Inga Wilke, M.A., is an associate and doctoral candidate in the subproject G6, “Learning Otium? Leisure, Creativity and Deceleration in the Context of Performance Enhancement and Self-Improvement”
“MußeOrte – weltweit” (Places of Otium – Worldwide): In terms of the cultural-anthropological subproject G6, you are interested in methods of acquiring otium. What is the subject of your research? Which questions interest you exactly?
Inga Wilke: At the center of the research is, more than anything else, questions as to where and how people seek otium today. The concrete subject of our research is courses in the realm of otium; that is how otium-oriented practices should be conveyed and acquired. We look at this in the context of the everyday demands people are currently facing. Course descriptions often make explicit references that something should be done in order to deal with these demands and, based on these descriptions, we select the course we would like to examine. It is a matter which corresponds to an entire spectrum of different types of courses. In terms of the wide variety of practices, we keep a similarly wide field in mind. Forest bathing would be, for example, an important practice with which I would work with. What is actually relevant to the semantic field actually has a lot to do with mindfulness and deceleration, especially according to the MBSR Program from Jon Kabat-Zinn, which also plays an important role in another subproject of the CRC. Also interesting are phenomena which are more closely related to a traditional place or particular region, such as a stay in a monastery.
“MußeOrte – weltweit” (Places of Otium – Worldwide): You have just addressed it: the courses are often connected with specific places. Would you say that there are places which are especially suitable to hold such courses? How would you describe the spatial setting of these courses?
Inga Wilke: It is essentially important for us to describe, from their own perspectives, how the participants conceptualize otium (and that also means: spaces of otium). In terms of the question, which spaces do the participants perceive as particularly otium-oriented, certain similarities emerge between their statements. Of course it is true that through the spatial setting, a group physically gathers together in the courses. The spaces are therefore big enough for all of the participants to find enough space, and is structured so that one can sit comfortably and converse with one another. At the same time it is also essential that everyone has enough space for their own “island”: either on a chair which one sits, a mat, or a meditation pillow with a blanket. Forest bathing is of course composed in a completely different way, because these courses take place outdoors. The forest however is still thought of as a sort of room in which the courses take place, one which is especially well-suited to reconnect with oneself and with nature.
“MußeOrte – weltweit” (Places of Otium – Worldwide): You have just addressed the bodily experience. How can one say that otium also manifests itself bodily? What happens within the mind, and what does the body do along with it?
Inga Wilke: That is a central question of our subproject. The prospect of being able to look, in a manner of speaking, behind the curtain and come directly to the level of experience, is a very complex matter. In our culture the separation of body and spirit has, in terms of the history of ideas, a long tradition which influences our speaking about the body today. There is of course the question, if that is in reality so sharply distinct. This separation also plays an important role in the courses; it often has to do with the fact that the participants experience it in deficit and seek a different point of access to their bodies, minds, and emotions. The practices which should be acquired, such as a walking meditation or an aware and intentional opening of the senses in the forest, are attempts to incorporate the body. Relaxation should in such a way succeed, and otium be supported.
“MußeOrte – weltweit” (Places of Otium – Worldwide): The practices of otium are acquired outside of everyday life, but should have an effect on the day-to-day. Where would you integrate these otium practices in the field of tension between everyday and non-everyday?
Inga Wilke: If someone travels to a course for a weekend in order to switch off and leave obligations of their family and job behind them, that is, for starters, analytically seen as an escape from daily life. People also describe it as such. At the same time the courses have the goal that the participants can take something with them which has something to do with the world and not just the courses. In this position, judgements come frequently into play, which are based upon the criterion of output and self-optimization. “Did the course leader hold to what he or she had promised?” “Am I able to integrate what I learned into my everyday life or not?” “Will I manage to turn what I acquired into habit, with help from a meditation app?” Those are points which participants repeatedly touch upon in conversations with me. It has to do, most definitely, with a field of tension between everyday and non-everyday life. It is, incidentally, also produced by those who offer courses, when they address participants in the following way: “Here you are, completely out of your everyday; you do not have to claim that the course changed your world, but of course it would be nice, if it gives a few incentives to do so.”
“MußeOrte – weltweit” (Places of Otium – Worldwide): The examined courses are relatively costly. The offer to acquire otium through this way addresses only a small group of people. Otium and commercialization seem not to rule each other out. Do you see this the same way?
Inga Wilke: It is exactly when one examines the actual situation and especially the contact between people, that one can determine that otium and commercialization do not rule each other out. In cultural-historical perspectives that surely is conducted in another way. How one judges contemporary commercialization and the social exclusion which is connected to it, is another question. Alongside commercialization is, in terms of the courses, another further aspect of meaning: the legitimization of being preoccupied with oneself. The participation in such a course may be contextualized through an educational context (the courses are in part allowed as educational leave). Another frequently presented justification is that one is concentrated upon themselves, takes care of themselves, and, at least for a certain period of time, leaves their other duties as a secondary priority. It seems that our society, in large part, is not accustomed to go into self-examination.
With this criticism of the courses in the social context: commercialization and legitimization strategies do not rule out the fact that people can experience otium in courses. These courses are a relatively exclusive offer, yet this finding should not cause the rejection of the participants’ experiences of otium.
“MußeOrte – weltweit” (Places of Otium – Worldwide): Many thanks for the discussion!