Have you ever thought that your life is getting busier ? That there isn’t enough time to fit in all the things you need to do ? Trying to shoe-horn life into 24 daily hours can be a considerable cause of stress – it’s something that affects many of my osteopathic patients, yoga students, friends, relatives and yes, even me !
But why do we need more time ? What do we want to do ? More family time, more work, more hobbies, more holidays, more shopping, the list goes on …
I remember we did a lot less when I was growing up. We stayed home more, bought less, ate the same stuff every week, read lots and spent a lot of time day-dreaming, which sounds pretty boring compared to today’s high-octane standards.
Nowadays, we experience a lot more: travel, food, exercise, theatre, cinema, festivals, days-out, social media, the list is endless and we are always seeking a new thrill. Often we do more than one thing at once and we even seek to do things to relax ! We’ve been sucked into the Cult of Doing.
Sadly, it hasn’t made us more content. What we have given up is doing NOTHING (the Cult of Doing’s arch-enemy). NOTHING is: time to exist, relax, contemplate our navel, gaze at the sky and just BE. We have become Human Doings rather than Human Beings.
ARE YOU A PAID-UP MEMBER OF THE CULT OF DOING ?
At the end of an already busy day, you head up to bed, exhausted. Do you complete your ablutions and settle into bed, pop your head on the pillow and contemplate the day before dozing off ? OR are you tempted to check your ‘phone “one last time” and still be online 45 minutes later ?
And what happens when you just ‘veg out’ on the sofa for 3 or 4 nights in a row? Do you feel a pressure to DO SOMETHING more interesting ? It’s hard to resist the feeling that everyone is out there having a fabulously busy time. But we must resist, as the Cult of Doing is making us fill space and time that we need for our own health and well-being.
THE EVIDENCE AGAINST DOING
Getting hooked on Doing is actually less-fulfilling in the long run.
It affects our health: You may have heard of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which ideally work in balance – one controlling ‘fight and flight’, the other ‘rest and digest’. Continuously ‘Doing’ keeps us ‘switched on’ the whole time and keeps the stress chemicals flowing. It can also increase pain levels. For a readable exploration of the (bad) effects of chronic stress, check out ‘Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers’ by biologist Robert Sapolsky.
The parasympathetic system needs to be turned back on – to allow the body to relax and unwind. Often my osteopathic patients tell me that being on the table is one of the only times that they ‘do nothing’. This clearly isn’t the right equilibrium – we need to actively allow time to stop and relax.
Doing gives less self-fulfilment than Being: We lose sight of our goals, develop shallower friendships and generally ‘spread ourselves too-thin’. There is no time to delve deep into things that interest us or reflect on relationships. Imagine if Newton hadn’t sat under that apple tree or Da Vinci didn’t spend all his time doodling…
The case is clear – in this always-on world, we need to reduce stimulation ‘being always-on’ and learn to relax. It’s as much of a choice as Doing is. If you are parent, teach your children to avoid the Cult of Doing – it might just benefit their health and minds.
HOW CAN YOU JUST ‘BE’ ?
Ok, it would be easy if we could escape the rat-race and head up a mountain to mediate – no mobile signal, no work, no interruptions, someone else doing the cooking… Bliss would be a heartbeat away.
Yoga teachers talk about Sthira-Sukha – the equilibrium between grounded-ness and ease-fullness. When we achieve this we feel both focused and calm – which is surely a good thing.
Back in the modern world, we have it hard in comparison to the monks. We instead need to take small, achievable steps to become more ‘BE’ and escape the Cult with its temptations. Try them, it will change your life.
SMALL STEPS TO BEING:
- Allocate screen-free time daily. If you need to, schedule ‘Being Time’ in your diary.
- Turn off the wifi and mobile data at 9pm.
- Take a moment every day to look at the sky or something natural – and smile.
- Once a week, don’t use your headphones or phone on the commute to work – look out of the window and DAYDREAM instead.
- Try not to multi-task. When you are exercising, don’t put on headphones. When eating, don’t watch TV. When reading to the kids, leave the phone downstairs.
- Try and focus on what you are doing NOW in the present moment (this is the essence of Mindfulness).
Learn some yoga breathing techniques (pranayama) which activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Check out the short exercise in my blog here: Why it matters if you breathe well
Learn more about Mindfulness – the art of being in the present – look at the accessible https://www.facebook.com/mindfulorg on Facebook.
Anji is an Osteopath and Yoga Teacher based in Ealing, West London. As an ex-banker, parent and general busy-bee, she knows how tempting the Cult of Doing is. But she also recognises that it isn’t always the best path…