I’m a workaholic. I’ve been known for getting up at 3am, commuting an hour to my job, and working until 9pm, day after day. That’s not healthy. I don’t work like that anymore, but I did when I worked in my father’s industrial tool business. Why would I work like that? Necessity was part of the reason. We were entrepreneurs, so the responsibility for completing the work rested on our shoulders. But, working a schedule like that, year after year, points toward misaligned motivations beyond necessity. Perhaps I was lost in busyness instead of doing intentional work?
The seventeen-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal said: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” The mind’s motivations can create miseries in our lives. It can equate busyness with work. By learning how to sit quietly, and be silent, we can observe the mind. From such observations, we can move beyond misery and enjoy our lives more.
We can tend to be motivated by busyness. It gives us a sense of being alive. We’re active and moving. External busyness can indicate an internal busy state of mind. Our attention shifts into the mind, where it gets lost in thought, and a desire to talk and express what we’re thinking. Both thinking and talking create a loud mental environment.
Two motivations make up our mental environment: a desire to be challenged (to work) and a desire to be comfortable (to rest). Both motivations are important. Therefore, our motivations need to complement each other rather than compete against each other. Busyness tends to motivate anxious competition between stress and comfort; intentionality tends to balance them in a complementary manner.
Being busy can give us the means to achieve goals. Such achievements can give us a sense of self worth. But, since our motivations are in competition, our attention gets distracted. Our attention tends to shift toward a desire for comfort when we’re busy. Then, when we’re comfortable, we desire busyness so we can achieve again. We get caught in a self-perpetuating cycle of anxiety, lost in the prison of the mind’s loud, competitive environment.
So, how do we change this achievement-oriented busyness tendency? We change our orientation. The busyness orientation tends to be a map-to-territory way to interact with life. We live in the mind’s maps of life, inside a loud mental environment, and project those maps onto the territory of the external world.
To break out of this mental prison requires a shift in our orientation. We begin with the territory and then shift to our mental maps. Doing this requires the application of silence. We “sit in a quiet room alone” as Pascal suggests. We do this by focusing our attention on the territory. Our attention is engaged in our senses instead of the thinking mind. We can notice the mind’s intrusions better from this perspective.
With a territory-to-map orientation our attention is committed better to whatever task we’re doing. When we’re working, we commit to work and stop desiring a future time when we’re comfortable. Rather, we seek comfort while in the midst of stress by relaxing into it, and commit 100% of our attention to working. Then, when it’s time to rest and be in our comfort zones, we stop desiring work. Rather, we don’t check email or do work; we relax into comfort, committing 100% of our attention to rest.
It’s easier to understand such concepts intellectually, than it is to live them. But, this is what we need to do. We all have long “to do” lists. Intellectually we know we’ll never get it all done, that we’ll tend to be anxious while in stress, and that we’ll associate worth with achievement. We live these concepts to shift intellectual knowing to experiential knowing.
So how do we do that? I’ve included hints earlier. We change our orientation to silence. We observe the mind, focus our attention in the mind on thinking and talking, and redirect it to the territory. Shifting our attention into the territory quiets the mind, allowing us to be more aware. From that space of awareness, we decide which task we’re doing and commit full attention to it. If we catch our attention shifting to comfort when we’re working, or vice versa, then we redirect it to the task. By cycling in a timely manner between work and rest we bring balance to our lives and reduce anxiety.
Silence helps us live our lives in the territory of the world instead of being lost in the mind.
The loud, inner dialogue diminishes, which allows us to observe the mind at more subtle levels. We’re not lost in a loud mind that’s incessantly thinking and talking. We focus our attention on the territory of the world and observe with silence. Doing this helps us find our way out of our miserable mental prison of busyness, creating more intentionality in our lives.
Practice Tip: Why do you do what you do?
Assess the motivation behind your busyness:
- Do you desire comfort when you’re working? Example: are you thinking of a comfortable weekend when you’re in the midst of work?
- Do you desire work when you’re resting? Example: do you work on the weekends when you should be resting?
These questions can give you insight into your motivation. Now, apply silence to experience them. Stop thinking and talking. Choose to work or rest and commit to it. Then cycle in a timely manner to its opposite.