I look at your website every day and I must say I'm very impressed at all the work you put into it…. And people don’t have to subscribe, so it means you are working for nothing. I'm comparing you in my mind with my neighbours who spend an awful lot of time just sitting in their garden doing nothing as far as I can see. As soon as the husband comes home from work they head for the garden if it isn't raining, and they spend hours there talking or pottering around. They have two boys but they have left home. I can't understand idleness. I just can't understand these people. My parents were always busy and it was drilled into us to work hard always. Are people becoming lazier and lazier? What do you think can be done about it? Can you write something about this? Maisie
Seeing what you think of laziness I'm glad I escaped that censure. But it may surprise you to know that I am not as industrious as you think. I enjoy writing all that stuff, so it never occurs to me to call it work; it’s more like a hobby. If I were to go about it as work, I think it would slowly become as heavy as lead.
Don’t be too hard on laziness. Most of history’s greatest tyrants and criminals were extremely hard-working, and the world would have been a better place if they had spent hours ambling around their gardens every evening instead of planning evil. When you look out your upstairs window at your neighbours, think of all the evil they could be doing instead, and take comfort in their innocence.
Leisure is a very important part of human life. Animals can give us good example. Look at them: they spend most of their time eating and resting and dozing pleasantly; and think of all the evil they don’t do. We have something to learn from them. They are not destroying the planet or dropping bombs on populations; they are not sociopaths and psychopaths, they don’t spread disinformation, they have no egos – they are superb creatures. We are far too busy. The world would be a better place if we learned to take it easy. There was a hero in my village long ago whose nickname was Dicky-Stand-Idle. He showed us the way. e
An interesting fact came back to my mind recently when I was helping someone with an essay they were writing. The word ‘school’ comes from the ancient Greek word schole, which meant ‘ease, idleness, spare time, leisure…!’ This is probably a relic of an early stage of Greek civilisation – before the fifth century BC – when only the sons of wealthy families could afford to be withdrawn from labour and left free to learn to read and write. Girls and the sons of poor families could not go to school, and I'm sure they envied the ones who could. But we turn schools into sweat-shops: think of the pressure on young people in their Leaving Cert year! Yet in many modern languages the word for ‘school’ derives from that ancient Greek word: Irish scoil, French école, Spanish escuela, Italian scuola, German Schule…. We have forgotten many important things.
Think of Germany just after the second world war: devastated cities, a ruined economy, a decimated population…. So much work to be done, so much reconstruction…. And try to think of an appropriate title for a book to be written by a German philosopher in that period. I doubt that anyone could have expected Leisure the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper (1951). It is a small enduring classic, full of liberating insights. One of the most liberating is that work is not the same thing as constant busyness.
I hope it won't shock you too much if I tell you that I spend a lot of my time promoting idleness. I do everything I can – on this website and in this retreat centre – to seduce people into a daily practice of meditation. Meditation means staying in one spot and doing nothing, which for modern people can be the hardest thing to do. We are much more attuned to rushing off in all directions at once. What is the benefit of that? It is not something tangible that you can measure right away; it is something more subtle and more surprising. Some years ago I was speaking with a young woman who teaches primary school in the inner city. It was difficult, she said. Many of the children arrived in school every morning in a state of hyper-activity. In desperation she introduced a five-minute meditation for the children, first thing every morning. It transformed her class, she said, and in a few years the whole school. One could say she had turned the sweat-shop back into a school.
If you would like to know more about meditation, Maisie, use the site search on this website; or google the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). There you can find contact addresses for groups everywhere, and one of those places could well be right beside you. Donagh