The fact that our being necessarily demands to be expressed in action should not lead us
to believe that as soon as we stop acting we cease to exist.

We do not live merely to “do something” – no matter what. We do not live more fully merely
by doing something more, seeing more, tasting more and experiencing more than we ever have before.

Everything depends on the quality of our acts and experiences. A multitude of badly performed actions and experiences only half-lived exhausts and depletes our being.

By doing things badly we make ourselves less real. This growing unreality cannot
help but make us unhappy and fill us with a sense of guilt.

There are times then when in order to keep ourselves in existence at all, we simply have to sit back awhile and do nothing. And for a man who has let himself be drawn completely out of himself by his activity, nothing is more difficult than to sit still and rest, doing nothing at all.

We must first recover the possession of our own being before we can act or taste or experience reality.
— Thomas Merton

Being and Doing

The seasonal transition from summer into fall seems to be most intense of all. Suddenly Labor Day passes and the prevalent message is “Okay, summer is over. Back to work! Back to school! No more dallying around!”  It took many of us all summer to finally slow down and smell the roses. Now we’re told to snap out of it and “Do, do, do!”

It is important to recognize that this imposed stress is entirely man made. In the natural world, the transition into fall is gentle and gradual. Hints of color are slowly beginning to appear and just a few leaves have begun to fall. The days are comfortably warm and the nights are pleasantly cooler. It’s finally time to turn the air conditioners off, open all the windows and invite the outside in. Your body can actually be in sync with the seasonal temperatures.  In many areas, fall provides the optimum weather for outdoor activities such as biking and hiking.  False alarm!  We don’t have to give up all the joys of summer immediately. We can keep that vacationing spirit going with fun weekend excursions, continuing to eat meals outdoors, and enjoying an occasional dip in the ocean or a lake.

It is true that most of us do need to return to our socially productive roles during the weekdays. The most challenging aspect of this transition into September can be -- how do we dive back into all that doing and not lose our essence as a human being?  How do we make our doing an expression of our unique personality and intrinsic values? Because, as Thomas Merton points out, failing to do that, “we make ourselves less real.”

Bringing our being into our doing can be achieved by a simple but profound shift in our mindset. One helpful technique is to own our societal roles as our choice. Change the negative mind chatter from “I have to go back to school,” to, “I value a good education so I can become the person I want to be.” Instead of dreading going back to work, value the contribution you make to society through that work or the lifestyle it affords you. In other words, think about the whys and focus on the long term outcome.

Another approach is to find ways to make these societal duties an expression of our unique Self. Outwardly we do this all the time in the way we dress, but how can we also infuse our actions with our best qualities? When you look at the artwork of an accomplished painter, you don’t need to see the signature to know who created the piece. So ask yourself, ‘How do I put my signature on my every action so it is undeniably me? How do I make my life my heartwork?”

We’ve heard it said that we create our own reality, and Thomas Merton explains how to create the reality we seek. It’s by having our inner world directing our outer actions rather than visa versa. During the summer, by engaging in the activities we enjoy with the people we love, we recover the possession of our own being.  Now by bringing that persona with us into our daily life, we can act and taste and experience reality.