Friday, March 17, 2006

Surrounded by Loneliness

Joshua Sowin has published a provocative and challenging article--Surrounded by Loneliness--in the latest issue of Circle Six Magazine.

Sowin identifies two problems in modern society: (1) the lack of real communal interaction; and (2) the lack of quality isolation. He writes:

A good life needs a healthy balance of communion and isolation. When these are not in balance, both community and inner life suffers. We have replaced true community with virtual interaction, and true isolation with distraction. What we need is a revival of both true community and true isolation.

Regarding isolation in particular, Sowin writes:

...Like community, isolation from others is a healthy activity that should be practiced frequently. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The isolation we do experience is usually a time of boredom to fill with distraction and entertainment instead of being a quiet time to think, read, and pray. These activities are impaired when music, cell phones, and other gadgets distract us. Yet we cannot seem to leave them behind. The truth is, we must always be entertained. We do not want to be left alone with our thoughts, for fear of what that may bring. Blaise Pascal (1623 — 1662) made this observation centuries ago, and it is worth quoting at length:
I have often said that the sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room…. The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.

That is why gaming and feminine society, war and high office are so popular. It is not that they really bring happiness, nor that anyone imagines that true bliss comes from possessing the money to be won at gaming or the hare that is hunted: no one would take it as a gift. What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us. That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture.

That is why men are so fond of the hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such a fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible. That, in fact, is the main joy of being a king, because people are continually trying to divert him and procure him every kind of pleasure. A king is surrounded by people whose only thought is to divert him and stop him thinking about himself, because, king though he is, he becomes unhappy as soon as he thinks about himself.

Silence is not merely the absence of noise; it is being laid bare before our conscience and thoughts. We see who we really are, and we don’t like it. The fact is, we never think about what really matters in life. We never think about God. We are selfish, wasteful, have little self-control, do few good works. So we go to great lengths to distract ourselves so we do not have to be alone and condemned by our conscience.

To achieve true community and quality isolation, Sowin calls for a revival in (1) family, (2) place, (3) church and private religion.

Read the whole thing.