Being busy is an occupational hazard of being human in the modern age. We all get busy, and by busy we usually mean doing things that get in the way of other things. “I’m busy,” we say, “so I can’t help you.” The idea is that everyone accepts that, when someone is “busy”, they are too engaged to shift their attention to anything else.
Of course, this is rarely true. Very few things are so important that they cannot be interrupted. Otherwise, how would children be born, or meals get eaten, or breathing happen? If we said “sorry oxygen, I’m too busy talking to breathe in again,” I think there would be consequences. No mother was ever on her laptop during labour, unless there are stories I haven’t heard yet. And food and drink do happen, whatever the essential busy-ness of a war or a journey.
So what we mean by “busy” is that there is a conflict between what we are being asked to do, and what we are doing. It is a challenge to presence. Life is, when it works, a flow. When we are fully present in our lives, the flow continues, regardless of “busy-ness”. We may continue to use the word “busy”, but it is used lightly, to express, in shorthand, a regret that someone’s wishes can’t immediately be performed. We flow, and whether we describe ourselves as busy or not, things happen.
We forget this sometimes – forget that life is a matter of flow, not scheduling. We mistake the meeting for the diary entry, and treat it as though life were lived merely on paper. A meeting is the chance to meet other humans, with all their faults and idiosyncrasies, a privilege, and actually fun.
It’s difficult, though. Life pushes deadlines on us. When, in 2021, UK troops had 48 hours to get civilians out of Afghanistan, this was a real deadline with real consequences. A sense of time compression is enormously pressurising on humans, and a key cause of anxiety. But the biggest part of that anxiety can be the wish to be elsewhere, the tension of not being in the moment. We worry about how the future will turn out. We cease to be present.
If we are to cope with busy-ness when it happens, we need to learn to remain present, and not be agonised by difficult decisions or possible futures. Yes, we need sometimes to make difficult decisions, and contemplate possible futures, but this we can learn to do with less worry. We can be decision-makers when we are making decisions, active when we are active, and restful when we are at rest. Our activities must know their place, and not dominate us.
Our bodies are not designed to be on the go all the time. Think of the heart. It has a resting rate and an active rate. The body needs to experience both to remain healthy. The human brain is similar. Too much constant fuss, and it will get exhausted and begin to shut down and become depressed.
So, when we feel busy, we need to remember:
- Rest and relaxation are an inevitable part of any human activity. We mustn’t kid ourselves that we can’t rest.
- Worry is almost always unnecessary. We can undertake activities and decisions one at a time, keep them in their place, and not let them dominate us.
- Whatever we are doing, we have the chance to meet with humans and interact with them. Whatever the situation, it can be fun.
- Life is a flow.
- There is always time for eating, breathing, birth, growth, awareness. It’s part of being human.