From Doing to Being

By Mariamne Paulus

From the time I was small, I had a deep knowing that I was here on earth to do God’s will. I didn’t know what that will was, but I knew that I was committed to doing it.

I remember saying when I was a teenager that it would be easier if signs were posted along the road indicating which way we were to go and what we were to do. It seemed so difficult to discover what was wanted of me. I was sure that there was something I was meant “to do.”

During college I gave words to my inner prompting. I expressed it like this: “God wants me to be a teacher in a mission school.” Naturally, I took all of that literally. I chose my education major based on that inner sensing and I applied to go as a missionary under the Methodist church.

Although I wouldn’t trade the three years I spent in Uruguay “teaching in a mission school” for anything, what I learned there was not what I expected.  I learned that religion is not a universal answer to the world’s ills.

 I remember a day in my fourth grade class when I was giving the weekly Bible lesson. A small boy stood up on his chair and said, “Miss Kennedy, does this mean that my mother and father will go to hell for not believing in Jesus?” His family was Jewish.  I don’t remember what I answered, but his question woke me up to the untruth of what I was teaching.

I also remember the time another missionary teacher and I went down the block to a small evangelical church on a Sunday evening, just to see what they were about. The minister had preached about the necessity for each one of us to be “bathed in the blood of Jesus” in order to be cleansed of our sins.  After the service I stopped to speak to the minister.  I said, “You surely do not mean that we must literally be bathed in the blood of Jesus.” “Oh, yes,” he responded, “I do.”

I knew there was something terribly wrong with that way of thinking. It mixed the literal with the symbolic, and on the literal level it could not possibly be true since vials of Jesus’ blood are not readily available.

And then there was the fact that different branches of the Christian church competed with one another for “souls.” I could not abide that. Evangelical groups prayed that we Methodists would be “saved.” And of course the breach between Catholics and Protestants was centuries old and very evident in Latin America.

Eventually I came to see that I had grown up thinking that the church was the body of Christ in the world and that only through the church could God’s work be done. I had come to see that God was in no way “confined” to the church; that God was at work in the world in ways I had never imagined. After my husband died I left the church and never returned to it. The teachings were too narrow, too myopic.

Growing Into A New Understanding

I had to reeducate myself to free myself from the literalism with which I had grown up. It took me a long time to realize that “doing God’s will” is not the same as “getting it right.” All that praying for forgiveness I did for many years was contingent on feeling I was not getting it right and often was actually “doing it wrong.”

Gradually I grew into an awareness that I could do God’s will in every aspect of my life, not just in my “work.” Now, at age 76, I have grown fully into this new way of understanding my life purpose. God’s will is expressed in who I am; it is not so much about doing as it is about being and whatever meaning my days have comes from inside of me not from some outside expectation or demand. 

I remember a poster we had on the door of our dormitory room when I was a sophomore in college. We thought it was very funny because of the ironic twist of words. It said, “Don’t just do something, stand there. Signed, the Buddha.” I now see that we often mislead ourselves by thinking that we make our contributions by doing something, when actually our challenge is to learn to “be” who we are in our real self.

In my first 27 years I believed I needed to be saved from who I was. I prayed for that salvation. However, at age 27 I woke up to who I really am. I saw behind the mask of the personality from which I had sought to be saved even as I also sought to perfect it according to some image I had gathered from all my tutoring at home, in school and especially in church.

My Personality Is A False Front

Behind the persona was “nothing.” The personality was not real. It was a false front. In that realization I was set free from all the desires and fears that had driven my pursuit of salvation. I was/am completely and totally free. Free of images. Free of both self-importance and self-doubt. If there is no self then there is nothing to work on and nothing to prove. I am free. I laughed in joy on the day I woke up to that realization and I “dared” anyone to see “me,” since I was nothing.

What followed was a series of experiences that took me deeper into that awareness. I awoke to the realization that all power is available to me because I am an expression of the One Self, the One Power that brings everything into being. I knew I would have to learn how to express that power responsibly as creativity and love.

I also saw that my physical body is perfect and absolutely beautiful just as it is. I realized that all relationships, sexual and otherwise, are contexts for discovering that we are not separate from each other but are all one being. Our quest for union with another or all others is rooted in the desire to be what we already are: one with each other and with all.

 And finally I saw that I am an integral part of all that is and that therefore I can never die. In fact, there is no death; there is only change in form and in states of consciousness.

So this self that is nothing is also all, because it is one with all that is. Since there is only one power expressed through every aspect of what we call creation, I need to know how to fully cooperate with that one power.

The question then became not who am I, but how can I live in the awareness of who I am?

How Can I Live In This New Understanding?

For 42 years I have read and studied in order to retrain my mind to think in alignment with this new understanding. I had to let go of all the ways I was identified with images of who I was or was supposed to be so that I could embody the no-self that is the One Self of which each of us is an expression.

In the talks I have given, workshops I have led, classes I have taught and books I have written I have expressed that new knowing and practiced embodying those truths. Knowing that I am one with all and one with everyone made it essential that I learn to love unconditionally and universally, receiving all people, including myself, as beautiful exactly as we are.

Knowing that all power is available to me made it essential to know what realities I wanted to create within myself and in the world and what change I wanted to be.  In other words, I needed a clear sense of purpose at all times.

Every relationship, in fact every interaction with another or others, became an opportunity to learn how to live in and express union. Problems were clearly opportunities for practice in embodying the no-self. I was not only learning with others, I was learning from them. As I opened to each unique expression of the One, I opened myself to discover what gifts they were bringing. I provided others with opportunities to give to me because without them I was incomplete.

Doing was focused on the outer and the results or products of the doing. Being is focused on the inner with no guarantee that the results will be evident to anyone. However, I have learned to have no expectations but rather abundant expectancy as I move through each day, because I am constantly discovering new ways to express the power and potential of the no-self.

The shift from a focus on doing to simply being makes it possible for me to live each day in freedom and joy.