“How are you?” you ask an acquaintance you haven’t seen in some time. “So busy,” they respond, breathlessly. They go on to recount a hectic travel schedule, momentous work projects, a new exercise regime. These days, busyness is worn like a badge of honor. The less time you have for yourself to do nothing, the more in-demand you are, the more important you make yourself seem to others. Everyone wants a piece of you. Between breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, afternoon appointments, dinner dates, your calendar is just so full. You want to get together? Email my assistant for an appointment; I think I have an opening sometime around the next lunar eclipse.
This is no way to live life. When we over-schedule ourselves, plan for things days, weeks, and months in advance, we are eliminating the chance for spontaneity. We become automated versions of ourselves, shuffling mindlessly from one destination to the next without any time to process what we’re experiencing. You can be having lunch with a friend and thinking already about the next place you need to be. You might as well not even see your friend since your mind is elsewhere completely.
Existence does not work on any individual’s schedule. You may think you are in control when you make plans, but how can you predict what will happen tomorrow that may alter circumstances beyond what you could foresee?
The point of life is not to be busy, the point, if there is any, is to enjoy, to be relaxed. To be healthy and balanced, we need times of un-busyness, time to do nothing at all. Other cultures understand this. Central to Zen Buddhism is zazen, sitting and doing nothing as a path to spiritual enlightenment. Western culture has assimilated this in its own way too – in Italy, there is an expression, la dolce far niente, which means the joy of doing nothing. The French march in the streets any time a politician threatens their sacred 35-hour workweek. The Spanish are famous for siesta.
Ask yourself, are you busy because you are afraid of slowing down? What thoughts will come to you when you are not running, when you are not constantly stimulated? What will you hear when everything goes quiet around you?
Un-busyness is the ultimate luxury. The people who want to seem always busy are just driving themselves mad, exhausting themselves on a hamster wheel of their own creation. They are miserable, running to escape their own shadow. They are hiding behind their agenda books.
Un-busyness means that you live completely moment to moment, in a natural rhythm. You live according to how you feel. You wake up to a day without plans undaunted, unburdened by the need to do anything. You may choose to lie in bed for hours, to take a long bath, to spend an afternoon reading or painting, losing track of time. You are anything but busy. You are relaxed. You are in a flow with nature.
Even if you have obligations and places to be, you can approach it with calm. The feeling of busyness arises when you are living in the future, always thinking about the next appointment. But you can be present, not rushed. Time spreads before you infinitely; there is no need to be hurried.
The next time someone asks how you’ve been, tell them you’ve been relaxed. They may not know how to respond, but they will start to wonder what secret you have discovered.