Key Teachings

  • To loiter means to idle and dawdle. When we don’t rush through tasks and work, which comprise much of our lives, then we open ourselves to discovery in the very work that is ours to do on any given day.
  • Leisure is not rest but rather time given to something. How we approach a task is more important than the completion of it. The time we give is an expression of our full presence and attention. 
  • Leisure aligns us with the rhythm of life. We are present to the thing we are doing rather than rushing through life. The task is an invitation to be present whereas multitasking is our absent-presence.

When I feel overwhelmed by my list of tasks and domestic chores, I find that I consistently have the same thought: birdwatchers know something about how to live. I want to live like a birdwatcher and catch glimpses of a Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Flicker, and especially the Eastern Bluebird. In order to do this, a birdwatcher needs to give time to the task, which means waiting and watching. When I take the time to find a log, focus my binoculars, and birdwatch, I am reminded of the art of loitering on the work at hand. 

Daily life is full of tasks and chores that can feel overwhelming and never-ending. Yet this is not a bad thing. Work is important and can be very fruitful and meaningful. How we go about our work offers us the opportunity to be like birdwatchers, turning the most mundane of tasks into something more magical through our approach

Leisure is not rest. It is the time we give to something without hurry.

Br. David says, “give time to what takes time.” Leisure, he says, “is not the privilege of those who can afford to take time for it, but the achievement of those who give time to whatever they are doing — as much time as it deserves, no more and no less. If we strive for leisure, we will find our rhythm for communicating, for being alone, for working, eating, sleeping, and everything we do. We will find our rhythm as dancers.” 

Leisure is not a luxury we toss into our life occasionally, but rather the rhythm to our work — a heartbeat is followed by a pause before it beats again. This rhythm is what ultimately leads to rest — an integrated rest — because leisure invites the heart and mind to be unhurried. Of course this is a radical idea in a society built around productivity. But the artist, musician, carpenter, baker, and, sure, even the candlestick maker, don’t succeed at anything particularly lovely if output is their only goal. If the wax is not given time to dry, the candlestick maker is left with nothing but a wick in hand — from which there can only be a brief blaze, not an evening’s light.

The practice of grateful living encourages leisure — in fact it is a natural outcome — because when we attune to every moment and every task with intentionality and curiosity, we arrive with an open perspective, seeking to understand what is precious at this moment.

In the 21st Century, we have organized ourselves around consumption. Much of this consumption is done through multi-tasking. How often do you use technology while watching TV? How often do you listen to a podcast while taking a walk? How often do you complete a chore while talking to a friend on the phone? Unfortunately, my answer can be 100% of the time some weeks. The problem, of course, is that I am not fully present. And in my partial absence, I am unable to fully enjoy and experience the task and opportunities at hand — to catch a glimpse of the Eastern Bluebird on my walk or to hear the subtle pain in my friend’s voice. How is it that young adults under the age of 30 are the population that is reported to have the highest levels of burnout? I suspect that, in being raised on technology and the normalization of multitasking at all times, they have little understanding of leisure. This is where a practice of grateful living can immeasurably help.

The practice of grateful living encourages leisure — in fact it is a natural outcome — because when we attune to every moment and every task with intentionality and curiosity, we arrive with an open perspective, seeking to understand what is precious at this moment. Our arrival to a task with leisure leads to discovery, like finding a bird’s nest while watering the hanging basket, and, more importantly, enjoyment. Here is where we also deepen our relationship with the thing we are doing by giving it our full presence. 

If we hurry through tasks we hurry through life because life is a sequence of tasks. My neighbor’s bumper sticker, which states that “we are human beings, not human doings” is true. But, also, there is much to be done. How we complete our tasks matters. Without leisure, we will not give the proper time or attention to what must be done. And as a result, we will miss the rhythm that is our life by trying to do too much all at once. And, my goodness, we will miss a glimpse of the Northern Flicker, and what a shame that will be.

Reflection Questions

  • Where can you give time to something mundane today?
  • When was the last time you did something leisurely and what was that like for you?

Photo by Ryan Magsino

Joe Primo, Grateful Living

Joe Primo, Grateful Living

About the author

Joe Primo is the Chief Executive Officer of Grateful Living. He is a passionate trainer, community-builder, and program developer whose accomplishments in the field of grief made him a leading voice on resilience and adversity. Grateful living became a pillar to his work since his first introduction to Br. David Steindl-Rast in 2005. An entrepreneurial leader, Primo designed, built, expanded, and led Good Grief, Inc., the largest children and family bereavement organization in the Northeast, from 2007-2022. His TED talk, “Grief is Good,” reframed the grief paradigm as a responsive resource. He is the author of “What Do We Tell the Children? Talking to Kids About Death and Dying” and numerous articles.