Early memory: I’m at the gas station with mom as she fills up our car. She grumbles about how this chore is such a waste of time. This hurry up, no time to waste way of life was a strong undercurrent in my childhood. I learned from a couple of masters. So much so that, until recently, making the most of every moment was an unexamined operating system. As far back as I can remember my default reality had been busy. Very busy. Which the dictionary defines as having a great deal to do. Which I did. Making the free will adult choice to fill my time more than completely. I accomplished much. But only in the last few years have I awakened to the cost of all that preoccupation.
There’s a single-mindedness that goes with being busy. Speaking for myself here, but maybe you can relate. Busy narrows my focus. Literally installs blinders. When the need to accomplish is the driver, I miss the full round scope of the journey. Busy sets me up to ignore or conveniently avoid the rich tapestry of everything else happening in my environment. Inside me as well as around me. Like beauty. Like feelings. Like awful. Like need. Like curiosity. Like love.
Speaking of gas tanks and cars…I’m really noticing this tendency on our roadways. Our streets are a form of community. We’re so vulnerably out there trusting those around us to take care, give each other space, be patient, slow down. Our lives depend on not being in such a crazy hurry. What is five minutes?
There’s a reason this busyness awareness is so recently poignant. I have less to do. Partly by choice, partly by where I’ve landed in the life cycle, partly by good fortune. With each passing year I have less on my plate, less need to accomplish, less stuff to prove, more spaciousness. Time does not feel like an entity that could ever possibly be wasted. Sorry mom, filling my gas tank can be an incredible moment of illumination. What a metaphor.
There is a research study, so simple in design, that demonstrates how busyness tends to shape us. Seminary students were to give a sermon based on the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. Half were notified that their schedule would be tight; they’d have to hurry across campus to deliver their talk on time. The other half were informed they’d have ample time. One of the researchers positioned himself on their path, slumped as if unconscious. You’ve probably guessed where this is going. Still it is unsettling. Only a precious few in the hurry up group stopped to help this person in obvious need. The not busys? A much higher percentage offered their assistance.
For me, I physically sense the direct current between spaciousness and kindness. I’m most in love with life when there is ample opportunity to acknowledge, interact, be with, witness, extend myself toward, take a sip of each person populating my day to day. The librarian, the student, the cashier, the neighbor, the patient, the friend. Each of my inner circle beloveds. Attention can so easily be sacrificed in service to achievement. Kindness is a noun, perhaps paying attention is how we make it manifest. Maybe the most precious thing we have to give each other is attention.
See what happens today if you slow down in order to engage in one small act of attention…let me know. I love your stories.
P.S. This is rich…for three days end of this week I’m a little busy 🤪. I’ll be the teacher-in-residence for dance majors at Fresno State. My assignment? Move these students beyond their choreography box and also, teach them to care for their active bodies. If you’re a reader, if you’ve known me for years…good heavens, can you feel how excited this bit of busy makes me feel? Sigh…so not done yet.