How’s your week been so far? Busy? Exhausting? Non-stop? OK, maybe this week is a one-off. So how was last week? Similar? And the week before? Same?
I recently came across this article called “The Busy Trap” in the New York Times which gets to the heart of one of the realities that saddens me the most about our modern world. Reading it inspired me to share it and to reflect on what I think is one of the biggest issues we face in our day to day modern lives lives: the epidemic of “being busy” for the sake of “being busy” as if it were a heroic and inevitable way of living our lives.
Before continuing, I just want to clarify that I don’t have an aversion to action or indeed to having a busy life in itself. Engagement with life, others and the world around us are the essence of a fulfilling, dynamic, fun and impactful life. I’m no extremist and I’m not advocating constant idleness and contemplation.
But I do believe that we all need regular pauses. Taking a break to reflect can feel like a radical, rebellious act in this high pressure, fast-paced world we share. Yet it is vital now more than ever that we take some time out to just stop. Our busyness epidemic is dangerous.
Firstly, to put it bluntly, we’re all going to die and we don’t know when. Life is precious. THIS IS IT . This means that what we give our time and attention to during our short time here matters to us all – whether we’re aware of it or not. A pause can help us reflect on and become aware of what truly matters to us and choose what we give our attention to – before it’s too late. (And yes, mindfulness develops this awareness!)
Secondly, busyness for the sake of busyness has turned into a cultural epidemic where being busy seems to have become the sign of a valuable successful life. Busy working life, busy social life, busy weekends, busy evenings… But in my experience, busyness does not equal well-being, happiness and fulfilment. In fact, it often leads us to burnout, illness and a sense of disconnection from life. What’s more, we’re finite resources and our bodies and minds need rest, time out, and attention. What good are we to the world if we are exhausted, wiped out, have nothing to give and no open, creative energy?
Thirdly, being busy does not equal having an impact. We’re busy… but doing what and why? Having what impact? Being busy in itself is no reflection on the quality of the impact we’re having on the world around us. We may send thousands of e-mails a day, but what is our impact at the end of it?
It’s time for us all to pause and reflect.
Of course, it can feel incredibly difficult to stop in a culture which propagates the story that “being busy and booked up” is a heroic success. It isn’t easy to go against the stream. It takes courage. But cultural change happens one person at a time. Why not make it a new trend to stop, rest, reflect one evening a week?
I also know that for most of us human beings, sitting still and taking a pause is our worst existential nightmare. It means we have to face up to the activity of our minds and end up face-to-face with ourselves. Scary stuff indeed. It takes bravery and willingness to sit with our minds… But that is the beauty of stillness – if you pause, rest, take a break for long enough and hold out through the storm – things can seem clearer afterwards (if you haven’t stopped in a long time, the storm can also last longer, but it always calms down eventually!).
Being away from home, I’ve had time for sitting and walking in beautiful wild places and I do notice that the clutter of the mind does begin to naturally filter out if I give it a rest. Of course, in touch with the natural world is the ideal place to pause and reflect, even if just in your garden, under a tree or in the park.
So here’s my invitation for you to stop, pause and reflect… And when you stop, see if you can notice any stories in your mind telling you you should be busier – without needing to respond to them. They are just stories we tell ourselves and each other.
Instead consider… What matters to you? Who matters to you? What do you value? What makes you feel alive and connected and what drains your energy? What supports or challenges you and what doesn’t? These reflections can begin to give us clues about the things that genuinely matter.
As human beings, we have the power to make conscious choices about what we pay attention to. What if we all gave a little more attention every day to the things we really value – instead of giving into the “I’m too busy” stories we tell ourselves? How would we feel then, and how might our impact on ourselves, others and the world around us be different?
Life is short so let’s give it a go now. Tomorrow may be too late.