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Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Josef Pieper

The point and the justification of leisure…means that [humans] should not be wholly absorbed in the clear-cut milieu of [their] strictly limited function; the point is also that [they] should retain the faculty of grasping the world as a whole…
— Pieper

As with all reads I enjoy, I wrote an essay in direct response to this book. Read it here.

“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…”

So writes Josef Pieper in this short work on what leisure is, and what it isn’t.

He contents we’ve got it all backwards. Leisure is not what he calls yet another “link in the utilitarian chain of events”. It’s not a pocket of ‘free time’ nestled between to-do’s. Leisure is an orientation of being, a framework of consciousness.

It’s a particular mode of sentience where we set aside the craving to be anything other than we are, and steep ourselves in “the whole of creation”:

“Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself, when he acquiesces in his own being…it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”

I love that phrase - when we acquiesce in our own being. How much of life is construed as an infinite project of self-improvement? The irony, as always, is that only in tenderly accepting & loving things as they are does meaningful change emerge.

So even activists, sociopolitically minded revolutionaries can learn the capacity to not only acquiesce, but bask in things as they are right now, to delight in the present. Indeed, this might be the only way.