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In praise of the quiet life: Why the cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation

A truly rich life may be one that is a little poorer and little more obscure.

I feel this entry may be a touch misunderstood, but I’ll write it anyway. The title forms part of a larger quote by American author, lecturer and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna, “The reason we feel alienated is because the society is infantile, trivial, and stupid. So the cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation. I grapple with this because I’m a parent. And I think anybody who has children, you come to this realisation, you know—what’ll it be? Alienated, cynical intellectual? Or slack-jawed, half-wit consumer of the horseshit being handed down from on high? There is not much choice in there, you see. And we all want our children to be well adjusted; unfortunately, there’s nothing to be well adjusted to!”

I included the full quote so you can get the context of what McKenna is trying to say otherwise if I only included the first two lines it could be read as some narcissistic intellectual snobbery. Plus the final sentence alludes to an idea discussed in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” about being adjusted to a profoundly abnormal society is no mentally sound adjustment at all, but alas I digress.

Socrates pondered the idea to “beware the barrenness of a busy life”, and I have been deliberating on that more and more in recent years. I feel that living the “quiet life” per se (and slowly) is a great counter to falling into this trap. Modern society is characterised by busy and fast-paced lives that are complicated, backdropped by constant political and economic pursuits. We are overwhelmed trying to keep up with it all, hence the birth of the term “FOMO” (fear of missing out), we are plagued with mental health issues and are in dire straits of ever achieving a fulfilling work-life balance…but for 4 easy payments of $99.99 I can sell you this product to temporarily sooth the pain (but not really) *winks*. Our “careers” are coming at the great cost of envy, fear, deceit and anxiety.

The “quiet life” seems to be the antithesis to modern living where more is considered more. I am very much from the school of less is more, as illustrated by the photo on my home page. I am fortunate to have the personality characteristics to match this lifestyle, low extraversion or introversion, which makes peace and tranquillity a necessity as well as a virtue. However, it’s more about noticing what is real and what is not, taking part and emphasising the true joys of life (and being present for them) over those of a more arbitrary and/or false nature. Watching a sunrise/sunset, walking through a forest, attending your child’s sports day, driving a nice car on a nice road, reading a good book on a cosy winter afternoon with a hot drink, enjoying a deep and meaningful conversation with an intimate partner or friend, for some examples.

Most of the activities I undertake and enjoy are solitary in nature (hey! Mind out of the gutter!), but I understand the balance between the need for interaction and the need for alone time. I can stimulate myself whilst alone to no end (really, Martyn?) and I chuckle at German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s tongue in cheek quote, “A man of genius can hardly be sociable, for what dialogues could indeed be so intelligent and entertaining as his own monologues?” And I have had some humdingers which supersede the ones surrounding how many beers one has sunk on a Saturday night at the local pub.

I just wish people would concern themselves less with the pursuit of money, wealth, social status, and more with pursuit of authenticity, self-development, personal relationships, beauty and joy. To use a cliché, quality over quantity.

So, put on some tunes and slow on down, slip on the sandals of chat on conversation street, pull up a pew in the church of meaning, tender to the garden of sanity that is your mind and body and take a step back from the rat race…it may feel a tad isolating, but it will do you good in more ways than one.

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