It is that eternal feeling of existential angst. That feeling of apprehension and disquietude we get when we rediscover our lives have no inherent meaning. That feeling we get when we realize there is not actually some bearded guy on a gilded chair in the sky who is worrying about how happy we are today. It is a feeling that can present itself for a myriad of reasons. But for me, it is often unscheduled time on my own that really gets the existential juices going.
Consider this completely theoretical scenario: It is a Saturday morning. I manage to get a decent sleep the night before. I get up early to go to a yoga class. I grab an egg sandwich on the way home. I shower. I get dressed. It’s a beautiful day. It’s 10am. The work week seems like a distant dream, something I can barely recall. And nothing but weekend lies ahead. I haven’t scheduled anything to do. No weekend trips to other cities, no hiking adventures around Hong Kong, no brunches with friends, not even an errand I have been meaning to do. This unscheduled time was not a product of conscious thought, but I just hadn’t gotten around to filling it up. And even if I had thought about it briefly during the week, a free Saturday in my home city has a nice ring to it. A day to relax. A day to engage in fulfilling activities. A day to enjoy.
But herein lies the dilemma. Actually it’s not just a dilemma. It’s a full on crisis. “A “first world problem” as they say. Because there is nothing relaxing, fulfilling, or enjoyable about literally doing nothing. Or maybe there is. But I haven’t been very successful at figuring this out. I still feel the need to do something in order to relax, to feel fulfilled, and to enjoy. Staring at a blank wall just won’t cut it. And now I feel pressure to come up with that something.
Should I go out exploring with my camera? After all, photography is my favorite hobby and Saturdays are for both hobbies and exploring, right? It would satisfy my artistic itch and would allow me to engage with the people of the city and feel appreciation for the beauty of the physical world around me. But that somehow doesn’t feel productive enough because I don’t have a particular area of town I have been meaning to shoot. Or maybe I should read my book in the park? That would allow me to spend some much needed time outdoors and would certainly fulfill the relaxing part of the equation. But I don’t need a whole day to do that, do I? I could just do that for a half hour on the way home from whatever thing I do decide to do. Or maybe I should text a bunch of friends I have been meaning to catch up with to see if they are free for a coffee? This would be both productive and enjoyable, but what are the chances that anyone has made the same mistake I have regarding waking up to a day without plans? Plus, what if they counter with a proposal to meet later in the day, which would create the new dilemma of having plans smack in the middle of the day, which would take all the other wonderful options off the table. Should I go to a coffee shop to write? This would allow me to express my everlasting internal monologue in a more coherent and formalized fashion. And if I was productive enough to finish a blog post today, it would serve the purpose of allowing me to reconnect and share my thoughts with my loved ones back home. But what if I don’t write something interesting or intriguing enough? What if it isn’t worthy of publication, or what if I won’t have time to finish it for another few weeks? Should I go do an errand and buy something that I “need”? This would also be productive, but since I don’t really need it (hence the quotation marks) and because this activity scores below zero on the fulfilling test, I think I’ll skip it.
And so the existential dance continues. My whole “life is beautiful” and the “world is my oyster” outlook has soured. It has become stressful. It makes me call into question my entire self-imposed identity as a driven, curious, world-loving soul who wishes there were 30 hours in a day and that humans only required 4 hours of sleep. Are my hobbies my hobbies because I love to do them? Or are they my hobbies because I like the idea of being someone who has those hobbies? Are relaxing things actually relaxing or do they just have the reputation for being relaxing and actually become another thing on the to-do list?
As the Head and the Heart song goes, “I get lost in my mind.” I have gotten so lost that I seemingly can’t find my way out. But then…the wonderful “AHA” moment. The realization that none of this angst that I have is based on reality. It is all based on stuff I have made up in my mind. It does not exist independent of my mind. Like a rainbow. The only thing that is real is that I have a decision to make regarding what I will do today. And so today, I have chosen to write in a coffee shop. I have chosen to write what is on my mind. I have chosen to connect with all of you. And how wonderful is that.