“A body is living art. Your movement through time and space is art. A painter has brushes. You have your body.”

 ~ Anna Halprin

What are you doing with your life? Who are you being? Why are those two questions so important, (and so different?)

This week we mourn the passing of Anna Halprin, who by all accounts lived a long and remarkable life. The Spotlight below from The Tamalpa Institute pays tribute to her life and legacy as one of the leading pioneers in the field of Modern Dance and conscious movement. Seems like a fitting moment to contemplate the difference between doing and being.

You and I are both leading the lives we have, with all of the ups and downs and high points and low points that are part and parcel of the human experience. Each and every one of us shares the same perspective. That is, from the inside looking out we observe the vast cast of characters that populate our worlds, from our earliest families of origin to the dear friends and formidable adversaries we go through life with on to those who are with us at the end.

We see what’s on the surface, their activities, their words, their works, and their way of being. What we will never witness is just what’s going on beneath the surface inside their own subjective experience. And that works both ways, what’s going on inside of your head and on the interior of your own skin are things that no one but you will ever experience in precisely the same way that you do.

As you make your way in the world you start to notice how some people seem to be in total alignment internally and externally, while others seem to have something going on under the surface that doesn’t match their exterior. In other words, who they are ‘being’ doesn’t match up with what they are ‘doing’.

It’s important to not get the two confused. What you do is likely to change and evolve over time. Most of us try on a few different jobs, hobbies, practices, or creative pursuits over the course of a lifetime. But regardless of what we do, each lesson that we learn, adversity that we face, or challenge that we overcome contributes to the character of who we are, in other words, who we are being.

Sometimes what we do isn’t a good fit for who we are. Ideally, those sorts of existential mismatches happen early in life so we can get them out of the way. Whether it’s early or late in life, there’s nothing like finding out that the square peg of your doing doesn’t fit in the round hole of your being to teach you more about who you really are.

Arguably, your ‘being’ has a greater impact on your quality of life than your ‘doing’. If you’re known for being kind, generous, respectful, and grateful, you’re more likely to have good friends and a rewarding family life, regardless of whether you’re a teacher, a trash collector, or a tech whiz. Alternatively, a track record of great output, be it financial, professional, or even creative won’t do you much good on the interpersonal level if you’re known for being mean, selfish, and vindictive.

At the end of the day, and at our end of days here on earth, we’re remembered for a combination of both. Not everyone is cut out to be a pioneer in some field or another, or to leave behind a prodigious body of work. Everyone is driven by a different set of motivations and they’re not always so obvious to others on the surface.

If you ask me, where the rubber hits the road is with the question of whether or not you are at peace with yourself. If you’re happy and content with who you are being, then what you’re doing will probably fall into place. It may take some effort, but you can always change what you’re doing like a new pair of shoes.

Where you’ll see people get stuck is when they build their identity around what they do, especially when what they do isn’t in alignment with who they are. Identifying too strongly with some skill, or talent, or professional achievement can backfire if it turns out to be an existential dead-end. Your ‘doings’ are more like the colors of paint on your palette that you put together to form the background of your life’s ‘being’.

Anna Halprin showed us how to ‘be’ great while ‘doing’ great work. Known for being inventive, controversial, and uncompromising in bringing out the best in people, she was also kind, empathetic, and blessed with a rare sense of humor. My acquaintance with her was both inspiring and rewarding, as her life’s story of innovation in the realm of dance and consciousness was pivotal in her healing and lifelong creative output.

May your being be at peace with your doing, and may we always be grateful for inspiring leaders like Anna who show us the way.

All the best till next Monday!


Mark Metz
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine

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