OverworkingApril 14, 2010 Leave a comment
Over the years, those of us at IISC have had great conversations about busyness – the ways in which we, as social change activists, process designers and facilitators, find ourselves sometimes being overly busy, taking on too many responsibilities and running from one thing to the next. Some of us mentioned noticing that our ability to do things well sometimes seems impaired by this overly busy approach. (I would add that this is not something confined to those of us working for social justice and social change – but has a special twist when it’s combined with this work, which so requires us to bring forth our best selves.)
I was reminded of a quote by Thomas Merton in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966, Doubleday, p. 73):
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. 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. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
With these conversations and this quote in mind, I was also reflecting on some time I spent last spring at the Omega Institute in an amazing meditation retreat with Pema Chodron (and could share about that as well). In the course of the retreat, some of us worked with Hope Martin, a practitioner of the Alexander Technique, on the way we sit in sitting meditation. Much of what she does is work with you on the habits you’ve developed to interfere with your body’s natural posture so that you can begin to let go of them. As she came to me, she showed me ways that I was over-working in sitting meditation (no surprise!). She talked repeatedly about the need to “let go of extra work.” So these seemingly unrelated conversations and activities came into sharp focus and created fertile ground for exploration! The question I am exploring today, and would ask all of us, is this: In what ways am I over-working?
Great question, Linda. And to it I would add, “Why?” Why am I over-working? I am very aware that I could be working smarter. I am constrained as it is (and gratefully so) by my role as a father to keep the work day in perspective and within bounds. And there is a pace and attitude that I occasionally bring to my work within those constraints that is reminds me of what the teacher said to you about your working too hard while sitting. As you know, my body has begun to talk back on this front (a very real pain in the neck). And so I’m learning that I need to pace things differently, but I think there is a bigger question of why we rush, over do it, don’t in some cases spend more time doing other things that really matter, or may matter more.
This is so timely as the social and public sectors experiecnce increasing and more complex needs and less revenues. I wonder if our tendency to “overwork” comes from a deep rooted and not quite conscisous combination of “our need to help” combined with “our ego’s belief that only we can help.” I see this more in more “seasoned” staff in both sectors than those that follow in their foot stepts. No doubt this stems from having different choices as much as anythingi specific to an individual.
Still thinking about this but wanted to share my initial thoughts. So for today, my promise to myself is to actually do something for myself, like workout!
Yes Curtis. I obviously don’t know the answers to this – but do know that it matters … and try to keep it in my consciousness to help make the shifts as they become clear.
And Jara, really interesting observation that you see it in us more “seasoned” staff. I do think you’re right about needing to help and possibly a belief that we’re best at it. And the more seasoned staff (at least in my case) all came into social justice and social change work not as a career but as a calling. Wondering if that shifts things as well. Meanwhile, great reminder to get to the gym! See you there (well, virtually – across the continent, at least).
I can’t quite figure out “why” I overwork, certainly a part of it is the cultural context we are all subsumed in, and certainly it has become more difficult to raise this question in the context of an economic crisis – but while I account for these external factors, I do feel invited to look for the reasons that stem from me – what is this voraciousness all about? And where is the lack of love for Self that leads to a lack in self-care?
I am committed to sorting this one out, for I am convinced that I can only achieve what I’ve set out to do from a place of true presence and balance.
This is a very interesting discussion which fits nicely with a blog another colleage just wrote about how we are so busy DOING that we forget about BEING and lose touch with ourselves.
With a vacation coming up soon (thank goodness), I am making a commitment to myself to be more mindful of the need to simply be… and not fill my days with lists/chores/busyness. In the process I hope to restore that “presence and balance” which Gibran notes is so essential.
Every so timely and the statement “The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace,” resonates so intimately as when my mind is a frenzy, there is little room for harmony or peace. To be fully present, truly aware, and not working at some designed path (as this is the over working part, familiar, ego or belief)will allow me to come into the light of things – be at my best, serve in my best, create…still working on it -LOL
Kathy, hope your vacation days are indeed what you need! And my longing is also to learn not to separate that kind of approach into what I do on vacations or weekends (or even evenings), but part of how I work.
And yes, Susan! The longing is to be at our best, serve at our best. And I too “work” on it. Is there another way? To mess around, play with it? I keep wondering that….
Thich Nhat Hanh frequently talks about peace being in every step – that we can choose heaven or hell in every moment. He often puts a sign saying “Peace is every step” on stairways, reminding us that we can choose to be at peace in our actions – not just in our inaction. That’s the kind of path I’m on. Can I “do” with less struggle? I know I have days that are that way! May we all have them – and have more and more of them!!