The Business of Busyness

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about? ~Henry David Thoreau

I watch the ants as they speed around a small area of my garden. I’m amazed at how quickly they dart about. I watch as they push through the clay and move it around effortlessly. Creating what? I am not sure. But they sure seem to know what they’re doing.
I often feel like these ants–hurrying, scurrying, shuffling about. Moving this, pushing that. I find myself caught up in a never-ending cycle of busyness. Unlike the ants, I have no idea what I’m doing. It is confusing and exhausting! Thankfully, I’ve learned how to slow myself down and regain a sense of calm equilibrium. I’ve been practicing mindfulness, meditation, and pranayama (breathwork) for many years. They work together to help me cultivate a peaceful attitude, in all but the most chaotic of times. 

The paradox is this: the more calm I am, the more focused I am and this leads to greater productivity. The more busy I am, the more scattered and unfocused I am. This leads to stress, feelings of being overwhelmed, and ultimately stagnation. When I get too busy, I get much less done. 

In one of my favorite essays on mindfulness Omid Safi writes that by staying busy we lose out on intimacy and love–the very things we all crave. Our society’s addiction to busyness is destroying our connection to each other. We also have the power to change that through mindfulness and being truly present. Perhaps now would be a good time. Unless, of course, you enjoy speeding around mindlessly and missing out on your life and the lives of your loved ones. 


Video of the busy ants in my garden, June 2017.  img_2325How things start to look when I get too busy: blurry, trippy, unfocused. Photo taken 2016. 

To learn more about mindfulness, try reading these books by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
Wherever You Go There You Are
Mindfulness for Beginners
Full Catastrophe Living

Available at Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh’s independent bookstore.

11 thoughts on “The Business of Busyness

  1. Thanks for stopping by, Raj. You’re right: intention and purpose is so important. The Gita is one of my favorite “how-to-live” books. It’s also one of the best books that discusses work, business, effort, and expectations. It offers good advice for all of living. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.I appreciate it.


  2. Being busy makes sense only if there is awareness of what the busyness is targeted at. If purpose orientation is missing, busyness amounts to wasteful expenditure of human energy. The precept of staying fully focused on the action in a state of mental equipoise has its strongest expression in Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Gita. Interesting write, Cheryl. I looking forward to reading more of yours…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ‘Wherever you go there you are’ was an instrumental thought in my life for a long time until I finally ‘got’ it. As a gypsy and a runner I was always on the move away from myself, away from the past, away from the truth. Stopping and allowing and being changed everything. We can’t change the world, we can only change ourselves and we can only change ourselves one breath at a time and one reflection at a time. Busyness is the ultimate running away, the ultimate excuse for not stopping and breathing, reflecting, being in our truth. But I think we all arrive at the time of change in our own time, at our own pace. It’s a choice we finally make isn’t it, sometimes again and again. 🙂 Your photo of busyness is a wonderful one – I could relate immediately 🙂 The above ramble was induced by reading your lovely post…….

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    1. Thank you, Pauline! We certainly are kindred spirits. I have spent a great deal of time running away, too. Although, oddly enough, I stayed in one place while doing so! I finally felt like I had arrived Home a few years ago. It was a long, arduous journey. Home turned out to be me–wherever you go, there you are:)


  4. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans – I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. (Romans 7:15). We all have things we want to focus on but our busyness without focus means we do not and get sidetracked into things that don’t really satisfy us. Thank you for sharing you ant analogy. I have found Heart focussed exercises help.

    Liked by 1 person

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