Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

Replay: The Cultivation of Opposites

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If you aren't working anymore, you probably have a lot of time. Mornings might be glorious (see the post before this one). Then what? Some of us have no trouble answering that question. Others do. I wrote this a while back about maintaining a vital tension in life. Not stress, contrast. I think it's part of the secret.


Here’s a quote that floated in recently:

“There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one.”

— Jerome K. Jerome

I’ve been thinking about how we enjoy things in life, and often it’s through contrast. Getting warm after being cold. Eating after being hungry. The after-effects of a hard physical workout. The satisfactions of laboring during the week and being free over the weekend.

Keeping up that tension seems to be the key. Its related to the discipline of delaying gratification, so that the pleasure is all the sweeter when it arrives, an earned reward:

“Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.”

― M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth

Working during a career then not working as hard (or at all) later in life is both a contrast and a delayed gratification. But the tension soon fades. Not working can become the tensionless norm that’s not much fun.

There’s more enjoyment in mixing things up, maintaining some tension, cultivating contrasts.

So back to Jerome K. Jerome’s quote. When we have failed to cultivate contrasts as we get older — neglected to have things to do, places to go, people to see — doing nothing much can be a purposeless bore, a waste of precious time. (Unless you are so developed psychologically that your immersion into mere moments is enough to keep you fulfilled, whatever happens to fill those moments. That’s not most of us.)

Strive. Relax. Labor. Relax. Reach. Relax. That’s the rhythm.

So what are your contrasts? What do you do with some effort and intensity that’s released into the pleasure of its opposite? How do you ensure that doing nothing is pleasurable, not an exhausting waste of time?

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