A few days ago someone asked me what I do with all of my free time this summer. My response was something pretty similar to this:
I realized that the amount of free time I have had this summer does not correspond to how rejuvenated I feel. Yes, I have plenty of time to rest but I still don’t feel alive. Honestly, I have been more exhausted this summer than I ever was during the school year. Idleness became my highest ambition in response to a previously busy school year. By being asked this question, I realized I have abandoned my aspirations of true leisure for what is really mere laziness.
An idea of leisure advocated for by Josef Pieper in his book “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” has been one that I have since found incredibly fulfilling. Pieper says, “For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation” (41). Not exactly the “Netflix and chill” kind of mentality that so many (me included) savor. This view of leisure arises from the innate capacity of fulfillment on account of the humanity of each person. “Because wholeness is what man strives for, the power to achieve leisure is one of the fundamental powers of the human soul” (44). This destiny of wholeness is what calls man into leisure and also helps shape what exactly can qualify as authentic leisure. To achieve this wholeness we strive for, Pieper says that man cannot give consent of his own will to his being over that of existential reality (38). Man will never find wholeness within his mere self. Leisure responds to the existential reality of our person and achieves the wholeness spoken of by Pieper.
The problem of the scarcity of leisure is not that opportunities do not present themselves, but rather that man is not capable of leisure. For such an incredible experience of leisure, this certainly requires a respective mentality.Leisure as advocated for by Pieper is not just one’s spare time but has to be a constant mental and spiritual attitude (40). In this view, leisure becomes the center of every human life. Persons must learn to be still. In stillness, one can foster the capacity to receive the reality of the world. It is not a kind of busyness but a form of silence that allows reality to impact one’s being. A leisurely attitude has the ability to overstep the boundaries of the workaday world and live in the reality of existential forces that have the ability to refresh and renew us (44). One must work in order to have leisure instead of living to work (20). This mindset capable of leisure has no room for a narrow egocentrism, shallow busyness, or dedicated workaholism.
This laziness, also known as acedia, is said to be the antithesis of leisure by Pieper. In “A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart”, Pieper says that acedia is the spiritual attitude, “that he closes himself to the demand that arises from his own dignity, that he is not inclined to claim for himself the grandeur that is imposed on him with his essence’s God-given nobility of being” (51). At first this to be a dramatic over-statement on Netflix binging tendencies. But, really I do not think it is that far off. When I spend my day watching Netflix am I finding any sort of fulfillment? I do not finish binging on Netflix or scrolling through social media for hours and exclaim, “I AM SO GLAD TO BE ALIVE!”. Yes, I have something to do and am somewhat entertained but the contentedness does not compare with the exhilarating nature of leisure. When acedia becomes a habit, Pieper says that man becomes incapable of leisure (52). Habitual acedia leads man to forget what it means to be truly alive, what it means to be fulfilled in his/her existence as a person. Personally, when I go on a Netflix binging and sleeping in all day streak I find it harder and harder to respond to things that can fulfill me. I do not look at the beauty of the sunset with the same wonder I do when I am living in a spirit of leisure.
As abstract as Pieper’s view of authentic leisure sounds, I really believe it can translate to daily life. It starts in a contemplative attitude: one that seeks to be aware of their surroundings and allow them to impact their being. It is so easy to pass by a mom kissing her child’s wounded knee, the leaves changing colors, or brother’s playing basketball together, without taking a second to simply appreciate the beauty of the sight. For Pieper, “leisure draws its vitality from affirmation” (42).This means that in beholding those sights previously listed, we should take a moment to simply recognize them. To be thankful for their beauty and for the virtue that the sights enkindle. It is in simple affirmation of what is beautiful, true, and good that man can learn to be leisurely again. Seeing the “amber waves of grain”, “purple mountain majesties”, or “fruited plane” and declaring to oneself, “this is beautiful” or “this is good” is what Pieper means when he speaks of affirmation. In regards to my exorbitant amount of free time, I have learned that I can spend it doing activities that seek out encounters that have in them this quality of leisure. I can go on hikes and behold the beauty of nature. I can hang out with my friends at brunch on Sunday morning and revel in the glory of friendship. I can read a book that helps me to delve into the human experience or that enlightens me of a truth that in turn enkindles wonder. It is in this spirit of leisure that I will find fulfillment this summer.