“To be is to do.” -Plato
“To do is to be.” - Sartre
“Do be do be do.” – Frank Sinatra
- Graffiti in the Antioch College bathroom, 1969
Ram Das would disapprove of my last two posts— don’t look forward, don’t look back, just be here now. Good advice, but not wholly practical. Since we are shaped by our past, it rides in on each day with us. Since a new horizon is always beckoning (as David Whyte often puts it), we would do well to look ahead as well. “Here” is in fact a multiplicity of places and “now” the crossroads of past, present and future. Though we can all use reminders to be in the present moment more fully, we are also creatures of becoming, always on our way somewhere, always changing and shifting and moving forward or back.
My experience of the rare moments of being fully present is a matter of grace. A sunset, a sublime piece of music, a quiet moment with a loved one mysteriously stops time and frames the moment as “This. This is what I was born for.” These are not moments to schedule on a calendar or achieve through a pre-packaged step-by-step process, not experiences to call up on-demand and certainly not something to find on any shelf in a store. They arrive unexpectedly, surprisingly, mostly when the self that seeks them relaxes its muscular effort and just lets things be.
But that is not to say that we are at the whim of some outside force of blessing and benediction, waiting passively to be chosen in the lottery of sublime encounters. It begins with a hunger, a thirst, a desire to remember what felt so effortless as a child. There is no better description of that loss of mystery and magic than Wordsworth’s opening lines to Intimations of Immortality:
There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth and every common sight.
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and freshness of a dream.
Turn wheresoever I may,
By night or day,
That which I have seen I now can see no more…
So we make the invitation to remembrance first by the seeking, the confirmation that we care to be more attentive and receptive to beauty, magic and mystery. Then there are practices that don’t guarantee, but invite— meditation, music, moon-gazing, morning meandering in mountain meadows. We go to where we might be found and sometimes, if we’re lucky, we meet the moment in its full promise and with our whole self.
So Ram Das, Plato and Sartre were on to something— to be is to do, to do is to be. But Frank Sinatra said it best of all— if you sing your way into the mystery, the being and doing are joined in the dance. “Do-be-do-be-do,” my friends.