A few things that I have found interesting this week

A. A passage on belonging by poet David Whyte

‘To feel as if you belong is one of the great triumphs of human existence — and especially to sustain a life of belonging and to invite others into that… But it’s interesting to think that … our sense of slight woundedness around not belonging is actually one of our core competencies; that though the crow is just itself and the stone is just itself and the mountain is just itself, and the cloud, and the sky is just itself — we are the one part of creation that knows what it’s like to live in exile, and that the ability to turn your face towards home is one of the great human endeavors and the great human stories.

It’s interesting to think that no matter how far you are from yourself, no matter how exiled you feel from your contribution to the rest of the world or to society — that, as a human being, all you have to do is enumerate exactly the way you don’t feel at home in the world — to say exactly how you don’t belong — and the moment you’ve uttered the exact dimensionality of your exile, you’re already taking the path back to the way, back to the place you should be. You’re already on your way home.

B. The black box of our lives

This week I watched an interesting film, Τέλειοι Ξένοι, directed by Thodoris Atherides on YouTube. It is a remake of the Italian dramedy Perfect Strangers by Paolo Genovese. It’s about a dinner party that goes terribly wrong. During the meal on the night of a moon eclipse seven friends gather to watch the astronomical phenomenon, eat and drink. Under the social pressure they all decide to play a game with their phones. They place them on the table and agree to make all their texts and phone calls public. As skeletons start to come out of closets and as insecurities and secrets start leaking out there seems to be no place to hide or run. Each secret is piled on top of each other threatening to unravel the fabric of their relationships and the evening. Meanwhile, unacknowledged biases, sexism, repressed emotions and snark lurk in every corner. However, with each new revelation an opportunity for more poignant conversations to take place arises.

The film is a commentary on contemporary society and our inability to see the other below appearances. It tackles themes like privacy, deceit and lack of transparency in our communications and relationships and how little we often know the people in our very close circles. It comments on how our phone devices have become the black boxes of our lives. These gadgets are often used in ways not meant for public viewing and they can give someone the keys to our lives: social media accounts, health apps, our daily schedule, e-mails, address book, streaming platforms, very personal or angry text messages..

C. Dan Siegel discusses smart phones and other devices from an interpersonal neurobiology perspective

He writes that ‘the media is filled with concerning comments about the need for curbing how much time is spent interacting with smart phones, tablets, and computers. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen a young parent text for blocks with their infant in their arms or been in an elevator full of people who, instead of engaging in the informal conversations that connect us to each other in community, are each on their gadgets, typing furiously away. One thing that emerges from the scientific framework of interpersonal neurobiology that I work in as a psychiatrist and educator is that our self, our mind, is not only a product of our body and its nervous system, including the brain, but it is also a relational process. What this means is that we are not only shaped by what our brain does, but we are created by our relationships. Relationships can be defined by how we share information with one another.

One of the experiences that may arise from texting, for example, is a sense of connection with others, a sense of being seen, and even a sense of defining who we are. We are certainly shaped by our relationships—even through our social media accounts—giving us a sense of not being alone in the world. And even more to the point, these communications reveal how our sense of identity can be created by our connections……………. I have found both with friends and with patients, that the inner mental life becomes lost amidst a bombardment of external information. The Internet can contribute to this surface attention as it often distracts us from going deeper with each other in real time, focusing instead on one-way visual and auditory inputs that have a sense of being never-ending. If we’re not careful, these kinds of surface streams of stimuli can give us a sense of never being done, never being complete, never having accomplished something that is finished……

When our kids were younger, my wife and I decided to try to walk the talk by engaging in what I call reflective dialogues, conversations that focus on the inner nature of our mental lives. This means in our conversations we SIFT our experience by exploring four things that are the life of the mind beneath behavior: Sensations; Images; Feelings; Thoughts.

Dan Siegel suggests:  1. Engage your own “mindsight” circuits. When we SIFT the mind, we engage the “mindsight” circuits that support how we have insight into our own inner lives, and empathy for the inner experience of others. Mindsight is something that can give us a deeper sense of knowing others, and of knowing ourselves…….

2.Turn off the gadget and turn toward each other.  When we engage with others in reflective dialogues, including with friends and family, we are making time to explore the inner life of each person………. That’s a conversation between two people, an interactive experience that goes beneath the surface to illuminate the inner life of the mind.

3.Focus on reflective dialogues with those around you.  What we focus our attention on shapes the brain. Science would support the view that if we can have more reflective dialogues that engage our mindsight circuitry, we’ll have a deeper sense of who we are. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have developed an inner sense of clarity that will make it more likely we won’t be so desperate to respond to that phone call or that text while barreling down the road. That would be a great change for everyone.’ (From https://www.drdansiegel.com/blog/2014/01/10/3-steps-to-disconnecting-from-our-phones-and-reconnecting-with-our-teens/)

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