Monday 4 November 2013

Busy Zombies

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

“I am too busy to read this.”

While I certainly hope that the previous statement is not true, I think we all have those moments. We make decisions to say yes or no to things, because we simply cannot do everything. That being said, we tend to fill out our daily schedules. We are often busy with something. I myself do not like to sit on my hands and remain idle. But what kind of busy-ness is found in our lives?

The Chinese character for “busy” is máng. It is made up of two parts: the root (or the “radical”) of the character is the “heart” radical found on the left side. On the right, it is the word “death”. This is obviously not referring to cardiac death. As it is the case in many cultures, the heart stands for something more important. It often symbolizes the very being of our selves. Even our own Céline Dion from Canada thinks so.

With that in mind, the significance of a “death of heart” becomes clearer. It is when we feel that the core of our being is dying, or is already dead. This is what being too busy is like. It is when we are so occupied with everything that we no longer recognize who we are. It is a loss of our true identity amidst the activities of our lives. It is when we feel dead even if we are biologically alive. It is when we proclaim in exhaustion that “I have no life”.

This is quite a scary thought, but it is even scarier that many of us can relate to this feeling. Such a  description on busy-ness reminds me of a cultural trope: zombies, or the walking dead. I am less interested in its technical definition, but rather what it symbolizes. They are sort of “alive”, but not really. The core of their being has been lost. They are no longer who they used to be, and have become a wee bit monstrous. Perhaps it is one of the reasons why we as a culture have taken a liking to zombie tropes in a subconscious manner. We can relate to that kind of busy-ness in our lives that undoes us. Interestingly, there is a Chinese phrase that aptly describes such a state: xíng shī zǒu ròu (walking corpse, running flesh). We are but a shell of ourselves.

Certainly, life is full of responsibilities. We cannot neglect them just to lighten our load. I also don't think that I am merely speaking from a privileged position as a religious, someone who does not have to worry about making ends meet or changing diapers at two in the morning. We are all called to examine how well we have been living out our missions in life, be it as a parent, professor, graduate student, seminarian, and so on. Again, this goes back to the “Principles and Foundations” from The Spiritual Exercises (SE) by St. Ignatius of Loyola. We are created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord (SE 23). How well are we doing this? Are we aware that our life mission is to align with this “Principles and Foundations” of our being?

This goes beyond being emotionally mature. It has to do with who we are as loved children of God. Such an examining of ourselves can be difficult, because it may very well unearth voids that we have been trying to fill in vain, or areas in which we need to grow. As a rule-of-thumb of Ignatian spirituality, keep doing what brings us consolation (whatever brings us closer to God), and stay away from what brings us desolation (whatever brings us away from God). Ask the Lord to help us; he is the only one who guarantees to deliver every time. We are created to be much more than zombies, so let us not live like one.

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