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In honor of Labor Day, here is Josef Pieper on the foundational value of leisure:

Leisure is not justified in making the functionary [i.e., the worker or laborer] as 'trouble-free' in operation as possible, with minimum 'downtime,' but rather in keeping the functionary human ... and this means that the human being does not disappear into function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence.

For Pieper, leisure is not mere idleness; it is "a form of stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear." He goes on:

Leisure is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of one who lets go, who lets himself go ... In such silent openness of the soul, it may be granted for only an instant to know 'what the world / holds in its innermost.'"

Pieper ends Leisure: the Basis of Culture (1948)with thishope for a mankind "'born to labor'": "to be taken from the toil of the work-day, to an endless day of celebration; to be rapt from the confines of the working environment into the very center of the world." What a beautiful--and, given our own culture's fetishization of work, timely--thought.

About the Author

Anthony Domestico is an assistant professor of literature at Purchase College, SUNY. His book on poetry and theology in the modernist period is forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press.



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There is always a need to humanize work, but there's also a need to re-think the dignity of labor. In fact, as we computerize and automate apace, humans at work are increasingly cogs in motion. There is little room for accommodation to human weakness in the designing or the building of an aircraft or in the development of a security system or the assembling of trading software. The machines with which humans do their work are ever less tolerant of faulty input. Which means that it's imperative that human input be taken out of the loop as much as possible. And it's increasingly possible. Which means that there'll be fewer jobs for more humans. Which means that "a job for every willing worker" is likely an outdated idea. I imagine that economists and engineers understand that, but it's time that the rest of begin to catch on, too.

"Leisure is not justified in making the functionary [i.e., the worker or laborer] as trouble-free in operation as possible, with minimum downtime, but rather in keeping the functionary human and this means that the human being does not disappear into function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence."A wonderful challenge to think about how we use our leisure time and whether it is making us more human in our dealings with ourselves and others. It would be nice if what we learned in our leisure time bled into our work. I spent part of my leisure time today re-watching Fritz Lang's silent classic, "Metropolis," which I think speaks to David Smith's comments about cogs and machinery. Clearly something people have shared his concerns since the 1920s--probably since the Industrial Revolution.

IMO Retirement leisure is different for different classes. My working class father and his blue collar cohort, who did hard manual labor from their middle teens on , loved the time for putting their feet up and telling each other stories. 'Suits' of my generation struggled more with finding meaningful lives, especially those from the bureaucratic structures who mostly found their identity in a title. The '"I could have been a contender' stories get old real fast.

In honour of the theme and the day:

How do we spend our leisure, and does it help us orient ourselves toward the whole of existence? Viewed in this way, such leisure pursuits as travel or going to a movie would seem to be worthwhile, as do cultivating personal relationships, spending time with family, prayer, and (it should always be said on dotCom) reading books and magazines. I mentioned film as worthwhile, but I'm not certain that watching television, hour after hour, evening after evening, is time well-spent. Not that I never spend it that way.

Jim, I think you bring up an interesting point. In periods of extreme work and home stress, I have indulged in "flat-liner TV viewing"--where you find the most boring thing you can on TV or DVD (for me it was always Bill Moyers, I'm sorry in advance) and fall asleep in front of it. I don't see this as leisure, but as mental self-preservation. True leisure is when you're able to focus, concentrate, and be mindful of how you're spending your time.

Jean, as a matter of fact, I frequently put a baseball or hockey game on television after dinner, and my wife, who has many emotionally grueling days in her job and whose interest in sporting fare is a small fraction of mine of mine, often falls asleep in front of it.

Jim, I hope you put the game on AFTER you've helped with the cooking and clean-up and keep the sound down so your wife can have a refreshing nap. If you really want to treat her right, turn on golf. Nothing more soporific than that.

Jean - thanks for that batting practice pitch down the middle - I do cook most days and clean up every day (not that I'm running for husband-of-the-year; I suspect she could provide a fairly lengthy list of things for which she wouldn't mind a little help). The only problem with putting on golf is that it puts me to sleep, too.

Ed G. --The nurses at my brother's nursing home told me that senile old men generally want to leave to go look for a job! Sad. I think American men define themselves by their work, and work well done can be satisfying. But where are the communal activities that culture depends on? Americans do have fine sports and an occasional great movie we can enjoy together, but too many movies are criminally violent. But what about communal religious celebrations? What has happened to, say, May crownings of the Virgin, St. Rosalie parades, jazz funerals, etc. I think part of the latter problem is that so many young Americans move far away from their native places, and so the smaller community links are automatically destroyed. (Is this typical of Canada too? It would be interesting to compare the effects of moving out in the two countries.) And, of course, there is the problem of education -- many people never learn, for instance, that the old poetry and music can speak deeply to them too, and history is interesting, even useful, when well taught. Unfortunately, a great deal of the new "poetry" is inane -- just series of random images strung together. Novels are all but dead. Art is trivial or crazy. The valuable is confused with the new. In other words, our contemporary arts are dying, if not dead, so they don't hold us together and add meaning to life. One good thing about the lack of priests, I think, is that the Liturgy of the Hours is now being celebrated in some parishes, led by lay people. Hey, maybe the teen-agers and young adults could invent their own communal prayer forms -- have all the guitars and poetry they want. Reserve Friday nights in church for them. They might even invent some good new hymns :-)

All life should be leisure. Perhaps we're very gradually engineering our way back to that. Work as creation and maintenance and leisure to think, recreate, let life flow over us. The subservience model of work is relatively new, isn't it? Something made necessary by the disappearance of slaves and servants. If our machines bring back the slaves and servants, we'll be in clover. But first we'll need to discard the notion that competition and accumulation are the summum bonum.

On re-reading the Pieper clips, I see that in those texts he is opposing not work and *culture* but work and leisure. I'm not sure what he means by "leisure". It seems to be more like "contemplation". Hmmm.

"I mentioned film as worthwhile, but Im not certain that watching television, hour after hour, evening after evening, is time well-spent. Not that I never spend it that way."And the hours some of us spend doing what we are doing here????

Of twittering. Of going on to Facebook. Or texting. Or ......

Well, Jimmy, that was a conversation killer :-)

But, Jean, it's true. There's a recent study which shows that dopamine is what incites us to pursue even trivial knowledge, and that's not the same thing as really wanting the knowledge. The theory explains a lot about everything from addiction, to Altzheimer's, to schizophrenia, to obesity and other stuff. Unfortunately, I lost the reference.

Ann, yes, I think I heard that on NPR not long ago. A very interesting "60 Minutes" segment on sugar, which triggers dopamine and makes you want more and more of it, seemed an interesting tie-in. I would be happy to let scientist study my brain (in my leisure time) to find out why I don't have much interest in sweet things, and why I have to eat desserts and high-sugar items sparingly or I feel rather ill.Coffee, now .... ummmm. That's a different story. I guess I gravitate toward the bitter. In so many ways.

Jean --I too often favor the bitter over the sugary, but I also seem to have an inclination to try to answer every question that my consciousness asks me. That's good in some circumstances in that it forces me to look ahead at consequences that a lot of people would just consider trivial or plain ignore (e.g., at the consequences of global warming or what will happen if x, y, or z), but it also wastes a lot of time. At any rate, the study is apparently a very important one. Google says it's already been referenced many, many times in the scientific literature.

Ann, of all the people I know "live" and "virtually," you're the one I'm most sure does not waste her leisure time!However, I may suggest to my students later this fall that learning trivial information (say, about restrictive clauses or the three types of argumentative appeals) will actually give them a natural high.

Jean --But the sad thing aboit that study is that it found that finding the answer isn't as satisfying as anticipating it:-(. I guess it just confirms What St. Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee". And this makes me question what Pieper says aboit seeking calm in this life. Soounds a bit like self-hypnosis or certain Buddhist meditation techniques. Yes. There is such a thing as contemplative prayer which is peaceful. And that does seem to contradict the dopamine study. I wonder if the psychologists studied alternate states of consciousness. And does Pieper include contemPlation/meditation in leisure activities ?(But I do waste a lot of time!)

Ann, yes they have studied prayer and meditation viz a viz dopamine, and this article might give you a temporary buzz.'s concern with this type of study is that it would seem to "explain away" prayer in terms of brain chemistry, ergo, a crutch. My response is that perhaps God gives us that temporary high when we pray to encourage us to do it more. In any case, I have difficulty reducing human experience, feeling, and mental states/illnesses in terms of chemical recipes.

Predictably, shopping gives some people a dopamine rush. is it a good leisure pursuit? (And to sustain the shopping theme: are leisure pursuits superior to leisure suits?)

Jim, leisure suits cause cancer. I seen it on "Fernwood 2Night":

Jean,Dr. Benson showed long ago that meditation can have strong physiological effects, and they're highly beneficial for most of us. I know from personalmexperience that this is true at least for me. But my problem with all of these studies is that they assume that there is only *one* kind of meditation and one kind of prayer. But there are a number of different kinds if one can believe the mystics from very differemt cultures. Yet most researchers such as Gazzinaga and Newberg make these totally general conclusions about "prayer" when it seems that they study only one kind of prayer. or if they are studying more tgan one knd, they lump tgem all together. That's like studying all the fish in one pond and then making generalizations about all fish. Bad science.

I should add that though I did a good bit of reading about this subject years ago, i haven't kept up with the new reasearch except to read a bit about it occasionlly in the general press. But nothing in the general press that I've read makes me think that the researchers now realize that their subject is a lot more diverse than they imagine. -- that there arr a number of knds of prayer with different states of mind and different psychological and physiological effects.The ignorance of some scientists of non-scientific scholarship is really appalling.

I have had a lot of unwanted "leisure time" hanging out in hospitals this summer as my mother's physical and mental health deteriorates. I was in the "quiet room" with my rosary when a fellow walked in to get a cup of coffee. He noticed the rosary and asked if it worked. I said, I dunno but right now it's all I've got. He asked me to pray for his mother, who had a pulmonary embolism and wasn't going to make it. I did, of course, and I hope it gave him some comfort. But it didn't do a thing for his mother; she died a few hours later. I have come to believe that prayer is largely a way to remove yourself from the stress of the immediate and connect yourself with the bigger picture so you can stand whatever you have to.I don't believe God ever gives you what you want because you've nagged him enough through prayer, and it irritates me to get prayer requests from friends who want me to pray for a miracle. I ask God to be with that person (or animal) whatever happens, and ask God to show me what I can do to offer practical assistance. I don't know what this does to the dopamine in my head, but I do sometimes see my way forward and am able, with God's help, to get off my fanny and actually do something useful by sending a card, making a hot dish, making a visit, or whatever. That's a prayer by the definition of the old Unitarian hymn "to worship rightly is to love each other, each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer." I think St. Teresa of Avila and St. Francis had that notion of prayer, too.There may be other kinds of prayer, but I don't know what they are.

JEan --There are prayers of petition, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of worship, etc. in which we address the Lord in our minds and sometimes with words and/or actions. Most prayers involve words and images of various sorts, but there are also wordless and imageless prayers in which the prayor does other sorts of things. In Centering Prayer the whole object is to will to accept the presence and will of God. No images, no words, only that good intention. It's a kind of "contemplative prayer". That is, it directs the self towards God without words or images or actions. The mystics pray (ask) to be made aware of the presence of God within them, or at least hope they will be made aware. But such awareness is always a gift of God, it cannot be produced by our actions, words, etc. It can only be prepared for and then hoped for. It is always a loving union though sometimes the soul is so taken up with God she isn't even aware of herself. Different mystics seem to be aware of different aspects of God in these loving states. They are found in many different cultures, religions, times and places. Because it is not automatic and its occurrence cannot be predicted, I don't see how the scientists will ever study it -- they can't know when it's happening! There are also counterfeit mystical experiences in which the soul mistakes is own beautiful depths for God Himself, and also experiences in which the self identifies everything with everything (including itself) and mistakes itself for God. R. C. Zaehner's "Mysticism: Sacred and Profane" will tell you something about the counterfeit kind, including the kind Charles Manson (!) had. Protestants, as you probably known, downplay contemplative prayer, and the RCC has never tried to educate the laity about it very much. You usually have to go looking for it on your own or have a confessor who can help you with it. What I"ve said here is just the very briefest sort of sketch about the variety of prayer. The literature is ancient and vast. Which is why I think it's awful that the scientists have heard so little about it also. I should also add that the Hindus think you shouldn't do it without a guru -- some techniques can be dangerous and lead to mental problems. Maybe somebody on the blog could recommend some beginners' books to you. I'm afraid I can't, except for Fr. Thomas Keating's "Open Heart, Open Mind", which is about Centering Prayer, one sort of contemplative method that is becoming more and more popular with lay people. Very, very simple. No words, no images. Some people experience union with God when doing it, others not, but it's beneficial anyway. It at least will make you easier to live with :-) At least, that is what some family members sometimes say.Here's an 8 minute video of Fr. Keating telling you about it and how to do it.

Jean, I'm so sorry about your mom. I've never been able to draw a straight line between prayers and outcomes. My only thoughts - that the outcome may not be what we want but what God plans, for whatever reason - probably sound pretty trite. Yet Jesus exhorts us to pray, to knock, to ask, to beseech God for our daily bread. I know quite a few people who are convinced that "prayer works" and will offer examples. To me, it's in the realm of the mysterious. I think prayer is essential, but in my experience, it's not a reliable path to a directed outcome.

Ann, thanks so much for a starting place on contemplative prayer. I think it's fascinating how some prayers come unbidden. When Dad was dying, my mother and I took turns sitting by his bed, and the litany of the saints kept running through my head. I was bone tired and couldn't really put together much in the way of coherent thought. I don't know if such a thing is completely random, like an earbug (one of those songs you can't get out of your head) or something more profound. It certainly didn't feel like *I* was making it happen, but when you're exhausted, it's easy to feel fragmented. But I'm glad it wasn't "Hey, Jude" or "Surfin' Safari" stuck in there.Jim, my in-laws used to constantly ask me to pray for money because they were always behind in their bills (too many credit cards). They used to tell me idiotic stories about how my prayer "worked" because on the day they asked everybody to pray their furnace rebate check or tax refund arrived just ahead of the repo man. The only thing I got out of these experiences was an object lesson in credit cards. Hallelujah! Everything happens for a reason!

Jean --I don't doubt that ynbidden prayers are really our own. If the neuroscientists -- and the psychoanalysts -- have taught us anything it is that there are hidden parts of the self which operate even when we are not aware of what is going on subterranean, and some of the parts are extremely powerful. That's one of the fascinating things about studying mysticism in all its weird varieties -- so much of the unconscious speaks out to the mystics and sometimes the "mystics" even manage to "go there" without drugs. But, according to Catholic theology, the weird stuff isn't essentially religious, it's just very, very strange and if I'm not mistaken, mystical theologians (those who study mysticism) also think it's a good idea for the contemplative to have a guru/spiritual advisor. Sometimes some of these experiences can be psychologically damaging.There are a lot or reasons to think that there is a lot more to the human soul than most people even begin to imagine, and some of it is very, very strange, even frightening, according to Freud, at any rate. There is one sort of contemplation that some Hindus do called (as I remember) "nirodh". Many, many years ago (pre-Gazzinaga, et al) it was studied by neurologists. and it was found that the Hindu's mental activities slowed down to such an extent that it was "the next best thing to being dead" -- and this was the state those mystics strive for! We're weird, I tell you, weird :-) But this really isn't a laughing matter, though we laugh at some of it. Mystics of many stripes go to outlandish lengths to achieve such states. There must be something wonderful to them. So there.

Ann, speaking of mystics and the outlandish, Christina the Astonishing, who is listed by some scholars as a beguine but who perhaps became a nun later, was quite weird. Many people at the time thought she was just nuts, but ...

Wow, Jean, she's about as crazy as Catholic saints get. But I do think there are a goodly number of saints among the crazy. They experience such terrible emotional pain so often. Schizophrenia, depression, and paranoia are terribly painful, and some crazy people bear the pain and don't kill themselves out of love of God and/or family. We had a neighbor like that. His psychiatrist said he would have killed himself, but it would have been terrible for his family, so he didn't. All the more reason to figure out just how the brain works and how it contributes to such illness.I just with the scientists didn't start their research with such simple-minded assumptions, such as th mind is also a machine.

The NYT Opinionator has an article by Gary Gutting on "What Work Is Really For". (Leisue, of course.) says "What, then, is work for? Aristotle has a striking answer: 'we work to have leisure, on which happiness depends'. He also critiques the sort of capitalism that holds that selling/profit are the main function of an economic system. Human flourishing must be the goal. But what is human flourishing?

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