“I’m busy, how are you?”

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy (first featured in April 2015 Shalem eNews)

Lately I’ve noticed how often “I’m busy” is creeping into my conversations and into my thinking. “My family? Oh, everyone’s so busy?” “Yes, we are really busy at work.” Some years ago I vowed to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary, but when I wasn’t paying attention, it returned. I hate to admit it, but there’s something a little self-important about having a full schedule. Could it be that I am mindlessly falling prey to the requests that come my way as I soothe my ego with a sense of being needed?

When I speak about being busy, it’s a sure sign that my mind is engaged more than my heart. I am leaning forward into all that I must do, lessening the chance that I will be fully present in this conversation with you. How can I be available to a “long, loving look at the real” when I am caught up in a long list of activities and planning what I must do to check them off?

stickynotesBusyness and its cousin, “multitasking,” are diseases of our time. Even though multiple studies have confirmed that our brains simply cannot handle more than one task at a time, we continue under the illusion that we have somehow managed to multitask and thereby have found a way to cheat time. There’s a seduction to this way of working, an adrenaline rush that leaves us feeling powerful and ready for the next round of near-crises over which we will prevail. And so we continue to over-schedule ourselves, trying to fit everything into our calendars, denying the need to make choices about how we use the time we have been given.

Yet paradoxically it’s also draining and stressful to be so over-scheduled. We have no time to let the answers find us, no opening to see beauty in our daily lives, no space to enjoy this moment. Our interactions with others take short shrift; our conversations become primarily transactional as people become a means to support the ends we wish to achieve. We disconnect from the wisdom of our spiritual hearts and miss the Holy moments.

It would be bad enough if we were over scheduling only ourselves; yet our attraction to the “busy” spills over into the various domains of our lives. How are we shaping our children and our families when we need extensive calendars and negotiations about who will drive whom where and when? What does it teach our children about what we consider important when getting to the next activity takes precedence over watching the caterpillar on the sidewalk or sharing about the day?

If we are invited to leadership in any aspect of our lives, I think we must consider what it means to us, to those with whom we work, and to the mission we serve if we are busy leaders. In 2002 Harvard Business Review published an article that caught my eye, the essence of which has remained with me ever since. In “Beware the Busy Manager,” Bruch and Ghoshal share the findings of a study done in a dozen large companies. They write, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The energetic but unfocused practices—the busyness—of the majority of these managers limit their effectiveness.

The purposeful few husband their energy, ensuring that they focus only on the most important priorities. The authors quote one manager as saying, “‘In the busiest times, I slow down and take time off to reflect on what I actually want to achieve and sort what’s important from irrelevant noise,’ he says. ‘Then I focus on doing what is most important.’” The authors go on to report that purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel. “They commonly draw on what we call a ‘personal well’—a defined source for positive energy.

It seems to me that the findings of Bruch and Ghoshal actually offer support for contemplatively-oriented leadership! This from-the-spiritual-heart leadership isn’t about busyness, false pride in our work, or frantic action. Contemplative leadership invites us to take the time to listen deeply to the True Leader who works in a timeframe beyond our limitations and understanding.

We have been caught in the web of rushing and multitasking; it’s time to free ourselves. As we seek to live a life where we are ever more open, present and available to the Sacred, I think that we will have to look square into the face of busyness, smile at our gullible nature, and come home to spaciousness. Perhaps when we hear or think the word “busy,” we could imagine it as a bell, calling us back to the present. When we catch ourselves trying to multitask, we might see it as an invitation to a long, slow breath that brings us back to the present. When we notice that we are physically and psychologically leaning forward into the task ahead of us rather than attending to the work at hand, it may be time for extended silence. I’m reminded of the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Wise words.

And so I am recommitting to eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and from my actions. Certainly I hope that the next time you ask me how I am, I am not even tempted to respond, “I’m busy.” And if I do, I ask you to remind me that perhaps an extended time of silence might be invited!


Leah_FBLeah Rampy leads pilgrimages and programs on contemplative leadership for Shalem. From 2009-2015, she served as Shalem’s executive director. Leah enjoys writing and speaking about contemplative ecology. She has extensive experience as a corporate executive and as a leadership consultant.

Do you yearn to explore a way of leading that is more aligned with your heart? Are you seeking community and support for this heart-led way? Join Leah Rampy for an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar. In the six sessions, we will focus on shifting how you lead in the workplace. Available now through Oct 29. Sign up here.

Contemplative Leadership at Work

An excerpt on bringing contemplative leadership into the workplace, by Leah Rampy.

About 10 years ago, I was working as an executive coach in a large organization.  One of my clients was a senior executive; I’ll call him Don.  During one of our sessions, Don had just returned from a corporate training program that had had a significant impact on him and he was eager to share it with me.    He told me that during one part of the training program, participants were divided into pairs for role-plays that were to be video taped.  One of the pair was to role-play the boss, the other was to play an employee who was trying to influence the boss to buy into a new idea.

Don was given the role of the boss.  As his colleague tried to interest Don in a new idea, Don pretended to be distracted by his email.  He had to respond to “just this one message.”  A few minutes later, Don’s “phone rang” and he interrupted his colleague to “take this important call.”  As the camera rolled, Don’s colleague tried to get the attention of a very distracted, multi-tasking Don.

At the conclusion of the role-play, Don and his colleague watched the video together.  The intention of the training session was to consider how to influence those in authority, but Don told me that he saw something entirely different on the video.  He saw that his colleague – a smart, competent, normally poised individual – had come completely unraveled because of how Don had treated him.  And Don felt compassion for him.

Beyond that, Don knew that his behavior on the video, while maybe exaggerated, really wasn’t all that different from his day-to-day behavior.  And his compassion extended to those who worked with him, who he saw in that instance, must have all-too-often felt disrespected and demeaned.   As he watched the video play back, Don was seeing with the eyes of his heart.

In that moment, Don set an intention to be fully present in every conversation.  This wasn’t an easy commitment.  Especially in the beginning weeks, he felt the tug of “things to do” and the longing to try to “multitask.”  Yet as he practiced his intention, it became easier.

Don found that he genuinely cared about each individual.  And he no longer needed to assume all of the responsibility for problem solving and decision-making.  He was able to build on the knowledge and experience of the entire team as they built the trust and respect they needed to share more —–fully. Contemplative leadership is counter-cultural; it invites us to live with our hearts open.  Once he had experienced such compassionate leadership, Don could not imagine returning to the way he had led before.


This excerpt is a sneak preview from one of the presentations Leah Rampy will give during Shalem’s upcoming Contemplative Leadership Workshop: With Hearts Wide Open. The workshop takes place next weekend, October 9-11, and is flexible to be taken during those days on your schedule. Longing to learn to lead from the heart? There is still space if you would like to register.
To learn more, click here.

Leah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs.

Photo by Felicia Zwebner

Practicing Contemplation on the Road

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Changing LanesMy hands are locked on the steering wheel as I sit in the mass of vehicles inching down I-395 during morning rush hour.  I look straight ahead, my eyes locked on the truck just ahead of me.  I carefully avoid eye contact with the driver of the car to my right.  I pretend not to see her blinker, not even to be aware that she’s there trying to move her car in front of mine.  Drat!  My peripheral vision is too good; I can see her now beside me, just as I saw her pull out a dozen cars back into the diminishing right hand lane, moving up to the front of the line, trying to bypass all the rest of us who are waiting “patiently” to make our way to work.  I am indignant that she does not follow the rules.

There’s something about righteous indignation that feels so good, so superior— at least for a minute.  And then it all comes crashing down.  What am I doing?!? I started with a spacious morning, I set my intention to bless those along the way, I really want to be gracious to others I meet, and I’m on my way to Shalem for heaven’s sake!  Yet here I am again, hijacked by my amygdala, under the control of my ego, or maybe just caught up in an old habit.  How distressing!

I suppose in some ways it’s a blip on the radar.  And yet I feel sad.  Why is it so difficult for me to live consistently from the spiritual heart?  In this moment, I feel that others have figured out the key.  They pray enough; they hold silence longer, they don’t fail so often in their intent.

And then I smile.  In the course of two minutes, I’ve fallen fully into dualistic thinking.  The other driver is wrong; I’m right.  No, she’s fine; I’m the one who’s not good enough.  My thinking mind is a judgment machine!  It leaves no situation unlabeled!  I open to the possibility of simply being with what is, as it is, in this moment.  I breathe.

Such a small and yet such a frequent occurrence in my life.  I think it’s time for the words of Richard Rohr to be taped to my visor: “Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection, as we think. Divine perfection is, in fact, the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection! —just as God does with all of us. Only in this way can we find the beautiful and hidden wholeness of God underneath the passing human show.  It is the gift of non-dual thinking and seeing, which itself is a gift of love, suffering, and grace. In fact, this is the radical grace that grounds all holy seeing and doing.”

What shows up for you as you as you open to living contemplatively?

Leah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and has participated in Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening as well as Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats: Transforming Community.

Shalem’s intention is to open space for you to deepen your own contemplative practice and awareness. We offer online courses, one-day retreats, and extended in-person programs. This fall, Leah Rampy will be leading an online Contemplative Leadership workshop. Read more here.