What is it about modern life that makes us take such pride in being busy?Â The question occurred to me recently when I had a brief encounter on the street with a former colleague who told me she had been busier than ever since we parted company about a year ago. Â I politely listened to her catalog of comings and goings, but I could not bring myself to get into the game of dueling packed schedules.Â In fact, I didn’t get a chance and that’s just as well because a. it’s not a game worth winning, and b. what I do in any given day isn’t necessarily the most important thing to me.
On many days, I cannot give an accounting of where the time went, nor do I wish to.Â This may seem an odd admission for a longtime journal keeper, but a good day for me is when I have paused to appreciate some aspect of my life, or noticed or learned something new, however minuscule.Â (For example, I just a second ago realized that I have been misspelling the word ‘minuscule’ forever, and that I am so not alone in this that one online dictionary gives ‘miniscule’ as a ‘variant.’Â Nice of them. )Â At the end of my day, I feel I’ve lived it well if I exercised a skill or talent; connected with another human being in a meaningful way; laughed; moved my body; performed some small act that may possibly improve the world.Â I live in the “smile at the neighbor even when you don’t want to” andÂ “pick up litter when you see it” scale ofÂ things.Â Minuscule, but meaningful…at least, to me.
I suppose it is no surprise that a workaholic culture would make a virtue of busyness.Â But, we might well ask, as Thoreau did:Â “It is not enough to be busy.Â The question is: What are we busy about?”Â In truth there is a dark, addictive side to busyness,Â according to Sally Kempton, a teacher of meditation and yogic philosophy.Â Â Click here for some ideas on the subject and antidotes worth trying.
I say, if you find yourself obsessed with schedules and constantly crunched for time, don’t compound the problem by bragging about it.Â Try something radical: sit down and catch your breath, pick up a musical instrument or a sketchpad,Â open a book, call a friend you have been meaning to talk to.Â And if you are lucky enough to connect on that first try, let them know you have all the time in the world to talk.Â It will be a gift to you both.
A reflection: Busyness not only diminishes one’s life, it is an environmental disaster. Busyness makes for rushing, and rushing burns energy, and that causes pollution.
We fly across the country for a meeting and fly right back; airplanes burn so much fuel that each passenger could have driven the same distance, alone, in a car. Amtrak would use a tiny fraction of the fuel, but that’s slow.
We hop in the car to run a nearby errand instead of walking or riding a bicycle; we “save” five or 10 minutes.
We gobble down a hamburger from a fast food drive-thru; not only does this harm health and spirit, its 1) a petrochemical disaster on the factory farms that grow the corn, 2) an animal cruelty disaster in the feedlots, which are in themselves pollution disasters, and 3) a disaster of human exploitation in meat packing plants. (Read “Fast Food Nation” — it’s a masterpiece.)
Sadly, this list could go on and on.
I clicked through to The Slow Movement website (and bookmarked it — very helpful) but on the home page and a couple of others I searched I found no mention of the environment whatsoever. This strikes me as an important omission: It’s crucial to take care of our bodies and our spirits, but I think we do this better if we understand that by slowing down we’re also helping our horribly wounded planet and atmosphere. Widening our perspective helps get us out of our egos, and thus frees our souls.
Thanks, Tom, for expanding on how busyness hurts us all because of how it impacts the planet. I heard a new example of hyper-busyness this morning: women applying makeup while driving…and we thought cell phones and texting at 65 mph were bad. Desperately seeking solutions.
Very well put, I totally agree. I dislike to listen to those litanies of activities. Extremely boring. Sometimes I even interrupt it. I know, it is very rude 🙂
What do you do and does it work?