What’s Hiding Under All That Busy?

MultitaskingAre you super busy? Of course you are!

Or – if you’re not, do you feel vaguely guilty about it?

It’s like it’s the ‘get validated’ club of our modern world. Who can win the busy contest? There’s so much to do, and godammit I’m going to do it all!

And how’s that working out? Do you manage to get to the things you truly want to do?

There’s something about being busy from the instant your eyelids flutter open to that (way too late) moment when you finally crawl under the covers. Something weirdly seductive. Validating. It makes us feel like our lives have meaning.

It’s addictive.

And I’ve come to realize that like all addictions, the busy bug fills an essential need or desire:  it allows us to hide from our pain.

It’s one of those virtuous addictions – like hitting the gym every day – that appears to be such a good thing on a surface level.

But is it really?

The Art of Doing Nothing

Maybe, just maybe, taking a break – dare I say it, spending some time doing absolutely NOTHING – can bring more growth, more wisdom… and ultimately more fulfillment than this incessant filling of our days.

How do we find time and space for emptiness in a speeded up world? How do we find the courage to sit with the pent up pain and emotion, to wait for what might be on the other side?

Well, cold turkey is one way. Quit it all and move to a shack in the woods for a while, or forever.

Another way is one itsy bitsy, teensy weensy step at a time. Accompanied by heaping doses of self-forgiveness. And persistence.

So, if you’re slammed with the To-Do list the size of Mount Everest (and perhaps just a skosh terrified at what you might find lurking in the corners if you slow down enough to see it), you could start by claiming 2 minutes each day to sit and breathe. Even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom to do it.

Come on now – everybody’s got just two freakin’ minutes! Even you.

Set a timer. Breathe in, breathe out. Count each in and out breath, up to ten, then start again.

Then just notice for a couple of seconds before you race back into the fray.

Remember – it’s a spiral.

We slow down, we breathe, we catch a glimpse of calm – even of enlightenment perchance. And then, bam! You realize can’t remember the last time you quieted down enough to notice your breath.

Hey – it’s okay.

For example, I’m writing this because I have to admit that I’ve recently spiraled backwards and somehow I’ve caught the busy bug again. That old Busy Beast snuck up behind me and gobbled me whole.

Well, I guess I never really escaped it. I’ve been running from the pain for 50+ years now, so it’s gonna take a bit of brain rewiring to turn that boat around.

I remember after selling my store, thinking ‘oh, I won’t have to get up at 5 am and go to the gym anymore. I’m going to have so much time!

But you know what I did? I made myself lists that ran off the page. After all those years of devoting every waking hour to my retail business and raising a family, I turned my attention to the piles of household projects.

Even after I dropped a huge load of obligations and responsibilities, that busy bug lived inside me. Even without all the orders to place, people to contact, deadlines to meet –  I quickly found ways to create more busyness.

And I wanted to finally start writing every day. I decided to go back to school so I registered for some classes, and eventually became a full time student. I painted almost every room in my house. I took on a part-time bookkeeping job and some other work gigs.

My days became just as full as they were when I worked 12-hour days in my store.

And why?

Well, if you’d asked me then I would have told you it was because I WANTED to do all those things.

And that’s true. But it’s only part of the truth.

Underneath that truth is one I haven’t wanted to face.

If I’m busy enough I don’t have to look head on at my pain. At my fear, my grief. At all the emotions that I’ve so handily kept tucked away because there just isn’t time to unpack them.

And now here I’ve done the same thing. A job, a business, a new town with so many new people to get to know, so many adventures to explore.

But this time I’m on to myself. My new mantra (when I remember) is:

What can I subtract from my life, instead of add? 

It feels so weird because there’s so many new and interesting threads to follow every day.

Remember those old style band-aids your mom used to put on your skinned knees?

It always felt so good to have Mom take care of the owie – but when it came time to take off that thing, Yikes! It could hurt more than the original wound.

Having so much to do is like that band-aid – except it’s covering up a wound that needs to get some air. A wound that’s just festering under there beneath the tight covering.

And that’s why it actually takes courage, self-awareness, and yes – even discipline to slow down enough to get un-busy.

And yeah – it might hurt like hell to rip that busy band-aid off.

Scary to do it, yes – but what sparkling jewels might you find on the other side of that pain?

Are you willing to take a chance, take a peek?

What can you subtract from your day, or your life, today that will give you even a small window of emptiness?

Tell me in the comments – I’m playing with this already, but I need some good ideas!


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Showing 4 comments
  • Carol Hess

    Sarah, I love, love, love what you are saying here. I think we women hide behind busyness and even get very smug and competitive about our degree of busyness, and it’s bullshit. The constant busyness does not serve us well.

    We are hiding behind busyness to not face pain, as you talk about. Or we are deriving our value and therefore our power from all our busyness. That’s not real value. Our true value is inherent and comes from our beingness and not our doingness. In fact, I just finished recording a radio show about exactly that — the value of women.

    This is a great post. My name is Carol, and I’m a busyaholic. Repeat after me. My name is . . . . .

  • eva

    Yes..the art of being is underdevoped in our human doing world.
    My new learning is to practice and know I can have a business and be still and spacioud and with
    Others in this way.. as t the sane time.
    Great to step off the wheel of rushing over plsnning stress and ovetdoing.

  • Dhall

    Not sure why there are not more comments here but to say I believe you may have hit a nerve. I say your right on and I know a few people who could benefit from reading this. Balance elludes many in this world.

  • Ciara Conlon

    You are right it is a definite curse of our times. When we relax we consume information on our phones, we are definitely addicted to doing. I do know a few people who know how to relax and actually since I took a month off this summer I am definitely moving on a slower treadmill. Today I meet a friend and we spoke about our businesses and how busy we were and as we spoke and I told her all of my projects and plans, I realised that I didn’t’ need to get these done now, that I was pushing myself for what gain? timely article! Good Luck with it I hope you find the balance

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