Sunday, July 31, 2011
What Does It Mean to Rest?
The idea of what we should do with our leisure time is a relatively new question for us to ask. In the past, the opportunity to rest was only possible for a small segment of society, the privileged classes; ordinary citizens had to work. Rest, when it came, was a blessing and not given much thought. Today, we have studies of leisure in college curricula, and the five-day work week has made all of us conscious of leisure and how we should make the best use of it. Though leisure was always part of life, today we are beginning to appreciate the many ways it can lead to a fulfilling life.
What does it mean to rest? And how should it be done? There are no correct answers to these questions, the professor says. Everyone approaches the question differently. We can, however, search for the meaning of leisure and look for the reasons we need rest. We have no difficulty in answering what the opposite of leisure would be; for most of us it would be toil, stress and fatigue, but not only of the body, which we know can recoup its strength when the body is tired with a period of rest. The problem is the fatigue and boredom of the mind and spirit, and this is not regained so easily by resting the body.
The wisdom of the East, the professor says, does not separate work and rest, and sees no conflict between the two. Western practicality does separate them and, to make up for the possible loss of personal fulfillment by its emphasis on work, sees rest time as the corrective. In the East it was reflection on life that brought rest. Work and rest were both seen as opportunities to learn. He lists a number of pursuits that the sages considered restful: study, writing, reciting poetry, loving leisure, cultivating silence, playing games, looking at flowers, fishing, drinking, looking at the moon, enjoying the breeze, planting in the garden--all encouraged learning when done with a restful spirit.
In our society, it often happens that because of our constant efforts to satisfy our many desires, we find that having more leisure time actually results in having less internal composure and true rest. We are so busy with external things, we find we do not have enough time to do them. The professor reminds us that the reason we are tired is the the loss of meaning of many of our pursuits, and a resulting inner sterility. Our true meaning, he says, is found in the teachings of Christ: to know who we are by finding God in ourselves, and resting in God. Looking into our hearts and reflecting on who we are recharges us for the road of delight that we have been called to travel.
Sundays, he says, are for Christians a sign of what true leisure should be.It is then that we can best recall to mind, when we are tired and lack vitality, the reason for life and how I'm living this gift. We recharge ourselves by looking into ourselves and preparing for another week of living with the sacred.