Some time ago, a liberal arts education grew laborious: the labor of academic work, the labor of extracurriculars, the labor of planning one’s future. As students of Ancient Greek know, the word ‘school’ comes from a Greek word antithetical to labor: schol?, meaning “leisure.”
We lose a great deal of wisdom by ignoring this etymology. Learning requires a mindfulness of one’s own thoughts. But, our ambitious schedules plunge us into a blur of thought that, ironically, renders our lives thoughtless and mechanical. If we are to re-engage with the essence of school, with leisure, our minds must have time to wander.
We are so fearful of the freedom found in free time. I think it is because freedom requires the feeling of insecurity. In free time, our identity is untethered from any pursuit or group. We cannot map our movements onto predictable sequences of behavior. We are forced to confront head on the eternally insecure present.
Emptied of mindless activity, Time seems fearsome. In “The Sabbath,” Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes “Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives.”
This mindset is destructive. Like any phobia, one way to overcome it is to immerse ourselves in its source. I’m confident that the taste of daydreaming, of wandering, of free time spent in solitude with one’s thoughts, will teach us to relish freedom once again.
What I speak of was not always so foreign. But today, enmeshed in networks that never pause, our thoughts rarely pause either. The alert on our phones gains urgency the moment we perceive its glaring presence. This constant disruption has degraded thought to the senseless blur of doom scrolling.
The solution is not to renounce these technologies that deaden our minds. Heschel teaches us that the solution is to have them but remain independent of them. The Jewish Sabbath is a day in each week when Jews celebrate the eternity of Time by resting from the labors of technology. We can only witness Time’s holiness when our minds are unencumbered by the worldly wonders of space.
Daydreaming is a sort of Sabbath. It signals a delight in the act of thinking rather than the thoughts themselves. The act of thinking is our source of freedom and, paradoxically, our connection to what is eternal. We think with Time.
So, my friends, how do we think again? How do we access the schol?? of school when Bowdoin’s cultural wealth tempts us with myriad pursuits and people?
I’ve learned that people and pursuits only matter when there is time to reflect on them. Be frugal with your commitments. Quit anything that is only an obligation. Detach yourself from the soulless life of a network node, if even for one day a week. Relearn the meaning of rest. An eternity of Time will open itself to you.
Max Freeman is a member of the Class of 2022.