Desk with notepad, keys, glasses and watch

Too busy?

In Insight and Experience by LivingNow1 Comment

Too busy to read this article? – then pause for a moment, feel the stress, and do it anyway!

I arrived in Australia ten years ago, after living for 12 years in the Chinese world. Since then a curious thing seems to have happened: time has shrunk!

Daily, a plethora of information arrives on my desk inviting me to partake in ever more enlightening/enlivening activities and programs. Between faxes, phone calls and e-mails, I even get time to read about some of these opportunities. Not hard to notice that the “successful” publicity offers yet more speedy delivery of promises, with compounded benefits! After all, who wants to waste precious time on enlightenment or wellness? Everyone knows that time is money! Besides I’ve got to keep up with current affairs of the world and in my chosen field, and of course there’s a business to run, and a contemplative discipline to maintain in an attempt to keep it all in perspective – and, oh, I almost forgot, all those time-consuming relationships in my life. Sorry I can’t complete the list of all my other activities (I’m sure you’d be fascinated), but it’s making me a bit tired to write all this down!

There are so many of us who are feeling crushed under the “overwhelm” steamroller which threatens to flatten our spirits these days (or is it daze?), in preparation for an ever-widening information highway. Even those of us who thought we had long ago opted out of the conventional “rat race” have in fact re-created an “alternative” rat race in which we get to be just as busy, just as dyslexic, and just as frantic with well-intentioned, cutting-edge, organic and non-toxic busy-ness. Hence the phenomena of obese counsellors, pimply-faced nutritionists, and the prevalent epidemic of “chronic fatigue” amongst many in the “helping professions.” We also have the many stressed-out, way over-qualified multi-disciplined complementary therapists sweating through yet one more course of study before they can be as good as – or is it “better than” – the medicos?

Why are we creating all this stress for ourselves – albeit with such earnestness? Could it be that we are not really creating stress, but only allowing it, by not noticing that there is an alternative? Clearly, there is a sense of urgency, dramatised, hyped, and re-run in all sectors of the media, from the most conventional to the most radical. There also seems to be a pervasive and uneasy feeling of insecurity, a growing dread about what tomorrow may/may not bring. Indeed, this sense of urgency seems to penetrate the very morphic field where our spirits are meant to play. I see many friends who are suffering, having “bought into” the gloomy alienation. I remember a recent headline in a prominent weekend newspaper: “Australia, Land of the Fearful.” Is this our reward for greater productivity, more mechanical goodies, and not enough hospital beds to accommodate the increasing plethora of stress-related illness? Perhaps it’s time to just pause for a moment to see if a reorientation of perspective may be called for.

Consider these words penned by the prominent Taoist poet Chuang Tzu more than two millennia ago:

“Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends!

— or you will die of despair.

Prisoners in the world of objects have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter! They are pressed down and crushed by external forces: fashion, the market, current events, public opinion.

Never in a whole lifetime do they recover their right mind!

The busy life. What a pity!”

(Rendering: Thomas Merton)

The question seems to be: What are we all really aspiring to with such fervour? Is this perfect world we wish to create going to provide any time for just smelling the roses? Or are we going to be too busy creating a “perfect” garden with endless varieties to gloat over? There’s a huge irony here.

A couple of hundred years before Chuang Tzu wrote the above poem, his mentor Lao Tzu authored the “Tao Teh Jing,” the 5,000 character classic which became the sacred script of philosophical Taoism and continues to influence Chinese culture right up to the present day. On the topic of being too busy and of contrivance, Lao Tzu went so far as to advise us to:

‘Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,

and it will be 100 times better for everyone.”

Radically opposed to all supercilious striving, Lao Tzu continues, offering an alternative:

“It is more important to see the simplicity,

To realise your true nature,

To cast off selfishness,

….and temper desire.’

I’ve always mused on the fact that, in stating these four “more important things” this great philosopher began with “see the simplicity.” Perhaps you are feeling baffled as to how that could be possible for us today? Contemporary society seems to continually validate and reinforce the belief that “life’s complex – then you die.” Perhaps we have exchanged this material-consumerist belief for the time-honoured observation that “life is mysterious.” In an age where we bright primates think we know everything yet want to know more just in case we don’t, perhaps we have forgotten to pause long enough to marvel at this “self” who is accumulating all these facts! “Seeing the simplicity” naturally provokes us to ask “How?” Lao Tzu posits his terse answer in the next line: “Realise your true nature.” Having that realisation it follows that one would be led to “Cast off selfishness” and “Temper desire.” But maybe the prospect of “realising true nature” has become too daunting, and perhaps it seems like another big job to do. We may even have to try to do meditation or something challenging like that! Wow! But what if it’s not really about either trying or doing? What if it’s just as simple as not doing anything; rather just being still with ourselves, without anything special to get or anywhere in particular to go? Mightn’t that be just boring and even disappointing? – or might it just be the balm we need to balance the action-oriented frenzy we’ve put ourselves into?

Amid all our confusion, concern, busy-ness, and fatigue, the great irony is that, potentially, these are the most magical and inspiring times we could ever wish for. It’s as if we are the pun of Swami Beyonananda’s query about where to find the keys to Heaven: “I’ve got some bad news, and some good news for you. The bad news is that there are no keys. The good news is that the door’s been left ajar.”

Perhaps we’re so busy fumbling around with our enormous key chain of knowledge that we haven’t noticed that the door was never locked. Perhaps all that’s required is a strategic pause to re-consider: “There must be an underlying simplicity to this whole event called life, if I can just let it be… let’s see.” Perhaps reclaiming the ground of that simplicity has everything to do with “just being” and nothing to do with “always striving”… even after sainthood and wisdom. Insofar as “doing” is concerned, Lao Tzu tersely counsels us:

“Do enough without vying,

Be living not dying.”


Mas Rogers was a writer and teacher based in Melbourne. He passed away in Melbourne on 3/1/2011. His gentle nature will be remembered by all his friends and workshop participants and his contribution to the holistic niche is substantial.

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    Glad to have found this article again and re-read. First time in 2003, I was in the midst of my exams and it really helped put things into perspective. Too bad I never got to meet or do a course with the great man.

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