I’m starting to get a flavor of the freedom I last wrote about, but it is distinctly different than I had anticipated. At its core, it is a freedom from doing, but also one which does not necessarily involve idleness. Seems a bit of a paradox, I know, but trust me I’ll do my best to explain.
The other evening, I slept in my van by the Sprague River in southern Oregon. A weepy, meandering river with verdant locks of algae attesting to its gentle flow and the relative warmth of the water. I had left Ashland earlier in the day where I had spent the previous couple of nights. Although Ashland is a lovely place with great cafes and a wonderful park where I played my guitar and sang for those out for a little stroll, I left because I felt the yearning to get back into nature. Ashland, while having flavors of spirituality and a generally kind vibe has also become a retail mecca with both sides of a half-mile strip of Main Street populated shoulder to shoulder with all sorts of cute shops. Something about the consumerism was proving to be anathema to my soul. I just needed to get away.
After driving a few hours through the future state of Jefferson (another potential post), I arrived in the later afternoon to the Sprague River. After settling in, I experimented with my InstaPot and managed to successfully make a nice dinner of rice and bean chili. Also made some cashew milk in my little blender and began fermenting it overnight with the InstaPot’s yoghurt function. I took some time to reorganize my food and kitchen area including cleaning out my non-refrigerated food bin, the contents of which had collectively suffered a spill of some Balsamic vinegar. Once complete, some guitar time along the river as the sun set over the trees on the opposite bank was sublime.
Aside the river the next morning, I moved the van into the sun to better charge my batteries (literally), went for a long exercise stroll along the river and returned to breakfast, reading and more guitar. As I sat in the ample morning sun, I began to see that the real freedom I crave is a freedom from doing. Sitting along that river bank with nothing that needed doing was not only liberating, but deeply restful. For the past couple of months, I have been intensely working on the van, working on converting it to the Casa Roma, my little adventure home on wheels. In addition to hosting airbnb guests, and doing home and life maintenance chores, I’ve been spending probably 12 hours/day, 7 days/week working on this project. In many ways, I’ve been a “doing machine,” remaining focused and efficient through the interweaving threads of designing, figuring, ordering, and building. I remember laughing to myself one evening as I was brushing my teeth – dental hygiene had simply become just another task on my endless list of tasks to accomplish! So alongside the river, sitting in the sun, reading, playing guitar and just relaxing was an obvious contrast to the way my accomplishment-oriented life had been flowing over the past many weeks. I was experiencing a pronounced freedom from doing as I had known it.
What I have been seeing in the days since sitting along that river is that my life is one long parade of doing. I may have more spaciousness in my life and schedule than most other people, but I am in truth a subtly compulsive doer. I say subtly, because there is something in how I relate to the tasks of my life that turns an ordinary action into an act of doing.
The key to note here is that I am realizing that without a “doer,” there is no “doing.” There is a way of doing without being a doer. Hang with me here. Like I said it’s subtle, but it’s significantly important. Remember how I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back how I cleaned out a bin of food from an unfortunate Balsamic vinegar spill? That cleanup was sublimely relaxing because it felt, rather than my doing that task, that the task simply happened through me. It was easily something that I could have done begrudgingly, but it just flowed through. I remember the thought arose to do the task later and go outside and enjoy sitting by the river, but that thought was immediately followed by, “but this is perfectly peaceful and enjoyable too.” There was nothing inferior about this cleaning task, even in comparison to the possibility of sitting by the banks of a river with guitar in hand. I was simply part of a flow and the doing was happening through me, not by me.
This brings to mind something that my favorite teacher Mooji said:
“Notice how life flows of its own accord. Nothing here is a chaos, but a harmony. You are already inside this flow. Your life is unfolding naturally. Leave it be. It does not need any help. Stay as neutral awareness.”
Life does unfold naturally. What I and most of us tend to do is to insert ourselves into that natural unfoldment. We effort to make things happen. We even check off “relaxation time” from our to-do list as if it is another task to be completed, thus subtly turning even ordinary non-doing into something to control and accomplish. Our lives are full of things that require attention, so I’m not necessarily talking about limiting the amount that we do (although that’s probably a pretty good idea too). What I’m learning is that there is a way of relating to the doings of our lives, to our tasks at hand, that allows the neutral place of awareness within us to bear witness to our own lives. A freedom from doing is possible. Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting by a river and stopping everything for awhile. In a much greater sense, however, a true freedom from doing means letting go of the doer in us, getting out of our own way, and simply allowing our lives to unfold as they naturally will.