Wednesday, August 1, 2007

George Costanza, Paradoxical Intention, Crazy Wisdom & Laughter.

I have wasted countless hours of my life watching TV, and the idea that television is "an opiate of the masses" is probably not far from the truth. That being said, I'm no snob and get hooked into shows just like anyone else. Of all of the shows I've watched in my life Seinfeld was truly the one that got me through some dark hours in my life, and the show continues to be a big part of my life years later in syndication.

I bring this up because I want to call attention to one particular episode called "The Opposite." For people unfamiliar with this episode, it is the one where George Costanza decided that, because his every instinct in life has produced an undesirable result, that therefore doing the opposite of what his instincts told him must therefore be right. When George implements this idea into his life all of a sudden wonderful things begin to happen to him. What George had unwittingly stumbled onto was a concept known as Paradoxical Intention.

The term Paradoxical Intention was originally coined by an amazing man named Victor Frankl who wrote Man's Search for Meaning
about his experiences in a concentration camp and subsequent life as a psychiatrist where he conceived his unique philosophy known as Logotherapy. One of the key treatments Frankl used was Paradoxical Intention, in a nutshell "suggesting to the patient, with expression of appropriate humor, that they do, or expose themselves to, that which they fear." One example would be telling someone who keeps struggling with dieting that you want them, for the next week to eat absolutely as much as they can. This kind of advice often disturbs a person's cognitions, and often the pure absurdity of the suggestions helps people to better understand their original self-defeating ways of thinking.

Related to the concept of Paradoxical Intention is the idea of acting "as if." This gives a person permission to act in ways contrary to their usual ways of dealing with the world. In other words a shy and isolated person could act "as if" their life was full of joy and laughter for a couple of weeks to see if this creates any changes in their life during this time, and you know what? It usually always does!! This is the power of emotional choice. This was especially true in the life of Victor Frankl, who, during his darkest days in a concentration camp was able to think about his love for his wife and experience happiness, even as the threat of continued torture and imminent death hung over his head. I try to tell myself that if a man can chose happiness under those circumstances, than I can certainly do so when some little thing in life doesn't go my way. This is the power of mindfulness and taking stock, often, of how good we often really have things.

On the subject of mindfulness and Eastern Religion, it is also interesting to consider an idea in Tibetan Buddhism called "Crazy Wisdom" or yeshe chölwa, which translates literally to wisdom gone wild. This was popularized by the erratic yet brilliant Tibetan philosopher ChogyamTrungpa Rinpoche, who, although thought to be a deity much like the Dalia Lama in his native Tibet, moved to America and opened up a number of centers for spiritual enlightenment with people such as Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs as instructors.

Purveyors of Crazy Wisdom such as Trungpa were called Siddhas who "expressed the unconditional freedom of enlightenment through divinely inspired foolishness... vastly preferring to celebrate the inherent freedom and sacredness of authentic being, rather than clinging to external religious forms and moral systems. Through their playful eccentricity, these rambunctious spiritual tricksters served to free others from delusion, social inhibitions, specious morality, complacence -- in short, all variety of mind-forged manacles."

These spiritual fools had what was called a "cosmic sense of humor" that saw through the illusions of society's conventions towards a greater interconnectedness of being. Although this is certainly getting into the area of metaphysics, these teachers in a nutshell, were fools because they understood we are a universe of fools, who became foolishly attached to our possessions and our conventions, while failing to see how these attachments lead to suffering.

So do our attachments lead to suffering? Absolutely. We often cling to our own ideas and the seriousness of our little private universes, when in the grander scheme the things we worry about are actually quite silly. We waste so much of our precious time here on earth worrying about things that never come to fruition. Meanwhile we continue to hurdle through space on a little blue ball that cares nothing for our unpaid electric bills, unmowed lawns, and unfair bosses. The Siddhas understood this absurdity, and in their world these silly fools were considered the wisest of the wise. Perhaps there is a lesson here about not taking ourselves to seriously, as it is often the silly and the foolish who ultimately may be the wisest.


Rose said...

Yay. Great post. I agree completely. We get points for not taking as long to figure out that we're fools and righting it, don't we? Of course we do.

On a TV note, do you watch Flight of the Conchords on HBO? If you don't you must. I cannot do them justice here, but I think this show is just as thought-provoking in a Seinfeld kind of way. And it is hi-larious.

Dr. Joe Guse said...

It certainly took me a while to figure it out, and I sure have plenty of moments where I backslide. Asper your question I have watched Flight of the Conchords, and yes those two seem exactly like the type of court jesters I was talking about. Thanks for the response!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, great post. It was very helpful to me.

Eric said...

Fantastic post. Found it while looking for info on Paradoxical Intention. Nice to hear your thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...

yeah it was a really cool post thanks joe. i think i should read one of your books. flight on the chonchords is funny cause they're not affraid to take the little kid in them into the adult world all in an attempt to laugh at themselves. point in case - don't take one too seriously! jeez i need to take some of this advice - i've been one miserable s.o.b. for such a long time it's just rediculous. i gotta start appreciating what i have instead of what i don't. gotta start learning to live instead of thinking about dieing. i think i'm so smart yet i'm so miserable. it's so hard to get too the root cause of things though isn't it? but then shoot - i don't matter - who gives a rats a** about why - fark just get in the now and smile. sorry - not really the time for a rant. but yeah seinfeild was excellent too! nice one on the paradoxical intent george - might just have to give that a go! heck it can't hurt - i'm 30, unemployed and living at home with my parents - it' can't do any harm now can it! sorry. i'm a narcissist at times. but yeah thanks again for this post - it's sure good to have some perspective and it's sure nice to hear someone portray it in such a brilliantly thoughtful alas simple/commonsensical way. that's the best way to be. cheers. ben.

Chris said...

I used to have a real problem getting to sleep, so I tried not to fall asleep and I would fall asleep. Brilliant.
So I thought I would expand on my new insight into paradoxical intention, and fed up of being broke all the time, I acted as if I was a millionaire for a couple of weeks.
Now I'm homeless. I'm not sure, but I think I might have gone wrong somewhere.

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