Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

Busylessness – Are you too Busy?

By on April 25, 2008

I’m exploring the joys of being busy and taking a close look at the commitments in my life. What does it mean to be busy? To have commitments? Is it possible to have to many? I’ve heard Thich Nhat Hanh talk about something called busylessness, or businesslessness, [the correct term is “businessless” invented by Master Linji – added 4/26/08] but I’m not exactly sure what that means. I think it is a word just for those of us in the West who strive all the time. Who pursue something outside of ourselves. We work so hard that sometimes we don’t allow space for openness, for rest. We don’t allow enough space for doing nothing. Let’s take my life as an example (since I’m the one writing). As I look beyond my permanent commitments of being a partner and a parent, I see myself involved with many volunteer activities.

  • Chair, American Library Association Committee on Education (ends in June, then become a regular member)
  • Chair, Community & Junior College Librarians Section of ACRL (ends in June)
  • Chair, Ojai Valley Green Coalition Transportation Committee
  • Chair, Gold Coast Library Network
  • Member, ACRL Standards & Accreditation Committee (ends in June)
  • Member, Ojai Valley Library Friends & Foundation Board
  • Member, Council of Chief Librarians (starts in July)
  • Member, ALA Committee on Scholarship and Grants (starts in July)
  • Manage the Order of Interbeing Discussion Forum
  • Manage the Order of Interbeing Member Directory
  • Assisting with the re-engineering of the Order of Interbeing Sangha Directory
  • Leader of Ojai Sangha
  • Teach online classes three times per year
  • Stay at the homeless shelter once a week from November to March
  • Personal mentoring

All these activities are worthy of attention. I love all these activities and I enjoy being involved. Some I do because I am a professional who sees the value of engaging with my profession and with supporting our work as a professional community. Some I do because it is important to part of my local and spiritual community. But we all know there are only so many hours in the day (probably the reason I’m usually up at 4:30am).

Another aspect of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching has to do with engaged Buddhism. He coined this language in the mid-1950s in Vietnam. One meaning of engaged Buddhism could be that we practice Buddhism (or mindfulness) is everything we do, not just on the meditation cushion. Every moment is a moment to practice being present. So, when I am involved with any of the activities in my life I try and be fully present for that activity and to do it with mindfulness and concentration. This is a teaching tool for me as I look at my life action.

Ironically, this level of volunteer activity is not really anything new for me. I am very fortunate to have a loving and supportive life partner who sees the value of my volunteer work, but she also talks with me about her frustrations. And so, I have been invited to look more closely at my life action. One practice friend thinks that I may do too much with the Order of Interbeing and that I could be of more service by focusing my energies elsewhere. I think he means that I can bring my practice of mindfulness into those other areas of my life where it may not exist. This is an intriguing idea. I like to be involved, to be needed, to collaborate, and to be in the know. Some of this is ego and some of this is pure. I honestly love being of service, probably as a result of my religious and family roots (I was a missionary kid). There are two aspect to my volunteer work that troubles me: (1) time away from my family, and (2) environmental aspects of travel. The second is relatively easy to resolve but not perfectly. The first one is more challenging, especially when I leave for a 3-5 day conference. To address both these issues, I am trying to transition to more local/regional volunteer work rather than the national organizations. But I’m having a hard time saying no to the ALA requests. I’ve built up a network over the past 15 years of membership and have made an investment in the organization and it seems odd to let go of it.

So, I return to my questions from above. What does it mean to be busy? To have commitments? Is it possible to have to many? I honestly don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do have some clarity and focus to allow me to explore them further. What do you think? How do you handle volunteer commitments in your life? What’s a comfortable level of involvement for you?