How to keep yourself so busy that there is no time left to face your problems' - I saw this recently on a Facebook post. It was a picture from a selection of mock-up book covers created by a psychiatrist, but I can’t remember for the life of me who to credit for it. If you're familiar with it, do let me know! The idea is that basically, we use busy-ness as a reason to avoid ourselves. I know, right? Hurts. It’s all done on a subconscious level; we don’t realise we are doing it and we don’t know what we might be trying to avoid. There were multiple comments under the picture from people saying things like ‘ouch!’, ‘oh dear’ and ‘wow…’, all realising that for them, it was spot-on.
It really struck a chord with me; on one hand, because I have often wondered why we feel the need to pack our schedules and tell everyone all about them; and on the other hand, because perhaps this was a big part of why we all struggled so much when COVID hit. All of a sudden, we were left with nothing to occupy our minds - – we know that much. But what exactly does that mean? If any of you have tried meditation and found it quite uncomfortable, you might be able to resonate. I have heard people say they can’t sit still. For some, it’s because they feel the need to keep moving, and for others, they say it’s because they find whatever emotions come up, too overwhelming. To me, both scenarios are the same, but with a different understanding. When we need to keep moving, we may not even realise what it is we are trying to keep moving from, or even that that’s what we are doing in the first place... until we find ourselves with no option but to be still.
I miss the busyness of home, London. It was a great distraction from myself. I literally hated sitting still, and I lived in the perfect place for that to be an impossibility. It’s constant hustle and bustle, always having something to do, somewhere to go, people to see, something exciting going on, always going to work. There was very little time to just be at home and that suited me just fine. If there was a rare moment of quiet, I found it almost unbearable. I'd be messaging friends, desperate to meet up with them. Only now, looking back, do I realise why. Running away from my own mind, my own truths, without having any idea I was doing it. 'Let's meet up!' translated as 'distract me, keep me company, let me pretend everything is just fine!'
Having nothing to occupy our minds leads to being presented with what lies there. Our worries, our insecurities, our fears, our irrational thoughts about ourselves. Having all our outlets ‘taken away’ from us with absolutely no warning left us with no choice but to sit with ourselves. For many, it’s been a period of enlightenment - if we’ve recognised that that’s what’s happening. For others, it’s been an unbearable time, one in which they’ve done anything they can to keep busy where possible. Going for walks, getting lost in books, baking, box sets, etc. And while these are lovely things to do, it is also so important to be able to sit, listen, and feel what is actually going on within ourselves and to recognise and accept that there will always be ‘stuff’ that we need to sort through and not try to push down or avoid. Imagine how life would be if we all came to a point where we were quite happy and content with ‘nothing’ to do? To be able to accept and deal with uncomfortable emotions that rear their heads in times of quiet? To then be able to relish in the moments of stillness and use them productively, because we have cleared out and cleaned up so much rubbish? Instead, we make sure we are busy doing, busy working, busy achieving, busy being with others, busy fitting as much as we possibly can into our days, and doing anything to avoid actually having to be alone.
When we say we are busy, what is it we are subconsciously trying to communicate, and who to? Is it to other people, or to our innermost selves? Perhaps it means we are important, or successful, or needed, or valued. Which leads me to ask, don’t we feel any of those things just as we are? Are we not already important, successful, needed and valued, just by being us? I spent years studying, earning qualification after qualification. Some of it is because it's a requirement of my work, some is because I was subconsciously searching for approval. It was a need to be told I am doing well, that I am getting it right, that I am meeting someone else's expectations of me - but it was never fulfilled; I never felt I met that standard. I don't even know what that standard was. So where does it end? My answer to that is, it ends when we realise what we are doing. It ends when we accept ourselves. It ends when we are enough for ourselves just as we are. While I'll continue to study, it will be for work and for myself, not to fulfil a need to be given a proverbial pat on the back. And that is because I recognised what I was doing, and sat with it. That could only be done by slowing down and acknowledging it. I was keeping busy doing courses, not stopping to listen and realise that I was chasing a deeper need.
What are we missing (out on) when we are always busy doing? How often do you look back at old photos and wonder where that time went, maybe not even remembering the moment? I do that far too often. Photos of my children as babies come up on my phone and it makes me sad to think that I hadn’t soaked up those moments more than I did. Too busy (!) thinking about what I had to do for work most probably. Why? What was I really avoiding? These questions crop up in my mind all the time. Nowadays, if my children want me to lie with them and I am too busy to do so, I try to be aware of what I am doing, knowing that sooner than I know it, photos of today will present themselves on my phone in a few years and I will long for my children to ask me to lie with them. But they will be out with their friends, or doing something else, their own kind of busy. But they won’t want to be lying with me. Those moments will have passed. This is what I mean about ‘nothing’ – these moments of just sitting with each other are so precious and important and are certainly not ‘nothing’ in the traditional sense of the word. Those moments are everything.
While it is completely true that we all miss our friends and family, our connections, our hobbies, our holidays and so on, would it be true to say that what all that means, and what we are really missing (subconsciously), above everything, is being able to distract ourselves from our own minds?
As life is now slowly getting back to some kind of normal, I would highly recommend making sure to leave time for ‘nothing’ to do, because that is actually where all the magic happens. We recharge, we clear our heads, we become sharper and more focussed in our thinking, we come up with ideas, and far more comfortable with who we are. We become better. We sit with ourselves, we meditate, we do yoga, we allow ourselves to nurture from within. We sit with our children so that in years to come, we remember every moment of those old photographs.
When life is filling up again, will you make time in your busy schedule to fit in some time for nothing? It could be the most important and productive part of your day…...