We only know it's opposite in English: negotiation.
They say words develop when you have a need for them. I’ve also heard ‘what is meant for you is on its way’.
This is a little of both.
… withdrawing from one's daily business (neg-otium) or affairs to engage in activities that were considered to be artistically valuable or enlightening (i.e. speaking, writing, philosophy).
Sometime after 9/11 changed travel forever, but before Alicia Keys dropped If I Ain’t Got You, my Latin teacher introduced otium to us with a caveat
Otium is one of those words whose original meaning doesn’t survive the translation to English. It generally gets translated to leisure or inactivity, which fails to capture how the Romans used it.
Study the ancient texts and you’ll see otium used when the mind and body were often times plenty active—so long as they were actions free of obligation and tedium. No debating in the Senate. No haggling in the market. No expectation on your time from Responsibilities.
On Saturday afternoons, such as now, I ask:
Who is my otium?
When do I feel otium?
Where is my otium?
Can work be otium?
What’s otium’s utility?
What does otium cost?
A few of my responses to the ‘who, when, where’ prompts above:
Getting in flow with an idea
Talking with my sisters; by blood and by bond
Time with my mom
Time with my dad
Koala’ty with my man
Crossfitting with friends
Reading for fun
Reading for enrichment
Being in repose
Being in nature
Rain on the window as I curl up on a big chair with a book
Being in water
The sun’s shine
Color-coding my handwritten notes to match my daily planner
Listening to my version of “the oldies”
Revisiting my old journals
Visiting with old friends
Discovering each snowflake is unique
Igniting childlike wonderment in those who need it most
Getting the band back together again
Silent Google Doc’ing with Becca
How about you, what’s your otium?
What lights up your room?
When does your soul exhale?
When does time stop?
Where is your greenhouse?
What’s it like to discover a ‘favorite ____’?
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Hence the word negotium—to negate otium. In a country founded on ascetic Protestantism, it should be no surprise that the only place you’ll find otium is in the word negotiation. Ooof.
…rules express the basic conditions of collective life for each type of society ;
I would posit: so too do words.
For my practice, I explore neg-otium by prompting myself:
Who negotiates with you?
Why do you negotiate?
What’s the utility of negotiation?
What are you negotiating? (h/t to my coach Nitzan’s newsletter and courses, where ideas dance in a zero gravity soup)
Grip and pry open the edges of your schedule: let there be otium-nourishing practices, people, and places in each of your days.
Create otium greenhouses oxygenated for the humxn “turtles” you encounter.
Pay less and less mind to that which neg’s your otium; support the turtles you encounter as we, together, make our way through the Matrix.
May you find and protect your otium—and help others do the same.