In her ongoing pursuit of Zen, HOLLY O’NEILL wonders, what is the bloody point.
When was the last time you were bored? It seems like a dirty word now. Boredom is for the unimaginative. Boredom is for the unambitious. Boredom is for those without Instagram or side hustles. The only time I get to be bored anymore is when I get my eyelash extensions done, and I marvel at how refreshing it is every time. And if work, emails, children and everybody else’s occasions aren’t keeping you busy, free time now sounds something like this: “I’ve the whole weekend off for the first time in weeks, so I’m going to pull out the wardrobe, throw everything away until I have a streamlined French woman capsule collection of striped basics and simple essentials, and I think I might get all the drawers tidied as well. I’ll have to fit in a HIIT class and make a vegan Sunday roast. What are you getting up to?”
For the past few months, I have been trialling and testing the weird and wonderful world of wellness in this column. I’ve been sensory deprived, dunked in a bucket of ice water, had needles between my eyebrows and crystals above my head. I absolutely love it. But what has linked these esoteric practices is that they have all re-entered the mainstream for their ability to help us adapt to a world of more work. While all of the classes and meditations and experiences I have attended have been relaxing, de-stressing, calming and refreshing, what makes them relevant today, what makes the wellness industry worth over $4 trillion, is that we are all trying to adjust to a life of endless busyness.
When did we all decide to eat chopped salads and soups for lunch because they a) take ten minutes to be ready and eat, b) allow you to squeeze in as many nutrients as possible in the least amount of time, and c) require only an up-and-down mechanical hand motion that allows you to eat while really focusing on your email? When did we all become so efficient? This feels like a dirty question to ask too. It’s a miserable circle: buying the salad so you can also check the emails at the job that allows you to afford the salad that you need because you have so much work to do. Taking part in your preferred form of wellness so you can mentally prepare for the job that allows you to afford the wellness that you need to do the job.
It’s a bleak picture of the world, laid out by Jia Tolentino in her book of essays, Trick Mirror (Fourth Estate). “We have not ‘optimised’ our wages, our childcare system, our political representation,” she writes. “We still hardly even think of parity as realistic in those arenas, let alone anything approaching perfection. We have maximised our capacity as market assets. That’s all.”
All the lovely, warm, kind experts and teachers that I’ve met for this column, the ones who gave it all up to learn and teach the practices of de-stressing and refreshing full-time, are the ones who did it right. Am I having an existential crisis right now? Perhaps.
What I’m trying to say is, I’m not doing it this December. This year has gone by in a whirlwind, and I know that I’ll blink and it’ll be the worst of months: January. In January, I’ll go on a silent retreat or to a 5 am rave and get back on the hamster wheel. January is the time to face the big questions, like should you change your job or your hair? (Trust me, you don’t need bangs, you need eyelash extensions.)
January is the time to feel guilty about binge-watching The Crown when you could be checking out the new bestselling book releases, Vegan Yourself to Self-Righteousness, Just Stop Eating and Meditation for Immortality. In January, you’ll quit the booze and cigarettes and shopping and sugar and meat and dairy, or at least feel like you should. There’s plenty of time for self-optimising and chopped salad and guilt in January. Not December, though.
December is for sequins and sparkly dresses and glitter eyeshadow and dangly earrings and chocolate oranges. There’s enough running around to be doing, between wrapping presents and pantomimes and making sure you’ve enough chairs for everyone for the dinner and fitting in the entire Harry Potter series and picking up surplus tins of Roses to last you ’til next Christmas. I’m too busy to self-optimise in December, with the excitement and Christmas lights and cocktails and winter coats and lying around in my pyjamas with one hand spooning Madagascar Vanilla Custard from the Lidl Luxury section into my mouth at all times. December is for friends and family, for slowing down, happiness, doing what you want, or nothing, until you get bored. Do that, and feel no guilt.
Photography by Jason Lloyd Evans. This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of IMAGE Magazine.