Dharma Topic: The Demon of Busyness

Dharma Topic: The Demon of Busyness

Discussion date: Thu, Dec 07, 2006 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Many of us suffer from chronic busyness – a sense of having somany things to do and not having enough time to do it. We keep pluggingon, hurrying to finish this task so we can get on to the next.

Janet Ruffing, in a lovely essay called “The Demon of Busyness”(available at www.worship.ca/docs/p_31_jr.html)believes that this unending busyness “is profoundlydestructive to self-intimacy, intimacy with the Divine,interrelationships, reflective thought, the social fabric of oursociety, our care for the planet, and our own psychological andphysical health.”  She also notes that contrary to the waymost people think about it, busyness is not directly related to howmany things we have to do:

Often “very busy”people, that is, people who carry major responsibility, manage to“have all the time” in the world. They do not create anadded infusion of “busyness” in their internal attitudetoward the work of the day or the conduct of relationships. They do notappear to be racing against the clock. When you are with them, you feelas if you are the only one with whom they are concerned. They do notrush you. They do not rush themselves. They are present, spontaneous,relaxed, receptive. They are able to pay attention to deeper levels ofreality.

Sister Jina, the Abbess of Plum Village’s Lower Hamletexplains concretely how it is possible to be active and engaged,but not in a hurry:

When we walk in a hurried way wedon’t rest in every step. Instead, we seem to quickly touch theearth in order to get somewhere. So I practice taking the hurry out ofmy steps so that I can come to rest in every step. It is a bit trickybecause there is something in me that tells me if you don’t hurryyou will be late. But I also experience that if I don’t hurry Iwill get there much faster because the hurry comes from the worry andthe worry is very heavy and slows me down. If I drop the hurry and theworry I can move a bit quicker and be in every step and be on time. Youcan try, it is very interesting to experiment with that. You can meetthis habit energy that says you have to hurry or you will be late. Youcan move faster but you don’t need to hurry. It is very handywhen you are at the airport and a bit late.

So if busyness is not helpful or sustaining, why is it so common? JanetRuffing’s insight is that we become overwhelmed by busynessbecause of ego and institutional pressures. We lose our mindfulconnection with our bodies and hearts:

there is something about thefeeling of busyness that is exhilarating. There is an altered state ofconsciousness I experience when I swing into action and begin workingthrough today’s “to do” list. A burst of adrenalincarries me from one activity to another. How many things can I get donein the shortest amount of time? Racing against the clock becomes agame, sometimes an unhealthy competition, but nevertheless a game.While I am occupied orchestrating this internal race against time, Ican feel both strong and important. My ego is firmly in control. I amclearly the centre of these activities. This particular state of mindis, of course, illusionary.

. . . When I am busy being busy,I avoid making time for leisure, for play, for relationships, forreflection. I take delight in moving fast, being caught up in therhythm of an institution, a city, a community that runs me, thatoverwhelms my internal sense of self and my felt responses to internaland external events. I am actually being captivated by a“false” consciousness that is largely generated by theculture outside of me. I go on automatic while believing I am still incharge. When I am busy, I can believe myself to be incredibly importantto the scheme of things. I become indispensable, necessary. My egobecomes reassured (while this state lasts) that I am productive,accomplishing something worthwhile and valuable.

Please join us this Thursday for our (unhurried) meditation period andfor our discussion of busyness in our lives. Do you agree with JanetRuffing that our busyness comes not from the length of our to do lists,but from our egos and our acquiescence to institutional pressures?

Also, you are invited to join us for an orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community which begins at 6:30.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Discussion Date: Thu, Dec 07, 2006


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