My life as a college student is filled with many things: research, homework, studying, tests and other activities that fill the day and take a great deal of focus and attention. Deadlines and tests are there as well, they conspire against my better wishes to just chill out; to relax and take stock of what I’ve accomplished so far in my life. But it seems that I’m only on a treadmill, running from here to there, and doing this or that, while sometimes not being sure that my efforts are for me and mine. I hear this word “obligation” and I feel like crawling into myself in order to blot out the drone of instructors, or administrators or, worse yet, the never-ending buzz of people who insist that we do this to address that and that he, she or it said something that was just wrong and in need of what I assume to be my endless reserves of attention. I might say to myself that I don’t wish to get involved and after a while I begin to feel guilty because I didn’t do my part; I’ve betrayed the creed of making society a better place for all of us to live in. I live with my personal shame for a little bit of time, until something else comes up that’s in need of tending to: a book report or long-winded assignment that I should have started weeks ago.
College is part of my being for now but it doesn’t take up all of my day. What is left of the time that I have is taken up by work and responding to others in my life. So, I punch the clock and do my job, and interact with others on issues that are not very interesting and have little to do with me on a personal level. Work is another avenue that takes me outside of myself by insisting that I respond to the needs of my employer for who I’m obligated to in order to earn my keep and much treasured pay. I am also obliged to respond to the needs and concerns of coworkers, some of whom I’m not so sure have my best interests in mind. It isn’t a bad job, it requires little effort on my part and isn’t like I’m pounding rocks all day. But, like college when it’s getting close to mid-terms, it just seems and feels like it slowly grinds, and as it does I can hear myself thinking about all of the wonderful things I would do if things were only different. I could sail away or take a long ride in a train, or fly to some far-off destination where I am free of my daily obligations and the imperative to produce. I could be who I wanted and do things wherever and whenever I wished, then something gains my attention and I realize that I am only driving home.
Somehow, I had missed many of the landmarks that I pass when returning home in my car. I don’t remember the traffic, the traffic lights, or if there were any pedestrians. I search my mind and while doing so a sense of foreboding enters my psyche. I think the worst: it’s early onset Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, and then I start to relax because I realize that my attention is so scattered and fractured that even my mind needs a breather, time to turn away in order recalibrate unless it goes full-on tilt. I park and walk into my home and before doing anything else I sit somewhere: the couch, a chair, the floor; it doesn’t really matter. Then I do nothing but stare. The phone may ring or make some other sound that indicates I have new messages. Most times I’ll answer or reply, but there are other times when I need to just ignore it, regardless of the gnawing thought that it might be very important. But, it almost seems as if I’m more aware when just sitting in the quiet and doing absolutely nothing. My place in the world isn’t somewhere in the future or any other location except where I quietly sit. I am satisfied and content to be doing next to nothing, in fact it feels almost spiritual.
Henry Thoreau once wrote “Our life is frittered away by detail.” I can imagine him sitting outside of his cabin near Walden Pond taking in the bounty of nature surrounding him. Watching the water ripple and leaves rustle on the ground and in the trees by a gentle breeze. He could choose to raise his head to the sky in order to feel the warmth of the sun on his face, or just get lost in the grandeur of the moment and the reward of simply being there. I can imagine that he was the only one there and so he was forced to deal with a silence that maybe we would have difficulty dealing with today. I can picture myself alongside of Thoreau, sitting there quietly with little reason to say a thing. Free of those daily obligations, the only thing that needs to be done is to enjoy the natural landscape. Later, I would fish for dinner and collect kindling for the evening fire. Not long after the sun goes down it would be time to sleep, and while lying in bed listening to the sounds of the night; the crickets and owls, and other creatures who are active during nocturnal hours. It is peaceful and serene here at Walden, and what is most satisfying is that I’ve done very little during the day. I don’t feel any regret for not doing more and I don’t lay there thinking about what needs to be done tomorrow. I seem free of those things.
But when I wake up I’m no longer at Walden lying in bed. I look up and see the ceiling of the living room. I grab my phone and discover its 2 o’clock in the morning. For a few moments I sit on the couch and think about the dream and how peaceful and serene it was, until my internal alarm goes off reminding me that I have a four-page paper due in the morning and a staff meeting later in the day. With some disappointment and a great deal of resignation I get up, make a pot of coffee and prepare my mind for the work to come. In reality, I don’t feel as bad as maybe I should. Compared to others my life is pretty good. At this stage, I don’t feel that simplifying things would serve that much of a purpose. It does concern me that in the middle of the hustle and bustle that I lose track sometimes, but guess that is the price we pay for wanting to do something for ourselves. If things change and the world decides to simplify and do more staring into the distance, then I’ll be the first on board. In the meantime, I’ll still have my dreams, and those instances when I sit there and do nothing; and maybe return to Walden Pond from time-to-time if the God’s permit it.