Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Seven characteristics of the Being versus the Doing modes of mind or modes of living

Presently, I am reading Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman from which I get these seven characteristics of Doing versus Being. Besides Our Town, Thoreau, and Buddhism as mentioned in my former blog post, other early influences on me concerning mindfulness include Thich Nhat Hanh, especially his Living Buddha, Living Christ, and anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn (son-in-law of Howard Zinn, who wrote the amazing A People's History of the United States).

Kabat-Zinn tells us "the cultivation of mindfulness may just be the hardest work in the world," yet paradoxically, he further says that "a lightness of being and playfulness [are] key elements to the practice of mindfulness, because they are key elements of well-being."

Here are four of the seven characteristics of Doing versus Being (or Mindfulness). (I'll cover the other characteristic in my next post.) See if any of these characteristics "speak" to you as they did to me.

1. Automatic pilot versus conscious choice--

Autopilot means thinking, working, eating, walking, or driving without clear awareness of what you are doing. The danger is that you miss much of your life in this way.

Mindfulness brings you back, again and again, to full conscious awareness: a place of choice and intention. It provides you with the ability to "check in" with yourself from time to time so that you can make intentional choices.

2. Analyzing versus sensing--

Doing mode needs to think, analyze, recall, plan, and compare. In this mode, we spend a great deal of time "inside our heads," without noticing what's going on around us.

Mindfulness is a truly different way of knowing the world. It puts you back in touch with your senses so that you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste things, as if for the first time (beginner's mind). You become deeply curious about the world again. Gradually, you cultivate a direct, intuitive sense of what is going on in your inner and outer worlds, without taking anything for granted.

3. Striving versus accepting--

The Doing mode involves judging and comparing the "real" world with the world as we would like it to be. It narrows our attention down to the gap between the two, so that you can end up with toxic tunnel vision in which only perfection will do.

Most of my life, I have been a perfectionist, wondering what made me this way and knowing that it made me crazy. Recognizing this toxic habit, I have been able to move beyond it, but it still haunts me at times and make me feel "less than." Finally, I've learned to say/think, that's "good enough."

Being mode invites you to suspend judgement. It means temporarily standing aside and watching the world as it unfolds, without preconceptions. It means allowing the world to be just as it is for the moment. It allow you to observe the world, rather than judge it, attack it, argue with it, or try to disprove its validity.

Or in my case, try to improve it.

Mindfulness liberates you from unhappiness, fear, anxiety, and exhaustion.

4. Seeing thoughts as solid and real versus treating them as mental events--

This characteristic of the Doing mind really resonates with me. For some reason, I mistook my thoughts for reality! I've always been too good at thinking, planning, and doing. My thoughts ceased to be my servants and became my master and a very harsh and unforgiving master at that. In the Doing mode, you tend to get on this treadmill of judging yourself: I should be able to cope better than this. I am weak. I am no good.

So you strive harder and harder (See number 3 above).

Mindfulness teaches us that our thoughts are just thoughts; they are events in the mind, mental events if you will. Furthermore, our feelings, too, are just feelings; they are not us.  Neither your thoughts nor your feelings are "you" or "reality." They are just your internal running commentary/emotions on/about yourself and the world. They come and go, come and go continually, but they are not you.

This simple recognition/realization frees us from the distorted reality that we have all conjured up for ourselves. With Mindfulness, we can see a clear path through life once again.

Now, more than ever, we (the world) needs mindfulness. "Our lives are now driven by the ever-quickening expectations that we place on ourselves and that others place on us and we on them. [These expectations are] generated in a large measure by our increasing dependence on ubiquitous digital technology and its ever-accelerating effects on our pace of life," according to Kabat-Zinn. With which, I agree wholeheartedly. We must learn how to use technology mindfully, and in our homes and in our schools, we must teach our children/youth how to do so also.

Mindfulness is a way of saving our world from destroying itself.

Did any of these Doing characteristics resonant with you, as they did with me? In my next post, I will share the three other characteristics of Doing versus Being mode with you, as well as give you a definition of Mindfulness and perhaps some ways to begin the practice of Mindfulness, if you are ready.


  1. Excellent blog. The 4th characteristic is one I learned about 3 years was THE concept that helped me to finally let go of hurtful, residual, pent up emotions. I realized that what I thought happened in the past was only my mind's perception of the event...the way I knew how to interpret it as the person I was back then. No two people have the same reality. I try to help my kids to keep this in mind.

    I remember several life lessons you would give us in class. I still think about them and appreciate the mindfulness that you instilled in your students even back then!

    1. Thank you, Julie McCrary! And thank you for your valuable insight!