There’s a phrase found on knickknacks in gift shops that goes, “I’m a human being, not a human doing.” The implication being, that a “human doing,” is not what you want to be.
Better to be than to do—so the song goes. Human doings identify with action but doers (those who do) get so caught up in doing they don’t see the beauty in just being a being being (see also: “Moonshadow”).
Then again, devaluing doing could be a sweet rationalization for inactivity.
“I’m a human being, not a human doing,” is attributed to at least two writers: Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1922-2007), “So it goes,” and Wayne W. Dyer (1940-2015), “Our intention creates reality.”
“To be is to do – Socrates.
To do is to be – Sartre.
Do Be Do Be Do – Sinatra.” (Vonnegut).
As Dyer said, “Don’t equate your self-worth with how well you do things in life. You aren’t what you do. If you are what you do, then when you don’t… you aren’t.” Or said the other way around, “If you do what you are, then when you aren’t….you don’t.”
To simply enjoy being relates to a line in Slaughterhouse Five (the book, not location): “How nice—to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive” (p. 105), or, better yet, “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt” (p. 122).
In Your Erroneous Zones (the book, not location) Dyer explains how negative thinking leads to negative emotions (e.g. worry, guilt, anger) which leads to painful consequences via erroneous (read: wrong) actions (see also: “Where do the children play?”).
Dyer’s path to happiness is based on commitment to oneself. He thought that humans have the potential to live happily, but not everyone does because external influences form erroneous (wrong) zones in your personality that block personal fulfillment.
The idea of individuality is discussed in the movie Harold and Maude (1971).
The question is, “What flower would you like to be?”
Dyer moved from behaviorist psychology—Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy—to a philosophy where positive thinking cures disease, solves problems, and manifests goodness by aligning thoughts with divine intention to create miracles (Psychology Today).
So it goes.
The crux of the matter is this: Let’s say you’re trying to do something on a computer, but no matter how determined you are or how much you want a result to happen, no matter how frustrated and emotional you get, the computer will only respond to your actions. Only when you do what needs to be done, will results be satisfactory.
The same holds true for life.
The world is like a computer that responds to your behaviour. The world doesn’t feel your feelings. Feelings come and go as they will.
As David K. Reynolds put it in Playing Ball On Running Water (1996), “Reality doesn’t respond to my will or my wishes or emotions. To believe that positive thinking changes the world directly is childlike naiveté. To be sure, my thoughts and feelings may influence what I do (my behavior), and that action, in turn, may influence reality. But it is what I do that affects my world. And it is the same for you” (p. 16).
Insight isn’t enough. You need to do, so as to be.
As the Japanese psychiatrist Shoma Morita (1874-1938) put it, “Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.”
Morita taught that energy comes from everywhere—things, people, words, feelings, nature, places—and as individuals we have the choice to live in positive or negative energy (source).
The question is: positive or negative?
What is your essence?
By knowing your essence, you know who you are, what to do, and how to do it. But essences are tricky. They’re abstract. They exist in thought and not as physical things.
Your essence is your “intrinsic nature” (as in, essential). It is your “indispensable quality” (as in, “absolutely necessary”). Your essence belongs naturally to you. It is essential but what is it? Is it self-awareness?
Existentialists assert that a human being is “thrown into” a universe that cannot be “thought away.” This means that being in the world comes before consciousness and that being in the world is the ultimate reality.
The essence of you is the meaning you ascribe to yourself or, as Sartre put it, “At first [Man] is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.”
And so you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, “How did I get here?”
You win a lottery! Bam! you’re happy! A loved one dies, Slam! you’re sad. Emotions are natural reactions. It’s natural to feel highs and lows and stress. That’s the ride. Stress motivates. Emotions are your natural response to a given circumstance.
You can’t help yourself from hating people sometimes, but you can stop yourself from killing them. Truth is built upon life experience. Your self is a flow of attention. The real trick is to enjoy reality.
Go from there.
That’s the heart of it.