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.
Last month, amid a string of private facebook conversation messages I was roped into (and eventually figured out how to bow out of continuing to receive), someone in the chain of messages said the following:
“I won’t be able to breathe until after Labor Day, I’m so very busy.”
And I thought: Goodness, I think something needs to change.
If we’re too busy to breathe, too busy to live life well, perhaps it’s time to do something a little different.
If you’ve been following me here on this blog, you know that I’ve written a few times about my dislike of any response having to do with the word busy. As in:
Gosh, I’m just sooo busy! or
I’ve been CRAZY busy! or
Well, ya know, I’m super busy.
I don’t like the word busy. Its a hollow word that has lost meaning for me. While it’s true that my life (along with just about everyone else’s) could classify under the dictionary definition of busy, which is to be actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime, I don’t enjoy using this word in response to questions like How are you? or How was your day? I try not to use the word busy to describe any part of my day or life. To me the word busy has been culturally redefined and is now designated to a state of mental and physical being that has become seemingly “out of our control.” We take on this burdensome tone when talking about our busyness as though someone else has thrust all of these things onto our plate and we were powerless to do anything about it. We’re all various degrees of busy: crazy busy, super busy, plain ol’ busy, pretty busy, oh-my-god busy, and so on. I get it. We’re ALL busy. But what does that really mean? How is telling people how busy we are an accurate depiction of what we’re really doing with our time and energy?
We use busyness as an excuse to get out of things we don’t want to do, as the reasoning for why we forgot something important, and as a blanket statement to sum up our weekend or week or month or year. But what are we really saying when we use the word busy? Perhaps we insert that word in places where something else would be more fitting, more connective, more authentic to our actual experience. Perhaps we use that word as a reflex and don’t really know why we’re using it at all. Perhaps we really do feel like our life is out of our control and busy is the only word that makes sense.
Just like the typical, “how are you?” question people ask, “are you keeping busy?” And as often as we answer, “fine” or “good” in meaningless reference to how we’re doing we reply in the affirmative that our day to day lives are busy. But busy with what? Oftentimes when we say we’re busy we have the impression that this state of living is outside of our control, as if busyness we’re a stranger that wedged itself into our homes unwilling to leave.
What are we filing our days with? What are our priorities? There’s a quote that has stuck with me from a dharma teacher that came to Montana to lead one of our retreats a couple of years ago, “set up your life so the things that matter the most aren’t at the mercy of the things that matter the least.”
(I read a great article today entitled: The Busy Trap. To read the full article go to: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/).