25 Nov Why busyness might be keeping you from the most important thing.
It is possible to live most of your life asleep to the things that really matter.
Modern life – life as we know it – works to prevent us from thinking deeply about anything.
The pace, the activity, the busyness, the screens, the hustle, the consuming and our ever-expanding expectations conspire to shrink our attention span and distract us from spending any time pondering the important stuff.
We are numbed from the big questions: why are we here? who are we? what does it all matter anyway ?
And if it is not the speed of life that prevents us, we can find ourselves actively avoiding big questions because we don’t have the confidence to venture into the uncertainty these questions may bring.
It is scary to stop and think about how you really feel.
For me this avoidance, of how I really felt and what I really thought, started with activity. With enjoying being around people and being busy. I liked my diary being full, and when it wasn’t I arranged extra activity. I enjoyed the buzz, the mutual exchange of energy.
Somewhere in my mid-twenties I stopped simply enjoying this level of activity and began needing it.
In an average week when I was alone with the kids I would plan two different activities a day, something for the morning and something for the afternoon. I couldn’t handle the thought that I would be alone (with my children) with nothing to do.
Part of this was necessity. Being with pre-schoolers can be boring and isolating and part of my diary-filling desire came from the need for someone to pass the day with. But this normal, maybe even helpful routine slowly became a habit I was unable to break.
I didn’t like what I heard in the quiet.
So I avoided the quiet.
When I did find myself on my own, or with only my children for company, I put the radio on. I listened to a podcast, I watched TV.
To be alone with my own thoughts was not something I welcomed and not because under the chatter and activity there was a wealth of significant thoughts waiting to emerge. No, it was when it was quiet I would hear the voice of my dissatisfaction, my sense of failure, all the ways I thought I was messing up.
I excused my inability to be alone by describing myself as a people person, someone who only thinks through talking. I scheduled activity and conversation. I listened and read and watched and consumed.
At every turn I prevented myself from engaging with myself.
All the disruption that meant I had no choice but to investigate what I really thought, why I was here, who I was and what did it all matter.
Over time I realised maybe listening to myself wasn’t such a bad idea.
It took time, but as I healed and recovered I began to tune into how I really felt and to uncover what I really thought.
I even came up with a hypothesis about extroverts.
I wondered if there was even such a thing as an extrovert?
I wondered if maybe an extrovert was just someone who wasn’t ready to face their shit. Someone who couldn’t be alone for fear they would have to go deeper, to listen to the state of their soul or hear uncomfortable truths.
I’m not saying there was any truth in this. I’ll leave those kinds of ideas to people far cleverer than me.
But for me, as a self- identified extrovert, I wondered how much my extrovert label had been a way to justify my reluctance to being alone with my thoughts.
I have learnt to be alone. It has been a process and has taken time (and therapy!). But I have found I love it.
I love the quiet. I love being able to access my thoughts. To hear them clearly.
Over the past few years I have learnt a few things about listening to myself and asking important questions.
If you find yourself rushing around, burying how you feel and ignoring what you think I hope you might find these ideas useful and they might encourage you to brave the quiet. You might be surprised by what you discover there.
Some truths about uncovering what you think:
1.There is no qualification necessary to allow you to ask big questions. Don’t let anyone tell you not to ask hard questions, or to ridicule you for thinking deeply (that is called oppression).
2. Solitude and silence are great aids when it comes to discovering the stuff that really matters. If you can’t sit for one hot minute with your self in the quiet it might be worth talking to someone else (a therapist or wise person) to help you uncover why this is. You may need support on this journey.
3. Your questions are not a sign you are moving away from the ‘truth’ or a sign of weakness (whatever tribe or structure you find yourself questioning). Being honest and asking the difficult questions is a sign of maturity.
4. It might be painful. You might realise or encounter things you have been avoiding and this might hurt. Be kind to yourself.
5. It might be lonely. Most people prefer to numb themselves with busyness then to confront reality. When you start to ask questions it can be challenging to the recognised order. You might lose friends.
6. But… you will make new friends with new and often unexpected people. Anyone is welcome on this expedition but few decide to come, make friends with those who do, even if they are different to you.
7. It can be helpful to write down the questions you are asking and the answers that might appear. A year from now you may well disagree with yourself, or you might need reminding of this truth you had held in your hand but lost in the busyness months later. Keep a record to remind you and to help you understand.
Hi, I’m Elli and for the past decade I have been on a journey of discovery, re-learning how to live. Finding my way through depression and anxiety, questioning my purpose, my faith and my priorities. It has been the best and hardest work of my life.
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If this post resonated with you, you may also be interested to read my book, How Not To Be Good (subtitled: The A to Z of Anxiety, a memoir in just over 26 parts). You can find out more about the book, what others have said about it and purchase a copy here.