Human Beings vs. Human Doings: How do we consciously choose one over the other?
Most of us seem to live our lives as human doings. While this is not an original term that I coined, I can’t seem to recall where I first heard it. We tend to get caught up in the rat race — trying to make it happen, doing a good job, sending kids to college, saving for retirement, and on and on. We are consumed by our first phase of our life, so that we can enjoy our second phase, usually after we retire.
In 2004, I had spoken about this at a conference for South Asian youth in Chicago, but could not easily extricate myself out of the race until now. I had urged the youth to consider a balanced life, easier said than done.
Then I turned fifty last year, and it hit me hard in the face. The popular path is to work hard, save enough money, and then retire and have a good time. I realized that the prime years of my life were being consumed in incessant doing and very little in terms of being fully alive and present in all the intricacies of our life and nature. My concern switched to the possibility of me dying before getting to do some of the things that I always wanted to do, like spending quality time and having fun with my children and making a difference in our world.
So the challenge is, “Can we live our life in such a way that we can fully engage and experience its fullness and richness without any significant sacrifices?” My answer to this question, after years of deliberation, is a resounding “Yes.” The key is to work with our egoic mind and its minions, the PIG and the APE, who will do their very best to steer us towards pleasure and away from real and mostly imagined pain.
Is it easy to accomplish a balanced life? Not really, but it can be simple. If we can accept and become aware of the fact that the only time we ever have or will ever have is “now” and if we let it get away while obsessing over the future or the past, we will definitely lose the most precious part of our life. Being present in the current moment, dealing and accepting what is, both the good and the not so good, is the path to living life as a human being.
Focusing too much on goals and getting caught up in the mechanics and viewing the work merely as a stepping stone to a future state will rob you of the joy that is in the vocation or the journey. So it is critical that we not only choose our goals with care, but also pick the path we choose to follow with a high degree of awareness.
Two weeks ago, I was speaking at a church group and asked the folks in the room, “How many of you have set goals and achieved them?” About 80% of the room raised their hands. I then asked them, “How did it feel when you accomplished your goals?” There were three quick answers. The first was “What’s next?” The second was, “A short-term rush,” and the third was a sound that my limited creativity can’t seem to recreate with text, but it usually accompanies the shaking of the palm in a back and forth fashion to communicate “whatever.”
So I asked them the last question to which I did not hear an answer. I will leave you with the same question. “If you knew that this (the above reactions) is how you would feel when you achieved your goals, would you have made it so important and set aside so many things and focused most of your energy on them?”
To be clear, I am by no means diminishing the value of setting goals, but I am saying that by being unaware in the present moment will diminish the anticipated result at the moment of achievement.
Love to hear your reactions.
Peace and be well,