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August 2019

Post image for Why We Can’t Sit Quietly In A Room Alone

I’ve always liked the Blaise Pascal quote, “I have discovered that all the miseries of men derive from one single fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their own room.”

People interpret this famous pronouncement all sorts of ways, but if you look up the context, it’s clear he’s saying “we prefer the chase over the quarry.” In other words, we live more easily in a state of pursuing future experiences than settling into the experience we’re having.

It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We’re less likely to be descended from easily-contented hunter-gatherers than from the ones who got antsy if they took too long to go out hunting and gathering again.

You could say that this persistent restlessness is nature’s way of keeping a little fire under our butts—one that makes “elsewhere and later” seem like a more suitable site for happiness than here and now.

This is a delusional belief, however, because once you get to that particular “elsewhere,” it’s already become another “here,” complete with that same fire of discontent under your butt. Another future-based haven soon forms in your mind’s eye, and you’re off trying to make that your new present.

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Post image for How To See Things As They Are

I’m in the back room of a coffee shop right now, switching between writing and another mental exercise: pretending I’m not here.

I don’t mean I’m wearing a disguise, or hiding behind a potted plant. I’m doing a perspective-shifting practice that I’d recommend to anyone: now and then, wherever you are, look at the scene in front of you as though it’s happening without you. 

From any seat, or standing spot, anywhere—in an office, a breakfast diner, a public square, a waiting room—see your surroundings just as they’d be if you weren’t here to see them.

Focus on the look and feel of the setting. The way the light lays across things. Take it in like a shot from a movie. Notice the movement and speech of people or animals, the soundscape and overall ambiance. It’s just a little corner of the world where things are unfolding, and you’re not here. Maybe nobody is.

When you do this, you might notice a certain lightness or simplicity arising. Things are more poignant. Everything seems less complicated, because it’s just stuff happening, not stuff happening to you.

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