To Do or to Be?

Focusing on how you want to "be" in your daily life may help you to live well.

Posted Mar 16, 2016

A few years ago, I was listening to one of my favorite radio programs, On Being, with Krista Tippett. The program that day consisted of an interview with the late Celtic poet, philosopher, and scholar, John O’Donohue. One particular part of the interview stopped me in my tracks. O’Donohue quoted from the 13th century German mystic, Meister Eckhart:

"Many people come to me asking how I can pray... how I should think... what I should do... and the whole time, they neglect the most important question... which is how should I be?

In fact, most of modern western culture seems to value “doing” more than “being.” As a result, when it comes to thinking about how to improve our lives, most of us have been taught to focus on what we want to “do.” There is some wisdom in this, as having specific action goals can be very helpful for changing behavior.

However, what would happen if we focused less on what we want to “do” and more on how we want to “be?”

After stumbling over this question a few dozen times, it struck me to write down specific ways in which I want to “be” in the world.

Below is my tentative list. 

I want to be…

1. in awe.
2. grateful.
3. peaceful.
4. sincere.
5. connected.
6. empathetic.
7. just.
8. faithful to my call.
9. thoughtful.
10. curious.
11. mindful.
12. patient.
13. hard-working.
14. courageous.
15. self-disciplined.

As I have thought about this, I realize that these not just ways of being I want to bring into my life, they are personal values. I hope I can inspire them in others as well, particularly my kids and my students.

I have experimented with meditating on these different ways of being as I start my day. I pray, using my imagination, about how I might bring these states into particular encounters I anticipate that day.

Many times, I am uncertain of what I want to “do” in my life. No matter what I do, though, I have found it helpful to consider how I can “be” like this.

How do you want to "be?"

Andy Tix, Ph.D., also often blogs at his site The Quest for a Good Life. You can sign up to receive e-mail notifications of new posts at this site.