Brain Pickings

A Poetic Antidote to City Life

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“You exist by your smile and your presence… Quests, pursuits of concrete securities of one kind or another lose all their importance.”

The recent omnibus of everyday happiness recorded by history’s great minds reminded me of a beautiful passage by Anaïs Nin from Diary of Anaïs Nin, Volume 5: 1947–1955 (public library), in which she — very much a city woman, but one with a deep sensitivity to the poetic and a hunger for existential truth — captures the remarkable awakening that happens when we shed our city skin and plunge into nature with joy and abandon.

In a diary entry from the fall of 1951, penned while vacationing in Mexico, Nin writes:

To me Acapulco is the detoxicating cure for all the evils of the city: ambition, vanity, quest for success in money, the continuous contagious presence of power-driven, obsessed individuals who want to become known, to be in the limelight, noticed, as if life among millions gave you a desperate illness, a need of rising above the crowd, being noticed, existing individually, singled out from a mass of ants and sheep. It has something to do with the presence of millions of anonymous faces, anonymous people, and the desperate ways of achieving distinction. Here, all this is nonsense. You exist by your smile and your presence. You exist for your joys and your relaxations. You exist in nature. You are part of the glittering sea, and part of the luscious, well-nourished plants, you are wedded to the sun, you are immersed in timelessness, only the present counts, and from the present you extract all the essences which can nourish the senses, and so the nerves are still, the mind is quiet, the nights are lullabies, the days are like gentle ovens in which infinitely wise sculptor’s hands re-form the lost contours, the lost sensations of the body. The body comes to life. Quests, pursuits of concrete securities of one kind or another lose all their importance. As you swim, you are washed of all the excrescences of so-called civilization, which includes the incapacity to be happy under any circumstances.

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