I spent last year going to school in France and it’s been surprisingly hard to fit back in at home. Everyone here seems so focused on work. Over there I was constantly amazed
by how much freer it felt. I travelled a bit when I was there. Is all of Europe like that?
Why is it so much more relaxed than here?
Congratulations on getting time in such a great place. Paris is one of my favourite cities. And your question is a good one, although you’ve actually asked two questions without realizing it.
Your observation is correct; French/European society places much more value on enjoyment in life. As a result, in general, they are more tolerant of people doing the things that lead to them enjoying their own lives. There is less judgment or guilt about foods, there is greater worth and more energy invested in expressions of love, and rather than the citizens being afraid of the government the government is afraid of the citizens. Surely we could find people that dislike how France is run, but in general they work less, play more, their stress levels are lower and their enjoyment of life is more profound. Certainly the age and history of their culture does tip towards valuing human experiences more than North America is inclined to do, where the focus is more on success via ownership.
The second part of your question involves you. Because a lot of what made Paris great for you had very little to do with Paris itself and a lot more to do with you. The huge advantage you had in Paris was that you had no history. You had no story. No one knew who you’d been so they couldn’t judge who you are. You’re not conscious of it much, but you live in a framework of stories you’ve both intentionally and unintentionally surrounded yourself with and you feel vulnerable if you step outside of their definitions.
So say you’re studying law and you’ve invested a ton of time and effort and money into that but then you realize that you’re not enjoying it at all. At home everyone will convince you not to waste your past efforts and to continue on. They will see it as a good thing that they are motivating you towards finishing one of the stories you started. They won’t consider that you may have changed yourself and therefore where you want to go. Because again, your enjoyment of life will be seen as secondary to you succeeding at establishing your future. People will say throwing away three years of law school is crazy, but I say it’s crazy to continue on to become a lawyer for the next 30 years when you already know it does not bring you joy.
When we’re in other places we relax our identities so we don’t have to keep up appearances. This loosens us to the point where we’re more inclined to be appreciative of experiences because they are new. So is the food actually better or are you just paying attention to what your food tastes like for the first time in a long time? Because when we want we’re in ego, but when we appreciate we’re in spirit. And in appreciation we become more like the real us. But if we’re acting like a programmed ego we’ll work hard to convince ourselves that our natural feelings are incorrect and that our thoughts about our life are more important than our feelings within it.
So in Canada you have a story about yourself that maybe you’re shy. And you know that story and it’s built into all kinds of locations and situations and your friends all know it too. Without even consciously knowing it you’ll have scripts about what to do and you will literally perform who you believe is acceptable to others. But in France no one knows who you are so you can be bold if you like. You can see a guy and think he’s hot and, whereas in Canada you’d just think it, in Paris you’ll go talk to him. The boldness doesn’t come from Paris, it comes from you being less encumbered by your personal story simply because you have fewer reminders of it. If you’re seeing all new people in all new places then you can begin to realize aspects of yourself that you suppress back at home as a way of satisfying others.
You can move to Paris but the same thing would happen in Tokyo and Istanbul and Moscow. What’s different is your thinking, but you can even change that at home. The reason you don’t want to is that you’re insecure. You’re uncertain as to whether the real you is actually better or more acceptable than the ego you. And you don’t want to toss out all of the effort you put into creating that ego identity without being absolutely sure that your new path is equally safe and secure. But nothing is truly safe and secure, so you can ignore that and simply Be. There is no path through life that guarantees success or advancement or peace or money. You’re not looking for a road to a treasure, you’re looking for a road paved with awesome experiences. And in this example the streets aren’t paved with gold in Paris, but rather your journey is made much more valuable whenever and wherever you express your freedom to be whatever aspect of yourself suits you.
Once you know how to see your life as yours everywhere becomes like Paris. And that’s why people who avoid ego are so happy. We’re always on vacation in an amazingly beautiful place no matter where we are. And you absolutely can do that too. You just have to lower your personal thinking and raise your awareness. Because to someone from France who’s bored with their life, right where you live can be Paris to them. And that means it can be that way to you as well. Enjoy.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.