A friend seeks contentment the escapists way

Photo: Sukanto debnath, Flickr

Photography: Sukanto Debnath, Hyderabad

He’d moved to London from another country, knowing that this would be the place he’d find fulfilment. Here, in the capital, he’d access the vibrant core of the British music scene and escape the parochial, small-minded outlook of his friends and family. There’d be no looking back to the old country. The millennium was advancing, and so was he.

He vowed forever to release himself from the strictures of his Catholic upbringing, from what he saw as the provincialism of his parents and all they stood for. He’d be contented and free, endlessly creating new music to accompany him in his endlessly renewing life. There’d be obstacles; but with his talent, wit and charm, he’d find contentment and freedom.

The connections were built soon enough. Despite his tender years, he was savvy; he knew how to look the part, and how to play the part. He knew the music scene was largely theatre. Talent was partly optional, but in any case he had it in spades. Within two years he was playing sessions, and within four he was on a world tour with a huge star.

Yet still he felt trapped, still part of a controlling network of managers and agents, the hordes of goffers and of course, the stars of the shows. So he tried to escape through sex. He was a pretty boy, on show nightly to many willing and available girls. Maybe with them, each in turn, he would feel less trapped, find the contentment and freedom he sought.

But soon the girls became more of a burden than a pleasure, just more obligations and more small-mindedness. It felt a bit like the old country. So he tried to escape with cocaine, yet that proved even more of a trap, and his mind became smaller and more caged-in still. No matter how he tried to escape his sense of emptiness, he could never escape himself.

As the years passed, he turned back to the Catholic church of his homeland. He stopped rejecting his past and what felt most like home. He gave up on finding fulfilment in himself, and age dulled awareness of his discontent. Besides, now he had a son he could project all his own failed ideas into, and the circular predictability of it all came to pass.

I’m still in touch with my friend, but we don’t talk about much of this; it’s too difficult for him to swallow. And who am I to be telling others why their lives didn’t produce what they thought it would? My friend found credibility and prestige, has a wonderful family, health and wealth. What he didn’t find was how to escape the aching void within.

For 35 years he’d tried to escape that void, that inner sense of discontent and the absence of fulfilment. He tried escaping by leaving his country, by attaching to fame and glamour, by getting lost in music, lost in sex, lost in cocaine. He tried to escape vicariously through his son, who through his father’s connections now himself has fame and glamour.

But it’s futile to seek contentment by escaping, because in any seeking we always bring our self along. And it’s this idea we have of our self which is the problem; it’s this entity which thinks contentment can be found and attached to. The self-entity misguidedly attempts to manipulate the world in order to satiate its desires and avoid all else.

We can’t escape the self or its misguided manipulations. What we can do is deconstruct it, and see it for what it is. It isn’t what I am; it isn’t what you are. It’s an on-going narrative construct that embeds within our being as belief. This means we come to believe that this narrative that comprises the self-entity correlates to the actuality of our being.

That actuality – what I am and what you are beyond selfhood – has a default state of perfect contentedness in being. That actuality doesn’t need to escape anything, or discover anything, in order to dwell fulfilled and in an emotional and psychological well-being. This isn’t some fanciful idea; it’s fully provable through a cultivated presence in being.

In developing presence in being, and through living contemplatively aware, we see that escapism is redundant. In fact it’s utterly useless. We may escape into pleasure, into forgetfulness, into distraction and indulgence. But we can never escape our sense of self once there. In our informed presence we see this truth, seeing what we are beyond self.


21 thoughts on “A friend seeks contentment the escapists way

    • It is certainly true that my friend was aware of his discontent; whereas for some that becomes part of the emotional wallpaper that is never observed with applied thought.

      His error was to seek escape, which only ever works as a short term measure, and still then, usually with negative consequences – as I’m sure you’re aware from your own observations.

      Many thanks for taking the time to read through this article and for responding with a comment; I greatly appreciate it.


  1. Oh Hariod! I’m so happy to have found this one! When I talked today of taking back control, it is a little bit possible that not all of the control was lost to others, but maybe there may have been a little escapism on my part! Ah! There, I said it; I realized it; I own it! I spent way too many years escaping, which as you said is redundant and utterly useless. I’m so happy to be back! Thanks for this wonderful writing! ❤

    • Dear Lorrie,

      Along with so many others, I do so love your candour and open-hearted capacity to share of yourself. I understand what you are saying here, and sometimes it can feel that the load is a little lighter if we project all of our problems onto others. Usually though, we’re simultaneously playing a few little mind tricks upon ourselves; we become convinced that there’s some escape route that solves some, if not all, of our problems.

      You are, or rather were, in good company in that respect dear Lorrie – the rest of humankind! Seeing through these charades though, as your article “Naked and unafraid” demonstrated so eloquently that you have, brings a certain distaste for self-deception. As you say, we own the issue, though at the same time we disown the deceptive trickery; and in your poetically wrought words are then “freed from worldly blunders”.

      Many thanks for your presence and kindness Lorrie; I deeply appreciate both.

      Hariod. ❤

      • Oh, Hariod, I so appreciate you! Thank you for your kind words, they warm my heart. 🙂 You have nailed it for me when you said “distaste for self-deception.” I can no longer hide my true soul’s yearnings! I raise a glass to you during this week that is set aside for “Thanks!” ❤ ❤

  2. I feel sorry for your friend, but he was never likely to find fulfilment in drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. There is a reason why there are so many stories, myths and fairy tales about unhappy princes who want for nothing but still feel discontented. Even at my rather unsophisticated level of psychological understanding, I know that a) we can’t run away from ourselves and b) happiness does not lie in constant pleasurable sensations.

    • Thankyou for your interest, Bun, and also for your sagacious observations. I think a large part of this problem of seeking contentment outside of ourselves is that generally speaking, our happiness (as distinct from contentedness) has some external referent that causes the pleasurable feeling of happiness to arise within us. This is fine, insofar as it works, but all such feelings are highly transient, and we erroneously conflate the thing we really want – which is an enduring contentedness – with the always fleeting feelings of happiness.

      Ask anyone whether they are happy, and it tends to be qualified in answers such as ‘yes, pretty much’, or ‘fairly happy’. Contentedness is an absolute, and one cannot be partially content by definition, as any sense of lack, however minor, must logically be deemed a manifestation of discontent. So, I think we very much are in agreement, with the only difference being that in your point b) I would substitute your use of the word ‘happiness’ for ‘contentedness’, solely because I make a distinction between the two, with only the latter being an absolute.

      • Now that you point it out, I believe I see the problem with using the word “happiness” instead of “contentedness” in my reply.

        Happiness, anger, sadness and other emotions are as ever-changing and transitory as clouds in the sky, but contentedness, if we achieve it, is the permanent and unchanging landscape over which they drift.

        Contentedness is an absolute in the same sense that being dead is an absolute. Just as we can’t be somewhat dead, we cannot be somewhat contented. We either are contented or we’re not.

        [Now that I think about it, being contented and being dead at the same time is probably not very easy either.]


        • Well, I may seem rather pedantic to others in making this distinction – I know you accept it graciously 🙂 – but it is fundamental to the ideas I put forward here. As I mentioned, the stress here is often on how our innate compulsion is towards contentedness, and it being a fundamental motivator for much of our lived experience. Nonetheless, we tend to think of this impulse as requiring the pursuit of happiness, of good feelings, of lack of distress, though such states are inevitably partial in their qualification. We pursue the things which cannot give us what our innate intelligence truly seeks – which is to be desireless, satisfied, without want, accepting, content. Thankyou for allowing me this position and for understating my chosen distinctions, Bun.

          • Not at all, Hariod. Thank you for making the distinction. I don’t think you were being pedantic. Language has to be used with different degrees of care and precision depending on the subject matter, and I appreciate there are times when it’s important to nail down the meaning unambiguously. In law, philosophy and love, using the wrong word can lead to disastrous misunderstandings. 🙂

            • Wise words, Bun, and I can’t help but smile wryly at your final sentence and the reference to word usage in the sphere of romance – some of my lovers have been so terribly unforgiving! o_O

  3. Sorry, I am a few years late in reading this. As you know, I haven’t been around that long! However, it was a fascinating read. I have great sympathy with your friend. But as always, life is a balance. Good becomes bad, and vice versa.

    • Thankyou so much for casting your eyes over this; I appreciate it along with your kindly supportive words. Actually, it is one of five pieces I rather dashed off simply for the purposes of getting the blog underway. My blog-writing style and the content has changed a bit over time, but I thought I would keep these five slightly out-of-kilter pieces in place, regardless.

    • Well, adjusting to writing here in short form took a while for me, and learning how to present an idea in 800 or so words along with not being too prosaically dry was a challenge of sorts. I must say, there is still an awfully long way to go before I could possibly consider myself accomplished, but I am very grateful to have kind and supportive readers, such as yourself.

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