There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This quote is part of a larger paper, in which he is describing the difficulties in being too busy to breathe and enjoy life in the present.
He talks about how a busy mind cannot delve deeply enough into any one topic to truly learn any lesson, except in a superficial manner. It concludes with the statement that “…there is nothing that is harder to learn [than how to live].”
His example includes people who are too busy being busy to actually enjoy life, and being alive. Yes, the glutton enjoys their food, but what do they do to enjoy the rest of life?
Life isn’t always pleasant, and takes time and effort to learn how to live well. Life is full of annoyances and pains. It is also full of distractions and it can be hard to avoid them.
Why is focus important?
Consider learning a new skill. It takes at least a little focus to get more than a superficial ability. But if you are learning a half dozen other things at the same time, can you devote enough time, energy, and focus to any one to actually learn how to do it well? Can you become a master or expert, or just a dabbler?
This is what the ending to the quote means to me. Learning to live is a very difficult thing to do. It takes a great deal of time, and a lot of focus. Instead, we tend to scatter our focus, moving rapidly between trying to enjoy a meal, then enjoy some TV time, then to a sporting event or a concert, or a party with our friends.
Any one of which could be a great experience. But we have a tendency to rush through each and every one, in a hurry to get to the next. Often we are trying to get rid of an empty feeling by throwing everything and anything at it, hoping to make it go away. How well has that worked for you?
Instead, what I believe we are feeling is a desire to actually live. To take the time to smell the roses, not just note that they are pretty and rush off to do the next thing on our list. Even the busy, busy bee finds time to take in the flower. OK, so that’s how he lives, but still, do you drink deeply, even at work?
Where can I apply this in my life?
Focus is what is missing in so many people. Myself included. You don’t want to see my To-Do List, or all the things in my Parking Lot. But I’m trying to change, a little at a time. This blog is part of how I spend an hour or two each day to focus on one topic, and apply it to my life.
How you apply this quote to your life would depend on how you answer these questions: Where in your life are you too busy? What are you putting off or ignoring which would be classified as enjoying life? Are you briefly saying hello to family and friends so you can rush to the sports section, or turn on the TV and watch the big game?
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you ever use the words Quality Time to cover up the fact that you can’t, or aren’t willing, to make the time to focus on just that thing, even if only for an hour or two? How much have you forgotten from your last lesson, which will take time to re-learn?
How long will it take to master life when you try to do the lessons in ten minute chunks, scattered through the week? I would imagine it will take more than one lifetime, at least from what I have seen of the busy people. Is that something you want to emulate? Do you want to be like them?
What do they say on their death-bed? Do they wish they had taken on another project, gone to at least a few more sports games? Read more magazines? What do they say? They wish they’d taken more vacations, relaxed more, enjoyed time with friends and family. They wish that they had taken the time to enjoy life.
We tend to prioritize our lives based on what we think is either urgent or important. Important drives our plans, urgency interrupts them. It is hard to manage what is urgent. A bleeding child is an urgency which should not be ignored. Is it really important to drop in on three different parties on a Friday night?
What is important to you, and why is it important? What do you believe it takes to be fulfilled living your life? Normally we approach this issue by saying we need to do this, that, and the other, and whatever time is left over, we assign to living. The problem is that there is rarely any time left.
What do you spend time doing, and how much fulfillment does it bring you? Grab some paper and make a list. Try to remember everything you did last week, and about how much time you spent on each thing. How does that list look? On what were you focused? What did you spend time on which has a low fulfillment value?
There are some things we can’t get away from. One might be work, and kid wrangling might be another. Family and social obligations are a bit less firm, if you choose to free yourself of those entanglements. It depends on how much time they take, and how fulfilling they are.
This isn’t a blank check to a hedonistic lifestyle. We all have obligations and things we must do. But the question is on what will you focus? What is important to you? What do you need to do to feel fulfilled? Which of these things are you actually doing in your life, between all the other things?
It is your life. And only you can answer the question: “Are you being busy, or are you living?”
From: Twitter, @stoicrevival
confirmed at : http://www.forumromanum.org/literature/seneca_younger/brev_e.html#7 2nd paragraph, but the whole thing is worthy of reading, both for context and content.
Photo by Urs Steiner