How to beat stress with idleness
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“Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good”.
Soren Kierkegaard ( Danish philosopher)
Modern culture’s exaltation of work and demonization of leisure has had a long history. We have often heard that “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. In England, the aristocracy sustained itself with the labour of the poor. In order to preserve its privilege of lazy living, the rich indoctrinated the poor into believing that work is the ultimate virtue that will fetch eternal rewards in the here and now or in the afterlife.
In his essay. “ In praise of Idleness”, Bertrand Russel says, “leisure is essential to civilization, and in former times leisure for the few was only rendered possible by the labours of the many. But their labours were valuable, not because work is good, but because leisure is good.”
The concept of work as an end in itself got an ethical scaffolding during the Industrial Revolution. Unfortunately, the poor had to work long hours in the range of 12 to 15 hours in factories and workshops. Work is worship became the mantra.
Before the Industrial Revolution people work used to be localized, family based crafts and enterprises. Today we no longer toil long hours, but what we call work is merely a job that we perform for some faceless entity called the company or organization. The modern office job is soul killing, it drains our energies, emotionally and physically. We need to inoculate against the epidemic of workaholism .
The long hours, the long commutes, the stressful work, job insecurity are taking a heavy toll on our mental and physical well being. We have taken to meditation and mindfulness to relieve our stress.
R.L.Stevenson in his “An Apology for Idleness” says that “extreme busyness whether at school, kirk or market, is a symbol of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity”.
For those who cannot meditate or do not believe in such practices, there is an easy way out to combat stress- find some time to be idle, preferably alone. Indolence is no vice, it is a revitalizer and a rejuvenator of our body and mind.
Many great writers and philosophers consciously sought idleness to reflect on the world and to recharge their energies. According to Dr.Johnson, “the happiest part of a man’s life is what he passes lying awake in bed in the morning”.
What is purposeful idleness?
The idleness we are speaking about is not passive indolence. It is not merely about doing nothing. Idleness should be purposeful. It should calm down the racing mind. It should prompt reflection about life. It should encourage self-enquiry.
Watching TV or working on our smartphones is not the ideal way to indulge in indolence.
“Idleness is not doing nothing. Idleness is the freedom to do anything”.
“Idleness breeds our better virtues”
A walk in the park, a stroll in Nature, sitting on the banks of a river, lake , watching the ocean from the shore, listening to music in a leisured manner, lying down outside during night watching the stars,etc.constitute what may be called constructive and purposeful indolence. This list is illustrative only.Leisure time lends itself to many creative possibilities.The idea is to disconnect from the manufactured busyness of modern life, to connect with our inner selves, and ponder the mystery of life.
According to Virginia Wolf, “it is in our idleness, in our dreams that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top”.
During such moments of leisure, we can easily tune into the higher frequencies of the Universe. We learn to slow down the furious pace of our lives.
Some management pundits try to strike a difference between ‘leisure time”and “idle time”. According to them leisure time is productive whereas idle time is wasteful. This is a fallacious distinction that tries to stigmatize all ‘inactive’ activities as laziness.
If you want a practical guide about how to spend a day in idleness please read the book “ How to be Idle: A loafer’s Manifesto” by Tom Hodgkinson, the editor of Idler magazine.
In the popular imagination, idleness has been wrongly conflated with laziness. True, we cannot totally disengage ourselves from work which brings the bread on our tables. At the same time, much of what we call work is needless demand on our time and energy.
Wisdom lies in taking efforts to strike a balance between essential work and constructive idle time.
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