"Busyness:" Session No. 10 -- readings from chapter 10, "The Art of Doing Nothing"

Opening words:

I think if we're honest with ourselves, we can agree that our busyness—whether of body or of mind—is often a distraction, a way of avoiding others, avoiding intimacy, avoiding ourselves.  We keep busy to push back our fears, our loneliness, our self-doubt, our questions about purposes and ends.  We want to know we matter, we want to know our lives are worthwhile.  And when we're not sure, we work that much harder, we worry that much more.  In the face of our uncertainty, we keep busy.  These days, the idea of original sin has grown unfashionable, but to me it seems as good a way as any of naming that deep feeling of unworthiness so many of us suffer, driving us to hurl a lifetime of  work and worry into a pit that can never be filled. Unchecked, this impulse can drag us into bitterness, loneliness, depression, and despair.

What is it, then, that restores us to a better version of ourselves, that returns us to our firm sense of goodness—both our own and the world’s?  Perhaps it’s a question of grace: a reflected sunset flares in the windows of a skyscraper, a sheet of newspaper takes flight down an empty street, and suddenly we find ourselves in a world made luminous with wonder. ... And so it is: the world itself can call us out of our preoccupations, our worries, our lists and agendas.  In such moments our attention is arrested, quite literally stopped, and the world seems to say to us: “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

Preparation (distribute pencils and paper or note cards):

1.  Make a list of some of the things you've accomplished in the last 48 hours. 

2.  Make a list of the things you meant to accomplish in the last 48 hours but didn't.

3.  How easy is it for you to feel satisfied about your accomplishments?

4.  How much do you worry about unfinished tasks? Are such worries a regular part of your life?


1. Discuss your answers to the questions above.

2. When was the last time you felt "all caught up" with the various tasks in your life? How long did it last? How did it feel, while it lasted?

3.  Is it hard for you to slow down or sit still?  Why?  What happens when you do?

4.  Is keeping busy ever a form of procrastination for you? A way of avoiding something? What?

5.  When you feel "too busy" or "overwhelmed", what restores a sense of balance in your life?

6.  Have you ever found yourself fully enjoying a task you normally find unpleasant? What made that possible?

7.  What allows you to be fully absorbed in a task, without thinking about past or future?

Closing words:

[In the midst of our busyness] we have all known moments [of calm], islands of respite.  On some level we are always searching for our life’s work, wanting to align our doing and our being with our highest purposes.  At such moments of calm we find, to our surprise, that our life’s work is here in our hands, at this very moment; it is here as we gaze into another’s eyes, it is here in each breath we receive from and give back to the world.