We often hear it said that tv and movie watching is a form of escape from reality, or dissociation from our selves and our lives. I once worked with a coach who gave me “permission” to watch tv at night by calling it “regenerative dissociation.” She suggested that my desire to “escape into” an hour or two of tv at night might be my unconscious mind’s way of relaxing and rebuilding. It was a liberating perspective.
Once I began to work with my self-judgment in this way, once it became “ok” to “do nothing” and watch tv, I found myself actually becoming more conscious during the process. It was as if the permission to stop listening to the litany of judgment voices in my head (“This is a waste of time,” “If you’re going to do nothing, you should at least be meditating,” “How is this helping move your life forward?” etc.) calmed and quieted me in a way that allowed a deeper level of my perceptive abilities to open. My intuitive knowing was awakened and encouraged to the surface. (Yet another example of the power of compassion, mercy and gentleness.)
I found myself deeply and quietly engaged with the shows I was watching. I began to see myself reflected in the characters on the screen. I began to see everything in every show I watched as a mirror for something that was happening in my world. And I noticed I didn’t have to try very hard to find these metaphors- they were just there; visible, simple, obvious.
Where had these metaphors been before? Had tv writers suddenly gotten smarter, deeper, more conscious? Perhaps. I realized there had been an increase in the number of shows and films in the past 5-10 years that deal with levels of consciousness, spirituality, perceptive abilities, etc.: Medium, Touched by an Angel, Ghost Whisperer, Pushing Daisies, Lie to Me, Passion of the Christ, The Davinci Code.
But more important than this increase in “conscious content,” was, again, the increase in my conscious witnessing of whatever content was in front of me. For example, while watching a re-run of a Seinfeld episode, I was struck with, what I suddenly experienced as the “spiritual nature” of the Seinfeld writing style. The show did not use lengthy, wordy, complicated dialogue. Most scenes consisted of exchanges of short, simple statements of personal experience. It was clean, spacious, almost Buddhist.
[setting: The Chinese restaurant]
(George and Karen are still at the table, they’re about to leave)
GEORGE: So, what do you think?
KAREN: Really enjoyed it.
GEORGE: Jody’s nice.
KAREN: She’s very nice. (grabs George’s hand) Let’s discuss this later.
GEORGE: You think she liked me?
GEORGE: I was personable. Don’t you think I was personable?
KAREN: You were *extremely* personable.
GEORGE: I tought I picked up a little something. I’m very good at this. Did you pick up anything?
KAREN: I didn’t pick up anything.
GEORGE: The second time I sent the noodle back, I thought she made a face…
KAREN: I didn’t see a face.
GEORGE: I thought I saw a face.
KAREN: Anyhow, what is the difference?
GEORGE: No difference. I could care less. She’s Jerry’s girlfriend.
KAREN: George, George, instead of talking about this, we could be… you know… (she makes a move with her head)
GEORGE: He he he he
KAREN: Ah ah ah ah
GEORGE: So you think she likes me?
(Karen gives up and slams her forehead down on the table)
The content is neurotic, but the form is to-the-point, simple, elegant, as if they knew the value of brevity. As if there was a kind of peace or ease with which the writers were working.
Watching film and tv in this new, judgment-less, receptive way also became an exercise in processing empathy. I found myself, for example, deeply invested in Chuck Noland’s (played by Tom Hanks) struggle in Cast Away. Because I was open and present in my witnessing off the story, I experienced real grief at Chuck’s loss of Wilson, his volleyball best friend. And suddenly television became a possible tool for increasing empathy in all human beings. Imagine if every parent used tv as a way to teach their children about the feelings and needs of others…
All of this is to say that, like anything in our lives, watching tv and film can either be a shallow experience that we use like a drug: to disconnect, shut down, turn off. Or, if we allow ourselves to face our resistance (in this case self judgment about watching television), it can become a doorway to a new level of freedom, to new ways of seeing and being. Change can be fun! And it can come from the least expected places!
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