Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Busyness and Well-Being

I often hear from people I work with that they suffer from a chronic sense of being too busy. Busyness is so common -- nearly ubiquitous in modern culture -- that it's easy to regard it as a given over which we have little influence. But whatever causes suffering is worth looking into. Busyness, perhaps not surprisingly, is complex, operating on multiple levels. Maybe we could regard outer busyness as too many activities, inner busyness as too many thoughts, and hidden busyness as too many intentions. That is, "too many" for a sense of balance and well-being.

When we do too much for too long, we are probably going to be tired, we may not think clearly, we may not eat or sleep, exercise or meditate  as well as we'd like, and we may miss opportunities to play and relate with family and friends. Busyness affects our well-being in many ways. Until we slow down a bit and some space opens up, there may not be much clarity about how to take care of what's most important. Priorities are confused, too much is taken on, and we jump onto the horse of busyness, riding off in all directions.

Everyone has their own circumstances and conditions, habits and imbalances, but regardless of the details of your version of busyness, there may be some broad arenas worth exploring. David Rock and Dan Siegel have described seven areas of life that affect our well-being. They are explained in terms of benefits to the brain and mental well-being, but they apply to the body and heart as well. Here are the seven:

Focus Time ~When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.

Play Time ~ When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.

Connecting ~ When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain's relational circuitry.

Physical Time ~ When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.

Time In ~ When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.

Down Time ~ When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.

Sleep Time ~ When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

For more on Rock and Siegel's Healthy Mind Platter, click here.

Busy ones, take care with this. You could make yourself even busier by trying to engage in more or better activities in each of the seven categories. Instead, I recommend finding -- or making -- some "down time" to "tune in," at least a few minutes once or twice a day.

Sitting in a chair, or lying on the ground, feel the weight of your body resting. Feel the contact with chair or ground. Feel the weight of your body. See if you can let your weight be supported by the chair or ground. See if you can let go of holding yourself up. Let the momentum of doing and thinking slow down a little bit. See if you can, for a few moments or minutes, just rest awake in the sensations of the breathing body. When you get up, see if you can bring a little of that sense of awake resting into your activities.

Begin to let what you discover gradually seep into your body, heart, mind, and life. Planting the seeds of clarity and balance is a gentle, subtle art. The fruits will appear in time, if you plant the seeds and nurture the conditions that allow them to grow.

Happy practice!

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