My last post, “Lucy and the Assembly Line of Life” seems to have struck a chord. It is a lifestyle that most of us can relate to. The tyranny of the urgent. The insistent cry of the apparently necessary. There are bills to pay, projects to be done, children to raise, parents to care for, good causes to support, books to read, reports to write, retirements to plan, and people to please. My readers want to know, “What can I do about it?”
It is a great question. What can we DO DIFFERENTLY so we can DO LESS? It is as good a place as any to start. The simple answer is to try to do something that helps you do nothing. Make a date with yourself. Put the appointment with yourself on the calendar. Treat it as important and as sacred as you would any other appointment. And do it regularly.
But don’t try to pull something sneaky and use that time to get something else done! That is the temptation. An hour to ourselves away from work or the kids and we want to go to the grocery store or the gym, do some laundry or mow the lawn. Leave it be. Two hours and we might even be tempted to go to the movies, hit some balls at the driving range, or get our nails done. Yes, there needs to be room in life for those things, too, but not for now.
Now, I have something different in mind. Do something that allows you to turn down the volume on the noise in your life. Find the thing to do that gets you where you want to go emotionally—to that place of quiet where you can reflect on your life. Go for a walk, get a cup of coffee, sit on the porch, bake some bread, walk the dog, take a drive. Empty your mind so that there is room in there for something new. It is what the Easterns call meditation and what psychoanalysts call “reverie.”
What you do in this place is what really matters. Because ultimately the treatment for the illness of over-busyness is mindfulness. In this place, you can begin to reflect on your life. Do you really need to do everything you are doing? What would happen if you didn’t do this thing or that? What feelings would come up? Guilt, worry, fear, disappointment, relief? Maybe you could deal with those feelings. What would you lose if you let go of this or that? What would you gain? Maybe it would be worth it.
Busyness leaves no time for this kind of reverie. So we must be more intentional about making space for it. We need breaks. We need silence. We need space for thinking and feeling, beyond the doing. And even if, in the short term, our kids or our parents or our careers or our egos suffer a bit for it, in the long run they profit from it, too. Everyone benefits when we resist the pressures of greediness, entitlement, and selfishness on the one side and guilt, martyrdom, and resentment on the other.
By setting aside space for intentional self-reflection, we give ourselves the opportunity to live into a more balanced life–which, believe it or not, is a blessing for ourselves as well as others.