We are a culture of doers. “What can I do?” “What should I do?” And the double do… “What do I do?” We are conditioned to believe that we need to do something to be happy and really, just to be okay. We need to do something in order to get the something or someone that will make us happy. If we don’t do something, it’s not going to happen.
When you suggest to people that they stop doing, just for a moment, stop trying to get to where they want to be, to become who they want to be, they grow anxious and angry. They know one thing for sure: they can’t just sit back and be where they are; they need to keep moving forward, keep getting better. Indeed moving forward and getting better is, for many, the purpose of life. Something needs to be done to solve the problem that is this moment, this me.
We believe that we have to do something to be happy, but what does it mean to be happy? Ultimately, we are looking for the moment when we can finally be where we are, be here. Happiness implies a state of presence. We are looking for the moment when “when” can finally become “now.” We search high and low for the right effort to make, the effort that will lead us to a place where effort will no longer be needed, where we can finally stop trying.
“What do I do?” is the mantra of the mind. It is the mind that asks this question and the mind that answers it. Paradoxically, we have assigned the perpetrator of our suffering with the task of curing our suffering.
There are consequences to our belief that we need to do something to get to happy, to now, and to the place where we can finally stop trying to get anywhere. For one thing, any happiness we achieve this way will be a temporary fix. Everything we get will change and thus our happiness will be an unreliable one. Soon we will be back to searching for what we need to do–to get back the feeling of happiness. Worse than an unreliable happiness however, is that our what to do conditioning inspires a relationship with the present moment that is antagonistic. This moment is never the right moment, never enough, never the moment we are supposed to be living. This moment is always being rejected for a moment in the future, when life will be better.
Most yoga classes these days begin with the teacher asking the students to set an intention for their practice that day. Students are asked to make a plan for what they want to get out of the time they are about to spend on the mat, a goal for what they want their presence to do for them. They are encouraged to decide how they want the next 90 minutes to change their now. Even when we are practicing being present we need to be moving forward, heading somewhere else. So too, much of current self-help today is about clarifying what we want to do with our life and what we need to do to make that happen. Everywhere we look, we are being asked to do something to make things better.
The secret to happiness is completely contradictory to what we have been taught. The plan we have set up is the wrong plan for what we want to achieve. Happiness happens when we stop trying to figure out what we need to do to get to a better future. Happiness happens when we live without a future, and without an intention for what this moment and this life should become. Happiness happens when we move from becoming to being.
How utterly radical, to live without an intention… and how utterly freeing. But be prepared, the mind will scream when “What do I do?” is dropped as your mantra… “But my life will never be good if I don’t do something to make it happen!” Nonetheless, take a chance, be courageous, give it a whirl and see what you discover. You can always return to your intentions and agendas for this moment, this life. In truth, life does happen when you stop doing something with it and to it. Indeed, when you live without an intention, life gets better than good. When you stop asking, “What do I do?” and start asking, “What’s here, now?”, the presence you are after, the place of no effort, it’s all here. As it turns out, you didn’t need to do anything at all.
Copyright 2013 Nancy Colier