Psychoanalyst gives a lesson in Not Working

18 May

I’m sorry this post is so late – it’s been a busy 24 hours.

In my defence, it really has, but as Josh Cohen suggested at Swindon Spring Festival yesterday (Friday) this is not so much an apology as a self-righteous desire on my behalf for you understand how very, very busy I am.

Author, psychoanalyst and professor Josh was talking at Swindon Arts Centre on the topic of Not Working. In “a culture of overwork and hyperactivity, where being busy is a source of pride,” inactivity, he argued, can be good for us.

Josh Cohen Image © Fernando Bagué

Advertisements for energy drinks and tablets urge us to ‘power through’ fatigue and sickness. And when the cracks finally start to show, we’re “rushed to mindfulness classes squeezed between business meetings.”

As a psychoanalyst, Josh said, he sees many people suffering from anxiety, who yearn a little peace.

He has identified four archetypes of inactivity: the burnout, the slob, the daydreamer, and the slacker.

The burnout does not want to be inactive, but has been compelled to stop by a rebellion of the mind. The slob embraces his or her inactivity. He or she is often portrayed as a counter-culture hero: The Dude in The Big Lebowski; Snoopy; Homer Simpson – who, in one episode of The Simpsons, runs for public office with the slogan Can’t Someone Else Do It?

The daydreamer floats in airy defiance, while the slacker lives according to his or her own rhythm.

Josh said he didn’t counsel becoming any of them, but each questions the very stressful lives many of us lead.

It’s becoming harder and harder to find moments of peace. Mobile phones mean we can never really leave work behind at the end of the day, while social media persuades us to turn every moment of downtime into a performance of activity.

What we need, says Josh – and I agree – is to structure downtime into our schedules, perhaps by swapping a workout session at the gym with an ambling walk; and to not feel guilty about occassionally staring out of the window.

Words by Peter Davison. Image © Fernando Bagué

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