By Laura Langone, PhD candidate in German philosophy at the University of Cambridge
How many times did we tell our friends, relatives, neighbours: “Sorry, I don’t have time, maybe I will join you next time”? How many times did we postpone kissing, hugging, saying something nice to someone because it was not the right moment? How many times did we think: “It would be nice to go to that country, to visit that museum, to try that restaurant. Maybe next time?” And then “next time” became never.
We let the river of our life run before our eyes without trying to draw water from it, without living. Postponing means waiting, waiting for the right moment, but life does not contemplate any waiting period, life just runs. Life must be lived at the exact moment when the water of the river touches our feet on the bank, not before, not after. Now.
The ancient Roman philosopher Seneca devoted himself deeply to the matter of time and how humans can best relate to it. He was convinced that the majority of people are slaves of time, always postponing activities they would do for their own sake because of their work commitments, until these end up stealing their life.
How many are left no freedom by the crowd of clients surrounding them
In his essay On the Shortness of Life, Seneca affirmed: “How many are left no freedom by the crowd of clients surrounding them! In a word, run through them all, from lowest to highest: one calls for legal assistance, another comes to help; one is on trial, another defends him, anoher gives a judgment; no one makes his claim to himself, but each is exploited for another’s sake. […] Aren’t you ashamed to keep for yourself just the remnants of your life, and to devote to wisdom only that time which cannot be spent on any business?”
We are so obsessed with work (yes, already at Seneca’s time!) that we always put off our leisure activities but this, Seneca holds, is tantamount to putting off ourselves, disregarding completely our wellbeing. But no one apart from ourselves can take care of ourselves! Paradoxically, we daily devote our attention to so many silly things, but forget to stop for a moment and ask ourselves how we feel, which needs we have, which desires we would like to fulfil. We don’t do this because we don’t have time, we have always something to do. We don’t have time for ourselves, that is what Seneca wants us to become aware of.
Now, during the Coronavirus lockdown, we are experiencing the opposite situation: we do have time. Many of us are working at home. This means that we don’t have to use our extra time to commute to our workplace, run to get the bus in time or go shopping after work. Now we can use our extra time as we want. Now we can take care of ourselves. The thing is, are we aware of this and making the most of our time at home?
Are we aware of this and making the most of our time at home?
Many of us do not like to be at home all the time, we can get easily bored or annoyed. Some of us feel empty, we do not know how to fill the void. Well, the news is that there is nothing to fill, this is the wrong approach we used to have in our “normal” life before the coronavirus outbreak. Time is not something to be filled with as many commitments as possible, but something to enjoy, a room to devote to ourselves, to our inner needs and desires. What at first can appear to us void is on the contrary the possibility of making something happen, the possibility of fullness. The contemporary Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh affirmed that being empy of a particular thing means being “full of everything”, having the possibility of embrancing everything else apart from this particular thing.
Now the question is the following: how to make things happen whilst being at home? Technology can be of great help. I am happy to see already how many beautiful things people created: Facebook groups of mutual aid, groups where we can video chat with strangers in our city and share our concerns, our hopes, our thoughts with them, or, as in Italy, singing on the balconies and simulating live concerts in otherwise silent residential areas.
That is simply beautiful. We are creating beauty out of the darkness of this virus, and we should be proud of this. Apparently there are so many things we can do at home we had probably never thought of. Finally we have time to read a book or finish that novel that lied on our bedside table for months if not for years. We can watch movies, listen to music, help our neighbours, make a phone call to our distant friend on the other side of the world we had ignored for so such a long time because we did not have time before. And we now have more time to enjoy our beloved, distant or not, speak to them, give attention to them as long as we want to. And we are making new friends meeting our fellow citizens on social media.
And maybe once the coronavirus is gone, they will become our friends in the real life. And If it were not for the coronavirus, we would have never met them, never made a phone call to our distant friend, never said “I love you” to our beloved, because we were waiting for the right moment. Despite this terrible situation, there are so many beautiful things still there. The beauty is that we are finally sharing our humanity, our concerns, our anxieties, or hopes with other people, be them strangers or not. Now that we stopped running we can see the little things that make us happy before our eyes.
The owners of our time
Of course, I do recognize that being at home all the time can also be frustating. We would like to enjoy the fresh air in parks, go on a trip in the weekend, visit a friend. We used to postpone all of this and now that we would like to do them we can’t. Instead of complaing about being at home, we should have learnt the lesson: never postponing things. We should do them when we want to.
Life after coronavirus will be different and I am confident it will be better, because we will enjoy our life with enhanced self-awareness. Being stuck at home, we have time to reflect on what we would like to do, on what we miss, we have time to listen to our inner being. We have time to understand ourselves. Once outdoor, we will set our commitments aside and make room for life. We will do all the things we used to postpone and enjoy them even greater, every moment because we understand that we can’t take anything for granted, a virus can come suddenly and jeopardise everything. Life after Coronavirus will be happier because finally we will be the owners of our time.