Wise Mind and The Dark Restaurant

I had an interesting experience at a restaurant in Germany about 7 years ago. I was headed to Berlin for a conference, and one of my students (who was from Germany) strongly recommended that I try this restaurant where you eat completely in the dark. I thought it sounded interesting, so I made reservations for myself and a friend (who used to be my supervisor on internship). When we arrived, they provided us with some orientation, and we proceeded (stumbled!) through a couple of doorways and down a dark staircase to the restaurant, which was in the basement, and as advertised, completely dark. It was much like being in a cave, in that absolutely no light got in, and no matter how long we were there (and it was a long dinner), our eyes didn’t adjust, and it was just as dark as when we first arrived. We had to grope around to find our drinks, silverware, plates, and so forth. Feeling adventurous, I ordered the mystery meal, and when it came, I had no idea what I was eating, but some of it ended up on my shirt, and I had to feel around to find it with my hands before making my many attempts to spear whatever it was with my fork. The food actually was rather tasty, but they say a good percentage of eating occurs through the eyes, so it felt like I was half-eating. In any case, my friend became obsessed with the idea that the wait staff all were wearing night vision goggles and waiting to watch us engage in amorous activity (which wasn’t about to happen!). Sometime later on, after we ate whatever we ate for dessert, some kind of show began. I think it was a play of some sort, in that there was a fair amount of talking, but as it was all in German, we had no idea what was going on. Combined with the music, rhythmic grunting noises led us to believe we were the unsuspecting recipients of some kind of dark, German sex show. It lasted about 45 minutes, and we were pretty much powerless to leave until it was over! It was an adventure but not one I need to repeat. That said, reflecting on this experience, I started thinking about how it applies to DBT mindfulness skills and “wise mind.”

Wise mind is the overlap or synthesis of emotion and reason. It’s a lot like intuition, where you know the right thing to do, because you feel it in your gut, and you’re also able to think clearly enough to make wise decisions. Mindfulness has to do with being awake and attentive to your experience of reality in the present moment, letting go of judgments and attachments. Mindfulness, in essence, involves experiencing reality as it is, and it’s much easier to reach wise mind when we experience reality as it really is rather than as we think it is. What does all of this have to do with the dark restaurant story? Well, Dr. Marsha Linehan (developer of DBT) has said that mindfulness is a lot like turning the lights on. When the lights are on, and you can see and experience reality as it is, it’s much easier to act wisely. You can see what’s on the menu, and make an informed decision, use your utensils correctly, decide to leave (or not if you’re so inclined) when the steamy German play starts to heat up, and so forth. It’s awfully hard to act wisely when we are not attending to or experiencing reality as it is. In this way, wisdom is kind of like a nice side effect of the regular practice of mindfulness. Try to carve out a few minutes per day to really pay attention to your experience in the here and now, and see what it’s like when the lights go on. ~ Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.