Nearly four millennia after the stone ratification of the law on weekly rest, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reiterates the right of every person to rest and leisure.
It is a right that has been repeatedly violated, while almost four millennia ago it was a moral-religious duty. Let’s see how rest and leisure find their existence between obligation and human rights.
What is leisure?
The way the Decalogue addresses the issue of rest and leisure is surprising, to say the least. The commandment is obligatory and identifies responsibility as individual, while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights shifts responsibility from the inside out, highlighting factors that could facilitate or impede the experience of rest and leisure.
What complicates the equation is the emergence of the word “must”, as if rest and leisure are not desirable, and their existence is largely guaranteed by obedience to the law. It is unnatural to be obligated to act according to our will and pleasure. As a result, answering questions such as “What is leisure?” or “What is its opposite?” becomes absolutely necessary.
The Sabbath: a day of rest and leisure
André Chouraqui, in the book The Ten Commandments Today, identifies the seventh-day Sabbath as consecrated to the Divine Being. The union between people and the individual’s encounter with self is determined by people’s union with the Supreme Being. This universal holiday has become the space and time in which the surrogates of rest—distraction and boredom—were born.
In “Sunday Essays”, Romanian philosopher Constantin Noica describes the meaning of the Sabbath as the people’s return to Genesis and their recreation as a result of alienation from worldly affairs, and reunion with the person within. The Sabbath is a day of rest “in which you are no longer engaged in anything other than yourself and the mysteries that belong to you. It is the day of the Lord; that is, the day of your aloneness, of your return to the spring.”
“What’s the use of six blind days, if the seventh doesn’t shed any light on them?”
Noica concludes that “our work is no longer sanctified from within; our Sunday is just a bypass of the inner self, it’s just distraction.” He considers the six days of work to be “blind”, and the seventh day is sanctifying and bringing meaning and light.
“What’s the use of six blind days, if the seventh doesn’t shed any light on them?” About Noica, Gabriel Liiceanu wrote: “He was too stingy with time, the wealth of his life, to afford ‘six blind days’ out of seven. The seventh day was not only to be celebrated but it also had to outshine the others.”
Distraction is a substitute for rest and leisure
Recent modernity changes the meaning of rest and leisure to distraction or boredom. Even annual leave is tiring because of so much distraction. In its place, we have vacations, which do not fit the attributes of rest and leisure but rather those such as fun, pleasure and excitement.
People’s lives lack meaning because they do not reunite with their inner self through rest and do not recreate through rest.
Rather, they run away from this reunion. The illusory horizon of distraction continually fuels the flight from self-encounter and nourishes the illusion of living “outside.” The more distracted they are by what is outside of them, the further they are from themselves and thus from everything they hope to receive through distraction. They seek rest in distraction, but it is precisely distraction that tires them.
No one excuses distraction anymore
The etymological meaning of the word “distraction” differs so much from the everyday meaning, that no one feels the need to excuse distraction, or at least to justify it. In the dictionary, the word “distraction” is defined as “distraction from serious things, the act of meditating on something other than what interests you, a passing lack of attention, or a lack of concentration.”
Today, by distraction we refer especially to fun, the activities that contrast work and at the same time strip it of pleasure.
Distraction is a kind of hedonistic activity that requires an effort at least equivalent to that of ordinary work. We usually say, “It’s worth the effort.” After such a vacation, or after such a fun activity, you need another vacation.
Without framing it ethically or morally, fun distracts us from the trajectory of understanding the meanings of the things we do and thus takes us away from ourselves and the One who created us. It persuades us to give up our own lives and try to live the lives of others. In this way, life is not lived from the inside out, but from the outside towards nowhere.
Leisure restores, strengthens and builds
Leisure refers to what we do to recover, strengthen and build ourselves. It facilitates the restoration of the mind and body, by interrupting the usual occupations and replacing them with something of a different nature, which, at the same time, can relax us. Through leisure, we become able to return to the previous activity with more power. After such recreational moments, there is no need for a break for physical or mental recovery.
If distraction is the individual’s tiring and destructive flight from the encounter with the mysteries within, leisure is their restful, creative, intentional, and controlled pause for getting to know ourselves and the Source from which we spring. A moment that outshines all the others.
Ștefăniţă-Marian Poenariu believes that leisure strengthens, restores and redeems power, while distraction drains the energy needed for useful work. The resemblance between them is represented by pleasure.