The TV Show of Life
Human Fascination with TV
What is it about watching TV that we love so much? “Netflix and chill,” “binge-watching” — we’ve even developed vernacular for it!
We get so engrossed in watching the lives of all these fictional characters, getting a front row seat for all of their trials and tribulations, comedy and camaraderie, relationships and sex scenes… (That’s not just me, is it? 🤔)
It’s inexplicably captivating to watch people get themselves into these crazy situations, to the point where all hope seems to be lost, and then see things somehow turn around against all odds. Also less dramatic stuff too, like tripping in front of people or getting pulled over for speeding — most of us find some level of humor or entertainment value in seeing how people on TV handle everyday kinds of things. And we typically find it enjoyable to watch, rather than stressful, because we have no personal investment in the outcome — of course we don’t, because it’s not real!
But what about when we are personally invested in the outcome? What about our own lives?
It’s obviously a lot more challenging to be objective observers when it comes to our own lives…
More challenging, but certainly possible, I think.
Viewing Life as a Movie
Lately I’ve been trying to view my own life as a movie of sorts, as an exercise in non-attachment or perspective or something along those lines.
What do I even mean by that? I’ll try and give an example…
So the other day I was stuck in traffic, really heavy insane traffic because the freeway was closed up ahead due to fires, and I was starting to feel overwhelmed. People were pissed off, and I could feel it (not to mention it was totally derailing my plan to spend time on the beach with someone awesome 😉). My first instinct was to go into analysis over how I possibly could have attracted this situation into my reality, but then I made a conscious decision to surrender my need for analysis, zoom out, and try to view my situation like a movie.
It was great because I was still definitely stuck in traffic, but I didn’t feel so caught up in it. It became just another thing to ride through. Something to watch. Just another show on TV. “This Alexa character is in some crazy shit right now! Sirens are wailing, traffic’s at a dead stop, pedestrians are literally talking to drivers in the middle of the road and filming it with their phones — how fucking crazy! What a situation she’s gotten herself into… and she thought she’d be at the beach in two hours!” (Fast-forward: it ended up taking six! 🤷♀️)
The circumstances were so crazy that they became laughable when I zoomed out. Yes, I was in it, but I could just as easily have been watching it from a distance — and regardless of the location of my consciousness, the whole thing was crazy verging on funny.
It’s easier for us to laugh at these kinds of things when we’re viewing them from a safe distance, like on TV, but if we can have that kind of perspective when we’re right in the middle of it, I think that’s a pretty valuable skill to have.
It’s an interesting balance of being more detached, but also completely present.
Because the goal here isn’t to check out — actually, the goal is twofold:
- Non-attachment: If we don’t feel so caught up whatever’s happening in our daily lives, so personally identified with the apparent suffering or frustration or whatever, it’s easier to just be present and not place any kind of judgment on it (i.e. “what a waste of my time,” “this shouldn’t be happening,” etc.)
- Appreciation of the journey: Beyond feeling neutral and present with any given scenario, I think it’s even better to be able to see the beauty, the awesomeness, or at least some level of appreciation of whatever’s taking place, no matter what it is — within the larger context of our life journey
What’s really great is we can use this for just about anything that’s happening in our lives — big or small, awesome or not-so-awesome. It’s not just for getting through traffic. There’s something about viewing experiences through this kind of lens that automatically renders said experiences more beautiful, or compelling, or something… I’m finding it a little hard to articulate, and it’s not an obvious overt change — it’s a slight overall change in perspective that has an overarching impact.
It can be applied even to really heavy stuff, like the ending of a relationship or the death of a loved one for example. We can feel completely overcome with grief, but if we make an effort to zoom out even for a second or two and see ourselves as if in a movie feeling that grief, things have a way of reframing. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t necessarily lessen the pain itself… but it does place it within a larger context where we’re able to see the tragic beauty permeating the moment — which in my experience can make all the difference.
This movie analogy works for me so I thought I’d share it, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s just one visualization method out of many. Another technique is to imagine telling the story of whatever’s happening to a friend later on.
Going back to the traffic example, I could have thought about telling my friend “yeah, it was crazy, people were losing their shit! They were literally going backwards on freeway exits, and the cops had everything blocked! And then it was getting dark, and I saw the outline of the mountains in the distance with some kind of weird lighting on the perimeter, it looked almost like Christmas lights, but then I realized they were on fucking fire!” It’s easier to appreciate the humor (or tragedy, or beauty, or fill-in-the-blank) when we’re talking about it in retrospect. It’s basically just another way of zooming out. Patrick Haize talks about this about two-thirds of the way through this video, and I liked his take on it.
The Beauty in the Mundane
So many of us go through our lives without seeing the awesomeness of them.
Take The Office, for example (which has a very special place in my heart). That show is literally about a paper company — the setting could not be more boring and ordinary! But the interactions and relationships between all the characters made for one of the most popular shows on TV. I think Pam’s final line of the series sums it up perfectly:
There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?
That is the point — seeing the beauty in ordinary things. Seeing the beauty in Pam becoming more confident, in Michael starting to grow out of his selfishness, in all of the totally inappropriate jokes and “that’s what she said” moments — all of this beauty and awesomeness within some random office in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
We have a tendency to see our own lives as ordinary, or boring, or not quite on track with how we’d like them to be going. But I think there’s a beauty in that… an intentionality even.
There’s an intentionality to the apparent randomness.
Because all of the seeming randomness — everything we might label as ordinary, or sad, or funny, or boring, or crazy — all of it is ultimately orchestrated in a way that gives us the opportunity to live out our own story. And if we can see that in the moment, especially during moments of apparent pain and suffering, life feels a whole lot better.
Which leads me to another Office quote, this one by Andy Bernard. He wasn’t my favorite character in the series, but this is one of my favorite quotes of all time:
I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.
If we could feel that sense of sweet nostalgia when we’re actually in the moment, if we could see the beauty of our journey while we’re currently experiencing it and not only in retrospect once we’ve reached our destination… Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Life really is about the journey, not the destination.
It feels cliché to say that because that saying has become really overused, but there’s so much truth to it. The purpose or meaning or whatever of life can be found in appreciating each present moment that comes our way, no matter what the moment brings.
But since we’re still human and not quite enlightened yet (most of us, anyway), viewing our lives as another show on TV can be a great tool to help us get there. Or not to “get there” necessarily, because I just got done saying it’s not about the destination, but to truly feel appreciation and see the beauty underlying each moment.
So take if it it resonates, and leave it if it doesn’t!
To enjoying the journey. 🥂