Written by Annabelle Parr
We live in a world that is perpetually going. There seems to be an enormous amount of cultural pressure to always be moving, always be producing, to always go, go, go. Work is just one piece of that. We are pressured not only to be wholly devoted to our work but also to be the best version of ourselves — to be fit with a kick-ass body, to be the best parent with the kid on the fast track to an Ivy League, and to somehow manage to be happy in the midst of it all. While “work” might feel like the only four-letter word that matters, the world we live in has made “stop” one too. We could all use a lesson on how to slow down, stop and just breathe.
The dis-ease of being busy
In his On Being column, Omid Safi described our collective inability to slow down as “The Disease of Being Busy.” Safi noticed that when he asked friends how they were doing, many of them responded by describing how busy they were — not with an assessment of their internal state but rather with a mindless repetition of their endless external to-do list. While we may balk at the idea of busyness as a disease, arguing instead of its virtue, Safi reminds us that in never allowing ourselves to rest, we create a sense of dis-ease. For most of us, we don’t allow our minds, our bodies or our souls to be at ease, because we are always on the go.
We can all relate to this overwhelming sense of feeling consistently harried. American adults and children alike are overscheduled and under-rested.
Why is it so hard to slow down?
Brené Brown calls this way of living “crazy-busy” and argues that it is a way to numb vulnerability. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown writes, “We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up.” In other words, if we can keep ourselves occupied all of the time, we won’t have to face the truth about our lives — the pain, or the fear, or the shame that we feel deep down. And, in trying to avoid difficult emotional realities, we exhaust ourselves, numbing our ability to feel joy and connection.
Safi points to several other reasons we may operate at this hectic pace. Maybe your job is so demanding that you don’t feel permission to take time to rest. Maybe you have to stay busy because you’re busting your butt to provide for your family. A point he reminds us of as “twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table.”
As for our kids? They feel the pressure too. They are trying to keep up and stand out in a world that is incredibly competitive. It seems that from age ten on they are expected to build a résumé of activities and extracurriculars that will elevate them above their peers.
Nowhere in society do we see the effect of busyness more than in technology. In our tech-heavy world, it is easy to feel required to stay busy. Safi points out that the numerous technological advances invented to make our lives simpler and our to-do lists shorter have actually just allowed us to cram more into our day. Instead of providing opportunity for rest, it seems technology has made us busier than ever — because now, work can follow us home. He says, “For some of us, the ‘privileged’ ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.” We quite literally do not know how to turn off, and our culture and our lifestyles often discourage us from doing so.
We are human beings — not human doings
In the midst of our busyness dis-ease, it’s time to ask what Safi so plainly questions — “When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?” Despite the massive amount of value and emphasis we place on doing, we are ultimately made for being. Life is about balance, and if we never stop to be — to get in touch with the calm center within ourselves — we will forget how to find it. And the truth is, so many of us have.
For our mental and emotional wellbeing and even for our creativity and productivity, we need to stop once in a while. It’s important to strive to meet our goals and to work hard, but we also need to acknowledge the importance of taking time to rest, connecting with one another and allowing ourselves to sit in stillness.
As Brown reminds us — “Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.” Collectively we lack stillness, though we crave it deeply.
Safi says that when you want to ask someone how they are in Persian, you say “Haal-e shomaa chetoreh?”, which translates directly to “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” So, how is your heart? Is it craving some stillness? Are you starting to feel like “life” is a four-letter word? If so, it’s probably a pretty good sign you need to take some time to slow down now and again.
Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond Blog.