Lucky to be alive


Mindful types like to remind us that we’re not ‘human doings’, we’re ‘human beings’! But what does it mean to stop ‘doing’ and just ‘be’? Even just sitting on the sofa is doing something, isn’t it? You’re sitting, breathing, thinking, feeling, itching, scratching, fidgeting…

In fact, you can sit on the sofa in doing mode, or in being mode. Doing mode might mean sitting there thinking of things you need to do, probably feeling guilty about some of them because you feel like you should have done them ages ago, your mind is whirring, and you feel alert, perhaps a little agitated or stressed.

Being mode basically means allowing yourself to relax on the sofa. To be in a state where you don’t feel the need to do anything in particular or go anywhere, you’re not worrying, planning or stewing – you’re not overcome with any emotion other than calm. Whatever you are doing you are completely absorbed in, as if nothing else matters in that moment.

This state might be very unfamiliar to you! I can certainly say I’ve only spent a tiny proportion of my adult life in this mode, although practising mindfulness has dramatically increased that proportion.

Doing mode is important – there are lots of things we do need to get done in order to get by in daily life. It drives us to achieve, to learn, to better ourselves, even to want to practice mindfulness. But spending too much time in doing mode is exhausting, and leads to feeling stressed, anxious, fearful and unable to relax. This might become particularly apparent when you try to go to sleep. Your mind will still be going over the things it thinks you need to do rather than powering down.

When you’re stuck in doing mode, you rarely take the time to enjoy anything because your focus is on getting through this thing in order to do the next thing. You bolt down your food rather than savour it, walk quickly rather than appreciate your surroundings and talk to people whilst also looking at your phone or thinking about your next task. Even at a social occasion you’re thinking about how to improve your experience rather than enjoying it as it is.

At the most simple level, mindfulness is about noticing we’re being carried away by a thought stream, standing still and then wading back to the present moment, again and again. Meditation trains you to do this more often and to spend more time in being mode by default, but what you do during the day is more important than meditating.

I find it helpful, as often as I can remember, to tune into my senses. To feel the handlebars of my bike as I’m cycling, to taste every mouthful of food, to listen to sounds as I’m walking along and pick out different ones, to notice an itch and choose not to scratch it, to look up at the sky and appreciate the beautiful clouds. So often, a train of anxious or stress-inducing thoughts gives way to appreciation of everyday things that remind me that I’m lucky to be alive. I mean seriously, what are the chances?!