American psychotherapist Jon Carlson is convinced: the modern concept of being “connected”, meaning having and electronic connection with someone, is making us uncomfortable with direct face-to-face communication. A distinguished psychotherapist, university professor and author of 60 books and almost 200 research articles visited Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) and gave lectures for the academic communitiy, students and general public.
The topics of the seminars includesmeditation and fulfilling relationships, the psychotherapist demonstrates a psychological counselling session and discussed challenges of being a successful therapist. In the following interview Carlson provides insights on inevitable loneliness of the “connected” and gives advice on creating lasting relationships.
The topics of your seminars at KTU are of universal matter. Why is it particularly important to talk about them to young people?
I selected topics and information that I learned later in life that I wished I would have possessed when I was growing up. Much of this information and the corresponding skills were learned over time. I am hopeful that if young people understand and apply these ideas throughout their lives that they will be more satisfied and productive.
One of your lectures is about loneliness in a disconnected world. The usual concept of today’s life is being always “connected”. Are we connected or disconnected, or both?
The term “connected” in recent times seems to relate to having an electronic connection to someone. Recent research seems to show that the more people rely on electronic devices for connection the lonelier they become. We can all think of the too many times where we see people physically together and yet talking on cell phones or other devices to people who are physically somewhere else. It seems as if we are feeling more and more uncomfortable with direct face-to-face communication.
The discussion on how social networks induce loneliness is quite common in media and popular psychology articles. Is it a real issue? What are the symptoms of this loneliness experienced by society and by individuals?
The problem seems to relate to the amount of electronic communication one experiences each day. Some people seem to be almost addicted to their personal communication devices and unable to be without them. It is important to have a balance. I worry about people that prefer the electronic to actual connections. It seems that this is when we begin to isolate ourselves from others.
One of the cures for loneliness you offer is being present. What are the methods of achieving this?
Being “present” is similar to being aware and living in the present moment of time. It involves keeping your mind in the same place where your body is and not thinking about what happened in the past or worried about what can occur or will occur in the future.
You offer meditation as one of the means to achieve being “present”. However, usually it is a practice that a person does alone. How does it help to overcome loneliness?
Mindfulness meditation is a practice that helps one become aware of the present moment and how to stay in the present moment. Although it is often practiced alone, the results can be generalized and used when someone is around others. For example, the Dalai Lama is the most present person that I have encountered. He seems so present and it seems to radiate in his eyes and all aspects of his being. I think we all can think of people we know who are present with us and others who are physically present and yet not listening or thinking of what we are saying.
What are the alternatives of meditation in Western tradition?
Western tradition has practiced meditation and contemplation for centuries. Other alternatives are chanting, biofeedback, relaxation training, visualization, and other forms of repetitive activities that require utmost concentration on the present moment.
Among other topics you will be talking about creating a lasting marriage. For many people study years is the time when they start to build significant relationships. What are the traps that you can make in the very beginning? And – what are the ‘recipes’ for building up lasting relationships?
We are attracted to or infatuated to people who are genetically different from us. This infatuation feels good and we often believe that because we feel this pleasant sensation that this must be the “real thing” or my “soul mate” or life partner. It could be. However it will only be satisfying if you and your partner are each willing to take responsibility for your role in the relationship and strive to be a good partner and not just to choose a good partner. In the workshop I talk about the skills that individuals will need to possess in order to be good partners.