By Sandra Palmer, republished with author’s permission from Yoga and Wellbeing
There appears to be a collective exhaustion out there right now. Everyone I talk to (including me) is tired, feeling weary, a little bit over everything. So I thought it might be timely to share a blog on being busy – or rather learning how to be unbusy!
What is busyness?
Defined by the Oxford Dictionary, busyness is “the state or condition of having a great deal to do”
What does busyness feel like?
Do you relate?
Busyness can feel like there is no space.
There is no space between thoughts.
No space between activities.
We don’t notice when one activity, thought, emotion or breath finishes before we are starting another activity, thought, emotion or breath. There is a lack of mindfulness and a lack of being in the present moment. It is exhausting.
What does it feel like in the body?
It feels like rushing – moving with urgent haste (Oxford dictionary).
We do everything fast and at speed – there is so much to get done afterall!
And when we move with urgency, our body-minds think there is a threat, so we can go into survival response mode – muscles constricted, shortness of breath, heart pumping, dry mouth, sweaty palm. The enemy is time.
And it can feel very unpleasant – unless you are so used to it that it becomes your normal.
“Rushing is not enjoyable. We are always at least a step ahead of ourselves and always straining to catch up. Rushing stops up the gaps in consciousness through which the creative muse can speak. It exhausts not only our physical but also our psychic energy. Over time it will exhaust our spirit, especially when we tell ourselves that these are things we MUST do, SHOULD do, or HAVE to do. Then we lose all sense of agency and choice”.(Housden, 2016)
When we are busy and rushing, we lose our sense of control, choice and agency in our lives. Instead, we listen more to the shoulds and the musts and the have to’s.
How did we get so busy?
There are multiple societal and cultural reasons behind us being so busy, as well as some more individual reasons.
Being busy has been glorified
As Jeff Brown notes below, busyness has become glorified. Historically, being at leisure was a status symbol. Now busyness has become the new badge of honour.
The glorification of busy will destroy us. Without space for healing, without time for reflection, without an opportunity to surrender, we risk a complete disconnect from the authentic self. We burn out on the fuels of willfulness, and eventually cannot find our way back to center. And when we lose contact with our core, we are ripe for the picking by the unconscious media and other market forces. After all, consumerism preys on the uncentered. The farther we are from our intuitive knowing, the more easily manipulated we are. The more likely we are to make decisions and affix to goals that don’t serve our healing and transformation. To combat this, we have to form the conscious intention to prioritize our inner life. To notice our breath, our bodies, our feelings. To step back from the fires of overwhelm and remember ourselves. It may feel counter-intuitive in a culture that is speed-addicted, but the slower we move, the faster we return home.(Jeff Brown 2020)
Time is money.
We can partly blame the internet and the relationship between time and money, and that ever-present need to make more money.
As Lightman notes,
“…we have let ourselves be pushed along by the wave of technology and prosperity without looking to see where we are going. Little by little, we have lost the silences, the needed time for contemplation, the open spaces in our minds, the privacies we once had. All of it happening so gradually and compellingly that we haven’t even noticed. It is as if we have gone deaf. And even now, most of us do not notice that we can’t hear anymore. We accept the world as it is”(Lightman, 2018, p. 29)
We may fear we will cease to exist, or matter, if we aren’t doing something useful.
Our individual journey is reinforced by the societal and cultural norms described above and from our family of origins.
We may connect our self-worth with how busy we are. Those who are busy by choice may feel needed, important, and in-demand – thus making them feel good about themselves.
Staying busy can also be a way to numb and distract ourselves from uncomfortable feelings and situations. We keep ourselves busy, so we don’t give ourselves time and space to go inward and see what’s really going on.
In a new book, Price (2022) talks about the “Laziness Lie” a deep seated cultural belief that leads many of us to believe:
- Your worth is your productivity
- You cannot trust your own feelings and limits (about when we feel exhausted, tired, and that we can set limits)
- There is always more you could be doing
He goes on to discuss that the Laziness Lie is the source of the guilty feeling that we are not “doing enough”; it is the force that compels us to work ourselves to sickness and exhaustion. It is based on a belief system that says that hard work is morally superior to relaxation, that people who aren’t productive have less innate value than productive people.
“The Laziness Lie has made us terrified of living at a slower, gentler pace”(Price, 2022)
Impact of busyness
The impact of being busy is what many of us are feeling right now, and includes:
- Stress related diseases e.g. Inflammatory diseases, Autoimmune diseases
- lack of joy in what we usually love
Is there another way to live our lives?
James Wright, a poet, wrote:
A chick hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
He was writing about lying in a hammock and being present. When he referred to wasting his life, he was speaking about all those moments he had not been present, when he lacked clarity and ease and peace – that when he was in that hammock this was the closest he knew to a life well and fully lived – a life determined less by its productivity than by the quality of experience known moment-by-moment….a wasted life to him was “one that was not suffused with moments of pure, aware presence and peace”. In other words, to just Being.
Overcoming busy does not mean just lying in a hammock all day doing nothing and just Being. Or retreating to a cave and meditating all day.
Life is to be lived as fully as we can – with all the busyness that that brings. And that can mean still doing everything you want to do (trying to leave some of those should and musts behind) AND resting back into Being (that sense of returning home to ourselves). We want to have one foot in the marketplace (Doing and engaging with the world) and one foot in the cave (retreating inwards and Being).
As Roger Housden notes:
“The great work of being human is to live in the worlds of stillness and movement, time and timelessness, at one and the same time. You don’t have to get to silence, openness awareness… You only have to recognise that the stillness at the centre of time is already here. It is direct experience, not a journey. Dropping the struggle with time isn’t something you do; it’s a spontaneous relaxation, a falling backward into what is already present. When we know the stillness at our core as a lived experience in the everyday, we breathe more easily, we go about our days differently. To be still and still moving is to know the end of time, even as the clock is ticking”(Housden, p. 103)
How do we overcome busyness? How do we find both movement and stillness?
There are a variety of body-mind practices we can use here.
Mindfulness practices – being mindful of sounds, breath, and thoughts – really anything which supports us to stay in this moment, and this moment, and this….rather than being that one step ahead in rushing mode.
Interoceptive practices – so we learn to trust our gut and ourselves and listen to when we need to rest and when we need to set boundaries and say no.
Finding the beginning and end of movements, and the pauses, and the transitions.
And of course we can alway returning to Being as the underlying presence of everything we are; that is always there even when we are busy.
Imagine the possibility of a life of being slow, moving slow, erring slow, thinking slow…..bliss.
Sandra is a Registered Psychologist, as well as a 500-hour trained Yoga teacher. Her work integrates yoga and psychology, focusing on embodiment and regulation of the nervous system, to support optimal wellbeing and increased mind-body resilience.
Read more about Sandra and her work at www.integrativetherapy.co.nz
Brown, J (2020), The Glorification of Busy will Destroy Us
Housden, R (2016). Dropping the struggle: Seven ways to love the life you have. New World Library, Novato, California.
Lightman, A (2018). In praise of wasting time. Ted Books, Simon &Schuster, London.
Price, D (2022) Laziness does not exist.