Sabine Ehgoetz currently lives in Toronto where she works as a freelance journalist, foreign correspondent, translator and fashion model. In December 2006 she celebrated her second anniversary as a Canadian resident.
Leisure is not a word that any of us uses too often, and when we speak about it, we tend to do it in a way that indicates that this is a luxury we can’t afford or we clearly have too little of. No wonder we relate to this concept mostly in a negative way, since in our culture it appears to be connected somehow to “laziness” – which is, after all, one of the seven deadly sins in the Christian tradition. In modern times we usually aren’t too concerned anymore about the other six. Especially pride, greed or envy seem to be rather accepted when it comes to our careers. In a society where achievement of wealth is rated higher than the state of happiness and where ‘doing’ is more virtuous than ‘being’, the sweetness of leisure has certainly become a little sour.
Almost forgotten in our Western culture is another big L-Word: letting go. It is mainly the Eastern philosophies like Buddhism, Zen or Taoism that acknowledge the significance of this idea, while most of us who completely identify ourselves with what we own and how we look can’t even imagine what we should possibly let go of. How would one step away from a promising, although tiring, job when inner peace surely won’t pay the bills? How could you just accept the way you are when everything around you tells you that you have to present yourself in a certain way to be successful? And so we succumb in order to be accepted. We get up early, rush to the office, gulp down our lunches, work late – and then? The time that should finally be reserved for leisure gets filled with more duties. We’d better go to the gym, even though we don’t find it relaxing to run on a treadmill for an hour while we quickly skip through the print-outs of our emails or watch the news on TV, which, of course, are better for us than some soap operas. After all, it isn’t about enjoying what we see on the screen, read on the subway or listen to in the car anyways. All this is supposed to keep us busy so we can avoid the big emptiness that we would notice if we just sat for a moment and listened inside. It would be dangerous or at least very uncomfortable to become aware of that dark spot somewhere deep in our hearts that whispers this one question we would never want to hear: what is the sense in everything we do?
Who really wants to doubt that the way we live will lead to happiness? Who would want to give up this big ego that protects us from being used by those selfish others who are only waiting for the right moment to pass us on the narrow ladder of success? After all, I’m the only one I can really rely on, am I not?
Yet there seems to be a very astonishing shift happening right now that is far from logical. More and more people in all areas and of all cultures are starting to doubt those beliefs that shape our Western society, maybe because they have come to realize that true inner peace can’t be found in expensive cars, exotic vacations or designer clothes. Surely, these things bring pleasure and nothing is wrong with that – but for how long does it last? How much is a gorgeous penthouse worth when I only come back there to sleep for a few hours before I step again on a hamster wheel that is made of business, money and success? How long will my nose job or liposuction keep me happy, when I know that the real problem is my fear of becoming older and eventually even dying, no matter how hard I try to avoid it?
There are so many questions that remained unanswered during the last century when we expected that science would explain them all. Sure, we flew to the moon, dove deep into the ocean, even broke the genetic code – but why do we live, where do we go afterwards and what are we supposed to accomplish while we are here? It looks like we are slowly starting to understand that there is something that unites us all beyond our different beliefs and salaries. Small groups of people, who call themselves spiritual rather than religious, find each other in yoga studios, on internet message boards, in cafes or even at the office and begin to communicate on a deeper level.
Last week when I stepped on the subway, a stranger started talking to me about the fact that there can’t be waste bins on the subway platforms anymore because of security reasons. We jumped right into a conversation about human nature and by the time I got off the train four stops later, said goodbye and went on with my day, he had me convinced that we can connect to anyone, anywhere, as long as we allow ourselves to let down our masks, look beyond our precious egos and just let our souls speak.
Regardless of the religion you may have chosen, where you come from, how long you have been here or when you will leave again: we all yearn to discover meaning, love, happiness and serenity in our lives, which can only happen if we are able to find this balance between over-achievement and let go of what we think separates us from others.