River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

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sermon87

 

Busyness/Stillness
A Lay-Led Service

River Road Unitarian Church
Sunday, October 22, 2000

Participants
Robert Elkin
Chris Hager
John McCormack
Carl Skooglund

 

Busyness
by Robert Elkin

I like being busy. I thrive on it. I love the challenge of problems to be solved? I'm energized by being of service to community and individuals. I like having to prioritize my efforts among conflicting demands. I've been this way most of my life. Moreover, these attitudes have propelled me into successful and well paying careers.

So, what's the problem?

To find what's wrong with my addiction to busyness, we need to know what is "busy" or "busyness".

One way to view busyness is as a mid point on a continuum of attitudes and feelings about work and other activities of every day life, including volunteer service. At one end of the busyness continuum (the good end) people have a healthy attitude toward work and their day-to-day activities. The healthy worker may work hard at tasks he or she enjoys, sometimes staying overtime when there's a deadline to be met. But, when the task is finished, the healthy worker welcomes the time for personal relationships, quiet times, and spiritual concerns. For the healthy person, work or volunteer activity is only one component of life and it enhances life.

At the other end of the continuum (the bad end) lies the ogre of workaholism where volunteer or paid workers put work or activity at the core of their lives. For the full-blown workaholic, the rest of life is diminished, whether that means personal or spiritual relationships or concern for one's own physical health. Thankfully, not all people who call themselves workaholics are this bad, but the potential is there, the further out on the continuum you go.

There, in the midpoint of this continuum, lies busyness which I define as active or earnest effort to accomplish something. However, busyness can also mean lively but meaningless activity.

Because I like being busy, the productive kind, of course, I feel pulled in two directions: From the healthy side of the continuum, I am reminded to keep balance in my life and the joys of love, family, recreation, and church. From the workaholic side of the continuum, I'm drawn by the passion and excitement of work satisfaction and the opportunity to forget personal problems I may be facing.

That's why I refer to myself as a recovering workaholic, even though I'm retired now. Early in my life, I responded to the push of an unhappy marriage and the pull of exciting work to avoid confronting that issue.

So, for me, and I think for many of you, busyness presents a challenge. From that midpoint on the continuum, it's a slippery slope toward either healthy balanced activity or toward workaholism. It's something for all of us to think about.

 

Enjoying the Dance
by Chris Hager

Reading: Spiral Dance by Starhawk:

Energy flows in spirals. Its motion is always circular, cyclical, wave-like. The spiral motion is revealed in the shape of galaxies, shells, whirlpools, DNA. Sound, light, and radiation travel in waves which themselves are spirals viewed in a flat plane. The moon waxes and wanes, as do the tides, the economy, and our own vitality.

The implications of the spiral model are many. Essentially, it means that no form of energy can be exerted indefinitely in one direction only. Always, it will reach a peak, a point of climax, and then turn. In personal terms, activity is balanced by passivity. Exertion must be followed by rest, creativity by quiescence... No one can be constantly creative, constantly sexual, constantly angry or constantly anything that requires energy. Recognizing this alternation can help us sustain a dynamic, healthy balance.

Whew!! Like Alice in Wonderland's White Rabbit, by the time the service starts on Sunday morning or work begins each day, I think "I'm late, I'm late, I'm late for a very important date." Often on Sundays, in fact, I'm here at 9:00, teach RE, clean up and run to CC&C, and then stay for the second service and a meeting or two. Sunday feels more like a marathon than a day of rest.

I am sure many of us are very familiar with this sentiment -- even more so parents who race between work, home, school, soccer, homework, and bed time. Even if we're not physically dashing from one place to another, our minds are. We live like the first few verses of Wordsworth poem: "The world is too much with us, late and soon; we lay waste our powers, little there is in nature that is ours." It is no wonder we feel tired, disconnected, restless, and unsatisfied with how we have spent our day.

But is stopping the answer? And what happens when our minds and bodies are still? Too often I give myself permission to stop only when I am totally overwhelmed and burned out. I abruptly drop everything, forget commitments, responsibilities, and people who are important to me. But that doesn't work for long and off I go again. But if I do stop and let my mind rest, I discover what I really need and want to do, what will satisfy me, even if getting there feels strange, unfamiliar, a bit scary.

A month ago, while we were putting together this service, my 89 year-old Swedish Great-Aunt was dying. I went to see her two days before she died and had the rare opportunity of helping her let go. She did not do that without a struggle, her will to live was very strong. She greeted me the second morning by saying she needed to get up and get on with her day; that she felt lazy laying in bed, even though her body was riddled with cancer and she needed oxygen to breathe.

I told her the only job she had was to let go; that she had been a strong soldier all her life and it was time now for her to be still, to let others take care of her. She said "I don't know how to do this." She knew how to clean house, work, cook, knit, sew, take care of aging and dying siblings and parents. Of course, she did not know how to die, but, more than that, she did not know how to stop and let others do for her. She did not know how to be at peace.

I found myself telling her that what will happen next is out of our hands (some might say we put ourselves in God's hands). The thought had never seemed quite so real before. I reassured her that she did know how to let go because her mind and her dreams helped her let go of each day so she could face a new one. I told her to picture a place with her favorite flowers, children laughing, and people who love her (some might say Paradise). And I told her that all I wanted for her was Peace.

The truth is, I am not much good at actually quieting my own mind that well, even at night. I also tend to think only in the extremes -- busy is alive and inner peace is giving up, maybe even a kind of death. I resist even deep sleep.

But the Still Point is not necessarily a stopping point. It may be a very powerful place, perhaps as powerful as a vortex. At a vortex, the world seems still but the energy is certainly not stagnant. The air is energized and those who experience the power of a vortex feel very much connected with people who have been to that very same place, for thousands of years, who have journeyed there to feel the whirling energy of being alive. Our minds are not racing and processing information, but our awareness may be more acute than when our minds are busy.

Nature has a balance as Starhawk suggests -- exertion must be followed by rest; much like a dance that moves in circles, waves, and spirals. And if we try to ignore our need for balance, rhythm, rest, as well as for activity, we miss the world around us, and we end up disconnected rather than engaged.

We must pause and appreciate what we have, give in, let go, feel, and enjoy. We need to stop occasionally and slow the dance, feel our heartbeat, and connect with the world around us. And now may the rest of your day be balanced and you start your week refreshed.

 

M Daily C, C and C
by John McCormack

Sunday morning C, C and C -- Coffee, Conversation and Controversy -- is both stimulating and informative. However, for me, my daily exercise can be characterized by a different C, C and C designation -- Calming, Centering and Contemplating.

A bit of background: I started my professional psychiatric career as a psychoanalyst. In the late 1960s, just as effective psychotropic medications were being introduced. I then shifted my focus to a more eclectic orientation , feeling that the analysts were ignoring new tools. Besides medication, one tool I found quite helpful was a combination of relaxation and focus therapy, or Calming, Centering and Contemplating. It was particularly helpful for the driven overachievers I treated from the down-county professional community. It was essential to give them permission (no "shoulds") to STOP and catch their breath, feel their calmness and notice what was on their minds and feelings and then reflect on these in light of their goals and values, which were usually unclear and/or unformulated, leaving them with a life that was market driven, not theirs. Their tendency was to start running on verbally ASAP after a ten second TIME OUT. I also found that their frantic, perpetual motion unto exhaustion served to avoid what I call "adrenaline withdrawal" -- the initial strong, uncomfortable, anxious feeling one feels when first slowing down (per chance some here today may get in touch with these feelings during quiet times.)

I retired almost three years ago and set out to do my favorite pastimes full-time, including reading, eating cookies sparingly, ad lib and playing the stock market from 9:30 to 4 PM daily. Over time, rather than relaxing and enjoying, I became more driven, tense and abrupt with my patient wife at times (I hope not as often as alleged), the old adrenaline highs became less but the withdrawals were omnipresent. If not before, I was burning out AFTER retirement. In fact, last winter I became so painfully rigid and stiff I was sent to an orthopedist who reassured me that I did not have arthritis, Lou Gehrig's disease nor rigor mortis (he was not positive about the last) but I had frozen up like many tense post-retirement people he sees.

How could I have gone so far off the track I sheepishly, no shamefully asked myself?

It has become clear that to cope with my own tense workaholism, for years I had depended on my regular daily physical and mental activities of calming, centering and contemplating which I practiced at the same time that I was working with my patients. Clearly these necessary activities had become automatic and habitual over the years to the point where they seemed boring and repetitive, like other parts of work such as HMOs and insurance forms. I found it a relief to get away from all the daily work rituals, but I/we have paid the price.

I had to start from a nervous, depressed place to rebuild and maintain a regimen to keep me from rusting out completely before I wore out (my personal preference). It was and is a daily challenge each evening to take time, 20 to sometimes 60 minutes for a review of the days happenings and plans, then writing down tomorrow's agenda by C, C and C -- calming, centering and contemplating... I now try to end with an attitude of gratitude as we say in AA. By then I can sometimes see how fortunate I am. By then, I can appreciate the caring of my wife and kids and dog (who protects us from squirrels by barking all day at the window.) I also give thanks for this caring Community at RRUC, with all its beauty spots and its warts, its overachievers and possible underachievers like me, a place where I can just hang out and work on getting my act together at my pace .

The answers to two burning questions before I let you go :

  1. Was a 3 year trip necessary? For me, yes. I needed to practice my own version of constructive destruction, for only by letting the old structures fall down, I could then use those same building blocks to build the new place where I can now live more comfortably.
  2. Why C, C and C? To be honest, I invented CC and C for today. I realize I could have used RRUC - Relax, Refocus, Understand and Count your blessings, either works for me. IT is my hope that some who may lack a trigger, an alarm, will be inspired to find your own something, be it a talisman, a symbol or an acronym that will cause you to remember to make time each day, religiously, to formulate and then focus on your long range goals and values.

We face so many competing, distracting pixels of light in our environment, and we all become blinded and disoriented very easily. Sundays at RRUC start the week well enough for me, but I, for one, also need daily refocusing, had it for many years, then dropped it. I feel much more focused and content now that I have found it again, and can highly recommend it to you.