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March 21, 2023

S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: An anxious world

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Image S Sorrensen
Image S Sorrensen

S Sorrensen

Pelican Waters. Wednesday, 2.10pm

The world is vibrating at an ever-increasing pitch. The vibration is now audible. Can you hear it? I can. It whines in my ear as I stroll the foreshore at Pelican Waters.

My doctor calls it tinnitus, a mysterious afflication that has nothing to do with rising global anxiety, but I reckon what I hear is the real cry of a planet whose pulse is quickening as it warms.

But, here and now, a cool breeze blows across the water from the wild northern spit of Bribie Island. It carries the tangs of salt and mangrove flower to this shore; a shore tamed by roofed picnic tables, electric barbecues and garish plastic playgrounds. A body sits on the grassy verge next to the water. A woman. She’s alone. She doesn’t move.

Her stillness is calming. It soothes an anxiety in me that, though low level, permeates my day-to-day life as unbiquitously as driving, coffee and internetting. I have learned to live with this anxiousness. Occasionally, the tension builds and overwhelms me, and I slump into a comatose overdrive. (Yeah, that sounds like an oxymoron, but anyone who has suffered an anxiety attack knows what I mean. Sometimes, everything builds and builds to a hyperactivity that has you spinning like a whirling dervish, until you collapse into a sick giddiness where any action is impossible.)

But I survive. (I have pills.)

Is the increasing disquiet I feel just me? Or is it an external reality? Is the planet really hyping up? If the world, as a living thing, is getting more anxious, will it too slump with overwhelm?

Questions, questions. (They make me anxious.)

Pelican Waters is a mix of suburb and mangrove to the south of Caloundra, a coastal town north of Brisbane. There’s more suburb than mangrove here as the area’s ballooning human population replaces mangroves with houses, flats and shops. The population of the world has tripled since I was born.

A friend of mine said India, a favourite destination of hers, has a high vibration – so many people crammed together. There’s nowhere to be alone. There’s no chance to slow the pulse, decrease the vibration, lessen the tension. It can be overwhelming.

I walk closer to the sitting woman. Her back is straight but her head is bent. She’s probably on the phone. What else could she be doing?

We are all in India now. With a mobile phone in your hand, you are never alone. You are the centre of a constant and ceaseless cyber chatter. You are a synapse in a nervous system that encircles the world. You feel every change; you react to every alert, you are never still.

The rising agitation of the new world is addictive, giving shelter in a planetary storm. Smartphones sales increase with global temperatures. Distraction is our shield from the awful truth. Stillness is the enemy.

The woman is not on a phone. She’s just… sitting.

She’s not checking her emails, or posting a selfie to a hundred friends. She’s disconnected from the prattle. She’s alone. Amazing.

I used to wonder what purpose the monastic life had. What good can there be in people divorcing themselves from the material world. Now I know. These monks and nuns, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, sadhus and sadvis – these quiet people – are our connection to the slower, deeper rhythms of the planet. They anchor our reality to the deeper sea bed. Unlike the whirling dervish, they let the planet do the spinning.

The woman feels me watching her. She slowly turns her head to me. I’m embarrassed. Her eyes flash like sun off water and she smiles.

The din of an anxious world fades away.

These quiet people are people of action.



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