During the 80s, my family ended up in Italy, after a long journey that started in Poland. The shift was radical, and the two cultures couldn’t be any more different. The Italian people walked with a bounce in their step. They laughed frequently, were expressive, and beamed of excitement during interactions.
The iron curtain, separating Eastern and Western Europe, rested heavily on its citizens’ shoulders. And its effects could be seen in people’s stern faces and rigid gestures. Heads were bent towards the pavement, expressions were serious, and the eyes reflected fear. When one had to fight for every little thing, even a gray roll of toilet paper, it’s no wonder that the system created a population of stressed out and nervous individuals.
A very important Italian lesson
But moving beyond the obvious cultural variances, the most stunning difference was that Italians were given time in the afternoon to rest. And I am not referring to a half-an-hour, or even an hour, for lunch. I am talking about a serious chunk of time; three to four hours right in the middle of the day. In Rome, where we lived, it is called a ‘siesta’, but some Italians also refer to it as ‘riposo’.
In any case, it was impressive that almost the entire country would shut down to enjoy this personal time to rest. To pause, to eat, to reconnect with their families and friends, to reflect, or simply enjoy doing noting (far niente!). This idea was so foreign to someone like me, who was schooled from very early on to work hard and to be productive at every opportunity.
Of course it doesn’t help that by nature I am most happy when I am in motion. But being in motion and being busy for the sake of being busy are two very different things.
Despite my natural tendency to keep on moving, over time I developed a great appreciation for this regular pause during the day. It was special to have this time just for me. To have a few hours in the afternoon to stop and enjoy life. To look around me and to not rush. To take it all in and absorb my thoughts and process the events of the day.
Doing busy work can be a trap
Time is precious, no doubt. But it doesn’t mean that by taking a pause for reflection, time is being wasted. In fact I believe the opposite. By taking time for ourselves to contemplate, to examine and to listen to our thoughts and desires, we take bigger strides. Just because on the surface we see many people around us running, and it feels like we’re standing, it doesn’t mean that by running they are on the right course, or going any further than us. If they are running in the wrong direction, they are moving backwards. Some people run for the sake of running. Doing busy work as a way to escape the effort to think for themselves and to figure out the direction they want to take to make themselves happy.
Take time to reflect and get to know yourself
Chasing the idea of happiness, but not taking the time to understand what happiness means to us as an individual, can often lead to disappointments and frustration. Sometimes years go by before we realize that the very thing we were chasing was the wrong dream all along. The sooner we figure out what makes us happy, the more time we will have to chase the right dream for us, and make it a reality.
Learn to disconnect
I realize that having a career, family, friends, and other obligations can pull us in different directions, and there are days when even a half an hour for ourselves can feel like an eternity. However, it’s funny how I often run into people who claim they are too busy to take time for themselves, but yet manage to post something daily on social media, play video games, or spend time watching TV and catching up on the news, rather than taking a walk in the park and think. And by taking a walk outside, I mean leaving the smartphone at home or in the office. Truly learning to disconnect from all the noise, and instead connecting with nature and ourselves. Electronics can often be the source of distraction–a distraction from thought and contemplation. Learning to walk away from that type of distraction can be very difficult at first, but also very revealing eventually. Take the time to do so.
About the picture: Winter Sleep
In this scene I decided to scatter multiple people on different planes to symbolize their level of reflection. Some have their heads pointed towards the sky, while others towards the ground to show the expansion of their thoughts. There are people holding to bare branches as if to gain a bit of warmth, while others are barely hanging on, and appear like they are about to slide off the tree as they are deep in sleep. One person is resting by the tree trunk, holding their hand near their mouth to symbolize introversion and inward expression rather than proclaiming words. They are outside in nature, tuning into the rhythm of winter and sleep as they are bound to the trees. The bare trees are also in their resting stage. Above them is a starry sky, signifying the bigger world around them, potential, and most important, hope. Because hope is what will help them get through the winter.