Stop and Smell the Roses

In the age of over-busy, what does it mean to make every minute count?

A recent op-ed in the New York Times entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap”—in which writer Tim Kreider describes a 21st-century America dominated by people whose favorite catchphrase is some version of “I’m sooo busy”— drew virtual nods of acknowledgment from across the web. This busyness, Kreider argues, is most often self-imposed: work and activities we’ve taken on, or encouraged our kids to take on, voluntarily. We’re busy because we’re ambitious, and we’re busy because we’re scared of what not being busy says about us. And it’s costing us our physical and mental health, our relationships, and, ironically, our productivity.

“We live with a lot of demands,” says Kripalu Senior Life Coach Aruni Nan Futuronsky. Aruni says that the amount—and the intensity—of stress she’s seeing among her clients has grown stronger and more pervasive over the last few years. She points to the “sandwich generation,” the set of adults tasked with taking care of both their children and their aging parents. At the same time, she says, life’s job is to take us away from the moment. “We’re so infrequently unplugged from work or news that our bodies are literally flooded with cortisol and adrenaline 24 hours a day,” says Aruni. “Our culture does an extraordinary job of making us wacky. Our responsibility is to find ways to reclaim some stillness, no matter what’s going on.”

But haven’t we heard for ages—from everyone from our grandmothers to our gurus, contained in songs on the radio and sermons at church—that we have but one life; we need to ‘make it count’? How do we tell the difference between making the most of every moment and busying ourselves into destruction? It’s actually pretty simple, says Aruni. “Yogically speaking, the way you make every minute count is to literally stop,” she says. “Yoga, and its principles, don’t deny us the external world but help us appreciate it by slowing down, by stopping the constant doing.”

We’re addicted to busy, though: Busy means we’re important. We get raises or more responsibilities, and then we get even busier. “It’s really hard to make changes to our pace of life,” says Aruni. “The better I am at my work, the more I’m given to do. Self-esteem is often attached to the boss appreciating you. But we have to learn to say no. And it’s incredibly hard to do that.”

The good news: You don’t have to. Not always. For many of us who enjoy work—or simply staying busy—Aruni says balance comes from making the non-busywork fit into your life. That is, literally scheduling in the walking or gardening or cooking or yoga. “I have a friend who Blackberries in her Wednesday night ‘bath with self,’” says Aruni. “She’s told me, if it wasn’t there I wouldn’t do it. If you need to write your ‘fun time’ or ‘me time’ in the calendar in order to validate it or make it non-negotiable, do that.” For her part, Aruni makes the seven-minute commute to work to the tune of chants-on-CD. “It’s hard for me to resist public radio, because there’s part of me that so badly wants to know what’s going on, but the chanting has been good for me—so good for me,” she says. “It is incumbent upon us to rest, digest, stop, and breathe.”

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