Émile Chartier, who defined himself as the most philosopher among journalist and the most journalist among philosophers and lived between the 19th and 20th century, recommended to look into the distance. ‘When you look at the stars and the seaside horizon’ he said, ‘your eyes are completely relaxed. If the eyes are completely relaxed, the head is free, the step is firmer, everything relaxes and softens up your internal organs. But do not try to soften up through will, your will, exerted on you, applied on you, does everything wrong and will eventually strangle you. Do not think, look ahead’.
When Chartier elaborated this theory, there was no television, no videogames or computers, mobile telephones, e-mails. Humans then did not live sunk under the yoke of rush, noise and stress, yet his thoughts are entirely valid. Evan holidays turn up in a non-stop planes, places and sites to visit. Today, looking ahead is considered a waste of time.
‘Starry night over the Rhone’, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
I recently had the opportunity to meet a Brazilian psychiatrist, Augusto Cury, whose ideas have been adapted as postgraduate courses in 15 universities. Cury has defined a new syndrome of our time, Accelerated Thinking Syndrome (PAS). According to this theory, we received a large amount of information recorded in an unconscious way which our brain processes continually reading at high speed, like crazy. The consequences are such contemporary diseases plaguing developed countries: anxiety, stress, psychosomatic illness, poor memory, depression. And no one gets rid of them; even our children increasingly suffer from attention deficit and are hyperactive due to overstimulation. Against all these ills, we have invented drugs that help us cope, but nothing heals us, nothing can stop our minds. Common sense tells us that giving drugs to a six years old’s the developing brain is at least dangerous, but again circumstances are beyond us, we work, have mortgage, training, excessive activity and no grandmother living in the countryside without television to send our son to, away from the excess of everything, so we abdicate to this world of remedies without cause that swallows everything and of which we do not know the consequences.
When adolescents seek refuge in drugs we worry, frighten, do not understand and once again seek desperate remedies. Probably their brains are crying out for a break, escape the continuous thought, from excess with more excess.
It is no coincidence that today’s philosophers are looking far, far behind, and talk to us of Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, how those wise me who had time to stroll and contemplate, took life. In common they had, as noted by Lou Marinoff (president and founder of the American Philosophical Practitioners Associaton, APRA) ‘the extremely important notion that the main purpose for being alive is to lead a good life here and now’ in the present moment. However, this apparent simple premise is today a difficult goal because our mind is always occupied with thoughts of desire, conquest and criticism. Nothing strange, as the consumer society invites us from our earliest childhood to own and assures us that happiness is to consume beyond measure objects, travel, information and people, and all that makes our time on an obstacle course in which forget that the great journey is not towards success but towards meaning.
A good life starts in the present moment, your future will be as your present, the quality you put into the moment will determine the next one. Worrying is almost useless; handling things is the only way and the more alert and awake, the better the result. I often like to watch animals, which in certain things are much wiser than we are. A cheetah, a lizard, a dog, a domestic cat are always on what they are and this is why they are precise, quick and effective in their actions, when hunting a fly they concentrate on the fly, when they sleep, they rest, they aren’t continuously worrying about tomorrow. Humans, however, multiply our fears and needs by thinking about them. There is only one way to battle PAS and it is to be present, with all your energy, on what you’re doing, being aware that your time is yours and the best way to live it is with quality and not with quantity. I know this can be outdated as the world today invites us to do, do and do. It’s worth trying Émile Chartier experiment: just look into the distance because your body —what it sees, smells and touches— also rules over your mind.