Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

In Praise of Idleness

--by Bertrand Russell (Jun 02, 2014)

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. [...]

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. [...]

[Instead, in a world where there is adequate leisure,] above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid. At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered, and there will be no need to conform to the standards set by elderly pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary men and women, having the opportunity of a happy life, will become more kindly and less persecuting and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, and partly because it will involve long and severe work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, the one that the world needs most, and good nature is the result of ease and security, not of a life of arduous struggle.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, social critic and political activist. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these in any profound sense.  This passage was excerpted from his essay, "In Praise of Idleness".

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On May 30, 2014 Jagdish P Daveh wrote:

 Bertrand Russell is one one of my favorite authors, thinkers and activists for social justice and fairness. I read what he writes with respectful attention. Work hard, don't be lazy, don't  be a bum, has been a modern person's mantra. To write about " In Praise of Idleness" is by itself a bold and out-of-the box kind of thinking. The title of the article was good enough for me to read, reflect and respond.
The Bhagvad Gita-The Divine Song- is one of the few books that have made me think about balance, equanimity, excellence in action, and fulfillment. The book for me is about asking deep questions about living a happy and fulfilling life. It is about discovering and practicing the Yogic way of living.

A mindful and balanced way of living has been very helpful to me. i have learned that there is a time for work and time for leisure; a time to be alone and a time to be with others; a time to be serious and time to be silly; a time to be sad and a time to be glad; a time to receive and a time to give; a time to talk and a time to listen. These stances  may seem opposite to each other. To me, they are complementary, like back and front, day and night, yes and no, right and wrong. They are not absolute. Either/or dichotomous way of thinking and way of living and relating is not my cup of tea. I like the "and" between two apparently opposites; to be able to see them as different. A lot of unnecessary and harmful pain and suffering has been caused by the either /or- stance-either you are with me or against me- a way of thinking and living and relating. The differences do not have to cause distances if we keep our mind and heart open, to be empathic to others.

So work is worship and play is also worship. It is indeed simple unless we make it complicated and difficult. Simplicity is easy to understand but difficult to practice. Small is beautiful but difficult to implement. We all are familiar with conditioning, hypnotizing and brain washing. Liberating oneself from these powerful external forces is difficult.

I always appreciate getting such weekly gifts, reading reflective comments by other friends and remaining connected with them.


Jagdish P Dave

On May 30, 2014 Rajesh wrote:

 This is a fantastic passage and one that very accurately captures that malaise of our civilization at this current time. Idleness is frowned upon as if its a crime while being busy is put on a pedestal. If one were to pause and observe our daily lives, the benefits of leisure will be very apparent. In the presence of leisure, daily life develops a beautiful wholesome flavor. This is totally missing if one is leading a harried, busy life.

On Jun 2, 2014 Ravi S wrote:

I completely agree with the idea of idleness. I also agree that in earlier generations there was a sense of lightheartedness and play. So life was worth enjoying  rather than worth working. As he number of hours of work per day has increased, all the lightheartedness and play has weathered. 

Life has become more of a race rather than a stopover to enjoy. I remember very vividly how my grandfather in a salary of ₹ 5000/- could enjoy relatives coming to our house. He did not feel that relatives are "overhead expenses". I worked for a corporate for 13 years and have experienced this. It was repeated that long hours of work means "success". From last 03 years I have left job and am working on my own. I want to say that I am earning at par with what I would have earned but 50% less efforts. And with personal ease end enjoyment. I am NOT saying that quality of my work has decreased but on the contrary it has increased. I enjoy the idelness which this work has given me. Thanks for sparking a revelation in me.

On Jun 2, 2014 chitarta wrote:

 we consider meditation as EFFOERTLESS CHOICELESS AWARENESS as a deep leisure or doing aim, no controle or judgement of WHAT IS in this very those periods of time various spontaneious creativities NATURALLY in one situation we were overwhelmed w joy and created beautiful flower-branches- all from nature collected art arrangements without ever having done it before and not knowing the outcome..... incl. writing more as we give ourselves to  SILENCE & BEINGNESS creativity will naturally arise incl. not to create anything at all and  just BE.......

On Jun 3, 2014 Carol wrote:

 It would be great if people only needed to work 4 hours a day! But of course one needs half of the population to work to pay for the other half who make it a life long aim to live off other people! We are talking about a perfect world here!! Which it is not! Let's ask our refuge men to work only a few hours a day (and no most people wouldn't want the job) maybe we could all share that job..any takers? No I didn't think so! Let's all be realistic here! Just be happy with all you have!

On Jun 3, 2014 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 Hi Chitra:

What you wrote is not like a pie in the sky. We all need to learn to enter into the extensive and non-judging, judge- suspending quiet place to taste the power and effect of the now consciousness. There is no fixed way to the the now. The now is the way. We all need to cultivate  mindfulness skills to rest effortlessly. As the mental noise and the mental cluttering subside, we gain a deeper understanding of our self created suffering and become free from the stuck and reactive mental place. I practice mindfulness meditation everyday. I feel deeply contented and happy. I do my work joyfully and act responsibly. It does not look and feel like task. There is wisdom in the saying," How we perceive is what we perceive." Mindfulness meditation creates that wholesome shift in our perception. And such a shift helps me not to be stressed out and enjoy life.

Thanks for your response this  thought provoking article.

Jagdish P Dave

On Jun 3, 2014 mack paul wrote:

 When I was in college, I had a great reverence for the romantic poets of the 19th century, Wordsworth and Coleridge.   I wasn't aware that there is a gulf between the thinking class and the working class.  The thinking class gets to avoid the heavy lifting of the working class.   Bertrand Russell was, of course, a member of the privileged thinking class, as is everyone involved in contemporary western Buddhism.   We get to avoid the drudgery and rhapsodize about doing nothing.   

On Jun 3, 2014 Carol wrote:

 Way to go!! Got it in one!

On Jun 3, 2014 david doane wrote:

 My name is Dave, and I'm a workaholic -- whether I'm doing something that I think should be done or something I enjoy.  I think workaholism is in one's attitude toward an activity as much as whether the activity is imposed or chosen.  At least many activities can be approached with an attitude of enjoyment that is genuine, not made up, and it makes a big difference.  Learning to do what I want more often, learning to relax, learning to smell the roses has been a long uneven process for me.  A favorite saying of mine is "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live, said Lin Yu-t'ang -- I'm still learning to spend more time living uselessly.  I definitely believe that originality and creativity spring forth when people hang loose, relax, enjoy what they are doing.  There is a story that happiness (and peace, and wisdom, and an answer) is like a butterfly,and the more we chase it the more it eludes us, and when we quit trying and relax, the butterfly comes and gently sits on our shoulder.  Most of us work too much, maybe because we are afraid to let go and be.  Doing can definitely be a way to avoid being (and happiness, originality, peace), and being is becoming.

On Jun 3, 2014 genevieve wrote:

 Aboriginal people were very wise. The "working time" was dedicated  to feed themselves and taking care of mother earth( who was providing the food) and used the time left for singing dancing painting and sharing with a deep sense of transmission (dream time)

On Jun 3, 2014 Charles Holmes wrote:

 I work as a consultant to many large corporations and in the past year or so i have been sharing a quote from a dear friend and colleague, Patrick O'Neil: "What if we are moving too slowly to solve the challenges we face, because we are all moving too fast?!"  Time for reflection and thinking is being squeezed in favor of unceasing action.

On Jun 3, 2014 Myrsa wrote:

 Would this piece read the same if we substituted "men" by women. Woman's work seems to be unending. Men can get away from work, or put it out of their minds, not so women, especially women rearing children. Finding leisure in these circumstances is challenging, but not doing it is devastating. 

On Jun 3, 2014 Mattski wrote:

Thanks this was so refreshing and loving that it was right in time with the neutral bias mentality I am fostering. Here's to our joyful exertion and mindful space holding for what comes next.  

On Jun 3, 2014 wendi wrote:

 I have been a "do-er" and in constant "active, productive mode" since I was a kid.  But, the last 30 years, I have taken these qualities and been like a work-horse in the work world.  I am exhausted.  Luckily my husband got a 6 month contract that supports our family financially, so I am finally giving myself permission to rest.  I have even noticed myself being "lazy" which has such negative connotations. Being Idle brings up "wasting time", and "not being productive' is something of which to be ashamed.  It is a chronic habit that I am trying to change.  IT IS TORTURE walking by the load of laundry that needs to be folded and saying, "I'm really not up for doing that right now."  Our society doesn't know HOW to "do nothing" never mind "relish" in it.  Let's start breaking that habit!

On Jun 3, 2014 pam wrote:

 I don't know when I garden or shovel snow, I have a lot of time to think.  It's the computer time that appears to occupy my brain too much.

On Jun 3, 2014 BroKin wrote:

 I don't know, maybe somewhere between Mary and Martha. A  little of this and a little of that.

On Jun 6, 2014 a wrote:
 Thank you, Jagdish!  Amen.

On Jun 7, 2014 Bob Swandby wrote:

 "Time for reflection and thinking is being squeezed in favor of increasing action."  I think that is a comment
that reflects much of current western civilization and for me it is sad.  It does take leisure and reflection
to be creative and to look at problems and find solutions.  Our need for more "stuff" created by advertising
is an illusory vicious cycle that robs us of real joy and satisfaction and connecting to the land that sustains us.
Read "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn.

On Jun 7, 2014 me wrote:

I hear you, on this one!  
My father never shied away from delegating work.  He would say, "We have a family of nine.  If two (mom and dad) were expected to carry the work load for the entire team (of nine).  The two would quickly tire out!  Nine people sharing the work load for nine people allows nine people to have idle time when their work is done."

I do not have the gift of "delegation".  I end up pulling a load no one else cares to go before.  In this, Grace at work.

Idling now . . . So Thankful!

On Jun 9, 2014 Matangi wrote:

 I truly believe that creativity will sprout when you are relaxed and involved in activity where u are 100% joy ful and  head is empty or preoccupied with planning and calculating other events personally I have found this while. Teaching  
art of living happiness program. Where spontaneously things happen and more creative ideas flow in because iyou are independently happy and not attached to outcome where doing nothing effortlessly spells meditation