We live in a culture where everyone is supposed to be going somewhere, doing something (usually meaning “having a job”), aiming at something and… getting results. And if we don’t reach what we think we should have or when “results” don’t come at our own rhythm, we think that we have failed. More often than not, there is almost an urgency of “doing” and “making things happen”. The problem with this way of going on with our lives is that it often short-circuits the vital energy that is working for us in the Universe. If we want to truly live a vibrant soulful life, we need to also learn the art of “undoing.”
I am the first to play guilty here. I am a doer as much as I am what some call a visionary or a mystic (depending on their frame of reference) – if not an idealist and a dreamer. I do like making things happen, getting a project on the way, checking things off my to-do-list. I was good in situations of violence because I immediately went on my active mode, organizing, making things happen, finding some order in the chaos, positive resources in the midst of utter destruction, and helping people immediately organize and start (re)build on that. As an academic, I always remained a practitioner and an activist, never considering that research was enough in itself, making sure that it would make a difference in the lives of people who were concerned. Even as a child (and certainly as a teenager), I was as much an activist as I was a contemplative.
So, I certainly don’t think that there is anything wrong with “doing” and making things happen. For the child that I was, it was a very useful survival mechanism, including in allowing me to extend beyond my immediate personal situation, and find compassion and light in the darkness. As far as my professional career is concerned, I honestly have a much humbler perspective of what my work may have changed (or not). But I know that prayer without action is not enough, that things change in our communities and societies when real, humanistic actions are taken by courageous citizens and activists standing up for human values and working for the greater good.
There is nothing wrong in “doing”.
The problem, in particular when it comes to our own personal lives, is not only that it may rest on the illusion that we are in control of what is happening in each moment, but it often short-circuits the vital soul energy that allows things to align for our highest interest. It also short-circuits the possibility of touching base with that interstitial realm from which creative ways of moving through our lives arise.
Relaxing the rational mind is what allows the genius of the unconscious to express itself. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is known to have said that the music is not in the notes, but in the silence in between. How better can he have expressed that the essential may be at least as much in our “not doing” as in our “doing”?
I voluntarily – and more specifically – refer to “undoing” here, as there is something for us to undo and unlearn in the process. Here are seven core elements of that art of “undoing”:
1. The art of pausing and noticing: Watching the habits of the mind for just what they are: pulling and pushing, grasping and rejecting, self-judging, etc. A lot of those habits come from a place of resistance to what is, and they can actually make things worse. Developing that awareness, recognizing and naming those things generally already takes some of their energy out.
2. The art of “making silence”: Creating moments of silence, coming back to your own breath, sitting in a sacred circle, and really any devotional practice or ritual, help you drop down into a deeper level. It is hard to find and hear guidance when the mind is all over the place. In a culture of constant speed, business and distraction, allow yourself to remember the stillness of hibernation, the silence that comes with the snow and cold winter, and spend more time inward. It does not have to be a long silent retreat. It can be a weekend, an hour, or just a few moments when waking up in the morning, when driving to work, taking a shower… Choose silence over “noise” as often as you can in your daily life.
3. The art of unknowing: It is hard to open to new ways when we think that we know what we know and don’t know. Those of you who have come to see me for a healing session may remember that it is always part of the intention that I say aloud before a journey (“beyond what we know and don’t know, what we may think that we know and don’t know”). Undoing is also about unknowing and unlearning so that we can make space for Spirits to do the work, or simply for fresh wisdom. As the story goes, “a cup that is already full has no room to receive.” So take those moments of silence as opportunities to just be, now, as if you knew nothing and had no word. Just to be exactly as you are in the moment, not trying to change anything. This is also the doorway to the place of deep mystery that I have been talking about a lot lately.
4. The art of feeling: In that space, part of the transformation may come from simply allowing yourself “not to think” with your habitual mind, and “not to do anything” with what may arise in the moment. Whatever happens, don’t struggle with the different parts of yourself, don’t try to solve the problem or fix yourself. Give yourself the permission to feel the emotions behind the different voices in your head, and trust that your subconscious and Spirits are working to clear things for you. Become the observer and watch things moving through you, through your body, and out. The art of feeling is also the art of staying, with compassion and a lot of gentleness, using your breath in your body as a guide.
5. The art of imagining: In the great silence, once you have dropped deep enough, part of what will emerge more to the surface will also be the deep power of your imagination, away from the direct sunlight of your attention, as you become more subtly reflective, like the moon is vis-à-vis the sun. In that space, you may begin to see your questions and your life itself in a new and unexpected light.
6. The art of listening and trusting: As you are starting to listen from a deeper place, you will start to trust. Why? Because when you listen deeply, you start realizing that, indeed, you are not alone, that whatever it is – your soul or the Universe or a transcendental force – it IS there. It does not mean that everything will go according to your plan or that even bad things will not happen. But it means that you are choosing to work with the flow of life instead of against it.
7. The art of surrendering: And then you will be able to completely surrender. One of the most experiential experiences of surrendering I have had has been learning how to float on my back. I have just recently started taking swimming lessons (long story!) and the most exciting discovery of all was realizing that, in order to float on water, I had to “do nothing.” And, for some reason, it worked the very first time (I know, silly, but nobody had ever told me that before!). You see: “doing nothing” is very different from even “relaxing”.
Ultimately, the art of undoing contains a promise: get out of the rut of “working on yourself” and start living with more ease, pace and aliveness. Just-Living. It is simple, and does not require anything sophisticated. But it requires a little bit of discipline at first, and practice.
Béatrice | Contemporary Shamanic Healer
Allowing The Light