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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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.

The 11-Commandments

I stumbled across this while reading a blog about happiness. I thought t meshed nicely with my own thoughts on happiness and mindfulness practice.

Henry Miller’s Commandments, from Henry Miller on Writing:

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

Enjoy!

Namaste

Balance…the Middle Way

“Throughout your day you can pause, take a break from your usual thoughts, and wake up to the magic and vastness of the world around you.” -Pema Chodron who feels this is a mindfulness practice which we can simply use to center ourselves throughout the day.
How do you spend your day is a question many of us ask. There are also many of us who do not ask this or any other questions. We blindly walk through our day and our life. We bump into things, become angry and blame those around us for the injuries we sustain as a result of our own ignorance and laziness. As I am writing this post my email program announced a new email was in my inbox. I read the email. It was from the Mind-the Ducks race coordinator. This is a 12-hour race held every May in Rochester, NY. I had wanted to run this race since the 2011 race. I knew I could not run the entire time but I wanted to at least get in a marathon distance. I had been paying attention to the calendar for several months waiting for the release of the entry forms as there are only 85 available slots. I mention this because my meditation practice has allowed me the ability to place more time between being reactive and proactive in my responses. A few years ago I would have registered for this race and “did what I could have done” while risking injury. Today my meditation practice has allowed me to successfully manage what would have been difficult feelings with an open mind and be “OK” with that decision.
As I approach each day I begin it with a meditation session which includes me asking a question of myself. I ask, “As I go into this day, what is the most important thing? What is the best use of this day?” I end each day in a similar fashion; with a meditation session and with a question. The question I ask of myself is “Did I make the best use of this day? What could I have done to make it a better day?”
I find myself using a techniques which meditation practice has taught when I’m struggling. It’s the ability to pause or otherwise create a small gap in my day. A gap large enough that I can take a few additional moments to respond proactively to a problem or a difficulty I am experiencing. This involves taking three conscious breaths and it is within these three conscious breaths that I have the gap which I need. I had this conversation with a friend of mine who reminded me to “appreciate the gap that already exists in our environment. Awakened mind exists in our surroundings–in the air we breathe, the wind which brushes against our face, the sea which powerfully pounds the shoreline and in the unconditional love of the animals in our lives.” Those three conscious breaths remind me to remain in touch with my awakened mind.
When I practice meditation, especially in the morning, there is a lot of silence and space. Meditation is a way for me to formally create those important gaps. Every time you realize you are thinking and you let go of your thoughts, you are creating a gap. Every time your breath goes out, we create a gap. These gaps which I create help me to experience the blessings of my surroundings. this is especially important to me when I am in nature. When I sit in silence in nature I allow myself to be open to all that nature has to offer.
When I allow myself to connect with the gaps I have created through my meditation practice, I allow the stillness which I have experienced to accompany me throughout the day. As a result my day passes more smoothly and with less tension. I smile more and feel more relaxed. When my mind is relaxed I allow myself to become immersed in the activity in which I am engaging at that moment; mindful of the activity and my need to remain centered. this immersion is positive, it is not an all-encompassing immersion which causes me to lose focus of what is around me but to maintain the focus on the “big picture.” by taking care of myself I have become selfish; not self-centered. It is important for me to maintain a healthy focus on myself so that I can go about my day in a healthy manner. If I deplete my stores of energy, I have nothing to give to others who may be in need. When I take care of myself, I do not feel angry, I do not feel sad or hurt, I do not feel loneliness, guilt, shame, or fear. I feel a tremendous amount of joy. When I focus on the joy which I feel I am capable of imparting this joy to others which creates more joy; both for me and anyone else involved in my life. I do not blame others for the way I feel and do not accept their assessment that “I made them feel angry” nor do I accept the assessment that I allow others to make me feel anyway I do not want to feel. I am responsible for my feelings and the successful management of them. Again, this gap which I willingly create allows me that opportunity to assess what I may need to change or improve. When I find myself becoming angry it is usually a result of my lack of discipline in my practice. I meditate in part to practice the “Middle Way”, to maintain my practice and by maintaining my practice I maintain balance.
Namaste