Stress, pressure, lack of time, a recurring mantra for anyone of any age nowadays,
Racing from appointment to appointment, we rarely find a window of leisure. Technology helps to save time, but there’s the danger of becoming technology’s slave. We feel we need to do more and more in ever fewer available hours. The demands of employment, family and many other commitments can make us feel like hamsters on a wheel. Round and round we go, never getting anywhere.
I once complimented a shopkeeper on how calm he always appeared, in spite of the stressful life he so clearly had and the many demands on his time, including the care of a disabled wife. "I may look calm to you", he said, "but under this counter I'm treading water like mad just to stand still".
I frequently come across people who bemoan this endless pressure and say they want to slow down, and spend more time enjoying themselves. Well, there’s a whole leisure industry dedicated to telling us how to do this, to fill our time most efficiently, to organize our leisure hours, pack in as much as we can and gain the most benefit. We go on holiday and tick off museums, churches, galleries, stately homes; we need to see the sights prescribed for us by others. After work, we pursue leisure activities, all kinds of indoor and outdoor sports, cultural activities, group activities; we must keep going, must keep the grey cells active, must get fit, must achieve, must do, can't let up; mustn't get rusty, if we stop, we might never start again. Hamsters on the wheel of pleasure.
What is wrong with being idle, being quiet, being on your own? What is wrong with going for a walk, not with a particular aim in mind, just a walk, leisurely, noticing nature all around you, thinking idle thoughts, however rambling? Sitting in a café and watching the world go by? Spending time over a newspaper or book? Instead of jogging through the park, why not stop, sit on a bench and feel the sun on your face and watch children and dogs; take time out to be kind to someone, chat with a lonely, maybe elderly person. Why not?
Since Beloved and I went to live in the country we meet more and more retired people who say they have never been as busy as they are now. They can’t understand how they ever found the time to go to work. Having lost the routine and personal importance of their productive working life they turn into the phenomenon of the hyperactive pensioner. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen them in action.
How sad and what nonsense this is. I don’t believe in the truth of the saying “The devil finds work for idle hands”, or the German equivalent, “Leisure is the root of all vice”. The Protestant work ethic has much to answer for.
Time is the most precious gift we have in this life. As we get older, we feel it running through our fingers, we want to hold on to it, slow down the passing of it. Running ourselves ragged isn’t going to do that. The adventure of a new life in retirement demands careful appreciation. Leisure is important! In Greek philosophy, to have achieved freedom was to have the leisure to do nothing. (For men - not for women and/or slaves, but that is another story).
I am not advocating that we become cabbages, couch potatoes; you know me better than that. What I am saying is that for myself I would like to learn how to live my remaining time wisely, meaningfully rather than always on target, to concentrate on the job – or pleasure – in hand.
What I'd like to learn is to sit, get off the wheel and dangle my feet instead.
To give my soul room to breathe.