When you were a kid, life was leisure time. Even school was play. You found ways to make everything you did matter to you in a way that it didn't matter to anybody else. The adult world is on the opposite spectrum. Everything you do matters, just not necessarily in a way that matters only to you. Tack on the fact that now as an adult you have this prevailing sense of your own mortality, the aging process seeming to crescendo toward the speed of light before your very eyes, and all of a sudden leisure time is "Am I spending every moment of my life as wisely as possible?"
Never before had I experienced stress during due to free time. I'd experienced stress due to boredom for sure, but utilizing the small amount of free time given to us as adults has become like deciding what to get from the grocery store when you're starving. You don't know what to do! You spend that couple hours thinking, "I should work on my novel," or "I should do my art," or "I should go for a run", or wash the dishes, do the laundry, etc. etc. Before you know it, that couple hours of free time is suddenly gone, and you've...or maybe it just me...spent it doing nothing.
I read an article recently about how doing nothing is brilliantly underrated. It highlighted the benefits of putting all thoughts and goals aside and literally just enjoying doing nothing at all in order to break away from the stigma of this country. That stigma being: If you're not being productive at all times, you could very well be considered lazy, a waste, or non-contributing.
That article had a lot of things right, but it was missing something. Only very, very recently, I'm talking less than a week ago in my almost 28 years of existence on this earth, did I learn what it meant to enjoy your free time, or as the title question puts it, "spend your leisure time".
I was a part of charity art auction on a Saturday night. It was a huge deal for me. It was huge because writing used to be the biggest part of my life, so big that it had defined who I was in every social circle. Whether they knew me as the novelist or the screenplay or more stylishly "the wordsmith", I was known for that. In recent years, however, I had struggled with writing and the joy it used to bring me. It took me a decent amount of in my twenties to discover another passion and bring with it enough talent to get people to notice. For once I didn't have to say I was a writer. I could say I was an artist, because I was putting together, in my humble opinion, really wonderful pieces of digital paintings. I'd found another niche for myself, and it felt great. It felt greater than great. At a time in our lives when everybody has their THING, whether it be getting engaged, married, having a child, traveling, a massive twitter following, an iron grip on social media, buying a house, anything...you yearn for something to make you stand out. You yearn to make yourself visible in a world where it seemed every day, somebody else was being congratulated for something else. At least, that's how I viewed the world at the time. This was MY thing. For once I had something I was proud of that I could celebrate, that was different from what everyone else was doing.
That didn't matter though. Because nobody came to the event. Well, two people did. One was a good friend of mine who I've recently reconnected with and also had some art in the auction, and one other long time friend who came to support. Unfortunately, I was so disappointed and saddened by the fact that none of my family, and none of the dozens of close friends I'd advertised this event to for weeks had showed up, that I could hardly appreciate the two of them being there.
My moment was crushed. The next day was Sunday, a day where I had nothing but "leisure" time scheduled. I had a feeling I'd be spending a lot of that leisure time very sullen.
It didn't happen that way.
I was somber, for sure, so I did something that I never do, and I shut my phone off. It wasn't because I was mad at the world, because I wasn't. That was the key component to all this. I shut it off because I realized the reason I was so disappointed last night didn't lie in the instance of having no friends show up. It was embedded in my disappointment of receiving no praise for something that made me proud. I expected the others to give me the joy of seeing my art hanging up somewhere that wasn't my apartment instead of giving the joy to myself. I had realized then that my phone was the chief enabler of this habit. Each day, every day, I check it, in hopes that someone is contacting me for something, so I will feel needed, wanted, valuable in some way. So shutting off the phone was hard. Disconnecting myself from the drug of validation was hard. But it was required.
I didn't just shut off my phone. I stayed offline. Off Facebook, off twitter. I entered complete radio silence in order to be with myself and with my emotions. Then I ran. Like Forrest Gump, I RAN.
Ten miles to be exact. I'd never run that far in my life, not even half that far, but I had so much emotional energy that I just had the urge to keep going. I'm not so sure I would've gone so far if I was hoping my phone would buzz with an email, text, or call to distract me. It even brought me two moments, moments much smaller in scale that the art auction, but much grander in scope when it came to what truly mattered. At mile 8, I was getting too thirsty to keep going, but I wanted to go to mile 10. I stopped into a Pizza shop near my apartment, one I frequent, and explained my situation while out of breath. I told the guy behind the counter, "Hey man, I'm in here all the time, I've got no cash on me, I just ran 8 miles, I want to run 10, and I was wondering if you could just give me some water."
The man through his fist up in the air and told me to take a bottle of water from the fridge before cheering me on as I ran out the door. All of a sudden, I had another burst of energy from his act of compassion. Not soon after that, a pretty girl running toward me, seemingly in a similar situation to my own, saw me pushing forward with my water. She smiled at me, one of the most genuine smiles I'd received in a long time, and gave me the thumbs up as we passed. I smiled back at her. It was the best part of my day.
Two complete strangers from tiny acts of compassion provided me with more joy than all the recognition I expected the evening before.
After my run, feeling quite satisfied and proud for achieving something I'd never done before, I reflected on those two moments of compassion. I know for a fact that I would've felt great had those two things not occurred, but they truly were icing on the cake. True compassion, as much as people say it's a quality they have, is tough to come by. I'd not only experienced it then, but it made me want to do things that would cause others to experience it.
The only way I could do that was to learn to validate myself, without the need for others. And even without the compassion of others. It needed to come from a place within that I hadn't found yet, but caught a glimpse of during that run.
I spent the rest of the day reflecting. Meditating. My phone remaining off.
And now that's what I do with my leisure time. Writing, drawing, hanging with friends, all the pleasantries of life, those are important for sure, but they come with a price if you aren't sure of yourself inside. Those ARE leisure time, IF you understand what it means to be leisurely.
So for now...I spend my leisure time in radio silence. Reflecting. And learning to love all that I am inside, so I am able to offer the world moments of compassion that will leave lasting impressions on their lives.