Last Saturday night, as we were going to bed, my husband and I were talking through our Sunday “To Do” list. It was a list of epic proportion. Honestly, it could easily have kept us busy until Wednesday. As I hemmed and hawed about the wisdom of sitting in the pew at church the next morning rather than making progress on our list, my husband shook his head. “I really think we should go to church tomorrow. I want to properly say ‘thanks’ for all the good things that have happened to us in the last few days.”
And I’m the “religious” one in our family!
It didn’t take more than that simple statement to reveal that I was in the powerful clutches of a social epidemic that is sweeping our nation: Busy-ness. I don’t know when this epidemic started. Some say it goes all the way back to our hard-working, Puritan roots. Others say it is a ripple effect of the cell phone and smart phone, which make it possible for you to reach anyone, anywhere, 24-7. I’m not sure it matters where and when it began. But, especially during this extra-busy time of the year, it is critically important to recognize two things – first, that you’ve been stricken and, second, that succumbing to the epidemic is a choice.
To quote Hannah Montana, “That’s right. I went there.” Your busy-ness is a choice. So is mine. We are choosing to do all of the things that are making our hearts race, that are squeezing the life out of our days, that are consuming minutes and hours that we intended to devote to activities we love and to things that really matter.
What we call being busy, Buddhist monk, Sogyal Rinpoche, calls “active laziness.” He goes on to define active laziness as the filling of our lives with unessential tasks – busy work, as it were. This type of work makes us feel full of responsibilities. Only he calls them “irresponsibilities” because they keep us “too busy” with less important things to focus on the things that require more of us – developing long-term strategies, working toward goals, investing in relationships, taking care of ourselves.
What’s to be done? In other words, is there a cure?
Yes. Absolutely. It is possible to feel less busy – indeed, to be less busy. Just as succumbing to busy-ness is a choice, so is recovery. I’m not going to lie to you. Depending on how busy you are, recovery can take some doing. It requires a mix of reflection, discipline, faith, self-awareness and will power. You may also need to be willing to lie just a tiny bit.
First, ask yourself a few questions: “What would I really like to do if I had time?” “What am I doing that is sucking me dry?” “What am I doing (or not doing) that restores my zest for life?” If you find yourself – right this second – staring blankly at your computer or smart phone screen without an answer to any of these questions, you may need to get a little more dramatic. Flash forward to your deathbed. Ask yourself what you most regret not doing today. Then ask yourself what you most regret doing. Hopefully, you now have a notion of what matters to you, what doesn’t, and how you are currently allocating your time.
Next, you need to carve out time in your days to just be. This time will serve a variety of purposes. You will be giving yourself the space to think. You will also be giving yourself space not to think – to be quiet, to focus inward, to listen. Even when it feels like you are doing nothing, during this time you will be doing the incredibly important work of self-care (physical, mental and spiritual) that will sustain you in everything else you do all day long. You need to treat this time as an uber-important appointment or meeting, otherwise, if you’re like me, you risk not showing up.
What you do during these “appointments” with yourself is up to you. I have friends who run, who pray, who knit, who walk, who write in journals, who meditate. I practice yoga. When I speak to my friends about how they feel and behave after their “appointments,” it’s not that different from the way I feel: quieter, more centered, more in touch with themselves – their state of mind, their emotional climate, their desires, their fears.
I encourage you, as you’re choosing the nature of this time, to be cognizant that, no matter the activity, a spiritual intention helps tremendously. And to remember that, though it can be very helpful, you don’t need to be religious to be a spiritual person. You can start by shifting your perspective away from yourself. You can work with your attitude. You can practice gratitude. You can focus on your connectedness to everything and everyone around you. You can visualize the kind of person you deeply yearn to be.
We’ve covered the need for reflection, discipline, faith, self-awareness and will power. What about the willingness to lie – just a teeny, tiny bit? Well, let’s just say that I’ve said (on more than one occasion), when responding to a request from a client or an announced meeting or even an invitation from a friend, “I’m so sorry, I can’t do that then. I have an appointment.” To date, I’ve never been asked what that appointment was … and I’m quite glad of that. Some people just wouldn’t understand how very important my yoga practice is to helping me choose (again and again) well-ness over busy-ness.
You can do it, too. Repeat after me, “I can’t. I have an appointment …”