On Leisurely

(as mind)

 

‘Leisurely’ has become an interesting word and idea to me—an affirmation of sorts that is lived more than merely an adjective to describe You, as a separate being, needing the medicine of leisure to treat a busy life. Leisurely as active life rather than passive description (come to think of it, I would just as easily and confusingly say that leisure as mind is an attitude of passive action).

The distinction of leisure as activity comes to mean more when faced with the assumed and twisted meaning of leisurely as a synonym of mere laziness with a particular aimlessness. I see leisure as the basis and prerequisite to “getting things done.” To have a leisurely mind is to have a mind not unnecessarily forced or compelled, while still completing your tasks—almost like the ideal judo stance where one is relaxed and neutral in the middle to avoid the need to draw back from a prematurely assumed position. They simply spring out from the middle without delay. The mind at leisure may be at the apex of its capabilities.

For instance, it is hard to force yourself to remember something... where you left your car keys, your second grade teacher’s name, or anything else. It is likewise hard to force feelings to come about—like love or fear—and harder still to force inspiration or creativity, even leadership. You either love or you do not, you’re either scared or you are not. Why then do we continue to act on the presumption that leisure is counterproductive, when it is in fact the primary state of mind for creation, genuineness and ingenuity.

We are not actually sitting inside our own heads pulling strings on all the decisions that are being made, micro and macro; if we were, we would be in a state of perpetual headache. We are not really willing our feelings into play, but faced with a choice to accept or deny them as they might arise. We make for ourselves a lot of grief by denying these feelings. When we do happen to allow ourselves to accept and agree with what comes our way, we tend not to acknowledge the inevitability and constancy of life—regardless of what we thought we were wanting or controlling. You may be able to trick yourself—rather shallowly—that you did want what came your way but it isn’t literally so. 

We have really been ‘graced’ with this whole experience. We don’t own it, and it is quite a fragile thing to assume we control its goings on. One microscopic tear in a particular vein and you could be dead in minutes. I do not say this to invoke despair, as I am at heart an optimist, only that I am reminded all the time of our lack of control over this life. All good things come from a mysterious cloud (of unknowing) behind, so to speak, the curtains of our life’s stage.

We are confused pupils, twirling in the middle of a dark room as objects and events of all sorts are thrown at us from every direction. Some land heavily on our heads, and impact us accordingly. Some miss completely, disregarded if not forgotten, and some we catch mid-air—hoping to learn from them. A few of this last sort are the ones that stoke this belief in us that we indeed can affect and/or control what’s going on, simply because of our awareness of them. This faux awareness ignores the uncertain effects of those things that are harder to identify, and events that we did not consciously ‘allow’ to affect us.

The control (or lack thereof) that I speak of is not a matter of being helpless or independent, of despair or hope, but is the practical, everyday manifestation of ego—the idea that we have of ourselves, built up over years of catching one out of every dozen adversarial objects thrown our way. We think we have an ego that does the controlling—a second little man or woman up in our heads pulling those strings, analyzing the thoughts and watching the life that the Body experiences, and filtering out what is good and bad—faced with the impossibility of this task we become vulnerable to despair, claiming things like God is dead, or hates us, or becoming utterly pessimistic and assert that it would be cruel to bring children into such a world as we live in. These things are not ultimately true, but subjectively felt based on the mind we choose to understand the world with—the ego that we create.

If we compare the practical effects of leisure and rigidity as mind, we are sure to produce two different worlds entirely: a world of rigidity has no ‘give’, and as such is not adaptable to even minor fluctuations in the surroundings. In the American Revolutionary War, mostly conventional and rigid tactics were used, but the Patriots incorporated a measure of guerrilla warfare, and thus introduced some ‘give’ to the battlefield that the British, in their rigidity, could not accommodate. Or even simpler: if you stand rigid in high winds, you will no doubt be blown over, but leaning into the wind you find an altogether different, unexpected result. 

 

I have been introduced to this new understanding of leisure as attitude of mind by German philosopher Josef Pieper in his book Leisure: the Basis of Culture. I meant this chapter to be a tribute to his impact on me, which I’m certain will continue to reverberate for years to come. Like all good writers, he has not so much spoon feed me philosophical answers—he has begun to permeate the foundation of me; because of this his words are now synonymous with the pattern of “I”, for I will be carrying those words and their influence for ever.

I had never read Pieper before but his perspective and authority seemed to strike me—not because he is particularly qualified, but because of his ability to lay out all the pieces of the puzzle in a categorical, sensible and digestible way. He doesn’t give off the attitude of professor, but rather of a concerned—not to mention optimistic—man, sharing in his attempt to make our home better.

He begins by detailing ways in which society and state have become compounded with the doctrine of labor as the ideal, to the point of fetishization. 

He asks, 

“Is there a sphere of human activity, one might even say of human existence, that does not need to be justified by inclusion in a five-year plan and its technical organization?”

Before you give your answer, the question might be amended to: “Is there an acceptable sphere of human activity . . .”, and to that the answer is surely no. We scrutinize all ways of spending a life that have fewer demonstrable benefits to society. This is not to say that it is, so-to-speak, desirable to not attempt at benefiting society—only that the very nature of this request has evolved into an inescapable requirement—a sort of prison. This is merely forcing good deeds, rendered empty out of guilt and obedience, rather than allowing humanheartedness and generosity to appear organically. These good things and deeds are not given as we live now as much as they are loaned, and the collateral for the loan is guilt, for if you don’t return the favor in kind, then what was it all for?

I don’t especially think that a mind at leisure would ask that question in the first place, because it’s all for this obviously. There is no wasting of time because there is felt no rush to get anywhere. Purists will shout, “You need to stand for something, go somewhere! Or you’ll just fall for anything!” And I am not arguing otherwise; to say one should not get stuck is not to say ‘stay put’. 

From Pieper again,

“Leisure […] appears [to us] something wholly  fortuitous and strange, without rhyme or reason, and, morally speaking, unseemly: another word for laziness, idleness, and sloth.”

He continues, 

“Idleness, in the old sense of the word, so far from being synonymous with leisure, is more nearly the inner prerequisite which renders leisure impossible. [...] Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself...”

By now you understand that leisure, to Pieper at the least, doesn’t ‘just mean’ anything. It is more than an external affectation on the world, and certainly more than medicine or a pick-me-up in order to do work better in the future.(^1) Leisure utilized to those ends,is hardly a leisurely affair, as the ‘ends’ to which you are working stay steady in the back of your mind as your driving motivation. And you enjoy the leisure time only to the extent and measure in which it benefits and improves your working time—one of the many vicious circles we spin for ourselves.

Leisure, it seems then, is an incredibly important attribute for participants of society. Philosophy itself is defined as “the love of wisdom,” and is exceedingly stimulated by an attitude of leisure—for who can, by force, be wise or loving? Those who philosophize are thinkers and observers, and to do either properly, you must stand body and mind still, but you cannot expect to gain any thing from standing still. Philosophizing is to be still often and only happen to notice the goings-on around you with a particularly contemplative attitude as representative of something greater. Along with philosophy, many other activities are nearly only possible while ‘in the pocket’ of leisure: falling in love, creating art of any kind, being sensitive to a stroke of genius, and even practical things of the body like riding a bike or falling asleep.

There is also, it seems, a communal aspect to leisure, for if that were the prevailing attitude of friendship or courtship, there would be no prickly expectations or assumptions; you are again like the ideal judo practitioner, right in the middle—ready for All Of It. This neutral stance is not a compromise—it is not to say that you accept agreeably all things that come your way, and that you’d like to stay put in the middle for when they come—I remind you it is active leisure. A leisurely mind is empowering in the fact that you do not let things become inhibitions to the activity of your life, they fold into the process. 

You become like those sage martial artists who can be sitting on the ground eating an apple, with three other experienced fighters surrounding him, while he remains barely stirred—not to be mistaken for unprepared. He is in such a state of complete leisure in his moment of silence that he is able to simply eat his apple, sensitive to every taste bud tingling and every accenting noise around him, which in the next moment may include the attack of an adversary, to which he responds with grace. It’s just the next thing, after all; nothing scary, only perhaps mysterious. 

At the risk of overquoting Pieper, I am reminded of his words again:

“Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality: only the silent hear and those who do not remain silent do not hear. Silence […] means more nearly that the soul’s power to “answer“ to the reality of the world is left undisturbed.

This might be the selection I cherish above all and which provokes the deepest reflection, for I have been a person of silent observation for some time, and it has served me well. This is not to say that I demand reward from this course of action, but I have reaped it nonetheless, to my profound gratitude. When I got expelled from Faith Bible, I did not fall into a pit of what-ifs—I simply enjoyed my early summer. When I found myself unable to be contented by a high school that had no interest in educating me, I dropped out and continued my life as it was naturally forming. Never once have I looked back on these events, or any others, and regretted their happening. Instead I have simply been grateful that my answer to these realities has brought me to this pleasant present; only hoping that I can maintain such a course.

 

 

What I really intend with the chapter subtitle: ‘as mind’, is: ‘as mind, and lacking’. I realize that to prescribe leisure as an attitude that one ‘ought’ to adopt is in vain, for it can only arise organically within oneself—unforced, “as spring comes and the grass grows, of itself.” However, I still find myself wanting to showcase the effects that such an increased sensitivity and acceptance of those silent moments—the silence of the mind—can have. Just as a novel simply begins its story, this drive to showcase leisure should not likely impose leisure as the ideal—lest it become idolized and corrupted, as labor has been. This showcase should consist then of activities and works that nurture and radiate the principles that come with the philosophical meaning of the word: self-sufficient, and genuine—a beneficial requirement both for the institution of the showcase and for the public to which it speaks.

As mentioned, it wouldn’t do for there to be any over the top self-consciousness within this effort. People might simply write poetry, paint, or draw a comic; theorize or philosophize. And these primary activities, done in leisure and simply by happenstance, would make up Leisurely.

The plans for such a coordinated effort have yet to solidly materialize. However, in the spirit of leisure, I am not discouraged—simply open. I know the time will come—perhaps at the wrong time one day, and the right time some other day, but it will come.

And in the meantime I will enjoy the things about(^2) me, hopefully find myself writing another book or two. Maybe go explore a new part of the country with the family I’m forming. Things will operate as they will, and someday what I envision will become one of those things. What’s more: someday leisure as mind may naturally regain its respected place in the minds of people at large as activity—rather than slandered as lazy, and so remaining undesirable and ‘lacking’ in our lives.

Pieper often quoted Plato and Aristotle, for reference to a time when the meaning of leisure remained true, and this from the latter stuck with me:

“A man will live [leisurely], not to the extent that he is a man, but to the extent that a divine principle dwells within him.”


Footnotes:

1: “...the point of leisure is not to be a restorative, a pick-me-up, whether mental or physical; and though it gives new strength, mentally and physically, and spiritually too, that is not the point.” Pieper, Leisure: the Basis of Culture.

2: Used to indicate movement in an area . . .


This is an excerpt from Jacob's book, 'Out To See', available on >Amazon<