A characteristic feature of our modern societies is the constant state of urgency and restlessness that permeates everything we do. Because of the fast-paced and result-oriented nature of most occupations, any attempt to savor the process itself becomes nearly impossible, while work often gradually comes to be experienced as mechanical and distasteful. Consequently, when we are not working (and are ‘free’), we are plagued with a compulsive internal mandate to ‘enjoy’ ourselves, lest we miss out on happiness entirely. While this may seem positive enough, it is complicated by the cultural frameworks that dictate our methods of enjoyment and shape our patterns of consumption by stimulating us with unfiltered content, frequently laced with agenda.
The entertainment industry also routinely manufactures desires – for products, services, and templates for whole lifestyles that are presented to us as necessities for a life well lived – which owing to their frequency and excess are internalized and accepted as essential. So while we work, we fret and obsess over what we can generate, do and deliver, and as we ‘rest’ we seem to challenge ourselves to see how much we can get, what can happen to us, and what we can consume. We are never really able to relax and merely nurse the illusion that we do.
In the rare moments when we are privy to this clarity, we find ourselves so steeped in these narratives of work, production, enjoyment, and consumption that any endeavour at a radical departure is only a tangential pull back into this intentionally constructed, circular and self-perpetuating system. It is so enticing to surrender to it as the desires it convinces us of tug on our very real and human needs for connection, growth, novelty, and expansion. But it habitually promises us their fulfillment while only widening our feelings of lack and longing. The desire for more has become the backbone of our modern consumerist societies, where we, the subjects of this ideology, are systematically trained to constantly desire. Further, these wants are rather insatiable, (like fast food that manipulates precise quantities of certain flavors to keep us consuming yet never feeling fulfilled). Unbeknownst to ourselves, we start demanding a perpetuation of our desires, and eventually, we not only have an excess of things but also an excess of mental clutter. The leisure time that could have nourished us with deep relaxation, time after time leaves us depleted, empty, uncomfortably chaotic, and alienated from ourselves.
A holistic and more considerate society would reflexively imbue us with meaning, peace, and contentment. In the meanwhile, it may be healing for us to reclaim our leisure time and ground ourselves in the present. Chasing away our restlessness and anxiety (that stems from not knowing ourselves and being out of alignment with our innermost needs) with distractions, rather than being with it to understand it, means we will never really know the depths of our personality but only its contours. Much of the stimuli and the emotions it generates in us is simply the residue of what we allow ourselves to absorb unconsciously through the day but is of no real personal value. As these emotions are not arrived at through contemplation, the stake that they have in our lives is too large for what they contribute in return. (Those of us who have ever found ourselves staring exasperatedly at a cupboard full of fast-fashion garments, feeling like we have nothing to wear and wondering how we got here, would be familiar with this quandary). Rather than personalizing and identifying with this passively consumed stimulus, we could take out time for activities that truly help us unwind, make us happy, and alight with joy.
This paves the way for self-awareness and insight into our values, sense of meaning, the kind of work we resonate with (so we feel ‘free’ most of the time), and the things we need in order to feel truly rested and relaxed to reconnect with ourselves and the world. At the same time, we don’t have to continually engage in self-work and enjoy ourselves minimally. Instead, cultivating these conscious practices shows us how to enjoy ourselves (mind)fully. By meeting ourselves anew through introspection and gentle inquiry, we can know sincerely the life we want to live and let it guide what we allow into, and spend, our energy (time, money, emotions) on. In a world where the demand and desire to perform is woven into the very tapestry of our lives, living authentically must become one of our quietest yet boldest acts of self-love.