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Dropping Out of the Cult of Busy

I made a sign for the craft studio that says "I can do ANYTHING, but I can not do EVERYTHING. Especially at once." So I'm going to take my own advice.
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There comes a time when you just realize: okay, that's enough.

For now, I respectfully have had enough running around, hyperscheduling, always muscling toward some idea of full personal potential and chronically chemically convincing my body and brain to be up or down or organized or alert or asleep.

I release myself from the compulsion to try to be perfect at all of the many roles I inhabit (not that I have fooled anyone). The constant endeavor toward unilateral approval is impractical, unnecessary, exhausting, and frankly, probably annoying to many of the people I imagine to be observing or judging me. Most of them probably haven't even noticed my herculean efforts, having their own fish to fry (and crowd to impress).

I'm ready to take a deep breath and jump off the racing train into the unknown rhythms of, well, the unknown life. I am ready to curtail the torrential downpour of information (valuable as it may be), to resist the urge to cram one more thing into an already overfull day/week/year (inviting as it sounds), and to quietly let go of the million tendrils of possibility that ensnare and tempt me (often past their natural expiration dates).

It's time to drop out of the cult of busy.

Being big-time busy is an epidemic. It's a lifestyle, a demographic tendency, a cult, even, if you use the definition of it as an "obsessive devotion to or admiration of a person, principle, or thing." (If GTD is part of your vernacular, you're probably a cult member.)

Feeling unceasingly busy -- and using the term to define and summarize our lives -- is the perfect "out," isn't it? I couldn't possibly dream of seizing the unexpected, veering off the path, taking a breath... because I'm so busy. Reallllly busy. Crazy, nuts, insane. Slammed. Jammed. Overwhelmed. Even the synonyms we use to describe our busy lives sound like a menace, like a defense, like a wall of chaos, rising up to violently bury us.

Yet it's completely acceptable, desirable even, to proudly report how busy we are. For us boot-strapping Westerners, it's a signifier that we're working hard, we're on our way, doing our part, thoroughly engaged and involved in the fast-moving world that is "NOW!" It can serve as a heavy hint to colleagues to politely indicate that we're pretty much ragingly successful (but it would be immodest to directly say that, of course).

The mindset of busy also functions as a means of keeping others out. If I see my life as already full and my energies exhausted, I maintain an impenetrable front. I don't need to be open to anything or anyone new. I can opt out before I'm even asked. I can evade challenges or uncomfortable emotions or disappointing someone or anything that asks me to be vulnerable or possibly feel crappy. Nope. I'm busy.

I'm not saying it's a lie, by the way. Reporting that we're busy is often a completely accurate description of our full schedules and commitments already in place. And if a very brisk pace feels good and fulfilling for you, by all means, rock on. It's just that being busy has turned a corner for me that feels dysfunctional. It makes me see basic tasks of life as impositions. Everything has begun to feel like such an effort. I find myself wishing people would just text instead of leaving a voicemail, because listening and responding to a voice message seems to demand more energy, consideration, interaction. Or I make a big dinner but can't seem to clean the kitchen afterwards for days, as if the simple act of doing the dishes is too much. There's all this mustering.

I find myself flustered, flapping around, making a big deal out of things in my head, making tasks more complicated or time-consuming than they need to be. If MapMyRun tracked my route around the house on an average day, it would be one zig-ass-zaggy line, showing me doubling back in my own steps over and over. I suspect my browser history would show a similar trend of my lurking around sites without completing my intended task. There's an embarrassing lack of consciousness in my movements that mirrors that of my mind lately. I crave silence, and direction, and today lists with one or two things on them that really count, instead of dozens that may not.

I watch our little 11-month-old, Foster, belly laughing and thrilled to the hilt, peaking right before he grows overstimulated and overtired (and crabby and approaching a meltdown). I feel myself straddling that same threshold in situations within my own life, yet I've been lacking the discipline, self-awareness, or decisiveness to gracefully bring a fantastic experience/meal/buzz/project/relationship to its natural end.

And so I get crabby and start melting down. It manifests in different ways, but leaves me off. I get depressed, or cranky. Or it's like I'm high, or dreaming, or I haven't slept or my blood sugar is low. I become not quite myself, a little strange, a little floaty, spacey, untethered. It's not always unpleasant, but usually heads in that direction. The lack of grounding eventually makes me disengaged, indecisive and vaguely anxious, like nothing really matters. And I want my life to consist of things that matter.

So I'm dropping out.

I'll still listen and nod when I hear someone sharing a litany of all the ways his or her life is soooo busy. We need busy, just as we need not busy. I've come to believe that we thrive in consciousness of contrast. Some of the most gratifying events of my life (writing a thesis, getting married, making music, writing a book, having a newborn, moving) created an undeniable wave of busy in my life. It's been the calm after those storms, however, that allowed me to find the space in life as deeply satisfying (and just as visceral as crazy-busy), as long as I can manage to stop and notice it.

Metaphorically, it's like knowing I'll survive the dozens of fires I've been frantically trying to put out, and instead choosing to work steadily on the foundation of my "house." It's taking the time and energy to make sure the well is full, so that when I need that water for myself or anyone else, it's there.

What does that look like? It's probably a little cliché, but I'm going to be about nurturing my body, mind and spirit for a while. I'm going to do a bunch of yoga, eat and drink more healthfully, be more present with my friends and family, and choose more often to do only one thing at a time. I'm going to meditate and pray. I'm going to put my phone on silent and out of reach when I'm driving or talking with someone in person. I'm going to eat slowly and walk in the woods and watch the snow falling and play with our happy baby and witty daughter. I'm going to go to bed earlier with my honey. I'm going to write and play piano or paint a pumpkin when I'm inspired to, instead of after every-other-possible-thing-I-need-to-do is done.

I made a sign for the craft studio that says "I can do ANYTHING, but I can not do EVERYTHING. Especially at once." So I'm going to take my own advice.

Time to stop, drop and roll with it.

For more by Mary Beth Maziarz, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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