complicating “free time;” acknowledging “the disease of being busy”

Omid Safi, a weekly columnist on the OnBeing Blog, writes wisely about the disease of being busy (he also emphasizes the “dis-ease,” the discomfort of not having time to be at ease within ourselves).

“I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart. How is the state of your heart today? Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

Yesterday someone pointed out that I had one day off work in ten days. I honor that having a job is a privilege. I honor that having a day off is a privilege. I also honor myself, and the way I felt having my second day off on the eleventh day: depleted. Spent. Unable to create in the written, visual, musical ways that are integral to my spiritual practice. Needing to sleep and sleep and sleep some more, not only to catch up on hours but to process the mini-traumas that had occurred during my days being completely “on”–those days that hadn’t allowed time for processing.

When I am in the midst of the business, it feels good. It feels like a high. It feels addictive.

But when I climb out of it, and have time to slow down, be still, be silent, sleep, and process, I feel the lack of sustainability. The need to be in nature. The need for more solitude. The need for more time to be in my creative mind.

I hold the awareness of the national and global suffering that is occurring at this moment. Sometimes getting myself to work and through the work-day, given my current health problems, is all I can do. It is my “showing up.” It is my turtle presence.

Mr. Safi writes, “How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?”

I think this conversation is integral to activism. Reflection and community are integral to productive social movements, in addition to being crucial for mental health.

Free time is a complex issue, very linked to class. We must think of unemployment when we glorify free time: unwanted free time for lack of job options or availability. There is a difference between those who choose to work extreme hours because they love or are addicted to or are stuck in their jobs, and those who have no choice but to work extreme hours, simply in an effort to support themselves and their families.

I am not suggesting a simple examination of free time. I am suggesting a complex one. Let us complicate the disease of being busy, but let us also acknowledge that it exists. What are we hiding from when we intentionally fill our days to the maximum. What don’t we want to see inside of ourselves that might come creeping out if it only had the time?


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