Doing, Being, and the Flu

There is doing. . . and there is being.

Sometimes we are in the doing mode. There are checklists of things to accomplish, requirements someone expects us to meet. We keep our noses to the grindstone, our eyes on the finish line. We are determined, busy, productive.

Other times we are in the being mode. We are relaxed, languid, unhurried. We enjoy the moment, lingering over a cup of coffee, a fine meal, an enjoyable conversation. We are unconcerned about where we are going since the journey matters more than the destination.

We swing back and forth between the poles of doing and being. If we’re too focused on doing for too long, we become like robots; if we’re too focused on being, we become like sloths.

Dr. Bill Thomas has suggested that in adulthood doing predominates over being, but in what he terms ‘elderhood’ being predominates over doing. Whereas the adult is mostly concerned with getting things done, elders become less concerned with accomplishments and more interested in memories, stories, and life lessons.

Thomas suggests that the progression to elderhood is a gradual one, passing through an intermediate stage of “senescence” when doing and being are in balance. I retired from full-time work just under four years ago and thought that by now I would be much less doing-focused than what is in fact the case. I’m not working full-time, but do have a couple of part-time jobs and am blogging. I keep coming up with plans to do more, and wonder when I’ll fit everything in. I’m not as busy as I once was, but I’m still much more of a do-er than a be-er. Am I stuck? When will the change from doing to being take place?

About a week and a half ago, I got sick. My lungs became congested and I started coughing. I felt chilled, lost my appetite, and had little energy. I had to cancel the appointments I had scheduled. For the last several days, I’ve resumed some of my schedule, but still am doing no more than what I have to. All the extras–shopping, going to the gym, attending Bible Study–seemed like too much. I lounged around quite a bit, taking several naps most days and getting to bed early at night.

Illness accomplished what I hadn’t managed to do on my own, changing my focus from doing to being. For now, when I pause during the day I no longer have had the sense that I’m just taking a short break and will soon need to start accomplishing something. It’s fine with me to not do anything other than sitting. Every hour or two I just close my eyes for a while; sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes not. I’m relaxed and peaceful, simply waiting for my body to heal.

I don’t imagine I’ve really rid myself of the compulsion to accomplish things; I’m sure the sense of drive will return as my symptoms abate and my energy improves. It’s nice for now, though, to live in the realm of being rather than doing. Perhaps a few years from now I will have made the transition to elderhood and I won’t need illness to help me spend my days being rather than doing.


About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family. I maintain a part-time therapy practice in Grand Rapids. I currently worship at Monroe Community Church in Grand Rapids. I can be reached at
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2 Responses to Doing, Being, and the Flu

  1. Mary VanderWerp says:

    So true that the flu causes a switch to being rather than doing. The flu hit me Tuesday evening after visiting you and Mom on Sunday afternoon. Not sure if the bug was shared by you or acquired elsewhere. I think being would be more enjoyable without the aches, chills, coughing and fear of coughing because those muscles ached so. Maybe we should go against our nature some when we are well and enjoy being once in a while.

    • bobritzema says:

      Sorry you got sick, too, whether it was the same bug or a different one. I agree with the idea of focusing more on being when we are well–hopefully, we’ll get well soon so we can practice it!

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