“This Is Water”: Goldfish, Supermarkets, and the Power of Awareness

Just this week, for the first time I watched a popular online video, This Is Water, adapted from author David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College. Maybe you have seen it; the link is below:

I was struck by how brilliantly the video conveyed a message about the power of choice and awareness that we, as Imago therapists,  strive to share with and evoke in the couples and individuals we counsel.

A few highlights:

  • According to Wallace, “the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” That’s why it is so important to find or create a safe space and structure that allow us to explore these realities. We try to create such a space in Imago therapy.
  • We all have a “natural default setting,” which is an automatic, unconscious belief that we are the center of the world and that “our immediate needs and feelings should determine the world’s priorities.” How easy it is in intimate relationships to let our natural default settings dictate how we respond when we are stressed or triggered!
  • Our work in life: to learn how to make conscious decisions about how to think and what to pay attention to. This involves challenging what is possible, being open to other options, and accepting that our version of reality is not the only truth. Becoming more conscious always stretches us beyond our comfort zones.
  • This power of choice also involves looking differently at the people around us, especially those who trigger us, and choosing a more compassionate narrative about them. In Imago, we talk about the healing power of “re-imaging” others through validation and empathy.
  • Finally, Wallace poetically describes the extraordinary potential for transformation, connection, and even transcendence when we cultivate our awareness: ordinary and even stressful situations can become “not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars — love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”