I’ve always been a busy bee.
Growing up in Japan, I had English lessons, piano lessons, martial arts, tutoring and swimming lessons every day of the week—sometimes two lessons in the same evening all after a full day of school.
I loved it. In fact, I was proud of myself for being busy. I knew things other kids didn’t know. I had friends other kids didn’t have. But then some days, as my mother drove me to wherever I was going next, I watched other kids stay in the playground until dark with great envy and longing.
After I graduated from a university in Canada, I still did exactly the same thing. I was excited to be busy at the office, having lunch with coworkers and going home after dark (well, sometimes it just gets dark at 4pm in Eastern Canada anyway) only to do it all over again. In the morning, I would get my daily latte but sometimes noticed some people who were drinking coffee simply sitting there with a book. While I waited from the line, I often wondered what those people were doing. How would they have that kind of time? What are their jobs? Are they so loaded that they don’t have to work? And if they are not working, what do they do during the day? The only thing noticeable was that these people just sat there not giving a thought to the rest of us. Meanwhile, I was filled with great skepticism, envy and again, deep longing.
I longed for that deep space. Space between time and words. Space between day and night. And at the same time, I feared it greatly.
So when I moved to Bali, Indonesia, I went through a few months of turmoil that took the form of agitation, doubt, fear and anxiety. Sometimes I would wake up 4am gasping for a breath of air. I missed the “busy-ness.” I missed and craved having to watch the time as I sat for lunch. I missed my mental to-do list, believing that if I had things I had to do, places I had to be, I was important, that I mattered. Somehow, being busy equaled my worthiness, a right to exist in this world.
There were numerous times in past, where I would have rushed to a 90min heated yoga class, breathed like a very agitated Darth Vader and “rocked” my vinyasa. But this time, my old method didn’t work for me. It only made it worse. I was anxious and felt exhausted.
So I practiced alone. My body didn’t move the way it used to. I could not find the rush I loved going upside down or doing elaborate transitions. Instead my body sat and stopped, and I watched my breath. I barely moved. One pointed awareness on breath was the first step of meditation techniques I’ve learned from my teacher. No deity, no mantra, no pranayama techniques. Just my mind on my breath.
I felt incredibly unproductive at times. When I looked back on my habit of constant movement was not really multiple creations like I thought they were. I was simply running around, terrified of void or space, of being “unproductive.”
It was showing up even in my meditation practice. I would start counting my breath or lighting up the incense because I could not bare to just sit there. My only choice now was to watch my breath incredibly closely until I notice the beginning, middle and end of each inhalation and exhalation, like watching the sun goes down behind the horizon. I watched and watched until I could feel my breath gliding through my nose, on the tongue, to the back of my throat and finally all the way to the bottom of my belly.
I changed the way I woke up. I took my time to make my coffee. Bali is an easier place to unplug as well because in most places, wifi doesn’t work all that well. As I took my time, my Emails did pile up a little. I was slower on my reply to text messages and my Facebook notifications looked like a too long of a list to see them all. But when I actually sat down to clear up my inboxes, it only took a few hours.
I still work very hard to monitor my unconscious habit of pretending to be productive. But I think I’m getting a little better. It helps to have people around me who remind me that I can just sit there and do nothing. Sure, laundry and dishes still have to be done. Bills have to be paid and emails need to be answered. But I try not to forget to watch the sun set or watch the dog chase its own tail and laugh about it. The other day, I forgot to taste the little seeds of a dragon fruit because I was so caught up with an email I was writing. So I take my time and breathe, if it doesn’t slow down, I do it again. And again.
Slow. It. Down. Make everything as slow as possible and watch it. Because our life is passing by. Fast. I think we all know this because we fear it greatly. That’s why I filled my schedule with so many things, making sure that I did as much as I could, being productive and important in my life and in the world. But while we skim through our daily to-make-myself-feel-important list, life is definitely, most certainly passing by for all of us.
So yes, according to my old standard of productivity, I am definitely unproductive. I’m not doing multiple things all at once. I don’t have 20 classes a week to teach in multiple cities while I have meetings and lunches on the way, then teach yoga retreats 3 times a year in a foreign country, while I run a teacher training program.
I am deeply unproductive. I sit and watch the clouds. I watch the gekkos and wonder how such small animals can make such loud sounds.
I’m now the one sitting there with a book and other people are wondering what the heck I do all day. And I’m quite alright with that.
Author: Tomomi Kojima
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Matei Domnita/Flickr