Are you having a busy week?
Oh, my calendar and to-do-list are plenty full, as usual: appointments, meetings, writing projects, household projects, pitching-in projects, activist activities, email and phone calls to catch up on, matters to check on (Where's my refund for those down mittens I returned last month? What's happened to the guy who's supposed to be re-staining our house? Why isn't insurance covering my upcoming dental work?).
But I'm not going to say I'm busy. You know why? Because I have purged that word from my vocabulary, at least as it pertains to my own doings. The inspiration for this linguistic vanishing act came from an editorial I read in Mother Earth Living in early 2015.
"For many of us today, 'busy' isn't something we are from time to time when we're working on a big project. It's the state of our lives. It's our default setting," wrote the magazine's editor-in-chief, Jessica Kellner. "Being busy. . . validates our existence in an unsure world—if we're constantly busy, our lives must be important."
But all that busy-busy-busyness can feel awfully frenzied and stressful, can't it? Don't you wish you could still do all the things you need and want to do, without feeling frantic?
Maybe you can. Maybe you just need to trick your brain, Kellner suggests. She cited a number of studies showing that simply changing one's mindset can have profound physical effects. For example, septuagenarians instructed in an experimental setting to live as if they were 22 years old sat taller, performed better on manual dexterity tasks and even looked more youthful after only five days of thinking young.
Could a similar mental ploy help alleviate our sense of overload? Kellner thinks so.
"Perhaps if we stop saying we're so busy, we'll stop feeling so busy," she concluded. "By aiming our thoughts toward serenity and calm, we might actually achieve serenity and calm—without changing anything about our daily schedules."
Intrigued, I started my own experiment, simply substituting the word "full" for "busy" when thinking and talking about my everyday activities. The change was subtle, but almost immediately I noticed a difference. "Busy" had felt like a burden. "Full" felt like a blessing.
How fortunate I was to have so many interesting things to fill my days. And if they weren't all so interesting or rewarding, well, that's where another mind-shift could come in handy.
This one I came across more recently in a blog post by Bella Mahaya Carter on She Writes, a website for women writers.
Carter shared her own to-do list from a recent day—a familiar-looking litany of pleasant enough activities (yoga class, edit memoir, write thank-you notes), along with a fair share of less-appealing tasks (clean kitchen, unpack from trip, grocery shop).
Admitting she probably wouldn't get to everything on the list in one day, Carter wrote, "It helps to remind myself that it doesn't matter if it takes me two or three days to complete these items. What does matter is that everything on my list I'm doing for love."
That's pretty much how Carter reacted when she first heard the love-centric notion, put forth by spiritual psychology pioneer H. Ronald Hulnick. When Hulnick told Carter's class at the University of Santa Monica, "The only reason to do anything is for love," Carter was skeptical, and immediately started thinking up exceptions.
But then she stopped herself and decided, as an experiment, to act as if it were true.
Her to-do list didn't change much, but her approach to doing the things on that list did, and life felt lighter as a result.
"For example, instead of complaining about cleaning my house, I focused on how much I loved my family and my home, and how great it was that I was able to clean my home," Carter wrote. "It also occurred to me that I was lucky to have a home."
The love filter also helps her choose new activities. When asked to do something she's not sure she wants to do, she asks herself: Where is the love here?
"I root around and sniff out the love. If I don't catch its scent, I say no and move on."
Though I'm having a little trouble finding the love in toilet cleaning (don't ask me to sniff that one out!), I'm trying to keep Carter's words in mind as I decide how to allocate my time each week.
Now, let me ask you again: Are you having a busy week?
Photo of Bella Mahaya Carter: http://www.bellamahayacarter.com/
All other images are free-use stock images.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.