All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. -Blaise Pascal
Can you sit alone for a period of time, quietly, without distraction? That simple act has taken me years to master and I still have a way to go. My search for stillness has led me to the words of a French mathematician and theologist named Blaise Pascal.
What did Pascal mean by those famous words above?
The thought above came from Pensees 139, one of the many thoughts Pascal wrote during his life in the mid 1600’s and shared posthumously with the world. Many critics would later view and translate his words to mean that we humans are avoiding stillness and solitude because we fear the truth a world without distraction would lead us to face.
Why can we not just sit alone? What truth are we running from?
It seems that in his thought 139, Pascal is saying that without entertainment, distraction, diversion man would be forced to be alone with the inevitable “truth” of his existence. That so called truth is: Life is tough and man is meant to suffer. Man is bound to be miserable. (Pascal’s Pensees, n.d.)
Is this true or merely a belief humanity has clung to throughout the centuries? Are we running from truth or an illusion?
What I believe to be true is that if human beings are forced to sit still in a room alone without distraction, they will have to deal with the insufferable mind… the worries, threats, rumination, and fears that fill it. They will be forced to listen to ego’s incessant chirping about how miserable this existence is.
It is understandable then why many of us avoid being alone in quiet and stillness. Why would anyone want to be still when stillness brings such horrible unhappiness?
If humanity’s problem is that man cannot sit alone quietly, what then would the proposed solution be? Isn’t it obvious? We must learn to sit quietly without diversion.
Is it possible that what Pascal was saying was not so much that the problems of the world were due to man’s inability to sit quietly and accept suffering , but that the only solution was to sit quietly so he could learn to get beyond suffering?
Could Pensees 139 be a request for the ceasing of senseless activity and the suggestion that we can actually solve humanity’s problems if we simply spend more time, as individuals, going inward? Is this not the mantra of most of our present age spiritual teachers and gurus?
Could he be saying that diversion, our chasing after futuristic goals and our ceaseless need to do will not save us but maybe quiet time in prayer, meditation, and truth- seeking will?
Can we at least put down our electronic devices, our phones, our brain numbing activities for a few minutes and try to sit quietly alone somewhere?
What does it entail to sit alone without diversion?
Sitting quietly will involve, I believe, a two-part process. First, we have to face the feelings that arise when we examine this collective belief that life is miserable and that we were meant to do nothing but suffer. We simply need to question the validity of that belief that makes us so unhappy. We need to question ego.
This desolate view of self and life is ego’s doing. Ego doesn’t want us still. It does everything it can to keep our bodies doing and our minds full of useless thoughts so it fills us with the fear of quiet spaces. Even Pascal in a later Pensees wrote, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.” (Pensees 206)
It is the ego that creates fear, and the ego that keeps us running from the Self we find in the quiet still places. Ego knows if we find the true Self, we will no longer buy into its lies and empty promises. It will not survive. Our finding the peace of stillness and silence will mean the end of ego. So it tries to convince us that the quiet is a dangerous place we should not enter.
We need to stop listening to ego.
Secondly, when we face this fear induced by faulty belief, we will have the opportunity to go beyond ego to the true Self, to remembering who and what we are and from Whom we came. We have forgotten this Truth and stillness is the only place where it can be found. Remembering who we really are will bring a peace and happiness that no momentary pleasure derived from ego distraction could ever match.
We are not our egos. We are so much more. Life is also not how ego has painted it. It too is so much more. This is the Truth silence gives us. This is the Truth we run from when we listen to ego and are tempted by its many worldly distractions and diversions.
Finding Happiness in the Silence
If we want true everlasting happiness we will only find it in the silence, in the stillness and in the now. It is there where everything will make sense. This is not a place to fear but a place to embrace, a place to heal, and a place to remember.
I love this line from lesson 291 of A Course in Miracles. “The real world shows a world seen differently through quiet eyes and with minds at peace. There is nothing but rest there. There are no cries of pain and sorrow heard…”
Why don’t we put down our diversions and find a quiet room to sit in? There, we can examine our fearful thoughts. We can learn to see past this ego illusion and see the beauty of promise true reflection offers us. There is no suffering in the room we learn to sit quietly in alone, only peace. And is peace that humanity needs.