Quietism is the general belief that the best emotional and spiritual strategy for humans, is to use the mind to overcome attachment to the world and worldly outcomes. This stance promises to provide a peace of mind, and proposedly, an end to suffering. Not uncommonly, in Western culture, quietism is attempted by individuals who in some way aspire to an ideal image of being 'highly evolved'. Usually, being highly evolved in this sense means eschewing both desire and anger, or at least the expression of desire or anger.

Quietism often has its origin in the misapplication of 'Eastern' spiritual traditions onto Western social and interpersonal dilemmas. In those actual traditions, having a quiet mind and heart seems to be premised on the idea of already self-possessing emotions and desires. But sometimes, this ideal can seem exactly the recipe for feeling better if one has turmoil or anxiety in one's life. However. adopting a quietistic stance before gaining self-possession is putting the cart before the horse. It results in a superficial detachment but greater indirect struggle in relationships. 'Higher' desires, (such as altruism) can guide simpler desires, but only if the simpler desires are possessed. Otherwise, more basic desires are expressed subconsciously, in distorted form.

A form of quietism is placing all social and interpersonal conflicts in highly abstract philosophical or spiritual terms. This comes from fear of conflict. Human satisfaction and contact only happens when people are able to struggle with one another. At high levels of generalization, all differences and therefore all conflicts disappear, but this is a false peace. There is a (possibly apocryphal) Zen parable about this:

A zen master sets his student a task. He instructs the student to come the next day and tell the master what is the key to the end of suffering. The student is both nervous and proud, and immediately begins contemplating the problem. He hardly sleeps. At the appointed time, he comes, kneels before the master and begins to deliver a lengthy, erudite, highly nuanced answer. After about three sentences, the master raises his thick wooden staff above his head and slams it down hard on the student's shoulder. "No! that's not it, come again tomorrow!". The student is naturally crest-fallen (and hurting) but he devotes the next day to revising the answer, making it even better and more elaborate. The next day he comes and kneels before the master and with renewed confidence begins to deliver his answer. After a sentence or two, however, The master raises the staff and whacks the other shoulder. "No! Again tomorrow." Now the student is very nervous (and pained). He of course doesn't sleep, and tries his best to improve his answer but is at a loss to know what direction to go. When the time comes the next day, he kneels down in front of the master, but this time, shoulders aching, he keeps his eyes on the staff. He starts to speak hesitatingly. As he sees the staff start to rise, he he almost involuntarily raises his hand to block it. "Yes!" the master says, "now that you know how to stop your own suffering you know something about the end of suffering."

Quietism can also be a reaction to, and an attempted compensation for the belief and feeling, and occasional reality, that one is powerless. The antidote to powerlessness is aggression, (which is not the same as violence) where it can likely make a difference, and surrender where action cannot make a difference. Aggression may cause real problems and conflicts, but it allows for a feeling of restored integrity, and it seems to keep the biology (the body) in order. Pursuing a desire need not lead to violence if one has the self-possession to acknowledge the disappointment. Quietism and detachment is very different from Alexander Lowen's idea of surrender. In surrender the ego acknowledges the reality of the body's situation.