Is it just me, or has small talk become a subtle calendar competition disguised as conversation? When someone asks you “What are you up to this weekend?” we feel obligated to tell them all the ways in which we’re “busy”. It’s no longer socially acceptable to say, nothing, “I’m doing nothing this weekend.” We live in fear of nothing because nothing might mean we’re perceived as uninteresting, or anti-social, or worse, it might imply that we have no life. Because after a week full of busy, if you’re not also busy on the weekend, than clearly you have no life! And when we’re not busy doing what we do, we’re busy talking about what we do, and busy sharing it through 5 forms of social media. This edited version of only the rosiest most photogenic parts of our lives serves as proof of our busy-ness, proof of “who we are.” It creates an altered reality that is all to tempting for us to allow ourselves to reside and identify ourselves in. I call this new dilemma the Battle with Busy.
I recently read that as religious commitment has receded over the years, the “busier than thou” ethic arose to answer questions like “who am I?” and “why do I exist?” Apparently, we no longer exist to be the best version of ourselves; we exist to be the busiest version of ourselves. We’re judged, and therefore judge each other, not by what we do, but how much we do.
Out of all of the crazy pretzel asanas in yoga, savasana (final resting pose) is still the most difficult. In savasana we’re asked to let everything go, even the breath, and to do less, to be still. To be still means to reflect, and to reflect means to face reality, a scary concept to most of us. It’s the real reality, un-altered, full of insecurities, and sometimes ugly. I feel it arise in myself as a student, and I see it in class all the time…we are so averse to stillness! Just laying on the ground has become so hard for us. We fidget, we start thinking about how long we’ll be lying here, what time is it?, let me just crack my eyes open and look at the clock, ugh, I NEED to adjust my shirt RIGHT NOW…it’s crazy. We’ll do almost anything to avoid stillness. Imagine the difficulty if we started class with savasana! Before getting our ya-yas out!
But stillness also offers us a great opportunity to understand ourselves (and therefore each other) better. To recognize the parts we don’t like and to change them. To go out and be productive in our lives, not just busy. Productive in our relationships, productive in recognizing and seeking our dreams, and productive in producing the life we want for ourselves, without being driven by insecurities and the need to paint a pretty picture with our busy brush. In fact, the only way to achieve this productive perspective is through stillness, or what we call santosha in yoga. Santosha is one of the niyamas in yoga, as listed by Patangjali. It is described as contentment. As not requiring more than you have to achieve a state of contentment.
I’ve had my own Battle with Busy over the years. It was only just a few years ago that the opportunity to be still came into my life for the first time since I was 14. Even in college I worked two part-time jobs and when it came time to graduate I started working in the city two weeks before commencement. No break. No pause in between the undergraduate bubble and real life. Who was I? I was Busy! When I left my 9 to 5 almost two years ago, I had three months off until I was scheduled to start my yoga teacher training. I thought I would love the freedom, but I felt so insecure and more vulnerable than I’ve ever felt in my life. I realized how much I was defining who I am, by what I do. Even though I was incredibly unhappy in my previous job, it was a title that sounded interesting on paper and provided ample small talk topics…it gave me security, and losing that security when I left was not something that I expected. I thought I had myself pretty well figured out, but when I didn’t wake up with a full day ahead of me the stillness stripped me naked and left me questioning everything.
What I realize now is that all of those questions were always there. They were always a part of my reality, but in my stillness I had the time to explore and answer them. At first I resisted, and I still struggle with managing the balance of being productive without getting caught up in the busy, but I’ve come to appreciate the stillness. To relish in it even. I took my first ever solo vacation a few months ago, and even though my tendency towards feeling guilty or judged (if only by myself) arose, I took advantage of the time to reflect. I took long walks on the beach by myself, woke up to see the sunrise over the mountains every morning, and did lots, and lots of reading. I learned a lot about myself on that trip, and learned a lot about the importance of giving myself the opportunity to cultivate stillness, whether it’s laying on my back for a few minutes in savasana, or spending a week where the desert meets the Pacific in Mexico (a much easier place to reflect, I must admit).
The Battle with Busy will always exist. It will always be there, tempting us with ways in which to fill our stillness and avoid the questions we aren’t ready to answer about ourselves. The real battle lies in resisting the urge to define ourselves, and even our happiness, by what we do. As we enter May and I start to fill my calendar for the summer, I’m making an effort to leave space for blank weekends, with nothing to do. To be unafraid of nothing and give myself, and my husband, the opportunity for stillness.