Opinion: Summertime is coming, will it be leisurely? 

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By Russ Gerber

Maybe now is the time to start thinking, or re-thinking, leisure time.

Authentic leisure is good for everyone. It’s not just revitalizing; it’s healthy. But to make the most of leisure it helps to widen rather than narrow our concept of the term, which means not only to be free from the demands of routine work (even for just a weekend), but also to be mentally still and reflective.

Leisure is culturally misunderstood, says philosopher Joseph Pieper, who maintains that to receive the full benefit of time away from business and chores requires an ability to let things go, to be calm, and most of all, to be receptive.

In his now-classic essay “Leisure, the basis of culture,” Pieper makes the point that leisure should not be mistaken for idleness – a moral, intellectual or emotional vacuum. Nor is it merely the absence of frenzied work. “Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, contemplative beholding, and immersion — in the real.”

This reality that Pieper says we’re to immerse ourselves in transcends the stuff of the material world. In fact, it’s that hectic environment that most of us want to escape, if only for a brief period. The key to this higher sense of leisure is the stillness that’s necessary if we’re to prepare for and discern reality.

I wonder if it was a particularly stressful moment in his world that caused the Psalmist to shut out the routine of ancient times, to be contemplative, and then to experience the real as spiritual. “Be still and know that I am God,” he said, and the comment suggests he reached a higher level of consciousness that someone might attain only in a moment of leisure and enlightenment, as Pieper describes. He received something of great value in that stillness. Jesus characterized prayer time as entering into the closet and shutting the door in order to commune with God.

When it comes to feeling better, calmer, freer, and healthier, this kind of leisure may be what we’re missing: contemplative time, stillness, and prayer. Without that, we succumb to a world in bondage to rush, deadlines, anxiety, risk, and fear. Who wouldn’t want to be free from that?

Instead of feeling the need to take a break from reality in the days or weeks ahead, think of it as a time to act on the natural desire to contemplate the nature and harmony of the things of the Spirit – what some say is reality – and freedom to experience the rewarding effect such a state of thought can have on one’s attitude and health.

If the status quo isn’t working, why not experience leisure as a time of activity? Go after the freedom that, deep down inside, we want more of; that’s speaking to us. Set the smartphone aside for a while, walk away from the computer, reschedule the meeting, and do something life-changing.

One way to begin: take a moment to reflect on what that Psalmist caught sight of and wanted to convey, as well as what authentic leisure promises. Ask ourselves: in this moment of receptive understanding, did he experience a departure from reality? Or was his experience noteworthy because he gained a clearer sense of reality?

Russ and his wife moved back home to Southern California after working in Boston as the media manager for the Christian Science church. With a background in publishing, most of his time is spent writing, reading, volunteering and grandparenting.

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