Many Muslim cultures have an intriguing way of greeting, ” Hello, how are you?” The English translation to the Persian greeting is “How is your heart doing at this very moment? At this very breath?” Head of Islamic Studies Omad Safi suggests that is what we mean when we say “How are you?” We mean to ask, “How is your heart?”
The reply is all too often and overwhelmed version of “I am so busy.” From gradeschoolers to retired Americans, many consider their lives with some variation of this declaration of busyness or what Safi calls “the disease of busyness.” We’re living in a culture which offers more time-saving devices that at any other time in human history. Rather than spending our time and energy seeking and transporting water, growing and harvesting food, caring for animals critical for transport and planting, cooking and cleaning which had been necessary in previous centuries, we spend the limited time we are given in our lives to do…what exactly?
The problem of deciding how to compose a life is not a new one. When I traveled alone to Delphi in the late nineties I stood in the ruins of the Oracle at Delphi thinking about her admonition to all seekers: Gnothi Seauton or ‘Know Thyself’. Plato declared in his Aplogia, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ And close to two thousand years later, Thoreau wrote, “It is not enough to be busy. The ants are busy. The question is: What are we busy about?”
But these are statements about meaning; about discovering the purpose of our lives, of learning just what we are called to be. Discerning the answer demands silence, solitude and a quiet mind. Features and conditions which are more easily said than achieved because the work required is stillness. Something man is never comfortable with. In these culture of doing, perhaps this disease of busyness, what a remarkable gift to be asked, “How is your heart?”
And what courage is necessary to reply, not in words of doing but being.