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“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.” —Thomas Merton
A paradox of a well lived life is that it in order to live a full life we must not allow our daily schedules to become full.
Superficially, such a statement sounds absurd, but upon closer examination, a life filled with some responsibilities, some opportunities to be productive, some time to rest and some time to play is the structure that enables a full life to come to fruition.
Being busy, as we’ve talked about before on the blog, doesn’t ensure efficiency; in fact, it usually undercuts it. The truth about our insatiable, often times, unconscious need to be busy is the product of a variety of possibilities, but here are four that top the list:
- modeling what is exhibited as successful behavior either by our parents, employers, or society as a whole
- not being clear about our priorities
- seeking external validation that we matter
- being fearful of what we might discover if we slow down
To understand why we are striving to forever stay busy is crucial, but to understand why we need to cure our fascination with busyness is because it is impeding our ability “to live a fully human life“. And the gift we all have been given is the ability to be fully human.
What does being fully human mean?
A beautifully penned article was shared in The Atlantic last year answering just this question. The recipient of the Templeton Institution’s annual award given to someone who excels in life’s spiritual dimensions was Jean Vanier, and the journey to understanding the answer to this very question began for him in France in 1960 where he voyaged to “Paris to think, and write, about the meaning of life.”
I encourage you to read or watch his entire explanation as he reveals his insights, but to briefly summarize exactly what he shares it means to be human, I’ve made a list of what points he highlighted below:
- to discover who we truly are
- to understand our fragility
- to understand the unity between our head and heart
- to understand the beauty we all possess
- to be willing to open your heart to others, letting go of fear
- to let down the barriers and open up
- to resist the ego and refrain from competition and comparison
To be fully human is to understand that we all, each one of us is human, a human, and to let this understanding bring some calm, reassurance and reflection that we need to appreciate this life we’ve been given. We need to slow down, prioritize and savor. We need to understand our thoughts, come to terms with what runs around in our minds and then allow ourselves to heal so that we can then move forward, improving the quality of our lives and those around us, directly or indirectly.
Sometimes we have to make the mistake of being too busy to observe it isn’t possible to live well by never bringing balance into our lives. While I can speak from experience that there are time in our lives when our schedules are busier than other times in our lives, I also know that the two years leading up to the release of my book and the first few years TSLL blog began, I knew very well what my priorities were, and it made it all the easier to let go of other tasks and responsibilities. Looking back, it was worth it. Looking back, I know that my clarity of purpose enabled me to eventually recognize when I could slow down and find a better balance in my life.
Understanding that each of our definitions of balance will be different and that it will ebb and flow throughout the course of our lives is important to understand. Some years your definition of relaxing will appear to someone else like drudgery. Other years your definition of being productive will appear to others as being lazy. In both scenarios, it doesn’t matter how others define your approach to balance, so long as you are balanced. And you must be honest with yourself the quality of life you are living.
Sometimes it is hard to make the transition from a busy life to a balanced life. You might find yourself sitting on your sofa on a Sunday afternoon, schedule free and open, scrambling your brain to figure out what you should be doing, unable to relax and just appreciate the balance you’ve created. At that time you may allow your internal voice to berate you for not taking action as your goals are not yet accomplished and your life isn’t where you think it should be. I share this dialogue because I know this voice. I have heard this voice in my head, but now I can recognize it and dismiss it after sometimes a deep breath or sometimes an afternoon of reflection and a moment of meditation.
What I also know about that false motivation to remain busy is that a quality life is a thoughtful life. A quality life is a life that involves time to let go. A quality life involves knowing how to de-stress in a healthy manner in order to prevent your mind from turning a snowflake of doubt or worry into a snowball of destruction.
As you make the transition from busy to balanced living, find a practice of de-stressing that works for you. Here are a few options to consider:
- turn off the television and read a book
- leave your iPod or smart phone at home and go walking
- turn on music that invites you to escape from the world and just let it fill your home
- take a hot bath
- practice yoga
- enjoy a massage
- take a nap
- attend your favorite exercise class
- step outside and hang out with Mother Nature (even if it’s in your backyard, lounging on a hammock)
- sip hot tea and journal it out (my favorite)
- eat well
- turn off the computer, put down your smart phone, step away from the iPad or tablet
- talk or spend time with a friend who can bring you closer to calm
- partake in your favorite craft or artistic endeavor
Once you can recognize when you are stressed, and then the de-stressing activity that works for you and is readily available, you will come to experience the benefits of reducing the busy. And when you observe and experience how you feel in those moments of both busy versus the latter, you will hopefully find reason to banish the busy approach to living.
There are many benefits (of which I share eight here) that we can experience when we choose to let go of the habit of busy, but one of the most profound and life reforming benefits is the opportunity to live an examined life. And when we enable ourselves to live an examined life, we discover the path we want to be on, we understand what is actually okay to let go of, and we begin to find the permission within ourselves, rather than the outside world, to live fully. To be fully human.
“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” —W.B. Yeats
I’ll leave you with one last thought. Sometimes it is intimidating to try something we’ve never done or have observed others doing without success even if we know that the life we are currently living isn’t fulfilling. But within you is the courage you need, you simply need to choose to tap into it and the world you seek will slowly begin to reveal itself.
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities . . . because it is the quality that guarantees all others.” —Winston Churchill
Thank you for stopping by today and may the balance you seek return and the busy be banished.
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