Being vs doing
One of the aims of yoga and mindfulness is that we begin to become aware of automatic patterns of the mind, and recognise different thoughts and modes of thinking.
The brain performs many hundreds of processes and activities everyday. We can simplify these neurocognitive tasks down to two main modes of functioning ; doing and being.
Doing mode is task focused and goal directed, which is essential for certain areas of our lives – for example, shopping for food, driving from A to B, or completing a project at work. Doing mode is extremely successful at achieving external goals and problem solving, and historically would have been essential to our survival. In doing mode we are working towards a preconceived goal of what the end result should look like. The brain is continually assessing whether we are living up to these expectations, and adjusts our behaviour if we aren’t.
Problems with doing mode arise when it becomes our default mode. When we continually striving towards the next thing, the next achievement and are unable to enjoy where we are in this moment. We get temporary satisfaction and a dopamine boost from ticking the next goal off the list, which can be as small and innocuous as cleaning out a cupboard, or as big as running a marathon but, addicted to this glow of achievement, we then move onto the next thing, and the next.
If we can’t turn off this constant need for productivity, results and the perpetual appraisal of our efforts, this can make life very miserable indeed. The joy of the minutiae and complexities of a colourful and rich life are lost when we are only relate focused on achievement of our goals. The despondency of not reaching these often over ambitious internal targets seeps into our existence and affects our self esteem, which in turn starts the cycle again of chasing the next target or ticking something off the list, in order to feel better about ourselves.
Being mode is the opposite of this. When we accept things as they are, taking in the present moment without judging our performance or productivity, we can allow things to be as they are. This redirects our attention from the narrow focus on results and achievement to a broader, more colourful experience of the here and now. In contrast to doing mode, which is clearly focused on the future, being mode is firmly seated in the here and now and is based on acceptance of the present moment without striving to change this.
We need a balance of doing and being. In the correct doses they balance and complement each other, like yang and yin. The current lifestyle of 24/7 expectations and availability has us hooked in a doing cycle, and it can be difficult to break this. “If I slow down I will stop, I just need to keep going” and “I have to keep busy” are phrases I commonly hear. The lines between work and leisure are becoming more and more blurred, and it can be hard to unplug and just be.
Yoga encourages us to drop into being mode, to experience the here and now. That’s not to say that simply by getting on the mat we stop striving and achieving- there are plenty of occasions when I have tried to make my yoga practice look a certain way, or found myself practising poses that I feel I “should” do, when my body actually needs something different on that day.
By slowing down and using our bodies as a portal to the present moment through movement and the breath, we have the opportunity to practice mindfulness and access just being. This doesn’t have to be through yoga or breathwork – gardening, crafting, music, hiking are all great ways of escaping into the here and now. The more we practice this, the more it becomes part of our everyday lives, and we can begin to notice when we are being hijacked by doing mode.
Simply noticing this can be enlightening. If you are always doing, what is it like to just be? Making this shift can be difficult if you are accustomed to constantly focusing on productivity and achieving, and so it can be hard to know where to start. Lots of people find the environment of a group or private yoga class provides a space to switch off from doing and explore being – the more you practice this the easier it becomes!