Thursday, August 1, 2013

the 'busy' trap

dashing about

I just read an article with some real truth in it, "Anxiety; The 'Busy' Trap", and I think it's more than worth sharing.  I've been thinking about this in various ways since becoming a sister, in a new way since going to Haiti, and yet again differently since beginning this long stretch of time waiting with my mother in the hospital. Time flows differently, and what needs to be done and what is life-giving are of a different nature.  But there is still a need to find a space between busyness and sabbath, a space for quiet listening, a space where my mind and heart have room to grow and my prayer can become fruitful. It's in this kind of space that God has room to work in me and beauty can begin to grow.

It's so easy to stay busy instead.  In fact, some of us do really enjoy it. I do believe we all need real work to have a sense of satisfaction.  The key here, I think, is not to confuse busyness with doing the work we need to do, any more than we should confuse laziness with essential down time. In our culture, we've swung to the far end of the spectrum.

Consider the birds of the air...
a bananaquit on the umbrella tree blossoms in our yard
Delmas, Haiti

When I first arrived in Haiti, I hadn't learned how to do many of the things that needed to be done, and I had not yet begun many of the assignments that were eventually mine and which I very much enjoyed.  It's not that there was nothing do do, but there were moments I had nothing I had to do. This was so unusual a situation that it provoked a certain amount of anxiety.  I thought I was missing something. I felt lazy despite Sister's assurances that I was doing enough.  And of course, the situation changed soon enough.

This, of course, was a sad state of affairs for a sister.  Sabbath time? Reveling in the unusual gift of time for more prayer, for studying Creole, for creativity, for enjoying the beauty around me?  It's a spiritual issue as well as one of mental well-being.  Time to relearn.

In doing so, I remembered something else, something useful during times when the to-do list seems endless: I can accomplish a lot more during my work time when I also take time for this refreshment.

I do best when quieted by the beauty around, bathing in the sound of water, humming with the bees, breathing in the greenness of life.  However, most of us don't have the freedom of writers like the one whose article I just read. Most of us can't escape to a rural setting.  Fortunately, there are many ways we can make room.

God's gift of abundant life is best received when we make space for it.

a deer near my parents' house in Michigan

Here are some excerpts from the article:

IF you live in America in the 21st century you've probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It's become the default response when you ask anyone how they're doing: ''Busy!'' ''So busy.'' ''Crazy busy.'' It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ''That's a good problem to have,'' or ''Better than the opposite.''
Notice it isn't generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet...
Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren't either working or doing something to promote their work...
BUT just in the last few months, I've insidiously started, because of professional obligations, to become busy. For the first time I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was ''too busy'' to do this or that thing they wanted me to do. I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon. Except that I hate actually being busy. Every morning my in-box was full of e-mails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now had to solve. It got more and more intolerable until finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I'm writing this.

Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I've remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I'm finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It's hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it's also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration -- it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. 
(New York Times - ANXIETY; The 'Busy' Trap By TIM KREIDER  Published: July 1, 2012)

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