The problem with being busy is that it is based on ignorance—not realizing that by keeping your mind occupied constantly you are actually not giving yourself a chance. We even put an activity in our life, called meditation, where you practice not being busy. Think about it. It’s actually genius. You have added another thing on top of everything else you do, but you are pulling the plug for a period of time every day—so it actually has a reverse effect of opening up and creating space. So you are just going to be more busy now! But this is good, especially in Western culture. People put meditation on their To Do lists. This is something I tell my students: “If you don’t put meditation on the top of your To Do list, it will be at the bottom, and it won’t happen.” I find that if meditation is not the first priority of my day it won’t happen. You know if I am foolish enough to say, “Well, I have to make this phone call, check my email…,” then it’s over. Finished. “I’ll do it later.” It never happens. Look at your life and ask, “Am I being honest with myself? Is it really true that I don’t have time?”
When I was in graduate school I worked with a Jungian analyst, June Singer. She used to say, “Work expands to fill all of the available space.” The problem is not the amount of things you have in your life, it’s the attitude. It’s your fear of space. Busy-ness in the Tibetan tradition is considered the most extreme form of laziness. Because when you are busy you can turn your brain off. You’re on the treadmill. The only intelligence comes in the morning when you make your To Do list and you get rid of all the possible space that could happen in your day. There is intelligence in that: I fill up all the space so I don’t have to actually relate to myself!
Once you have made that list, it’s over. There is no more fundamental intelligence operating. So the basic ignorance is not realizing what we are doing by being busy. What we are doing to ourselves, what we are doing to our families, what we are doing to our friends.
When my daughter Catherine, who is now 24, was a newborn baby my wife Lee and I went home to my mother’s house. My father had already died. I grew up in Darien, Connecticut—the ultimate suburbia. Everyone works in New York and they are all busy. My best friend from high school came over with his wife, who was also a close friend of mine, and my godfather came over. This succession of people all came in…and Lee picked up on it right away, because she is from Alberta and out there, there is a lot of space!
These people…we loved each other. We were so close. But it was always the same: after 10 minutes they said, “Well, we got to run!” Every single one did the same thing. And Lee said to me, “What are they so afraid of?” Not one of them was actually present. It made me realize why I left the East Coast and went to India. “How far away can I get?” But these patterns are deeply ingrained in us, and running away is not going to solve the problem. It’s in us.
People on campus always say to me, “Gee, you must be really busy.” I could be standing there looking at an autumn tree. I say “No, I’m not busy, I have all the time in the world.” Now, I may not really feel that way—but somehow we have to stop this mentality. It’s sick. Literally. So I never say to my wife, “I’m busy.” Ever. I used to do it, but it didn’t evoke a good reaction. [Laughter]
“I’m too busy.” I am sorry. I don’t buy it. It’s self-deception: “I am too busy to relate to myself.” I don’t care if you have four children and three jobs—we have one human life. And if you can’t make the time, 15 minutes to relate to yourself, everyone else in your life is going to suffer. You have to realize that you are harming other people by making up excuses and not working on yourself. This is serious.
I do understand that things happen in life, and in the course of a week there are going to be times when you can’t practice if you have a job, a family. But to say that over a period of three months I can’t practice because I am too busy? That is the very problem that you came here to solve. I implore you.