If you’re like me, when people ask you the question, “How are you?” sometimes you end up replying with a sigh and saying, “I’m soooooooo busy.” It may seem like an innocuous response. But “busy” does something to us that’s not actually too healthy: it makes us overly focused on what we’re doing, rather than how we’re feeling and experiencing the world. It works as an excuse for bring frantic or late or inattentive to others. And (worst of all, from this writer’s perspective), busy crowds out joy.
Think about it: when you’re busy, you don’t have time to stop and smell the roses. When you’re busy, you don’t have time to play in the park. When you’re busy, there’s no aperture in your life for spontaneity or silliness or celebration. When you’re busy, all those joyful things become work. Busy doesn’t give any pleasure and it doesn’t make any memories. It is an expenditure of energy with little apparent reward.
Busyness is easy to get under control if you know where to look. I learned a lot about this from a wise coach, and here is her excellent advice on the subject. (I don’t always get it right, but I’ve gotten better.) Today I came across a new idea for taming “busy” that I hadn’t heard before, in a piece by Islamic studies scholar Omid Safi called “The Disease of Being Busy.” To him, it comes down to the question we ask of each other in the first place.
In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?
What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.
It’s not about the words themselves, though having that question baked into the language certainly helps. He’s saying: Ask about feelings, rather than doings. What a wonderful question to be asked—it signals to me that someone really cares, and isn’t just asking for courtesy. And I love this idea that we can prompt each other to shift our focus away from the errands and the inbox towards what really matters for each of us.
So, dear reader, how is your heart this morning?
My heart would be happy, I think, if I imagined it covered in tiny flowers, like the one in this sculpture by Camila Carlow, who sculpts internal organs out of foraged vines, buds, and berries. (Though to be honest, it’s the lungs that really steal my heart.)November 10th, 2014