Being busy

“We all have to do too much.”

Someone said this to me the other day on the phone, sweetly, sympathetically. I laughed, but later I thought “do we?”

Sometimes, I think we really do. The mechanics of keeping our lives running — lives that mostly make us happy, even — occasionally call for a kind of activity that isn’t sustainable in order to get through a particular phase. And unfortunately, many people in many parts of the world — including close to home — must literally work every available minute just to survive. No personal choice will alleviate that kind of suffering.

But I’d guess that for most of us reading this blog, “too much” is not about survival. We might call it a choice, or we might feel it as an inescapable set of obligations, but we all know what it feels like to be too busy: dropping balls because you’ve lost count, exhaustion and burnout, despair.

Here’s the really hard part of this cycle: sometimes it takes a greater exercise of will to say “I will not do that” or “I won’t shoulder that responsibility” than it would to accept it. “Too much” is like gravity: you have to summon even more energy to escape the very things that are pulling you down. And of course, energy is the one thing you don’t have when you’re too busy.

So start small: make a list of things you have to do, and then find one thing on it to cross off. If it feels too bad to just say “I’m not going to do that,” maybe you can ask someone else to do it for you. If, next to your worry about what might happen now that you’ve put that down, you feel even a tiny bit of relief or opening or joy, that’s your signpost that you’re something right: holding on to your own will and truth.

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