New tricks from an old dog: Lessons in leisure

Cole Branham is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and history double major. He is a guest writer from Mason, Ohio.

As students reconvene at Xavier and others arrive for the first time, I feel obliged to impart some cautionary wisdom for us all. When it comes to college, we often associate these years with intense stress, social ambiguity and personal drain. Simply put, we can get burnt out. However, it does not have to be that way and in my experience, you are not helping yourself by aimlessly accepting stressful seasons in life. College will challenge you in ways you haven’t given thought to, but there is more to this era of growth than paperwork and extracurriculars. Perhaps something largely forgotten in today’s “on-the-go” world is the art of leisure and its purpose in shepherding the human spirit closer to Truth.

To understand leisure, we must distinguish it from what it is not. Leisure is not vacation, for it is not a planned activity and does not rely on standard time. Vacations often take more work than if you hadn’t gone in the first place and they’re filled with time-crunching activities, sight-seeing, and you come home more tired than when you left. Leisure is also not non-work-related things such as movies, exercise or games and is more dynamic than temporary satisfaction. Leisure is non-material and cannot be satisfied by the acquisition of material because it is not made of any substance or combination of items that we tangibly understand.

The author Josef Pieper stated that leisure is inevitably tied to contemplation, specifically of those things beyond human comprehension. Therefore, leisure is also not idleness or laziness because that rejects the contemplative attitude required for the practice of leisure. In his book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, he argues that leisure is necessary for culture to thrive because it is dependent on the contemplation of higher truths and permanent things. He also believed that higher truths and permanent things emulate God and bring a people of leisure closer to Him. Leisure is only possible when a person is at one with the world, but foremost at one with themselves. 

Do not misunderstand me, leisure does not mean abandoning work, academic rigor or responsibility. In fact, leisure strengthens and aids one’s ability to accomplish our daily tasks and routines. It is a source of renewal and joy. Leisure is an attitude which we must maintain and reform ourselves when we drift from it. For the ultimate goal of leisure, the route of contemplation and realization of God’s truth and His permanence, is joy, which is much different from happiness or any other kind of euphoric feeling. Joy is set apart because it is not an emotion or feeling, it is an attitude and does not depend on circumstance. It is an attitude of heart and of spirit, perhaps the closest understanding to the presence of God, lending to an abundant and fruitful life.   

My advice for students of all years, especially those incoming first-years, is to fix an attitude of leisure in your mind and to keep tempo with it, practice it and find yourself in the contemplative nature of higher truth and permanent things. An attitude of leisure will lend to an attitude of joy, which is the greatest fulfillment. This has helped me immensely throughout my time at Xavier and it has not only grown my ability to work more efficiently at a sustainable, but effective pace; it has also brought me closer to my Creator. For He exemplifies the attitudes of leisure and joy so, when we practice it, we get a glimpse into the divine and grow closer to His truth. I encourage everyone at Xavier to examine your current attitudes in life and ask yourself if you have found joy. For once you have, you will exceed all expectations, overcome all circumstances and grow more into the person God created you to be. I welcome all students, new or returning to Xavier, and I hope we can be a part of your journey to joy.