Are You a Human Being, or a Human Doing?

This post is by Justine Bloome of JusBeing.

Think back on the day you’ve just had. What percentage of it were you “doing” something, versus just “being” in the moment?

Last weekend I attended an incredible retreat in the Yarra Valley; wine country in the State of Victoria in Australia. It was a meditation retreat, run by The Gawler Foundation.

The Foundation is perhaps best known for its founder, Ian Gawler, a decathlete and veterinary surgeon who conquered aggressive bone cancer by way of many intense hours of meditation. Until his recent retirement, Ian traveled the world sharing his insights about nutrition, meditation and self-help healing techniques to those suffering with cancer and multiple sclerosis.

The Gawler Foundation continues his work and also offers a health and wellness-based program for people who would like to simply foster a life of wellbeing, or perhaps continue their journey after recovering from cancer.
The weekend retreat I attended was especially geared to busy individuals who are seeking a short break from the rapid pace of their hectic lives; to take some time to press pause, learn the art of meditation, put the theories into intensive practice and ideally take away mindfulness techniques for daily life.

Circuit Breakers

A little tangent: in my career, I have spent some time creating brand experiences for clients. Some of those were internal brand experiences with staff, who can be a cynical audience to engage with.

I would often research this internal audience to test the level of cynicism and gauge what kind of “circuit breaker” would be required at the beginning of an internal brand experience. A circuit breaker is essentially a device to make people sit up and listen. It forces a kind of “A-ha!” moment, and it establishes a perspective in the audience from the outset that they actually do need to listen to what follows. It’s an incredible technique for anyone trying to communicate with an ambivalent, cynical or skeptical audience.

Human being… or human doing?

Paul and Maia Bedson, the husband-and-wife team hosting the meditation retreat, presented an excellent circuit breaker at the opening of the retreat. Each of the 30 people in the room had to introduce themselves by name and also give themselves a score on the scale below.

I watched expressions change and some of the cynicism drain from the faces of many of the people in the room identified immediately with the red side of the scale:

The doing trap

There is so much written today about productivity, and a lot of it’s focused on how much more we can fit into our busy schedules—it focuses on “doing” more in the same amount of time.

I read a report recently that said that Australians spend a total of 37.5 hours a day doing various activities. Did anyone notice that’s 13.5 hours more than there actually are in a day? And that’s not even counting the 6-10 hours some of us spend sleeping! (The same report gave a figure of 43.4 hours for the average person in the USA!)

So how are we managing to “do” so much in any given day? Well if you consider that 8.7 hours of those hours are spent with media and 5.5 of those hours are spent with technology, you’ve probably worked out the answer is multi-tasking.

With so much “doing” crammed into one day, is it any wonder we never find anytime to just be?

Just being

Meditation comes in many forms, but all types of meditation are all based in the notion of being present, being mindful, being still in mind, being a witness—just being.

A myth I often hear is that meditation is all about having a completely blank mind. This is usually the first question I get asked when I talk about meditation: “How do you manage to get your mind to be completely empty?”

Thinking is not “the enemy” of meditation; rather, meditation is more about stepping outside of your “thinking mind” and becoming an observer, a witness to what’s going on in the here and now.

Being Right Now

If you’ve never tried meditation and would like to experience it for yourself, here are three simple steps you can do now to practice “being”.

Step one

Sitting in an upright position in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and breathe into your belly (not your chest). Relax all your muscles on the out breath and now rest your attention on the blank space behind your eyelids. It might even feel like this dark, blank space actually wraps right around your head.

Just notice that space for a moment. If a thought enters your mind, just watch it from afar, like it was scrolling across the back of your eyelids. Then watch that thought go, without giving it any attention or judgment and rest your attention back on the space in front of your closed eyes.

Step two

Now expand your awareness to also include the sounds around you: those coming into the room from elsewhere, and those coming from you. The sound of your breath, the gurgle of your stomach, the rain outside, the birds chirping, the cars moving down the street—just notice those sounds. Don’t judge them, or think about where they are coming from. Try not to even label them. Just listen and rest your attention on these sounds as you continue to rest your attention on the back of your eyelids.

Step three

Now open your awareness one step further to feel your breath moving into your belly, and feel your belly push the air back out again. Notice the pause in your breathing at the top of the exhalation, before you inhale again and fill your belly with nourishing air. You are still aware of the space in front of your closed eyes and the sounds in the room and those coming into it from afar.

Continue to do this, without judgment, no goal or benchmark you’ve set for yourself. Just make a choice to be present and to truly feel the expansiveness of the space in front of your closed eyes, feel the sounds as they rest upon your ears, and feel the in breath bringing oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body.

No goals, just a choice

The most important thing to remember as you start to try meditation is that there is no goal. Unlike the “doing” part of your brain which is constantly seeking to achieve, check things off a task list and attain new goals, meditation has no goals. It also has no judgmen—there is no right or wrong way of trying meditation.

Try not to tell yourself that you can’t do it, because the truth is, everyone has this capability in them. It is simply the ability to step back from your thinking mind and observe using your “aware mind” for a while.

Whether you managed five minutes or 15 minutes of taking these three simple steps, you have just experienced “being” through a simplistic form of meditation.

Open your focus

Once you’ve opened your eyes, instead of jumping straight back into “doing,” just notice the differences in yourself. Are your shoulders sitting lower? Do you feel more relaxed? Like you have created some “space” in your mind? Do you notice more of what is around you? Do you feel lightheaded?

The latter symptom may arise because meditation is medically proven to reduce your blood pressure radically and in a very short period of time. This is just one of many health benefits from incorporating a regular 20 minutes of meditation practice into your day.

What will you choose to be today? A human doing? Or a human being?

Justine Bloome, also known as “Jus”, blogs about her quest to be a mindful human being over at JusBeing. Follow her @inbloome on Twitter.

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  1. Before I came here and as soon as I saw Darren’s Tweet, I knew this is from someone who meditates! And what do you know, you are just now back from a retreat I dream of attending. And funnier still, I am writing a post on meditation right now – because it is one of the biggest challenges in my life. My old yoga teacher would ask the same question “Are you a human being or a human doing?” – a nice play on words and food for thought. Thank you for identifying the parts which are being rather than doing and articulating…..I admit I love doing but when I am just being, my soul completes the rest of me and the feeling is unmatched.

    • It’s also a challenge in my life – but one I think is worth pursuing with the mindfulness of what it brings to my life, similar to how you’ve described it. The ‘goal-lessness” of meditation is the part I still struggle with the most because I am such an action-oriented and goal-setting type of person. I love the question “am I a human being right now, or a human doing?” – it is such a simple way of staying mindful at any stage of the day 🙂

  2. I left a job earlier this year that definitely had me as a Doer. I thought I had made changes in my life, but when I look at the scale, I still see myslef leaning toward the doing side. Must look to remedy that!
    I was not surprised when I read the results of the study of how many hours are spent doing stuff and that the US is over 40 hours a day! That is our crazy life here!

    • I definitely tip the scales into the red side for the better part of most days. Meditation is one of the ways I am trying to get some more “balance”.

      I guess I should have mentioned in this post that it’s not necessarily bad to be in the red side – that’s typically how we all “get stuff done” – but it’s more about the balance. My personal aim of being a 5 (big picture) means I try to spend equal amounts of time in the green and the red across the course of a day. It doesn’t always work, but it keeps me mindful about where I spend my time when I reflect on it each night.

  3. This is very good. I always had challenges meditating because of hyper pace of my mind. Now I intentionally make myself focus and be in the moment that is now. We can do it anytime without fully meditating. As we are experiencing anything, that is what we call our lives, if we pay attention to what we are focused on we are being, by paying attention to how we feel in the moment that is always now, we can realize that we are being. When we are more aware we are in the moment being – human. I am re-tweeting this blog.


  4. This is a great piece and very timely indeed as I am rethinking my work/life habits and practices. I remember that the breath in a song, the white space on a page, and the “hold” in a dance is just as important as the melody, words, or leaps. I for one am trying to create more “white space” – in my thinking and doing – to allow for the exhale and simplify the canvas.

    Thanks again!

  5. The trick is to bring the doing into the being and operate from there.

    Nothing but the best…

  6. Great article on meditation Justine, takes me back to my first Japanese instructor Mikio Ishamaru. He would talk with us in very much the same manner. When I lived in California I loved finding a secluded place when I would go camping in the mountains. I would sit and close my eyes and hear the sounds around me, the birds, the wind, creaking of the trees moving and even the insects around me. He would tell us to open our minds eye and view the beauty all around us. Your mind would begin to paint a beautiful landscape of these sights and sounds. Meditation does help to rejuvenate mind, body and its senses.

    Thank you and keep up the great work,

  7. For me living in the moment is sanity. I picked up mediation about ten months ago and have been doing it virtually every day in one way or another ever since. Whether it is traditional mediation, walking meditation or running meditation – they all have the common theme of focusing the mind on the present and the sensations of the present moment – breath, footsteps or the feel of you muscles as you are running the final mile of a run.

    If you have not tried meditation, I encourage you to give it a shot for a few weeks. It is very claiming, restoring and centering. It really increases my productivity and keeps me focused on the things that are truly important to me… which can quickly get lost in a racing and frenzied mind.

  8. With all due respect to everyone, if you are trying to “…bring the doing into the being”, or “paint a beautiful landscape of these sights and sounds”, or “increase my productivity and keep me focused” you are not meditating.





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