This newsletter edition should have been out on the 15th but something strange has been happening since a while. A kitten called Oggy has recently become a part of my household and Oggy is quite convinced that the lap and the laptop – both are strategically designed to provide him the perfect warmth for his best cat nap of the day. Each time I hide away and surreptitiously plan to write – there is the kitten looking back at me with those limpid eyes, convinced that the world has conspired to settle him down to another delicious nap!
Sitting with a purring kitten on my lap, assuaged by the guilt of not keeping to my deadline, there is an interesting bit of irony to consider – the topic I am frantically trying to work at is actually leisure. If anything, I think to myself as Oggy swats my attempt at typing, a kitten is the master and embodiment of leisure. Maybe I ought to be learning here.
Another person who found himself thinking of leisure midst a more serious call to action was Josef Pieper. Published first in 1948, his seminal work ‘Leisure: The Basis of Culture’ was surprisingly written post the devastation of World War 2, at a time when all energies were called to action and re-building. As the foreword says, ‘it is the genius of Pieper to see that this activist, busy motion is the wrong starting point‘, construction of a civilization needs contemplation otherwise it ‘can only make things worse‘. And this is where leisure comes in. As Pieper defines it, ‘Leisure is a form of that stillness that is necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear‘. He adds, ‘Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence’.
Pieper is far from alone in this critique of modern society. Bertrand Russell, polymath and philosopher, in his essay ‘In Praise of Idleness’ writes rather woefully, ‘There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.‘ He goes on sharply, ‘The morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.’
As Oggy mewls dreamily on my knee, I consider my own agitation. Collectively as humanity, we are again at the cusp of a tremendous civilizational crisis. Even as we are perceptively busy, maybe a moment needs to be taken to consider what exactly we are busy with and how it corresponds with our broader reality. How thrilling to consider that this bit of contemplation could come through the revolutionary act of taking a break. Yet even as you lean into your break heed this little warning by Pieper, ‘unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture―and ourselves’.
I wish you days of silence, rest, leisure and insight. We hope you continue to stay safe and healthy.