Earth is nearly 4 billion miles away in this image. The beam of light surrounding the Earth is from the sun.

For example, when I consider the vastness of the universe, and my tiny place in it, I am struck that, of all the different ways of being in which I want to dwell, the one to which I feel most called is that I want to be “in awe.” An emerging body of psychological research suggests that awe, in fact, may be a key to unlocking many of the other states of being listed above.

In addition to being “in awe,” as I consider how I can be “grounded” and “sincere,” I have realized that it is critical for me to acknowledge mystery. A great deal of research and experience supports the ancient teaching that human beings “see through a glass darkly.” Mystery very well may be a prerequisite to awe.

At the beginning of every year, I take some time to review my goals. Last year, when I did this, I reflected on the values I hold for mystery and awe in my life. I created a new project: “To consistently dwell in a sense of mystery and awe in my everyday life.” 

This blog is my attempt to reflect on this project. I hope that you will join this community as we together explore the topics of mystery and awe and how they are essential to everyday life.

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