It is well understood by good parents that
life should only ever get so exciting for a baby: after friends have come around and
brought presents and made animated faces, after there has been some cake and some cuddles,
after there have been a lot of bright lights and perhaps some songs too, enough is enough.
The baby will start to look stern and then burst into tears and the wise parent knows
that nothing is particularly wrong (though the baby may by now be wailing): it is just
time for a nap. The brain needs to process, digest and divide up the welter of experiences
that have been ingested, and so the curtains are drawn, baby is laid down next to the soft
toys and soon it is asleep and calm descends. Everyone knows that life is going to be a
lot more manageable again in an hour. Sadly, we exercise no such caution with ourselves.
We schedule a week in which we will see friends every night, in which we’ll do 12 meetings
(three of them requiring a lot of preparation), where we’ll make a quick overnight dash
to another country on the Wednesday, where we’ll watch three films, read 14 newspapers,
change six pairs of sheets, have five heavily meals after 8pm and drink 30 coffees – and
then we lament that our lives are not as calm as they might be and that we are close to
mental collapse. We refuse to take seriously how much of our
babyhood is left inside our adult selves – and therefore, how much care we have to take to
keep things simple and very very calm. What registers as anxiety is typically no freakish
phenomenon; it is the mind’s logical enraged plea not to be continuously and exhaustingly
overstimulated. What are some of the things we may need to
do to simplify our lives: Fewer People; fewer commitments It is theoretically a privilege to have a
lot of people to see and things to do. It is also – psychologically-speaking – exhausting
and ultimately rather dangerous. The manner of expression is a little dated
and brutal, and one might want to quibble over the exact timings, but this point from
Nietzsche remains acute: “Today as always, men fall into two groups:
slaves and free men. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave,
whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.” We need to recognise that what is physically
possible for us to achieve in a day is not, for that matter, psychologically wise or plausible.
It may well be feasible to nip over to a foreign capital or two in a day and run a company
alongside managing a household but nor should we be surprised if such routines ultimately
contribute to a breakdown. Sleep Plenty of it of course; at least seven hours.
Or if we can’t manage it, we need at a minimum fully to recognise how much we are deprived,
so that we won’t aggravate our sorrows by searching for abstruse explanations for them.
We don’t necessarily have to get divorced, retrain in a completely different profession
or move country: we just need to get some more rest. Media What we’re taking in when we check our phones
is perhaps the single greatest contributor to our mental ill-health. For most of history,
it was inconceivable that there could ever be such a thing as ‘too much news’. Information
from political circles or foreign countries was rare, prized and expensive (it was as
unlikely that one could gorge oneself on it as one could on chocolate bars). But since
the middle of the twentieth century, news has been commodified and, in the process,
it has become a major – though still too little known – risk to our mental survival. Every minute of every day presents us with
untold options for filling our minds with the mania, exploits, disasters, furies, reversals,
ambitions, triumphs, insanity and cataclysms of strangers around our benighted planet.
Always, news organisations speak of our need to know – and to need to know right now. But
what they have left out is our equally great, and often even greater need not to know: because
we cannot change anything, because the stories are too violent, dispiriting and sad, because
our minds are fragile, because we have responsibilities closer to home, because we need to lead our
own lives rather than be torn apart by stories of the lives of others who are ultimately
as remote from and irrelevant to us as the inhabitants of the Egyptian court of King
Sneferu in late 2,613 BC. Thinking Insomnia and anxiety are the mind’s revenge
for all the thoughts we refuse to have consciously in the day. In order to be able to find rest,
we need to carve off chunks of time where we have nothing to do other than lie in bed
with a pad and paper in order to think. We need to consider three topics in particular:
– What is making me anxious? – Who has caused me pain and how?
– What is exciting me? We need to sift through the chaotic contents
of our minds. Every hour of living requires at least ten minutes of sifting.
Expectations Of course, it might be pleasant to be extraordinary,
famous and world-beating, but maybe it will be an even greater achievement to stay sane
and kind. We might opt not to conquer the world in favour of living a longer, and more
serene life. We are not backing away from a challenge, we’re simply shifting our sense
of what the real challenge might be – and more importantly where the real rewards may
lie. A quiet life isn’t necessarily one of resignation or flight, it may constitute
a supremely wise recognition that the truly satisfying things are available away from
the spotlight and the big cities, on modest salaries and as far as possible from the manic,
sleepless competition to ‘win’ the professional status race. As we’re discovering, excitement
is fun for a time; but it also kills. Simplicity is true wisdom; we need more naps. Do you need a detox from your devices? Our phone detox is designed to help give you a well-deserved break from your phone.