Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Sitting still alone

I often search my blog posts to see what I have written over the days since April 2008 about something or someone.  Today, I thought of Pascal's (1626-1662) statement that he had discovered that all of man's troubles come from being unable to "stay quietly in their own chamber." (Pensées, 139).  I have several references in this blog to the statement by the French mathematical genius. His statement is often quoted as "being unable to sit alone in a room."

I have noticed similarities between prayer, meditation, solitary self-examination and his statement from 400 years ago.  Today, a common criticism is that people sit alone in a room but using a smartphone in their hand and wi-fi or satellite connections to play games, communicate, absorb or create propaganda.  As I age, I sit alone more. I explain to myself that I have more to think about, having such a full head and greater sensitivity to a wide range of emotions, associations and considerations.  The Quaker concept of sitting still and alone, of doing nothing to distract or play, and the mindful practice on concentrating on one's breathing and returning to such concentration when I discover I am off into a subject does seem to have increased my appreciation of sitting alone and still.  

I did take the time to look up Pascal's Pensées.  There are about ten different translations on Amazon Kindle and many of them are free.  I wanted to read more of the text before and after his statement so I selected a likely edition and ordered it.  As often happens, the computers at Amazon sent a message that said "according to our records you already purchased this item."  It is a verification of the quality of my taste that I again chose the very version that I selected five years ago. Even though a member of my household feels differently, I find it quite reasonable to pay low prices for an immediate transmission of a book I want to read and having nearly 3,000 books is too much to remember in detail. I do appreciate the practice of refusing to re-sell something I have already purchased.

I found in reading a bit more widely that Pascal was thinking about diversions, much like today's Words with Friends.  In his honor, I took time to do an easy sudoku before writing this post. The diversions he mentions involve more effort and danger, such as chasing a rabbit or boar on horseback with a pack of hounds, laying siege to a city, or being the king. He wisely points to "turmoil" and excitement as the goals of diversion and believes that without diversions, we are unhappily reminded of Buddha's sickness, old age and death.  He doesn't mention our animal nature, need to move, and to feel we are contributing to our lives and those of others.

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