Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Break is for a week, contemplation a lifetime

Finally, it is the last Friday before the beginning of Spring Break and I am sure that the campus of our beloved university is already a ghost town, as a good fraction of students are already off to whichever destination they chose for their vacations. The fortunate among us will be journeying to sunny, beach-front locations like Florida, or other destinations that will bring joy to the mind and senses. Nevertheless, the point of a vacation cannot be simply to try to escape the world.

Those who are getting away to distant locations in order to find peace of mind will be sorely disappointed for it is not possible to find peace of mind in such a place when one drags oneself with one’s worries. A story is told of a man complaining to Socrates about how he was unsatisfied with the travel that he had done throughout his life and received in reply a simple answer: “What else can you expect having since you always take yourself along with you when you go abroad.”

Wherever we go, no matter how beautiful the destination, we will always be carrying ourselves around and will be weighed down with our grievances against the world – just shuffling around will not be enough to melt them away. After all, what difference does it make whether we are in either Mexico or Hawaii if we are still looking through the same eyes with the biases and neuroses; surely the two may be beautiful, but it is our attitude which determines whether we are in bliss or perdition. Even a beautiful ocean sunset can be tainted by one’s personal quibbles. Seneca once said: “To escape the things that torment you, what you need is not to be at a different location, but to be somebody else.”

Of course, there are some looking for the excuse to be another person when on vacation, but there is no need to go to a far away place simply to change one’s person – that is something that is far too important a task to only be done when abroad. Those who want to go on vacation not to permanently improve their character, but to take on a new personality as if it is a mask that can be changed are utterly deluded. Our character is who we are, not our beliefs and thoughts, but also our biases, habits and mannerisms.

It is not only what we are born, but also what we make ourselves. Free will is ours and therefore we have not only the right, but also the duty to choose our own paths in life and to do so purposefully. There is no difference between a bridled mule doomed to follow wherever it is lead and an individual who lives solely by the direction of the exterior world. Therefore, contemplation is a necessary feature in every life that is worthy of being called: “human,” a life without contemplation is no different than that of an animal, for without free will a human is just another animal doomed to live by the dictates of its environment and instincts.

Epictetus’ Encheiridion (The Manual for Living) begins by noting that there are some things in life that are in our power to control and those are our own acts, while there are other things in life that are not in our power to control. To live freely and well, it is necessary for each individual to recognize those things and to work via his own free will to improve those things that can be controlled while not letting those things that control is not possible over vex us too much.

This brings me to my final point: it is not an external object that brings us annoyance; rather it is the individual person who annoys himself. Whenever each person says: “That annoys me,” all that we are doing is allowing it to effect them, and saying it is even worse because the person is letting whatever vexes him to become the focus of his attention, hence giving it more power over him. Sartre was wrong when he said “hell is the other person.” On the contrary, hell is the self and our own actions, because hell is a door locked from the inside, a state of mind that each individual allows himself to be trapped in.

Surely, there are certain things that we cannot control, the room next door may be blaring music that has no artistic quality whatsoever and it may have the power to vex us. But, what we still have is the power of how we react to it, will we let it annoy us to the point of being reading to flay the individual responsible or will we, with the power of free will, find a far more appropriate response?

Hence, any vacation that is spent simply trying to escape our surroundings is simply travel in vain because it is not our surroundings that are the source of our troubles, but how we let ourselves be affected by them. Without contemplation is our lives it is impossible to successfully use our free will in a manner that will make us capable of overcoming the briers and obstacles that we will find in front of us as we journey through life.

A vacation is as much a state of mind as it is the possibility of viewing exotic places so even if we may not be able to be in Florida, it is possible for us to live through proper contemplation in the same state of bliss as the person reclining in a sun-drenched beach, but with one extra bonus: the contemplative vacation need never end.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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