For the first time in your adult life, you have been given permission to not have to do anything. You can stay home and do whatever you want. Do you remember the last time you didn’t have some kind of an obligation? Actually, let’s begin with the first time you remember feeling any kind of responsibility at all. For example, my first time was when I was about ten years old. We had just gotten a new puppy. I was very excited except that it was my job to do the housebreaking.
Before leaving to go out to dinner with my parents, I carefully lined the entire kitchen floor with newspapers. I’m still not sure why the whole floor needed this protection — it was linoleum, for God’s sake. During the entire dinner, I was uncomfortable and unable to enjoy my meal. All I could think about was what was waiting for me when I got home. I knew what to expect. Not just wet newspaper but shredded up wet newspaper. How was I going to handle this? Was this what the adults referred to as responsibility? If so, I didn’t want any part of it.
I don’t know about you, but pretty much every morning of my life, I awaken with some anxiety. What do I have to do today? Who do I need to call? What bills have to get paid? Where do I have to be and at what time? So for me, it’s a huge relief to get to stay home and do nothing. And there are no expectations from anyone for me to do anything.
Sadly, as you undoubtedly have already discovered for yourself, that glorious sense of freedom you get from playing hooky only lasts for a day or two. Then, when you realize you’re not getting away with anything and nobody cares, you have to face the fact that the only time you are wasting is your own. You have every right to do so and can continue to your heart’s content, but unless you are a world-class slacker you are eventually going to have to do… something.
It can seem paradoxical. Unless you are the owner or manager, you are probably receiving a paycheck as incentive to get you to do what someone else decided should be done. You are given a purpose, but you don’t have freedom, a situation sometimes known as “having a job.” The opposite, it seems, should be heaven on earth — to have freedom and no purpose, otherwise known as “the weekend.” However, while a dictated purpose with no freedom seems like a pretty soul-crushing life, having freedom with no purpose isn’t really much better. Freedom without purpose is just entropy, reducing everything to something less than it was. First you don’t make your bed or wash the dishes. Then you don’t do the laundry or pick up the clutter. Eventually, you don’t dress or even shave. That’s freedom without purpose.
But you could also choose to do more. You can choose to have freedom with purpose. That’s not necessarily as boring as it sounds. You don’t have to choose self-sacrifice for the benefit of humankind — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Community service, helping the less fortunate, campaigning for political change are admirable and life-affirming choices. Or you could be more like a good friend of mine who chose to make a mobile out of clothespins and bamboo skewers. Not the sort of choice that inspires others to reach beyond their grasp, but the point is, he chose to do it, and he was engaged for hours. When it was done, he felt real pride and satisfaction, but when it was done, it was done. He had achieved his goal, and thus ended the purpose.
To get through months of social distancing and quarantine, especially if you spend the vast majority of your time alone, takes something more than a one-off project. We all need a purpose that could last a lifetime. I chose music. With all the scales and arpeggios and chords to practice, not to mention the dozens of songs I want to play, there’s hardly enough time in my day. But maybe music isn’t your thing. Maybe you want to draw or paint. Maybe you are infinitely curious and want to be an astronomer, or a birdwatcher, or a gardener. Maybe all you want to do is stay home and play with your dogs. You now have the time and the freedom to choose your own purpose. Choose it. Own it. Do it.
“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”