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 crises, and men's souls are continually tensed and thrilled by the call to duty, to go global, to outsource, to keep up with technological progress, to update their Facebook, to smash down the old brick-and-mortar world and build the new digital world.
Let me raise another voice – the call to leisure and sheer idleness.
There is no justification, really, why we must lead busy, anxious lives. We need to re-learn the art of leisurely living, the art 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 urging speeches to get people to work hard, 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 should 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 fellows in Oregon, 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 mindful of it, grasp 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, matters.
To 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 amazed 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.
Each rain sound has its own charm. 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.
The next difficult task after listening to the rain is the eating of 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.
Eating dried melon seeds requires concentration. You put one seed in your mouth, balancing its edge on your front 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 while you work. 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 Flash Web sites that save the world, 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 you become lost in the Stream of Silver above you, the world would have got by without your schemes and Web sites, and men's souls are not worth the trouble educating.
Gazing at a star-packed sky gives you 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.
Take yourself out for a long stroll, go for a long run, ruminate over a long java, sign up for a longer vacation. Dress well, eat well, rise late, sleep late. Keep yourself physically trim and mentally fit. Have sex frequently. Masturbate. Treat yourself. No one else will.
Here's a little poem to lighten 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
You ask when
I am coming,
I do not know.
I dream of
your mountain pool
Brimming all night
with autumn rain.
When can we trim candles again,
by the window?
My preference in idling away an afternoon is to play with the lines of a Tang poem and attempt to re-arrange the sentiments in English.
fold origami paper
play with yourself (Lego blocks, please)
view naked ladies (in an art gallery, not porn site)
brew milk tea and stretch it to make frothy teh tarek
read aloud TS Eliot's Cats poems
stroke the cat
bathe the cat (an impossible task!)
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
wash the car
hang out in shopping malls like brain-dead Singapore folks
write letters to the paper about your neighbour
buy cook books to decorate the house
borrow money from loan sharks
read incoherent Web blogs
update your Facebook
answer office e-mail at home...