What does the word “busy” mean in your life? Would you consider yourself a busy person? Does “busy” have a negative or positive connotation in your mind?
I was poking around the world wide interwebs for quotes about busyness and found myself very amused by the dichotomous perspectives prevalent. On one hand, being busy appears to be an integral part of having a happy and productive life. On the other hand, busyness is considered unwise and frivolous. As I investigated further, those who believe being busy is good and necessary all tend to gravitate toward the fields of business or entertainment. Those who pointed to the pitfalls of a busy life tended to be philosophers or theologians.
Curious. Those who fill their days with activities and get lots of things done have a positive frame for busyness. Those who fill their days with contemplative thought and/or prayer have less favorable leanings toward the subject. Isn't that convenient? As my all time favorite writer, Robert Anton Wilson, used to say: “What the Thinker thinks the Prover will prove.”
Who’s right and who’s wrong? Socrates (a lazy philosopher type) says: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” F. Scott Fitzgerald (a busy entertainer type) says: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.” Perhaps there’s a middle ground? Henry David Thoreau (another lazy philosopher) says: “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” Well, he was busy mooching off of his good pal Emerson, watching ducks on the pond, counting tree rings in the woods and writing a timeless piece of transcendentalist philosophy. Those damn hippies!
This idea of being busy and the wisdom of habituating it as a practice has recently become a focus of my own personal inquiry. The last couple years of my life have taken on a distinctly different quality than the trajectory of the years preceding. The deeper I plunge myself into the murky quagmire of personal development and self-mastery, the more I tend busy myself. The prevailing perspective is that if I want to be successful it’s best to model individuals who have success…and damn, those folks are BUSY! From the outside looking in, it appears that they’re CEOs and chairman of multiple companies. They spend their days schmoozing with other successful types, wheelin’ and dealin’, gettin’ shit done. They spend their nights a galas for their many philanthropic endeavors. They laugh at the idea of a work/life balance because work is life and life is work. Wifey understands, right? The kids know dad’s gonna leave them a real legacy, right?
Wait…that’s success? That looks more like a bottomless, approval-seeking pit that I’ll keep shoveling accolades into until I stroke out at 55 on the 16th hole of some pro/am golf tournament that I bought my way into. Gross. No thanks.
Side note - I’ve also found numerous examples of individuals who truly seem to live beautiful, rich, and love filled lives and more accurately define success in a way with which I can resonate. Unfortunately, they don’t provide the antagonistic oomph that I need for this thousand word opinion piece so we’ll conveniently brush right over that little tidbit.
While I have no interest in purely material success at any cost, I must recognize the fact that I get super high off of accomplishment. It feels damn good to start something and see it through to its completion. Another secret, I also get off on check lists. There’s an almost orgasmic rush every time that thin line of blue ink strikes its way through a collection of letters that represent a seemingly necessary task. As my daily lists grow, so does my capacity for accomplishment…and that excites me. Every task, whether teeming with importance or completely devoid of cruciality, culminates with a flood of endorphins and dopamine. My to-do list has become my to-do lust. It validates my existence on this lonely planet and staves off the existential angst for another day. I put aside the hooch months ago to find the mental clarity to get more shit done, but now it seems my sobriety is comprised by an addiction to my own neurochemistry. Oh the irony.
Which brings us back to Thoreau’s question: “What are we busy about?” Even better question: now that I’m aware of my addiction to brain juice, who’s got the killer cocktail recipes? Turns out with the right mix of norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins - shaken, not stirred - I can mix up an optimal mind state called “flow” where activities transform from busy into bliss. Time slips away, mental chatter subsides, abiding joy takes root and I’m free to ride a wave of limitless euphoria while fully engaged in the task at hand. I’m all about that busy.
Mindfulness is important, dare I say crucial? It initiates a level of awareness that, when cultivated consciously and consistently, allows for a certain grace and compassion to pour out of us and feed our connections to the humans and critters and plants and fungi with whom we share this planet. Like I said, it’s important, but flow is where it’s at. Flow is mystical mindfulness. It doesn’t just feed our connections, it is our connections. Much more to come on the endlessly fascinating topic of flow. First, I have to wrap up this little rant. I have other things to do…I’m busy.
Having a busy life might make us feel important, that our life is full, or that we’re needed or even starring in this grand play. It gives us an excuse to skip events and meetings we have no desire to attend. It might even allow us to taste a convincing flavor of success, but at what cost? What are we busy about? Are we running to or away from something?
My ride on the busy boat will undoubtedly continue as I have no desire to play an endless game of whack-a-mole with my tenacious ambition. I will, however, trade in the twin four stroke engines for a mainsail and a jib, catching the wind, making many stops along the way, digging the view, mixing up neuro-cocktails in the cabin, and flowing with the good people I meet.