This week in Sunday Life I break the Catch-22 bind


Back when I used to work stupidly long hours in a normal office job I would spy people on my way to meetings sitting at cafes – on a Tuesday, at 11am – and I’d think, “How do they have the time? What have they got right that I haven’t?”.

Your sun-basking, Sudoku-doodling café lingerer might be the neighbour who gets to a 5pm yoga class each week, or the friend who can spontaneously take a long weekend when the weather turns nice.

“How do they have time?” you cry out, half in envy, half in contempt. How come they got their life so sorted?

Recently I was invited on a meditation retreat. The idea of withdrawing from life – from email, laptops and planning dinner each night – for five days is something I fantasise about. I have an image: people who go on meditation retreats have interiors magazine-ready homes and organised spice racks and cherubic blonde children and wear leather-soled shoes. You see (my logic goes), they have their life sorted.

So they’re able to.

Personally, I don’t know that my life will ever be sorted. And I’ll never have blonde kids. So this week I took the plunge, left my iphone at home, and signed up to the retreat. Regardless.

Goodness. You’d think I was heading off to Siberia. Or whatever other outpost where Vodafone doesn’t have coverage. Of course, it coincided with my busiest period all year. Sitting in the hall with a dozen others, I fretted as my brain slowed to a blunt, foggy stop. It rained outside. I clung with white knuckles. But eventually I had to give in to the atrophy.

On day three the following occurred to me. Have you read Catch-22? I haven’t. I think it was a real early “70s thing when people had time for holidays and dense reads. But I know the gist. A bomber pilot wants to quit his job due to the inherent dangers. But he’s denied because the fact he understands the danger means he’s sane, and only mad pilots can be relieved. So he has to keep flying, even though it’s insane to do so.

The modern version of this is the average frazzled person – you, me and everyone we know – who desperately needs restorative time and space for self-care. But, the demands of their life – the scheduling, the late-night conference calls, the kids’ play dates and all the other things we do to get a sorted life – prevent them from getting this. And so it’s the very thing that creates our aching need for more self-care and to live the lives we want that prevents us from getting it.

Or put simply: we are too busy to live. Which is just craziness!

You know, part of our problem is that we all try to clear the decks – to get our lives sorted – before we feel we can “indulge” in self-care. I can see the insanity in this as I type it. It’s like that analogy in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (again, haven’t read it, but know the gist).  A woodcutter frantically cuts away at his logs with a blunt saw. He could stop. Breathe. Sharpen the saw. But he doesn’t have time. Or so he reasons. And so on and on he struggles. This is not an efficiency analogy. It’s all about care of the soul. And missing the point of our existences.

Day four and I’ve eaten my body weight in lima beans (I’m going to introduce a new term into the vernacular: “retreat belly”….the definition of which probably doesn’t need teasing out). It occurs to me that there’s actually no fix for this infuriating double bind. Other than to just break it.

Be too busy, sure. And start living. Regardless.

And you know what, it doesn’t really matter how you go about it. I don’t think it has to be a grandiose, Anthony Robbins-style maneuvre. It can be small step (taking the morning off to play Sudoku in a café). So long as it that creates a chink in the catch. Because that’s all that’s required to expose the illusion.

I don’t know if the retreat “worked”. I emerged this morning to a flood of emails, cranky Words with Friends buddies and a load of wet washing . But it did smash the illusion I’m too busy.

Are you too busy to live life? Using excuses? Are you prepared to be busy AND start living? What can you do TODAY to do this?

Have your say, leave a comment.