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.


34 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.

  4. “. . . it’s futile to seek contentment by escaping, because in any seeking we always bring our self along.”

    I never really considered that. Thanks for giving me something new to think about!

    • Thank you very much for taking an interest this piece, Pendantry. It seems an eternity since I wrote it, and began this blog, though it’s nice to know that some of the oldest posts are still getting the occasional reading. 🙂

      • One piece I keep meaning to write myself but never seem to get around to would deal with longevity of content in blogs. Blogs aren’t like newspapers, the front page isn’t the be-all and end-all. Some posts can live forever, I think.

        • May I ask you, what caused you to seek out such an old post here? I’m curious to know, as I sometimes do that myself on others’ blogs. My own reason is that I imagine I’ll get a slightly different picture of the author than were I to read one of their latest posts. I think most of us develop over time, as blog authors, and settle into a style after a couple of years. My own posts have become shorter, on the whole, down from an average of around 1,200 words to about 850. I think my style has changed, too, in this short-form writing.

          • I didn’t seek out an old post. I just followed a random link from your home page. But that’s just the point: the age of a post is irrelevant, if it’s still valid, why does it matter how old it is?

  5. “But it’s futile to seek contentment by escaping, because in any seeking we always bring our self along.” — Although I think you make a valid point here, I don’t agree with you completely because I think that just as you can change your surroundings, you can change your mind too. The things that you feel/believe are not necessarily set in stone and in seeking out better ways of living/existing, it maybe that you are able to find contentment. And contentment means very different things to different people — so you might not be content in a bustling city, but you might be content in the countryside. And so ‘escaping’ to the country might well be a source of contentment.

    • Firstly, I must apologise for the tardiness of my response, Marie. I have been occupied with things away from the site for a while and am only just now catching up here. I’m not sure if we disagree at all on this, it rather depends on the sort of timeframe you were referring to in your instance of ‘escaping to the country’. On the one hand, then of course we can alter our moods and mental states by changing our immediate environment, though these invariably tend to be temporary shifts and of themselves unable to dislodge ingrained psychological issues. Our mental habituations are deeply embedded within us, conditioned by a whole lifetime of experience, and whilst we can distract ourselves from them, that process of itself does not uproot them from our conditioning, you would perhaps agree?

      There may also be a semantic debate about my use of the terms ‘self’ and ‘contentedness’. That’s a big one to unravel, but in short then by the ‘self’ I mean a series of beliefs we carry along within us and which is both sustained and perpetuated by the stream of mentation and sense contacts; it is not any permanently instantiated entity in the way that we believe it to be, and that by consensus we find it useful to presume. No neurophysicist would argue with this — that there is no permanent self or soul — although interestingly most would continue with their sub-conscious belief in their own instantiated selfhood, and perhaps even in the possibility of transmigrating souls (i.e. religion). There is a difference between intellectual belief and what we might call ‘in your bones’ belief.

      ‘Contentedness’, as I use the term on this site, is an absolute; it is to be entirely without rejection of whatever is the extant state and environment. Put another way, one cannot in truth be ‘reasonably content’ as it is a contradiction of terms: if one is less than fully content then a degree of discontent necessarily obtains. I go into this on another page, and I of course accept that my own referencing of that term is at odds with how many use it. I want to avoid referring to matters ‘spiritual’ on this site, and using misleading terms like ‘enlightenment’ and ‘self-realization’, less still ‘god’. The highest human state realisable, I maintain, is one of contentedness, if one accepts the rather narrow definition of the term which I apply to it — i.e. as an absolute. Interestingly, dictionaries tend to bear me out on this, also defining it as an absolute, and not a relative state.

      I think you are (quite reasonably) using ‘contentment’ as connoting a relative state, Marie, which is not incorrect, but is at variance to my own narrower definition. You are saying (I think), that if one moves to the country (in your example), then one may gravitate to being less discontent. That is so, yet being ‘less discontent’ is not being content, not being fully accepting of whatever circumstances meet one there as time passes. And that is because the erroneous belief in the putative instantiated ‘self’ is carried along in one’s psychological conditioning; it is not left behind at one’s former address.

      Please feel free to take me up on anything you feel I may have erred on; I am most happy to continue the discussion with you to arrive at a better understanding of my own.

  6. Thank you Hariod. I think what you are saying is that to be content means to be fully accepting of whatever circumstances you find yourself in. And that contentedness is not to be found in a particular location — rather that it is a state of mind. It is not somewhere that you physically escape to. I remembered, after I had made my earlier comment, that I should also have included the fact that if you have ingrained psychological issues then changing your address would not lead to contentment because as you rightly say “… because we always bring ourselves along.” I suppose what I was doing was using the term ‘contentment’ as ‘connoting a relative state’ and not fully understanding your definition.

    I do wonder, though, if it is possible to be content in the way you define it. I can’t think of one person I know who is content if we are to use your definition. I know of some people who are relatively content — in that they find themselves in a situation where they are perhaps 80% of the time content with their lives, but it could always be improved in one way or another. How does one get to that place (mentally, speaking), where you are fully accepting of whatever circumstances you find yourself in? Personally, I don’t feel that it is at all possible. Well, not unless you are the Dalai Lama. And you did say that you would prefer to avoid mention of spirituality here.

    Thank you for taking the time to explain what it is you meant by contentment and I appreciate that you’re busy with other things so that it’s not always possible to respond to comments quickly. I hope the writing is going well, Hariod.

    • Thank you, Marie. Let me just pick up on this central objection of yours: “How does one get to that place (mentally, speaking), where you are fully accepting of whatever circumstances you find yourself in? Personally, I don’t feel that it is at all possible.”

      To be clear, and I have covered this on a separate page on the nature of contentedness, then what is the alternative? It is to deny the actuality of the situation; it is to reject the world as it is. Importantly, contentedness is not synonymous with happiness, which a pleasurable feeling, a physical state the nervous system occasionally finds itself in. Contentedness is not a physical feeling as I define it, and as many dictionaries define it, also. It is a state of acceptance, a mental attitude or (what some cognitive scientists call) an intentional state. It does not oppose reality. It does not even oppose grief — that most debilitating of physical and psychological conditions. Contentedness accepts the reality of tragedy as much as it does the satisfying and pleasurable things in life. It does not make moral judgements about the way things should be.

      So when you say, “I don’t feel that it is at all possible”, then you are in effect saying that one is impelled, forever, to reject one’s actuality, to deny that the world is as it is, at that moment. Moreover, it suggests that this denial is a rational response to ‘things not going well’, even though, intellectually, we know that our rejection or denial of circumstances alters nothing. It is like saying, in effect, ‘I want the past to be different.’

      But you, of all people, know that denying the past at best only ever provides a temporary amelioration. In the end, we come to accept the past as it was in reality, however painful or unpleasant or distressing it may have been. Once we accept it, we can say that we are content with the past as it is, because not to do so is utterly futile. It is a controversial point, I accept that, but again, one mustn’t conflate contentedness (and the acceptance it connotes) with happiness. Let me expand upon that:

      In practice, this state of contentedness does not mean that deeply unpleasant memories cease to occur. Nor does it connote that one would not prefer things to be different, or not prefer that things had been different. What happens is that awareness recognises that the mind is doing what the mind will at times do, which is to respond to conditions, meaning memories and thoughts will be triggered at times. That is how the mind works, it is a reflexive mechanism, it responds to the environment (via sensory contacts) and to its own conditioning. Being in a state of contentedness means accepting the world, including one’s own mind, as it is. It does not entail acting like a doormat, allowing everything and everyone to do as they wish in one’s presence, and may at times involve conflict, opposition, unpleasantness, even (as I say) deep distress and grief.

      In answer to your question of how to arrive at this state of mind, then I would say that coming to know the nature of mind is key. That, in large part, means seeing thought (in all its manifestations, including memory and imagination) for what it is, and not identifying with it as ‘my life’, or the ‘self of me’. The brain is constructing in thought, through projection and conditioning, a world for us to behold in consciousness. We do well to understand that this is what is happening, and not to confuse or conflate the content (the stuff) of mind with the world as it is in actuality.

      I hope this goes some small way towards answering your question and objection, but again, do feel free to come back at me should you disagree with anything, Marie.

      With all best wishes,


      • Thank you Hariod. I feel as if this is a letter from a very intellectual agony aunt in answer to my question: “How does one get to that place (mentally, speaking), where you are fully accepting of whatever circumstances you find yourself in? Personally, I don’t feel that it is at all possible.” – Signed: ‘Discontented in London’. 🙂

        I understand what you are saying, and it’s not that I disagree with you, or that I think that you are right and I am wrong, but that my mind keeps telling me that “I want the past to be different”. And I think that’s where I am stumbling. I’m operating from emotion rather than logic, so to speak, and therefore even though I understand your words and what it is you are saying, some part of me wants to reject that. But even though I want to reject it because I’m not emotionally ready to accept that, I do now, after reading what you have said, believe that it is possible to reach this level of contentedness — it’s just that I need time to fully understand your sixth paragraph in which you talk about the ‘nature of the mind’.

        I think you’ve done a cracking job here of explaining contentedness versus happiness to me, Hariod, and I really (really) appreciate the time you’ve spent on this.



        • Of course you’d prefer the past were different, and I quite appreciate that is (as you suggest) an emotionally-driven stance, taken, as I understand it, for perfectly understandable reasons. Naturally, no one can circumvent the natural responses of the human nervous system which causes those emotional stances, and how they can both feed off and back into thoughts and memories in a circular fashion. An emotion, reduced to its elements, is twofold: thought (including memory and imagination) and an accompanying feeling. It’s nothing beyond that — which is not to dismiss its power.

          Still, the higher level of your mind (think of that as pure awareness or lucidity rather than the clutter of consciousness with its myriad objects) can witness this process yet do so non-judgementally, meaning without rejecting it or without identifying with it (i.e. ‘this is me; this was me as I was when it happened’). Doing this witnessing doesn’t make the emotion any less unpleasant, and being in a state of contentedness doesn’t mean there is no unpleasantness, even, as I mentioned, the intense grief of bereavement. I know this from personal experience.

          What can be tremendously helpful is to think of mind as dual-layered: the unsullied pure lucidity of awareness (which witnesses and illumines one’s world), and the evanescent, brain-produced consciousness with its flow of objects (memories, feelings, thoughts, imagination, perceptions, predispositions, etc.) Most of the time, consciousness is in the foreground, and pure awareness is like a backdrop, at best — a bit like the canvas screen we never notice when we go to the cinema. The witnessing process shifts the two relatively, so that consciousness (the movie) becomes contextualised relative to pure awareness (the screen). As this happens, the power of consciousness (all those memories, thoughts and feelings) is diminished, it all becomes as if cloud-stuff floating across the mind. Some of the clouds are very dark and heavy, some bright and light, yet all are contextualised within a vast open sky which itself doesn’t get involved in the individual clouds and their concerns and the causes of their existence; it actually isn’t even interested in them — only consciousness is curious of itself. The clouds are understood as the creations of consciousness, mind-stuff, and the pattern of clouds in the sky is understood as the mind-created narrative of ‘me in the world’. And yet the clouds come and go, so none can rightly be said to be ‘me in the world’, neither individually nor collectively. They are still present, but pure awareness knows they are the play of consciousness, and accepts them fully as that. In that full acceptance, there is contentedness.

          Contentedness is the natural state of your, mine and everyone’s existence, Marie — if it is allowed to be. Dependant upon each individual’s life circumstances (the past conditioning of their consciousness), then it becomes more or less difficult to allow contentedness to be, to rest in it. I don’t mean to philosophise away mine, your, or anybody else’s circumstances and the very real and deeply felt difficulties they at times present, but it does remain the case that our natural state, behind the occlusions of consciousness, is contentedness. This is a non-religious, non-spiritual way of saying what many others have said in other terms, across the span of time and across all cultures; it is far from being some special or arcane knowledge, and it certainly has nothing to do with one’s intellectual capacity. If it was dependant upon that, I would be entirely oblivious to it!

          With love,


          • Dear Hariod,

            This has been a marathon and it may have taken me longer than most to cross the finishing line, but I’m grateful that I ran it. Thank you so much for spending so much time with me on this — it really is much appreciated.

            With much love and gratitude,


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