Journal – 4/8/15: Leisure vs. Lethargy

LondonCallingLost in the Supermarket

Just listened to Christina Pazsitzky’s great “That’s Deep Bro” podcast, this weeks episode “Leisure Time – Where the Hell Did it Go?” not only dealt with a topic I’m passionate about, but also included the Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” as a framing device.

The song’s depiction of being emotionally isolated by comfort, and receiving identity and life instruction from an advertising culture (“I came in here for that special offer, A guaranteed personality”) resonated powerfully with me as a kid – it seemed to explain all the zombie-like people around me (and managed to make me feel sorry for them to boot).

Defining Terms

Seneca_BigAll of this got me thinking about how where work tends to build our character, leisure is how we build identity. Work is something we often find ourselves doing, leisure is what we choose to do.

My philosophy homeboy Seneca (reading between the lines of “On the Shortness of Life”) defines “leisure” as the ability pursue both an examined life (history, philosophy) as well as what I call a decision based life – where your efforts are devoted to things you choose and you value.

The modern use of the term has been mercilessly watered down, so that anything done while not working is considered “leisure” – you and I both know much of that is straight-up lethargy; zoning out to TV, passively watching sports, talking without conversing, dashing from one activity to the next never experiencing any of it. It’s crazy-sad given what we could be doing.

Powerful Leisure

liftI’m going to mention some things I think are great leisure activities – but my point is just to encourage you to break out of routine and embrace the idea of a more active leisure – so find things that speak to you, and continue to explore. One of my bête noire’s is attaching a lot of “woo woo” to the leisure activities I’m going to suggest (I’ve got serious philosophical issues with “the new age”), they’re valuable enough without attaching supernatural powers to them.

Mindfulness – defined as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness‘, the way I look at it, it’s the discipline of not stopping at the surface, to think all the way through an idea, seeing it from every possible angle. There are many formal practices, if you feel more comfortable with instruction, or you can just jump in.

  • Emotional – When you’re feeling a strong emotion (particularly negative ones) become an observer – what does it mean, how does it effect you, do you like feeling it, if you could change the feeling what would that feel like – don’t fight the emotion, just watch it.
  • Intellectual – Pick a random thing – eating an orange, the walk from your car to your house, waking and getting out of bed – and consciously, deeply observe everything – it’s trippy all the things we tend to edit out.

Physical/Sensory – It’s so easy, in our digital cocoon, to lose touch with our physical selves. The alchemy of gaining strength by doing more, is the closest thing to magic I know, and opens doors to all kinds of awareness.

  • Yoga – I’ve done Kundalini and Vinyasa, and as a man have learned how inflexible my lower body is, but whatever sparks your interest I guarantee a yoga practice will improve your life.
  • Weight training – It’s easy to go through the motions, but if you “go deep” and truly align your mind and body as you push yourself, there’s no greater meditation than squats or dead-lifts.
  • Senses – Taking the time to observe our senses – not just eating the apple, but tracking how it feels in our fingers, the feeling of it on our lips and tongue, how the flavor triggers us, how chewing feels, how swallowing feels – is an easy meditation available to us all the time. I just brushed my forehead with my finger, and took a second to tell what my finger was feeling and what my forehead was feeling – sounds dumb sure, but it just re-frames reality for a second and that’s good juju.

Sound based – Is an overactive, chattering, anxious brain giving you trouble? Give chanting a shot. Chanting tends to feel more “out there”, mostly because its something there’s no normal analog to (we think, we pick things up, we move all the time – whether we’re pay attention or not), but chanting is crazy-powerful when it comes to clearing your mind.

  • Chanting –  It’s a simple premise, by using your voice to repeat a sound or phrase, it’s impossible to think about anything else. This is particularly useful if you find yourself overwhelmed with thoughts of any kind, or if your mind spins hamster-like from one thought to another. Some people like the simple “Om” sound, I’m a big fan of the “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” chant – it will wipe your mind clean! Take five minutes and listen, chant along or not, it’s powerful!

Okay, that should be enough to get you started. Of course, I didn’t even mention the old standbys: writing, reading, painting, music, drawing, knitting, gardening – anything that requires focus over time can be enriching leisure.

So get out there, enjoy this crazy-short life we live, be kind, be excellent!