The unhurried life brings
its own rewards

ONLY civilised, slightly decadent people know the art of loafing – the joy of idleness, of doing nothing in an unhurried, elegant manner. On the other hand, modern folks feel guilty when they are not constantly being occupied with activity, any activity.

Our age is one of continual crises, and our spirits are continually tensed by the call to duty, to go global, to outsource, to keep up with technological progress, to update our Facebook account, to smash down the brick-and-mortar world and build the new digital world.

Let me raise another voice – the call to leisure, idleness and letting things be.

There is no justification, really, why we must lead busy, anxious lives. We need to re-learn the practice of leisurely living, of being deliberately left behind in the rat race. The words of a whisky advertisement encourage us to drop everything and have a slow drink: Even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat, it warns.

Consider George W., who as president of the richest nation in the world, continually makes morally-pressing speeches to get people to defend democracy, fight terrorism and stop abusing naked Iraqi prisoners. After each speech, he would promptly go back to his Texan ranch and laze there until the next speech-making session or until the next hurricane hits New Orleans.

So, we do what he does, not what he says.

The unhurried life brings its own rewards. It brings back time – time to stand and wonder, time to listen, time to think, time to savour the moments.

With the exception of the laidback folks of Oregon state (surrounded by beautiful mountains, rivers and forests), so I was told by a friend living in Portland, few there are who know how to husband their strength and renew it. Poor creatures that we are, scurrying in our little self-important errands and ant-like busy-ness, a dreary routine of hurry, hurry, hurry...

The past is memory, the future an unborn thought. Only the present is real, only the present counts. This eternal now is vibrant, joyful, alive. It is all that matters; be present in it, be mindful of it. Close your eyes and inhale its sweetness before it vanishes like the sea foam.

What can we do to re-capture and re-live life? DO NOTHING. Occupy yourself with things that do not matter, things that accomplish nothing. And when death comes as an end, only the nothing that we have immersed ourselves, awaits us.

Do nothing, listen to the rain that comes during an oppressive afternoon. The rain arrives like a friend and the roar of its downpour refreshes, re-vitalises us. An afternoon of rain is a precious moment to slacken life’s rhythm, to listen, listen, listen.

Concentrate on the rain and be surprised at the range and subtlety of sounds coming forth. The droning is at first the massive chanting of Buddhist sutras calling our spirit from the red dust of the world; then it turns melodious, bringing to memory lost romances and old aches.

As the rain eases, there comes the drip, dripping, drip from the roof, like the nagging of a mother-in-law, reminding one of life’s futility.

There is also the occasional rustle when a breeze caresses by. Now and then a raindrop strays, and you hear its lonely ping! on the window pane.

Listening to the rain clarifies the mind. At such time, you are at peace with yourself and the world. Quiet thoughts enfold, like the comforting arm of an old friend on one’s shouders.

In the mountains, night comes suddenly in the west
And the moon rises from the lake in the east
I loosen my hair to enjoy the evening cool
And open the window and lie down in peace.
The wind carries a fragrance of lotus,
And the pitter-patter of dew drops on bamboo.
I want to take my lute to play
But there’s no one to appreciate my music

山光忽西落, 池月漸東上。
散髮乘夜涼, 開軒臥閑敞。
荷風送香氣, 竹露滴清響。
欲取鳴琴彈, 恨無知音賞。

五言古詩 孟浩然 : 夏日南亭懷辛大

The next task after listening to the rain is eating melon seeds. When you find yourself bogged down by work and endless obligations, when you begin to suffer frequent menstrual cramps (for women) and leaden migraine (for men) in your workplace, then it's time to eat melon seeds that have been roasted and slightly salted.

Eating dried melon seeds requires concentration. You put one seed in your mouth, balancing its edge on your molars. Then you apply a sudden pressure on the seed, neither too hard nor too gentle, and prack! the shell is spilt neatly in two and you extract the meat within. If your mind is distracted, you will not be able to apply the right pressure and the seed is bent and spoilt.

Split and eat melon seeds as you hunch over your computer screen in your office cage. Gradually you experience a mind-shift, away from the work at hand and onto the seeds. All unaware you have sloughed off the killing pace and re-adjusted yourself to a more sensible stride. Things no longer fall apart – in fact things now fall into place, priorities get re-prioritised and you find that the work doesn’t matter much. What really matters is splitting the damned melon seed and extracting the miniscule meat.

When your mind is full of schemes to create “compelling” marketing content to save the world’s economy, to earn money and spread knowledge, it’s time to get out of the office and head for the Great Ocean Road at the bottom of Australia to look at the Milky Way and its 200-400 billion winking stars. Count them, identify their merry patterns, re-count them. As your gaze becomes blurred by the Stream of Silver above you, the world would have got by without your schemes and social media updates, and men’s souls are not worth the trouble educating.

Gazing at a star-packed sky rewards you with a terrific sense of loneliness. You’re all there is to yourself. Nobody else, not even your sweet mamma, cares very much for you. Look out for yourself – you don’t matter to anyone but yourself.

In an unhurried life, you re-discover how to treat yourself better, how to be your own best friend.

You’re a child of the universe. Take that child out for a walk, for a long java, for a longer vacation. Dress well, eat well, rise late, sleep late. Keep yourself physically trim and mentally sharp. Have sex frequently. Masturbate. Treat yourself.

No one else will.

Here’s a little poem to light up your path:
Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.
Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,
Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing. 
(Ezra Pound, An Immorality, Poems from Ripostes, 1912)

– Francis Chin, first published 1979, Business Times, updated for the Web, August 2001 & Sept 2005 (when George W was US President)

Contents Page

You ask when
I am coming,
I do not know.
I dream of
your mountain pool
Brimming all night
with the autumn rain.

When can we trim candles again,
all night by the window?

Letter on a Rainy Night

Idle suggestions:

fold origami paper
play with yourself (Lego blocks, please)
view naked ladies (in an art museum)
brew milk tea and pull it to make frothy teh tarek

read aloud TS Eliot's Cats poems
stroke the cat
make kaya toast (goes well with teh tarek),
learn Bushism (so you can laugh at yourself speaking like George W)
blow smoke rings, oops, blow soap bubbles.

For the love of heaven, don't:

spam people with corny jokes or baby photos
watch TV
read newspapers
wash the car
work overtime
hang out in shopping malls like zombie urban folks

write letters to the paper about your neighbour
buy cook books to decorate the house
borrow money from loan sharks

read incoherent blogs
update your Facebook
answer office e-mail outside the office...
The idle joy of blowing soap bubbles
Flute girl, oil by Yao Youxin