Quiet please!


IN the early 1700s, a new drug was hailed as the likely cure for depression.
“Providence has been kind to us beyond all expression in furnishing us with a certain relief, if not the remedy even, to our most intense pains and miseries,” trumpeted Scottish physician George Cheyne.
The wonder drug opium had no side-effects; no drawbacks, he claimed.
A century later, after society was awash with opium addicts, science found a way to extract “a positively non-addictive” constituent called morphine.
Doctors happily prescribed it until it was realised patients were becoming morphine dependent.
Next came heroin, said at the time to be far safer than morphine, then cocaine, which Sigmund Freud prescribed to wean his patients off their morphine habits.
Then ecstasy, which some doctors prescribed to patients with marital problems.
Now we have, as part of the pleasure principle panacea, the many wonder drugs that claim to make people feel better rather than well.
They not only seem to stave off depression, but enhance the personality and make people feel more attractive.
About four million Australians take anti-depressants. Such is the chemistry of happiness.
But you have to wonder whether meddling with a person’s internal chemistry is going to be risk- free. Especially spiritually.
Happiness, as John Stuart Mill said, is not something you can patent or buy. There are no chemical shortcuts.
We seem to have lost the art of drawing from the deep well within us. We have lost the ability to fight and survive on our own God-given instincts and resources.
An Australian woman who went with her husband to work with AIDS-infected children in Thailand wrote of being startled by the victims’ amazing will to live after being diagnosed.
“It struck me that they lived in appalling physical conditions yet drew on their spiritual natures to fight this virus, whereas in Western cultures — which have great standards of living — there is a suicide epidemic,” she wrote.
“We in the West have everything, except what we need to survive.
“That’s why there is such a reliance on chemicals and on filling up each moment of our spare time with chatter, loud music and television. We don’t want to confront the quiet truth that we do not really know how to survive.”
The great monk Thomas Merton, who was concerned with the spiritual yearning of every human heart, thought drug, alcohol and sex addictions arose from the fear of living with emptiness. He said we could distract ourselves forever, playing roles and never really understanding our true self.
Merton called for more solitude in lives — solitude that could lead to touching an inner part of the soul separate from all except the Creator.
IT was in solitude that we could best confront and deal with social disintegration, job insecurity, ceaseless pressures and the devaluing of all that was decent by the “greed is good” philosophy, he said.
Poet Carl Sandburg said only those who learned to live with solitude could come to know themselves and life.
“I go out and walk, and look at the birds and trees and sky,” he said. “I listen. I sit on a rock or stump and say to myself `Who are you, Sandburg? Where have you been and where are you going?’ ”
The process can be difficult because some of the answers you hear in solitude’s self-evaluation can be confronting.
But it can also be the best place for encouraging the “soft voice of inspiration” Thomas Merton reported sometimes hearing.
“You gradually become more attuned to the frequency God uses to speak to us,” he said. “The depths of God and ourselves meet in the abyss of solitude.”


13 thoughts on “Quiet please!

  1. In the 1980s and 90s a British man called Les Powles sailed three times round the world – always single-handedly, once non-stop. He couldn’t afford a radio transmitter, and on his greatest adventure he didn’t speak to anyone for 329 days. At 84, his ­circumnavigating days are now behind him, but he still lives on his boat, the Solitaire. What’s the ­appeal of sailing, I asked him. “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.”


    • a recluse can be bitter and twisted/ anti social/ proud and hell bent.

      or they can be Monte Python’s hermits who just love to live on a hill full or other hermits, and have a better social life than social animals [it was a brilliant bit of quasi parody]. I’m afraid to ask davinci if he means the “pride of disengagement”. or one handed self pleasurers? If you ever get a few “?quiet” hours you might like the film about a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps called “into great silence”.

      One part of the West’s recent vandalism of their own history has been expediting the Monastic tradition from all memory or social and economic references. The vandalism continues.


    • I’m afraid to ask davinci if he means the “pride of disengagement”. or one handed self pleasurers?

      Actually it is both. Both have to do with disengagement from reality. Mine used to be wine, women and song. To my son’s generation is sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

      The words have changed but not the sentiment.

      The sad thing is that this sort of thing happens within Christianity and it is with the Christian clergy blessings. The opium wars were one example.


      • No, I was thinking more about the Essene’s rejection of ‘everything’ as unclean. Howard Hughes died alone, the world wasn’t ‘clean’ enough. Lady MacBeth’s spot? My sister in law is a ‘surrounded’ by cats type of spinster. No suitor was good enough and now she’s bitter/ twisted. Not a quiet contemplative love of God, just alone. A women so liberated by feminism it ruined her.


      • Wow so Phillip George finds a woman with high standards an anathema there’s a shock.


  2. Drinking water, straight or in various drinks, is healthy. If you pour it on your head instead of drinking it, you may not live to a ripe old age. It’s what you do with the water that makes the difference.

    Same with solitude. You can use it spiritually. Or not.


  3. “We in the West have everything, except what we need to survive.”

    No offence but this really bugs me. Somewhere in this country right now there’s a bloke trying to do the best he can for his family by working long shifts or a crushing commute or FIFO and he’s under a ton o pressure and stress. Somewhere there is a new mum who is just overwhelmed by it all and is struggling. Somewhere there are parents who’s have a seriously ill child and are barely able to hold their family together. Somewhere there’s a teenager facing a seemingly endless torrent of bullying who just doesn’t know where to turn.

    There are people in this country who have burdens that they are really struggling with. To dismiss this with the glib observation that people in other countries do it much harder is just trite and patronising nonsense.


  4. Solitary confinement was introduced into the penal system to allow spiritual experience for prisoners, by which it was hoped they would reform..

    “Ironically, solitary confinement had been conceived by the Quakers and Anglicans as humane reform of a penal system with overcrowded jails, squalid conditions, brutal labor chain gangs, stockades, public humiliation, and systemic hopelessness. Instead, it drove many men mad.”



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