22 January 2014
The New Binge
In the past, conversations about bingeing tended to take place within our therapist’s office, in the safety of a support group, or in shameful whispers between best friends. When we spoke of bingeing, we spoke of feeling out of control. We felt shame as we finished off another quart of Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice cream, and recoiled from our orange powdered fingers holding the remnants of the quickly consumed bag of Cheetos. When we changed from our now too tight jeans to the safety of our sweatpants we felt furious with our behavior and vowed, yet again, that this would be our last binge.
But now, when people talk about bingeing, it’s a whole different kind of consumption. Instead of binge eating, people are binge watching. In a recent study conducted on behalf of Netflix, 61% of us binge-watch TV on a regular basis, translating to watching at least 2-3 episodes of a single series in one sitting. But let’s be honest here, many of us watch much more that 2-3 episodes in a sitting. And you know who you are.
So I’ll go first. Yes, I binge. And I don’t binge alone. I typically binge with my husband. And by typically, I mean almost nightly. We binged on Orange is the New Black, and Scandal. We binged on House of Cards, The Blacklist and Suits. Okay, if I’m really coming clean here, we binged on Downton Abbey too. I love bingeing And I’m not alone. In the recent Netflix study nearly 80% say that binge watching a show actually makes it better.
It’s the technology that allows us to watch TV like this, I get that. But it fits our constant hunger for immediate gratification too. We’re used to 24-hour news, instant facebook posts and photos (I mean how many of us are taking photos of our meals at a restaurant and posting them on our FB wall before even taking our first bite of the entrée?) and quick texting responses. In a way, binge-TV watching keeps everything coming quickly in the new time framework we’re used to, while at the same time bringing us back to the comfort and simplicity of an earlier time, like when we were a kid home sick from school and we planted ourselves in front of the TV with the old TV Guide (do you remember that TV Guide? It was paper bound and arrived in the mail each week. It was the Bible of what could occupy you if you were able to be at that exact time and that exact date).
Today, we still seek that same simplicity, that same easygoing relationship between the TV and us but in a more technologically advanced way. For most of us, when we decide to binge watch, we make a date with the comfort of our couch. We dress for it; typically in leggings, yoga pants or sweat pants. We give in to the softness of the pillows and the blanket, with the remote controls within arms distance. We put parameters around us, seeking our own quiet space. We decide what we will get up for (bathroom yes, doorbell maybe, land line definitely not). If there’s a blizzard or a rainstorm, all the better to hide out at home with the characters of your binge show sheltering you from the storm. It’s so easy to plan to watch just 2 episodes, but then decide to watch 3, 4, 5 or more. It’s like the old food binge; you start out with a brownie or two, and before you know it the entire pan of brownies is gone. But this is different. We’re proud of our binge watching; for most of us, it makes us feel good, both in the short-term and the long-term. We even get pleasure when someone else binges, especially when they binge on a show we love. We are envious. I remember someone telling me that they binged on the first season of 24 over the weekend.
The first season? That means she gets to look forward to 7 more seasons of Jack Bauer? It’s like middle-aged people watching the new generation take off for college thinking do they realize their time in college is some of the best years of their life? Ah what I wouldn’t give to be back there…
But I wonder what it does to us, overall, when we binge watch and don’t have to wait the 6 months for the next season. Sometimes, when I watch the cliff hanger of the season’s last episode and immediately watch the first episode of the following season, I think, “Wow, people waited all that time to find out what Emily Thorne did next on Revenge?” There’s something to that waiting, something that makes us more patient. But like binge eating, it’s so hard to stop. Just one more.
So now, when we say just one more, we’re not necessarily talking about another bag of chips or slice of pizza. It’s the next episode that holds that allure and that power to make everything else feel somehow less important—somehow everything else can wait another day— Everything except that next story line and plot twist.
I remember when my husband and I were in the midst of an Orange is the New Black binge. He had his side of the couch, and I had mine. At one point, one of us asked the other if we should have sex or watch another episode. At the same time, we both chose another episode.
So I admit it loud and proud. I love to binge and I feel no shame. Give me a great new show and I’ll devour it. Wave a new review of a hot new series and I’ll add it to my list of delicious TV consumption.
Language changes, but humans don’t, not really. We want to be satiated, and we continually look for things that can pull us away from the sometimes challenging reality of our world and that can fill us up. I don’t know how the language of bingeing will change in the future. Maybe there will be some great new show about it one day. If so, let me know so I can put it in the queue and binge watch it.
Posted by emfrankel at 3:04 PM
15 October 2013
Nirvana for Sale:The Spiritual Journey in a Material World
Nirvana for Sale: The Spiritual Journey in a Material World
That calm spiritual bliss -- we Americans want it more than ever. In fact, we're up to our chakras searching for enlightenment. But what does the spiritual journey look like in a consumer-driven society, where even spirituality has become a commodity to be marketed? At your typical yoga studio, students are inhaling and exhaling through their Warrior One and Warrior Two poses in $100 Lululemon yoga pants, and that sum only accounts for the bottom half of their flexible bodies. While teachers guide their yoga students in Eastern spiritual philosophy and the idea of letting go of desires, cravings and attachments, the typical studio itself is selling yoga accessories that cost a small fortune.
And have you ever gone on a spiritual retreat? On the meditation cushion we are instructed to breathe in love and compassion, and to breathe out good karma to all sentient beings. We are told: All we need is this breath, this moment. Everything you need is already within you. Everything you desire, you already are. Okay, I like that, but if all that is true (and it sure sounds good) why do so many ashrams and meditation centers have glittering gift shops that are to die for -- or, I should say, reincarnate for? Indian silk scarves weaved with 14-karat gold thread, mantra bracelets and T-shirts, and OM everything including earrings, necklaces, pillow and mugs? So how do you travel the road to Nirvana without getting sidetracked by all of the spiritual tchotchkes for sale?
Years ago, when I first set up a small meditation area in my house, I found myself shopping through my spiritual journey, thinking that more than a spiritual master, I needed a spiritual interior designer to help me create the perfect spot to Become One with the universe. But I digress, which is often what happens when walking a spiritual path in a material world. It's easy to spend so much time talking about meditation, buying accessories in the service of meditation, and decorating the space with sacred intention that you might never have time to actually sit in meditation. I remember looking through a catalogue selling page upon page of enticements along the Zen path and thinking, "Boy, for a spiritual tradition that's all about nothing, there sure is a lot to buy."
Let's face it. We are a culture that focuses on the external as opposed to the internal and on the material rather than the spiritual. We are bombarded with messages that encourage us to wear our spiritual inclinations. We are told to buy what we want to be and to appear rather than become. It's easy to get caught in the trappings of a spiritual path and mistake those trappings for the path itself. It's also easy to get caught in what passes for an existential dilemma like when a seeker heads to an ashram for the first time and wonders, "When I meet my Inner Self, should I meet her in shabby chic or something more fashion forward?"
I once went on a seven-day silent meditation retreat, where there was also no reading or writing allowed, and didn't say a word for a whole week (of course, I haven't stopped talking about it since). I found that staying silent was easier than I thought, but what was initially more challenging was that this spiritual center was one of the few that had no gift shop or coffee shop. It held no distractions to get lost in as hour after hour we were engaged in either sitting or walking meditation -- and breathing into silence and stillness. With no soy lattes to order and no merchandise to buy, we were left to meet our own selves.
Living in a material world will inevitably hold challenges for walking a spiritual path. But these obstacles themselves can serve as challenges to bring us deeper into our inner wisdom and wise discernment as we navigate through the fluff to reach to the core and find our balance.
Ellen Frankel is the author of the novel Syd Arthur, about a middle-aged, suburban Jewish woman and her search for enlightenment 2,500 years after her namesake Siddhartha, the historical Buddha.
Posted by emfrankel at 8:41 AM
11 July 2013
Health Food Diets, the New Religion?
Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6:11)... as long as it's gluten free. While Adam and Eve were told to stay away from just one tree blossoming with apples, people across the country -- from celebrities to the neighbors next door -- are staying away from a variety of foods that they consider "forbidden." Increasingly, Americans are embarking upon health food diets with a religious-like zeal. For instance, while just 1 percent of the population suffers from celiac disease, which triggers an immune system reaction that causes inflammation in the small intestine when a person eats food containing gluten, about 30 percent of Americans now want to eat gluten-free, often because they think it will help them lose weight. And let's face it, for countless people growing up in a culture where thinness is idealized and equated with goodness, salvation and eternal happiness, the yearning for thinness itself has taken on the zeal of the once fervent desire to connect to the sacred and to live a life of meaning.
As a clinical social worker specializing in the field of eating disorders, for years I watched people struggling with anorexia nervosa and bulimia and the existential questions their eating disorder often represented through starving their bodies, or in binging and purging behaviors. Their days were spent obsessed with what they would or would not eat, and how they would get rid of what passed through their lips. It offered a structure in their lives -- eventually taking over their lives -- to reach their goal, which was to be in total control as exemplified through their bodies attaining the coveted societal goal: to be thin.
Like the ascetic, or the religious person engaged in fasting, there are spiritual dynamics at play. I can't help but wonder if the increasing number of Americans jumping on the health food bandwagon isn't in some way related to a search for something more meaningful in their lives, and a way to organize their world around an ultimate purpose. After all, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public life reveals that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow and now encompasses one-fifth of the population. What if the growing obsession with what is allowed in the body is at the expense of asking what will nourish the soul? Can the religion of thinness really offer true happiness and inner peace?
I am all for healthy eating. But I have to wonder about all the people I know and all the people I read about who are embarking on a way of eating that often amounts to little more than a way to pursue weight loss at a time when dieting is out, but juicing is in. In 1997 Dr. Steven Bratman coined the term Orthorexia, a diagnosis characterized by an extreme or excessive preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. In his book, Health Food Junkies, Bratman notes that it is more socially acceptable to say, "I want to be healthy," than saying, "I want to fit into these skinny jeans."
I know people who will tell you every health reason for every morsel they put in their mouths or refuse to put in their mouths. They can talk about it for hours. Yet almost invariably, within the conversation their ultimate desire for weight loss is revealed. I'm not arguing about weight loss per se, but about how often this cultural dietary obsession is merely another version of bowing down to the false god of idealizing thinness as saintliness. Instead of bowing down to the golden calf, they are bowing down to the green kale.
While Moses led the Israelites to the Promised Land -- the land flowing with milk and honey, it's a fair bet that were he to be in charge of leading the people today, he'd have to deal with arguments about the merits of a Promised Land that would flow with milk, rather than soy.
If my friends want to eat this way, and feel it's helpful for them, so be it. But I find the inordinate amount of energy with which they engage in their particular diet regimen often takes on the added goal of proselytizing those in their midst who don't join them in their detox diets or who, God-forbid, actually order a sandwich at lunch while they drink their green juice. We know the importance of religious tolerance, so why can't we extend that to food tolerance? Go ahead and eat what you want, but let me eat what I want without giving me the message, both explicitly and implicitly, that you are holier than I because of what you choose to eat.
Growing up, I like most of my friends heard the same message from our mothers: Eat you fruits and vegetables and go outside to play. It may not have Hollywood written all over it, but it sure is good advice for living a healthy and joyful life that leaves room for other pursuits that nourish not only the body, but truly nourish the mind and soul as well.
In Ecclesiastes 8:15 we read: "Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry..."
Posted by emfrankel at 6:14 PM
09 April 2013
Jewish "nones" and the Question of Choie
Here's a blog I wrote for the Huffington Post
today. It looks at the number of people who are religiously unaffiliated, and questions whether one reason may be due to the lack of choices offered within our synagogues and churches.
One size does not fit all...how do you connect to the sacred?
Posted by emfrankel at 6:54 PM