One powerful ways you can work with your tendencies to internal busyness is to give yourself periodic 2- to 3-minute pauses during your day. Whether sitting at the desk, doing the laundry, even driving, play with a yogic practice like the ones that follow—just for its own sake! The idea is to do it without expecting results. (Of course, there will be a result—you'll feel better.)
Practice Break: Anti-Rushing
This practice releases the compulsion that often arises when you're in a hurry. Try it now, then practice it the next time you feel yourself rushing.
Stop. Stand or sit totally still for one fullminute. First, say to yourself, "I have all the time in the world." Then, bring to mind the image of a Buddha in meditation. Hold the thought of that Buddha in your mind while you breathe deeply and slowly five times. Feel free to keep that image in your mind as you continue on your way.
Busyness as an Addiction
My friend Glenn is like one of the eight-armed Hindu goddesses: a brilliant multitasker. She can do five or six things more or less simultaneously: run a meeting, make her kid's dentist appointment, talk to a friend on the phone. For years, she claimed that she did it all in a state of Flow—that peak action state where everything seems to be happening on its own as you move effortlessly from one activity to another. At one point, though, she realized that she had actually become addicted to the multitasking high.
Activity addiction is like any other addiction; as it progresses you need more and more activity to get the original glow. So you add one more item to your schedule, and another. People ask you to join a committee and you can't resist. You hear about a conference or a project and angle to get on it. You add clients, or classes. You speed date, go to two or three parties each weekend, sign your kid up for after-school activities six days a week. Pretty soon, you're emailing while you talk on the phone, reading while you're eating or doing asana practice, and helping your child with her homework while watching the news and feeding the dog. It's not just that you're distracted. Being busy has become an addiction.
Busyness and Self-importance
Another reason we keep ourselves busy is because it helps us feel needed, competent, even important. But there's a balance issue here. While it's normal to derive healthy self-esteem from being engaged with our world, the ego's addiction to busyness has at its core a terror of its own emptiness. The ego feels, "If I'm busy, that means I exist. I'm worthwhile. I'm wanted." When you're active and engaged, you feel like part of the rhythm of life. Other busy people find you worthwhile and interesting. Our culture reinforces our assumption that being busy equals being productive and important. Very often, before we can move out of our busyness syndrome, we need to remind ourselves again and again that we are not defined by our job, our role, or how sought after we are. The following contemplation can be done in a moment or two, and it's one of the great practices for recalibrating your sense of yourself.
Practice Break: Find the Non-Verbal I Am
Stop. Close your eyes. Ask yourself, "When I'm not busy, not engaged, not productive, who am I? When I'm not thinking, not moving around, not emotionally engaged, who am I?"
Rather than looking for a verbal answer or an insight, tune into the space that opens up right after the question.
Yoga for Internal Busyness
Dealing with External Busyness nearly always demands some practical solutions—delegating, dropping or letting go of certain activities, maybe even giving yourself a weekly Sabbath, a real day of rest and inner contemplation. But Internal Busyness is the domain of yoga. To really address your internal busyness, you need two types of yoga: First, you need inner practices that take you to your center, to find the calm beneath the storm. A daily meditation practice is crucial, but so are micro-practices—like the ones in this column—that you can do throughout the day. Second, you need to cultivate attitudes that turn your frenzied activity into karma yoga, which is the path to union through action.
A lot of yogis I know use the term "karma yoga" as a synonym for the work they do, as in "My work is my yoga." But work becomes yoga only when you act with inner focus. Otherwise, you might be doing wonderful things in the world—making great art, doing poverty law, or working for the environment—but still feel overwhelmed, under appreciated, and burned out. To have inner focus is to be in touch with something inside us that is still, that is not touched by action.