Thursday, March 13, 2008

Karoshi will not have me. SWORD - PART 5

Karoshi will not have me. SWORD - PART 5

The Japanese have a term, Karoshi, to describe what happens when you work yourself to death. Translated literally, Karoshi means "death from overwork." The common causes are actually heart attack and stroke but the Japanese know that it's bigger than just a physical issue.

That's why in 1987 the Japanese Ministry of Labor started to publish statistics on the syndrome. Ten thousand deaths are attributed to Karoshi every year which is scary. The only thing scarier is that according to the book, The Power of Full Engagement, "America is the only country in the world in which employees work more hours per week than the Japanese."

We are killing ourselves with work. We don't use Blackberrys like PDAs, we use them like GUNs. We have broken the walls of the office down and the flood of work and emails and projects and jobs and meetings has drowned our families and friends and homes.

We are afraid to rest because we are terrified to be silent. For in the quiet moments, anything we are running from, anything that we have not dealt with has a chance to catch up. I used to call the shower my "compression chamber" because inside there was nothing to distract me. I had already read all the shampoo bottles. I knew which soap companies did animal testing. Who promised 20% more aloe. So it was quiet in the shower and unresolved things see quiet as a chance to yell.

But maybe more than that, being busy is now the ultimate status symbol. As Wayne Muller wrote in his book Sabbath,

"The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life."

I think he's right. If being important at work is how you gain your value, then not working is conversely how you lose your value. If being in motion is how you define yourself then when you are still, your life unravels.

So what do we do? Embrace Karoshi and the inevitability of a thin, busy, surface life?


We rest. We recover. We renew. We recharge. We rejuvenate. We retreat.

The reasons are simple. When you rest, your life has a chance to breathe. To grow and to gain. As The Power of Full Engagement details,

"Periods of recovery are likewise intrinsic to creativity and to intimate connection. Sounds become music in the spaces between notes, just as words are created by the spaces between letters. It is in the spaces between work that love, friendship, depth and dimension are nurtured. Without time for recovery, our lives become a blur of doing unbalanced by much opportunity for being."

But this is not a new idea. The authors of that book did not invent the need for rest, God did. Here is my favorite verse about the idea, one that I have written about often:

"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,"

That is a beautiful passage from Isaiah 30 and I believe God paired rest with repentance for a reason. He knew how difficult repentance is. He knew how it would drain us and stretch us and test us. So he paired it with the gentlest word of all, rest.

But God saw Karoshi coming. He knew what would happen, so Isaiah 30:15 does not have a happy ending. Here is the complete verse:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it."

He knew. He knew. He knew.

And I am guilty of ignoring rest just like you, but I refuse to dance with Karoshi.

I am building small pockets of rest into my day. I am creating silent moments in the middle of a loud life. I am shutting off my computer and my phone and my iPod and my head for just a few minutes.

I am learning to rest.

p.s. I dare you to do two things today: Sit still and quiet for ten minutes and email this article to the busiest person you know.

1 comment:

robyn collins said...

i would email it, but i don't really have time for that.... sorry, i'm too busy!!!