We're on a semestral break, and yet I do not feel it. Recently, I've been thinking of how to turn it into one. What shall I do? There's a forthcoming trip, there are chances to not do anything, there are friends. But I figured, I do that already even if work is there; so what would be the difference? What is a break, really?
To define it precisely, a break is a disruption of the everyday and the mundane, cutting the otherwise tedious continuity of life and its requirements. That is why rest is usually considered to be that kind of withdrawal from the routine--a decision that I will not do what I have to for there is no necessity required from without or within. We rest and have leisure because work can be "toil and trouble," and living, as we know quite well, is never easy. Resting requires "taking it slow," not forcing yourself to do anything, putting off what is asked from us to do.
Yet this got me thinking: Whoever in the first place required work and activity from us? Of course, we answer handily, one needs to make a living for one's self, that is, to afford us the means to sustain ourselves physically and others who depend on us. There is that kind of work, and all of us have to face that. But there are other sources of obligations, some might say higher requirements, though I do not easily agree with that qualification. Some say intelligently that we work to nourish minds and hearts and spirits, to enable us to find meaning in a world destitute of it, so that we may find our place under the sun, know who we are, and possibly call ourselves happy. There is some meaning to that, and for the most part I believe that. Man, it is said, does not live on bread alone.
We are at first and for the most part mysteries unto ourselves, and testing our talents and abilities against the grain of the world give us an opportunity to discover ourselves. I would very much like to know how you can learn something about yourself without knowing first other men and women. We make our identities (if there is one) by differentiating ourselves from others who are not us--and we do that by interacting with nature, mankind and society. I know more of myself when I know more about an other. Hence, also, the contribution of great literature and the history of thought to self-discovery.
Yet all of that can be quite too heady and even pretentious. For the man on the street, he works because he can no longer imagine another possibility of life. It's obvious, he says, and for the most part I agree. It's obvious, also, because it seems to be that we are "programmed" to work. If Darwin had a say, man form the beginning had to labor and work in order to survive in a harsh world. The world may not be as harsh as before (it has found new ways of oppression such as fear, injustice, poverty), but that instinct to use our hands and train our focus on activity has stayed with us. It's obvious, they say, and that is because we are naturally like that. But I say to the contrary.
Work does not have to be obvious. And when a man realizes that he really does not need to labor and work or act or exert himself, even if he has to suffer and die--it is only then that he truly works and discovers himself. Because now he is free to choose if he wants to continue to live--or not. The question of what kind of life he wants to live and what kind of man he wants to be come later. Unfortunately, not all of us honestly make that choice between being and non-being, going on living on the assumption that work and labor are obvious and the most we have to decide on is what we can or want to do. Unfortunately, again, we may think that it is all a matter of finding what we "like doing." But there is a question that comes before that: Would you like to do? Would you like be? That is, would you like to live?
But fortunately, now, not knowing that also spares you from despair of living and gives you the best possible chance of happiness.
Perhaps that is why some of us really do not know what to do with ourselves when we're given breaks.