“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” ⏤ Blaise Pascal, French Mathematician*
What deep truth is entailed in this quote from Blaise Pascal!
As soon as I read these words, it struck a deep chord in me. There have been times when I've been tired at the end of my day or simply experiencing an unknown sadness emerge, I've turned to watch comedy shows after comedy shows to distract me from my own self. I've scrolled FB pages for an entire afternoon, missing out on precious moments to write, meditate, create or spending time outdoors in fresh air or with playing with my animal friends. I'm not embarrassed to share this with you, although only some time back, I would be utterly embarrassed. I share this because I want you to know that if you too have experienced looking for a distraction, then you are not alone in this. And it doesn't make me think less of you as I too experience the urge to drown out what I am feeling at the moment.
Afterall, distraction ⏤ whether it is mindlessly scrolling the internet, eating, drinking, or doing anything in disproportionate excess ⏤ is a bandaid to our souls, a quick numbing of any emotional pain or mental anguish we are feeling. So, if your family member is ill for long periods of time and you've been taking care of them, it can start to drain you. Like a rubber band you feel stretched. So, you go out to watch a comedy show to take your mind off and have a good laugh with your friends. This is a helpful distraction. It allows you to loosen the tension, focus your mind on something lighthearted and you feel rejuvenized. (Is that a word? Perhaps, rejuvenated is better. Rejuvenized does sound like a legit word!).
However, when we take up activities that are in excess, the distraction then becomes a new problem. People may take a drink to drown loneliness or to deal with a breakup. They feel a relief but instead of moving forward, they come back to it night after night and that's how when it becomes unhealthy and infact, dangerous to their emotional, mental and physical well-being. So distractions are really just a momentary anesthetic not a long-term solution to any problem we are facing.
That's why, this quote strikes me so strongly. Without a long-term healthy strategy to deal with the problems of life, we are too vulnerable to falling in the trap of distraction. Especially, when you are feeling well, strong and positive about yourself and your life, that's exactly the time to help yourself by thinking about a long-term strategy to deal with the inevitable pain and suffering of life.
I am not a pessimist - anything but! I do feel, however, that we, as individuals and as a culture on the whole, are lacking a reliable, healthy net to help us when things go wrong. In the past, people had a much close-knit circle of family and friends. Uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, neighbors, school-mates, and community members were very much available for us. And if you currently have that, you are among the lucky ones (despite of all the problems that being close to family can also cause). More and more of our urban world has become crowded with people but ironically, it has also led to more loneliness and isolation. When things are fine in our lives, all's good. Being alone is not a problem when you are feeling well. But when we fall into the any life crisis - where's the net to catch us? If society and culture fail to provide it to us, we must find one for ourselves.
There are two things that we can do to help ourselves, create an emotional, spiritual safety net. One is to search out and belong to a community. Second is find something positive you can do on a regular basis that helps you grow emotionally and spiritually.
What we need to do is step out of our comfort zone and find a community to be a part of, a community where you can be yourself, and you can contribute meaningfully for the well-being of others. Join a non-profit/charity and volunteer weekly. Join a sports group. Offer to help out at the local library, animal shelter, shelter for the homeless, church, temple, mosque or any faith-based organization that you resonate with, new age group, book club or writers club, hiking club, language group, knitting group, astronomy club, business groups. And these are just suggestions to start you off. (You have a suggestion to add here? Let me know in the comments and I'll review your suggestion and edit this list - your help can really spark ideas for our readers.)
And a great resource in the US and in many other countries is: Meetup.com where you can see what things are available in your area and even start your very own unique group. I am thinking of starting a meditation group myself in my local area of Boone, North Carolina.
Two: Your Personal Safety Net (Hobby/Creative activity)
Another safety net that is really important is to have some activity that you can do on your own and which gives you much fulfillment and joy. Any of the activities I mentioned in point one as a group activity, can also be something you do on your own.
My two safety net activities are: meditation and hiking.
I am building a habit to meditate one hour a day and then a deepening of my practice on every other Sunday where I mediate several times a day. (I will share more on this as the year progresses and share with you my blueprint so you can also incorporate it in your life). Meditation is a long-term solution ⏤ it is healing, rejuvenating, energizing! It allows us to dissolve the stresses of our lives. And done daily, it helps us to wash away any pain or stress from the day, instead of collecting it in our minds and bodies. It's really like showering to me. I shower every day to keep my body clean and healthy. I meditate every day to keep my mind and heart healthy and nourished. It really is a necessity for a healthy life - not a luxury.
The other safety net is hiking. I love to be in the woods. As they say, some go to church to connect with God, I go to the forest. It really is a blessing to be living inside the Pisgah National Forest. There are gazillion trees and flora everywhere and along with it thousands of birds and chipmunks and deer and all the beings. Then there are the most fascinating waterfalls and breathtaking views. Being in the woods, where only sounds of nature abound, is a precious thing indeed. (I know this all too well; as I am a child born in and as an adult living in two of the most dense concrete metropolitan jungles of our planet: Mumbai and New York City).
My dear friend, if you have access to any natural setting, go on and "invest" your time there. Notice that I said, "invest" not "spend". You really are investing in yourself and in your well-being and inner-peace when you invest time in a park, near a lake, on a beach, in the dessert - any place that is mostly mother nature. You will find much treasure there.
So these two safety nets are to be built and cultivated when you are strong and happy. A wo/man builds a house in dry season to protect her/him from the rains. During the rain, s/he needs to get shelter built by others already. I hope this simile helps you understand deeply what I want to convey. Only when you are strong (dry season), can you build your safety net (your house). When you are feeling down, ill, or facing some life crisis, (rain), you need to get help from your family, friends or church/temple, etc (shelter built by others).
Well, my friend, I hope that this quote from Blaise Pascal and my reflection on it today is helpful for you. Find the time to build your own safety net (1. community & 2. personal) so that you can be your own strong support, your own anchor, your own pillar helping you thrive and flourish all your life!
Other quotes from Blaise Pascal:
May be I will write about these quotes in the future, may be not. But here are a couple more to spark your imagination:
"Kind words cost nothing. Yet they accomplish much".
"The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing."
Sidenote: Whenever I read inspiring quotes, I often wonder who was the person who said or wrote those words. Reading quotes, I find, is a good way to do some digging to find out just a little bit more of the writer/speaker, as their lifestory and life's work gives us much to ponder about.
So whenever I can, I will add a little introduction from Wikipedia to start off your research and add it to the end of the post in a teeny section called: About the Author of The Quote.
*About the Author of the Quote:
Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic theologian. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen." - Wikipedia
Tell me in the comments, what your thoughts are about building your safety net. Do you have a safety net? What would building something like that mean to you? What community activity or personal hobby serve as a balm to your soul? Thank you for sharing - as that will be valuable and insightful not only to me but the many silent readers out there!