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When the World Is Too Much With Us
Our strength is through others — on the page or in person
“Nothing is so bitter that a calm mind cannot find comfort in it.” — Seneca, c. 60
Odds are that you, like many people around you in recent days, are overwhelmed.
The news is coming at us relentlessly, whether local, national, or international.
And it’s all pretty terrible.
Of course, uncertainty and bad news aren’t unique to the present era; every generation has had to deal with upheaval, catastrophic events, and anxiety about what might be next.
In such circumstances, we need a break — physically, mentally, spiritually — we need to distance ourselves from the ceaseless volleying of the artillery of the media, constantly being replenished with horror, outrage, and sadness.
I’ve felt this way frequently in the past few years, and have needed to unplug. Less dot com. More dot calm.
One way I do this is by turning to the written page, through favorite books, stories, or poems.
When the ancient poet Horace wrote to Lollius Maximus (I like to think that his name is Latin for LMAO or ROFL), he counseled the same kind of thing, suggesting that he “interrogate the writings of the wise.”
Asking them to tell you how you can
Get through your life in a peaceable tranquil way.
Will it be greed, that always feels poverty-stricken,
That harasses and torments you all your days?
Will it be hope and fear about trivial things,
In anxious alternation in your mind?
Where is it virtue comes from, is it from books?
Or is it a gift from Nature that can’t be learned?
What is the way to become a friend to yourself?
What brings tranquility?
What makes you care less?
Horace’s reverie strikes a thoughtful tone, much in the style of Plato. He doesn’t pretend to hold the answers, because the answers are within each one of us.
And those answers are as unique as we are. Some of us might prefer a walk in nature, others might like to focus on the present, and yet others put their minds toward gratitude.
When the Industrial Revolution was looming, William Wordsworth lamented how we were becoming too materialistic, losing our appreciation for Nature in his poem “The World Is Too Much With Us”:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Between Wordsworth and Horace, we have plenty to consider.
What matters to us? Where are we putting our efforts? Whose lives have we positively impacted today.
Reflecting on these things will bring that joy, that tranquility, that inner peace and calm.
It’s my goal in everything I publish here to bring you a sense of serenity. I hope you’ll join me on this journey toward finding better versions of ourselves.
A Poet’s Guide to Finding Tranquility
Taking Horace’s advice, it seems natural to pan for nuggets of wisdom regarding the search for tranquility in his own Epistles.
I was drawn to three particular quotes — wonderful and timeless examples of how we might find tranquility, even if only for moments each day.
Each of these is paired with another Timeless & Timely essay for your consideration. You might want to bookmark them and come back to them later.
Finding Tranquility in Nature
“Let us step out into the open, my friend, and leave the dusty city behind us; let us drink in the pure, cool air and gaze upon the grass, the trees, and the streams.”
Part of finding tranquility is getting out and looking for it. You can’t find tranquility (and tranquility doesn’t find you) when you’re doomscrolling or obsessing at your desk.
Solvitur ambulando, meaning “It is solved by walking,” shows us that by getting outside and physically moving around, we can free ourselves from the stresses in our lives.
Maybe it’s an extended hike in nature or just a quick walk around the block. A babbling brook, the wind in our faces, or the brisk morning air can do wonders for our attitude.
Finding Tranquility in the Present
“Why do we worry about the future? It is uncertain, and its very uncertainty should free us from fear. Let us live for today, and make the most of what we have right now.”
Tranquility is a wonderful state of mind to seek, and to be tranquil is to be able to sit quietly and enjoy today without a nod to the past or a glance toward the future.
Just soak in the here and now, focus on what you’re doing and saying to those around you, and be your best self, without worries about what tomorrow may bring.
Finding Tranquility in Gratitude
“Let us be grateful for the good things we possess, and let us not be envious of others. If we are content with what we have, we will have all that we need, and we will be at peace.”
As you know, I’m a big fan of expressing gratitude. Horace’s own colleague Cicero also knew the power of gratitude when he wrote: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”
With gratitude, force ourselves to acknowledge our external blessings — those that have been bestowed on us. In doing so, we admit that we’re dependent on other forces and other people in our lives, and that in turn can give us a sense of peace on contentment.
We all find our own way to handle the stresses of life. Whatever path you take, remember that you’re not alone on this journey. None of us is.
Humans are social creatures and we find natural comfort in each other, even if it’s just sitting quietly together.
When the world is too much with us, just focus on the “with us.”
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the Internet.