Lately, when people ask me how I'm doing, the default answer I have to choke back is, "Busy." I quell that impulse because a) who's not insanely busy these days? and b) I'm trying to cultivate some tranquility. For me, a confirmed but recovering workaholic, the "busy" answer just doesn't represent the person I want to become. What we say about ourselves has a sneaky way of coming true, and my life is not summed up by the crossed-off (or not) items on my daily to-do list.
I'm doing a little better with this. Last night, awash with a fit of spring fever, Phil and I went out on a date. On a weeknight! When we both had deadlines! It felt delicious. And tonight, I'm going to read a book, bake a cake, and take the dog for a nice walk. I've worked hard all day, and I need to rest.
This probably sounds totally elementary, this mundane kind of evening, but to me it is both revelation and revolution. I work a lot -- too much. I'm not alone in this. And it's not healthy. People who work too much are more likely to suffer heart attack and stroke even when in all other ways they maintain healthy lifestyles. They live shorter lives, and they enjoy those lives much less.
I'm working to reimagine how I configure time. This past weekend at the Calvin Festival I was given a gift version of Ann Voskamp's bestseller One Thousand Gifts, which has short selections from the book with Voskamp's gorgeous photography alongside. I've been savoring it at breakfast the last few days. If you don't know the original book, the basic story is that Voskamp, a farmer and young mother of six, decided to begin a kind of chronicle of joy by writing down all the blessings she could think of -- in a journal, on scrap paper, on her computer. The simple experience of expressing gratitude for blessings changed her life. I'm particularly struck by what she says about time:
Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. . . .
Giving thanks for one thousand things is ultimately an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention. In this space of time and sphere, I am attentive, aware, accepting the whole of the moment, weighing it down with me all here.
I have lived the runner, panting ahead in worry, pounding back in regrets, terrified to live in the present, because here-time asks me to do the hardest of all: just open wide and receive.
I have "lived the runner," too. (Well, only metaphorically.) But it's no way to live long-term. Answering questions about how I am, existentially, with the mere word "busy" gives too much power to circumstance and makes me a creature of worry rather than joy.
The next time someone asks me how I am, I'm going to take a cue from a friend of mine who is sick and probably dying. But however he feels on a given day, his answer is the same: "I am so blessed." And he'll proceed to tell you just how he's blessed.
The image of a harried person checking his watch is used by permission of Shutterstock.com.