Being Busy: My Psycho Self-Analysis

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I spent the entire three-day Memorial Day weekend watching television. Some movies, yes, and a couple of series that I had recorded. But “Naked and Afraid?” Yup. Bare butts held my attention for several back-to-back episodes (pun intended).

This lost weekend was both self-analysis and self-medication for something I learned during my most recent psychotherapy session.

It's this: I suffer from an irrational fear of wasting time.

Chronophobia.

Here’s an example: two weeks ago I took what I call a Desert Day, during which I disconnected from all media and all work in order to spend the day in quiet and meditative renewal.

But what did I do that day? I kept an hourly activity log and wrote a blog post about it!

My therapist put the problem squarely in my lap: “Why do you think you do that?”

To try to find the answer, I forced myself to not work last weekend. I simply stared at the television set.

I learned later that my TV binge was a psychological approach called “paradoxical intention,” where practicing a “negative” habit or thought tends to remove it.

My psycho self-analysis yielded the following conclusion . . . .

As a young man, I spent six years studying for the priesthood. When I haltingly decided that I was unsuited to the religious life, I informed the seminary rector.

He tried to convince me to continue with my studies, and then, like a punch to the stomach, said: “You’re throwing God’s gift back in his face.”

He volunteered that I’d never be happy unless I were a priest.

Through the decades since then, through a fifty-year marriage, and through a fruitful writing career, I dismissed the rector’s words.

But if I recall them after all these years, I’d say they had a profound impact on me that I never fully realized until now.

I believe that my subconscious has been driving me to work non-stop in order to prove the rector wrong, to prove that what I did with my life after the seminary has value.

Today, with my contemporaries long retired, I am still writing my blog and publishing my books and hosting my bed-and-breakfast.

Humans are storytellers. Our stories aren’t always written in books or poems or films.

We write our stories in the way we live.

We “spin” a story, weaving the “tapestry” of our lives.

We usually aren’t even aware that we write a story with our lives. More often, we’re trying to “find” ourselves.

But as Thomas Szasz writes in The Second Sin, “The self is not something one finds; it is something one creates.”

Even when we gossip, we are writing our story. Perhaps that’s why gossip accounts for up to eighty percent of conversation, with only five percent of it malicious.

Robert Paine, writing in the June 1967 issue of Man, the journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, says we acquire and distribute particular information from particular persons in order that our “definition of the situation" prevails.

In researching my chronophobia, I came across something helpful from Alex Lickerman, the author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self.

In analyzing his own chronophobia, he discovered this about his time anxiety:

My anxiety about time, it turns out, is really anxiety about meaning. That is, I worry constantly that I'm spending my time on things that are meaningless. Or, perhaps I should say, not meaningful enough. I recognize my well-being is largely determined by the importance of the value I feel I'm creating with my life. I want—I need—what I do with my life to matter. To whom? To anyone. In fact, to as many anyones as possible.

And here’s Dr. Lickerman’s brilliant insight:

You don't need to focus every minute of your life on value creation for value creation to have been what your life was all about.

I don’t have any ill will toward my seminary rector, who’s long gone to his reward. The crusty old monsignor simply saw a glimmer of potential in me that I didn’t. He pulled out all the stops to get me to re-consider my choice of a secular versus a celibate life.

But I still wonder what story I would have written if I had taken the other path. 


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