the business of being human
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
In an age where we as a species, even from the time we are children, are judged and measured on all of our “doing”, it is curious that we continue to identify ourselves (albeit not always consciously) as human “beings”. Who created and institutionalized that label in the first place? And what has changed socially in such a profound way, at least in Western culture, that the “being” side of the being/doing balance of life has become the predominant focus and measure of success?
In the wake of a significant and unexpected life shake-up both professionally and personally, where I find myself continents away from where I imagined I would be at this stage of my life, I am faced with the harsh reality that I can no longer hide in my busyness – in all of my doing. The last 12 years of my life have been consumed by the hustle. Although I have not always moved in a straight line and experienced setbacks along the way, I’ve been sprinting towards the goal: my dream of living abroad, climbing the corporate ladder, marrying the right man, etc. Although that journey has been valuable and fulfilling on many levels, where does it leave me when the seemingly solid ground beneath my feet crumbles? Great resume, check. Great stories, check. But who was I being to get there? And who am I to persevere through the mucky terrain of ambiguity now that my identity, anchored to all those accomplishments, is coming loose from the sand?
As I watch yet another magical yet ephemeral sunset over the Miami horizon, I can’t help but feel both incredibly blessed for the day and all its gifts, but also anxious about what tomorrow brings without a structure and schedule. Guilt washes over me as I realize I don’t have anything in particular to do…on a Monday. Cue the foreboding music. While I realize to many people this may sound like a good problem to have, for me it is genuinely uncomfortable to just be. I’ve written a lot in the past about presence – which is really the state of being in the moment – and how illusive it is for me. Some part of me believes that the quest to just be is the ultimate challenge and purpose. If we don’t know who we are being in the doing of all the “things”, what is the point?
“Who are you being?” is not an easy question to answer and it’s one that is showing up in my life frequently these days. But perhaps if I already knew how to answer it, I would be denied of the journey ahead to figure it out. As much as I want all of the answers now – what is my life purpose? will my true love ever come? will I be successful? – deep in my soul I know my ship is destined to sail in the unknown, open waters for a while. In disconnecting from the grounded-ness that was my routine for so many years, I’m free to explore the limitlessness of what life has to offer. Some days the open ocean feels choppy and lonely to the point of desperation. Other days, it feels liberating and serene; full of possibilities.
As Pema Chodron states in her book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, “it’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we are going to die that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of okayness. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for this is freedom – freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.”
I infer then that the “being” in human being is about recognizing and embracing that the apparent ground beneath our feet – the accomplishments, the worldly possessions, and even the literal terrain – is merely a mirage. It is what I want to believe as the foundation for my identity, but in attaching myself to it I am denying the very meaning of identity and my own freedom. Are you ever really free if you can’t just be? I’m far from enlightenment but I am cautiously climbing aboard the ship without a chartered course. It feels unstable and regularly makes me queasy, but in the vastness of the uncertainty of just being, I gaze up at the stars and I know I am home.