Finding that oasis of calm in a hectic life


THAT'S MEN:Men should look to women for advice on how to de-stress - starting with make-up

SOME YEARS ago, I was making my way to work one morning when I spotted a chap with a shaved head, wearing saffron robes, striding though Dublin's College Green.

He carried a briefcase and he seemed a bit stressed. Essentially, he looked like someone who was late for an important meeting - hurrying along, lost in his anxiety, oblivious to the world around him.

That was when it struck me that getting away from stress in the world of work is probably impossible. If a man like that can't do it, how can I?

There are, of course, little gaps in the day for de-stressing, even in the workplace. Many women used to spend the first 20 minutes after arriving at work applying make-up. I suppose it got them relaxed and made them presentable to the public - obviously they didn't care what they looked like to the fellows watching their morning ritual.

Men don't have the option of putting on their make-up as soon as they arrive at the office, and so we are denied this little oasis of tranquillity.

And perhaps more and more women are so busy in the 21st century that they can no longer afford the luxury of making themselves up when they arrive at their desks, and are forced to traipse around looking haggard until at least lunchtime.

Mind you, I have heard of women who manage to turn the morning coffee break into a one-hour feast, so things aren't all that bad for some sections of the proletariat, especially females.

I have not, if I may say so, heard of men who have turned the morning coffee break into a one-hour feast.

We don't tend to sit around eating scones we baked that morning or nice cakes we picked up in the boulangerie on the way in. Could it be that the men are answering the phones and dashing off e-mails while the women are stuffing themselves?

Now that long, liquid lunches are no longer considered acceptable - even in journalism people are expected to turn up sober in the afternoon - men must fall back on smoking breaks to get a little peace and quiet. And if you don't smoke, you can forget that, too.

For men and women who drive either to work or for work, the car has become their oasis. I used to feel sorry for people who commuted many miles to work, but I've changed my mind after conversations with some of them. The car, it seems, has become the new source of peace and quiet for the working class.

You can listen to the radio, or to music or books on CD or you can muse on the meaning of life as you dawdle along. You can read the paper if you're stuck in a really bad traffic jam.

I wonder if this is why car pooling hasn't really taken off in this country - if your car is where you get your peace and quiet, would you really want to have to entertain a travelling companion?

And why, under these circumstances, would you abandon the car for a crowded train or bus?

I know this is all terribly eco-unfriendly, but the fact remains that forcing people out of their cars will not necessarily improve their quality of life, and they can be expected to resist the idea while there is petrol in their tanks.

So prevalent is busyness nowadays that even the world of meditation has become affected by it. There are books with names like Drivetime Yogaand A Commuter's Guide to Enlightenment. I read a recent article encouraging "women on the go" to meditate by sitting in the office toilet and choosing to "go with the flow" when they hear one of the other toilets flushing.

Actually, there was a journalist in the Irish Presswho used to meditate in the toilets off the newsroom in the early 1980s.

He remained serenely oblivious to the comments of his tough-guy colleagues, and is probably making more money than any of us today in his role as a homoeopath.

So, no need for the saffron robe and the shaved head. Just find that oasis of tranquillity: buy a car, take up smoking, start wearing make-up.

Whatever works.

• That's Men, the best of the That's Men column from The Irish Times, is published by Veritas