The quality of being drawn to stimulation isn’t unique or particular to the modern world, or any generation or population of people in particular. For centuries, humans have acquired habits to distract themselves from an often frustrating and callous reality. Our ancestors had celebrative rituals such as chants, séances, songs, dances, sport, orgies, and art as a means to occupy their distressed minds. These activities used color, sound, movement, and community to provide intense simulation to those in attendance. In addition, certain compounds and organic matter were often included to induce a state of consciousness that differed from a sober perception of reality.
Like our ancestors, we continue to occupy ourselves with engaging and numbing distractions; but as the content of our addictive matter has improved (louder noise, brighter colors, stronger drugs) the manner in which we consume and relate to it has not. Despite the fact that we can travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours, or speak to a digital image of a person far from our current location, or that innovations in agriculture, construction, and medicine have the potential to provide modern inhabitants with an impressive physical ease in life, an isolate, anxious, self-oblivious, and overly occupied society has formed out of our advancements.
This is mainly because solitude is not supported in environments where such external prosperity is manifest. If we aren’t busy with menial tasks or work, we seek out distractions such as movies, music, concerts, theatre, festivals, bars, parties, drugs, social media, love, romance, or sex to occupy ourselves from our difficult thoughts and emotions. Only a small portion of those living in what are considered technologically advanced societies spend time alone contemplating their existence and the existence of their surroundings. But this reclusive action is essential to creating a self-aware, compassionate, and balanced individual. Without it, any being will be caught up in an external world outside of themselves, a world that prioritizes success, money, fame, power, approbation, and excessive action, and they will fail to see beyond the perceived image they have of themselves and of their environment.
The fact that we evade isolation and seclusionist tendencies is not a failing on our part. It is a logical result of our societal structure and the education we receive in early childhood. In school, we are not taught how to enjoy and express ourselves. We are not encouraged to take time to understand the malleable nature of what life is. We are not shown how to accept, deal with, and grow from the unfortunate events and unfilled desires that will inevitably befall us. We are not encouraged to question our superiors and the validity of approved theorems. Instead, we are told to succeed, to follow instructions, to study only the vetted material given to us, to focus on our strengths, to present our most agreeable and approachable exterior, to fall in line with a stringent (and external) perception of the world that doesn’t take into account the fluid reality of what is. We learn that negative aspects about ourselves, others, and the world around us are ‘bad’. We pantomime shields and masks, play up our strengths and achievements, fail to bond with others in a vulnerable manner, and occupy ourselves with art, media, and- most often for the developing youth- social platforms, parties, and drugs. This escapism becomes the kindest manner (and, moreover, the only manner we are shown) in which we can deal with the painful burden of living in a world that both expects too much of us and provides us with too much distraction.
It is important to note that escapist actions and substances are not to be entirely avoided or chided. In fact, they often construct pathways towards generating a malleable, intact ego. But to reach a place where people have reasonable expectations of life, a well-discovered self-awareness, and an accepting attitude towards what is around them, we will have to spend resources in educating the modern consumers of the world how to distance themselves from external stimulation and be comfortable with solitary contemplation. It might seem like an impossible task to ask, as many of us don’t believe we have the time, don’t have the experience necessary to be comfortable in silent solitude, or don’t value the benefits of achieving an unaroused state. But perhaps if we were able to cultivate the self-awareness necessary to accept our life as it is, we wouldn’t spend an excessive amount of our time on cursory external stimulation and would thus designate time during the day for quiet self-reflection.
Escapism becomes the kindest manner (and, moreover, the only manner we are shown) in which we can deal with the painful burden of living in a world that both expects too much of us and provides us with too much distraction.
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Well said. Although, there is hope in the growing recognition of our collective addiction to ceaseless stimulation and its costs — even in public education. The middle school where I work has instituted a daily period of mindfulness for all students and encourages staff to study and practice it as well.
Thank you for sharing this! I hope that can be implemented in most schools- and companies.