Pascal once wrote, “All of man’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” I’ve appreciated this quote for a while, but now I absolutely love it.
Or rather what I love is how wonderful it is to sit quietly in a room. Alone. Many times daily. Sometimes throughout the entire day. It’s beautiful.
Many have remarked upon how much uncertainty Covid has created and upon how much suffering people are experiencing. To be sure. Some, in my circles, continue to “geek out” about the meta-crisis we’re in. Also to b sure. What goes unmentioned, however, is the possibility of finding immense inner peace during this time and really during any time. And in no time at all because in no time at all.
I love sitting alone in a room. I do so for 3 or 3 1/2 or 7 hours a day or longer. While I philosophize, I sit alone in a crosslegged position and while I meditate I do the same. Over the years, in fact, my Rinzai Zen practice has become more and more concentrated, yet only recently have I gotten the pith and point of Rinzai. It’s starting to make intuitive sense, the koan beginning to grab a hold of me.
And there is an immense stillness, a groundedness I feel these days; I feel that way as I write to you now. It’s nice just to sit and contemplate the nature of reality and the self. It’s especially nice not to feel any pressure to fulfill social obligations or to have to go anywhere. What’s nicest is to dwell in and on the ultimate.
I told a conversation partner and friend this morning something, owing to practice and to the Buddha, that I finally got. I told him: “I realized that I’m never going to find ultimate answers to ultimate questions via email.” Email is fine as is social media, but in some more basic sense I don’t care; I do what’s needed and that’s it. Both, being temporal concerns, can never get the inquiry into ultimate concerns underway. Which is what really matters.
It’s hard to convey here what I’ve taken to calling “salience urgency.” While I feel great peace, I also find the great matter of life and death–more Zen language–more salient than ever. Great, or full, enlightenment has become at once salient and urgent. Worldly affairs, by contrast, are now very “low resolution” (as technologist conversation partners would say).
The strange–you might say paradoxical–thing is that the intenser this salience urgency in connection with ultimate things becomes, the more expansive and peaceful it becomes. It is, therefore, not like an obsession or like a fixed idea. It’s like just starting to be engulfed by, enveloped in, or encompassed by what there really is.
Simple beauty, like aspen leaves shimmering in the breeze, shines forth. What Pascal could also have said is that all of man’s simple, beautiful joys stem from man’s acquired ability to sit quietly in a room alone or with others but especially, initially, alone.