The Weight Of Obligations

At the end of a day working as a psychotherapist, I can’t help but wonder if unwanted obligations are not the main cause of so many physical and mental illnesses. On a typical day I will see between six and eight clients, most of whom have lives that are filled with things they have to attend to, but do not really want to do.

In America we tend to see this as the normal way life is. It is as natural as the sun coming up in the morning. We have all these obligations to tend to, things that we do not really want to do, but we do them anyways because in a sense we must.

For most Americans, work tends to be one of the main obligations that people would rather not spend their time tending to if they did not have to. Afterall, the definition of happiness is doing exactly what you want to be doing.

But as Americans we have been taught to remedy the unhappiness of doing what we have to do but do not really want to do by buying things. In fact, the more we are able to buy, the nicer the things we own, the more successful we are seen as being.

But I am not so sure that buying things really brings lasting happiness. Yesterday, I bought a really nice table my wife and I have wanted for some time. A few hours later we were arguing about a problem we have been having with one of our dogs. I couldn’t help but note that the happiness from buying the expensive table did not last long.

I realize that in America we see everyone working hard and then buying their way up the status ladder with the money they have earned. This is just what we do, it is how we have been taught to live and we don’t really question it, except maybe when we are in a hospital bed.

I wish that the things we bought from the money earned doing things we do not really want to be doing but are pretending like we really like doing, brought long-lasting happiness. I really do. But the truth is that this way of achieving happiness is like stacking more stuff in a garage that is already over-filled. You buy a car or a house and a dog or have a few kids and then you just have to spend more of your time doing things that you do not really want to be doing with your limited time.

Now that I own a home and have dogs and some nice things, I have to spend a lot of my time engaged in home care and dog care and organizing and paying for all the things I own. The time I spend doing the things I really want to be doing has grown exponentially shorter. If I complain about this, I feel guilty because I feel like I should be grateful for what I have. I remember having very little and I should be happy that I finally have a nice and comfortable lifestyle. But I sure spent a lot more time doing the things I liked to do when I was poor.

This is what I call a middle-class syndrome. Middle-class because day after day in my work as a psychotherapist I see people dealing with the anxiety, depression, chronic worry and stress that are symptoms of this particular syndrome.

Because happiness is having the ability to do whatever the hell it is you really want to do (and not just on the weekends), I often tell my clients that they must find balance.

Unfortunately, it is the nature of economic life in America that most people will have to work jobs that are not the ideal way that they would like to be spending their time. They will also have to do a lot of things outside their jobs that are not the ideal way they would like to be spending their time. It is just how we have set up economic life in America.

If a person goes an entire day without spending some time doing exactly what they want to be doing, this is a recipe for misery.

Everyday a person needs to try and take the power back by committing themselves to doing exactly what they want to do- even if it is on a lunch break. For me it is reading, writing, making art, meditating and listening to music. If I do not do a few of these things everyday, I will feel despair. If I neglect these things for too many days I will just start to feel like a hopeless robot going through the motions with no real purpose or interest driving my life.

If we want a shot at feeling good we must make the effort to balance out our daily lives by doing things that we want to do (and not just when we get in bed at the end of a day with a book). If this is for too long neglected the anger, stress and depression that we feel will manifest in a physical and/or mental illness.

I am not sure that there are too many people who get to do exactly what they want to do all the time. I am sure that even Donald Trump would rather not put on a suit somedays. Life in the current late-capitalist American economic system that we are living in, means spending a large majority of our time obligated to things that we do not really want to be doing.

Like I said, most see this as normal and do what they must without thinking much about it. This is what the powers system wants, a non-questioning, submissive, automaton.

But we are human beings and I believe that the point of being alive is to be able to enjoy your life as much as possible; to be able to do exactly what you want to do most of the time. I believe that we were designed to live this way and nothing we purchase is worth its exchange. It is just the current system that we are all living within that has messed this up by encouraging us to turn our lives into a never ending series of weighted obligations.

If you really want to do the things that you want to be doing in your everyday life, you are going to have to really try. Because after all, the person easiest to neglect is yourself.

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Procrastination, The Importance Of Putting Everything Off

“A nice piece of modern contemporary philosophy and contemplation about the way we live our lives in the modern world.” -Tracie Sokoloff

Nothing makes me happier than the complete absence of all obligations. Nothing. To be alone in wide open time and space, free to go and do whatever I want, is the ideal condition for myself to exist within. Free to listen to music, free to write, free to make art, free to fall asleep in my garden, free to go for a long walk, free to drift in whatever direction I get blown in without any concern for time or things that must be done- this is what I consider to be basic human freedom. Human freedom is a basic need that we all share and the more that this basic need goes unmet, the more we experience mental and physical illness. (It is ironic or tragic that in the society we have created, the more this basic need goes unmet the more material and financial gain we often get. This is why in America more people are on psychiatric drugs and suffer various addictions than any other country in the world.)

For close to thirty years now, I have managed to put everything off. As I get older I am becoming more skilled at doing this. Prior to thirty years ago, I still put everything off but I had my parents continually placing in front of me what I was trying to put off. Without anyone forcing my hand, I am able to keep everything away. The difference between myself and most Americans is that I see what is often referred to as procrastination as a very healthy behavior (if done right). In fact, I feel it is necessary to put things off in order to live a life free from as may obligations as possible. I have always believed that the person who dies with the largest amount of things put off or not taken care off, has lived the fullest life. In a society where a person’s value is in equal measure to the amount of obligations that they have, we must actively engage our ability (which we all have) to put things off, if we want to live free from this often self-made prison.

In order to successfully put things off for as long as possible (in order to live more fully now), it is important to know how to be alone. If an individual is not able to be genuinely alone without anxiety, it will be difficult for he or she (or it) to free themselves from all obligations. Putting things off will be a struggle for the individual who is not able to be alone. By being alone what I mean is the ability to be completely undisturbed by the outside world. To shut the entire outside world out as if it was not even there. When we shut the entire world out, people who want something from us no longer exist. Other people become like trees or clouds in the sky- they are just there, coexisting along with us rather than wanting or demanding something from us or us needing something from them (obligation means to need something from another person or for another person to need something from you). To be free of obligation means to not need anything from others and to not be disturbed or anxious about what others might need from you. This is why being alone is a skill that is crucial for successfully being able to put things off.

The skill of being alone is in great decline in American society. This is one of the most tragic phenomena of our time. The ability to be alone is disappearing in front of our eyes. Individuals can no longer even be alone while sitting on the toilet! Most individuals sit on the toilet with some kind of digital device in their hand. These digital devices (computers, smartphones) serve one fundamental purpose, to prevent people from feeling alone. Most of us can’t handle being alone. We don’t like how it feels. We become uncomfortable and anxious, feel like we are missing out when alone and digital intervention comes to our rescue. This is tragic because the human soul needs to be alone in order to flourish. Less time alone equals less soul and more mechanization (which is what the corporations who sell us these products need and want us to become- mechanized).

The one phenomena that differentiates our period in human history from any other period is that we can now avoid being alone even when we are alone. Our phones and computers are doorways through which the outside world can slip in and fill our aloneness. Most of us voluntarily open up this door for the outside world to come on in when we are alone because we have forgotten how to be alone. Being alone is a skill that requires practice. Once we are constantly interrupting our aloneness by checking our emails, texts, Facebook and Instagram our ability to be alone becomes weaker and weaker until we can not be alone anymore without some sort of distraction present. This is a human tragedy.

If we are not able to shut the outside world out and be fully alone, we will not be successful at freeing ourselves from all obligations. As long as we let the outside world in, even if we manage to put most things off, we will still be tormented by the lingering feeling of all the things we are not getting done. There is no greater waste of time (life) than putting things off while worrying about what we are not getting done. The entire world must be completely shut out, forgotten about or neutralized (meaning everything is just how it should be) in order for a person to successfully put things off. Our day is spent doing exactly what we want to be doing, free of any extraneous concerns or worries, free from the constraints imposed on humans by time. We are fully content and at peace in our aloneness, not worried about what is being left undone or missed out on because we are fulfilled (engaged) in our lives now. This is what it means to be free and the only way to be truly free in our contemporary world is to put everything off.