'Beware the barrenness of a busy life.' – Socrates
I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot lately. Maybe because it pertains to so much of the client work I’m engaged in. Most of my clients are highly functioning individuals. They are rightly proud of the accomplishments on their CVs, speak of close family and friends and multiple outside interests. And yet there are general themes of either burnout or meaninglessness. Of going through the motions. Of getting to the end of the week/month/year and wondering “What in the heck just happened here?” Of feeling like all of the various interactions and events are passing in rapid succession rather than being experienced and enjoyed. This is what Socrates cautioned against.
'At ever turn, we need to stop the noise, our own and everyone else's, not to retreat from the world but to live more fully in it.' - Poet and author Mark Nepo
One important step is just to stop every now and again. A busy life is orchestrated by a busy mind. Our brains are hard-wired to be forward-looking, and this power of prospection serves many good purposes. But it can keep us feeling like we are on a treadmill, ever in transit to an elusive destination. We need to step off it on occasion.
Mindfulness is an over-used buzzword these days but really it just means paying attention to what is happening in the present. In fact, the word mindfulness is somewhat of a misnomer as it isn’t about engaging the mind at all; rather it is about stepping out of incessant thinking and planning. When we’re living in the future, we’re missing what is happening in the moment. And the next moment. And the next. Left unchecked, these passing collective moments can lead a person to feel pretty detached from his own life. So mindfulness is about taking our hands (and minds) off the controls, of becoming a curious observer sitting in the passenger seat. Taking in – via all the senses and bodily sensations – what is happening right now. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Not next week, or next year. In this way, we cultivate self-awareness. From awareness comes an understanding of what’s important. And from this understanding comes a clearer path for meaningful action. A reasonable antidote to barrenness it would seem.
There are many ways to cultivate this 'quiet,' but for people new to this way of being, it is often helpful to have some type of guided practice. The well-known Headspace meditation app is a great one for beginners and experienced practitioners alike. It is my 'go to' recommendation because the approach is so accessible, rooted in science and lacking jargon.
In my next blog, I'll turn to a more self-guided practice: 'the morning ritual.'