What has being busy done for you lately?
I have had an extended period of not working a regular job, not having multiple volunteer gigs to juggle, and generally not having a lot of “fixed” things I “need” to do. One thing that has become crystal clear during this time is how much I have, in the past, pinned my identity to what I do, what I accomplish, and what I haven’t accomplished. There have been a number of times during the past several months where someone has asked me “What do you do?” and I have fumbled about, trying to list off the things I’m working on, instead of just saying something like “I’m in transition.” I realized at some point that there was an underlying anxiety in these situations, a voice saying something like “Throw them a bone so you don’t look lazy. Or confused. Or whatever it is you’re afraid of looking like.”
The reality, though, is that the question itself, one people seem so given to tossing around, demonstrates that sense that a person is only worth something if they do something. Lurking behind the question is often another one: “What have you done in the world lately?,” which can easily turn into “Are you worth my attention or not?” in our fragile little minds.
So, when I think about why it is so many of us seem to be busy much of the time, it quickly becomes tied to a desire to demonstrate worthiness. Worthiness to yourself and to other people.
This is probably one of the main reasons why a lot of folks struggle to do practices like meditation on a regular basis. It can seem like doing nothing in the grand scheme of things, and isn’t terribly impressive to offer in response to the question “What do you do?” or similar such questions. So much of the world seems to have succumbed to the view that life is solely, or mostly, about a series of social and economic exchanges — and that living a “good life” is built around “doing” as much as possible. Think of how much, for example, people with chronic illnesses or diminished capacities — even people who have given so much of their lives to others — think of how much they often struggle to accept a mostly being existence.
The first lines of the Zen poem “Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage” by Shitou go like this:
I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value.
After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.
Now it’s been lived in — covered by weeds.
There’s a demonstration here, I believe, of the balance between action and non-action. Between doing and being done through. One of the problems with always being busy is that it sets forth a momentum of always being busy. Trying to get off that kind of karma train is pretty difficult. In fact, because of it’s fierce momentum, it often takes something dramatic, something traumatic, to get derailed. And even then, many of us think that this derailing is something horrible, something that is going to destroy our very worthiness as humans, and so we put all our effort into catching back up to the very train that brought us down.
What do you think is behind your “busy”? What has helped you not do so much?
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