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  • Writer's picturePatty McDuffey

A Culture of Busyness

Updated: Apr 1

Within a capitalist economy such as our own, busyness can be worn like a badge of honor. And yet for those of us who struggle to keep up with the constant doing and achieving (it seems like that's most of us??), the busyness can be accompanied by an underlying level of anxiety and fear of not being able to keep up, secure all of the things we need to be what's considered successful while simultaneously feeling grounded and healthy. From the time I was a kid, I remember noticing a level of busyness amongst my neighbors that always perplexed me. I often felt that they must have had an enormous amount of things on their to-do list to come-and-go from their house what seemed like every hour of the day. As an adult, I've found this component of our culture a very tricky balance. Sometimes I end up too far on the busy end of the scale, feeling the stress to achieve, do, and care for. Other times, it seems like I'm just not doing enough, as I succumb to my exhaustion. What just about never seems to happen - simultaneously - is that I feel consistently busy, totally productive, relaxed, and creative, full of healthy energy, while also sleeping soundly at night, with time for an impromptu coffee meet-up. This combo simply doesn't go together. We aren't machines. In other words, this busyness takes a toll.

From my experience, this is a hallmark quality of American culture. Increasingly in the last couple of years, there's been more and more talk, both in and out of the clinic, of the stressors of surviving within our capitalist economy and the pressures of constantly trying to keep up or get by! Do you experience this?! What do we do about it? How do we find balance when work, family, social engagements, children, the house, the pets, etc. all demand our attention NOW?!

I think this is a multi-faceted issue, but for now, I'd like to reframe how we perceive the concept of being busy versus taking care of the things in our life that need tending. Let's think about this from an energetic perspective. When I'm in a state of Busyness, it's hard to feel much of anything below my neck. It's an ego-driven state of existence. I don't mean this in a pejorative way. We all have an ego that we are learning to love and accept. The ego exists in our minds, constantly scanning for optimal circumstances that will keep us alive and protected. That's its job! Its goal is to control outcome to protect us from harm. It thrives on the belief that it is a separate and independent entity.

When I look at this picture of a cabin in the mountains, the first thing I do is take a deep breath. It's at this moment that I start to release my drive to plan and control. Suddenly, it feels as if I'm allowed to "be." I don't feel the pressure of the to-do list, the errands, the deadlines, taxes, responsibilities. My energy naturally drops into a lower state of gravity within my body. My perspective expands. It's as if I can suddenly see the bigger picture.

Of course, most of us don't live in a cabin in the woods with the luxury of leisurely meandering along a grassy slope with a beautiful mountain range in the background with nothing but, "be" on our to-do list. So how do we manage all of the Busyness in our modern lives from a balanced perspective that is born from a robust mind-body connection?! How do we feel ourselves breathe, staying in our body and experiencing an expansive perspective, while also focusing our energy on what we've determined is important in our lives. It's tricky! We have an enormous amount of distractions in our lives.

But it's possible!

First of all, I think it's important to note that the foundational structure of our society doesn't want us to be still! It wants us to keep moving, keep busy, keep buying, keep consuming, keep checking, and on-and-on it goes. The more still we are, the less likely we are to consume what we don't really need. Rather, life will become simpler and we'll connect more. And the more we connect, the more we'll realize there's no need to consume to the level we are told we should. Once we recognize that this is built in to our society, we can see it for what it is and start to take back our agency and align with our true values. As we connect more to a deeper sense of self and universal interdependence, our energy settles. As it drops down to our lower abdomen, or the lower dan tian in Chinese theory, and we begin to lengthen our breath, our sympathetic nervous system relaxes. As our perspective starts to expand and connect with the spaciousness within and around us, we are able to connect more easily with what is truly important to us. Once we can identify where our time is best spent, we can then focus our energy again, start to employ our minds to create a gentle action, that allows us to re-enter the game of yang activity, action, "doing." But this time, as we engage with our surroundings, taking care of things in life that need to be tended to, we do it from a more relaxed, focused, and intentional space.


You might try a simple breathing exercise that can help relax your energy and expand your awareness as you connect to yourself. Connecting with your breath is connecting with your life force. In Chinese medicine, we call it Qi. It can be used as a simple mindfulness exercise that takes you into the present moment where you are able to feel deeply into a basic state of awareness.

I've found a lot of grounding relief in Box Breathing.

It's super easy! Sit in a comfortable position, either on a yoga mat, your office chair, your lazy-boy, your Ikea couch, or meditation cushion. Close your eyes and start to bring your awareness to your breath, watching as you inhale and exhale. After a few rounds of simple breathing, start to focus on each inhale, pause at the top, exhale, pause at the bottom. When you are ready, Inhale to a count of 4, Pause to a count of 4, Exhale to a count of 4, Pause to count of 4. It's that simple. If the number 4 becomes comfortable, increase slowly to 5 or 6 or 7. Watch as your breath creates space and expansion in your body, lengthens your attention span, relaxes your nervous system, calms anxiety, regulates blood pressure, improves digestion, lowers stress levels, etc. etc. As you inhale, breathe deeply into your lower abdomen, allowing the in-breath to expand your abdomen and your out-breath to gently push the air out of our lungs.

This is an exercise we will practice in the McDuffey Method, my new 10-week program. It's among a number of other modalities that I've combined to help you connect with yourself on a deep, fulfilling level, while relaxing into a truer sense of reality, as opposed to the busy one we are told to value and keep up with. If you are interested in learning more, send me a message and we'll set up a time to chat. I hope you find this breath work practice helpful.

For those of you who celebrate Easter, Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

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