How’s your headspace? Approximately 400 years ago, French Philosopher, Blaise Pascal, probably said, “Je m’appelle, Blaise.” But also, he wrote his now-famous line, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” It’s a powerful line except for one thing. It’s not very middle agey. Or French. In fact, it reeks of modernity and memes. So, this morning, I sat alone quietly in my room and tracked down the primary source – aka, Pensees. Pascal’s book. I read through until bam, I found it. Section 139. Here’s the original line… ( I could have googled the original line but I felt that would be missing the point )
“When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. A man who has enough to live on, if he knew how to stay with pleasure at home, would not leave it to go to sea or to besiege a town.”
Ok sure, one could argue that our modern version nutshells this wordier one. But one could also argue that in the nut shelling process, much of the original meaning becomes lost and we end up missing the greater truth. While I could write an essay on this passage, blogs are made for nutshelling, so I’ll be brief. The phrase that struck me was, “they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.” On a macro level, 2020 has been a year where humanity has been asked to stay in our chamber and yet we’ve resisted. Many have outright refused. And at press time, our dis-ease has never been worse. We literally can’t STAY to save our lives.
But on a micro-level and probably closer to Pascal’s original meaning, we find it exceedingly difficult to stay quietly in our chamber at all. How many of us even have a private room? A safe space where we can go and be with ourselves. If we did, would we know what to do when we got there? Would the quiet terrify us? Would our thoughts overwhelm us? Would we reach for our phone again?
For the past three months, I have been practicing the art of staying quietly in my own chamber. Every morning, while it is still dark and the world has yet to wake up, I put on my cozy socks, head out to my private space and after slipping on my headphones I engage in a meditation session hosted by Headspace. For fifteen minutes, I focus on my breath, the rhythm of my heartbeat, and let’s be honest, food, fun, podcasting, sports, work, laughing monkeys and a million other things that my brain pops up in its effort to regain control. When I first started the practice, I’d play Whack A Thought. As it turns out, that is NOT the purpose of meditation. The goal is to become even more present to thought. The more present I have become the more I’ve been able to tap into my unconscious thoughts – those truths/habits that remain hidden and only come out when I’m triggered. After 90 straight days of this practice, the result is I have just begun to sometimes catch myself. Instead of living life asleep and going through the motions, I now see the dream and shake myself awake. The result has been more joy, little to no anxiety, and a sense of a life that is being well-lived.
Pascal’s right. There can be much pleasure when we stay at home.