A few years ago, I moved to a rural area after living all my life in a major city. I wanted to be close to nature and away from the noise, dirt, and congestion of the city. I wanted to be someplace where the messages of our culture weren’t in my face all the time. I wanted to live on the land. Well, I did find all of that. And I do experience peace with some frequency, but more often, or at least overwhelmingly, I experience boredom, isolation, and frustration. Why have my carefully made plans ended so badly?
Bored in the Country
Dear Bored in the Country,
To paraphrase a common saying, “You can take the person out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the person.” Having lived in the city all your life, your senses have become accustomed to being bombarded by all sorts of “noise” and “stimulation.” This can be literally noise or the crush of people moving quickly about, the energy of traffic rushing about, the visual cacophony that we experience constantly.
Regardless how much you may have yearned for peace and quiet and read in books about how restorative that experience is, when you moved to that setting, you, or better put your mind, were not prepared. Your mind was looking for the stimulation it was used to, and it just wasn’t there. The result ... once the newness of being surrounded by nature wore off, you felt bored.
But boredom is a state of mind; it is not a reflection of reality. The reality is that when you are in a rural setting of serene quietude, you are living in a world of great subtlety. Whereas your senses are used to reacting to brash and bold stimulants in the city, in the country it’s about the variation in the different greens of the trees and bushes and grasses, the change of light during the course of the day, the shift in the wind, the sound of a bird in the morning, the change in all of these things from season to season, and on and on.
These are subtle things which someone raised in the city usually has lost the ability, not to observe, but to find stimulating in a sustained way. The reality of what you are experiencing in the country is peace. What your mind experiences is boredom.
Aggravating all this is the isolation that is inherent in living in the country. You have probably made a few friends there, but the energy of people bustling about is just not there. Acquaintances hardly exist. You thus feel isolated, even though in reality you may have as many or even more real friends there than you had in the city. The other form of isolation is that you can’t just walk out your front door and have all sorts of options of things to do.
So, what to do? There is no right or wrong place here, no place is more spiritual or less spiritual. It’s all one, it’s all a continuum to which we should attach no labels. You have two options. In the country, to find peace one must struggle against feelings of isolation and boredom. In the city, to find peace one must struggle against the crush of humanity and its detritus and the force of our culture, as well as the relative absence of nature.
But regardless which option you choose, you have to accept the fact that you can’t have your cake and eat it too (unless possibly you find a rural setting close enough to a major city to allow you to practically access it several times a week. But would that give you want you want? I don’t know.). Each choice comes with a price ... something that you give up ... including this last hypothetical . It’s a question of which setting, in total, speaks more to your heart. Be as mindful as you can and meditate on it.
Indeed, acceptance is the key word here for your finding peace and contentment. I've always found this formulation of the impact of non-acceptance very helpful:
"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that situation as being exactly the way it is at this moment."
With true acceptance and equanimity, we can work to change aspects of our lives without losing peace and contentment in the present. But without acceptance, your life will be filled with unending frustration and dissatisfaction. (See my posts on planning for the future as well as my book, Making Your Way in Life as a Buddhist.)
Also be aware that the fact that you have a voluntary choice to make will make the decision seem an agonizing one, regardless how much you meditate ... especially if you're looking for certainty, which does not exist. The complexity of both choosing the type of situation you want to live in and specifiically where is not to be underestimated. Every time you think you have found clarity, you will probably discover a short time thereafter reason to doubt that clarity. Those people who move because of a job transfer or because they have to take care of elderly parents, for example, have it easy; they really have no choice and just do it.
There’s a line in an ancient Chinese poem, Affirming Faith in Mind, that says “If you would clearly see the truth, discard opinions pro and con ... Our choice to chose and to reject prevent our seeing this simple truth.” Ideally, through meditation, you will be able to release yourself from your learned experience, from your mind, from the labels you apply to situations. Then you will be able to see things as they really are without the intervention of thought and intuitively do what you know is the right thing. Rather than making a choice between this and that. But that is much easier said than done.
And at the end of the day, don’t forget that all things are impermanent and changeable. Whatever you decide to do, it’s rarely forever. So don’t make your decision more momentous than it is ... all you’re trying to do is make the best decision for yourself now and the near future. Doubt is ok. You don't have to be sure about something, and in fact, there's no way to be sure about the future, or even tomorrow, so don't get caught in that trap. View it as an experiment, and if it doesn't work out, you move on to the next one.