Omid Safi is a columnist for “On Being,” a weekly podcast and website devoted to exploring the questions “What does it mean to be human?” and “How do we want to live?” In one particular column titled “The Disease of Being Busy,” Safi argues that with all the activities, constraints and inundation of technology that constantly demand our time and attention, we are losing our ability to live a truly human life. As he puts it, we have become “human doings” not “human beings.” As I read this sentence I started to reflect on my week. I was in the middle of studying for midterms, applying for internships, searching for jobs and scouting out classes for Spring Quarter—all while trying to maintain an exercise regimen, a healthy social life and keep up with my extracurriculars. I felt exactly how Safi described: living a taxing physical and mental life with more to do and less time for leisure, community and reflection. Less time simply “to be.”
Safi describes that in many Muslim cultures when they ask “How are you?” they are really asking “How is your heart doing at this very moment?” They do not want to hear how busy one is; rather they want to hear about one’s joys or sorrows. Again I paused, thinking back to how many times I responded to friend’s inquiry about my day with a mindless and unconscious form of “good, but busy.” I was an archetype of the human — doing-machine Safi describes, and I despised myself for it. I desperately wanted to live a human life, to be fully present with my friends, family, community and, above all else, myself. Safi says, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I started examining my life. I wanted to find ways to carve in time to my busy schedule just “to be.”
At first I thought this is just the nature of being a college student. We are supposed to have busy lives. But then I thought about the future. We promise ourselves that our hard work now will lead to a life of leisure later. I have found that, for me at least, later rarely comes. Rather, later ends up getting filled with another thing on the to-do list. I would make the same promise to myself again, a promise I subconsciously knew would likely never come to fruition. Feeling lost, I was still longing for time to reflect on my existence, my purpose.
Safi suggests that we need to reorganize our lives in order to achieve a meaningful and balanced existence. By having conversations like this maybe we can start to do that. Though I have made time to go to yoga, to sit in Beans and to read the paper, I recognize that the activities that provide a time for reflection and being are different for everyone. In whatever shape it takes I challenge you to make time in your day to stop doing and just “to be.” To help you start I ask you simply, “How is your heart today?”