Much of Europe is on holiday this whole month, and many Americans are squeezing in one more vacation before school begins and the Fall season ramps up. It’s mid-August, and a good time to consider down time.

We know how to work. We have to learn how to relax. Josef Pieper said that (in a more eloquent way) in his book Leisure, The Basis of Culture, a good read. We think of vacation or leisure as the absence of activity, but it’s more than that. It’s a stillness of the 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 he busy world of work.

It doesn’t come easily to some people, this ‘taking it easy’ break. I’m here to tell you…

So is Pieper, who says we do exertion better than relaxation…even though detachment should be effortless.

Work is what we know. We have to learn to relax again.

True. I’m working on it.

Aristotle said: “We work in order to be at leisure.” He said the “pivot” around which everything turns is leisure. Can we even grasp that? Pieper says the Greeks would not have grasped our value of “work for the sake of work.”

So, in the right order of things, here’s how we should understand leisure…

The simple “break” from work — the kind that lasts an hour, or the kind that lasts a week or longer — is part and parcel of daily working life. It is something that has been built into the whole working process, a part of the schedule. The “Break” is there for the sake of work. It is supposed to provide “new strength” for “new work,” as the word “refreshment” indicates: one is refreshed for work through being refreshed from work.

I found this great bookmark holding a page in this book, and suppose I put it there a long time ago, though I enjoy it way more now. It has a quote attributed to Jerome K. Jerome. Under a sketch of a fly-fisherman about to cast his rod in mid-stream, is this thought:

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.

I went fly-fishing just over a week ago on vacation, and it was thoroughly enjoyable idling in nature. I have plenty of work to do, am back at it, but planning to ‘vacate’ next week for a few days to see family. In order to be up and on, one must sometimes be down and off.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....