Re: Not-Doing LO1123

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (
Tue, 9 May 1995 09:09 CST

Replying to Doug Seeley in LO1106, Tim Sullivan referred to the "joyful
miracle of feeling both autonomous and connected to everything and
everyone. He said: "Then my DOING IS BEING and my action is what is

Doug Seeley responded:

"[In moments like this] the totalistic acting (= non-doing) which flowed
through me, circulated in a vast ecological system in a manner which
returned me. The process reinforced itself until I chose to get lost in
identity again."

These comments speak to the nature of action in an attitude of not-doing.
Several people on this list have (my interpretation here) indicated
difficulty in resolving the doing/not-doing paradox. I'd like to offer
something in the way of a resolution.

Because we are physical beings, we cannot choose not to participate in the
physical world. We are bound by action in that participation, even if
it's simply tending a garden outside a hermit's cave. To me, "doing"
means action that imposes my will on, or expresses it *over*, the context
in which I find myself; whereas "not-doing" means action (or restraint)
that enables all the players within the context to contribute to it
according to their natures. Whew! that's pretty theoretical, even for

For example, on one hand, I might hoe the weeds from my garden and mulch
them into the dirt, thus returning these plants, that don't help the
garden be a garden, to the larger context of soil where they belong and
will eventually go. On the other hand, I might use pesticides to
eliminate the weeds, but the weeds don't contribute according to their
nature, and the chemicals pollute rather than enrich the soil. Either way
I am acting, but applying pesticide is "doing", while hoeing is
"not-doing". This fits well with the old maxim: "After enlightenment, the

Participating in the world takes a lot of action. The hard part is
letting go of the desire to be in control, and allowing your actions to be
guided by what is appropriate for the moment. It's a life's work that
takes great insight (I would say wisdom also).

I hope this makes sense. It really is very simple.

Doug hit it on the head when he said: "The more that these "ecological
connections" come into our workaday awareness, the more the opportunity
for non-doing to occur in alignment with the whole organization. I
believe that the "trick" in all this is to ground the connections in the
actions and relationships which actually occur, rather than depending only
on our mental, and this includes "corporate mental", constructs as the
looking glass to notice all of this."

Maybe it means to be within ourselves and outside ourselves at the same
time. But that's another paradox....


David E. Birren Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fax: (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget Internet:
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"To know, and not to act, is to not know."
--Wang Yang Ming, 9th-century Chinese general