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    Mindful Television

    Ah, television. The opiate of the masses (although in this day and age, I would argue that opiate itself is the opiate of the masses). It's never been that for me. Television has actually been a source of great comfort for me, ever since I was a kid.

    Growing up in a family where there was a lot of drama and a lot of tension was quite stressful for this little kid. The proverbial shoe could drop at any minute, and often did, usually, more than one at a time and in rapid succession. Metaphorically, it was like living in a shoe store (maybe that explains my foot fetish). The only place that tended to be a "No Drama Zone" was the family room, where the television was. And the only time shoes weren't dropping was when me, my twin brother, and my parents (often accompanied by my Aunty Yu-Yu and Uncle Mike) would watch television together. 

    It was a cozy and safe environment for a kid who rarely ever felt cozy or safe. We all sat on two couches, and Mike and I were usually next to Aunty Yu-Yu. We snuggled right next to her. She was warm and fuzzy. All of us were engaged in what was happening on the screen, so there was a communal focus. There was a ritualistic element to watching television, especially that one Sunday a month when the new episode of Columbo aired. Whenever we all watched TV together, there wasn't a whole lot of talking; a welcome break from the action. But that could also be a bit stifling. If you talked too much, my dad would get aggravated. And that was never good. But, overall, it was a beautiful experience. In a house that sometimes felt more like a broadway show gone awry, with lots of lies, a lack of emotional safety, and more than enough yelling, the family room with the TV on was a sanctuary for an over anxious kid like myself.

    I still find television comforting today. I'm still drawn to it when I feel down. When I was depressed, I could literally watch the boob tube all day, becoming a boob in the process. So I guess, when I was depressed, TV was my opiate. Along with opiates. A Double Whammy. 

    There remains lots of complete tripe on television. But there is also plenty of quality programming. I go for shows where I can learn something, or see something created. Discovery Channel, National Geographic, The History Channel, The Learning Channel. Documentaries are especially fascinating. And football. I love watching football. Especially re-runs of Patriots Super Bowl victories. 

    As a kid, Saturday morning cartoons were like having Christmas once a week. And I still remember the very first show I saw in color, on our very first color television set (an RCA): Ultra Man. It had monsters, fantasy, dubbed dialogue over bad acting, and shit loads of color. It was glorious. 

    And of course, there were Looney Toons, or as we simply called them, "Bugs Bunny". I still watch those shorts today and bust a gut. Even more than when I was a kid. Because not only does the visual action still break me up, but I get the adult humor that's all over those cartoons. The sarcasm, the subterfuge, the subtext, the absurdity, and the more "mature" references. Along with Mad Magazine, Looney Toons formed the very foundation of my sense of humor.

    During the fall and winter seasons, my twin brother and I would get our homework done in time to watch the Bruins and Celtics games on channel 38 almost every night. I have very fond memories of Mike and I sitting too close to the television, absorbed by the action, and discussing the intricacies of the game (as much as was possible for kids still in grade school). During the breaks between periods or quarters, we would head down to the cellar, which was covered by a linoleum floor. We had these slipper socks that had vinyl bottoms, so you would slide and skid all over the place you when you ran around. That inspired us to create our own game, "Ice Basketball", a combination of the Hockey and hoop games we watched upstairs. 

    The ritual of watching those sports on television, and playing together in a game we invented was a powerful bonding experience for my twin brother and I. Not only did we make up the game, we made up the teams (with cities and logos), the players and their names (including backstories), and everything else along with it. 

    Our experience of watching those games and playing in between created connection between us, flexed our creativity, sharpened our intellect by analyzing and discussing the games, and fostered exercise. It was a very complete experience, made possible by television. 

    Like any form of media, Television can serve us or it can cripple us, depending on how we use it. Today, the true Opiate of The Masses is the combination of internet and "smart" phones. And, just like opiates themselves, this can be dangerous or helpful. 

    It comes back to mindfulness. Are we using these amazing tools and technologies mindfully or mindlessly? Are we staring at our phones 24/7 while life is happening around us? Or are we skillfully using them to add to our lives? Like fire, which can cook our food or cook us, it all depends on our application. 

    I encourage us to bring mindfulness to our lives, especially in the addictive practice of web surfing, texting, messaging, face timing, and all the nifty things we can do with our technology. Use social media mindfully, as a way to truly connect to others, not as a detached substitution for connection itself. 

    All tools are powerful instruments. Use them accordingly. Television, the internet and the smart phone, are scalpels. Not sledge hammers.



    ©2017 Clint Piatelli, MuscleHeart LLC, and Red F Publishing. All rights reserved.

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