‘Being Busy’: Modern Time’s Misplaced Badge Of Honor
Recently I have had to acknowledge that both ends of the candle I’ve been burning have finally met…and like some simmering effigy, I’m all burned out. But isn’t this what most of us experience? So familiar is this situation that it seems like ‘being busy’ has been fetishized; a trump card of such incredible value that it is routinely called upon to fill out the thin frame of small talk.
As if it would be some indelible mark of shame or indictment of character to begin a casual conversation by revealing that “lately you’d been managing okay and that things were simply ticking along, tickety-boo.”
The games people play
In 1964 Dr. Eric Berne authored The Games People Play wherein he introduced the modality of psychology that I study, Transactional Analysis. Referring to this text, we could say that the above conversation might be considered ‘Why Does This Always Happen to Me?’, a game originating from inverse pride; “My misfortunes are better than yours.” Or maybe in today’s world of hyper-evolving, hyper-driven hyperactivity, we aren’t playing a game at all and we’re simply being honest with one another.
Berne also talks a good deal about ‘time-structuring’, which is fundamental to the difficulties posed by modern life. In fact, this is the question in terms of Existential Philosophy. How does one spend their time? How does one derive meaning from their time alive? Berne posits that we structure our time in such a way so as to ‘be recognized as an okay human being’.
Recently, I have come to realize that part of why I don’t feel like an okay human being may correspond with my time having very little structure to it. Structure in therapy could mean the outer limits of the therapeutic relationship; that is the actual mechanics that hold everything together such as frequency of meetings and time limitations. Structural boundaries tend to be contractual with the client and this, it is said, is the container of the work.
Of course, boundaries can be slightly more blurred. For example, the therapist must empathize with the client but not to the extent of becoming enmeshed. Considering structure is paramount to the work though.
Boundaries announced themselves not only in my clinical practice but at my job as well. Working with brain-injured clients, I learned the importance of structure, particularly for those who have sadly sustained damage to their pre-frontal cortex – the region of the brain that subserves our executive functions.
Structure came up in my Creative Writing studies. Coleridge spoke to me of living life without direction. Indeed, when it came to writing my own poetry, I was quick to learn that not only is form the very scaffolding for the work but that it can serve to imbue or enhance meaning (see W.H. Auden for more). I thought about the Social Contract as a container and while researching it, I thought about the Internet and how vast, open and completely without boundaries this is!
It occurred to me when I experienced regular choice paralysis when simply coming to select a program to watch on a streaming site. I was stuck. And I needed to move.
So, feeling frustrated with myself I considered how I was to structure my time. I thought about the containment of therapy with my clients. I even thought about the sand tray that I invite children to work with.
Jungian therapist, Dora Kalff suggested using a sand tray that is 19.5 x 28.5 x 2.75 inches. This size is based on what the individual can be assumed to see without turning his or her head. This way the sand tray encompasses the field of vision and becomes the world. This was the focus I needed. Focus can be extraordinarily difficult when approached from a depressive standpoint.
“…just as a delicate, high-powered microscope must be gently brought into focus, so gentleness is a prerequisite of true concentration,” writes Jonn Mumford in Psychosomatic Yoga. I rolled out my yoga mat and looked at its dimensions and thought about the sand-tray. I started to move. I tried to do a little every day if I could. If I couldn’t I tried to maintain a gentleness, with myself.
This business of ‘busy-ness’ need not be on some continuum; you don’t need to justify yourself if like me right now you are exhausted and struggling or indeed if you are not. In the form of yoga, I find meaning.
I don’t need to be busy and perhaps you do not either. However, I do need to move, within a structure, with gentleness. Perhaps moving gently will help you too.
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