Yesterday evening I found wisdom in an unexpected place. I was watching Conan O’Brien. Mostly this was because the Big Bang Theory rerun had just ended, and I had not wanted to move yet. Then Louis C.K., a comedian who I had never heard of, came on began to tell Conan why he won’t let his kids have cell phones. I was impressed. As a wordy, long-winded and serious psychotherapist by nature, I appreciate this comedian’s short and funny explanation better than my own. Check out how his view on why over use of technology can rob us of learning empathy, the ability to just sit there, and emotional experience.
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Here are some great quotes from this clip.
“Just be sad…stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck.”
“Sadness is poetic. Your lucky to live sad moments.”
“I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true, profound happiness.”
“You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kinda satisfied with your product and then you die.”
I wonder if Louis C.K. is aware that he is talking about principles of mindfulness. Clearly he understands better than most that pain is a normal part of life and when you avoid it you create suffering and miss joy.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teaches us that avoiding “bad emotions,” or labeling as bad or good at all, is how we begin to create suffering. Instead it recognizes that pain is a normal part of life that is best accepted and experienced as it comes. Rather than making a judgement and pushing away bad experiences or emotions, it is suggested that all are welcomed in and accepted. For many new to Mindfulness, this is a new concept that is difficult to understand. The poem below is very old and often used in mindfulness training to help explain this concept.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
“Mindfulness helps us become more resilientat the same time as it makes us more vulnerable and sensitive.”
– Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD
Most people come to counseling because they want to get rid of their pain and feel better. They do not expect to hear that as they become stronger and better able to manage stress and emotional pain they may actually become more vulnerable or sensitive. Dr. Siegel (referenced above) explained this confusing paradox with a traditional Japanese adage: Which is stronger, a mighty oak tree or a reed of bamboo? Most would think the oak tree. However, when a monsoon comes the oak tree breaks and scatters while the bamboo reed bends and folds to the ground. After the storm passes the bamboo stands right back up again seemingly undamaged.
The true goal must be resilience, the ability like the bamboo to bounce back after a storm, because no one can prevent the storm from coming. Mindfulness helps us to develop bamboo like resilience because it trains us become aware of and accept a full range of emotional responses. As you become more aware of your emotions and with it more sensitive to them, you are vulnerable to feeling joy and pain more fully and deeply. However, when you feel emotions more fully they leave less of a trace. They pass over you like a gentle breeze or the wind of a monsoon. Then you can more easily recover and move on to experiencing the next moment.
photo credit: jscatty
The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems by Ronald D. Siegel