A good friend recently emailed me the video above with the subject line, “Louis ck is my guru.” The video is a hilarious rant with a powerful message to parents, children and the rest of us. He talks about the wants of kids expressed through cell phone acquisitiveness and when they say, “but I want it,” he retorts, “I don’t care what you want.”
If you accept that the primary sources of suffering are wanting things to be other than they are or not getting what one wants, then he has clearly keyed into an essential aspect of child rearing; helping our kids deal with their insatiable desires. As he puts it, “I’m not there to make them happy…I have to raise them with the tools to get through a terrible life.” Cell phones are, if you like, the secular version of the anti-Christ, especially for children. He sees them as “toxic” and notes that cell phones takes away the visual and verbal cues that tell us when we have hurt someone, stunting our ability to develop empathy. In other words, we need face time to develop our humanity.
The cell phone also allows us to be continually distracted from ourselves. As Louis C.K. points out, constantly using our phone means we don’t have to build the capacity to be with ourselves and the inevitable pain (and joy) brought on just by being alive. He says, “Underneath everything in your life there’s that thing, that empty forever empty.” He is referring to what David Loy deems “our sense of lack” that comes from our attachment to a constructed sense of self “composed of mostly habitual ways of perceiving, feeling, thinking and acting” (Robert Loy). Remove these and we are nothing and we don’t like this. He is also speaking to the commonly felt sense that we are all, inevitably, alone. It is the avoidance of this discomfort that the cell phone so easily provides. We even text when we are driving. Why? Louis C.K. thinks we’re so averse to being with ourselves that we are “willing to risk taking a life and ruining (our) own because (we) don’t want to be alone for a second.” We’re driving along, in our cars and that lonely feeling starts to rise. Instead of getting curious about it, getting to know it and seeing what comes, we reach for the phone.
Wanting starts when we are very young. We think that by having things we will be satisfied. We’ll fill up the “gaping hole” temporarily. But we soon just want more and this is the beginning of greed and more suffering. As the video points out, by reducing our experiential avoidance of that sense of lack we can see that there is an upside to being nothing. We no longer need to fill up the hole if we accept we are the hole. In this way, because there is nothing to lose or gain, we can develop “generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom”—what some say is the antidote to our suffering. Mindfulness brings insight and reduces the tight grip on who we think we are or think we have to be. Mindfulness holds the promise of a fully awakened life. I’m going on a cell phone fast and cancelling my kids’ contracts. I’m sure they will be grateful.