“Thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling you’re losing time.”
— Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Leisure … is not the privilege of those who can afford to take time; it is the virtue of those who give to everything they do the time it deserves to take.
— David Steindl-Rast
A confession: I like two things that many people often find horrifying—waiting rooms and long road trips.
I think I like them because they’re like a secret liminal space where time is stretched, or maybe expanded like a fermented dough. I get a similar feeling on continent- or ocean-length plane rides, and maybe on train rides most of all. There’s a sense of, “Well, this is where I am now. There’s nothing I can do to make things go faster. And I don’t really have anything that must be done, all I can do is be here, maybe read a book, maybe do some writing or drawing, or just looking and thinking.” Maybe it’s a shortcut to presence, mindfulness, access to sacred contemplation time through timeless in-between places.
Mostly I like it because I can “think about things at great leisure and length without being hurried.” I can read a book one sentence at a time, and kind of simmer over that sentence for a while. I can start a sketch, and take my time with it, or when it’s time to change trains, tuck it away, leaving it wherever it ended up. The slow burn. The low simmer. The bolognese sauce of life.
Slow might sound boring. But unhurried doesn’t necessarily mean slow, and it definitely doesn’t mean nothing is happening. It’s just that things are happening at their own pace—it’s spacious and generous. There’s movement, activity, along with a background of still awareness. If we become winded, we slow down. If we get restless, we speed up. It’s a space where nothing is hurried along, but also nothing is delayed. It’s a space that says, “Take your time, at your leisure, there are no deadlines.” We’re not doing things to get done with them, or to finish them by a certain time, and we’re not avoiding any activity in the name of taking a “holiday” from work or languishing in listlessness. Things are happening on their own, while we watch what emerges.
Michael Ashcroft (33/100 YouTube videos) @m_ashcroft1/ Non-doing is not the same as doing nothing, because doing nothing is still doing. They're the same thing. Non-doing is neither of these: non-doing is the absence of doing. This distinction is as crucial as it is subtle. We've been conditioned by the cult of doing.
I get the same feeling from painting. Once I get started, I try to slip into this mindset of, “Well, this is where I am now. This is what I’m doing, and it will take as long as it takes, it will last as long as it lasts. I won’t hurry, and I won’t delay.” There is no fear of time, no fear that something might take a long time, or that something might end sooner than we’d like. We move along the way life does. Things may take a lot of effort, or they may come effortlessly. They may be useful or they may not, but they are probably always quietly enjoyable.
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. Such stillness is not mere soundlessness or a dead muteness; it means, rather, that the soul’s power, as real, of responding to the real — a co-respondence, eternally established in nature — has not yet descended into words. Leisure is the disposition of perceptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion — in the real.
— Josef Pieper, Leisure: the Basis of Culture
I’m trying to understand this space better, trying to understand leisure better. It may be that a leisurely mindset is an important part of infusing the Quality Without a Name into our days and works. It encourages awareness of the whole, moving at an enjoyable pace, and being interested in reality. It may be a clue. What are the elements that create leisurely space? Why does it feel easier to access on some days than others? Is it possible, or even desirable, to always start from leisure? I’m not sure, but I’m going to take my time and think about it. And if you find yourself spending a leisurely day poking around the garden or contemplating over a cup of tea, perhaps you might have some clues to share.
Student: It could take a while.
Teacher: That's all right. There are no deadlines in this course.