Recently a friend recommended to me an episode of Charlie Rose’s program where his guest was the author and New York Times columnist David Brooks. My friend recommended it because of the astute commentary on the current Presidential race that Mr. Brooks offers. I found the show full of insights, not just about this very bizarre and confounding political climate, but about life and values as well. The show offered wonderful conversation between two people gifted with insights, observations, and curiosity. In that way, it reminded me of psychotherapy: a conversation between two (sometimes more) people about life.
What was surprising about the interview was how spiritually focused Mr. Brooks was. From the start, he spoke about what is truly important in life, often talking about love and connections between people. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been so surprising. His latest book, The Road to Character (according to Amazon) he “focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. Responding to what he calls the culture of the Big Me, which emphasizes external success, Brooks challenges us, and himself, to rebalance the scales between our ‘résumé virtues’—achieving wealth, fame, and status—and our ‘eulogy virtues,’ those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, or faithfulness, focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed.” And in a previous book, The Social Animal, “he explored the neuroscience of human connection and how we can flourish together.” It is refreshing to find an intellectual focused so keenly on values, character and human connection.
In the interview, Mr. Brooks said the following about values as they change as one ages:
“…you try to widen your repertoire of emotions by having better relationships, by listening to music, by reading literature. And suddenly you’re more emotionally sensitive to people. And you’re hopefully braver and willing to be more vulnerable. You’re willing to slow down which is something challenging for me. But out of that, I think comes a rest. There is a guy named Joseph Piper who said, ‘Leisure is not playing golf. It’s having your mind go slowly enough so that the world can be invited into you.’ And getting your brain slowed down enough at the right pace is a challenge.”
These words moved me and made me think about the craft I practice. Psychotherapy, and perhaps to a greater extent psychoanalysis, is a process about slowing down. I love the language that Brooks uses: slowing down so that “the world can be invited into you.” Our current age, perhaps more than in any previous time, is fixated on speed. From fast food to faster operating systems, GPS devices to get one from one place to another faster, the obsession with efficiency, and communication not even in words but by characters, society demands moving at a fast clip. It is very difficult to connect to oneself, to a friend or loved one, when moving so quickly.
Psychotherapy is about slowing down and noticing. In this way, it can be likened to meditation. However, the meditation takes place in the relationship with another human being. In slowing down there is a greater awareness of oneself, one’s thoughts and feelings. And from that awareness, a greater compassion often arises towards oneself and the world. Therapy is the effort to widen one’s repertoire of emotions, to be alive more to life. In the interview, Charlie Rose and David Brooks took about having a “big appetite” for life. A “big life.” Mr. Rose says, “A big life is to be connected to all that there is possible.” They are not talking about fame or wealth. Rather, to my mind they are emphasizing curiosity, taking risks, and feeling more. I think that is a good way to describe the goals ultimately of psychotherapy. Those are the principles and values I have in mind as I sit with my clients, as we slow down, and together notice what we can about life.