“All of the troubles of life come upon us because we refuse to sit quietly for a while each day in our rooms.” – Pascal
I’ve had different responses to this quote each time I encounter it. At first, I felt like it was telling me, in a poetic way, to sit down and shut up, and that just felt, well . . . sort of rude. It also felt a bit insulting, in suggesting for myself or for others who are genuinely busy with their family and work commitments, that we bring a chunk of our suffering onto ourselves because we’re too cowardly to sit quietly and face our thoughts and our feelings.
Over time, however, the truth of the quote grew on me. Not that I necessarily agree that it summarizes all of the troubles of humankind, but it does captures a key aspect of our troubles—how modern culture encourages us to continually be on the go without taking time to slow down and turn our attention within.
Still, it seems a hard message to hear when it’s the message we need to hear. It can feel irrelevant and minimizing, just as I perceived it at first. I often fear this response when suggesting such ideas to others. I fear they’ll say, “Are you even listening to me? I’m overwhelmed as a caregiver, my kids are driving me nuts, my work is stressful, and you’re wanting me to spend time sitting in a room doing nothing?”
As my conviction around this quote has strengthened, I find myself saying, “Yes. That’s exactly right,” because I really do believe that such quiet time allows us to hear our own wisdom.
I try to keep my encouragements subtle and light as opposed to letting them escalate into desperate pleads, but I have been tempted, on several occasions, to get down on my knees and beg people to take some quiet time. “Please. Trust me. You just need to stop.”
At times, I hear this same voice within myself—inwardly demanding a slow down, even in the face of every external encouragement to do otherwise. I’ve been getting better about taking my own advice and listening to these words—trusting that perhaps Pascal knew exactly what he was talking about.
Karen Horneffer-Ginter, Ph.D. is the author of Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit.