Why We Should Busy Ourselves Being Available or Twins and Transformation

When was the last time someone called you a name?

I had the privilege on Monday. A friend told me that I am (let me check the email again to make sure I get it right) a “busy, over scheduled, time strapped, urban-arcisist.” He continued to tell me that he feels like in order to be my friend he has to “schedule our time together as far in advance as a French Laundry reservation.”

Though “urban-arcisist” was wonderfully original, his email didn’t ring true. I spend a lot of time with my family, friends, and neighbors and I do so in the midst of a relatively busy work travel schedule. As our text message conversation continued, my finger pointing pal and I decided on a time to get together, about four weeks out, right after my scheduled Monday afternoon trip to the grocery.

<record scratch>

What? You don’t put your trips to the grocery in your calendar?

I’ve been thinking about busyness a lot. I both strategically and accidentally (a lull in clients) have had a slow summer of work so that my wife and I could prepare our home for the arrival our twin children. I have built copious amounts of IKEA furniture, painted walls, Amazon Primed 500 diapers, and hung the perfect art. That was three weeks ago.

Since then I have had little to do around our home. When I get bored like this I feel useless. When I don’t feel useful I try to appear busy (e.g. filling my calendar with trips to the grocery). And when I try to appear busy I am really just avoiding what it is I wanted to do this season of life – be available.

My twin-gestating-wife is currently carrying around 12+ pounds of inside human, not to mention all of their internal gear. I call her “beautifully disabled” (which I think is ok?) and she needs me to help a lot right now. There are the physical things like putting our two year old in his car seat and carrying the laundry down stairs but there are also her emotional needs (many of which we both fail to intuit). Meeting these needs is exactly why I had wanted to be available this summer, so why do I try to avoid it? The truth is, being available often means being bored and I am scared to death of having that non-doing sloth vibe.

But what I am coming to see is that being available is the act of non-doing so that we can do what is most essential. 

My name-calling friend was correct. I am not physically available to his present needs if I have to flip my calendar to the next month to find time to talk. Admittedly, in the midst of a traffic jam of meetings I am not emotionally available to colleagues and clients. If I start my day hectically sorting through emails and to-dos, I am not spiritually available to any internal promptings. And if not available – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – how can I know what is most essential to respond to? And perhaps a more difficult question, what am I missing by avoiding this availability?

Jonathan Haidt, whose brain I want to steal, has done a great deal of research on the difficult to define feelings of “awe and wonder.” In various experiments he has sought to measure an individual’s awe in responses to natural beauty, virtue, art, and interpersonal intimacy. His conclusion is that we all have different levels of availability to feelings of awe, but the one thing was universally true was that those who most often experienced awe…

…arranged their life so they were not rushed. I am very aware that if I’m just rushing as fast as I can and I am not stopping to smell the roses, I am passing up opportunities for awe right and left. I think time pressure is the greatest killer of awe experiences that there is.

Haidt’s research seems to be saying that feelings of awe, admiration, wonder, and deep connection (to the divine, self, and others) are difficult to experience if you don’t make yourself available. You can fill your schedule with Renaissance Weekends, coffee dates, small groups, and play dates and still not experience the awe and wonder of authentic connection with a friend. You can live in the most beautiful place in the world (I would argue my home is up there!) and never wonder at the super moon or cotton candy sunset. Why? Because busyness is the enemy of meaningful experience.

Haidt continues,

What’s unique about awe and wonder is that typically emotions happen to us to make us act in adaptive ways. Anger gets your body ready to fight or flee. Guilt makes you want to apologize. Emotions make us want to do things, but that’s one of the weird things about awe and wonder. They make us passive. We’re frozen — we don’t want to do anything. We just sit and stare, we don’t move, our eyes widen. And I think this makes sense if you think of these emotions as sort of cognitive emotions — emotions about taking in new ideas, new sensations, so basically awe just makes us sit there and take in more, and when it’s over, something has changed about us.

Time pressure definitely makes it difficult to prioritize, be efficient, and perform at your best, but perhaps more disastrous according to Haidt is that it may get in the way of our own growth and transformation. I think it did mine.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday I stood atop our living room coffee table like a tantrumy toddler whining about how bored I was and how I just wanted those two little baby people to come out and play. My wife yelled at me to stop, told me to breathe, look her in the eyes and then said “thank you for making yourself un-available to other things so you could be available to me. It’s exactly where I need you to be.”

And in that available moment a little something in me transformed. I was reminded life is not about a full calendar, but an available one, that I am not my output but my presence, and that in order to avoid more name calling, I need to create an out-of-office message for when these twins do arrive:

Hello! Thank you for your email. I am currently un-available as I am working to be more available.


Comments are closed.