Wednesday, January 6, 2010

No plans, no goals… and no worries

“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
- John Lennon

The great old roads of Rome were often straight, so straight that they have become minor engineering marvels that still impress us today. Harry Eyres (“When straight is a bit narrow”) writes:

“The directness with which the Romans achieved their objectives can still astonish us: even our motorways are not as straight and pay more heed to natural contours than some of their roads.”

The Romans were military minded. Efficient. No fooling around. Their roads were there to create the shortest path between one point and their objective. All those towns ending in "–chester" or "–cester" derive their names from the Latin word castra which meant a sort of military camp.

Eyres suggests a “metaphorical consideration of this whole question of roads and paths.” He wonders if this idea of building fast and straight roads has come to dominate our thinking in other areas of life.

We think he has a point.

What particularly inspires this line of thought is the custom of making New Year’s resolutions. We don’t make any. And we find the practice, at least as most people do it, to be anti-absurd. People seem to want that clear objective, like a straight Roman road, that will take them to some desired point out in the future.

In a sense, many people invest their happiness in achieving these goals and objectives. If they don’t lose weight or get that promotion or clean out the basement, it will make them unhappy. It will bother them. They will feel like failures.

But really, none of it matters. Our concerns are so ridiculously petty, why magnify them by making resolutions? Goals are self-imposed chains. Throw them off! This reminds us of one our absurd inspirations, Henry Miller. “I don’t plan things in advance,” Miller wrote. “When I want to do something, I do it.”

The absurd man just is; he takes life as he finds it. This is not to say he can’t get better at a thing or improve his lot. He simply lets these grow naturally from his passions and interests. If you enjoy gardening, then garden to your heart’s content – and your garden will bloom under your cheerful efforts. And when it no longer interests you, then drop it. Don’t hold to some arbitrary goal you’ve made for yourself. Be free – and absurd. If nothing matters, then your plans don’t matter either.

When the Romans left, many of their roads fell into disuse. Obviously, the straight paths are not always preferred. The older roads of the “ancient Britons, Druids and other shaggy-haired characters who roamed the land” came back. The people took the old woodpaths that meandered through forests to uncertain ends. As Eyres writes, “Woodpaths don’t lead you definitively out of the woods but, then, by learning woodways and woodcraft, you might come to see the wood as somewhere full of possibility.”

What a great metaphor for the absurd, which focuses on the present, on living in the moment instead of some uncertain future (or life beyond death). Life is, indeed, full of possibilities. We find it freeing to open up to those possibilities and experiences, rather than try to fight to control your life – as if you could do such a thing anyway. The idea of the woodpaths also stands as a nice contradistinction to the straight Roman roads and goal-mindedness of anti-absurd society.

The absurd minded fellow doesn’t mind meandering. One never knows what one might find wandering down the uncertain woodpaths. And it doesn’t matter what lies in the path. The absurd man aims for contentedness wherever that path may lead.


  1. Indeed, a very nice read! Got a good to know info about Romans through the example of Roman roads. Philosophically, yeah, better life is when you take like as it is now, without giving importance to the future. Plans desires and expectations are all harmful things, and all relate to the future.

  2. Awesome post.. But tell me is it really possible to live that way?? Even you work for a living right? You have to complete deadlines and have to do something you have committed to do to your clients even if it doesn't seem interesting now right? .. What say..?? expecting a reply for this..

  3. Listen to yourself. DEADlines. Lines of Death. A few DEADlines might be unavoidable, but you can keep your ego detached from work. You have an Indian name, lots of Indians work way, way too hard. You know you can change the way you promise for deadlines. Don't promise so much you have to work a 50+ hour week to do it. Don't give into peer pressure or the work atmosphere of pressure. When someone forces me into a deadline, I simply miss it! Guess what, people miss deadlines all the time without getting fired. Anything you can't get done in a 40 hour week is too much, after all your whole job is as meaningful as dinosaur poop the minute after you're dead. Spend more time with your wife, or people important to you. You CAN refuse to let work deadlines dominate you.

  4. Ananth -

    Sure you can live this way!

    There are plans... and then there are PLANS. We all make little plans. We - Inigo and Rick - plant to meet for lunch today at Absurd HQ. We plan to work tomorrow. We plan all kinds of trivial things.

    The main idea is not to commit to big plans... you know, "life plans" and not let these get in your way as far as your happiness is concerned.

    And, as Anonymous posted above, keeping that detachment is key.

    Speaking of deadlines, this reminds us of Douglas Adams' famous line: "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

    That's the spirit!