Zen and the Art of Doing

Anyone who knew me during the first 35 years of my life would probably describe me as “Type A.” A perfectionist, in love with control and order and predictability.  Far from being disturbed by that sort of characterization, I embraced it fully. I was in love with the concept of controlling my own destiny and often (quietly) railed against those who might stand in my way as I traveled down the neat and tidy path of my life as I envisioned it.

On the other hand, folks who have met me in the past few years might not agree.  I like to think that I have seen the error of my ways, addressed the driving forces behind my drastic need to control the parameters of my life and the lives of my children, and become much more accepting of the world and my place in it.  I am capable of letting go of worries about how others might see me and not nearly so frantic about working, working, working to prove my worth and avoiding all potential difficulties.

That said, I still have a bit of a mental struggle between “being” and “doing.” I have a meditation practice that has served me well over the past several years and often at the first sign of trouble, my instinct tells me to slow down and check in with my gut. To be still and quiet and breathe instead of mobilizing for action to mitigate damage.  And yet, often as I am working to ‘be,’ I carry ‘what to do’ in the back of my mind like a pebble in my shoe. It is not front and center, sharp enough to make me stop and shake it out, but it’s only a matter of time before I get annoyed and stop to examine it.  Even as I am simply experiencing the discomfort of a particular situation, working to not judge it and panic, I am acknowledging somewhere in my head that soon I will have to do something about this situation and this state of suspension is finite. Perhaps the most mundane, and certainly the most recent example of this in my life follows:

Last week I was suffering with shoulder and neck pain, popping Advil like black jellybeans on Easter Sunday, and wondering when I might find the time to go see my chiropractor. It was a particularly busy week for the girls, Bubba was in Europe on business, and I had a million projects to tackle, so my time was limited.  After two nights of migraines, I gave in and made an appointment for Sunday at noon, knowing that Eve had made plans with a girlfriend and I may have to cancel.  I put it to the back of my mind on Friday night with a little mental post-it that I had to cancel by Saturday at noon if I was going to.

Saturday morning, Eve’s friend still hadn’t called with the details of their plans. By Saturday afternoon, I had decided I would try to push the issue a little and let Eve know that I could either take her to her friend’s house early on Sunday or for a couple of hours after my appointment in the afternoon.  I was still unsure whether Lola would accompany me to the chiropractor or not, and I was a little uneasy as to how it would all turn out, but I resisted the impulse to actively problem-solve.

Within five minutes of Eve texting her friend an inquiry about details, our home phone rang and it was a friend of Lola’s, inviting her over to hang out for a few hours on Sunday. Within the next few minutes, Eve’s friend texted back saying earlier was better for her and we should bring her in the morning. Problem solved.

On Sunday, what I got was a fabulous chiropractor appointment with a skilled practitioner who made me feel almost instantly better and a quiet house for three hours while I worked on a writing project I haven’t been able to tackle yet this week.

But what I really got was the reminder that while sitting with uncertainty (no matter how small) does not necessarily translate to action, it often results in less action being needed.  If I had scrambled around trying to make arrangements for Lola or scheduling Eve’s time with her friend, I would have used up precious energy for no real reason. What ‘being’ did for me was allow time for some of the details in the Universe to shift and provide a clear path for all of us. Had I pre-emptively cancelled my appointment so as to avoid the cancellation fee, I would have ended up frustrated that both kids were away and my neck still hurt.

Over the years I have noted the positive affects of not-doing again and again (this, by the way, is much different than procrastination, although I often convince myself that it is not and justify my procrastination by saying that I was simply waiting for ‘things to work themselves out’). I am coming to trust in the partnership between being and doing, the yin and yang of them in relationship to each other, the notion that there is a time and a place for each and neither ought to be forced.  In my life, anyway, the more I can initially sit with a new situation and not succumb to that siren call to “Act now!” the less effort I end up expending to find a workable solution that feels right.  Beyond the weekly, mundane examples like the chiropractor appointment, there are many more monumental issues I have experienced in my life in which this principle is astoundingly applicable. Perhaps my new mantra ought to be, “When in doubt, do nothing for a little while. Just to see how things unfold.” You never know – I may not have to do anything at all, and that is certainly cause for celebration.

4 replies
  1. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for this reminder — I, too, have allowed things to unfold and decisions are made for me and things are just as they should be — I've forgotten this of late, though, and have frantic. I bow to you for the reminder.

  2. Dee
    Dee says:

    Dear Kari, your posting always inspire me to rest in being and to let thoughts flow as they will so that I may dwell in essence. That says a lot about the strength of your convictions as translated into words on your blog.

    May Sarton said the following about how cats respond to being/doing: "When in doubt, lick." And I try to hold on to "when in doubt, be." But most of the time, I simply start thinking and that becomes convoluted and analytical and soon I've left the present. I've forgotten to be mindful and I'm caught up in planning. Planning. Planning. I so admire your committee to yin and yang in all of life. It so inspires me. Peace.


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