“Being” Over “Doing”: Advice for Meaningful Family Life


By Leslie Gossett //

There is a billboard on the interstate here—an advertisement for a popular gym. It says “More ways to do it all.” There is a picture of a happy–looking person doing various gym activities. I feel nauseated every time I pass that billboard. Perhaps it’s different where you live, but here in the San Francisco Bay Area, this is the pervading culture. Life is becoming more and more about doing and less and less about being.

I work closely with many families here in this area. What continues to surprise me is not how busy they are, but how much they complain about being busy while having no support for changing that. Schools are increasingly more demanding of not just the student’s time, but also of family time. Sports practice, music rehearsals, and after school activities happen every day of the week. Games and performances take up weekend time. And many children, tweens, and teens have more than 2 hours of homework each day, in addition to their rehearsals and practices.

Parents seem to be caught in an endless loop. Wanting their children to feel nourished, connected, and available to take part in the rich resources and offerings being posed to them, parents encourage participation. But they are also worried about their children, miss spending time with them, and want to help them cope with this immense amount of pressure.

“Space and play are the price we pay for doing more.”


It’s becoming more and more challenging to find ways to be together as a family in our society. Schools are not to blame—they are attempting to meet the needs of their students, and the federal standards. Parents are not to blame—they are all doing their best to give their children the best life they can. In fact, it doesn’t help to find someone to blame. Rather, we are being called to contemplate what we value as a society.

If we stop in the midst of our busy days and to-do lists, what do we feel? Are we longing to connect? Longing for space? For quiet? For free time? For play?

The saddest thing I notice in the midst of these busy lives is that space and play are the price we pay for doing more. There is less laughter, less appreciation, more hangups and rigidity.

So how do we invite space back into our lives?

I wrote out a to-do list one day and hung it on the wall. It overwhelmed me, so I took out another sheet of paper and wrote a to-be list. At the top it just said “To-be list”, and it was underlined. Below it was nothing. I kept it up because it helped me to remember that to be doesn’t require doing anything. It’s always available. It’s in every moment.

I think we can easily fall into the misconception that in order to be, we need to do something. We need to schedule that and stop this and go there. But it’s really more simple than that. Here are a few ways you can invite being into your every day family life:

  • Spend one minute of silence together, before your family leaves the house in the morning. This could happen with everyone sitting around the kitchen table. You could begin by ringing a bell, and/or close with having each person make an aspiration or intention for the day.
  • Light a candle at a family meal. Invite softness and magic through the environment.
  • Take a day off, together, as a family. Don’t schedule anything.
  • Spend time outside each day, even if only 5 minutes. Nature can help relax our minds. Look at the sky, play in the dirt, or just walk out and take a deep breath.
  • Look each other in the eyes, without talking. Actually connect with your loved ones beyond agenda- not trying to say anything in particular or getting them to say anything, just looking- how are they? Who are they? How do you feel when you connect with them?
  • Engage in the arts as a family—draw something together, sing a song together in the car, make a flower arrangement together to brighten up your space.
  • Play. Who doesn’t love a good game of chaos tag? Or a card game? Or making silly faces? Or a pillow fight?
  • Turn off your screens. This provides space for other ways to communicate and engage with each other. Designate a screen-free zone in the house, or a screen-free time of day.

Let’s create a world where billboards encourage us to be more rather than do more!

Join us for Spring Break Family Retreat with Leslie Gossett and Kate Raddock, March 26–30, 2018 — click here to learn more >>


More by Leslie Gossett

About the Author

Leslie Gossett is the Director of Family and Children’s Programming for Northern California Shambhala and founder of Be You Yoga and Mindfulness for Families and Children. She has worked with children for over 19 years. She is a certified yoga teacher for children and adults, a Meditation Guide in the Shambhala tradition, and a nanny to four amazing beings. She is dedicated to creating spaces for humans (and especially small ones) to connect with the strength and wisdom of their own hearts. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Featured image by Leslie Gossett

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