How many times have you heard variations on this conversation?
Person A: Howís it going?
Person B: Iím insanely busy. You know, the usual.
Person A: Yeah, me too. Iím scheduling into 2015 already.
Person B: I get it. Havenít taken a real vacation in over a year.
Person A: Well, gotta count our blessings for being busy, right?
Person B: Amen.
It seems to me that we wear busyness like a badge of honor. Iím busy, therefore Iím important and valuable, therefore Iím worthy. And if Iím not busy, forget it. I donít matter.
Recently, I hired Anne Davin to help me run my business, and because sheís much kinder to my schedule than I am, I find myself with a lot more free time than Iíve had in decades. Anne reins me in so I donít bulldoze full steam ahead into exciting new projects that, while thrilling and fulfilling, will invariably wind up over committing and depleting me and overworking and depleting my staff. So lately, I have a lot of days on my calendar labeled ďSucculent Space Day,Ē which basically means Iím free to doÖwhatever.
Because it looks to the outside world like I achieve a lot, people assume Iím insanely busy. But the reality is that, because I have such a great support team, both in my professional life and my personal life, I have a lot of down time, and this down time leaves me admittedly uncomfortable. In September, my whole month was blocked for a PBS station tour that got postponed until December (check listings for my public television special†here). So when that tour got postponed, I had loads of free time on my calendar. So what did I do? I filled up the time by writing a 124,000 word book that I started and finished in seven weeks.
I guess you could say Iím more than a little uncomfortable with down time.
The Addiction of Busyness
In†Daring Greatly, Brenť Brown writes about numbing behaviors that we use as armor against vulnerability. And lest you think numbing doesnít apply to you because youíre not hooked on cocaine or alcohol, she clarifies by saying, ďOne of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call†crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having twelve-step meetings for busy-aholics, theyíll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people whoíve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives wonít catch up with us.Ē
While we shame people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, somehow, as a culture, weíve normalized- even praised- busyness addiction. But are we really doing ourselves any favors by staying so busy?
Because I suddenly have more down time than Iíve ever had in my adult life, I find myself faced with the time to reflect upon my life. And facing my life isnít always so pretty.
Facing The Truth
When I get off the hamster wheel of busyness and achievement, Iím forced to notice what comes up for me when Iím not busy. After I work through the realization that I could be working on my next book or I could be writing the sales page for the program Iíll be launching with†Rachel Naomi Remen in January or I could be doing [fill the ďthereís always moreĒ blank,] I realize that none of those things must get done today. What is left in the silence are the things I donít necessarily want to look at.
Like my flailing marriage.
Or the fact that I feel shame around how Iím missing out on some of Sienaís sweetest childhood moments because my job requires travel.
Or how uncomfortable I am with feelings of boredom.
Or how afraid I am of being ordinary.
Or how I tend to feel unworthy and unlovable unless Iím overachieving.
Or the fact that my mother isnít getting any younger and I donít get to see her very often, and I wonder if Iím unconsciously pulling away from her because Iím terrified of losing her one day and am practicing what Brenť would call ďdress-rehearsing disaster.Ē
Or how uncomfortable I am with realizing that, although a lot of people online care what I have to say, Iím not very good at cultivating and sustaining lasting relationships with real people who really know me and love me.
Or how restless I feel when Iím not making myself feel more worthy by doing something to help others.
Or how lonely I often feel, even when Iím surrounded by a crowd of people.
Oy. Yet again. Iíve been using my busyness to numb the feelings of vulnerability that accompany the unsettling truths about my life. Busted, yet again.
Making Peace With Inaction
My friend and mentor†Martha Beck spends about four hours every day meditating lately. I can barely make it through twenty minutes of meditation without checking my watch and counting the minutes until itís over, so I canít even begin to relate to four hours of total inaction. Who would I be if I wasnít busy accomplishing stuff? Who would I be if I was okay with doing nothing for hours on end? And even scarier, what truths would I have to face that I can effectively avoid facing when Iím crazy busy?
I have experienced moments that touch the kind of peace Martha often experiences these days, those moments when you really understand what the Bible meant when it describes the peace that passeth all understanding. Itís compelling, that kind of peace. It draws you in, makes you crave more, and jolts you awake so that you donít want to miss out on life by filling yourself with crazy busyness.
But then, like a greased watermelon, you lose it. And the pain of its loss tempts you to fill up your schedule again so youíre not faced with the longing of what you have touched but canít sustain.
Whatís The Solution?
So whatís the cure for busyness addiction? Brenť prescribes the care and feeding of our spirits. Itís not that passionate action is always wrong, just like a sacred morsel of chocolate isnít always a numbing behavior. Sometimes these behaviors soothe us. More often, theyíre a way to hide. How can you tell the difference? When we consider what motivates our numbing behaviors, Brenť invites us to ask the following questions. ďAre my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions ultimately diminishing my spirit? Are my choices leading my Wholeheartedness, or do they leave me feeling empty and searching?Ē
She concludes with this:
ďSpirituality emerged as a fundamental guidepost in Wholeheartedness. Not religiosity but the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to one another by a force greater than ourselves- a force grounded in love and compassion. For some of us, thatís God, for others itís nature, art, or even human soulfulness. I believe that owning our worthiness is the act of acknowledging that we are sacred. Perhaps embracing vulnerability and overcoming numbing is ultimately about the care and feeding of our spirits.Ē
There she goes again. Oy.
Are You Numbing Yourself With Busyness?
Be honest with yourself. What might you be hiding behind your ďto doĒ list? How might you care for and feed your spirit more so youíre not so inclined to fill the void with busyness?
Trying to find peace with slowing down,
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the†Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of†Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.† She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.† Lissa blogs at†LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities -†HealHealthCareNow.com and†OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.