What if everything we pursue is an unconscious diversion from the insurmountable problem of death?
There seems to me a distinct societal element to this, especially when considering the differences between Western and Eastern philosophies. Western thought is fractured, focusing on the individual elements of an issue, often unable to see the bigger picture. Eastern thought tends to be more holistic. I'm overgeneralising I know but still. Eastern philosophies and religions have a far more healthy relationship with death, accepting it as part of the natural order. Us poor westerners have the fear drummed into us almost from birth, who under these circumstances wouldn't feel the need for the ultimate distraction — or should that be distraction from the ultimate. Any inability to be still, through fear of death, is bred into us rather than some inate position. Acceptance of death is perhaps the biggest freedom we can allow ourselves and we should learn from our eastern cousins.
Great short. I checked the denial of death book and terror management theory thanks to you. My grand parents lives at rural are, in a old house doing animal husbandry and agriculture at a level sufficient to themselves and some relatives around them. Years before, when their children reached financial level that they can provide a good home and money to live without work to them my grandparents refused it beside all effort. I think now-days all my uncles and aunts understands that it is purely because of my grandparents fear of having nothing to linger on and reluctantly this making their walk to death faster. Today they benefiting from the merits of technology and aid from their children just to be more connected to them, like having a smart phone to video call them but other than these kind of stuff they just keeping the life same and they looking more feeling alive then most of my peers every time I visit them. So I think standing still is a deadly thing. And due to less need to do something to stay alive, probably every new generation haveing less instinct to avoid it and feeling it’s symptoms more and more.
I wonder if there’s a crossover at some point with Postman’s ‘Amusing Ourselves To Death’. It feels like there should be but I can’t quite reach it. Maybe Postman’s thing is the powers that be, or just the Machine mindlessly slogging away, capitalizing on an opportunity presented by the nature of terror management.
I think there is a lot of truth to what Pascal is saying, even if I do not necessarily subscribe to such a bleak view of human inactivity. Maybe what Pascal is saying is "avoid sloth."
When I think about craft, about working to master a craft and to acquire a skill, and when I think about how engrossing that pursuit is, I believe that I am "making the minutes count." When I work, I am expanding the moment, filling it with something that brings my mind, my body, and my creativity, into focus. That expansion blocks out my conscious feeling of temporality; or maybe, in those minutes, I am experiencing the temporal as elastic. I think meditation can work this way.
I think that being occupied does not have to mean "keeping busy," i.e., doing things to distract ourselves. Being occupied can mean becoming focused; but I believe that how we focus ourselves is most important. Contemplating death can lead me to feel helpless, or it can help me use my own smallness in a way I find comforting. When I meditate, I am engaged; I am active even though I am "sitting still."
Thank you James. I loved this piece. Have you read Tim Parks' book, Teach Us To Sit Still? I think you'd enjoy it. Take care, Julian