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!