March 30, 2019 Carole Levy

Emotional apathy

I used to darn my socks, with a heavy marble egg. This was when I wasn’t so busy and it was more economical than buying another pair. And when I believed that sewing was more relaxing than watching TV.


Recently I succumbed to the enchanting power of TV shows and let go of other mundane activities that were my way to relax.  This made me somewhat uncomfortable.

Not that I snobbishly think it’s bad to relax in front of TV. But I know the difference between relaxing and escapism.

It is amazing how many ways we have to divert our attention from reality. I’m not talking about medications, drugs or other addictions. I’m talking about our mild and daily distractions. 

A long time ago, I smoked cigarettes and day-dreamed to avoid the discomfort of being alive– as Pema Chödrön would say. 

But today, in the era of good health, individualism, and the acceptance of TV-binge-watching, I don’t find anything better to escape reality than watching a series that carries me to the 9thcentury of Scandinavia, or the Italian Renaissance of the bloody Borgias, or to the heart of my cherished Paris.

Don’t get me wrong, I have an unshakable commitment to be my best self, to be at service to the world and make a meaningful contribution. Over the years, I’ve learned to stay involved with what I want to do and set boundaries to my bad habits. 

Therefore, I only TV “binge” on Friday or Saturday night and never more than two or three episodes in a row. Maybe four. 

Given the incessant upheavals of the world, unsolvable systemic issues, and an accumulation of my own personal uncertainties, I find myself sliding into an old familiar place of indolence and emotional apathy that I thought was over. 

Inertia used to be my go-to place as a teenager. I would sit in front of the TV, avoiding my homework and teenage-anxieties. In retrospect, I suffered from wasting my potential, and experienced a bit of depression. 

Reclaiming my power of agency and creativity has been one of my most important learning breakthroughs as an adult. 

For years, I banished TV at home. Until I finally understood our daughter’s despair over not having a television like everybody else. After we got one, we watched it only occasionally to see goodmovies, but then we discovered the goodseries, like everybody else. 

A big problem with our distractions is that they numb us from alerting ourselves to our own numbing process.  

I realized I had a problem when I started to 1- anticipate my Friday and Saturday night TV; 2- preferred staying at home rather than going out; 3- had dull conversations with my husband about each series. And, 4- the tipping point, when I decided to watch an entertaining fictional series – “Just one, I promise”– on Wednesday night. 

Even my husband who is the least judgmental guy, frowns at my self-deception.

With distraction and numbing goes rationalization, and the oversight of what really matter to us. 

The beauty and mystery of the human mind, even when a little numb, is that it contains a wise voice. And this voice is capable of saying: “Hold on, something is wrong”. 

Not “Something is wrong, you loser”! But something is wrong because it’s not what you really want. 

I rarely drink alcohol, I eat very little sugar, I don’t play video games on my phone, and I don’t over-exercise. Compared to a majority of people, I’m grounded in reality and connected to my feelings. I should give myself a break.

Perhaps because I indulged in escapism when I was young, I’m less tolerant now. I have also significantly experienced the rewards of choosing reality over even mild distractions. 

It is always an effort to re-choose reality. There is a period of murky discomfort where it seems like life isn’t worth living without this or that comforting distraction.

But once we gently reengage reality, not out of duty, but out of integrity and desire, we become the boss of our mind and body again. The greatest reward is rediscovering a sense of fulfillment in just being ourselves. 

So, last Friday night, I darned my socks with one of my heavy marble eggs and reconnected with the personal satisfaction of filling some concrete holes. 

Then my husband and I watched “1900”, the epic Bertolucci’s film that depicts Italy from the beginning of the 20st century to the end of War II. 

I used to be a cinephile, loved going to Independent movie theaters in Paris and seeing old masterpieces. “1900” is a five-hour slow movie. However, we were taken by it. The realism, the painting of poverty, class struggle, human complexity, community and the beauty of nature. We only watched the first part, but a few days later, we were still talking about how the movie had touched us, triggering aspects of our own story, stimulating all sort of feelings, and bringing us more deeply into the reality of our time. 

Everything can be used as a tool to escape, but nothing is in itself a tool for escapism. Even more importantly, everything can become a tool for awakening. It is our job to find our true and nurturing balance between reality and distraction, following our wise voice, so that we can receive the gift of sometimes being a creator, sometimes a spectator, and in both cases, being emotionally alive. 

Reflective questions: Do you have a good balance between reality and distraction? When do you feel the most emotionally alive? What is your favorite good series?! Let me know. Maybe I’ll watch it! 

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Comments (13)

  1. Susan Isa Efros

    I enjoyed this piece so much. It really speaks to me and my own struggles with staying in reality and allowing myself to escape into the pleasures of TV and movies,And you say it so well in the Bertolucci example. The line is often blurred. A good series or film can bring us more fully and clearly into reality. Thank you for your wisdom and ever-present humor. We all need plenty of each.

    • Carole Levy

      I’m realizing Susan, that humor is a good compromise between distraction and reality. Thank you for showing me the way of humor – even in the most challenging circumstances.

  2. Kelly Marcinczyk

    This really resonates with me and although I often push myself out of my comfort zone, I have recently noticed that I mistake binge watching with relaxing. This was a great reminder to go back to the habits that actually relax my system.

    Xo

  3. Marymoroe

    Carole, I was just talking to my husband last night about how I used to darn socks on a light bulb! That intricate process of finding the tiny weave with a needle, how satisfying it was. And how it just doesn’t make any sense anymore to do something like that. It almost seems like a quirk of privilege to be able to spend time on something now so unnecessary. I really appreciate your thoughtful (as always) discussions of the ins and outs of a life lived with empathy and care. Here’s to mindful times.

    • Carole Levy

      I’m glad (and not surprised) that you are part of the darning club – it goes well with your design thinking mind!

  4. Tami

    Dear Carole, I so appreciate your ability to bring the truth to the table of why we do what we do and the impact of numbing — we don’t “live. Darning is a darned good way to meditate and get the world’s grip on us out of our souls and where it belongs — on the floor with leftover thread.I KNOW I have judgments around people who can’t get out and “live” and instead live vicariously through film or the media. And so, when I do the same I judge myself harshly. Of course my preference is documentaries, history, or auto/biographies that inspire me to a higher plane…does that make it okay to binge on them? Living alone makes me especially prone to binging occasionally. The only thing that might stop me is when a certain daughter gets to Netflix first! I KNOW you’re a deep, disciplined woman with a slant to humor (thank God!) who genuinely cares for humanity over media and would “be there” should the need arise without a question. It means judging you is out of the question! Now, I can’t wait to get lost in “1900” and visit with you and JP about it!

    • Carole Levy

      Ah Tamara, you’re the reason why a certain daughter is on Netflix… still, Thanks!!

  5. Ross Peterson-Veatch

    Carole,
    What a lovely reminder that we can turn distractions into awakenings!

    All my best,

  6. Lisa R

    Love this article – thank you!
    If you have not watched Downton Abbey, it is one to try. Might forever be my favorite.
    Hope you and A are well!

    • Carole Levy

      Downton Abbey is my entry-point into the world of series! I had a received a DVD – NPR gift of the first season – I can’t believe we were still watching DVDs not too long ago. I hope all is well for you too Lisa!

  7. celine

    I would agrée with Some other comments, Humor and lightness in our daily lives are often missing ingrédients, let’s play and forgot the seriousness of ou lives! Bravo for this post Caro!

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