“The high value put on every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most important objective of living is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy”
These wise and contemporarily relevant words are from Herman Hesse’s 1905 essay titled, “On Little Joys”. The German-born Swiss luminary is widely know for his novels Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. A less widely circulated treasure is My Belief: Essays on Life and Art.
Hesse laments how the “aggressive haste” of his time (gosh, what would he say about our time?) has eroded our ability to enjoy leisure. This does not imply that - in the straightforward sense - there is no time for leisure, but rather, his point is more subtle.
He argues that the frenzied rush for success and heightened productivity (work time) inhabits our leisure time with just as much negative persuasion. We tend to apply the mantra of “as much as possible, as fast as possible” to all aspects of our lives. The resultant effect is, simply put, more entertainment and less joy. We have lives brimming and bursting with productivity, entertainment, sensory titilation and over-the-top, hyper-real celebration. And yet, where is the joy? Hesse was of the opinion that this blind pursuit is “perpetually satiated” (there is just so much entertainment!). Nevertheless, our race continues, spurred on by “constant dissatisfaction”.
What I draw from this is: its not that we don’t have enough leisure time, its that we crush this precious resource in the endless race for externalised and measurable productivity, and drown it in sensory satisfaction.
The antidote in Hesse’s estimations is “moderation in enjoyment”. At first read this sounds like a typically bland, tight-lipped, tight-arsed statement from some perpetually fasting aesthete. Well, that is how I read it in any case. I live fully; I feel deeply.
However, a nuanced reading into this point elucidates a simple and profound message: cultivate the ability to savour enjoyment in small doses. Save the big gains and the monumental celebrations for high days and holidays. Joyful being is comprised of “a thousand … tiny things from which one can weave a bright necklace of little pleasures of one’s life”.
Being able to appreciate and recognise little joys in the everyday is deeply implicated with a habit of moderation. Hesse gives an example of how you could focus on one painting at an exhibition instead of rushing through all forty works displayed. This one painting, well understood, connected with, and visually digested is more valuable to your understanding of art, the artist and, indeed, life, than a blur of several.
For me, the principle of yoga is a lesson of moderation. Integrating yoga practice regularly into your life does not happen unless you are willing to make room for it. You have to cultivate a pattern over your day in which yoga time is guarded and unhurried. Then, when involved in your practice, its the small sensations, the tiny achievements, pains, and releases that consume all your attention. You feel this, you watch it, and this ability to observe, this mind state of observance is a true gift. You cannot observe like this if you are going full tonk, ‘working out’ and pushing yourself to achieve some body goal or pose. Simultaneously, just flopping about like a lard gives rise to a dull mind; there is no careful observance or exploration of your mind-body connect without sincere focus and intent.
Hesse says that the “principle thing” in cultivating a joyful life “is the beginning, the opening of the eyes”. In order to savour small joys, you have to be able to see them, and to see them you have to learn to not just stand still, but be still.