Escapism and Contemporary Life

We all have evolved to the live a kind of ‘double-life’.

Posted Oct 04, 2013

I recently received a letter—(an unusual form of communication nowadays)—from a reader of my last book…. ‘What the Hell Are The Neurons Up To?’, telling me that my views on life are ‘really quite old-fashioned’: and she took a line I had quoted from the English poet Robert Browning as an example…. which read: ‘Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise/From outward things, whatever you may believe.’

Nowadays, some would say that to live ‘ within ourselves’ is simply a form of ‘Escapism’—a term possessing derogatory connotations implying a detachment from everyday reality or routine, a shirking of responsibilities…a lack of concern for the values generally associated with ‘getting on’ in the world.

Now, obviously, in quoting Browning I was not advocating a hermit-like retreat from the many and varied experiences the modern world has on offer, but simply used his words to redress the imbalance in the attitude to life prevailing in contemporary culture.

My intention was to point out that when consciousness finally evolved to result in us—the species we call homo sapiens—we finally became endowed with two modes of awareness. One outward-looking, utilizing the five senses and faculty of reason…by means of which we are enabled to comprehend the essential nature of things and happenings in the outside world, and thus respond intelligently and practically to them. The other which is more inner-directed…inducing imaginative, contemplative thoughts, and levels of feeling, by means of which we assess the relative significance and value of external events in one’s life…and come to ponder, as is said, ‘the meaning of it all.

Therefore the most efficient—‘ideal’ consciousness—can be described as one that is both objectively acute, and subjectively insightful: a combination resulting in the varying levels of psychological partnership that ultimately determine the nature of one’s particular—if not unique—individuality.

We all have evolved to the live this kind of ‘double-life’. But for such a duality of consciousness to function effectively, Time is of the essence. By this I mean that without regularly ‘taking time out’ from the daily round to regularly ‘mull things over’ in the Mind…one is less likely to distinguish between significant and trivial experiences, and so come to develop some smidgen of wisdom as life takes its course. And the accumulation of self-knowledge is likely to be more than minimal—until one dies never really knowing one has ever lived.

Yet the problem is that in today’s world, there is neither the inclination, nor the opportunity, to spend much Time with oneself. The computer is always to hand. And it is far less demanding to spend Time e-mailing, tweeting, ‘Facebook-ing’, cell-phoning…

So I would suggest that the real form of ‘Escapism’ nowadays is the compulsive need to constantly be engaged in living an electronic life of fact-finding, problem-solving, video game playing, and personal chit-chat…And this at the expense of retreating from life’s ‘goings-on’ from time to time to exercise the Mind by mentally re-living events…in the course of which one discovers unexpected, intuitively held sensibilities and attitudes concerning the way things have been going: the overall result being the ability to ‘see’ oneself as very much an individual—very much one’s own person.

Since I commenced this short essay, the word ‘Mindfulnesshas appeared in two monthly Medical Reports for October 2012. And particularly in the Mayo Clinic Special Report, they describe the process—(as I have done, both briefly above, and at length throughout some 400 pages in my last book)—as follows: ‘Mindfulness…not just a form of personal meditation but also a form of medicine…. helping people achieve better health and cope with major illnesses for several decades.’ And later in the Report they state that ‘mindfulness has a positive effect on the quality of life.’

But there is really nothing new here. The belief that ‘human Being’ in general, and the individual in particular, constitutes a partnership of ‘Body’, Mind, and ‘Spirit’ has pervaded human thought throughout our history—from Plato to Carl Jung, you could say. And the way to ‘listen in’ on this partnership is to do without television, shun the computer screen, video games, and cell phone...and patiently sit and wait to let the Mind take over. Or go for a walk. Better still…go for a walk with a dog. Even better still, own a dog. All ways of inducing the kind of experience Shakespeare had in Mind when he wrote in Sonnets CVII: ‘The prophetic soul/Of the wide world, dreaming on things to come’. A state of Mind which the late Loren Eiseley, a most distinguished paleontologist of our own Time lamented, when he wrote: ‘Unconsciously, the human realm is denied in favor of the world of pure technics.’

And so, ‘Mindfulness for health’, is the new medical slogan.      

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