I think nature is divine, and art owes it to nature to extend transcendental sources of inspiration.
— Smaug the Dragon
Flowering in the tranquil serenity of the Owsley State Forest, recently I happened upon the setting for the heroic film, The Mummy. I don’t suppose everyone in that ancient land knew about NAK-421, but for someone who finds soothing relaxation in the dropping sensation of a chin in the breeze, that ancient sight was no doubt impressive to have on a trip into those amazing green fields.
In fact, this meditative landscape is becoming more and more commonplace. Some studies are even predicting that as many as one in twenty people will live in a center such as Owsley. Of course, many of these people will be traveling to designated centers elsewhere, so that work or other pressing commitments do not interfere with their retreat. But others may even be coming here from places like Tibet or other parts of Asia, from cultures that value quiet, detachment, or a spiritual gap for a week or a week-and-a-half to recharge, escape, and prepare for the next step in their quest for enlightenment.
For years I have observed this category of retreatees—seeking the still calm amid the roar of the world. I have asked them about their journeys to unfamiliar exotic places. They have stories of madness or a tremor of the heart, and the nervous breakdown. But mostly they speak of quietness, serenity, of a growing gift for discernment, and the search for life that is more glorious than their present lives can offer. I will probably learn in time how they too owe their insights to nature.
I was describing what I think may be the next stage of the economic and spiritual transition underway in the United States—a spirit and mind that seeks new paths in life that deepen and expand the creative capacities of their psyche.
My old boss, the chairman of the board of directors of Johnson & Johnson, told me one day, “We are running out of time. We need to address the existential questions that people ask themselves each day. Those should be the focus of every company of our size, the bar that needs to be reached for to excel and be that really-big company.”
I think he meant it. Many see this as an urgent national imperative. I think the new emphasis on depth may well be the next tipping point.
As a psychologist, I too feel that in our world of change and flux, we all have moments of deep doubt, doubts that can arise from thoughts of death, sickness, unemployment, guilt, and other unhappiness around us. Some individuals may even literally descend into a dark, cavernous realm of despair. No matter what, these disruptions are natural; perhaps more of us need this sense of unease because we have reached new limits, our powers and potentials straining to just keep up with the pace of living. Some will close up, taking their psychic id with them into the abyss. But the best hope for growth and for keeping our journey forward, for going further and deeper, lies in growing from adversity rather than in running from it.
In this spirit of unfurling of new possibilities from everyday experience, I propose that we should take this week to reset for the new year, start cultivating fresh foundations for living with greater joy and happiness—the ultimate goal, in spite of our fears and doubts—and with serenity and calm.
We know how long the journey is, and how slow and circuitous it can be. What we don’t know is how big that journey can become. As we approach the horizon, we can feel a new emotion of creativity and a new sense of purpose. We can see that with incredible speed our lives can produce extraordinary results. It might just be possible that next year, we can find ourselves on our sacred horizon of creation, fully aware of the truth we aspire to be: that is, an inexhaustible sense of wonder, and whole-hearted joy at being human.
For your sake, you might want to create a retreat for yourselves, go a long way away, and look for new paths to living. Don’t get caught in a nagging thought, don’t worry about what’s coming next—use this time to bring into existence seeds you can nurture, possibly for use next spring in your idea or brand. At the end of the day, we will all know we lived that wonderful life. But this season, this decade, this decade, is about whether or not you can find the way out.
This is the weekly column by Seth Mnookin, the author of The Conspiracy to Destroy America and What Would Jesus Buy?