Sunday, September 22, 2013

Louis C.K., Mindfulness Guru?

Note: The last couple of months have been very busy for me, so I apologize for the infrequency of posts. Now that things have gotten back to normal, I hope to resume posting weekly.

Louis C.K.'s recent appearance on Conan has already been linked to on multiple sites, with most of the headlines reading something like "Louis C.K. on why kids shouldn't have smartphones." Check out the video below if you haven't yet see it:

C.K. is one of my favorite comedians, and this clip shows why. Like many comedians, he often says things that people are thinking but are too afraid to say themselves. Here, he puts a voice to many things that I as a child psychiatrist would love to say to parents, but have a hard time finding a diplomatic way to do so.

To me, what he said is not about "hating cellphones" or "kids shouldn't have cell phones." His riff is much broader than that. He starts out talking about parenting, and how parents give in to their kids and get them phones because "all the other kids have the terrible things." Of course, this happened long before cell phones became common, and gets to the heart of how much trouble parents have in setting appropriate limits because they are afraid of momentarily making their child sad or mad. However, if a parent doesn't teach his or her child how to handle being being disappointed or told "no," then who is? Why not "let your kid go and be a better example to the other [bleeping] kids," as Louis C.K. says?

He then talks about how face-to-face interactions can help build empathy, but when a child engages in cyber-bullying, he or she does not get the feedback of seeing the other child's expression turn to sadness, and instead "when they write 'you're fat', then they just go mmm..that was fun, I like that."

Next, C.K. gets to the heart of what mindfulness is about to me. "You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. The ability to just sit there, like this. That’s being a person." I would add that of course, the ability to just sit and tolerate being yourself was already difficult before smartphones became ubiquitous, with a 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation report showing that American youth spent almost 4 hours a day watching TV/videos, over 1.5 hours listening to music, about 1 hour on a computer, and almost another hour playing video games, with many of these activities happening simultaneously. Let's not forget all the other mindless ways of distraction other than smartphones.

C.K. even ventured into existentialism, how "underneath everything in your life, there's that thing, that forever empty…that knowledge that it's all for nothing, and that you're alone." He dares to utter the truth, long known to Buddhists, that "life is tremendously sad, just by being in it." He adds, "That's why we text and drive, pretty much 100% of people who are driving are texting…people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own cause they don't want to be alone for a second."

Lastly, Louis shared a story about how he was driving one day, and a Bruce Springsteen song came on that made him feel really sad. Instead of avoiding his sad feelings by texting people, "I pulled over, and I just cried…so much, and it was beautiful…sadness is poetic, you're lucky to live sad moments…I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness." His overall message is one that I try to tell patients all the time. They often tell me that they don't let themselves feel sadness or grief, because they're afraid of feeling overwhelmed. However, attempts to suppress those sad feelings just get in the way of a person truly being content with life. As C.K. said, "Because we don't want the first bit of sad, we push it away...and you never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your products, and then you die."

Despite the jokiness of the delivery, Louis C.K.'s message is quite serious and well thought-out. I hope everyone listens.