Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Nothing New But Thankfully the Same

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

When we recently were asked to write about this topic, I admit that I had to lookup what these click words mean: relaxation, zen, wellness. See, before the current era’s trilogy of terms and its predecessor—the New Age lifestyle—the search for self was not so much a trend as a secret society game of Chinese whispers shared amongst a very few. 

Some of my generation have somehow managed to live through decades we thought we would never see—thirty, forty, fifty, sixty. And with that experience behind me I am relieved to see external chaos and crisis is being met with a call for personal sanity. 

My grandparents lived through that same roller coaster of stress, during the 1920s and 1930s, brought on by progress and the demands of a world in chaos. They secretly submerged themselves in theosophy, western yoga (introduced through the Self-Realisation Fellowship), and even zen buddhism. Such free souls lived not at the core of cool, but on the razor’s edge of society. They formed the avant-garde. They were the people who sought an unconventional way to accept their presence in a world gone mad between the world wars and economic crises. Over cigarettes, spirits, and the occasional baked wheatgerm doughnut, they delved deep into these esoteric wonders. They questioned purpose for life as their counterparts rattled in the dark forces of nihilism, anarchy, and drug addiction.

A post-war generation swept such thoughts into a dark pit, finding comfort in mood elevators and stabilisers knocked back with a few therapy sessions with a psychiatrist and the local bar. They commuted to jobs they hated so they could live an expected life. Those people, the parents of my generation, told us how to live the life they had planned for us to live. 

Natural human reaction ensued as the outside world fell into the chaos of the Cold War, nuclear threats, and economic downturns. We rebelled. At university, we dove deep into impractical degrees—philosophy, archaeology, sociology, art history—as we planned our next sit-in at the administration building and traded notes on our new macrobiotic diet; our personal take on the meanings of the Sutras; our personal experiences with focussed thinking (read: meditation or research or a masters dissertation on pre-Columbian Amazonian cultures).

And now a similar cycle of outer chaos and a desire for inner peace has arisen. But it is a very special moment for those of us in hospitality. We need provide a quantum of solace to the people we serve. It comes from within: the ability to focus on making a drink and serving it with a personal superpower that delivers solace, comfort, cheer, support. It is the essence of zen.

Solace cannot be conveyed if you are hungover, stressed, angry, unsure. Solace does not need to be generated from the latest fitness craze, diet, or psycho-babble fad. It can build up from cooking the perfect egg for yourself and savouring its flavour, aroma, and moment of experience. It can be empowered in taking a reflective walk to search your thoughts and feelings, to discover new points of inspiration. It be recharged from learning your personal patterns for sleeping, eating, and relaxing.

Different from before? In one sense, yes. This time, those of us who seek this inner calm and self-awareness are not on the outskirts of society. We are not even social rebels. We are the salve that soothes a world that needs solace.