Liz Breslin

Busy, Busy, Busy

There’s always something to do on a farm, even if you happen to be swanning around on your holidays. But today, while everyone was out achieving and I was upstairs attempting to fold washing, I dropped everything, literally, for a call from downstairs. A Monarch butterfly, breaking out, unfurling.

Over the last few weeks, on the periphery of my busy, busy vision, there have been kids ripping swan plants, chasing caterpillars and cleaning out makeshift wooden cutlery box habitats. I think I have even patted heads and said ‘good job’ in passing. I’m not sure exactly what I’ve been doing all this time, but nothing as magical as what I saw this morning.

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” So said Lao Tsu in the 6th Century. He’s widely acknowledged as the coiner of Taoism, which I sort of understand a bit as a concept because I quickly skim-read a wiki or two about it and vaguely recall some quotes from one of those bite-sized meditation-in-minutes books. Clearly being far, far too busy to sit down and digest it properly.

My favourite idea of Lao Tsu’s is wei-wu-wei, not least because it has the makings of a great noise to be bandied around by backing singers. Wei means action and wu is without: action without action. The proper philosophical translation is something along the lines of look, nature does it anyway, go with the flow. The unbalances in life happen, according to wei-wu-wei, when we fight our natural instincts.

Easy if you’re a butterfly and you just have your instinct to fleetingly live and die by. Harder if you’re stuck in traffic, fretting about finances or just trying to make it through to bedtime. We see ourselves as so different to those butterflies. So important, so superior. But if my brief Taoist toe-dip lets me understand correctly, we are all just different species sharing the planet. Hmm, and not so equally either.

Taoism, idealism and other isms aside, the butterfly who was a pupa who was a stripy green caterpillar was quite something. Pumping up his stained-glass-window wings out of his pulsating abdomen. How did he know how to do that? How lucky was I to be there when he did? How do I know he was a he? I had to resort to an early learner easy reader picture book for answers.

Did I once know about caterpillars and butterflies? I mean, I’m familiar with The Butterfly Effect: everything’s connected and flap your wings here and watch what happens over there. And that’s all micro/macro magnificent and hard to get your head around. Life as a complex web. Busy, busy, busy.

Is that the point at which we all get too stressed to remember the most fundamental magic? Some overseas therapists think so: the latest thing to retune yourself comes in different guises – Nature Therapy, Wilderness Therapy, Ecotherapy. You walk your way well and/or heal yourself by connecting with nature. If you want the science, they’ve got it. Swimming in the sea gives magnesium to help you relax. The negative ions in the sea air apparently boost your immune system. Walking improves your sex life. Really.  Imagine only reveling in the pleasures of the natural world when they’re prescribed? Lucky us, with nature therapy on our doorsteps every day.  And I thought that afternoon swim was just a pleasure.


When did being bigger, faster, better, busy become the thing to be? We’ve always quite liked being physically busy as a culture – better not to be a shiny-arse pencil pusher in some circles. But I have friends who have to schedule relaxation into their day, which is surely going one reminder too far.


In fact, I have one very good friend who has viagra belgique a colour coded page-per-day diary and her very own five year plan. When we lived together she added a sixth colour for writing my stuff in her diary. Orange. It made me feel more organized although I never actually looked at what she wrote. Her approach probably gave her the time to do nothing (instead of being busy doing nothing) because it meant she’d done the things she was supposed to already. But then caterpillar pupation probably doesn’t happen on schedule, no matter what shade of green you write it in.

John Lennon, who is probably a wee bit better known than Lao Tsu (and let’s not argue here about who has had the greater effect on popular culture) wrote, in Beautiful Boy, penned for his son Sean: ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ Ain’t that the truth? The world’s going to turn, the wings unfurl, the tiniest of balances teeter and change. And against my better judgment and the memories of the Monarch, I’m sure I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and carry on justifying my existence like a headless chook anyway.


This article is one of the Thinking Allowed series that appear every other Saturday on the Body and Soul pages of the Otago Daily Times.