Sunday, March 22, 2009

Commandment 5

5. Do not feel bad about being idle and still.

One weekend not long ago I was just sitting on my bed. I thought to myself, "I should be knitting. I like to knit so I should be doing it otherwise I'm wasting my leisure time." I actually thought that. I mean, how crazy is that? X is fun so I must do X. That's what my leisure time is for, fun, dammit. Of course it's ridiculous. Why shouldn't I just sit on my bed? Why must my time be filled with something? Why should I feel that simply being is somehow a waste? We are a very doing society. Idle hands are the devil's playground, life is for achievement, multi-tasking is good, productivity is paramount, yadda, yadda yadda.... I say fie on that and the horse it rode in on. Enjoyment is where ever you find it, in work or in idleness and it should not be scorned.

I've been reading Happiness: A History by Darrin M. McMahon. It's a scholarly work that aims to lead us through the various notions of happiness. It's hard to think of any other concept that is so sought after and yet so elusive and hard to define. One item in particular that I found interesting in the book is a letter from Luther (who it seems suffered from depression) to a prince who was feeling melancholy.

...(that) we may be relieved of the blindness and misery in which we are steeped so deeply, and may truly understand the Word and will of God and earnestly accept it... learn how to obtain an abundance of joy, happiness, and salvation, both here and in eternity...(we could hope) to be joyful in all things.

He called all creation "a pleasure garden for the soul". For Luther, misery and melancholy are signs of sin. Pain exists in life but it should not be sought after, it is not the path to salvation. Now, I've always associated Protestantism and Lutheranism in particular with asceticism and grimness. It seems I was mistaken. To be sure, there is an emphasis on the avoidance of sin and the idea that only the chosen will be saved, but there is also an embrace of joy and assurance that it can be found here in this life as well as in eternity. To quote McMahon, "Not only was human dignity compatible with earthly pleasure, but there was righteousness in the pursuit". Who knew?

Another thing that's very interesting about it is the similarity to Buddhist thought. The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are:
1. Life means suffering.
2. Suffering is caused by attachment and craving.
3. It is possible to avoid suffering by letting go of cravings.
4. The path to end suffering leads down the middle between Hedonism and Asceticism. (the Eightfold Path).

The real difference between the two philosophies is the means to ending suffering. For the Protestants it is God's grace and for the Buddhists it is entirely in your own hands. It's a big difference, but nonetheless, we are more alike than we prefer to think.


LMP said...

I think those differences are arguably semantic. Some of us require an anthropomorphized Being, some of us are alright with an intangible Divine.

The Plaid Sheep said...

I am mostly prepared to agree with that. I am somewhat influenced by the fact that I have been reading Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven. Disturbing.