Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rest and Play

Let's spend more time resting and playing and less time producing and consuming. Doesn't that sound great? But there’s tremendous resistance to rest and play in the dominator culture. After all, the purpose of the dominator culture is the manufacture of wealth for the ruling elite, so the prevailing morality supports activities that create wealth and rejects activities that fail to add to it.

In other words, the constant, focused use of human time and energy for production and consumption is moral and anything that detracts from “getting and spending” is immoral. Two classic books review the relationship of capitalistic dominator culture to the morality of work: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by Max Weber and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by R. H. Tawney. Their contention, that Protestantism supports the dominator culture through its "work ethic," has entered the mainstream, and I need not belabor the point here.

Instead, let’s take this concept out of the realm of the theoretical and consider how we might use it to transform dominator culture. If the purpose of an animist life is to be part of the earthly dance of life, then what could be better than simply being? Lao Tzu said that the way to do is to be. And if we look around us at the wisdom of creation, we see that the nonhumans are happily busy being in ways that are true to their unique natures.

The lions are ferociously hunting. The flowers burst forth with color and scent and then wilt and die. Ants hurry along hither and thither in a dither. These are just a few examples of nonhumans being their best selves. You can surely think of many more.

As humans, we have our own unique nature to express. We are creative. We love to observe, experiment, and play. We love to create beautiful sounds, to move our bodies in sport or dance. Humans find pleasure in the activities of daily living and bodily care, like washing our bodies and cooking our foods, and there is nothing more wonderful than simply being, in the company of the nonhumans all around us, singing praises to our Creator.

It is also in our nature to give a rhythm to our days, of activity and rest, eating and fasting, time in company and time alone. We need time to rest, to defocus, hang out, play, do nuthin’, loaf and loiter and goof around, and lie on our backs and watch cloud people cavort across the sky. This is human being, and being true to our natures, living a full human life. Unfortunately, there are three dominator barriers that keep us from enjoying nonproductive time.

1) As mentioned above, nonproductive time is considered immoral. It may be labeled laziness, “not living up to your potential,” or wasting time. You may have heard other labels for rest and play that imply immorality or dissipation. Conversely, productiveness is rewarded in numerous ways, especially with acclaim and money, and money is enticing, isn’t it?

2) Most of us have very little time apart from our jobs to spend in rest and play. Once I start back to school, for example, it’s nine hour days for me, not counting commuting. The United States gives its workers less vacation and sick time than any other industrialized nation in the world. This leaves us with so little time that the activities of daily living that could give us joy, like cooking and eating, often become hurried and joyless.

3) If we are not producing, we are expected to consume, and as marvelous as our leisure toys appear to be, many of them suck the life out of us, dull our minds, and steal the last remaining vestiges of time we have available for rest and play. Things like TV, movies, and passive sports-watching, tourism, exercise as a health-producing activity, and shopping do not feed our spirits.

If we could reclaim rest and play, then their joys become their own rewards. And with rest and play come a host of other benefits, like improved health, better relationships, and time to think things through. Plenty of rest and play could transform the way people think of their purpose and give them a chance to become aware of the nonhumans around them.

After all, if we don’t have time to stop and smell the roses,
then how will we ever come to hear their voices?

If we new animists are to be social activists, then here is an excellent way to begin. Let’s resist the dominator entertainments, steal a bit more time from our jobs, ignore the scolding, and spend plenty of time in rest and play. Let’s encourage our friends and coworkers to do the same. Let’s make cloud watching and flower smelling national pastimes! Who knows what magic this little change might work on our culture?


Forest Goblin said...

Very nice. I agree with you and see how I have been affected by the dominator culture.

Samantha said...

Reading your posts is definitely helping my balancing act.