I found myself lost in the woods towards the end of 2020, metaphorically speaking. I took time and investigated what my year consisted of in the midst of the chaos which had unfolded. I lacked a number of disciplines in my life which led me to fall spiritually astray. The need for order, routine, and tradition overcame me as I desired to get back on the right path. For this reason, I decided to embark on Exodus 90: a rigorous spiritual transformative expedition for Catholic men. I will spare the details, but some things sacrificed during those days are media (such as YouTube, and Netflix), snacks, alcohol, video games, and more, while intense prayer, rigorous exercise, and such are incorporated into our daily schedule. Since I could not do many of the activities that I normally enjoy during those 90 days, I realized that I needed to make proper use of my free time. I started to contemplate and write down a plan for incorporating good leisure time for the sake of my growth – both intellectual and spiritual.
Before I could come up with new habits of leisure, I wanted to identify the ones that were causing restlessness within me. Out of the many distractions I had in 2020, my worst was media: I spent countless wasteful hours on YouTube and scrolling through Twitter and other forms of social media. There is nothing wrong with the use of Instagram, Twitter, et cetera, but the overuse of such can be wasteful. I realized that looking at content that neither made me grow nor be of use to me, led to a decline in my spiritual life and productivity. Instagram, for example, is purposefully designed to keep you scrolling on the app, which I would do many hours each week. I sought to change this habit; although it was not an easy start, I realized that in order to grow, I needed to do something uncomfortable. How could I grow as a person if I simply stayed in my own comfort zone? For example, if I wanted to lose a significant amount of weight and get out of my habits of sitting on the couch all day, I would have to do the uncomfortable and stop being lazy, get up, and start moving in order to achieve those goals. In my specific situation, if I wanted to stop consuming wasteful hours on media, I needed to set boundaries (which can be uncomfortable) and refrain from my old habits. Upon sacrificing this, I found myself with a lot of free time initially. Many college students find themselves in a similar situation; after conversing with others, I noticed that they were just as wasteful and unproductive in their free time. I realized that an excessive amount of free time often leads to depression, loneliness, and isolation. I found myself in that category too, but thankfully a few of my thoughts – gathered with the help of some of my classes, literature and experience – helped me overcome those sentiments.
To go about substituting good leisure for my social media addiction, I had to actually contemplate what exactly good leisure presupposes. One of the more important titles written on that topic in the twentieth century was Joseph Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture. He defines leisure as “the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion in the real.” Essentially, Pieper argues that leisure is a certain understanding of the mind and a condition of the soul that stimulates a capacity to perceive the reality of the world. Using Pieper’s work and arguments, I will suggest how good leisure appears on the surface, but also the internal impact it can have.
Pieper writes, “leisure is a form of silence; of that silence which is a prerequisite of the apprehension of reality. Only the silent hear, and those who do not remain silent do not hear.” He begins by arguing that the first step towards leisure is silence in order to hear,not in a literal sense, but rather in a manner to perceive the world with our eyes and minds. This does not necessarily mean to cancel all kind of noise and to live life like a Carthusian Monk in pure silence. Rather, it suggests that this silence is for the soul’s power to answer to the reality of the world if left tranquil. Leisure, in Pieper’s work, “is not a Sunday afternoon idle, but the preserve of freedom of education and of culture of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.” This idea suggests a pulling away from the distractions of the real world. Leisure is thus not primarily found in a work setting or while doing a chore, but instead, a way to work on oneself for the sake of others during free time and to orient ourselves to be strengthened for God and for neighbor. This is almost countercultural since leisure is usually thought of as only for the sake of one’s own pleasure. Pieper argues that the whole purpose of leisure is to grow in virtue – interiorly and exteriorly – as an act of worship of God and a purification of the self.
Leisure, when understood with Pieper’s definition, is the primary means to properly tackle Exodus 90 apart from one’s daily duties. The reason that some of my housemates and I decided to undertake Exodus 90 was driven by a shared desire to grow as men: men who take risks out in the world and are not weak when it comes to facing trials and temptations. We aspire to be men who lay down their lives for their neighbors and men who die to themselves and pick up their cross to follow Christ every day. We strive to be men who desire to be “perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This would not be accomplished if I spent my leisure time slacking, for example, playing video games when I promised not to. In my mind, I wanted to use leisure as a mechanism to build the ark that protects the world from the flood. The world is dangerous and polluted, often filled with hatred, anger, distractions and opposition; but in St. Paul’s words, my intention for all is to “set [our] minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).
I created a list of different leisure activities that would assist me to both relax and grow in worship of God and for neighbor. This list differs from the conventional “go out and exercise” or “journal every day” that people typically plan to do regardless. I settled on five directives for leisure that have greatly impacted me over the last few months:
- Read – Reading is what I do for most of my day. It’s a dominant part of what I do for my majors. For 2021, my goal is to read an average of one book a week (which is going rather successfully thus far). The disciplines that come with Exodus 90 are only going to make this all the more possible. But besides reading for class, I personally like to read literature that 1) helps me escape from reality, 2) increases my intellectual knowledge, 3) are academic-based reads on various subjects, and 4) helps me grow spiritually. My top recommendations for reads that become a portal for an exterior world are J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and more. Some of the best work for self-improvement and growth are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson, and Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. For fun and intellectual growth, I genuinely enjoy reading the Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and The Sky of Our Manufacture by Jesse Oak Taylor. The spiritual reads that have renewed my spiritual life include works by C.S. Lewis – specifically Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters – along with the Confessions of St. Augustine, and Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. The list goes on longer than I could write – granted, these are my personal favorites for the moment.
- Learn a New Activity or Further Develop One – This could range from learning or further developing guitar skills, chess strategies, drawing, writing, memorizing scripture verses and more. This is personal preference, but in general, something that relaxes the mind away from work but also is productive.
- Spend Intentional Time with People – We are made for love, communion, and for each other. The only way we can flourishing in our human natures is to properly celebrate Feats in community.
- Sleep – Having sufficient amount of sleep per night sets one up for success the next day. Many complications disappear because of such. I encourage you to go to bed and wake up at the same time daily.
- Pray – There are many forms of prayer, and the Church offers a beautiful and Holy spiritual buffet. Adore the marvels of the Lord in your life and outside.
One of the strongest ways to grow in the basis of our culture is by indulging ourselves with proper leisure. True leisure is not about taking a few breaks throughout the day to play video games or binge watch shows on Netflix. Rather, the way we can break open this world of distractions is if we genuinely go deep and consider the profound things of the world and the marvels of God. I am not saying we should all do Exodus 90 (or Fiat 90 for women), but we all should decide what to do with the precious time given to us. My encouragement is to use leisure wisely so that we can stay on the right path of life.