Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


Morning, glories. What are you up to this long-ish holiday weekend?

I'm writing from Point Reyes, where the sun is strong and the sky is clear and the tunes are solid. (Yes, those are my feet, and yes, they are up. Life is good.) We've got so much to talk about, yes, lots of developments: dudes and new nieces and trees and plans, and a helluva lot going on in the yoga-sphere, too.

But let's start here.

Did you catch last Sunday's NYT article, "The Busy Trap"?  Everyone's talking about it, and, I think, often seeing a bit of themselves in it, too.  Read it here.

A few highlights:
If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”....

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it....It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do....

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day....[but] I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

....[This busyness] got more and more intolerable until finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this.

Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.
Yeah. Hell yeah. I related to this. Didn't you?

(Ok, not everyone did. Check out Joslyn's strong argument against it.)

But I grew up in a household that was informed by this sense that one's value is proportional to her level of busyness. The busier, the better. Doing, not being. There is most certainly an intangible underlying fear that drives this sense of scurrying, a vaguely Calvinist lack of trust in unconditional, inherent worth, a terror of sitting with the empty space, that rings true to me.

My mother, like many mothers, I imagine, was a "busy" one. People'd ask her how she was, and she'd sigh and say, "Ohhhh, SO busy!!" And I remember thinking as a kid that that was the way to be — well, because I was a kid and didn't realize there were other choices. But then across the dinner table was my Pops, who loved his job and spent his free hours putzing around in the garage or out in the yard, and he never seemed to need to qualify his worth by establishing how busy he was or serving on bullshit committees that he didn't want to serve on. He actually seemed, rather, to revel in the unscheduled hours spent in the woodshop or the garden or under the cars.

I look to that now as a model. Because, oh sure, I teach yoga and talk about being present and still and grounded and balanced out the wazoo, but living in the City, it's terribly difficult not to get caught up in the swirl of "hurry sickness" (to borrow my wise friend Briksha's term for this plague). Without enough conscious self-policing, I rush and overbook and plan and schedule like the worst of neurotics. There's certainly a potentially life-giving function to all that busyness; it makes us feel important and alive and connected, and, permits us to avoid those sometimes-terrifying moments of stillness and emptiness that force us to be alone with ourselves and our shit.

And, in defense of busyness, a lot of it, for me at least, comes from the awareness that life is short and we don't know how long we have. You know, the fact that we're dying and all. Losing a few dear friends early in their lives over the last few years has taught me soberingly well about how little future we can confidently plan on seeing, and how we really don't want to take any down-the-road moments for granted, because we might kick the bucket at 28 or 38 or 48. So part of my desire to maximize my hours with coffee dates and cocktails and working and playing and loving and living comes from the existential understanding that, honestly, I could die at any moment, and if I do, then hell, wouldn't I like to have lived well in the few breaths I had while I had them? You know, to have been really alive, really present, in a life that is impermanent and always in flux, a life that's for sure going to end one day?

(Anne Lamott describes it this way in Bird By Bird:
"I remind myself of this when I cannot get any work done: to live as if I am dying, because the truth is we are all terminal on this bus. To live as if we are dying gives us a chance to experience some real presence. Time is so full for people who are dying in a conscious way, full in the way that life is for children. They spend big round hours. So instead of staring miserably at the computer screen trying to will my way into having a breakthrough, I say to myself, 'Okay, hmmm, let's see. Dying tomorrow. What should I do today?'")
Sobering, all this death talk, I know. But true. 

Spending time here in Point Reyes has offered me some of Anne Lamott's "big round hours," that forgotten childlike opportunity to just be in the same way that the author of the NYT piece found ease, grace, in his ease to Undisclosed Rural Location. This little Western town has 350 people and you know everyone walking down the street, you leave your doors open without fear, you know nothing's open past 9pm, so you just settle in and look up at the stars and call it a day. You stop rushing and just sit in the sun in the backyard. You chill out. You slow down. You go to the wee Inverness library and talk to the old lady behind the counter and realize how long it's been since you've a) been in an old-school library, or b) had a sweet conversation with an elder who knows a helluva lot about life.

So there's life in the stillness, in the quiet, in the peace. And somehow, in it, the days seem to stretch a little longer.

In these long languid summer hours up here on the coast, I keep thinking of writers like Annie Dillard and Willa Cather and Thoreau. They didn't (or still don't, in Annie's case) waste their time with cocktail hours and Facebook updates and YouTube bullshit. They spent their waking creative hours knee-deep in nature, seated by creeks with notebooks in hand, lost in haystacks in the prairie. They rooted themselves in earth and sky instead of Google and iCal. And their connection with spirit was evident, and rich, and present.

[Is the opposite of busyness spaciousness? Is that space what's required to create art, to write, to compose music, to paint? I have to say yes. I have to. Yes.]

That's what I want. That's who I want to be. The busy crap can pass. The sun, the sky, the stillness, the writing, the creeks, the crickets? Yes, please.

Practicing.

Comments

LisaSays said…
I truly love this, Rach. I feel like I've struggled with this. The meeting of the celeb yoga culture/whole group of vegan/guru-following whatever, whatever with the struggle to also be a teacher and conduit of whatever is transmitting through you in our present day and culture. I told my last teacher training I felt like I needed hair extensions and about 5 extra inches to be a legit yogini in the eyes of yoga magazines and again that festival yoga celebrity-model culture. I'd love to know your thoughts, given your gender studies background. It feels so contradictory. Ahh!
LisaSays said…
One more addendum, I obviously love yoga, and respect veganism; just the note that how many of us would be doing this if we couldn't tell anyone? You know? Love to you, girl. Thanks for a great post.
Heidi said…
Why do you always know exactly what i need to hear exactly when i need to hear it? awesome post. it always amazes how much my writers block hits me during my crazy work week and how, only when i have put the work aside and let myself breathe, does any of my creativity come back to me. i notice it every single time. i find myself reaching desperately for those moments and frantically joting notes down when it hits. pathetic isn't it, all the stuff we do to suffocate ourselves? xo
Rebecca said…
I loved this article too, and your take on it, Rach...

Another part of this conversation that I like to experiment with when I feel too busy busy is: where, exactly, am I spending all my time?

A snapshot inventory of where I've spent time in any given day, week, or month, matched up against what I say my values and goals are, is always an interesting exercise for me...

For example, I love to spend time on Facebook - for me, it's aligned with my desire to maintain a wide range of friendships - whereas going to a BS book club meeting (where I don't really dig the people and no one actually reads the book) is not...

So, back to FB... if I count up the minutes over the course of the day, it should be something like 5 or maybe 10.... If I find that I'm on there twelve times a day for 2-3 minutes at a time, then there's a time-suck dynamic going on... if I rein that in to just two or so visits throughout the day, I can regain 10-20 minutes and re-dedicate that time to something else that really matters to me... found time! Victory.

I wholeheartedly agree that we all need time out, time off, some time to re-charge, to rejuvenate... but if we can't - for whatever reason - take or create big blocks of time for that purpose, I have to believe that we *can* find little pockets, golden nuggets of moments -- just by slicing off some loose, inefficient or unfulfilling ends here and there... by claiming our deepest values and goals, and then putting those up against our actual behaviors in the day-to-day, we can find more time, more space, more stillness - if even just for a moment, or ten minutes... that's sometimes all it takes... until I can get away to Point Reyes :)

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