Being and Doing

The following is liberally adapted from Fear of Life by Alexander Lowen

There is an conflict that helps explain the human dilemma. It is between being and doing, an conflict that also reflects the two sides of man's nature, the body, and the mind or ego. On the ego level man expresses himself as a creator, on a body level he is the created. As a creator his focus is upon doing. As a creature his role is simply to be.

All animals except man just exist. Man is not content just to be, he has to do something or achieve something. The ego drive produces culture, but it can also be destructive, for instance in producing nuclear weapons.

Doing something is not letting it be. Doing represents an attempt to change a situation, which is all right when the situation is an external one. However, when the situation is internal, that is, a state of being, trying to change this state by doing reduces one's being. To act upon the self, one part of the personality must turn against another part. The ego or the I turns against the body by using the will against the feelings of the body. In this way, the being is split, and thereby reduced.

Using the will against the feelings may be necessary in the face of real danger, in which case it is healthy. It becomes unhealthy when the maneuver persists apart from real danger. Many people are always trying to change themselves by using willpower, but this only serves to deepen the split. Emotional health can only be gained through self-awareness and self-acceptance.

Change produced by the application of force from without is the product of doing and affects the being adversely. There is a process of change that takes place from within and requires no conscious effort. It is called growth, and it enhances being. It is not something one can do, and it is not therefore, a function of the ego but of the body.

Therapeutic change is similar to growth in that it is an inner process that cannot be accomplished by conscious effort. This is not to say that doing plays no role in the growth process. In acquiring a skill it is necessary to perform certain actions consciously, so that learning can occur, but the learning itself takes place on an unconscious, or body level.

The ego works by setting a goal and controlling the actions to achieve it. If the goal is secondary to the action, the activity is more being than doing. All productive activities such as a car assembly line or plowing a field, are aspects of doing. But when pleasure is the dominant motivation, as in dancing or listening to music, the activity is an aspect of being.

Being is equated with feeling. One cannot make or produce a feeling anymore than than one can make being. Genuine feelings arise spontaneously, otherwise one is pretending. Further, feelings do not produce or accomplish anything. There is neither goal nor purpose to feelings. We can give reasons for our feelings, but our feelings do not arise in response to the dictates of reason. they often occur in opposition to reason. They are spontaneous bodily responses to the world around us, and their function is to promote the living process.

Doing does not involve or lead to feelings and may actually block or inhibit feeling. All movements are dominated by the goal, and feelings are considered irrelevant. In fact, in the short run, feelings can hamper performance. For the sake of efficiency, people try to transform themselves into machines until the goal is achieved.

However, if we pay at least as much attention to the process as the goal, taking action becomes creative or self-expressive, and increases the sense of being. In being, what counts is not what one does, but how one does it. The reverse is true for doing.

Doing can be superimposed on being, but it cannot substitute for being. If one is a person, one can do and produce as a self-expression. The doing doesn't define the self, but only enhances it. But if one is not a person, the doing will not fill in the lack. One cannot become a person by doing.

Life takes place in the balance point between making it happen, and taking it as it comes