'Sitting silently. Doing nothing. Spring comes. And the grass grows all by itself' (Basho)
At the heart of enquiry and practice, the Eastern philosophical and spiritual traditions place great emphasis on the shift from Doing to Being .
As I return from my daily walk I am struck by the turn of events that has enforced a pause on human activity whilst the natural world escalates in the whirl of busyness that is Spring – life renewing. ‘My’ house-martins returned this week, possibly following a long flight from southern Spain, they wasted no time in setting about building their nests. And here I am at home, hour after a hour, the still-point of this turning wheel of the natural world. Oh how times have changed! What are the teachings and practices that can support me as I wrestle with this enforced ‘doing nothing’ (or enforced over-doing as is the case for front line workers).
For many of us, in normal times, almost every moment from waking to sleeping (and that’s if you are fortunate enough to sleep well!) is filled with one distraction after another. Netflix’s claim that it’s only competitor is sleep, for me encapsulates life in modern times. We are full to overflowing with distractions and yet for many of us there is an emptiness in our hearts as we quietly wonder why ‘life feels so much less than it could be’.
In my imagination I can see the Sages of the East smiling at this turn of events, this call to change ‘business as usual’. When we reflect on our relationship to Doing and Being we may hear our inner critic calling us lazy. ‘Being’ is not however the same as doing nothing. We might well ask ourselves ‘is our busyness skilful’?… the smiling Sage might ask ‘Is the tail wagging the Dog?’
It is helpful to consider a shift from Doing to Being less in terms of busyness or resting, and more in terms of a qualitative change in our attention. As Lao Tzu poetically describes;
‘Shape clay into a vessel,
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there’
Yoga philosophy describes how all the substance of the world is in constant change, from the subatomic particle to vast unending galaxies (including ourselves and our minds) all is in a state of flux; arising / unfolding / dissolving. And yet it is only through the presence of something unchanging that we can experience this. In the way that the silence between notes gifts us music, or the blank page that allows us to express in written word. It is experiencing the unchanging within ourselves that moves us into a state of Being.
‘Be curious about the unchanging, the silence and stillness that abides at the very heart of everything’.
Try lying on the ground and gazing up at the sky, let the clouds be your thoughts – constantly arising and dissolving, sometimes insubstantial in form, sometimes stormy. Let them pass by. Shift your awareness to the vast blue sky, the unchanging back drop over which clouds pass. Experience this as your Awareness, a different quality of mind coming to the fore. Know yourself as this unchanging vastness, stillness and silence. Notice how this feels inside your body/ heart/ mind.
When we touch upon the deep wellspring of Being we can emerge with a renewed sense of our own ground and centre. As we become more practised at this shift from Doing to Being, we connect with an inner wisdom which acts like an inner compass. Our Doing becomes guided by our Being.
As we emerge from the current pandemic we will each be called to choose, through our action (or inaction), how to shape the world as it is re-built. It is my deepest hope that our Yoga practice supports us to find a way of ‘Doing’ that is informed from our ‘Being’ and that is sustainable for people and planet.
‘Less and less is done until nothing is done.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone’