I have noticed when looking at Facebook in recent times that there are vast quantities of motivational messages – to be the best, not to let any day pass without achieving something, finding one’s purpose in life, being creative, and on and so on.
And I’ll be very honest that I’ve begun to find this absolutely exhausting and, in a way, quite depressing because I started to feel guilty if I wasn’t “living up to my potential” throughout each day. I happen to I think life has its ups and downs and we aren’t going to feel motivated very hour, minute or second of the day. Some days you wake up, feel terrific and achieve a lot. Other days you wake up feeling slow, a bit muggy and not in the least motivated. It’s part of the flow of life. But all of the cheery Facebook motivational stuff is coming to mean to me to be on a treadmill of always being terribly upbeat, cheerful and on the ball twenty-four hours a day.
I remembered when I started writing this some comments by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book “Eat, Pray, Love”. I really like this book, although I know some people are critical. But it has a depth to it which I find nurturing spiritually and I enjoy her style of writing. She comments that Americans still have a Puritanical streak and are a nation where people work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. Actually, I rather suspect that, since this book was written, Australian workers might have overtaken Americans in the work-driven stakes. And I don’t think Americans or Australians are on their own. In Western nations, more and more the work ethic (if you’re lucky enough to hold down a job, that is) is to be driven, spend long hours at work, and to be constantly open to e-mails and phone calls about work when you’re not at work.
It’s a badge of honour to be on the work treadmill, although I’d like to say here and now that I think it’s a badge of dishonour. Surely this isn’t what life is about, to spend the greater part of your day at work (because the reality is that most of us go to a workplace for their employment), apart from your family, nose to the grindstone, and being too stuffed at the end of the day to do little more than flop in a chair and feel exhausted.
It’s what Ms Gilbert points out, that people feel they have to be on the go and that applies to social life too. People spend billions on entertainment but not necessarily on the luxury of seeking pleasure. It’s as if entertainment is to ensure that you’re still on the go, albeit mindlessly. Pleasure is when you let go, go with the flow and really, really be in the moment of whatever it is you’re enjoying.
The Italians, as Ms Gilbert explains, have an expression called “bel far niente” which means “the beauty of doing nothing”. To quote from the book: “The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement.” All it needs is a talent for happiness.
Which brings me back to the whole motivational scenario. It’s almost coming back to the Puritanical work ethic: “Thou shalt be creative/happy/spiritual” even if it kills any spontaneity in your inspirational life and sends a pall of self-critical gloom over you if you aren’t on the go spiritually or creatively.
This has further been brought home to me during the short time I’ve lived here in North Cyprus. People aren’t driven, at least, that’s they way it appears to me so far. They work long hours, true, but they’re laid-back and cheerful about their work. For example, if you go into an office and find people huddled in a corner not working but gossiping or exchanging jokes, the trick is not to expect instant service, but to understand that getting together and communicating is happy work so you need to wait until the conversation reaches its natural end. As you can imagine, it drives some rule-driven ex-pats right around the twist. I have not seen one person wearing an ear-phone and having to check in their position every half-an-hour or so as I used to see with the cleaners at the Coffs Harbour shopping centre we used to visit.
We were very amused, for example, when we were buying an outdoor setting and two English-speaking assistants from London sat down in the chairs that came with the setting to have a good natter and find out all about us. They completely ignored customers hanging around for service, because they were deep into the pleasure of finding out who we were, how we came to be in North Cyprus, how they could help us in any way, and how did we like living in this country. We have, by the way, become good friends with these two ladies, they are eventually coming to see us when our gear from Australia arrives and we’re properly settled in, and we exchange hugs and kisses on both cheeks when we meet at the shop.
As you drive around North Cyprus, you see groups of men sitting around tables intent on the serious business of drinking Turkish coffee, exchanging views, and hanging out with lifelong friends. If there are no customers in a shop, you’ll see the owners sitting outside having a natter with their fellow store-owner who also has no customers and so sits outside to socialise. As we were leaving a petrol station, a car driven by one of the workers at the station happened to have a rear-end collision with another car on the nearby road. So everyone downed tools, went over, stood around looking at the cars, bellowing suggestions to the driver who’d been hit and the driver who’d done the rear-ending, and a jolly good time was had by all. And I might point out, that here you have real service – someone fills the car for you, washes the windscreen (front and rear) and checks your tyres – so in this instance, if you hadn’t filled your car, you simply had to wait until the incident had run its course before people would come back to serve you.
So this laid-back attitude is beginning to creep through my veins. When we move, I always land in a new place expecting to set off running the moment we arrive. I can be driven with the best of ’em. In the case of North Cyprus, I’ve actually taken the time to acknowledge that – at my age of 64 – moving continents is tiring and stressful, BUT a marvellous opportunity to slow right down, relax, observe the world in a peaceful manner, and enjoy what each day brings to me. I think, personally, that the best thing we can do is to accept we’re human, that we face challenges, that we can live each day the best we can, and we don’t need to do anything at all if we don’t feel like it. The world won’t end, people won’t fall off the clifftop, the seas won’t recede in shock. And you might regain an equilibrium and perspective that just being in this world is an absolute miracle in itself. You don’t need to do a thing to experience this miracle. Just be.