We’ve lost contact with the subtle. Today, someone living in a moderately sized city will experience the same level of stimulation in one day, that many people 250 years ago would experience in a year. And this information overload is growing. People are, on average, exposed to around five times more information today than they would have been in 1989. Instead of one newspaper in the morning, we read five. Instead of one conversation with a friend before 10am, we have five. Information battles for your attention without end.
And, in the end, the loudest information wins. So you try to escape. You leave behind the wave of technology and entertainment and simply sit in a park. In the park you sit down, “Ahh, to be in nature—this is the solution” you think with absurd poeticism. Within a moment, a thought arises. It’s one of those nagging thoughts—a problem you have right now: not enough money, not enough love, perhaps not enough meaning in your life. And within another moment, you are thinking about how to solve your problem—I need a job that pays well… How can I appear sexier?… Will anyone ever love me… What am I doing with my life?
In your park escape, away from all the technology and noise, a new noise begins. Your thoughts battle for your attention, and the loudest thoughts win.
There is no escape.
This article isn’t about how loud is bad. The paragraphs you will read are about how the quiet—the subtle—is missing, and what you can do to find the subtle. You won’t find loud shaming in this text. It’s a simple article in defence of balance. It claims the following: loud is winning the information war. And you are missing out.
But, I’m not here to tell you what you are missing either. You’ve been told. And it annoyed you; Poetic words about the subtle drafts of air that play around your ankles, the fine gradients of light stretching across the room, the soft, innocent, sound that thick, wool bed sheets make when you run your virgin fingers across them, often make you want to scream. Especially when you experience stress (i.e. difficulty moving from one problem to the next).
Telling people to experience the more subtle is like… well, like telling people to experience the more subtle… Let me explain.
You are filled with anger and hatred because somebody has been making your life hell, and your friend gives the advice that we all hate to hear.
“Hey, calm-down. It’s going to be ok ”
“Forget about it, why don’t you just relax and enjoy”
Meanwhile, with the gentleness and elegance of a hindu saint, you resist the urge to punch your friend in the jaw. You clench your brain against the heartfelt advice and you think to yourself, “calm down” and “relax and enjoy” are easier said than done.
True. “calm down” and “relax and enjoy” are easier said than done. No matter what state you are in, the loudest information always feels the most important.
It’s important that you experience the subtle though. Mostly because playing with the subtle is fun and that other people find it attractive. But also because you are alive, and it would be good to experience life as being playful and naturally meaningful, instead of in a horrific, bloody battle in which the loudest stuff always wins.
So, how do you experience the subtle in a noisy world? How do you experience the subtle, when your mind screams about problems that need to be solved? How do you let the subtle win?
Well, just like most things, you simply practice. You find a method to train your experience in the subtle.
You can’t stop information. You can’t stop the world being loud. But you can train yourself to do what the loud information wanted you to do all along. You learn to listen.
Now, I know that “Listen” is abstract, though it’s meaning is clear: Simply. Stop. Having. Problems. Still not clear? Here it is once more: Disengage from a problem solving mindset.
Problems make me happy.
The primary method for happiness in life is problem solving:
If I find my direction in life… then I will be happy
If I can have the sandwich I want for lunch… then I will be happy
When I organise my productivity… then I will be happy
If I can find the right guy… then I will be happy
If I can stop trying to solve problems… then I will be happy.
And so the problem list continues for every moment of your waking life.
You are addicted to your problems.
Problems are built entirely from information. And the louder the information, the louder the problem—if someone is yelling in your face, getting rid of that person is going to bring you the most happiness, if you are blinded by light, getting rid of that light is going to bring you the most happiness, if you hate yourself and feel massive amounts of crushing, bruising hopelessness, then getting rid of that feeling (if only for a moment) is going to bring you most happiness.
All this leads to the following conclusion: you are in a constant state of obsession with the most overwhelming things in your life.
So, you need to learn how to listen. Learning how to listen to your problems means that you accept them (for a moment). And step back without trying to solve them (for a moment). You allow problems to be just what they are—information—and not something that needs to be obsessively solved.*
For a moment, simply learn to listen to your problems, without having to solve them, and you will learn how to quiet the loudness in your life. Learn to quiet the loudness, and you are one step closer to experiencing the subtle.
In fact, it’s only the first step, but learning how to listen to your problems, without trying to solve them will be the most dramatic way you can change your consciousness, positively influence the world around you, and help you give the breadth and fullness of conscious awareness that your life deserves.
It’s only the beginning. Once we start to find the subtle, under all the noise, we can begin to refine our subtle experience, to play with what seemed mundane, and to master the senses. We discover a whole world we have been missing.
But until you can learn to listen in the loudness, all that I say will simply be just more information, another problem to solve, and we’d be back where we started.
Work with this idea, until we next meet.
You are in a constant state of obsession with the most overwhelming things in your life.
Practice not pushing these problems away, or trying to avoid them, or trying to solve them. Just for a moment, accept that the problems are there, that the problems exist, and from one perspective, all these problems are simply information.
Practice this, without making it another problem, and you will find a gap, a space in which loudness stops. This is where the subtle truly lives.
There was just a certain sweetness to daily life that began asserting itself. I remember sitting in the corner of my kitchen, which has a window overlooking the street. I saw the sunlight shining on the chrome fenders of the cars, and thought, ‘Gee, that’s pretty’.
[next time we will talk about the ancient Indian structures of subtle states of consciousness, how to experience them and how to recognise them, and techniques to making your every day experience come alive.]
*I recommend meditation for this practice, but any mindful and aware practice that allows thoughts to be without engagement works just fine.
All photos by Marcus Jolly; a Canadian photographer based between Mexico, LA and Vancouver, specializing in portraiture, landscape, and fashion photography | website | instagram | weddings