Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Ways of "Making Stuff Happen," or How To Keep Away From Bears

So I’m telling my roommate Charlene how I’ll be crying my eyes out in an empty house this whole weekend, as both she and my other roommate, Rachel, will be up in the mountains visiting friends.

Charlene, who is a blue-eyed brunette of Hungarian origin, has very beautiful and dramatic eyebrows.  She raises one skeptically in my general direction.

“I doubt that very highly,” she says.  “I think it’s much more likely you’ll be reading, watching the final season of Lost, and probably spending a lot of time lying on the couch looking at the ceiling.”

Charlene is one of those charmed individuals who is happiest when she is getting things done, producing results, making things happen, and generally achieving big dreams.  It’s not that she doesn’t know how to relax or have fun.  It’s just that her idea of a fun, relaxing time is painting an accent wall in the living room, or making a four-course home-cooked meal for twelve people who don’t know each other very well.

I, on the other hand, am one of those “differently-abled” individuals who is happiest when lying around, shooting the shit, going for walks that lead nowhere, and swinging on swings. 

When I go on vacation to the beach, I really enjoy watching other people do things like parasailing or scuba-diving—I can admire their industry while thinking that perhaps I’ll try tomorrow.  But not right now.  Cause the sun is warm, the sand is sandy, and frankly, that looks like a lot of effort.

For this general tendency to entropy, I blame both my natural temperament (the politest adjective for which might be “relaxed”) and my older sister, who raised me on the belief that the best thing one can do with one’s time is to pick up interesting sticks, or to roll down appetizingly green hills if the grass looks really fluffy.

I told Charlene before we moved in together that one of my favorite things to do was lie on a couch and look at the ceiling, but I don’t think she really believed me until she walked in on me one day.

“Holy shit! You really ARE just lying there doing nothing, aren’t you?”


If you’ve been playing in any spiritual, self-help, success-driven, transformational, or metaphysical circles in the past few years, chances you’ve heard quite a bit about the place of “action” in making stuff happen in your life.

Depending on where you’ve been hanging out, you may have heard either that action is A) Good, or B) Bad, if Not Inspired.

You may have heard (or observed from your own experience) that either:

A)   Getting into action is the best way to make something real, to demonstrate actual change or transformation, to know oneself as a powerful agent of creation.  You should get into action even if you don’t feel very great about it, because once you put that feeling aside and DO, you will feel differently about yourself as a result.


B)   Getting into action without FIRST reaching for inspired Being, alignment, energy, vibration, etc., is the best way to waste a lot of time and energy doing stuff that’s just going to produce pretty much the identical results you already have.  You should not get into action if you don’t feel very great about it, because your action will simply result in more of the same feeling.

When I look at this apparent paradox from a place of heart, I can sort of make these two viewpoints reconcile.

But whenever I try to figure out this dichotomy of recommendations from my head, all it reminds me of is contrasting advice about bears.

Twenty years ago, when I moved from Chicago and first began to hike and camp in Colorado and other surrounding states where there are bears, I heard many suggestions about what to do if you encountered an angry bear.

“Whatever you do,” one park ranger told me, “the most important thing is to appear big.  Take off your jacket or sweater and hold it spread out over your head so you look bigger and the bear will be intimidated and go away.”

“Whatever else you do,” an experienced back-country camper told me, “you want to look small.  Keep your body language small, don’t make eye contact, walk away slowly.  If you don’t upset the bear further, it will leave you alone."

“The best thing to do if you see a bear is climb a tree, fast!” An old-timer in a bar tells me.  “No, that’s a terrible idea!” His friend snorts.  “Bears can climb trees way faster than we can.”

“Bears want to stay out your way just like you want to stay out of theirs,” I read in a state park pamphlet.  “One great way to let them know you’re coming is to whistle while you’re walking the trail.”

“Don’t listen to that crap,” says the guys who takes my money for a camping spot. “Actually, bears are attracted to whistling, so whatever you do, don’t whistle!”

As a result, the first few years I hiked and camped in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, I was really scared about running into a bear by accident.  

True, I did not want to be mauled and eaten, but even worse (I thought) would be the knowledge that I was being mauled and eaten because I had tried to be both big and small at the same time, or attempted to whistle and not whistle in even intervals, and thus, attracted a bear who I had earlier, somehow, repelled.

As it’s turned out so far, whatever I’m doing seems to be working, in that I have never run into a bear in two decades.  Perhaps they see me coming (all that putting on or pulling off of sweaters) or hear me coming (intermittent whistling and climbing of trees) and say, “You know, that one just seems like a lot of effort. Let’s wait for someone more cost-effective.”

When it comes to the first quandary of Action vs. Being, however, things are less clear.

I have stepped into empowered action and seen great results, and I have stepped into what I thought was inspired action and gotten years and years and years of the same old not very interesting thing.

I have “done nothing” on couches, beaches, and grassy hills around the world, and some of my very best ideas have come to meet me there.  Some amazing people who had just what I needed appeared out of nowhere.  

Yet at other times, absolutely “nothing” happened out of my doing nothing—I didn’t even feel rested or refreshed, just vaguely guilty for being such a low-energy bum.

Yes, yes, I know that “it’s all energy.” It's not the doing or the not-doing, so much as the energy that propels it.  I get that.  In my heart I get that, in my gut I get that, but my head’s still trying to make all this make sense.

What IS the best way to “make stuff happen”?  I would love to hear your thoughts. But I still don't want to meet any bears.

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