Yesterday, I received an email from a local musician, who’s mailing list I subscribe to. The email was to announce upcoming shows and classes. After the greeting, the first sentence was: Now we’re officially into the holiday rush.
On Friday, I overheard a friend say to another friend: I know you’re super crazy busy but I’m wondering if you’d have time to help me with something.
The definition for ‘busy’ in my trusty Webster’s dictionary, states: adj.1. engaged in action: not idle 2. being in use 3. full of activity and 4. meddling. Personally, though, I feel as though this is yet another word we’ve collectively commandeered and re-shapened. I think the definition for ‘busywork’ is more fitting: n. work that appears productive but only keeps one occupied.
If I were to come up with my own definition for the word ‘busy’ it would go a little something like this: adj. 1. state of being frantic; most often entered by way of choice masquerading as victim-hood. 2. common statement used in order to describe one’s day/week/life so that others think you’re not being lazy 3. statement hollow of meaning that waters seeds of stress and anxiety and perpetuates suffering.
I’ve written and spoken about this subject quite a bit over the years. I try my best to not only avoid the use of the word ‘busy’ but also address it when others try to stamp its label on me, as well. Last week, I was talking with a friend and he said: “Sounds like you’re pretty busy,” and I replied: “Well, no. I practice to be a non-busy person.” And by that I mean that I practice to see everything that I do as an active choice that I make, verses an obligation or protested engagement that is heaped upon me unwillingly. Our collective understanding and use of the word ‘busy’ has a lot of negative and detrimental functions in our often fast-paced and disconnected, distracted culture.
Busyness is a state of mind and a way of engaging with ourselves and the world that involves a disassociation with personal accountability. It is a cheap, nondescript word at this point. And the more we use it – which is a lot – the more momentum it picks up. Words matter. And I think we underestimate that truth much of the time. Focusing our energy of mindfulness on the word choices we make is a valuable practice to take up in our daily lives. Especially because so many of us just talk and have very little idea of what it is we’re saying and why we’re saying it. We’re also not tuned into what we’re conveying through our tones of voice and facial expressions and how what we’re saying might impact those around us. So there are a lot of subtleties in how we communicate. And communication is huge – we are constantly communicating with others, whether we’re talking or not. There’s an exchange happening all the time.
So, not only would we be well-served to discontinue our use of the word ‘busy’ as it applies to our own lives but also to drop its use as a descriptor that we heave onto others around us, as in: It’s that busy time of year eh? or Man, you’re just crazy busy these days. I remember overhearing an interaction at a bank teller counter where the exchange was as follows:
Banker: Hi there, how are you?
Customer: Good, thanks. Super busy.
Banker: Well, that’s good right? Keeps you out of trouble!
There’s this collective fuel to the nature of being busy that we incite, as though it’s the way we all should operate from day-to-day. And if we’re not busy, then it seems we think there’s something wrong or amiss. Busyness is like a freight train barreling down the tracks and we’re all just stuck on board, riding the rails. For me, though, I decided to get off the train. And no matter how full my schedule sometimes gets, I am careful not to buy into the notion of feeling busy because to me it’s a detrimental and illusory way of being and interacting with myself and my surroundings.
Lately I’ve been gravitating towards developing new friendships with people who are intentional, active community members that seem to share my stance on taking responsibility for themselves and their lives. People who don’t use the smokescreen of busyness to excuse their actions or describe their day or week. And I’ve been realizing that this is important to me. That I want to be around people who don’t use the empty word of ‘busy’ as a reason why they didn’t get back to me on email or do that thing they said they were going to do. I want to invest in friendships with people who know what their priorities are and who aren’t apologetic about it or looking for ways to excuse their behavior. And this may come across wrong but I’m looking for people who can keep up with me. Who can walk beside me on the path of cultivating joy and ease, who are interested and motivated in taking full responsibility for how they show up and are in tune with what seeds they’re watering in their wake. I want to surround myself with people who are embracing themselves just as they are and are honest about who they are, verses trying to cover up certain parts or hide under the guise of busyness or put on airs.
This post, like so many others I’ve experienced, has led me in directions I did not initially anticipate, which is one of the things I love about writing. When I write it out, I often find that I surprise myself by what comes up. Writing allows me the chance to get in touch with percolating thoughts and feelings that sometimes can only be fleshed out and more fully understood when I put words down on paper or type them out.
In the very same closing words of Ann Holmes Redding – a lovely woman who was the visiting guest speaker at a function I attended on campus a couple of weeks ago and spoke on the subject of interfaith work, peace-building, and the four values of: purpose, hope, humility, and prayer – “I don’t have a neat, clean way to end, so I guess I’ll just stop talking.”