One of the books I read on my break was The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera. It was a book I have been intending to read for a long time, and it sat on my shelf for months before I packed it in my suitcase. The title had mystified me, but Kundera explains his theory early in the book, and it is really quite simple.
But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?
The heaviness of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But... [t]he heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.
Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.
What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?
... The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous [question] of all.
In the context of holidays, respites are a luxury, and a wonderful way to restore energy and clarity. But I have come to the conclusion that commitments and engagements and schedules - a 9 to 5 job, children, yoga classes, family birthdays, shopping lists, weekly visits to grandparents - are just as, if not more, worthwhile. After all, to say otherwise would be discounting what makes up 95% of our lives.
So I suppose what Kundera is asking us to consider is that the more responsibility we saddle ourselves with and, consequently, the more our actions and choices impact upon other people, the more significant we (and our lives) become. Which is, of course, totally obvious, but seems to be at odds with the direction that the culture and discourse of today (particularly online) seems to be heading... minimalism, freelancing, 4 hour work weeks, de facto relationships, childless marriages (by choice)... Each to their own, of course, and everybody deserves to pursue whatever makes them happy and fulfilled, but maybe it's not the case that lightly and freely is the be-all, end-all of self-improvement.
As usual I am going to stay on the fence, and say that I think it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Freedom from the trap of consumerism, for example, but the burden of investing in our futures. Freedom from oppressive patriarchal and religious systems, but the burden of abiding by our own understanding of morality. Freedom to live our own lives, without being subdued by what others may think of us, but the burden of being loyal and kind to our family, friends, neighbours and strangers we walk by on the street. I think it is just a matter of distinguishing the burdens and the freedoms that enrich our lives or, conversely, hold us back. And that means constantly questioning ourselves and our world which I think is the key, if one exists, to unlocking life itself.
"When we want to give expression to a dramatic situation in our lives, we tend to use metaphors of heaviness. We say that something has become a great burden to us. We either bear the burden or fail and go down with it, we struggle with it, win or lose. And Sabina - what had come over her? Nothing. She had left a man because she felt like leaving him. Had he persecuted her? Had he tried to take revenge on her? No. Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden, but the unbearable lightness of being."
— Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)