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“Meditation is Good for Nothing:” Leisure as a Democratic Practice


Does meditation bring political benefits in the sense of strengthening citizenship or democracy? Taking the Zen phrase“meditation doesn’t work—it’s good for nothing” as my point of departure, and reading Aristotle’s discussion of leisure in relation to citizenship, I argue that meditation can foster significant dimensions of democratic citizenship. This argument focuses particularly on the avowedly anti-instrumental aspect of mindfulness meditation. The connection between meditation and leisure demands a shift in our thinking of leisure, away from relaxation available to the privileged few and toward practices that are open-ended, non-instrumental, and, like democracy and citizenship, due to all. Finally, meditation offers an example of how to appropriate and inhabit excess in ways that support egalitarian citizenship. Meditation needs to be of “no benefit” in order to foster citizenship in these ways.

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