boredom contemplation

Leisure or License?

11:38:00 AMChase J. Cloutier

File:Deiters Sonntagsspaziergang.jpg

I continue the reflections from my last post on busyness, leisure, and work.

At every office building and work site across America there is one phrase you are sure to hear when the end of the work week comes around: Thank goodness it’s Friday! We have a tendency to drag ourselves through work from day to day looking forward to the weekend. We become so stressed because of all of our duties at work that we can barely handle it. One thinks: If only it were the weekend! Then I could get a break. Work starts to feel like an oppressive burden, a meaningless activity to which you have been condemned from nine to five each day.

Previously I said that we are overworked with working over time. The promise of the next paycheck hovers before our eyes like a ghostly spectre, putting us in a trance and demanding that we work more and more. We lose our tranquility and our focus in life. When at our workplace, we think: why am I here? And then comes the answer: to make money. It seems that the meaning of our life has been reduced to completing menial task after menial task. But we must break free! We must make it to the weekend so that, finally, we may have time for ourselves.

But how are we to spend our downtime? So often we decide to use up all our time indulging our petty desires. Barely has the phrase “Thank goodness it’s Friday!” left our lips than we flee from our work to engage in the unceasing self-gratification that our modern culture offers us. If you have any doubt of this, just consider the notion of fast food, the prevalence and superficiality of television shows and movies, the ever-increasing obsession with video games coupled with an ever-decreasing attention span for the most important people in our lives, the shameful content and empty rhetoric of our advertisements, the unending fascination we have with celebrity magazines. Plainly, we are consumed with consumption. We eat, we play, we enjoy but in the most superficial of ways. Instead of feasting, we gorge; instead of resting, we indulge; and instead of leisure, we engage in license.

File:Fenster.jpgWhat is the difference between license and leisure? Josef Pieper in his book Leisure, the Basis of Culture begins to show the contrast between these deceptively similar attitudes. License and leisure are both ways of approaching our downtime, but they are a world apart when it comes to how we spend that time. License is a kind of “freedom from," i.e., freedom from restraint. Unhindered by any inhibitions on our action, we can do as we please. Though license charms us under the attractive guise of freedom, really we become enslaved to our own base desires.
License can be distinguished by its idleness, fretful activity, and mindless self-gratification. This is most commonly experienced in the peculiarly modern phenomenon of boredom, saying “there’s nothing to do.” We feel like a car motor idling, cooling down from its last exertion and awaiting its next movement. Yet at other times we are compelled to be doing something, anything, as long as it subdues our boredom. We turn on the television for the umpteenth hour, but we feel even less satisfied than before. In other words, we “can’t get no satisfaction.” We entertain ourselves to take our mind off its miserable state, but there always lingers an underlying uneasiness. It feels so meaningless to spend all our free time gratifying ourselves.

Leisure, on the other hand, is characterized by restfulness, receptivity, and contemplation. Here taking time away from the world of work gives one the ability to relax and feel truly rejuvenated. We experience a serenity in which we simply
dwell in the world, at one with ourselves (the habitare secum as Hildebrand would say). (1) The word boredom truly baffles the one who knows leisure. Instead of feeling inactive and unoccupied, the leisurely man has a receptive openness to all of the wonders that surround him. He seeks out those opportunities which will allow him to enjoy creation and delight in it.

“When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep.” -Josef Pieper (3)
File:Fotothek df ps 0001949 Landschaften ^ H├╝gellandschaften - Gebirgslandschaften ^ .jpgUltimately, leisure is characterized by a contemplative attitude -- taking a good hard look at a thing and appreciating its goodness. One takes on a spirit of attentive listening, becoming aware of that which is meaningful and rejoicing in it. This is “an attitude which presupposes silence, a contemplative attention to things, in which man begins to see how worthy of veneration they really are.” (2) When was the last time you walked along a glistening river or took a moment to smell the flowers? When was the last occasion you had genuine quality time with your friends, experiencing what community actually means? Or when did you last consider the gift of life and how thankful one should be to receive it? In the end, to truly enter into this appreciation and joy, a real sense of leisure is required.

Thus every weekend let us strive to enter into true leisure. Instead of
another installment of the latest mind-numbing television show, go out for a walk in the park. In the place of a huge quantity of time on the internet, why not spend good quality time with friends? Being at peace with oneself demands more than continual entertainment and incessant indulgence. It takes time in silence, contemplating the goodness of creation. What does your next weekend look like?

1. This being at one with oneself was a virtue exemplified by Benedict of Nursia. As a lay Benedictine, Hildebrand often drew on the reflections of this community to inform his philosophy.
2. Josef Pieper,
Leisure, the Basis of Culture (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) 16.
3. Pieper, Leisure, 47-48.
Image 1: Der Sonntagsspaziergang, Heinrich Deiters (1840-1916). (source) Image 2: Tele-Vision, Gerhard Gepp. 2009. (source)
Image 3: Otztal, Richard Peter (1895-1977). 1941. (source)

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