“It’s the things we slow down for that we’ll look back on some day with fondness, a smile, or maybe some tears — that we’ll one day be grateful for experiencing. It’s the things we slow down for that matter.”
Lately I’ve been feeling really busy, not productive, not engaged, just busy, like there’s always something to be done or somewhere to go, a general sort of buzz of busyness. I don’t like it. It makes me feel anxious and ill at ease. I don’t think it’s good for me, or for any of us, to be in that constant state of buzz, that constant state of feeling like we have so much stuff to do that we can’t take a breath, that we have so much to do we don’t even know what we’re doing.
I think we often try to pack life with so much stuff to do that we stop actually living life a little bit, we stop enjoying what we’re doing right now in anticipation of what we have to, or want to do, next. I’m guilty of this all the time, thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch while I’m eating my breakfast instead of just sitting there enjoying my breakfast, sometimes not registering that I even ate breakfast at all and feeling hungry just minutes later.
Dis-ease, lack of focus
Or I’ll feel like I have so much I need to get done I can’t resist the urge to jump right into it, so I’ll skip my morning movement and meditation sessions, the two things I know with certainty help me to be more productive during the day, that help me keep my pain levels down, that help me feel calmer, more at ease, and allow me to approach my day with more clarity, more confidence, more focus, more enjoyment.
I end up skipping the things I know help me to live most fully, most happily, in order to get to the living faster and instead end up in this state of busyness and dis-ease, a buzz of unsettledness and unproductiveness, exactly the opposite of why I jumped right in in the first place. It’s counterproductive. It doesn’t work. It leads to increased muscle tension, rising anxiety, elevated pain levels, all the things I can avoid by taking some time to slow down, to move, to breathe, to meditate, to be present in the now.
Even if I try to save the day later by going for a walk, I’ll too often think about my to-do list, all the things that I should be doing instead of being out for a walk, all the things I need to get done as soon as I get home. So rather than paying attention to and engaging with the world around me, rather than taking the much needed break I went out for a walk in the first place for, I feel like I need to hurry home to get back at it. I feel rushed and anxious rather than calm and relaxed. *sigh*
Pay attention, the world’s a pretty interesting place
Walking is where my best writing takes place, where I’m most creative, where things actually start to come together that have been knocking around my noggin for a while. But it’s not an active thinking about them thing that leads to this, it sort of happens in the background. Walking is where my best ideas come to be. Staring at a screen rarely does that for me. But I’ll often plant myself in front of the screen and forgo the walk because I feel like I have to get stuff done right now. It’s silly. It’s bass-ackwards.
When I actually do take the time to look about, I usually find some pretty fascinating stuff or get lost in some interesting thoughts. I actually feel a sense of calm, of peace. My mind clears, my tensions ease, my face becomes less crinkled with worry and concern and planning and plotting. I may wonder about how something came to be, about what will become of it. I tell myself stories. I give my brain a break so all the stuff that’s crammed into it has some time to make some sense of itself without my interference.
I might even stop for a moment along a trail or in a park to see if any critters will come out of their hiding places to spy the new guy or if birds who were silenced by my approach might sing me a song, rewarding me for slowing down and paying attention. Or I might stop to smell the roses or jasmine or honeysuckle or sage or freshly mowed grass or any other lovely-smelling thing along my path. I might even stop to watch some busy bees :)
When I actually take the time to slow down I feel so much better. Even better yet, if I can prevent that state of busyness in the first place, my days are pretty smooth sailing: I’m more productive; I’m nicer and more attentive to the people around me and can be fully present with them rather than being on my phone or thinking about what I should be doing instead (this is one of the greatest gifts you can give to people, in my opinion — really be there with them, not just physically present); my pain levels stay down, they may not even register.
Life is good without the endless busyness, when the mind and body can stop buzzing with all that there is to do and settle into a quieter rhythm, a more peaceful rhythm, a humming that’s all our own, not the outside world’s cacophony.
Taking care of ourselves is not selfish
But it’s when we get busiest that we’re most likely to not take the time, to not even realize we need to take the time, to just stop and enjoy the moment, to live in the moment, without preparing for the next one and the one after that and the one next week and the one six months from now.
More often than not, we don’t notice we need to take the time to slow down until we’re exhausted or we get sick for the umpteenth time or our temper becomes short or our pain levels go up or our headaches come on or we start losing sleep or we just feel overwhelmed and buried beneath the weight of being too busy, having too much to do, having to always be on.
Sometimes we just need to be off. To reset, to check in with ourselves, to just be. The problem with being busy is that it makes us feel like we don’t have time for turning off, that we don’t have time for taking care of ourselves, that it’d be selfish to have some ‘me’ time.
But we’re our best selves when we take care of ourselves, which allows us to be better in all aspects of our lives, from work to home to play. And it’s a misconception to think that being busy equals being productive, it’s often quite the opposite, resulting in doing a bunch of things with half a mind and a bit half-assed, rather than doing a few things with our whole attention (full-assed?), doing them well, and actually enjoying them.
It’s those things we slow down for that we remember, after all, that become remarkable, that give meaning to our lives. It’s the things we slow down for that we’ll look back on some day with fondness, a smile, or maybe some tears — that we’ll one day be grateful for experiencing. It’s the things we slow down for that matter.
Quality over quantity
So picking a few things and really making them count is way more valuable than packing a schedule full of stuff to do or filling every moment with needing to do something, anything, like mindlessly scrolling our phones, just for doing stuff’s sake. Doing less may actually end up being doing a whole lot more, you know what I mean? We all have the things we’d like to do once we get through all the stuff we have to do. Why not flip the script? Do the stuff you’d like to do first, then get to the have-tos.
I’m not talking about quitting our jobs, at least not permanently, but taking a random day off here and there is an awesome way to maintain our sanity and productivity, our health and happiness. It can even help to make our work or our business better, more focused, more enjoyable.
And some of those other to-do’s — like cleaning the house or some of the activities that fill up the calendar — can likely be put off for a time, too. Maybe the kids don’t need to be so overstimulated with parties and practices and would benefit from a little quality time at home playing games (that aren’t played on a screen), or camping in the backyard (or, better yet, a nearby campground), or hitting some local trails or parks to explore and discover the natural world at an unhurried pace. And we certainly don’t need to be on our screens all the time; they’re not going anywhere.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it may be beneficial to schedule in some downtime. Some of us need the regular reminder or need the structure; busyness can creep up on us. It’s better to head off the crash of getting sick or feeling overwhelmed or pain levels rising before that creep hits the tipping point.
Block off a weekend day each month for nothing to be scheduled, for a free day where the whims of the moment take you where they will. Or a couple hours a week just for you — not for you to clean or shop or parent or have to do anything, where you get to just take a break from it all and give your mind and body a rest, to be a human being rather than a human doing. Paint, read, take a bath, get a massage, sleep, go for a walk, sit in a park, write, meditate, enjoy a meal – I mean really enjoy it, smell it, savor it, taste it, rather than scarfing it down to get to the next thing to do.
And scrolling social media or answering emails or Netflix binging is not relaxing, even though we often think of them as such. Rather, they’re still cramming our nervous systems with stimulation and keeping our minds abuzz, perpetuating that low-level, ever-present, dis-ease that busyness can bring about.
We need time to stop the buzzing. We need time to just break out of life for a bit so we can enjoy life, so we can figure out what life is all about, so we can figure out what we’re all about, what we want to be all about, what we want life to be all about. And the more we do this, the more we can create meaning in our lives. The more we can parcel out what truly matters and what can fall away, the more we can focus on that which matters and make it richer, more meaningful, and truly remarkable: we can make it count and let some of that other stuff go.
Make time to make time
Most people wish they had more time, but rather than make time for more time, they make time for acquiring more stuff or doing more stuff, filling up every last bit of that precious time with stuff. Time is our most valuable asset: time to experience the world around us, the people around us, the life around us. Time to just be, not just do. Time to be free, not chained to a screen or a desk or a social calendar.
We cherish the free time we do have, the unscheduled time, the time when we don’t have to do anything, but we don’t have enough of it and we don’t make it a priority.
I’m not saying having a schedule is bad, or that working is bad, or having stuff to do is bad, or that having social engagements is bad. These things are a part of life and can be a part of a valued and meaningful life. It’s when the schedule is always full, when the job always follows us home at night, when there’s always a screen on, when there’s always a blinking light or notification that requires our attention, that we lose a bit of ourselves.
It’s ok — not just ok — I feel it’s necessary, to put the phone away for a while, to shut off the computer for a while, to put the have-to-do list away for a while, to lose contact with the world for a while, for an hour or a weekend or just a moment, and just be. How else do we know who we are? How else do we know what really matters? If we never take the time for it, life just becomes a series of events rather than becoming eventful.
Eventful: marked by interesting or exciting events, especially of a striking character; having important issues or results; momentous.
Am I the only one?
Who knows, maybe I’m the only one who feels ill at ease with all the busyness. Maybe I’m the only one who can eat an entire meal and not recall that I ate anything at all. Maybe I’m the only one whose anxiety rises in step with the busyness. Maybe I’m the only one whose pain gets worse when I’m too busy to take care of myself, too busy to do the things I know help me to keep pain at bay, the things I know help keep stress in check, the things I know I just plain feel good when I take the time to do them.
But I think not. I think I’m not alone. I think we could all benefit from quieting the buzz a bit. I think we all can benefit from taking care of ourselves a bit more, from not feeling the need to be so damn busy all the time, from being okay with taking a timeout, taking some time to relax, to disconnect from the world and reconnect with ourselves for a moment, to be present and mindful and aware. To put away some of the shoulds and replace them with some coulds — those things we could do if only all the other stuff were done. To wholly focus on right now – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the sensations, the emotions, the thoughts, the people.
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Recommended Reading — The Power of Less by Leo Babauta
If you appreciated this post and want to delve deeper into this topic, you’ll love The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential… in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta. You can buy the book on Amazon or read the key insights in 15 minutes on Blinkist.
“With the countless distractions that come from every corner of a modern life, it’s amazing that were ever able to accomplish anything.The Power of Less demonstrates how to streamline your life by identifying the essential and eliminating the unnecessary freeing you from everyday clutter and allowing you to focus on accomplishing the goals that can change your life for the better.”
This essay originally appeared on MyCuppaJo.com.