The Learning of Leisure

How's your time off going?

I don’t often quote Aristotle, the Greek philosopher.

But he was bang on the money with his 4th century BC contribution to the work/life balance debate.

‘This is the main question,’ he said. ‘With what activity is one’s leisure filled?’

It was more recently, in 1947, that the word ‘workaholic’ was coined in Canada.

Since then, our productivity-centred culture has rather lost sight of the true value and purpose of leisure.

It’s come to be regarded as something we snatch in between working…yet unrelated to it.

The German philosopher Josef Pieper, however, was ambitious for our leisure.

He did not regard it as merely ‘time off’ before getting back to work.

‘Leisure’, he said, ‘is a condition of the soul.’

With work as activity, leisure for Pieper must be a state of ‘non-activity – an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet.’

There’s a challenge!

The ability to be at leisure, he says, is the power to step beyond the working world and find the life-giving forces that remind us what it is to be human.

So there will be a spirit of celebration in our leisure – a celebration of ourselves and the world.

And this strength and energy we’ll take back with us into work.

The truth is, we have not been taught about leisure. People imagine we’ll just know what to do with it and how it can best serve us.

But this isn’t so.

Many of us don’t find there ‘an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go…a quiet.’

We’re still fretting about work and holding on to concerns long after we’ve left!

And so our work makes us weary…because we return to it un-renewed.

Certainly I was never told that leisure is a condition of the soul; I had to find that out for myself.

For me, going on a retreat was a big breakthrough.

But I’m still learning.

It’s strange – I knew I’d always be learning about work; I didn’t expect still to be learning about leisure.