The Disease of Being Busy


I have struggled with the “dis-ease” of being busy, of feeling as though I need/needed to be doing something all the time. I had my share of time when I felt guilty because I wasn’t necessarily doing something which other people might have defined as productive. It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that taking time for myself is what assures that I have the energy and the desire to accomplish those tasks which I need to accomplish throughout the day.

I came across this post by Omid Safi and am sharing his work with you. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps, as I did, find it as much a reminder as I did.

BY  (@OSTADJAAN)COLUMNIST

I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time its gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smartphones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different from others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and fast-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

W. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

Namaste

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It is gratitude I feel…

With palms together,

I wish you all a Good Evening.

My daughter and her fiance left with their son, my first grandson, Chase. These visits, as all visits are such that I contemplate all that I have and all that I am. I saw a saying, I am unsure of the author which says, “I exist as I am. That is enough.”

I retired outside knowing the next five days will be spent, almost in their entirety in a windowless office. The cicadas are singing their mating song; the pitch waxing and waning. The song of the cicadas hits a crescendo before another group of cicadas, far off to my left picks up the song and proceeds to carry the tune. I sit with my head tilted back and a flock of birds, their species unknown to me dart from tree to tree; their shape silhouetted against the fading light of dusk.

I began thinking of Thoreau as I am accompanied outside by his journal. A passage grips me and in a writing style known well to those who have read his words, identifies what I am feeling and expertly places those thoughts and feelings on paper. Thoreau, in a journal entry dated November 17, 1855, accurately sums up my feelings toward my family and my life.

“It is interesting to me to talk with Rice, he lives so thoroughly and satisfactorily to himself. He has learned the rare art of living, the very elements of which most professors do not know. His life has not been a failure but a success. Comparatively speaking, his life is a success; not such a failure as most men’s. He gets more out of any enterprise than his neighbors, for he helps himself more and hires less.Whatever pleasure there is in it he enjoys. By good sense and calculation, he has become rich and has invested his property well, yet practices a fair and neat economy, dwells not in untidy luxury. It costs him less to live, and he gets more out of life than others. To get his living, or keep it, is not a hasty or disagreeable toil. He works slowly but surely, enjoying the sweet of it. And thus his life is a long sport and he knows not what hard times are.”

As in past writing, Henry does a most excellent job of summing up my thoughts. Perhaps it is the life which I have chosen which, consistent with Henry has already done an adequate job of summing up my thoughts.

Namaste

The End of Frustration

With palms together,

I wish you all a Good Morning

It’s a little after 10:00 AM and outside I see a blue sky which promises to provide a beautiful weather background for this Fourth of July. My heart is taking in this beautiful morning, a morning which followed a week complete with frustrations, joy and solitude. It often felt as though every day of this past week has been filled with more downs than uplifting moments. It is weeks such as this which challenge me. I make time every morning to ensure the day begins with the skills necessary to ensure a smooth transition from personal life to professional life and back again.

I believe I am a typical individual; as things get in the way throughout the day, frustration often rises and I find myself forgetting the skills which have allowed me to successfully manage the frequent turmoil. When the skills feel to be completely lost, I find myself resorting to a more primal response; swearing. To swear (paribhasa or sapati) is to utter rude or insulting speech, usually when angry. The Buddha described such speech as “rough, cutting, bitter about others, abusive to others, provoking anger, and disturbing the mind.” For many of us, despite our desire and the spiritual path which we follow, it becomes an easy path; a path of least resistance on which we find ourselves walking.

As with all life stressors which we may not have the ability to control, we are responsible for our response. When I discover that I lack adequate information to complete tasks at my job, when I discover there was misinformation and discovered or admitted I have no control over these stressors; calmness is all but forgotten. It becomes easy to rely on those primal responses. Those same responses which, when used again and again become second nature. I find myself going on auto-pilot and if left unchecked will find myself crashing and burning. We struggle with the knowledge that there are many life stressors over which we have no control and blame others for our life situations. Autopilot is nothing but a click away. We feel justified in our response because “everyone does it.”

I return to my daily practice in life to make sure there are many  other options than simply returning to autopilot. I sit quietly with my mind in meditation and letting it be what it is. When I am out on a run, especially a long run, I often do battle with my mind, my thoughts. It becomes easy to resort to autopilot and this skill of sitting quietly and training my mind to not reactively respond to thoughts is integral to my success each day. My mindful practice allows me to see things as they are when they happen as opposed to what I would prefer or like them to be as they happen. When I allow my mindfulness to take the front seat, it becomes easier to make adjustments in mood, behavior, and demeanor. It’s not that I am not frustrated, angry, sad or fearful; it is the ability to recognize these feelings and be able to create a space between these feelings, the thoughts which accompany them and my response. I can easily admit I do not always desire to take this the higher road. It is easier to yell, scream, swear and stomp our feet. This produces more stress which may not be noticeable at first but will certainly be remembered by those around us and give use the appearance that we respond reactively to everything in life. This causes a lack of trust by others in us and in our abilities. The more I practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes to not allow myself to enter this “danger zone.”

Our spiritual path accepts us as we are. We are not going to Hell for our responses. It is that we create our own Hell here on Earth.

Running, Mindfulness & Rain

I was awakened this morning by a light breeze as it whispered in my ear through the open bedroom window. Groggily I reached for my glasses and the numbers of the clock became increasingly clear. It was 4:55 AM. My alarm would sound in just 5-minutes. 

 
I lay in bed and listened to the breeze. It reminded me of my desire to run this morning. In my other ear was a much louder declaration, it was the rain; falling hard on the concrete outside. The rain suggested I reset my alarm and sleep for an additional hour.
 
When I am unable to run, I resort to another form of meditation; Mindfulness meditation. This meditation form is completed as a sitting meditation. Meditation, while running or sitting helps me to develop a deep understanding of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all life and offers me practical tools to better integrate mindfulness into my daily life.
 
Thich Nhat Hahn also known as Thay, warns us that civilization is at “risk of collapse from the environmental and social damage caused by the voraciousness of our economic system.” My meditation practice helps me see an alternative vision that focuses on true happiness which Thay believes we have sacrificed on the alter of materialism.” Thay’s teachings are “based on transforming our suffering by letting go of the scars of the past as well as the worries about the future.” Thay believes, as do I that this is accomplished through meditation and mindful living. Thay spends a great deal of time discussing our addiction to material consumption as a “clear sign we are trying to paper over our suffering.” Thay suggests we should go in the opposite direction, to the very heart of our pain in order to transcend it. Business growth is based in shareholder earnings and measured in the profit and loss column of a spreadsheet. While it is undoubtedly important to make a profit, it is also important to remember the inner journey. We neglect the emotional needs of our employees. We expect them to work harder, longer and produce more all while attempting to accomplish this with less resources and support. 
 
I recall my father saying when  we discussed career choices as a child, saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” 
 
Much of my social work practice, firmly grounded in Eastern philosophy is also deeply rooted in Thay’s writings. Having been a practicing social worker since 1986, barley a day goes by when I am not overjoyed by my career choice. There once was a time when unhappiness was my best friend. This was a direct result of my need to compare myself to those around me. The neighbor with the new car and the big screen TV became my mentors. While they are nice and they do bring momentary happiness, I still felt empty. I was reading a recent post from a blog called, bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com. I stumbled across this blog after reading one of his books titled, “Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling.” In a recent post, Bike Snob opened my eyes and made me look at my remaining attachment to material possessions. He says, “Honestly, people are such wussbags about their cars. The idea that a vehicle that weighs over a ton and lives most if not all of it’s life outside somehow shouldn’t get dented or scratched is completely delusional. If you’ve ever gently rapped on a car to let an oblivious driver know that he or she was about to run you over then you know how hysterical these morons can get when you dare touch their stupid, over-sized appliances. It’s like getting upset at someone for messing up the front door of your house by knocking on it.” He goes on to say, “Sure, I realize a lot of the blame lies with banks which trick people into leasing cars with easy monthly payments and then make them pay out the ass for every scratch and scuff when they finally return it, but it’s still pathetic how invested people are in the appearance of their econoboxes.” I laughed heartily when I read this post for what more is there to say. Many of us have a similar relationship with material things while we neglect the emotional relationships for which we lack an understanding of their importance. For me, as I learned growing up, it was in fact the perceived appearances that others have of us which defines success. I began to realize, throughI struggled with this fact for many years. 
 
I now define success by what I am able to offer to others. Materially I have little, but emotionally I am wealthy beyond my wildest imagination. My decade old car sporting 120K miles and many scratches still does the job for me. It suits me like an old pair of jeans; broken in and comfortable beyond belief. The remainder of my life falls completely into that realm. I have family and friends who love and care about me, a roof over my head, meals on my table and everyone in my family has been blessed with good health. For those things I am grateful. What more is there?
 
Namaste.
 

It’s sad

I do my best…every single day. Some days are more difficult than others but still I reach for my smile and ensure it is firmly affixed. Sometimes, that smile, loosely attached, loses its grip and falls off between my bed and the shower. I realize by my quiet that this has happened. As soon as I recognize its absence, I begin to sing or hum and the smile returns.

 
I grew up with a father diagnosed with Polio. I recall from a young age the limp which accompanied him throughout his day. At the time I did not know what it was or why it was there. It was part of my dad and I love him. As far as I was concerned it was another part of him to love.
 
I took my share of lumps in the school yard because of that limp. I look back and like my dad am thankful for that limp. He always told me that limp was a gift. He had learned from his father to never allow anyone to tell him what he could and could not do. He used that limp as a constant reminder that life is difficult and full of challenges. Challenges are made to be overcome; at least that’s what he told me. I have learned this is true.
 
That advice has served me well these many years. I feel lucky to have grown up with a father with such a point of view. Sure, we didn’t do the things that most boys did with their dad’s, like throwing a ball around. My dad struggled to do those things and as I grew older I recall him apologizing for what he could not do. I always told him “It’s alright.” I know today throwing a ball around was not something that was important. Mt dad gave me a far more important gift; the gift of introspection and love. Like most, this was a gift that I did not realize was a gift until many years later. It is also a gift which has served me well in my marriage (26-years), my two children (Marissa 24 & Stephen 20), and in my career as a social worker since 1985.
 
I have recently spoken with several individuals who attitude has been “poor” to say the very least. I have found it to be blaming, condescending and most troubling, laughing at those less fortunate. I confronted the tone first with a disbelieving facial expression. This response was not met well nor was the response to my direct verbal confrontation. I have learned to accept, as difficult as it has been to accept not everyone perceives these situations in the same fashion as I do. I am forced to remind myself I grew up with the understanding these behaviors were not acceptable and as a result I do not treat others in such a manner.
 
As Thich Nhat Hahn says, “I smile, breathe and go slowly.” In the space between each breath I recall this poem by the same Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, “Call Me by My True Names.”
 
Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow –
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing 

on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, 
when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
 

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, 
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, 
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean 
after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, 
my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, 
with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood”
to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, 
so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, 
so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh

 
As a social worker and sentient being, I practice compassion everyday. My meditation practice has taught me to be strong in the face of adversity and Mindfulness has taught me to remain in this moment. This is the gift given to me by my father and it is only right that I return this great gift by passing it on to others. If you do not wish to listen to what I say, perhaps I can be a better leader by demonstrating and sharing my gift of compassion with you.
 
Namaste

Stop the Pain

I stood and walked toward my office door. I lingered for a second before gently pressing it closed. I heard the click signifying it would not open under it’s own power. I returned to my desk, removed my glasses, placed my head into my hands and rubbed my forehead. The left side of my head humming with pain. Rubbing my forehead briefly allowed the pain to go away knowing it would not return until I left the office. That time would come but no t soon enough.

I sit at my desk and my back remains fixed toward the large windows which adorn my office. I am happy to have windows but on this day, not being able to see the sunshine might have been a better option. 
 
The phone rings and I am made aware my next patient awaits. I stand and walk toward the window and see my Vespa through the window. For a minute I am lost in thought; daydreaming about the ride home which will be the most relaxing part of my day. Before I leave to usher my patient to my office, I call one of our nurses and ask for another “cocktail”, the medication which I know will help this throbbing headache go away and will allow me to hobble through the rest of the day.
 
After my patient leaves I begin to think about this session. I begin to realize I have not been doing the things which I have asked this patient to complete.I open my journal to reveal I have not written in it since February 20th. I felt like I had nothing to say; obviously that wasn’t the case. My meditation cushion has been obscured from view, laying under a pile of opened but unread magazine and newspaper articles. I reached for one of my fountain pens only to find out the ink has dried and now the pen needs to be cleaned before it can be re-inked. I sigh and walk to the bathroom to clean the pen. As I am flushing out the old, dried ink; I become mindful of my need to flush out these same thoughts which are keeping me tied down. I have allowed myself to dry up and become unusable.
 
I re-inked the pen, my favorite; a Pelikan with a flexible nib. I touched the nib to the absorbent paper of my journal and watch as the ink and the words the ink has become, fill the page. Thoughts and feelings are pouring out of me like a water faucet which has been turned on high. I stop momentarily, in disbelief as I previously thought there was nothing there to come out. The clog has been removed. Thoughts and feelings begin to flow again, unimpeded.
 
Namaste