Monday, July 02, 2012

Busy-ing ourselves to death...

American traffic jams always seem to represent the frantic and chaotic pace of modern day life. 

I am currently in the middle of an international relocation and while this may seem to have nothing to do with education or homeschooling, stick with me. For anyone who has been through this you know what a strange experience this can be. It's the third time in five years I've changed countries but this time the change is back to the United States, the country my husband and I said goodbye to five years ago. Looking back and thinking about the past years abroad I have been determined to preserve some of the live rhythms we've developed while living in Europe. One of the things I loved most was the slower pace of life. We haven't owned a car in all this time abroad and that one small change forces an entirely different lifestyle. Nothing goes fast when you are walking everywhere. Additionally, living abroad forced me out of the chaotic busy-ness that haunts so much of life today. It was a jarring change, one that I fought. I did not gracefully slip into a slower more meditative life with ease. No way. I hated it. I hated that I didn't feel like I had a purpose. I hated that I could not look back on each day and have a list of accomplished tasks neatly checked off on a to-do list. And I hated having to tell the people I met that at 28 years old I had no job or was working in a coffee shop wiping down tables and foaming milk. Moving abroad meant that all the things that kept me busy and gave me my identity were stripped away and it was a painful process. But, as we've discussed in the entry on boredom, it gave me a space in which to get to know myself much better–the good and the bad. And it was also a space in which I rediscovered creative aspects to my personality. I also came to rediscover the joy of time spent with friends in meaningful discussions–not just franticly sipped coffees in which we batted back and forth examples of exactly how busy we each were. There were a million sweet moments that could be savored when I wasn't rushing from one activity, duty, or obligation to the next. 

Now that I am four days back in the US life has sped up. My husband and I are driving in traffic in our rented car. We're grabbing meals on the go. We're meeting with realtors and employers. And we're frazzled. So, it was perfect to read The Busy Trap in the NYT and be reminded that while life is sometimes chaotic, it is so important to carve out that down time and open up space in our lives. The article's author Tim Kreider really takes on our modern obsession with being, or at least seeming, busy: "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day." Isn't it so easy to fall into this obsession with projecting importance through busy-ness? 

Kreider goes on to remind his readers that empty space is the birthplace of creativity. We have talked a lot about allowing the children in our homes and classrooms time to be bored, bu't what about us? For the homeschooling parents and teachers reading this, I think it is just as important that you schedule time for yourselves to have that space where you can let your mind wander and where you can be reenergized. You need creative inspiration just as much as your children! "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

In the midst of this move I have also begun reading For the Family's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Macaulay makes the observation that "home" is essential for everyone and it isn't necessarily a place but an "atmosphere." I could not agree more. In the performance and production emphasized world we live in, it is so essential that our homes become refuges from these pressures. As Macaulay states: "Charlotte Mason valued home as the primary setting for a child's life and relationships. Just as she said that "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life," so we can say that the home is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." 

How can we protect our homes from the onslaught of chaos that afflicts our contemporary lives? How do we give ourselves and our spouses and children the gift of idle time? Is it even possible? Is Kreider being fair when he says: "It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence." That is a convicting indictment–one that strikes me close to home. And so I am thinking of ways in which to create a peaceful atmosphere in my family's new home. One that will be so much more important as we re-enter the frenetic pace of American culture. How that will look is yet to be determined, but I would love to hear from you as to how you preserve sanity in your home. Is internet time limited? Do you read together? Do you say "no" regularly in order to protect you time? As Macaulay states, creating that atmosphere of a home is a discipline, something that requires conscious effort and practice. While I attempt to create that in my own home and life, I would love to hear about what you do. What has been successful? Any failed attempts? 

I would highly recommend reading the article, it's very well done and a great reminder that while it may not always seem like it, our lives are often busy because we choose to allow them to be. In the words of Kreider, "Life's too short to be busy."

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  1. How do you preserve sanity in your home... what a question. I don't have any definite answers. I agree that living overseas has made us all slow down compared to life in the US. But we do live near a large German city, so we still have all the traffic and crowds to deal with...

    I guess I can think of a few things, but they are obvious, really.

    1. Few scheduled activities. We chose not to do sports and instead focus on scouting. And I like to help by volunteering at scouts, church, and such, but I'm very careful about what I say Yes to.

    2. Free time at home. We do our school work in focused chunks of time and then allow a great deal of free time. I've made a committed this year to try not to put the kids in front of the TV every day (used to be every afternoon for about an hour or so, now I strive for only a few days a week), which has been good for us all.

    3. Walk when we can. We do have a vehicle so we do sit in traffic often, but if we can walk to a store or a fest or whatever, we do. This is so much easier in Europe though, since everyone walks or bikes. I hope we can find ways to incorporate this into American life.

    Hope the transition back to the US goes well for you both.


    1. Thank you for your comment, Joy! I like all three of your ideas. They're all very intentional choices and I am growing to appreciate that maintaining a more sane pace of life is a discipline. It seems a lot easier to just get caught up in the rush.
      Thanks again!

  2. I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I feel like we are exceptionally busy and yet, I don't really know how to carve out things. Sure, we could do less. I just don't know how willing we are, to be bluntly honest. :-/ There are already too many activity opportunities for the fall, and I find myself desperately wanting God's direction. I don't want to keep doing things, "just because". Thanks for your thoughts. It is interesting to hear how you have moved so often and how your time in Europe helped you "relax". I'd love to hear more. Blessings.

    1. Thanks Lisa! I think you're right. It seems like in many ways it can actually be easier to just get caught up in the rush, obligations, and busy-ness that is so expected these days. And I think you're right, the vast majority of people don't necessarily want to slow down. We like the perception of value that comes with being busy. Having time to be meditative and thoughtful leaves us alone with ourselves and that can be a scary proposition. :-)
      Thanks for reading and for your comment!

  3. Two years ago my husband and I made several intentional decisions when we moved to a major metropolitan area, and they are all relationship oriented.
    1. Live as close to our church as possible - With four children six and under, we knew the only way to ensure the church was central to our family life was to cut freeway time. We live four minutes from the church and are able to serve in countless ways we would otherwise not be able to serve if we lived half an hour out like so many. 2. Buy land - Living center city would be challenging w/o safe and open green space for all of us...we can hear traffic from our home, but we can also see the stars and listen to locusts 3. Work from home - American life IS frenetic and we decided the best way to fight this temptation was to seek work that allows my husband to work from a home office -- he can bike on the trails in the morning b/f work and we have the whole evening together as a family each lengthy commutes eating up time, no fighting traffic...this alone recoups probably ten to fifteen hours per week. My husband's work is intense and intellectually strenuous for 8-10 hours/day. He's in his office undisturbed all day. I can't imagine adding the additional pressures of carving off 10+ hours/week from our "down time" each week. This has been by far the best decision we've made. He could make more money some place else, but there is no price tag for the time and stress we save working from home. 4. We use vacation time right here at home. If life gets hectic for one reason or another, then my husband takes a day off from work and we kick back with the kids. 5. I try to keep this in view: Be available. It's one thing to fill life with busyness, it's a completely different life-orientation to plan according to "being available" for other people. Hospitality slows life down...inviting others in, clean house or not. This is a major shift for me, but my husband and I see families burning out before their children are even half grown. We see how hard it is for people to just sit in our living room for a leisurely lunch without feeling guilty for sitting still so long. Life is bustling with a house full of children in big city...but I'm working on making our home a place where other busy people can come in and REST.

  4. Oh Yes! Edith Schaeffer's book The Hidden Art of Homemaking is applicable.

  5. Thank you for sharing valuable information nice post,I enjoyed reading this post.


  6. The picture looks horrible and the cars filled the road useful tips just for you I am pleased to have found the article like that and I can share it.

  7. I cannot imagine all the things we challenge ourselves with in our lives matters.
    All the time invested in taking into consideration the numerous
    things that people experience every single and every day is normally really important, as no other person is going to
    face existence for any of us. Personally I think that folk need to be even more mentally stable.
    Technology is marvelous, yet so much of everything you might know about is so abstract.
    Having a cup of coffee is a zen activity that takes one back again to the present few moments.
    We need to be more in the here and today, without being stressed by
    our lifestyle and the theatre we deal with every day.