Practices From the Inside Out: Is Spiritual Life About Doing or Being?

Practices From the Inside Out: Is Spiritual Life About Doing or Being? May 11, 2019

Is Spiritual Life About Doing or Being?

Some of us focus on the things spiritual life causes us to do.

We believe spiritual life is about how we behave, our actions, what we do. There are specific ways to put what we believe into practice. Even thinking or believing certain things is a something we do.

Others of us see spiritual life as something we are or who we become. We believe people recognize spiritual life in us because of the kind of people we are. Even when we might not behave in particular ways spiritual life is working within us.

Is spiritual life about doing or being?

As a child, I believed spiritual life was primarily concerned with what I did. Spiritual life was about being good and sitting still. It seemed to have a lot to do with not annoying other people.

A lot of spiritual life apparently took place in our heads.

As I grew older and learned about spiritual life I was attracted to doing more than just being quiet. I believed spiritual life sparked my interest in justice and I worked to put it into practice.

The more I did to help people and pursue justice, it seemed, the more there was to do. Spiritual life, in my experience, did not seem particularly focused on getting things done.

The harder I worked to try to make a difference in the world, the less of a difference I seemed to make.

If spiritual life were all about doing, it did not seem to me we were getting much done.

I began to wonder about the idea of spiritual life as a way of being.

The people who believed spiritual life was about being seemed to be happier than I was.

Do We Need to Choose Either Doing or Being?

The idea spiritual life might be about being and not doing did not inspire me. I was motivated to serve justice and make a difference in the world. It was a challenge for me to see how being could change the world more than doing.

I was also not particularly comfortable exploring the possibilities of being. The experience of being felt passive and resigned. At least when I was doing I was trying to accomplish something.

Eventually I arrived at a place where I hoped spiritual life was not a choice between doing or being. I was not clear on how they fit together for me, but I did not want them to be either/or choices.

It took me time to explore the question of doing or being.

My initial understanding was our being set the context and provided the framework for our doing. I assumed what we did grew out of who we were.

The question of doing or being was more complex and more challenging than I had assumed. The relationship between who we are and what we do is a network of factors.

I came to see spiritual life is not simply a matter of choosing either doing or being.

We are elusive, even to ourselves. It takes reflection to begin to comprehend why we do what we do and how we become who we are.

One truth which helped me sort out all I my insights was the idea of happiness.

My central question about spiritual life was why either doing or being did not help me find happiness. Neither focusing on doing nor on being seemed to help me feel happier.

Is Happiness About Doing or Being?

I do not believe spiritual life is always about helping us feel happy. There are times when spiritual life inspires me to grow by sparking my desire for change. In my experience, though, spiritual life does help us gain perspective and understanding. We grow into accepting the truths we learn about ourselves.

My frustration was about trying to understand spiritual life as either doing or being. Neither option helped me be happy. Focusing on doing led me to frustration with not being able to accomplish as much as I hoped to do. When I focused on being I felt uncomfortable and like I was not doing what I could.

Eventually I began to appreciate spiritual life was showing me the shortcomings of approaching life as either doing or being.

Happiness is about more than either doing or being. Spiritual life is more than a choice between doing or being.

It is not as if we can decide only to experience the parts of life we enjoy.

Sometimes I experience spiritual life guiding me into parts of life I have not considered before. There are other times when I am drawn to remember and appreciate what most inspires me.

In my experience deeper happiness comes from finding the balance between doing and being.

Spiritual Life Takes Us Beyond Doing or Being

Some of us have strong opinions about whether spiritual life is about doing or being.

We may not see the point of being without doing. Some of us get so caught up in doing we can lose sight of being.

I believe spiritual life draws us beyond either/or approaches. So much of spiritual life is about both/and.

It is a challenge for many of us to see beyond our own boundaries. We like to think we have thought things through and we understand how life should be. Life is about making wise choices and we have made ours.

In my experience spiritual life is all about helping us go beyond our own choices.

We like to define limits which help us feel comfortable and secure. Spiritual life is determined to show us what life is like beyond the limits we impose on ourselves.

There is more to life than choosing either doing or being. Spiritual life draws us into looking again and asks us What more do you see?

How will spiritual life take us beyond doing or being today?

When will we be faced with a choice between doing or being this week?

[Image by Krisztina.Konczos]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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