All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.–Blaise Pascal
I’ve come across this quote several times recently. I suspect for many of us, Pascal sounds like a real downer. At first glance this statement seems to say we only have two alternatives: misery or sitting in a quiet room alone.
I wonder if part of what makes this hard is the sitting in quiet. What does it say that if we cannot sit for any length of time without sound or the visual cacophony of images and text that bombard us on phones, tablets, computers and flatscreens. Now even our cars have touch screens and blue tooth connections to our phones. I’m guilty of this as the next as I see the steady stream on twitter of natural disasters, human-made crises, and unspeakably horrible things that people do to each other. And I wonder at times if it makes us miserable–or at least miserably heavy with bearing a load of terrible knowledge that in other times only the God of the universe carried.
Then there is the challenge of just sitting. What is it in us that makes us so restless that we must always be doing something? In our restlessness are we running to or running from something? I can’t help but wonder if for many if it is the latter–running from the fear of our own insignificance, running from the fear of our own mortality. We are miserable in driven lives, and we often haven’t stopped long enough to even name what is driving us.
We don’t want to be alone. I suspect it is not just a fear of loneliness, which may sometimes be at its greatest in a crowd, but rather of who we will meet when we are alone. We are afraid to be alone with our thoughts and ourselves. Will we like and will we love what we find. Yet we are miserable to know that we alone, each of us, are indeed beloved.
We are not only miserable because we cannot sit in a quiet room alone. We inflict great misery on others in our own restlessness. We consume more than we need. We demand what others cannot give us. Sometimes our frustration flairs into destructive anger. Our restlessness turns into insatiable ambition that relentlessly drives others struggling under the burden of “never good enough.”
Would it be different if we spent some time sitting in quiet rooms alone? I don’t know, but it does make sense that miserable people cannot bring peace and wholeness and wellness into the broken places of the world. Psalm 46:10 says, “be still and know that I am God.” Some of my richest moments sitting alone have been when I’ve realized there is a God and it is not me and that I don’t have to manage the universe, invent my own significance, or wonder about my belovedness.
Sometimes, I’ve led others into stillness with these words, removing a word or phrase each time I say it until I simply say “be”. It can be a wonderful thing to connect with the being of my humanness. We aren’t human doings! It is really OK to take time just “to be”.
What I said in the beginning does indeed suggest two alternatives: misery or sitting in a quiet room alone. Except these are not equally dismal alternatives. The quiet room can be the gateway to joy and connectedness and belovedness. And that’s not so bad!