Wide Open Spaces

The other day, a well meaning individual said to me, “I don’t know how you do it all.  I know you are really busy.  Why don’t you let me know when you are free, and we can meet according to your schedule?”

I mean, I do a lot of rushing around from here to there, probably trying to look like I am busy doing Really Important Things.  There are many colorful blocks on my many google calendars, some of them even overlapping.  My phone dings at me quite frequently with invitations to meetings and appointments and other various reminders for…well, I am not sure what for…but reminders that I am needed and must be valuable.

Yes, life is full…but busy?  When I think of life as full, I think of the activities that mean something to me, the things I choose to spend my time doing.  I choose to spend time with my patients.  I choose to spend time with my children.  I choose to read and write.  I choose to be coached and go to therapy.  I choose to meet a friend for a short hike or lunch.

But I also choose big empty spaces of time, that many of the people in my world may not witness.  I always try to keep one hour between the time I drop my children off at school, and the first patient of the day.  During that time, I may sit in the car and watch Oprah Soul Sunday youtube videos, scroll through instagram, or tweeze my eyebrows.  I will go to coffee and linger, chatting with the other regulars who appear at Portola Coffee Lab around 8:45 am Monday through Friday.  Sometimes I arrive early to my office, and use that hour to meditate, free write in my journal, and read.

I also maintain empty spaces of time after my children go to bed.  I call my parents and chat with them on the phone, catch up on paperwork, and usually end the day again with meditation, journaling, and reading.  Sometimes I watch television with my husband.  And probably five days out of seven, I take a 30-45 minute nap at some point.  As a family, we avoid over scheduling and try to coordinate our respective activities to limit the craziness and the chaos.  Honestly we spend a lot of time laying around the house on weekends, reading books, watching movies, and going for walks.

Even as I read this reflection on the usual state of my days, I am reminded…there is time.  There is time.   We have the choice to discover and create time, for the things and people we love.

For me, busy seems to be a state of mind that develops when I am no longer choosing whether to say no or yes.  When I find myself distracted, buzzing from one activity to the next, without a clear understanding of the personal or professional value of that activity for me.  Busy happens when I over schedule myself and don’t protect those wide margins that allow me to proceed at my natural slow pace.  When I am no longer breathing and reconnecting with myself, moment by moment.

Certainly sometimes, busy is just plain unavoidable, when life is in full force and there is a hailstorm of dental appointments and flu shots and piano concerts and school projects.

But most of the time, busy is a mindset, one that I sometimes choose or allow, when I am not paying attention.  If I am not careful, busy can seduce me into feeling important, at which point I invite more busy into my life.  The reality is that, for me, busy is not something I want to be, nor something I want my children to be or witness.   I am just not convinced that wherever I am rushing to is any more precious than the moment unfolding in the here and now.  

What I want to be is conscious of my values and priorities, and design a life around those, to the extent that I can.  What I want to also be is careful, careful of protecting the moments of solitude and quiet and true connection, because that is when I feel most alive.  If I remember that I have time, often more time than I thought, I can shift into a more spacious mindset and presence, rather than one of pressure.

I share this because words are a way to dispel the myths that we perpetuate.  Last week I talked about how the calm that appears on my surface, belies the agitation and overthinking that lies beneath.  That felt important for me to say, because I want us all to know we are in this together, challenged by the very same struggles.

This week, I want to share that, if I appear busy, or if I say I am busy, then something has gone awry for me.  Feel free to pull be back down to Earth.  Look me in the eyes, grab my hands, and remind me that life will indeed go on without my flurry of activity, and that there might very well be a better way forward.  I need the reminders.

So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in noticing where you have choices in your life, and whether busy has become a choice for you.  Are there wide open spaces too?  What do you discover?

With gratitude,

Monisha