In a world where it feels as if we are expected to be on the go 24/7, it seems no one is stopping to smell the roses or enjoy a few quiet moments on a park bench. These people so fervently committed to their jobs or their careers – who eat two or more meals at their desks each day and come to work in darkness and leave the same way – seem to look disparagingly down on those of us who dare to hit the pause button and, if we are really daring, press stop.
The problem is that, despite all the protestations to the contrary, we do need down time. We cannot compete with robots or Artificial Intelligence that can indeed do 24/7 work; human units crave some unstructured sequences where we are not expected to punch a time clock, process information, turn a wheel, or do anything at all. The problem is it seems the world now denigrates free time as if it is the worst of guilty pleasures. If we are not doing something tangible – in other words work related – we are condemned as being unproductive or even worse: wasters of the most essential commodity of all – time!
Or course, these naysayers of leisurely pursuits and unstructured hours miss the whole point about free time. Free time is more than just me time – it is a way to connect with yourself in ways that are impossible during structured working time. Free time can mean many things to people but it is in essence moments when a person does what he or she wants to do rather than what someone else wants him or her to do.
Enjoying free time is a great gift that should be pursued whenever possible and cherished forever. Being able to sit down and read that book, listen to music, stare at the sky, or just close one’s eyes and breathe deeply are priceless opportunities. When I tell people I like to meditate, I get responses like “That’s great if you can find the time.”
Of course, my answer is always the same: “You have to find the time.”
This is when I get the incredulous expressions and loud breathing followed by, “How do you find time for anything these days?” The answer is that, if it means something to you, you will find the time.
Free time is good for your health because you can relax, breathe deeply, and think. In an office or work environment, I have often heard people say, “I don’t have the time” and they truly perceive this to be true, but even during a busy work day anyone can structure at least five minutes to close the eyes and practice deep breathing.
How did we get here? How did we go from Thoreau and Whitman to this overwhelming place called planet Earth in 2017? We have allowed the inconsequential to subsume the essential. Technology and social media have opened so many new doors that we are never truly done with knocking on them. Our pursuit of the semblance of society has been undone by social media, making a mockery of friendships and relationships that ought to be meaningful but have become virtual.
The most overwhelming of all elements is that pernicious perception that time is no longer ours. Bosses and colleagues expect what was once unthinkable – you to be instantly available at any moment of the day or night, and god help anyone who does not respond to that ping at 3 a.m. The saddest truth is this – we have allowed the rat race to not only happen 24/7 but set it up so that the rat is always winning.
Children especially need unstructured time which is why, despite all the push to take away their summer, kids need summer vacation (and adults do as well). They need time to run, jump, play, swim, watch a sunset, or just do nothing at all. Nothing is frightening for kids as well as adults because adults have done everything they can to fill up their children’s free time with sports teams, dance lessons, music lessons, extra tutoring, karate classes, and play dates. Kids assume that they have to be busy all the time because their parents are busy all the time. How truly sad is that?
Free time is bad in this world because it signifies something not getting done, but the reality is that we do not always have to be building or making or doing something. Doing nothing is not scary at all – it is the ultimate exercise of freedom. Nothing has no expectations, no strategies, and no end results. Nothing is liberating and not timed and in that way its nothingness and timelessness is priceless.
This weekend when someone says, “What should we do?” why not respond with “Let’s do nothing”? You might get some strange reactions, but you could also hear some sighs of relief too. Oh, the opportunity to do nothing – it just like doing something, but it sounds so much prettier.