Proud to wear my busyness badge.
Just like I imagine you to be, I am a very busy person. A friend once said to me, “Joni, you are the busiest person I know.” She said this admiringly, and at the time I took it as a deep compliment.
Like a good scout I was proud to wear my busyness badge. It meant that I was an accomplished juggler of the bouncing balls of life.
The Dilemma of Busyness.
Juggling requires perpetual motion. If the juggler gets still or gazes away, the balls stop moving. Any parent or professional understands the dilemma of busyness: keep the balls moving or everything will collapse.
Sometimes managing the stress of our own busyness becomes one more ball to keep in the air.
Fitting in a meditation, yoga, or Reiki practice becomes another task to juggle.
Whereas we recognize the dilemma of busyness, and understand that it leads to stress that can cause illness, what I don’t think we understand is how our own busyness can cause harm to others.
Busyness and Non-Harming.
One of the basic principles of yoga is expressed in a word that means non-harming, ahimsa. Often thought of in terms of physical non-violence, ahimsa can be applied to every breath, thought, action and reaction that we experience.
Ahimsa is an intention we set to respond justly and compassionately to an often unjust world.
The busier we get, the harder it becomes to practice ahimsa. And the more likely we are to miss the mystery of life.
I have noticed that as I get busier, I am correspondingly less mindful, compassionate, and receptive to others. I don’t listen as closely.
I miss the big picture.
I discard a plastic cup into the nearby trash can, telling myself just this once won’t matter if I don’t wait until I find a recycle bin.
I have a passing thought to call my friend whose husband is ill, but get too busy to remember to actually make the call, let alone prepare them a meal.
I ignore the thirsty flowers that bloom for me in my yard because I am too busy to water them. I may be exhausted but instead of taking a moment to rest and breathe, I drive to Starbucks for a coffee.
Instead of compassionately recognizing my own exhaustion in the eyes of the busy barrista who is rushing to fill five orders in front of mine, I impatiently withhold a smile or a thank you for his service as I whisk away with my drink.
I may not be unkind exactly
But the busier I am, the less kind I am to others, to myself and to the earth.
And if I am less kind when I get busy, and perhaps so are you, and you and . . . what is the collective effect of a too-busy culture? I
s an additive factor or is there an exponential growth of unkindness as busyness interacts with busyness? When does collective busyness become harmful?
Listen to the words of the contemplative monk, Thomas Merton, written fifty years ago:
“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy. . . destroys (the) inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of . . . work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
Merton was talking about how even well-meaning people can cause harm to themselves and others by taking on too much, and not returning to the source of their desire to do good.
What happens to the spirit of ahimsa when we have a political or fiscal agenda or don’t have time to understand those who are not in agreement with us?
The Results of Our Self-Involved Busyness
Over-committed too-busy people are easily annoyed and can become irritable with the least provocation. We can turn into just the kind of person that we are campaigning against.
Is it really possible that my own self-involved busyness contributes directly to the violence in the world today?
If we were all a little kinder to ourselves and others, if we all moved a little slower and with more mindfulness, could we really prevent mass shootings and the pillaging of the earth?
Could we stop the religious, racial and political polarization that is ripping the fabric of our society? Perhaps over time we could, collectively. Inevitably.
Busyness and the Psyche.
Denial and avoidance are psychological defenses that are often hidden within busyness.
As a busy parent I may immerse myself in scheduling the family activities to such an extent that I don’t notice that my son is depressed and may need some down time and different kind of support and schedule.
I may take refuge in my own busyness as a way of ignoring a failing relationship or having the patience to talk to my aging neighbor who repeats the same story again and again.
The busier I am the quicker I am to judge, dismiss and discount who or whatever seems to be in my may.
Not only can we busy ourselves in order to ignore unpleasant situations, it can also cause us to ignore the beauty and kindness that can found at the boundary of our peripheral vision.
Is the juggler on the Boardwalk able to take in the grandeur of the ocean that is only footsteps away from her little orbiting spheres?
Or is she missing the mystery of her own inner wisdom as she focuses intensely on that which habit compels her to do?
Getting lost in busyness
We deny our feelings, ignore the cries of the heart to heal old wounds, to exit relationships that no longer serve. We get so locked into spinning our busyness balls that we forget that, just like the thoughts in our minds, those little orbs are just spinning in circles.
In busyness, we focus on the tasks and content of life, and lose awareness of all that surrounds and supports us.
Our ego thinks that “I” am the one who is juggling to keep it together without recognizing that something profound is mysteriously supporting the possibility of being able to juggle at all. Just like I am juggling to maintain some sort of homeostasis and balance, isn’t there some greater divine Juggler that is maintaining, patterning and balancing all the interacting systems of the planet and its cosmos, the organism and its consciousness, the earth and its environments?
The Mystery in the Middle.
There is mystery behind the fact that seven billion jugglers are each interacting with countless other jugglers who are all interacting with a cosmic balancing act of physical, biochemical, environmental, cultural, cognitive, and energetic systems.
When you pause to contemplate that mystery, do you feel awe? I do.
In yoga we talk about the madhya space. This is the space in the middle, the stillpoint, the space between the inbreath and the outbreath.
The madhya is the metaphoric heart of all that is. The madhya is not actually a “space” because it is beyond time and space.
The mystery is in the madhya and we miss it whenever we are lost in the busyness of our lives. It is the place where awe abides.
How do we access the madhya?
Through taking time to be truly still, truly non-busy.
Many of us don’t know how to be still.
You can start now by simply closing your eyes and feeling yourself being breathed. Not just taking a breath, but watching how the breath breathes through you.
You can do this NOW and in any moment when you notice that busyness is overtaking your connection to mystery, to the ah-ha of awe.
You probably already know other practices that can help you experience the mystery of the madhya.
The key is in remembering your practices and being kind enough to yourself to use the perpetual now moment to do them. As well as setting aside time every day to sit in the mystery. And being compassionate with yourself when you don’t.
Research has shown
When we meditate, when we access the madhya we become kinder and more compassionate people. It is not a statistical stretch to claim that if we all did this, it would be a less violent world.
Certainly we would each have a kinder, calmer interior life. To paraphrase Jesus’ saying in the Gospel of Thomas, “When the inside becomes like the outside, and the outside like the inside, there is the human divine.”
As we become calm within, perhaps a certain peace will be reflected in the outer world.
I believe the truly skilled juggler can keep the balls of life spinning and can also remain aware of the space between the orbiting balls.
The juggler on the Boardwalk may actually be able to appreciate the mystery and grandeur of the ocean while keeping the little spheres in the air, if she is skilled and practiced enough.
It may take a lot of practice
But if we take time to steep in the space of the heart between our tasks, breaths, and thoughts, we may just find instead of collapsing our lives actually expand.
The in-breath will fill us completely and the out-breath will exude kindness, compassion, and ahimsa.
I for one want to stop rushing and spinning and juggling too many balls.
I want to visit the mystery that awaits when we take pause and look around and inside ourselves. I am turning in my busyness badge.
What will you do with yours?
With Love from the Heart,