Written by Michael Mantz, M.D.
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) highlights two primary ways of processing for our minds – the doing mode and the being mode.
We all are familiar with the doing mode. We have been trained from birth to learn to do things. To move our bodies, to explore the world, to learn new facts and regurgitate them, to acquire new skills and perform them.
Doing is heavily conditioned into our psychology. Many of us, when we are not doing anything, will often feel guilty or lazy, demonstrating the powerful indoctrination into the (over)emphasis on doing over being. We often have to provide others with excuses when we need to take a break and when we finally take one often it is not a true break but one usually filled with distractions and intoxicants.
The main issue is one of balance. Our overemphasis on doing and in most cases no guidance on how to allow ourselves to be – leads us to develop rigid compulsive patterns of both thinking and action.
Compulsive doing leads to compulsive thinking. It is no accident that most of us find great difficulty being alone in a room without distractions. The compulsive doer in us, without anything to do, will keep churning away in our minds, driving us to judge our past and worry about our future. This disconnects our attention away from direct experience and new opportunities to learn something new.
When our minds are in the doing mode they are mainly focused on the past or future and rarely pay attention to the present moment. Unbalanced doing unknowingly puts ourselves into an imaginary trap. One where we feel caught inside a gap between who we think we are and who we want to be. We work tirelessly to close this gap. We may experience temporary relief when we accomplish meaningful goals, though in due time, we find ourselves trapped in a “new” gap, and the process repeats itself again and again… This leads to a consistent feeling of unsatisfactoriness which is often felt in the body as restlessness.
Compulsive doing often leads to burnout and the tendency to fall again and again into similar patterns of pain and suffering.
Most of the suffering we encounter in our life is from maladaptive habitual patterns of mind reactivity towards the people and situations that we routinely encounter. These patterns are well-ingrained and mostly outside of our conscious awareness. One of the most effective ways to foster well-being in our lives is to become conscious of these maladaptive patterns and learn how to upgrade them into more effective ways to deal with the challenges that we face.
In order to become more conscious of our maladaptive patterns, a powerful first step is learning how to observe and receive our experiences without trying to manipulate them. This capacity for unadulterated observing (a central feature of the being mode) helps us to see our underlying mind patterns more clearly and accurately. Clearer seeing gives your mind higher quality information that improves its ability to make wiser actions.
It is for this reason that I often teach my clients how to shift into the being mode early in our treatment together.
As a general rule, when faced with a challenge that has been difficult to overcome, go back and get more accurate information about the nature of the challenge.
There is nothing wrong with doing. It simply needs to be balanced with being. The being mode gives us an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate ourselves, to be open to new information and insights, and to regain our balance.
Learning to be (which is mostly learning to let go of our conditioned habits of doing) is a powerful skill that will strengthen your mind and body – giving it a strong foundation that will empower future doing. It will keep your patterns of doing up-to-date, flexible, and more resilient to take on and overcome the challenges you face.
It’s tricky to teach clients to learn how to enter the being mode since you can’t do it just like you can’t do falling asleep or digesting your food. The basic strategy is to set up your environment to help foster the mind to shift into the being mode.
I sometimes joke with my clients and call the being mode – medicinal laziness. Medicinal laziness is different from regular laziness in that when we are usually acting lazy we are mostly unconscious i.e. binge watching videos, laying around half-asleep on the couch or bed. Medicinal laziness is when we simply rest back into letting go and notice what it’s like when we simply allow the current moment to be. You let your experience unfold however it wants and simply observe the events without trying to manipulate them, whether with your thoughts or your actions. As we develop the capacity to let go and let be, this frees up our psychological energy and allows us to be more alert and more conscious which is very different than the times when we are usually being lazy.
In future articles I will go into more detail regarding the doing and being modes. Below is a video introducing a brief practice into the being mode.