On Busyness…

“Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing.  Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.”
Omid Safi – The Disease of Being Busy

doodle-lily-webThe last 2 years I have been consciously trying to break my addiction to busy-ness, to the need to “accomplish” something, to be doing something “useful” for every waking hour of my day. It has been a real struggle. Two years ago I got Lyme disease and went on a month of intense antibiotics. I was sick and weak and spent weeks just sitting on my deck looking at my garden. I had lots of time to think and one of the things I realized was that I needed to give up DOING so much – because it was leaving me in a constant low grade state of stress. There was never any time to just go sit and watch the flowers open! And so I gave up two really large endeavors, projects I loved and that gave me a feeling of worthiness. That was not easy. I realized then that I defined myself by what I was DOING – not who I was being.

But in spite of those realizations and those actions, bit by bit I managed to take on NEW projects and again it took my stressed out, overworked body to tell me to STOP. A part of me craved “free” time, and yet when I got it I immediately looked for ways to fill it. That’s a pretty good indication of an addiction I would say.

So again – on my birthday a few weeks ago – I woke up with a deep feeling of commitment to nurture “stillness” and NOT take on any new “projects” in the year to come. I grew up with a father who was my idyll, and who (of course) had the same addiction to busyness. Right up until the year he died at 90, he was always working on a new project. Now I’m not saying this is a totally bad thing. I’m simply saying that the way it has worked in my life is that I have not learned to downshift as I age and so the way I fill my time and the projects I take on are more than I can gracefully handle in my late 70’s. As a result I have spent a lot of time in intense busyness mode – not a healthy place to hang out.

So this year is my year of learning to NOT do. A loving neighbor gave me a mug a few years back (I guess I have been working on this problem longer than I thought!) that says What Will I Not Do Today? – Lady of Leisure. I have lots of small things to pleasantly fill my time when I want to do that – and of course my garden always – but I want to learn to be at peace with just BEING. I want to have time to do “inner work” which truly demands the kind of quiet I rarely give myself. The Chinese honored this end of life as a time for “spiritual work” and although I feel I have been doing some of that all along, I know I have a long way to go to being the sort of person I truly want to be. I have kept myself so busy all my life that I have not had the time to truly step back and see what my true work should be. And so this is my year to begin that journey… I’ll let you know how it goes.

W. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

One of my little “zen doodle” drawings…


  1. Gosh, I find very easy to do nothing, but then it is procrastination rather than ‘being’. Good luck with your transition to the latter!


  2. Thanks, Helen… I’m not really sure how to truly get into ‘being’ mode for anything longer than a few minutes at a time… so it should be an interesting journey… “doing nothing” is much easier I have to admit… 🙂


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