Quiet Desperation In The 21st Century

Thoreau’s Quiet Desperation Today

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Henry David Thoreau

It’s easy to waltz through life without thinking much about why you’re going through the motions, whatever they are, happy-sad, inspired-dull. You can wander through, buffeted by fate, taking an “It is what it is” philosophy to the grave, killing time.

You drag your butt out of bed with what you know is too little sleep. Commitments drag you into the world.

A strategic collection of clocks keeps you on pace. You wash up, you brush your teeth, you eat something. Nagging thoughts hanging in a fog at the edge of your awareness, you dress, and then, you head out into your day.

You might think you like your work and how it keeps you engaged, but if you’re not feeling invigorated and eager to get back at it in the morning, you’ve learned to trick yourself.

People who love their careers, partners, music, art, communities and ideas never get enough of them. They’re engaged and rarely relieved to pack it in for the day.

Now, we come home to household chores no one has been around to handle, transparencies, obligations and irritations that can’t be ignored while quiet desperation surrounds us like fumes. Few of us spend meaningful time by ourselves, undistracted by duties, other people or the dehumanizing glare of television.

Distracted From Quiet Desperation

Anxiety, 1894
Anxiety, 1894
Edvard Munch
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Mass media gives us a storm of concerns designed to keep us sitting tight through sprays of commercials. We pass time with others who are not really friends or emotional allies. We have smaller families, and a relative rootlessness has weakened what connections do exist.

Many us can’t settle at the end of a day into a cocoon of sleep, even if we’re exhausted. The sleeping pill market booms. When our bodies resist passage into the nonphysical, preferring wakefulness another kind, we dose ourselves into crippled slumber.

Josefine Jonsson
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Sleep is our vital, neglected other half. We need sleep just as we need food and water, but over thousands of generations, we’ve become incompetents.

Why do we let our quiet desperation lifestyles inhibit us?

Rat race analogies have flogged us for decades, but they inspired much change in the demeaning repetitions of modern life. We still skitter around the shallow end of the pool.

We spend less time in the deep end than ever in the history of consciousness and reason. We turn on the TV or some other distraction that freezes us at a distance from our inner, integrated selves. After all, who wants to sit quietly in that guy’s life, anyway–that guy, of course, being you?

Quiet Desperation Means Not Being Able To Find Yourself

During a period of ineptitude and genius, I took advantage of a friend’s generosity, detouring around frustrations by staying in his spare room. His sofa bed was the hardest surface I ever slept on, but it was isolating.

I’d sit up with a cigarette or two and look down an alley between apartment buildings to the avenue. A single streetlight leaned into the frame. In the winter, snow whipped by. Some nights, it looked like a lonely, cold sentry.

I didn’t know what to do with my life or where to go for answers. The intuition I found unshakeable was that confronting frustrations as I’d always been taught just verified and sustained them.

I had to change. So, I did a sort of melt down. Without thinking of it as meditation or knowing much about physics, I went into a liquid state guided by a wide open “What if?” Nothing to lose.

The awareness that came to me, the stage from which everything else emerged, changed everything I saw outside, what we all knew was there, showing me it was not substantial.

The world around us could be a million different things. I thought about a world that might be better, with more flowers, music, color and play. We didn’t have to commit to spending our public lives locked in cars and wary of strangers. There are no strangers, and, we could have music and dancing all the time. Really, I just let it riff. I wasn’t going to change it by myself, but I didn’t have to be ignorant about it either.

From then on, as I slowly pulled myself together with a kind of resilience, I never accepted much of anything as inevitably how it must be. Just because things didn’t change, it didn’t mean they couldn’t. The support posts for the familiar world of quiet desperation could be dismantled.

I never had to drag myself out of a hole dug from addictions or any kind of physical self-indulgence. My crimes had been more from the heart, leaving scars, but no real damages. I’d made too many compromises on the way to belonging.

Later, I could see how I’d been driven by that relentless urge to merge, the desire percolated into permanent yearning as evolution blew us up into complexity. The more complex, the more the geometry of desire swelled.

Blue Anxiety
Blue Anxiety
Diana Pappas
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Excerpted from Amazing: Truths About Conscious Awareness

You can find this and all of my books at my Amazon Author Page.

David Stone, Writer