If I could offer you a magic pill to make you less stressed, would you take it? I wonder. The frantic pace of modern life in so called ‘advanced’ societies is a time-worn cliche. But I’m bemused by how easily we succumb to a lot of the pressures that make us function this way. We choose it. Not everyone, and I recognise that people face varying degrees of constraint on their capacity to choose. Broadly speaking though. So do we have to? Well, here are some simple (or perhaps not so simple) ways to combat enervating over-activity. I speak from my own experience, limited perhaps and a bit unusual, but still valid, I venture. Examples of how I keep busyness at bay, and help protect the planet too.
First up, scale back on stuff. Let’s start with what for most of us is the biggest item of all – the roof over our heads. How many of us live in homes bigger and pricier than we actually need? Ok, I’m at an extreme end of the spectrum here, living just now singly in a studio flat. More-or-less a glorified bedsit; it’s tiny. But in the developing world, a family of five might occupy the same space. So chances are, for much of the world’s population, your pad is palatial. And to pay for it, we work long hours in stressful jobs. We may enjoy those some of the time. But overall – and in all kinds of ways – couldn’t we live more simply and enjoy the rest of life more?
Produce less. One small example: I read the Saturday Guardian and Radio Times – and I don’t pay for them. My good-hearted colleague passes them on after a week’s elapsed. I don’t mind reading this kind of thing late. Most of its still interesting, and it feeds my own writing. But I don’t get through all of it, or anywhere near. I’ve broad interests, and I like to read slowly and digest it. So I’d be happy with the same paper produced fortnightly, or monthly. Think how much less stressful the writers’ lives could be! And the ease on forests if more papers were shared around like this. I guess there’s an economic objection of some sort somewhere… but viva la change, I say!
Reproduce less. I won’t bang on about this one. Having children is a personal issue and I’ve never really had the desire, so I know it’s easier for me to focus on world population and suggest we have fewer. But we could all at least consider carefully, and maybe some of us weigh the benefits of less time and energy being poured into new little people – not least to free up more of it for the neglected ones already here. It’s just a thought.
The best things in life… Friendships, beautiful countryside, sleep, fresh air… a good number of them are indeed free. Why not spend more time enjoying them rather than the monetarily expensive stuff? It’s heartening to see cultural movements geared at helping us become attuned to activities that are more tortoise than hare: ‘slow radio’, marathon theatre (plays that last all day), forest bathing, that kind of thing.
But now, here’s the rub. We’re largely blind to arguably the greatest antidote of all to excess busyness. Secular remedies are lauded while this marvel is ignored – the irony being that it communicates the ultimate source of these fine but lesser goods.
We work hard and save up to visit remote places and have wondrous new experiences, but neglect the vast virgin wilderness of the inner spiritual life – revealed I believe most fully in the gospel of Jesus. Wander here a while, and I start to see my everyday world in a very different light, as through a re-orienting and re-vivifying pair of spectacles. The book of Ephesians tells me I’m a child of the King, heir to an inheritance, belong to a family, partake in rich promises (chapter 3 v 6). Abundance, belonging, relationship.
Just imagine how such an inner vision could transform my priorities. A sense of inner plenitude shrinks the anxiety that keeps me running on hamster wheels. Frees me to be busy, but with joy and on more worthwhile things – diving spiritually deeper, and making the world a better place instead of a more frantic and polluted one. “Seek first the kingdom of God… and all these things shall be added unto you” said Jesus. It’s that way round. Embrace wholeness, not the hamster wheel.