Busy Is Boring

Can we can take and make time? Yes! “I was too busy.”

“I am so busy.”

“I will be busier than ever.”

Suddenly phrases likes these strike me, more than ever, as at best inaccurate, and at worst self-important. The “busy” excuse rolls off tongues…just listen for it. Count the times in a day you hear or say it. But I have never, ever, heard someone with great responsibilities, much to do, complain about being too busy—they are getting it done, each thing receiving the amount of attention it deserves.

While devoting a good bit of my time through workshops, correspondence, and over dinners to January’s topic, “The Joy of Single Tasking,” in The Philosopher’s Table, the repeated justification offered for an inability to concentrate on one thing at a time: helpless enslavement to a life too busy. “I have bills to pay, clients to meet, a dog to walk. I have too much to do, and make a new list every day.” The question: Does this preclude concentrating on each thing as you do it—pay bills…meet clients, one at a time…walk your dog? “I make crucial decisions and it will be dangerous if I don’t think ahead.” The question: Won’t it be dangerous if you aren’t single-minded on the “crucial” task at hand?

The phrase “driven to distraction” keeps coming to mind. We do, indeed, drive ourselves to distraction—no one else is in the driver’s seat! Neil Young’s inability to get audience members to turn off electronics at his recent performances at Carnegie Hall says a great deal. We fly in different directions and fail to land in any one place. Just listen to Neil. Taste ginger. Pay attention to the wind, to your breath, to the person speaking. If we hone the ability to concentrate through patient practice, we can enjoy the efficiency and relaxation that single tasking affords. Sip tea. See patients. Carve wood. Take out trash. Do those dratted taxes. Greet guests. Balance the ledger and oneself. Walk. Pause. Sit.

When I take the time to settle, my focus strengthens, and I actually make time. Truly, we create more time when we stop wasting it—unfocused, flitting here and there, complaining, perfecting procrastination. Years ago I read about a famous restaurant connected to a Zen Center in Kyoto, Japan. When asked what made the food so memorable, so delicious—after all, it was vegetarian and the ingredients ordinary—the Abbess replied: “When I wash rice, I wash rice.”

A child learns to walk, one step at a time. It remains, all our lives, very hard to take more than one at a time, yes?

One step at a time.