Every afternoon that the clouds are not obstructing the sun, I become a sunbather. I do not wear sun tan lotion nor do I take any of the typical modern precautions against the sun. I am a sun lover and I do not see its golden rays as a threat. I’m afraid of many things in my life but the sun does not seem to be one of them. Instead, I strip down into the nude and shower in the sun light in the same way that I imagine a religious practitioner would bathe themselves in their god or goddess. I see the benefits of sun: a darker complexion, uplifted mood, more sex appeal and higher vitamin D3 levels. As far as I am concerned sun exposure is equally as important as a regular exercise.
However, sunbathing is not without its disadvantages. I have been sunbathing since I was a skinny youth but now that I am in my early forties I am noticing a new, less enjoyable experience when I sunbathe. For as long as I can remember sunbathing has been pure pleasure. Time well spent. Pleasurable abandon. But now after about twenty minutes or so of “laying out” in the sun I notice this unpleasant feeling creeping over me. It is a sensation that is usually accompanied by a metallic sensation in my mouth and a slight pulsation in my temples. I am naked and stretched out on my sun lounger with the sun light showering down all over me yet I am very uncomfortable.
Birds and various other forms of wild life will be active all around me yet my thoughts and a feelings seem to be tethered by a negative and unsatisfied quality. These feelings and thoughts make it very difficult for me to be still. I feel like I should be doing something else, accomplishing more, working more, being more ambitious. I notice this voice in my head that repeats words like “lazy,” “depressed,” “unambitous,” “failure,” ‘looser.” The feelings in my body seem to be shouting, “Get going! You should be doing anything but wasting afternoon after afternoon doing nothing! You do not deserve to do nothing!”
If you were to look at me stretched out on my sun lounger you would think that I am a man without a care in the world. You would not know that inside there is a battle going on between the forces of being and doing. You would not know that I am feeling like I am wasting my life and am terrified of going broke because of my laziness. You would not know what a great effort it is taking to stay still on that sun lounger.
In Eastern philosophy they talk a lot about people like me. When reading books that have an Eastern philosophy influence, I often come across the opinion that people in the West suffer so much because they are stuck in an endless cycle of doing and as a result our minds are always focused on things outside of ourselves. The moment that we stop and turn our minds inward we are confronted with the negative effects of always doing and focusing outwards. There is an immense amount of guilt, discomfort and negativity that is present because we feel that we need to be doing something. In order to avoid these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts we continually do things! Anything to avoid sitting still. While laying out on my sun lounger I am aware of this, yet this awareness does not seem to make enjoying the afternoon sun any easier.
I suppose I have been conditioned by that capitalistic logic which says I do things, therefore I am. I suppose when I am not doing anything my very being gets put into question. Who am I? What am I doing? Do I matter? Am I wasting my life? Maybe the intensity of these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings are the result of the fact that I am older now and am aware that I have less time left on this earth to “make my mark.” When I was younger I would spend my entire days “laying out” in the sun. Lazy and without a care in the world. I had plenty of time then.
Or maybe my uncomfortable feelings are more the result of social conditioning. Maybe in the culture where I live a man is expected to have made something of himself by the age of 40. He is expected to be financially independent and accomplished by the age that I now am. If he is not, then he is seen as a loser, a failure. Maybe now when I am laying out in the afternoon sun the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that are present are the result of my father, my mother, my sister, my in-laws, my wife, my government, my teachers, my culture all telling me that I need to do something with my life! However the irony is that I feel that the most productive and important thing a human being can do at this stage in our overly productive and destructive history is learn how to enjoy just being. To stop doing so much and spend as many afternoons as they can sunbathing.