Guilty about living

No matter how interesting I found any job I’ve had in the past (or in most cases how exciting I have tried to make them sound to myself), there are always things I know I would rather be doing.  Often this fact revealed itself to me through my living for the weekend or waiting for holidays.  So why did I choose to spend the majority of my time doing that job?

And no matter how much I liked any colleagues in the past (mostly in the pub after work – during the day I found we mostly behaved like robots), there were always people whose company I enjoyed more.  So why did I choose spend the majority of my time with work colleagues?

Even though I used to be so busy with work that I had little idea of what I really would have preferred to be doing (and the people I might have wanted to be with were similarly absent), these still seem like insane choices.

The main reason I used to give myself for making these weird decisions and drastic sacrifices was Money: I have to do it, because I have to earn money.  This is a universal view which sounds so irritatingly and convincingly true that it seems pointless to argue against it.  I must work in order to live.  But what if it’s all a terrible misunderstanding?

guiltyMoney is often the bully in the lunch queue.  Money does need to be in the queue, but it always seems to muscle its way right to the front, in a familiar case of the urgent smothering the important.  Money does need to have its turn, but why does it always have to be the first thing I have to attend to all the time?  Surely its purpose is just to facilitate the things further in front, not steal the show?  I would rather its turn be as short as possible, before it goes to the back again, so I have time for the vastly more important non-earning matter of living.

But the act of living often seems to induce guilt.  It is an affront to busyness.  Living might be things like quietly enjoying my breakfast on a Tuesday morning, taking a walk because I feel like it, being in the presence of my family a lot without really doing much, sitting on a chair in the garden listening to the birds, or hanging out the washing.

I watched a cat in a field yesterday.  It was just watching butterflies.  And the butterflies were just fluttering.  Both had the right idea, and by joining in, so did I.  None of us were being lazy, we were just doing what cats and butterflies, and (occasionally) humans do, which also includes breathing and going to the toilet.

Why the guilt of “I ought to be doing something”?  It’s like the ordinary, unproductive things that living consists of are not enough, and some existential threat takes over – all that ‘What am I here for, Am I making a difference’  bollocks.  That deep fear of being meaningless that drives me to try and look clever or get famous.  The irony for me is that the contentment my soul yearns for lies in what the cat is doing, not the busy person marketing hair-removing cream.

A piece of wisdom that I see cropping up regularly in ancient and modern sources is that when we try to solve the problems of the world, we only add to them.  The real work – which perhaps requires an entire life’s journey – is to manage to teach myself that living is enough.  Vital importance lies inside something I often observe being put down as shameful selfishness.

For a human being in 2014, living will need to involve paid work sometimes; the amount depends on my spending decisions, and also on my tolerance for being bullied.

5 comments on “Guilty about living
  1. Jel says:

    Bravo,bravo!! This one is standing ovation worthy.

  2. Thomas says:

    not the most amazing speaker, but might be up your street.. mark boyle and his

  3. Thomas says:

    also… a video by charles eisenstein… theres a lot of poeople out there a bit fed up with the way things work and want to demonstrate other models…

    • Chris says:

      Hey thanks for both of these.
      I have got an unread book by Mark Boyle, so that’s bext to read. Sacred Economics I read last year and it was very provoking. As it happens, I’m over at Schumacher on Friday (or in the woods behind it at least!)
      Thanks a lot for these suggestions…

  4. Emma says:

    Hi! I think it is great that you’ve experienced how great it is to just ‘be’ and to give life your full attention without needing a specific reason or goal. I love that and think that we need more of it. My concern arises when I see those who are obsessed with ‘doing’, doing harm and comprimising everyone’s possibility to just ‘be’, through contributing to any of the huge injustices we face, social or environmental. I think just ‘living’ is great and that this where we should all start, we all need to know what brings us alive. However, rather than seeing work as a means to an end, to earn money to fund our living, we can instead to choose to see our work as a gift. A way to give life to the world in a way that brings the world to life…..rather than having it suck the life out of it as most large, hierarchical, for-profit institutions do. Our inescapable reality is that, as long as we remain living in the UK, rather than our own abundant desert island, is that we are inescably interconnected with the world around us, so we might just be ‘living’ but we are still reliant on hundreds of thousands of other people to function in the systems and ways of making money that we hate. It sucks. I just want to live, to watch the clouds, listen to music for hours on end, prepare wonderful food for friends, to become as alive as I can as an individual, but I can’t ignore the fact that I need all these other anonymous people to help support my life. They deserve the same as me, which is why rather than working to make money, I try to bring my work to life in a way that also may, even in a very small way, also bring the world to life also. Just a thought. 🙂 Emma

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