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March 18, 2020

Your Busyness Does Not Prove That Your Life Has Meaning

“Your tiredness has a dignity to it. There is no shame in admitting that you can not go on. You have been on a long journey from the stars. Even the courageous need to rest.” ~Jeff Foster


When we sit very still in nature a miraculous thing occurs. Instead of feeling like a human outsider, the living world quickly begins to make us one of its own, moving right along with its spirited pulse. Banana slugs forget to tuck their antennas in as they slide by, moss dreams of growing upwards around our ankles, and spotted towhees nesting in the bushes begin to treat us as one of their own.


Nature quivers with life. When we really pay attention, we can observe how even the most seemingly mute beings in nature have something to express or do. Monstrous glaciers sing, stretch, and moan. Dead logs on the forest floor house a quiet but lively crew of micro-creatures. Coastal redwoods silently move water up their trunks to nourish branches twice as high as the Statue of Liberty. Finding food, avoiding predators, attracting mates, intercommunicating, this is a busyness that hums with force and sacred purpose.


Even the things that seem rushed in nature—the push of a storm as it tumbles over the mountains or the rapids of a river as they run to the sea—have some relaxation in their cadence. A naturalness to their pace. The movement of this busyness is based on rhythm, flow, survival, interconnection, belonging, even wild expression and creativity. 


Human beings also love the feeling of being in motion. We are magnetized to the movement of life around us, the thunder-spray of a waterfall, the holy crush of waves, the rush of watching a shooting star pierce sky-dirt. But our human busyness is so different from this, not based in the push of aliveness but instigated and propelled by a sense of lack and scarcity. So often our busyness is something we use to prove ourselves with, shapeshifting into a cultural status symbol to bolster up a flimsy sense of worth and wellbeing.


Cut off from the life force of the living world, we seek energy in other ways or prop ourselves up with endless forms of stimulation. We are addicted to this sense of constant preoccupation, living on a strange kind of adrenaline that poses as real vitality. Ironically the walls of frantic energy that we build around us actually keep us from entering our lives more deeply, blocking us from any experience of being more intimate with a meaningful inner life. We unconsciously safeguard ourselves this way, too distracted for the rawness and vulnerability of real introspection. 


In a way, all of this busyness is a tricky camouflage for the pain of negating our own needs—otherwise we would actually have to feel it: all the dissatisfaction, all the ways that our actions don’t match our values, and the reality of our lives flying by. 


There are times when we are desperate to continue weaving our labyrinth of distractions. This unconscious coping mechanism saves us from truthfully facing a sucky job, a broken relationship, or even the presence of change itself. The hustle keeps us from feeling the more uncomfortable themes of life, like the truth of our existence, uncertainty, impermanence, and our dear, ever-hovering death.


Along with busyness and speed comes a feeling of always being focused on the future. We unconsciously promote a sense that at some point down the road we’ll be able to escape things not being quite right. We entertain all sorts of future thinking, such as:

When my children are grown, then . . .

When I start my new business, then . . .

When I leave this city, then . . .

Things will somehow be better.


The mind always wants to move a few steps in front of the body. But not being present grows a deep crevasse of anxiety within us. We become the seeker, wearing ourselves ragged, feet bloodied with all the searching, always looking for more. The pursuit to find validation and contentment outside of ourselves becomes relentless, keeping us expecting a richer life further down the line.


Looking deeper allows us to see how our busyness addiction is just another version of the approval addiction, sneakily spiffed up. It acts as the sly accomplice of the ego, which is always trying to prove our value through our efforts and doings. The worth and polish of our lives.


There is a kind of barrenness in our hearts when we are not tuning in. When the buffers we have placed on our perception are so thick that we can no longer hear the calls of our heartstrings vibrating. These are the times when I feel most lost, most anxious. When the busy walls of my life have no windows to look through and I feel captive in a prison of self-created frenzy.


We cannot keep looking toward busyness to prove that our lives have meaning. All of this overdoing is a very fragile and untrustworthy method of connecting with our value. The habit of it keeps us perpetually searching for love outside of ourselves, creating an unremitting hunger to be acknowledged and seen by those around us. 


Waking up to the heavy cultural expectation of busyness as the only manifestation of meaning, we can catch how many times per day we respond to the question, “how are you?” with “oh, just busy!” Is this the best we can do to express our human existence and experience? How do we perpetuate the culture of busyness within ourselves? 


And how do we respect rest? Not rest as in lying on the couch on a Saturday afternoon watching TV or rest as in watching puppy videos on Youtube until midnight, but rest as a revitalizing spiritual practice. Rest as contemplation, accessing the quiet interior of ourselves. Rest as reflective but also gestational, acting as a primordial uterus of sorts. Because a seed grows in the dark, moist belly of the earth just like a baby forms in the black soil of a mother’s womb. All of life begins in this holding, waiting gap of rest.


Even the industrious ocean knows how to rest. The waves don’t greet the shore with one perpetual crash, crash, crash. They know how to withdraw themselves with grace. Even the tree knows how to pull its energy into its roots for the winter, even the daffodils know their perfect moment to bloom, even the wild strawberries sense the ideal time to fruit. 


Nature reminds us that we have nothing to prove. Let us break down the walls of busyness and all of the ways that they keep us from entering life more honestly. Let us more clearly see how they restrict us from feeling the soft ache of our gorgeous, transitory existence. 


Finding and flowing with a certain rhythm of doing and being, we are not looking to banish busyness altogether but to use it to press more intimately into our lives. Perhaps we can look towards the natural world in its model of lively interconnectedness and belonging. In this paradigm we discover what moves us with delight and sparks us with enthusiasm. Goosebumps raised on our skin, we can finally contact what makes us feel most alive. 


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