Crazy busy? You’re not alone – but what type of busy are you?
Decades ago, I was in one of those workplace courses on how to become a more effective and efficient employee. One of our Executives spoke about how he used to literally run through the corridors to get from meeting to meeting, because he was so incredibly busy. He wasn’t proud of this. He had had the insight to see that he was using that sense of being stressed, that sense of being so incredibly busy, to make himself feel important. This was a stunning thing for him to say, because in that organisation he really was important – and yet, he’d felt the need to remind himself in this way. The point of his telling this story and being so open was to encourage us to look at the way we did things, and to ask ourselves whether we were creating a sense of busyness in our work to bolster our own egos.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen and read lots of stories in spiritual blogs and publications that have a title along the lines of “Busyness is laziness”. They suggest that we often use our busyness to either make ourselves feel important (when we don’t think we really are) or to distract ourselves from being aware of things we don’t want to see or face. The recommendation is often to take a look at our lives, slow down, do yoga and meditate, and resource ourselves so that we can face the things we’re hiding from.
All sage advice, and as a yoga and meditation teacher, I’m totally in favour of more yoga and meditation! Of course, I’d throw in some crystal healing sessions or reiki, but clearly I’m biased.
However, sometimes I think there’s something different going on.
So many people – and especially women, I think – feel busy because they are. They are the ones who are working stressful jobs, doing the lion’s share of the housework and emotional labour at home, looking after kids, caring for ageing relatives … And we live in a society where it seems like the expectation at work is that they would behave as though they had no children; and then in the rest of society, the expectation is that they care for their children and others as though they had no day job. There’s no way to pull that off.
And for many people in our society, they are also busy because they need to have multiple jobs, and to hustle-hustle-hustle just to make ends meet, to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families.
Adding to the to-do list of these people by telling them they need to do more yoga, or take up a meditation practice, doesn’t feel right to me. This is definitely a kind of “crazy busy” – but I don’t think the crazy is in the heads of those living through it. The crazy is in the society that enables it.
No yoga or meditation practice is going to “fix” a situation that’s caused outside of us. Perhaps I am cynical, but I sometimes wonder if the trend in some large corporations towards having wellness programs (including yoga and meditation) is not only to help employees’ wellbeing, but also to keep people calmly able to tolerate the intolerable.
I suspect that it is possible for these kinds of busyness to co-exist – that we can be running ourselves ragged to make ourselves feel like we’re valuable AND because the expectations that are placed on us are enormous and unrelenting.
And no doubt there are lots of other shades of busy out there too.
Why busyness can be a jewel
A well-cut gemstone has many facets, reflects and refracts light in many different ways, and is beautiful from many different angles. An uncut gemstone is … well, it’s a rock with potential.
The sensations in our bodies when we feel like we’re crazy busy, overwhelmed, stressed out, etc, aren’t just horrible sensations and feelings, they’re messages from our own body that something needs to change. Like an uncut gem, there’s treasure there waiting to be revealed.
It doesn’t necessarily take a week-long yoga retreat or an eight week meditation course to start polishing that gemstone to see clearly what’s going on (but if you’ve got the time and resources, that would be great, obviously). It can start with a few conscious breaths.
Perhaps next time you notice thoughts about being busy, take a couple of breaths and notice what you’re feeling in your body. Where do you feel the stress and tension? What is it like? If you had to describe its colour and shape, what would it be? If it could speak, what would it want you to know? What does it need?
Now, if your body tells you that you need a week in the Bahamas, that may not be possible for you right at this moment. And if your body is telling you that your boss needs to change, your partner needs to do more around the house, etc etc… then that may not be something over which you have any control, either. If these are the kinds of answers you get, perhaps thank yourself for that insight, and go on with your day until the next time you have a moment to take a couple of breaths to check in with yourself.
Over time, we get to know ourselves, breath by breath. Over time, we get to trust ourselves, breath by breath. Over time, we can learn to listen to ourselves with kind attention, and to trust ourselves to hear what we really need, and what we can do for ourselves to meet those needs.
Perhaps you don’t head off for a week in the Bahamas, but you can create a little bit of space for yourself by disciplining yourself to leave work at 6:30 pm instead of 7pm one night per week. Maybe you don’t go for a week-long yoga retreat, but you take time to do a couple of neck stretches at your desk every few hours. Perhaps you realise that you’re using your busyness to avoid looking at something really scary, and you make an appointment with a professional you trust to talk about it. Maybe you reach out to other women who are run as ragged as you are, and see if you can find ways to help each other out (or create a group campaign to lobby your local member about better support services in your area so you don’t have to do so damn much).
Learning to listen to yourself and give yourself as much of what you need as you can, and to forgive yourself for not being perfect all the time (especially in a culture which makes that pretty much impossible) can be the hidden jewel of busyness.
When you’re feeling crazy busy, how do you look after yourself? May we polish the jewel that is the hidden parts of ourselves, and learn how to treat ourselves with kind attention.