The Importance of Being Idle | Newsletter No. 12

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Most of us have been conditioned to believe that the most effective way to live life is to plan our time, starting from planning the hours in our day, to weeks, ideally months, preferably also years and if at all possible, lifetimes. 

The result as we know from experience is missed deadlines, stress, anxiety and a feeling of failure at not being able to cope with our own expectations. Big surprise there, right? Consultants, lawyers and many others have faced the draining pressure to account for every minute of their working time – to justify what precisely they were doing 5 minutes after they arrived at work and why it took them 35 and not 30 minutes for that call with the client, etc.  While some planning is no doubt necessary for practical life, I think it’s fair to say that we clearly overemphasize and exaggerate the importance of it most of the time. 

We were supposed to be more idle by now

It appears that just under a century ago, thinkers of the time were quite sanguine about the prospects of a less hard-working world. The economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted in his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren’ that over the coming century, productivity would increase so much that people would only need to work about 15 hours a week. Bertrand Russel penned an essay In Praise of Idleness’ in 1932 where he recommended a 4-hour work-day and proclaimed: 

“I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.” 

So what happened? Why did the belief in the ‘virtuousness of work’, rather than giving way to an acknowledgement of the virtues of rest, transform instead into a belief in the ‘virtuousness of too much work’? Well for starters, if the department meant to care for the employees of a corporation is called ‘Human Resources’, then it’s no surprise that they would treat humans like resources to exploit! Incentive systems in most corporations still focus solely on relatively short-term employee productivity. Mainly it seems, whether we’re the employer chasing dollars or the employee chasing dollars, we can never get enough.  

The fundamental human affliction is to always want more – it’s the human condition. When someone realises that this condition is a pretty terminal one, they usually turn spiritual. 

What is the right basis for action?

Most corporations and individuals still take no note of the right basis for action. Action is therefore something that is compulsive rather than conscious. Even when we don’t need to, we often can’t help but act because of an inability to sit quietly by ourselves. We need to constantly be occupied with something. There’s a fear that you will be left behind or that the world is tapping its foot waiting for you to act. 

These are all ideas based on greed, fear and compulsiveness that have led to the world being so overly productive that there are scarcely any natural resources left for us to do all we still want to do. The human engine has devoured the planet at an alarming rate basically because of an inability to sit quietly and enjoy a bit of idleness.  

The word idleness itself has a negative, undesirable connotation. All it’s referring to however, is rest. Most of us only rest when we are forced to i.e. we have spent all our energy and none remains for more action. This only deteriorates the quality of our rest. It thereby also deteriorates the quality of future action because rest is the basis of all action. This is ancient wisdom that appears in the Bhagavad Gita and earlier. The Bhagavad Gita states: 

“yogasth kuru karmani” which means, first establish yourself in yoga, then act.  

This does not mean that you need to twist your body into a yoga asana before doing anything important. Yoga refers to the state in which your individuality is merged into universality. You no longer think like a ‘person’ with all your personal needs, wants and problems. You are in the natural rhythm of life and in the vein of the universal flow. This is a restful state from which actions flow without the feeling of effort. 

So here’s a quick take-away: be a 5 minute yogi a day. Take 5 minutes out of your day to simply ‘be’. Take a break from your mind that’s always itching to fix some problem and project some scenario. Just acknowledge nothing but your effortless existence for 5 minutes a day. The deep rest you will experience is the right basis for action. And right, conscious action is what the world needs most. 

 

Weekly Digest

Here’s the highlights from the past week on LWP:

– A couple of special features for Ganesh Chaturthi, the 10 day festival that began on 25th August: one on the many Symbolisms of Ganesha and another on Getting to Know Ganesha by Shruti Bakshi which explored among other things, the deeper meaning of the story of Ganesha’s beheading.

– The language of yoga was not only an integral part of Indian culture but also influenced other cultures far and wide, from Japan to Greece. Professor Subhash Kak explained the importance of Sanskrit and why its revival is the need of the hour.

– Do we value information and knowledge too much in our modern age? Shruti Bakshi explored the limits to knowledge and the Yoga of wisdom in What Do You Really “Know” (And Why Post-Truth is an Arrogance)

– Rahul Sharma offered some advice about common questions and expectations that arise for beginners in 5 Things Beginners Should Know About Meditation

– Ganesh Varadharajan delved into the contrast between Greek and modern scientific thought on the one hand and Vedantic thought on the other. Setting side-by-side, examples from modern pop culture like Hollywood and the deep spiritual insights as articulated by Sri Aurobindo, makes for an interesting analysis of the diverging views about man and his relationship with the Divine.

– A tribute to the rejuvenating benefits of the ancient ‘herbal jam’ Chyawanprash, in the Case for a Chyawanprash Comeback

– The 21st August solar eclipse brought with it the occasion to revisit how eclipses are viewed from the yogic perspective and why they are believed to be particularly powerful times for sadhana.

As always, I look forward to your comments, feedback, suggestions and article contributions. Do share this with those you think may be interested so that they can also and join the wiser-living movement!

Wishing you a lovely day wherever in the world you may be!

Warm regards,
Shruti Bakshi
Editor, the LivingWise Project

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Shruti Bakshi
Shruti Bakshi is the Founder of the LivingWise Project. She has worked for several years in banking and financial services in London, Paris and Mumbai and holds an MBA (INSEAD) and MPhil in Finance (Cambridge). Shruti writes about life at the intersection of spirituality and modern society. Her debut novel 'From Dior to Dharma' was released in May 2017. International link: From Dior to Dharma
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