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Life, Death & The Space Between

Dec 8, 2022

“It’s one of the real tragic mythologies of our culture – this crazy fantasy that real winners are just non-stop on top… it’s completely impossible.” – Dr Ronald Siegel 



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Have you ever felt jealousy, stress or even anger on social media, but you keep right on scrolling? What about feelings of sadness and loneliness? How do you usually cope with these feelings? Well maybe the secret is to remind yourself that you're ordinary… 

Today we talk with Dr. Ronald Siegel, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, serving on the Board of Directors and faculty of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy. He serves on the faculties of the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion at the Cambridge Health Alliance and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has written and edited several books; his most recent “The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary” is out now. 

Listen in to hear what it means to be ordinary, how we balance conspicuous consumption vs. conspicuous frugality, the greatest informer of how to live, and the key to joy. 

Topics We Discuss: 

[3:40] Social media presents an unrealistic picture vs. ordinary day-to-day  life. Constant self-monitoring may be genetic. Obsession with selfies and how much we lose the present by wanting to present it perfectly

[05:52] We have an instinct for social connection. What social media likes do to the brain and our emotions. How we compare ourselves to others and the constant habit to evaluate our life. 

[06:40] Being out with friends is a completely different experience. Safe social connection is where we stop trying to impress, and preoccupations with self fall away so we can open up and be vulnerable. 

[7:58] The idea of a “vulnerability hangover” after opening up maybe too much. Metacognitive awareness is the antidote:  the ability to see a thought as just a thought.

[9:30] The key to well being is the quality of our relationships.

[11:35] Happiness vs. self acceptance or well-being. Allowing feelings to come and go, and allow the emotions to move through us. . The fast changing emotions dn the how much they fluctuate in the day. Once we see how much our emotions can be altered throughout the day, it is all programmable. 

[13:10] Just like physical health is about getting sick and getting well again, emotional health is about feeling the range of emotions, including less tolerable emotions, and being able to recover and rebalance. 

[14:00] A mindfulness exercise. Allowing thoughts and emotions to flow in and out diffuses intensity. 

[19:30] Balancing conspicuous consumption vs. conspicuous frugality. Buying luxury items to show off that we can buy them vs. showing off that we are “enlightened” enough not to care about physical things.  Marketing and consumerism (and even anti-consumerism) and society’s obsession with tiers and rankings. 

[23:05] Self-esteem vs. self-compassion. How to support your child during and after an upsetting event. We must learn to process these emotions and not try to protect others from them, which prolongs the exposure to the trauma. 

[28:18] Death is the greatest informer for how to live better. Awareness of death is a great way to disconnect from the self-esteem roller coaster. All things change. Death is a powerful leveler. 

[30:25] Three pronged approach to embracing being ordinary: work with 1) heads, 2) hearts, and 3) habits. 1) Where did I get the idea that being smarter/prettier/richer is better? See the folly in being caught in these patterns. 2) Open to the hurt and disappointment to really feel them and then release them. 3) Evaluate where we put our energies. Are we going to jump on social media or call a friend?


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Life, Death and the Space Between is brought to you by: 

Dr. Amy Robbins | Host, Executive Producer 

PJ Duke | Executive Producer 

2 Market Media | Video and Audio Editing 

Mara Stallins | Outreach & Social Media Strategy 

Claire | | Podcast Cover Design