What is “leisure”? Chunks of time unclaimed by work or some other obligation?
Not according to Josef Pieper, in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture:
“A break in one’s work, whether of an hour, a day or a week, is still part of the world of work. It is a link the chain of utilitarian functions…Leisure…is a mental and spiritual attitude – it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation. It is, in the first place, an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul…”
I recently had one of these chunks, an entire day to myself with no obligations, and all necessities immediately available in my apartment.
The outcome was a really long essay exploring leisure in light of capitalist modernity, the digitized attention economy and its march upon solitude.
Leisure is a state found through either deep solitude or deep sociality. But in today’s digital landscape, our capacities for both solitude and sociality are threatened, and with them our capacity for true leisure, the kind that makes life worth living.
If leisure is a mental attitude, it all goes back to Felix Guattari’s ecosophy, suggesting that cultural mentalities cannot change without also changing the social and material environment. In the essay, I write:
“…the mark actually being upon the sociocultural ecology from whose tapestry our being is woven. We might find it necessary to pull up the structures and mentalities of daily existence by their roots, by considering what modified sociopolitical frameworks support different, more leisurely organizations of life.”
My favorite bit of the essay is towards the end, that unvisited grave of long essays, where I describe my first encounter with a solitude deeper than loneliness. Pieper writes:
“Leisure is a form of silence, of that silence which is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality.”
Only though meditation, and the occasional entheogen, have I known what he meant by silence as the apprehension of reality. From the essay:
“In the corner of my apartment sits a meditation cushion, partitioned off from the rest by a wooden room divider painted white. I try and sit there every morning, in search of both nothing and everything. It’s here that I first learned what solitude feels like.
It was as if I’d lived my entire life with a pair of headphones on blasting white noise, and all of a sudden, for a few minutes amidst patient and dedicated bouts of meditation, they cut out. I briefly saw the white noise is not the world. I found myself sitting in a much larger room than I realized, a much quieter, calmer one with high ceilings and no walls. It’s inside this edgeless room of consciousness, which I am seldom able to reenter, where things transpire just as they are. Apprehension of their suchness is pure celebration. That there is a sentience aware of its improbable emergence in the cosmos, its brief sojourn through a time and place, a brief dance of matter and mind; this is what my life is for, to provoke this full-body sensation in myself, and perhaps in others.
Emerson’s challenge is to dismantle my wooden partition, to open my solitude to the world beyond my cushion. To carry this celebratory sentience with me into the corner bar that offers a variety of mezcal and draft beers. Into the restaurant where I carry pricey plates of food to customers in order to afford my living space and general livelihood. Into the company of others.”
Leisure is what happens when the utilitarian mentality comes to rest, and we no longer do things for anything else. But the utilitarian mentality is engulfing our world, and our capacity for leisure.
That’s it. Just wanted to share the essay. Long essays like this tend to get very little love, despite it being packed with some of my favorite things (Thoreau quotes, Universal Basic Income reflections, field notes from meditations, worrying about how the ‘attention economy’ is conditioning consciousness, etc).
Until next time,