I have been seeing a physical therapist for a few months to try to resolve some lingering birth related issues — of which I will spare you the gory, bulging, flaccid-muscled details. The weekly sessions are great, but the exercises are really hard to squeeze in (a little kegel humor there).
Why is that? I just did them and the whole regimen took only eight minutes. And that included the time it took to clear off a space on the floor large enough for me to lie down. Eight minutes — and I am allowed to do the regimen in two or even three sessions instead of all at once.
It is bizarrely hard to carve out the eight minutes, or two four-minute intervals, necessary for me to take care of myself and repair the trauma of two births in quick succession. I try and do it early in the morning, but often Madeline — my six-month-old — wakes up before I get through brushing my teeth. Then, I promise myself I will do them after breakfast, before Patrick leaves for work. But I often forget in the leave-the-house frenzy that grips us all at about 7:45 a.m. Then, I look for chances to do them in the middle of the day, but finding a time when I can lie down on the floor, breathe and squeeze without a two-year-old seeing it as wrestle-mommy time, is a challenge. Late at night is my last resort, but by that time I am so tired that I often fall asleep before the exercises get done.
It’s just eight minutes; I definitely waste eight minutes three or four times over in the course of even a hard day with two little kids. Why am I not prioritizing the thing I most need?
It might be because I am busy. I do a lot in a day. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, playing, weeding, harvesting, nursing, reading little books to little people, playing catch, filling the kiddie pool, watering plants. The list goes on.
But do you really want the list to go on? Busy people are often boring people. Snore! I press the snooze button on how busy I am. Tim Kreider puts his finger on the problem, writing in a 2012 New York Times blog that “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy…” Ouch.
I am a little behind on my New Yorker reading (as a budget-conscious family, we buy the duplicates or old issues from the library for 25 cents each), so I just read an issue from May, which includes Elizabeth Kolbert’s excellent “No Time.” She looks at “the overwhelm” and why Americans are so swamped and comes up with lots of reasons including: crass and addictive over-consumption, hyper-competiveness, the wired 24/7-ness of the modern work place, the enduring and disempowering fact that women still do at least two-thirds of the house work, and that “busier than thou” sort of search for meaning that Kreider talks about.
“How ya doin’?” It is the most common social question. And, “Busy. I am so busy” is the most common response. It is short and often true, but it also invites the counter-response of “Oh, yeah, me too…” And then we are off and running down a veritable arms race of complaint and counter-complaint. This is all the more true in activist circles, where the “how ya doin’?” is likely to open a can of societal ills and catalyze a recitation of headlines from the hot spots and dark corners of the world.
I try to avoid the “busier than thou” trap. I try to seek my existential reassurance in the quotidian triumphs and cataclysms of my community, in the ongoing struggles for peace and justice that inspire and provoke me. I try to listen more than I talk. I try to embody a spirit of gratitude for who I am and what I am doing.
When people ask: “How are you, Frida?” I try to respond by saying, “Living the dream! I am living the dream.” Is that too annoying? Too upbeat? It is true. I am living the life that I have chosen. My friend Laura shared that “living the dream” response with me. It is her strategy for trying to cut through the culture of complaint and the cult of powerlessness. I think it works.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and prolific writer, thought a lot about our world and our busyness and its violence. He wrote, “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist… destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
So, slow down. Smell the roses. Honestly, do it — they are blooming now. Do your super kegels and smell the roses. And let nonviolence start at home, by being nonviolent to yourself.
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