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The Leisure to Look Inward

An educational center in southern California sent its annual appeal for donations.‭ ‬The director’s theme is:‭ “‬There is space.‭” ‬But it ought to be put as a question:‭ ‬Is there space‭? ‬For space in every sense is shrinking,‭ ‬and fast.


Past-Future-SignQuoting from the director’s letter,‭ ‬he intones,‭ “‬there is space,‭ ‬which all of our work points toward‭…” ‬Expanding on his evocation,‭ ‬he says,‭ “‬Space—the physical places and opportunities to learn about oneself,‭ ‬whether young or old.‭” ‬Yes,‭ ‬it’s important,‭ ‬indeed essential that there be such places,‭ ‬and that’s what a school is truly for.

Of course,‭ ‬schools as we know them are places where knowledge and skill are transmitted for the purpose of socialization and job preparation.‭ ‬The problem isn’t just that this core philosophical orientation produces superficial,‭ ‬uncritical consumers‭; ‬it is that it’s antiquated.‭ ‬Society and the workplace have radically changed,‭ ‬while education remains stuck in the past.

Jobs aren’t being created to nearly the degree that they need to be in both the developed and developing world.‭ ‬Part of this is that the developed world is just that—developed.‭ ‬Politicians can talk about rebuilding infrastructure all they want,‭ ‬but as long as things more or less work,‭ ‬and people don’t care about the commons,‭ ‬just their own advancement,‭ ‬pleasures and escapes,‭ ‬there will be no public incentive or support for societal reconstruction.

There’s also the fact that computers,‭ ‬automation and robotics are replacing humans at an accelerating rate.‭ ‬Again,‭ ‬work,‭ ‬and our entire relationship to work,‭ ‬has radically changed,‭ ‬but people’s thinking has not.

Sure,‭ ‬people are busier than ever.‭ ‬To earn a livable income many have to work two jobs,‭ ‬not to mention that both parents usually have to work,‭ ‬whereas‭ ‬50‭ ‬years ago only one did,‭ ‬the father provider.‭ ‬Is this progress‭?

In a limited sense it is,‭ ‬because the barriers to women working in any and all capacities have largely come down.‭ ‬But in another sense,‭ ‬there is less space,‭ ‬much less.

Though the drumbeat of‭ ‘‬jobs,‭ ‬jobs,‭ ‬jobs‭’ ‬goes on relentlessly,‭ ‬the opportunities for young people for productive work‭ (‬in the deeper sense of the word‭)‬,‭ ‬affording livable wages and higher quality of life‭ (‬especially the space for time in nature and for self-reflection‭) ‬are diminishing.

A lot of people have just opted out,‭ ‬by choice or unemployment,‭ ‬and they are finding other things to occupy their time.‭ ‬Some are healthy‭; ‬many are not.‭ ‬In short,‭ ‬our whole relationship to work,‭ ‬individually and societally,‭ ‬has to fundamentally change,‭ ‬if things aren’t to continue to degenerate and deteriorate.

Which brings me to the second level of the educational director’s appeal:‭ “‬Space—the leisure to look inward,‭ ‬and the importance of having this leisure in our lives.‭” ‬That’s even more dubious.

Is there actually space for creative inactivity,‭ ‬despite the yoga/meditation/retreat industry that’s sprung up around thea leisure look inward main 1 world‭? ‬No‭; ‬busy,‭ ‬busy,‭ ‬busy is still the order of the‭ ‬day.‭ ‬The leisure to be self-knowing is the last thing most people want,‭ ‬though it’s the first thing every person needs.

My family back in the‭ ‘‬homeland‭’ ‬of the Midwest is as materialistic,‭ ‬consumeristic and sports crazy as any‭ ‬clan‭ ‬in America.‭ ‬Having made‭ “‬the leisure to look inward‭” ‬the most important thing in my life,‭ ‬I’m called‭ “‬the blackest of the black sheep.‭”‬ Though I don’t have any letters after my name,‭ ‬I wear the sheepskin with honor,‭ ‬even if sometimes it feels like a hair shirt.‭ ‬And I don’t believe in hair shirts of any sort.

American society,‭ ‬and the global society by imitation,‭ ‬is increasingly geared toward pleasure and escape,‭ ‬driven by self-centered activity.‭ ‬Subtract that motivating factor,‭ ‬and the entire crumbling,‭ ‬meaningless edifice of society is laid bare. If the well-oiled machine of this rotten society,‭ ‬presently grinding to a halt in the United States,‭ ‬is to be rebuilt,‭ ‬I’m certain that‭ “‬the leisure to look inward‭” ‬is the wellspring of its inspiration.

Finally,‭ ‬the educational director speaks of‭ “‬space—the state of mind when there is psychological freedom.‭” ‬That’s ultimately what it’s all about,‭ ‬though the present‭ ‘‬values‭’ ‬and configuration of society are actually about the opposite—psychological enslavement.‭ ‬Can that change,‭ ‬now‭?

It’s an astonishingly beautiful afternoon.‭ ‬A great oak,‭ ‬the most magnificent specimen of Valley Oak in Lower Park,‭ ‬hangs motionless in the bright sun.‭ ‬It’s long,‭ ‬gnarled branches throw rich shade as they reach down to the greening grass,‭ ‬the first intimation of winter in‭ ‬northern‭ ‬California.

At the stream there’s a big ripple in the placid current directly across from where I sit with my back to the sun.‭ ‬Nothing is discernable at first,‭ ‬but then I see three funny faces poking their heads above the water downstream—minks‭!

Very cautiously,‭ ‬they make their way back upstream.‭ ‬When they return to the same spot where I first saw the ripples,‭ ‬they poke their heads,‭ ‬indeed the whole upper portions of their sleek,‭ ‬brown bodies,‭ ‬out of the water and sniff the air in my direction.‭ ‬Having been hunted almost to extinction in America,‭ ‬they have reason to be cautious.

Deciding it’s ok to continue upstream,‭ ‬they quickly pass by underwater,‭ ‬like three tiny submarines pushing a bow wave ahead of them.‭ ‬Not having seen one,‭ ‬much less three so close before,‭ ‬they bring a smile whenever I recall the encounter.

Martin LeFevre

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