Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom.

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)

Photo: Patty Maher, Light & Dark


  1. The ultimate empathy – and how, oh so, fitting also to your (sadly still active) ‘leader’s’ latest plans which are beyond words in their lack thereof. Empathy – a word unknown to too many in the say.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tragic

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderfull !!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read this book after reading your quoted excerpts – and this one was one of mine…yet as I read it this morning I thought that the human spirit struggles – even in the face of impending doom – with the ineffable element of hope. It defines us – and arguably at times is our undoing.

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  5. So beautifully limns the underlying angst I have been feeling for months. Some days I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs, “Something is VERY wrong…does no one else see it?!”

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thank you for this interesting read Dave. It’s about facing reality as it is rather than escaping it. So many escape into Yoga and Buddhism because of their own inner turmoil. We must always come back to the air we breathe and the planet we live in. That has to be our goal as long as we are human and have the imagination and creativity to make a difference.

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  7. The greater the extremes, the greater the tension between them, the greater the need to move to the center, the oh so painful center where one’s more true relationship within the dynamic can be discerned.

    In some ways, the currents of culture feel as if we’re on a runaway train not of our own making. How can discover which seat on the train is ours?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    No truer words!! … “This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.” – more after this!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sounds like a lovely book, thanks for introducing me to another new author!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Not to worry. There’s always Mars.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nunez’ words feel hopeless and dark, the way of someone who has discounted every possible way out of despair. May we never feel like failures because of being unable to “right the Titanic,” or, to avoid eventual death of the physical body. [seems the only way to do the latter is via dementia!] Hmm, mindfulness vs dementia….

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I carried this passage with me on my walk this morning. It did not sit comfortably in the beauty of nature. It did not carry itself well in the forest shrouded in morning’s mist.

    I struggled to figure out what it was within the passage that created such dissonance within me. And then, like the sun breaking through the mist and pushing the fog aside, it hit me — he is comparing two separate distinct things as if they are apple to apple. In my mind, they’re not.

    The Titanic was not a looming disaster. It happened in the moment. There was no time to say, “Let’s wait and see if they can fix the hole before we do anything.” The ship was sinking. They had to take action. Immediately.

    Climate change isn’t like that. Yes, we risk veering rapidly onto a collision course with the capacity of this earth to sustain life and our belief the earth is ours to pillage and plunder without consequence.

    But there are millions upon millions of human beings on this planet who are doing something about it, right now. Deep, meaningful, mindful work because they are conscious of the consequences of doing nothing.

    Oh dear. This is becoming a long response. I apologize in advance! And yes, I know this is a work of fiction but it espouses a perspective that, no matter from which angle I view it, it keeps shrouding the view of possibility with its mournful lament that the brightest of minds are concerned only with sitting on mountaintops, navel-gazing rather than staring down climate change and devising creative solutions to right mothership earth.

    “The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said.”

    Actually, it is living in mindlessness that creates the distractions that prevent us from seeing the reality of the direness of climate change. It is being mindless that keeps us holding onto disbelief.

    Having worked in the homeless serving sector for so long, there were very few individuals I met who said, “Oh yeah. Homelessness hit me like the Titanic. One minute I was sailing along smooth waters and the next, I sank.”

    For most, homelessness was a quiet ebbing away of the underpinnings of their life. One little disaster compounded by the next led to the next until one day, the weight of all that had been pulled away pushed them over the edge of the world they knew, landing them in the one place they kept trying to avoid no matter how dire their circumstances became. Homelessness.

    In my experience, mindfulness is not a recipe for detachment from the world around me. It is the path to the ‘salvation of society’. It allows me to discern between emotion and reality so that I can see the world around me as it is, not as I want it to be. From that place of inner calm I am empowered to cast rose-tinted glasses aside. Clear-minded, I am more likely to see the path to positive actions without the stress of my vision being clouded by the fear of believing there is nothing I can do to resolve the problems of the world, or expending my precious energy on worrying about the things over which I have no control. Like the Titanic sinking.

    To quote St. Francis de Sales, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

    When I lose my inner peace, I become stressed. Stressed, my ripple churns up the waters and I become lost in a sea of confusion, searching for answers to why I’m drowning, forgetting I know how to swim. Flailing about in stormy seas, I am unable to see my way through dark places or foggy mornings like today. Bereft, I fall into self-pity and never rise above the storm.
    Yup. Definitely a long response.

    But I do so love intellectual challenges and discourse that causes me to think deep and seek a different perspective.

    Thanks for posting this fascinating passage.

    And now, I’ll step down off my soapbox and go back to mindful creation in my studio! I figure if all I do is add some beauty to this world, I will have created something better.

    Thanks for indulging me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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