Wandering the Path: Leisure, Relaxation, & Recharging

October 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

Inspired by my lovely wife and her observation that I embody the Tolkien quote “Not all who wander are lost,” my goal is for this piece to be continuation of a series highlighting aspects of my thinking, my strengths, and my authentic self as I attempt to connect more deeply with you all.

Talk Nerdy to Me

Recently a word-of-the-day meme crossed my dashboard and piqued my curiosity. “Otiose,” an adjective meaning to serve no purpose or result. I thought, “Cool!” Then, my inner word nerd rejoiced and dragged me to my OED to find the entry and etymology. And bang! I was derailed. What I thought would be an interesting way to express my distaste for purposeless drudgery and aid in rekindling the usage of somewhat obscure word turned inconceivableout to be another Vizzini lesson. That word did not mean what I thought it meant. To be fair to Litographs, Dictionary.com, and probably Merriam-Webster as well, “serving no purpose,” “idle,” and “useless” are how most contemporary users of the word employ it. Capturing the usage is important, but it’s a bit more complicated & culturally influenced than that.

“Otiose” comes directly from the latin word for being at leisure, ōtiōsus. This puzzled me at first. Why would anyone consider being at leisure to mean serving no purpose or result. Being the total nerd that I am, I jumped down this rabbit hole and started digging. Almost all definitions of leisure center on freedom otiosein some way or form, yet it’s origin of licēre means “to be permitted.” Permissible freedom is quite an interesting concept in itself, yet it is one we live with every day in America. Our freedoms are not without boundaries, leaving them defined by what the law or society deems permissible. That in mind, how does a word like “otiose” with its origins in permissible freedom come to mean idle or useless? Context.

Much of the definitions of leisure, though centered on freedom, are juxtaposed with work or duty. Being the binary obsessed creatures we humans are, it only makes sense that we would use this context to extrapolate a new meaning for an adjective connected to leisure. It seems our focus on work-related productivity requires that the opposite of said productivity must be non-productive, i.e. serving no purpose or result.

This sort of word evolution that devolves from the central meaning reminds me of the child’s game of Telephone where one person starts with a phrase or sentence, whispers it into the next child’s ear, who then repeats the phrase as best as they remember to the next child, and so on until the last child hears the message and speaks it aloud for the group to giggle at how much the message changed when filtered through a series of varying interpretations.

To befog the leisure evolution further, we often use the phrase “leisure time activities” when discussing recreational activities. Recreation now deemed synonymous with leisure has no connection denotatively to uselessness and only indirectly connects to freedom through the defining word of “relaxation.” Though relaxation is not freedom itself, most people would say freedom would be required in order to achieve relaxation. So why would we connect permission to freedom, uselessness, and relaxation? By now, I’m sure my rabbit-hole wonderings have left many of your exasperated and itching to say “Clearly, I cannot choose the cup in front of me!” I wouldn’t blame you for spilling both of the cups and leaving in a huff, but I promise this is going somewhere.

Mr. Rodger’s Breathing Exercises

Please, sit back down, take a deep breath, and R-E-L-A-X. Whatever we call it, relaxation relaxis a necessary part to maintain our well being. The reason “otiose” and its etymological relatives matter is that “leisure” nor “relaxation” should be held in the same breath as uselessness or idle. Yet, I have found that many times it is. From what I can find, this directly correlates to our willingness to juxtapose freedom with work. In many ways, leisure’s most colloquial use is to describe the time we aren’t working or performing duties of some sort. It is the time that is all our own. How we use this time and with what we fill it are entirely up to us. That is a huge part of the freedom leisure encapsulates. Some people relax with a book, others with movies or television, an increasing number choose games, yet others still will choose nature walks or star gazing. However you choose to fill your leisure time, the purpose is often the same: to relax and recharge. It is in these moments of respite that we regain the energy exerted in our work and duties. But make no mistake, recharging is not idle nor useless, and it most definitely serves a vital purpose that will yield lasting results.

Batteries Not Included

In June, the Harvard Business Review published an article on resilience by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan. In it, they challenge the long-held belief that resilience is about how much adversity one can endure. Through the analysis of multiple studies, they concluded that resilience had little to do with how one endures and that it instead is connected to how one recharges. It is through active and purposeful recharging that some people can endure much longer than others.

recharge-meme-1To be idle or at rest may be a form of physical recovery during or after a long walk. However, simply being at rest is not the same as getting rest. Anyone who’s stared at the ceiling while trying to sleep understands this difference. The same goes for our mental and emotional recovery. Simply being idle is not useful and therefore, is not leisure or relaxation. In order to relax, we know that we need to do or not do certain things (which vary from person to person) in order to recover and rejuvenate our spirit. This is often called “selfcare,” and it takes planning and effort to accomplish. The difference is the effort expended while recovering is used to purge negativity from our bodies and our minds. To neglect our recovery is to allow the toxic negativity that is a part of everyday life to continually build without providing any release. When we don’t purge the negativity through intentional and prioritized recovery, we make ourselves overly susceptible to burnout.

What recovery looks like and how it recharges a person will vary for each individual. For me, nerding out on words like the path that lead me to writing this post is one way that I recharge. For others, it might be napping or partaking in a recreational activity like a sport, cooking, or crochet. Many experts promote the use of mindfulness meditation as well. How someone recharges is vital and should be intentional in order to activate their own recovery process. To outsiders, it might look like relaxation or it might look like work. But what it looks like on the outside is irrelevant. What matters is how it helps the individual rejuvenate.selfcare

I may not know what recharging looks like for you or even be able to provide a relevant example for your life. However, I do encourage each of you to reflect on your daily habits. What activities do you engage in that uplift, encourage, and inspire you? What activities drain you? Do you wait until you are totally exhausted before recharging? Do you use a hobby as an escape instead of as recovery? All of these things will impact your well being. Burnout often comes from waiting too long to recharge, but it can also manifest by not addressing and recharging after small draining activities that you experience regularly. Be aware of your needs, your state, and your activities. It matters to your health and well being. By taking care of your recovery needs, you will help yourself maintain and sustain the best version of who you can be. So, remind yourself that #YouMatter by investing in your selfcare, even if it is leisurely.


What words would you add?

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