Approaching Social Situations from a new Perspective
For this post, I just wanted to share a small tid-bit from a podcast I listened to by Sam Harris this week. Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, a philosopher, and best-selling author who – aside from many other things – puts a large emphasis on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. In his newly released course,“The Waking up Course”, he introduces the practice of mindfulness meditation and mindfulness techniques by guiding the listener through the process. Throughout the course, he also shares his own philosophy as it relates to reasoning more effectively and understanding yourself and the people around you.
In one of Sam Harris’ most recent podcast espisodes, “The Keys to the Mind”, he gives a 7-minute preview of the course at the beginning that provides some great insight as it relates to how we might want to approach social situations and the negative states-of-mind that tend to arise in so many of our human interactions. He suggests ways of approaching these situations that I think can provide a much more effective way of dealing with and thinking about social situations, whether at work, school, or a holiday get-together.
As best as I can, and in a way that I hope represents his approach and philosophy as accurately as possible, I’ll outline a few of the key concepts from that short clip below. Since it’s difficult to put these ideas in full context as it relates to the course, I suggest you check out “The Waking up Course” or the clip I’m pulling from “Keys to the Mind” for yourself.
1 – “Go in Like You’re Playing a Video Game”: Sam Harris suggests you should go into interactions with others “Absolutely knowing that you will feel negative states of mind: self judgment, self-doubt, annoyance, anxiety. Go in like you’re playing a video game. You absolutely know that certain challenges are going to appear on this level of the game; And this is the level of negative emotion. So simply feel them, and then let them go. Don’t act on them.” He suggests you let those states of mind “wash over you.” He challenges you, as the listener, in your next social situation to just become interested in noticing one negative emotion and to not do anything with it. “Just let it arise and pass away.”
Part of what I think we can take from this, is the idea that although we are participants in this “game” called life, we can also act as observers. We can approach situations expecting both positive and negative emotions at different stages of the game. Approaching a negative stage of the game doesn’t mean we won’t feel the negative emotions associated with it. We can, however, choose not to react to that stage of the game. We can do so without judgment, by just noticing what it is we are feeling and by allowing it to pass. After all, as we know with any negative emotion we have ever had, they do pass.
2 – “Remember that others around you are suffering”: Sam Harris says that “If things get bad, it’s helpful to remember that the people you are dealing with are suffering. Almost everyone you meet is practically drowning in self-concern. Just look at them. Listen to them. They are broadcasting their own self -doubt and anxiety and disappointment. They are worried about what others think of them. If you get out of yourself for a moment; If you can just take a step back from feeling implicated in what’s happening around you, you will generally see that you are surrounded by a carnival of human frailty. So compassion is available. ”
This, I think, is a powerful reminder that it’s necessary to get out of ourselves sometimes…to take a step back and observe. We tend to be so concerned about ourselves, our own insecurities, and how we assume others are perceiving us, that we forget almost everyone around us is doing the exact same thing. If we can get out of ourselves for a moment, and instead extend compassion to others, our way of viewing the world and the people around us can change, dramatically.
3 – “We are all on the Titanic together”: “This might sound depressing”, Sam Harris says. But “This brief life together is a beautiful miracle. This is the only circumstance that exists to be enjoyed”. He says, “Wherever you are – whatever circumstance you find yourself in – however strained the conversation – this is the only life you have in this moment and you might as well enjoy it.”
The idea illustrated here, I believe, is that – to at least a certain extent – we have capacity to control how how we frame our experiences, even if at surface level they seem like bad circumstances.
I hope that in reading some of these ideas, you’re able to approach social situations and interactions in a more effective and positive kind of way. If you’re wanting to learn more about mindfulness, new ways of framing your thoughts, or different ways to approach social interactions, you might find therapy helpful.
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