The Incredible blessings of Idleness
Our society is built on work. It is structured so that we must work. Our economy is a credit based or debt based economy, so that we, endebted, must work to pay our debts. Check any economics textbook they state so very clearly. Debt makes our world go around, it keeps us working. It drives our GDP. Work gets the money that pays the mortgage, work pays the bills and work secures your pensions. This penchant for work was not always the case, and what we take for granted is only fairly recent. The 5 working day week was created in the early 1800’s in the British Industrial North and only became widespread in the 1870’s. It gave the workers Saturday off in addition to the Sunday Sabbath and in return the worker should turn up for work on Monday sober. The modern weekend was born! This was only adopted into law in the United States in 1938 with the Fair Labour Standards Act, which really created the 5 day 40 hour week. The USA and Britain having set the standard the world would follow suit, in order to synchronise global markets. The Arab world only joined the train in this decade. Our Global society is built on work. Benjamin Franklin said, ‘It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.’ And though anyone who knows me knows that I am a workaholic, I have to disagree with Benjamin Franklin. I have seen the modern world, stressed, overworked and in debt and so I would like to speak about the incredible virtues of idleness!
I re-encountered the blessings of idleness in my adulthood. I had been ill in my 30’s after exhausting my body and intellect to collapse through study. I had exhausted myself in my effort to understand how we as a civilisation had gotten ourselves into the mad contradictory binds in which we now find ourselves. I thought that I was going to die! I met the herbalist Hakim Salim Khan who banned me from study for 3 years. It was only at this point that I began to recover. Idleness literally saved my life! As I began to recover I needed something to do and decided to re-engage with martial arts but my body was too weak. I would suffer heart palpitations and tremors from mere pushups! This would lead me on a journey which led me to Chinese Internal Martial Arts and the maddening exercise of ‘Standing Doing Nothing’. One of my teachers would often repeat to me when I wanted to stop standing and do some real fighting and moving, ‘Stillness is saving and movement is spending.’. So I stuck with doing nothing and ended up with a body stronger than before my illness. My recovery was based upon 3 idle years, for I was to discover that idleness isn’t the sin that I was taught it was at all.
Today I was chatting with Dr, Rod Paton who wrote, ‘Lifemusic – Connecting People to Time’. Lifemusic gets people to gather in groups to improvise. They discover that music is in them and passes through them as they connect and express to their deep spontaneity and creative impulse. The truth is that idleness or leisure unleashes the natural roaming of our wild creative spirit. Modern life boxes us in and regiments us in fear of this wild human capacity which is part of our essential genius. The ability to let the mind and spirit roam resulted in the culture of
civilisation in the first place. It led the philosopher Bertrand Russell to write, ‘In Praise of Idleness.’ Real creativity, growth and change comes from this idle place of leisure. Without it there is no release and our society will express the desire for release and wildness with the markets for intoxicating drugs and some ‘spiritual’ release. To reconnect to our natural wildness and spontaneity we have to embrace idleness.
3 Ways to be Idle
- Go on long rambling walks with your family, friends or even alone. Disappear for at least half a day. Wander, sit and eat, sing, laugh, sleep, … with no point except to be idle. Let the conversations happen and just wander. If you have arguments, then continue wandering and then later apologise and continue being idle;
- When you are tired sleep, give yourself a few days every month to recover. Sleep, be lazy and just reset and recharge. Creative impulse requires energy. The more tired you are the more difficult it is to break out of the repetitive compulsive patterns;
- Sing and dance for at least 15 minutes every day. Don’t copy some dance moves you have seen, just dance with abandon. If you dance like the British PM Theresa May then you have got deep problems. Keep dancing eventually they will go away.
In general just learn to be idle. It is good for your health!