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?