Conversation: Why are you so ‘busy’?

Sharing a meaningful conversation – “Why are you so busy?”

So busySomehow, our society puts a false value on being ‘busy’.  Just think how many times a day you ask someone “How are you?” and the answer is “Fine” but promptly followed by a “Just really busy!”.  Especially at work, we feel as though we must say that or else people will think we are not worthy of our employment.

I recently had lunch with a colleague, who spoke about how packed her life is.  She schedules every part of her day and runs from one responsibility to another during the day, evenings and weekends.  She had just gotten off a plane that morning and was racing between three commitments back-to-back each in different parts of the city, fitting me in to the lunch time slot.

I decided to ask her the question “Why do you do this?”.  Her response was “I don’t really know”.  So my next question was “How do you feel?” and she replied “I just feel busy.  I just feel stressed.”

Our conversation quickly deepened, and she described how she ‘felt that she had to do all of it, or she felt like she was wasting time. Also she wondered if she subconsciously packed her schedule as a way to turn off something deep inside that may be bothering her’.  Gee, that sparked the memory of how I had been most of my life, up until recently when I began my cancer journey. I too felt that having time not scheduled full of activities or to-do’s was a waste of time.  We analyzed why we behave like that, and concluded that our upbringing may be a big contributor to that – having parents who did not recognize when we did something well, and always found a way to dampen our enthusiasm by criticizing things we were excited about. We do not have a psychology background, but we still felt this probably made us constantly strive and push ourselves in an unhealthy way.

Now I don’t want to pass judgment on how people choose to spend their time, but I do want to comment on my friend’s response of “I don’t know how I feel, I just feel busy and stressed”. THAT, my friends, is not a good thing. Feeling numb to life isn’t living life, and it sure isn’t valuing your life.

I know many of us have lots of responsibilities in our lives, but I do believe we can all be more mindful.  Even taking a few moments during the day just to be present, be still, noticing how we are feeling and taking a few slow deep breaths, reminds us of how alive we are.  Everyone can do that – you don’t even have to let people know you are doing this. Just stop and be present, several times a day.

And for you ‘Type A’ personalities out there, believe me when I say that I have gotten better in the past year, but this is still something I’m working on.  I can now just leave part of my day unscheduled and be quite OK with that!  Letting life unfold in the moment is a surprising revelation I have recently learned to marvel at.

9 thoughts on “Conversation: Why are you so ‘busy’?

  1. A number of years ago a friend would call me on a Sunday morning and ask what I was doing. I would say…. “nothing”…. just reading… funny… I was doing something… but my first response was “nothing” as if reading was not a valuable way to spend time and yet it is potentially one of the best ways to spend your “free time” as it can expand your horizons, make you laugh, cry or just entertain! I vote we all go back to 20 minutes of USR daily like I had in elementary school. (USR stands for Uninterrupted Silent Reading)!

  2. I am wondering whether it is in fact possible to do as you suggest and still maintain any attachment to the kind of lifestyle where the ‘value’ of activity is in fact its commercial ‘price’. We live in what is essentially a kyriarchy, a complex web of domination and subservience, in which monetary income and social status – whether this be by, say, the bourgeois standards of salary and a shiny car, the ghetto/barrio standards of narcotic sales and bling, or any of the scores of other scales and standards – is the most important thing. Taking time to repeat “Om gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi swaha” in such an environment seems to me to be futile, like trying to make a pillow out of a piece of granite.

    To me, a pre-requisite of both true calm, liveliness, and liberation is that we rid ourselves as gradually as we need and as quickly as we can, of the whole ethos of the commercial price of individual work, and to replace it with the social value of work within a system of mutual aid. Work that has true social value is work that is done without monetary recompense, or indeed without the expectation of recompense of any kind, but which has a value to the person for whom it is performed, and which will be paid forward in some measure at some time. For example, if I see someone carrying heavy shopping and I help her, that work has value, but that value is not the equivalent of a porter’s wages for the time expended, its value is social and mutual. Plenty of people already do work that can only be measured that way – a charity volunteer, for example, or indeed an average ‘homemaker’. Unless we can move more and more work out of the commercial sphere and into the mutual sphere then something like learning to meditate simply becomes a personal hobby in a busy, heedless world, and hardly worth a spit in a rainstorm.

    Imagine ten people on the bank of a river. They all want to get to the other side. Capitalism dictates that they should fight it out to the last man for the boat, and that only one should get to the other side. State communism dictates that they should all get into the boat even if it then sinks. Mutual aid means that rules are irrelevant so long as everyone gets to the other side of the river. Societal species survive hard times more successfully than competitive ones (I’m citing Peter Kropotkin’s ‘Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution’, published 1902), and I would submit that such a societal environment is the only ground in which the seed of self-enlightenment can be planted, can grow to fruition, and can be made more freely available to all.

    Marie Marshall

    • I speak from personal experience and the experience of those who share my interest in meditation and mindfulness. The benefits we have received are clear; a sense of improved calm and peace, amongst many other things. I understand it is not for everyone, however. I hope you find your own ways to experience peace and calm.

  3. I think that whether or not being busy is a good thing depends on our perceived ‘locus of control’. When we are the driving force in our lives then no matter how busy we get, we feel happy and satisfied because we are in control. We can stop any time and be OK. We can take that deep conscious breath. I have friends who are writers, artists, animators and work in the local movie and television industries. Most of them are incredibly busy, but they love what they do and are driven by passion, so the busyness doesn’t bother them at all. I have also met scientists who are the same way. Their locus of control is internal. They are in charge. They are doing the driving.
    When our perceived locus of control is external, then we become driven. We no longer feel as though our busyness is in our control. It appears as though we don’t have a choice. We are driven by responsibilities, debts, obligations. There is no passion in that. Show me a driven person, and I’ll show you an unhappy person.
    When I meet busy people, I take note of who is in control of that busyness. Are they driving their lives, or are they being driven by external forces?
    The deeper truth is that we are all in control – we just relinquish that control to varying degrees.

  4. This is a great post. I have always been busy with school, work, renovations, startup business and so on. But I still remember my coworker saying that time flies and esp. when you have a child you don’t want to miss the time when they pay full attention to you (which is before their turn 12 or so).

    I think one big problem in our society is that people focus too much on getting things. For every thing that you buy you have to maintain it, clean it, upgrade it and so on. The less things we have the less time we need to take care of them.

    Focus on family and friends and less on stuff. Avoid giving each other presents for b-days, Chrismass and so on. Instead give each other time =)

    • Hi Zdenek! great comment! I like what you said about ‘focus on family and friends and less on STUFF!’ Stuff is just stuff, and comes and goes, and only brings us happiness for short periods of time.

      • Thank you Wendy. I wanted to mention a few practical and concrete ways to be less busy:

        – don’t stress yourself with filling up water jugs every week at local stores. Vancouver has one of the best water in the world so drink it =)

        – cut TV time or cancel the TV completely. Watch movies or shows on DVDs so you don’t waste your whole night flipping channels

        – buy groceries in bulk to save time (and money). Costco is your friend!

        – setup bills for pre-authorized payment or pay online. Don’t verify and consolidate every little transaction on your bank and credit card accounts. Just check big items

        – run errands during the week so you have time for fun on the weekend

        – shop online to save time and money.Amazon, Costco and other online stores have great selection, price and tons of reviews to make the right buying decision


  5. There is definitely something to be said for some of the old saying like stop and smell the roses. I truly believe in this act and many others like stopping and gazing at the clouds. Take a moment people it could make the difference in your entire day.

  6. It is very important to have some free time like that. It is true that in these Western societies it is expected to be busy. My family has always drummed into me how we can’t be lazy people and that we have to work hard. I am someone who needs to be busy but there are different kinds of busy. I’m not good at doing nothing, it can be enjoyable for a short period of time and sometimes I do need it. Ultimately I love being busy with thigns I WANT to spend my time doing or ‘wasting’ my time on. E.g. writing stories, taking photographs, hanging out with friends, watching theatre etc. I like to be busy even with that, I like to have numerous stories written at the same time, hundreds of photographs, having two different ‘chill out sessions’ with two different groups of friends in the one day etc. But there always comes a time when we must relax. And we have to recognise that. It’s just as important to wind down as it is to be active. If it wasn’t the case then why do we naturally (for those who are sleeping “properly”) sleep for 7-10 hours a night? Our body recognises the need to wind down and recuperate, so must our minds.

    – Ermisenda

Welcoming your comment . . .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s