This is why the ability to be “at leisure” is one of the basic powers of the human soul. Like the gift of contemplative self-immersion in Being, and the ability to uplift one’s spirits in festivity, the power to be at leisure is the power to step beyond the working world and win contact with those superhuman, life-giving forces that can send us, renewed and alive again, into the busy world of work. Only in such authentic leisure can the “door into freedom” be opened out of the confinement of that “hidden anxiety,” which a certain perceptive observer has seen as the distinctive character of the working world, for which “employment and unemployment are the two poles of an existence with no escape.”

In leisure – not only there, but certainly there, if anywhere – the truly human is rescued and preserved precisely because the area of the “just human” is left behind over and over again – and this is not brought about through the application of extreme efforts but rather as with a kind of “moving away” (and this “moving” is of course more difficult than the extreme, active effort; it is “more difficult” because it is less at one’s own disposal; the condition of utmost exertion is more easily to be realized than the condition of relaxation and detachment, even though the latter is effortless: this is the paradox that reigns over the attainment of leisure, which is at once a human and super-human condition). As Aristotle said of it: “man cannot live this way insofar as he is man, but only insofar as something divine dwells in him.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Josef Pieper

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