As the festive season approaches, I am getting busier and busier. There is so much to do before we reach the shutdown period. What I look forward to is the idle time between Christmas and New Year.
We all need idle time. To wake up in the morning and have that feeling that the whole day is yours. No morning rush. No usual clean up. No tidying up to do. To slow down. To do absolutely nothing.
Being idle is frowned upon in today’s society. We are so much under pressure to keep doing something all the time that we have forgotten the importance of idle time.
Contrary to the common belief that ‘Idle mind is devil’s workshop,’ the idle mind is the germination ground for ideas. Creativity thrives in boredom.
Rainer Maria Rilke writes in Letters on Life
“I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spent in the most profound activity.
Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.
In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.”
But it is Tom Hodgkinson who has tackled the subject head-on in How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto.
He starts with,
“In 1993, I went to interview the late radical philosopher and drugs researcher Terence McKenna. I asked him why society doesn’t allow us to be more idle.
He replied: I think the reason we don’t organise society in that way can be summed up in the aphorism, “idle hands are the devil’s tool.”
In other words, institutions fear idle populations because an Idler is a thinker and thinkers are not a welcome addition to most social situations. Thinkers become malcontents, that’s almost a substitute word for idle, “malcontent.”
Essentially, we are all kept very busy . . . under no circumstances are you to quietly inspect the contents of your own mind.
Freud called introspection “morbid”—unhealthy, introverted, anti-social, possibly neurotic, potentially pathological. Introspection could lead to that terrible thing: a vision of the truth, a clear image of the horror of our fractured, dissonant world.”
He goes on saying,
“Idleness as a waste of time is a damaging notion put about by its spiritually vacant enemies. The fact that idling can be enormously productive is repressed. Musicians are characterized as slackers; writers as selfish ingrates; artists as dangerous.”
Robert Louis Stevenson expressed the paradox as follows in
“An Apology for Idlers” (1885): “Idleness . . . does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class.”
He argues, “Long periods of languor, indolence and staring at the ceiling are needed by any creative person in order to develop ideas.”
He concludes by saying, “A conclusion I’ve come to at the Idler is that it starts with retreating from work but it’s really about making work into something that isn’t drudgery and slavery, and then work and life can become one thing.”