Making the time to value simply being
The Western world celebrates doing at the expense of being. Even religious communities, in their effort to be vibrant and relevant, often pay much more attention to action than to reflection and contemplation. Those in search of meaning, particularly the young, even travel to the Far East to find gurus who can expose them to the art of being.
That doing is important to make a living and to contribute to society should be self-evident. The elimination of poverty in many places — albeit not enough and not everywhere — is largely due to what’s sometimes described as the Prot- estant work ethic. We’ve every reason to be enthusiastic partners in this, irrespective of our religious affiliation.
But there’s much more to life than work. We need to look into ourselves and beyond to affirm, nay celebrate, the mystery of human existence. Even those who work hard and enjoy its fruits ought to know that in order to live fully, more is needed than doing. Now when we live longer because of the favourable conditions created through work, our retirement years could be dedicated to being — to enjoy existence on Earth and perhaps also try to prepare for what’s beyond.
Psychologist and blogger Mary Pritchard has written that “society praises those who do: It’s more about what you accomplish than who you are as a person.” That’s probably why retirees, seemingly more men than women, are anxious to tell you, defensively, that now, though they no longer work for a living, they’re “busier than ever.” They may find it shameful to admit that they now have time to do “nothing,” to enjoy the everyday and the ordinary, with opportunities to reflect on what human existence is really about.
Pritchard recommends: “Instead of looking at your day as an endless to-do list, what if you started each day with a question: ‘At the end of the day, how do I want to feel?’ After you ponder that one, you can ask yourself, ‘What will make me feel that way?’ ”
But that requires not only that society regards such questions as legitimate, but also for the state to provide adequate support to enable retired people to live with dignity. That’s by no means always the case. Some people need to work past their retirement age in order to maintain themselves. This, alas, makes it virtually impossible for them to move beyond doing.
An editorial in this paper last month assumed that the answer is to allow, nay encourage, seniors to remain in the workplace beyond retirement age. Though this may be appropriate in exceptional cases, pensions should be made adequate to enable women and men to devote their “golden years” to the cultivation of being.
That’s the aim of the “sacred aging” movement in the American-Jewish community. Reacting against “our modern youth-obsessed culture,” it tells us that moving away from the world of doing “can be an empowering and inspiring opportunity for spiritual, emotional and psychological growth.”
Reminding us that in ancient and Indigenous cultures, including Judaism, “eldering has always been regarded as a sacred and honoured phase of life,” sacred aging seeks to encourage old people to lead “idle” lives that “continue to be vibrant with joy and self-discovery.”
As churches, synagogues and mosques usually have a large proportion of older worshippers, they may take to heart the Psalmist’s charge to “serve the Eternal with joy” by celebrating being without apologies. In the words of Rabbi Deborah Jacobson of Longmeadow, Mass., “we are here to keep learning and to keep growing especially in our character and in our spirit. None of that ends with ‘retirement.’ ”
But there’s much more to life than work. We need to look into ourselves and beyond to affirm, nay celebrate, the mystery of human existence