The QUIET Life

We are rarely still and quiet and we are the worse for it. The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal tells us that “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” To avoid this quiet room, man seeks out all sorts of diversions. Pascal eventually goes on to connect our need to be distracted from our own stillness with creating wars and violence and oppression of all sorts. Why this problem with being still?

The presenting problem of not being still leads to a deeper issue. We are confronted with our own humanity. Left to ourselves, we notice the areas where we are weak and broken. And if that’s the reality, no wonder we avoid the quiet that comes from being still. We are distracted because we see it as better to the alternative, no matter how much we might protest.

There are so many noises in the world to distract us from this inner turmoil and it’s easy to give in to them. Fleeing our inner struggles, we turn the volume up just enough to drown out what might be going on inside. It’s also easy to believe that the external world is what leads to our happiness or even to us being fixed of our faults. For most of us, we think that if we just got our money/family/partner/job/etc. in order, then all will be right. But the problem often isn’t out there. As Pascal teaches us, the misery is within. The problem is us.

Now looking within isn’t a solution to all of our problems, but it is the first step. In so doing we understand ourselves better: our hopes, dreams, fears, desires, the stuff that gives rise to our everyday thoughts and behaviours. To understand an earthquake, one doesn’t look at the top cracks, but goes deeper to discover the plates and faults underneath.

Pascal later writes that “to bid a man live quietly is to bid him live happily.” A quiet life need not to be boring or without ambition. A quiet life is one that embraces stillness. One that practises stillness. We are tempted to fill that quiet with the outside world, and the outside world is more than ready to intrude and beguile us. But a practised stillness is one that looks honestly within, with our faults and splendour, defying the competition of the noisy world trying to shoehorn itself in.

A practised stillness is an active stillness. It requires discipline, thoughtfulness, and many more traits, but the most important is the courage to look within. Living a quiet life requires us to dive below the cracks in the pavement, into the darkness deep below the earth and come face to face with the inner workings and forces of our soul. And we just might find that there is happiness in this quiet life.

Greg Willson is a pastor from America in the process of starting a new church in his new home of Manchester.