The other day, a friend who chooses to make art rather than work a conventional job presented his latest creation, a sculpture built from found objects coupled with a backstory that blended ancient mythology, Amish folklore, and sexual politics.* The reaction in some quarters was that he had “too much time on his hands” to have created a piece like this.
Are they right? Or do they have it backwards?
Today’s human is programmed to be a busy, productive creature who is meant to work at making money least 8 hours a day, while filling the rest of their waking hours with activities to ward off idleness.
Being fully employed is a way to “keep the devil at bay,” the devil being the stress of controlling your own thoughts and actions, which will veer into sinfulness, sloth, and eventually full-on madness should you let them go slack for any length of time.
“I’m crazy busy” is now a frequent refrain of the upper classes. Despite the negative connotations of being crazy — aka “mentally unhinged” — it is used as a symbol of status, the implication being that one’s life is full to overflowing between work, family and recreation.
But what is the result of all this busyness? For one, we’re moving in the direction of fusing man with machine, until people are more like the computers they rely on to increase productivity. Is this a good thing? We’re too busy to stop and find out!
Meanwhile, the race never stops for new products, experiences, and pharmaceuticals to fill our time so we can shut off the incessant voices telling us that maybe we’re going down the wrong path. Our planet is now burning up from the results of our industriousness, thanks to carbon, methane and other toxins being released into the atmosphere.
Maybe not working so much, reversing our mad dash towards “full cyborg” and taking some of the trash we leave behind to create objects d’art is the right path forward. Indian Yogis have known the power of being idle for centuries, sitting in meditation to gain power, aura and knowledge from the state of idleness. Doing absolutely nothing can really be something, as Shiva and his followers can attest.
In another bit of good news for those contemplating a slower life, research shows that when one remains idle, blood flow to brain doesn’t decrease. The blood flow formerly used to “power ahead” and “win at all costs” is used to store data in the permanent memory compartments, so the state of idleness improves the sensitivity of the brain helps you retain information.
Still, the world today only allow idleness as a function of old age, the retired sitting on porches and staring out into the void. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s more a function of gravity taking it’s toll, than an embrace of freedom’s virtues.
So rather than idleness being the devil’s workshop, reversing our mad dash towards full productivity may be the only way to keep the devil from claiming our souls.
*”Stoltzfus Devil Chair”