My Schedule is Full: Boundaries on the Bountiful
I first thought my life was entirely too full to write this blog! Then I decided on second thought to write about that initial instinct—because it is significant. It reflects a new spiritual strategy that I’m practicing for social activism: I’ve moved my default calendar setting to “full” as a way of keeping my attention on what the world needs. That is a full schedule in itself.
This new strategy is inspired by one of the most compelling things I’ve read in the recent months, a poem from adrienne maree brown, titled “Not busy, focused: Not busy, full.” She begins,
this is a poem or a reset
you keep telling me you know I am so busy but…
and then you ask me for something
and I want you to know
I am not busy
no, with all of these boundaries I have space
to take care of my body.
to hold my loves tightly in my many many hands so we can somehow make it through the rest of our lives
brown points us toward how fullness is different from a busy calendar. As she continues her poem, we see that fullness is the creative incubation zone for her contributions toward a new, more just world. Inspired, I want to suggest that those of us committed to social healing declare our schedules full by default, over and against the pressures that would continue to overdrive our calendars. We are booked already by the world’s needs: social injustices, the planet, and each other.
I know that there are vast numbers of people who currently experience very little control over their schedules; that is the common experience. But those of us with the time to read blogs such as this are often people who do experience some control over their schedules. Making conscious choices, where we can, about our schedules might open time for us to recognize the injustices that drive the timelines of so many. We may then decide what we can effectively, realistically do about an injustice. But if we are too busy to notice it, we certainly will not.
I’ve written several times on this blog about trauma and the many ways in which our societies are chronically, systemically traumatized. We are communally traumatized by systems of oppression and now by responses to the Covid-19 pandemic that compound the suffering of already marginalized people. We are in traumatic overwhelm from the numbers of lives lost to Covid combined, in the U.S. and many developed economies, with the long term horrors of colonization, enslavement, large-scale land loss, displacement, sexual violation, and racialized murder. In short, we are a collectively traumatized social body, and that body keeps score.
There seems to be a trend in the white, American, academic and religious groups in which I circulate, to say “yes” if the schedule allows, if one is available at that time and “free” to do the task. As though what determines our commitments is whether there is room in our personal schedules. What if instead all the open spots were by default marked full? What if your schedule and your life itself were already booked with all the forms of social and personal healing, activism, learning, community engagement, meditation, song, or play?
A too busy schedule is not simply bad self-care. A too busy schedule is the mark of an oppressive system. Societal trauma is not an event itself but is the social nervous system’s response to that event. An overwhelmed schedule is a vital sign, like high blood pressure, revealing a systemic level of trauma that we impose on ourselves and is imposed on us as we follow our schedules. In keeping our too busy schedules, we perpetuate the pattern of systemic overwhelm that allows oppressive social systems to continue unchecked.
Precisely because so many people are unable to interrupt their too busy schedules without dire consequences to their financial and physical security, those of us with the ability to schedule a fullness of care rather than a busy day need to interrupt where we can.
A few days ago, Sahan Journal reported on a new exhibit exploring the 1960s housing displacement in Minneapolis St Paul. Eighty percent of black communities lived in the path of highways that were being built to service white, wealthy suburban commuters over the needs of the families living in their paths.
When I neglect fullness and instead stay busy, when I persist at breakneck speed down the path of my societally approved schedule, I continue commuting down those highways that rely on the devastation and displacement of others to enable dysfunction to function. Our social body is keeping score.
When I, where I can, draw a line that protects fullness, I choose restoration over overwhelm. Healing is another way of saying we are restoring regulation to a dysregulated social body. Healing restores more healthy highways of flow. We might again find the flow of the local river or the neighborhood byways where conversations and gardens can be had.
My hope is to encourage you, when and where you can, to declare your schedule full so that you can scope healing pathways, in global injustices or in your town, rather than continuing down roads founded on and perpetuating chronic social pain. And now that I’ve taken the time to tell you these things I’m going back to my full but not quite “busy” schedule. I return, again quoting brown:
on the imaginary world which is trying to whisper to me
how to write a story that unlocks a heart
to write a spell that makes us bored with punishment and immune to capitalism.
I return to a deep focus on healing, yours and mine. It’s the best full schedule I’ve ever had.
Anna Mercedes is Associate Professor of Theology and Gender Studies at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University and is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is co-director of the Becoming Community grant funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and director of a project grant on White Privilege and Theological Pedagogy funded by the Wabash Center. She is the author of Power For: Feminism and Christ’s Self-Giving and the forthcoming Interrupting a Gendered, Violent Church in the Fortress Press Dispatches series. She is on instagram @pastorannamercedes
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