Busy

Busy is dumb. 

So says Tony Crabbe in his terrific book simply titled Busy(1). Busy is not only ineffective, the author states, but it is also the leading contributor to stress. For that reason alone, Busy can also be wildly unhealthy.

The physical toll of Busy-induced prolonged stress is well-known and includes anxiety, depression, memory deficits, emotional instability, irritability, sleep disruption, road rage, heartburn, back-aches, neck-aches, body-aches, suppressed immune function, high blood pressure, racing heart… Busy isn’t just annoying and it certainly is not benign. Busy, especially Busy-Without-End, can be harmful and even deadly. This is certainly not news. Busy is rampant!

I look at Busy a little differently. I experience Busy when I become disconnected and mindless, a victim to my schedule. At the same time, I believe it is possible to live a deliciously full life without feeling a smidge of Busy. Consciously choosing how to fill our days and how to spend our energy then remaining present to the experiences we create can lead to a full and rewarding existence. Very different than Busy. 

Interestingly, when I feel most Busy, I am tempted to incessantly and mindlessly pile on even more Busy, filling every available space with Digital Busy – what I call digital ‘noise’. There is this curious itch to fill every space between the Busy with a text or twelve, checking my email, a quick google or scanning my Facebook. This behavior (or shall I say addiction?) turns Busy into BUSY.

Sadly, not only are we BUSY but we are also seemingly ADDICTED to the BUSY. Digital noise is the cross-generational addiction of our time. One friend recently admitted that she knew she was hopelessly addicted to her phone when she misplaced it, triggering an all-out panic attack. Without a doubt, we are busy, but we are the ones creating all the BUSY and this is good news, albeit cleverly disguised. If we are creating it, we can change it.

When my life reached a crisis point a while back, I began a conscious study of how I was spending my energy each day:

How am I spending my time? Are my days filled with ‘have-to’? Does mindless activity take precedence over purposeful, meaningful living?

What am I thinking? What am I deciding about my experiences? Are my habitual negative thoughts or monkey-mind-wanderings having their way with me again?

What am I doing with the spaces in-between? Are there moments of stillness? Am I okay with moments of quiet?

And what about this all too common occurrence? In a moment of quiet, I reach for the phone, swipe open a screen, tap on the app, scroll, scroll, scroll. Just like that, ten minutes are gone.*Poof*

What is the result of filling ALL of the spaces with Digital Busy? One minute here, two there, five, ten and more. Am I trading away my very life with each filled-up space? Each instance or moment may not feel significant but add them up and they are impressive.

Those spare moments to linger, wonder, ponder and savor are almost extinct, gobbled up by unconscious consumption. Junk food for the brain. Munch, munch, munch, scroll, scroll, scroll. Those few moments of non-doing (long ago called boredom or idleness), in which we previously dialed the pressure down a notch, have become most evident in their absence, swallowed whole by nothing taking with them a momentary reprieve.

So, here is a thought: Let’s allow for spaces once again. Spaces to live, not simply observe. Our lives may be no less full but the spaces in-between will no longer be jammed with the unnecessary and non-critical. A moment of no-doing that recently triggered aimless scrolling can contain calming deep breaths or (gasp) nothing at all. One minute at a time, let’s begin to notice the real, live world around us and see our real selves in it.

Why bother, you ask? What’s the pay-off?

When I began a practice of allowing spaces, beauty returned to the forefront of my awareness. In fact, to my surprise I was swimming in beauty, not simply viewing the photos of someone else’s experience of beauty. Challenges were present too, but at least I was present to them, not simply numb. Perhaps most importantly, over time BUSY became Busy became busy became fullness.

The spaces in-between can hold all manner of richness. Marvelous mysteries, important insights, challenges, self-care opportunities, discussions, noticing, relationships and beauty. Our lives are not simply lived in the grand gestures and the goals but also in the spaces, the delicious in-between.

What about you? Are you ready to turn BUSY into Busy, or maybe even busy? Or are you ready to go all-in and shoot for ‘full’? Start small, my friend, one moment at a time, and see what you notice in the spaces in-between? I would love to hear about what you notice.

The space in between landscape

(1) Busy – How to Thrive in a World of Too Much, by Tony Crabbe; US Edition 2014, Grand Central Publishing.

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