Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Life, once removed

"People have made all sorts of movies about being 16 or 17 and in high school in America. But no one has ever made a movie about how people hook up and call it love," Katie said to me this morning.

"Then that is the movie you should... I mean, could, make," I said. "We make art out of the issues and questions that haunt us."

I learned this from Sam Keen, who taught me that our thorns, or, as he called them, "the things that get under our saddle like a burr", are the things that shape our character--and are, ultimately, the gifts (or problems) that shape our destiny. They are also, let me add, the themes of our lives. What I mean is, these are the callings, the hauntings, the issues and questions that get us out of bed in the middle of the night. The things that call to us, again and again, all of our lives.

They are our passions, our key frustrations and the undergirding structure of every moment of truth. These fascinations, these allurements will lead is to the most profound satisfaction and if ignored, will lead to our deepest regrets.

As Katie and I continued talking, I asked her, "Why do you think kids today do this? I mean, what is it about the way this generation was raised that's making you experience things this way--once removed from real experience?" Which was, I admit, a leading question.

It led her right where it was designed to lead her, back to one of MY thorns: Media, especially television and the way that, as our attention is drawn to watching other people people experience the things that we BELIEVE that we never will, our "real" lives are taken up, more and more, with meaningless, programmed activities--and by this I am referring to the daily grind, 9-5 jobs, any work that we hate or are bored with yet are compelled to continue doing to pay our bills or debts*, activities performed by rote such as driving long commutes, sitting in bone-numbing conferences, or, as Katie puts it, "going to high school so you can go to college so you can get a job so you can have some money to buy you the things that you think will make you happy."

It can be so tempting to throw ourselves onto the sofa and tune it all out. Believe me, I know, and I wrestle with it every night. But as we watch other people sort out their relationships or do stand-up comedy or climb Mt. Everest or survive a winter in Alaska (or a week on American Idol), the fact remains that WE ARE SITTING ON THE SOFA. And though we may think we are very clear that TV is not real, there's a part of us that doesn't really get that--and the more we set our lives aside to watch, the more agitated we become, the more powerless, envious, angry or, as Katie calls it, "pointless."

And why do we feel pointless? Because that part of us that doesn't get it is the part that needs to be activated so that we can live these experiences ourselves--and it's not activated this way.

Im reminded of a story: When Max was little, he was absolutely hypnotized by the TV, so much that I grew concerned--especially when I tried to draw him away, into other activities and he didn't hear me, and when I did manage to get his attention, threw all-out tantrums when I turned the TV off. I consulted a man named Jaimen McMillan, an expert in spatial dynamics, asking him: Where does Max go when he watches TV? McMillan said, "He goes into the TV."
He explained that children, who are wired to interact with story, as Max clearly was, have a greater tendency to "go in" to TV taking it in so deeply that it becomes a need that must be fed...

Sounds like an addiction, doesn't it?

TV doesn't mean to do this to us. But, it's a narcotic, you see. It draws us in with our taste for story, then, zaps us with white light, hypnotizing those of us who are most vulnerable: The Story Readers.

Stories are, I believe, meant to be drawn into the psyche differently--through words on a page or words spoken in a classroom or around a campfire. When they are delivered by television they are delivered in a base of something else, some emptiness (perhaps it is the lack of interaction that causes us to swallow this emptiness, perhaps it happens as that bright white dot closes the screen when we turn off the set)--It's this emptiness that is doing the harm--not the stories, not the programming, or even the inane advertisigin.

It's the emptiness that we swallow with each dose. An emptiness that makes us crave something to fill it. Like any other addictive substance it numbs our pain, initially, then strips us of our power--and our energy. TV can be especially damaging to our creativity, which requires long stretches of silence and deep pockets of down time in which to spread out and develop. Just the kinds of time that TV requires of us.

But I want to get back to the discussion with Katie, which, interestingly, began with a comment about movies, another form of media that, while not as addictive, is potentially as influential--for better or worse.

Katie and I started taking apart this "hooking up" phenomenon and some of the other monsters that come out from under the psychic bed when we shove our problems underground (by watching TV or engaging in any other activity that numbs us to our real experience.) These are the things we came up with and some of our observations about where they come from and how, perhaps, to address them:

1) Hooking up - or as Katie called it, "hooking up and calling it love" - alienation from the other
2) Cutting, anorexia, addictions to porn and shopping (social addictions) - alienation from the self - in an attempt to control the flow of feeling (patients describe feeling flooded by or numb to normal feeling sensation) ; in the case of shopping, patients are trying to fill an emptiness with things
3) Acute envy and powerlessness - alienation from our own authority/power, no sense of the inherent talents and abilities and soul-callings/longings with which we were born
4) TV keeps us inside on a sunny day; not going out to play/interact with neighbors or with nature; over-consumption of processed/fast food (eating food that's been prepared by machine and is several times removed from the healthy, fresh ingredients with which it began - alienation from Mother Earth/nature's life cycles - no grounding in life itself
5) Alienation from society - our news, politics and underlying social structure is fed to us through media "sound bites", "talking heads", "media analysts" and pundits (or films with a specific socio-political agenda) vs. getting out in the fray and sorting it out for ourselves. In US politics, we can feel so far removed that we cast our vote based on little more than a few minutes of TV coverage, a synopsis in our favorite newspaper, an endorsement of our union's leadership. Where is the discerning self in this?
6) TV Culture - references to TV shows and ways of behaving that one can only pick up by watching, thus requiring those who want to fit in (and who doesn't) to go sit and watch more TV


But now I'd like to open the discussion about how to connect to real experience; indeed, I'm thinking that before we even begin to try and solve this problem, we'll need to go back and define what real experience IS. For I think that many people have moved so far from interaction with the core self that they/we may find it difficult, at first, to even identify those experiences they lack, even though, at a deep level, their souls are longing for very specific things. It's just that we have not been taught (or have not practiced enough) ways of bringing those soul-longings to the surface and processing them in a conscious way (with language, imagery and "real" experience.)

Is that clear? I hope it is. If it's not, please ask me questions. (in comments or by email: I want you to understand what I am saying here.

So, first, what do we want to experience and how to get to that, but in a real way, touching on core/soul longings.
Second, how can we open to the core/soul? Through the arts, certainly. Through collage and other psychic "mapping" and "building" tools, through physical movement (something I sorely need), through group singing??? (an idea that comes to me that would connect us to others without needing to "encounter" too closely; through dream and imagery work...

There are many ideas in this post, and I have recently promised not to post "too long" so I am going to break up my thoughts in several related posts, perhaps over the course of a couple of days. I am also going to bring in some thoughts from other blogs (mine and those of other bloggers) and from some books and other research materials to enrich the discussion.

Ultimately, because this is one of my thorns, I expect to be writing a book about it... today, next month, eventually. This is one of the first steps--and, reminded of something Mary Eileen wrote in a comment on a previous post, perhaps it is time for me to get to this, writing an imperfect first draft. (Or a blog post) and pressing send.

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