By Abel Merawi
April 20, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- There are times in the life of the individual or even the whole world when the status quo is shaken and we are in a disarray. Such situations mostly bring out unusual personal traits that might make us question ourselves. But such reactions are normal. As Viktor E. Frankl in his book ‘Man's Search for Meaning’ writes, “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” The present COVID-19 pandemic has shifted our typical path and led us to an uncharted territory. Part of this new and temporary change is staying home. Most of us are used to leaving home in the morning, spend the day at work or elsewhere and only return in the evening to our house. Thus, we may display abnormal reactions while staying home, but we should know it is normal to act abnormally since the situation is also abnormal. I think this moment can be used to discover ourselves and reexamine our life.
As members of the modern world, we are part of a consumerist culture. This culture demands our constant engagement in innumerable endeavors, and the profit we make is bound to be spent on various commodities. Life has become overwhelming to an extreme extent that we never find time to stop and think. The struggles of life, the media, and the various technologies do not give us a break to even take a breath; let alone reflect. Hitherto, we were in constant movement and suddenly we started to stay home. We can spend this time complaining or hooked on TV and our phone. Better yet, we can spend a portion of this time in personal reflection. The famous psychologist Rollo May has written about the ‘significance of a pause’ for finding relief from the daily hustle in his book, ‘Freedom and Destiny’. I will be mostly relying on his work to show the value of such a pause in our life.
As children, we had dreams. I do not mean our habit of saying I want to be a doctor or a pilot! But we had a vision of what to become which encompasses every aspect of our lives. As we grow up, our innocence gradually slipped away from us. The things we valued, our concept of love and our devotions slowly lost their meanings. On top of this, life in a technological age never stops. As Rollo May remarks, “There seems to be no pause in technology. Or when there is, it is called a ‘depression’ and is denied and feared.” We associate taking a pause with emptiness. We assume we are missing out on life if we just take a short break. In truth, we will miss out on life unless we take a pause and examine our path.
Rollo May speaks of a pause in relation to freedom by remarking, “In the pause, we wonder, reflect, sense awe, and conceive of eternity. The pause is when we open ourselves for the moment to the concepts of both freedom and destiny.” Freedom is associated with choice, but unless we stop and think for a moment it is difficult to freely choose. The following extracted lines from the poem by Lao Tzu show the significance of a pause:
We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is the empty spaces that make the room livable.
Thus, while existence has advantages,
It is the emptiness that makes it useful.
As the poet showed, existence becomes advantageous when we first know the reason we exist. Whether we do it intentionally or otherwise, we live for an idea. In the movie ‘Inception’, the main character, Cobb, says an idea is resilient and highly contagious. ‘And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” Think of your personal life for a moment. Why do you fall in love with a person others don’t even bother to notice? Why do we dedicate our entire life to a career other people don’t even consider as a job? What are some jokes funny to only you? Generally, why are you doing all the things you do? I’m not saying it is wrong, but simply asking if you chose consciously. It’s important because to choose one path is to not choose every other. I think the answers to these questions are related to the ideas we have in our mind regarding life. The idea is different for all of us, and discovering it is an individual task.
Taking time to reflect and discover yourself seems like something only Buddhists would do. It is not! We find the moment of reflection in almost every religion as when seclusion is necessary for finding one’s inner calling. You can also take it as meditation. The atheist can take it as a time taken for reasoning. Rollo May says, “The significance of the pause is that the rigid chain of cause and effect is broken. … the person's life response no longer blindly follows stimulus.” Thus, it is to escape automation that we need to stop and think.
We have considered the value of taking a pause to reflect. But I find the actual practice to be the most difficult part of the whole process. Try the following small challenge: do nothing and sit quietly for five minutes. I feel like I should clarify. I mean no TV, phone, talking to people, sleeping or even pre-planned thinking. Simply sit and let your mind take you where it desires. Rollo May explains that holistic symbols begin to form in your mind that help you see vividly. He says the symbols are, “from past and present, individual and group, consciousness and unconsciousness, and they are both rational and irrational.” So by accessing our whole realm of thought, we can find peace with ourselves.
Staying home might not have been your first choice. But who said you should stop living and sleep all day. What is more important than discovering your true desires through reflection. Even more, if you learn to be quiet, you begin to notice the sound of silence. I now leave you with the following words of Rollo May that describe such silence:
"We can hear an infinite number of sounds that we normally never hear at all – the unending hum and buzz of insects in a quiet summer field, a breeze blowing lightly through the golden hay, a thrush singing in the low bushes beyond the meadow. And we suddenly realize that this is something – the world of "silence" is populated by a myriad of creatures and a myriad of sounds."
Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.
Other articles by Abel Merawi:
The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!
History of Pandemics in Ethiopia
Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective
You Can Make a Difference
Rule of Law for a Free Society
The Origins of Law
Determinants of Market Value: Part II
Determinants of Market Value: Part I
Your life Matters Too
Manifestations of Artistic Expression
Achievements vs Natural Accidents
The Grip of Sacrifice
Injustice is Never Justifiable
Education Demands of the Future
Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future
The Shift From Racism to Culturism
Sacrificing Meaning for Power?
Culture and Market Forces
Seeking Cosmic Justice
National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations
Are We Truly Free?
Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy
Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group
The Value of Work
The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System
Intellectuals and the People
Where Are Our Pathfinders?
The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders
The Truth Behind Humanity
The Seven Virtues
The Seven Deadly Sins
What is the right thing to do?
Building National Identity
Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change
Living the Truth as a Human Being
Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others
The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them
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