A Working podcast transcript: Elizabeth Clemants, mediator and shaman

How Do We Find Empathy in Conflict? Meet the Mediator Who’s Also a Shaman.

How Do We Find Empathy in Conflict? Meet the Mediator Who’s Also a Shaman.

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Oct. 22 2015 5:18 PM

How Does a Mediator Work? 

Read what host Arun Venugopal asked Elizabeth Clemants about incorporating her shaman experience into conflict resolution work. 

working podcast: mediator. elizabeth clemants.
Elizabeth Clemants.

Photo illustration by Juliana Jiménez. Photo by Arun Venugopal.

We’re posting transcripts of Working, Slate’s podcast about what people do all day, exclusively for Slate Plus members. What follows is the transcript for Season 4, Episode 6.

On the last episode for this season of Working, WNYC’s Arun Venugopal talks to Elizabeth Clemants, a New York City mediator and shaman. Clemants discusses the psychology of conflict resolution, how she integrates her work as a shaman with mediation, and the role that empathy plays in her work. Clemants also talks about the difficulty of coming to a solution in the “Me” generation.

In a Slate Plus extra, Clemants talks about why she doesn’t use social media, watch the news, or Google her clients. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.

We’re a little delayed in posting this episode’s transcript—apologies. This is a lightly edited transcript and may differ slightly from the edited podcast.

Venugopal: Welcome to Working, Slate’s podcast about what people do all day. I’m Arun Venugopal, host of WNYC’s Micropolis series. On today’s episode, we talk with somebody who’s paid to keep people from hating each other, maybe even killing each other. What’s your name and what do you do?

Elizabeth Clemants: My name is Elizabeth Clemants, and I am a mediator.

Venugopal: And how long have you been mediating?

Clemants: I’ve officially been mediating professionally for 18 years, but about 20 years since I was trained.

Venugopal: Oh, okay. So in addition to being a mediator, you’re also a—

Clemants: Shaman.

Venugopal: And what’s that?

Clemants: A shaman is an indigenous energetic healing practice that I have also been doing for around 10 years.

Venugopal: So a shaman is something that I guess people would never associate with where we are right now, which is Tribeca in this beautiful building in downtown Manhattan.

But it’s something that you do, have done for a long time, and somehow integrate into your professional work, correct?

Clemants: Right. They started separately. I had been a mediator for a long time before a shaman kind of found me and said, “You need to train. You need to learn how to heal people.” Because I could always see energy. So when they realized that, they said, “You have to train.” And I thought, I already have a career and kids. I can’t do this. You know, it was sort of a secret side job for a long time. But people kept coming to me, and now I see about 150 shaman clients a year.

And then, somehow my mediation practice and my shaman practice have woven into one another in these funny ways.

Venugopal: How did you get into mediation? A lot of people might think, oh, mediation, arbitration. It’s sort of this murky field. Let’s clear that distinction up first.

Clemants: Okay. So we say ADR, which is alternative dispute resolution, and that means anything but court. There’s all kinds of alternative dispute resolutions. Mediation is one. Arbitration is one. Conciliation, negotiation. There’s all kinds of alternatives to going to court when you have a conflict.

Mediation is a practice where the mediator has no decision making power, but they’re there to facilitate a settlement or facilitate people becoming more clear about what’s the path toward resolution. So the mediator is skilled in helping the parties realize what’s most important to them and how can they walk forward through this conflict. That’s what a mediator does. Arbitrator, very different.

An arbitrator listens to the facts, applies the law, and makes a decision. The arbitrator is actually more like a judge, except it’s an informal process where the parties can often represent themselves in arbitration. I mean, they can also have attorneys represent them, but arbitration is really an informal court proceeding in a certain kind of way. So it’s a very different, but you’re right. People mix up mediation and arbitration all the time.

Venugopal: So with you, people are coming to you when they want things to work out, but things so far have not been working out.

Clemants: So sometimes people are sent to mediation. But in private practice, people come to mediation on their own. And so it changes the quality of the mediation if the people feel like they’re coming because they want to work it out rather than being sent, or if they feel forced to go to mediation. It has a different energy to it, although of course mediation is applied in a similar way.

Venugopal: What’s the range? You deal with all kinds of different clients, right?

Clemants: Right. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with criminal cases. I’ve worked with civil cases, housing cases, family cases, community cases, neighbor disputes, estates. For people who don’t want to go to couples therapy, they want something more concrete in terms of settling or figuring out a solution. I do martial mediation. I do divorce mediation.

Venugopal: Tell me about how you got into this. I think you were a Peace Corps volunteer at some point in your life?

Clemants: Yeah, so, in my early 20s I was in the Peace Corps, and I worked in Costa Rica. Or I was placed in Costa Rica, and I worked in a barrio where the police wouldn’t go and taxi drivers wouldn’t go.

It was considered a very dangerous barrio. People just were sort of left to resolve their own disputes within the community. And they did. They had their own sort of form of alternative dispute resolution.

Venugopal: So here we are in a society which is the opposite extreme—some people might say—which is highly litigious, I guess. Everything goes to court. Is mediation a way of saying it’s beyond the pale?

That is, too many things go to court, and that the court is system is not necessarily equipped to deal with smaller—relatively speaking—issues?

Clemants: Well, I think, let’s expand that conversation a little bit broader, because conflict is fascinating. What I see happens is that when we get into conflict, our fight-or-flight response turns on. There’s a fear that arises. And when that happens and people get into their fight or flight mode, they’re either going to run away from the conflict—and there’s all kinds of ways people do that—or they’re going to fight.

Usually when they feel afraid, they’re looking for a power outside of themselves, or they become intimidating and a bully. One of the ways we bully is through the court system, and that has become an increasingly popular way to try and bully our way out of a conflict. I have a case that I just started this week actually. I haven’t met with them together because they’re so angry and apart that, they will not sit down at the table yet together. But I was speaking to one side and I sort of appreciated him.

He was trying to tell me why if he doesn’t get everything he wants in the resolution, that he will go to court. I started to talk about the disadvantages of court, how your case is never black and white. It’s expensive. It’ll take two years. You know, sort of saying those things, and he said, “I don’t care.”

I say, “Well, why do you want to go to court?”

He said, “I’m going to go to court for revenge.” I thought, thank you for being so honest, because that’s exactly what you’re doing. He said, “I have more money, and I can crush him in a court battle, even if I’m wrong.”

I said, “Right. That’s exactly right. Thank you for that sort of openness.” Because that’s what’s really happening. I mean, people often say to me, “Oh, it’s the principle of thing.” Or, “It’s justice.” It’s not. It’s revenge. You know, it’s revenge. I appreciate why it’s revenge because he’s in his fight-or-flight. He feels very betrayed and wronged. Our society is setting us more and more to say, “If someone’s wronged us, then let’s crush them in court.” The court was not meant to be a place of intimidation and revenge. It was meant to be a place of conflict resolution and applying law and justice. But it has become more and more just a channel for people to externalize their betrayals.

People who end up wanting to go to mediation for their conflict resolution, as opposed to going to court, are a different kind of people. They’re a people of higher consciousness. They’re people who are saying to themselves, “I see myself going into my fight-or-flight, and I don’t want to resolve my conflict from there because I know what happens.”

For example, we were talking about empathy, right? You emailed me about empathy, and that’s a very interesting topic to me because you can only have empathy if you get into your higher mind, if you get into your prefrontal cortex. The ability for me to step out of my own circumstance, my own life, my own self-absorption, right? Stand in your shoes and wonder what does it feel like to be you in this circumstance? That takes a higher mind. I literally mean your physical brain.

You have to have your consciousness in a different place than your reptilian brain—your fight-or-flight—to even do that. But if you’re capable of that and you can resolve your conflict from that place, that’s going to be a very different resolution than if I’m in my reptilian brain trying to resolve my conflict by bullying you, through the court system or any other way of bullying you, which there are many. It’s a tricky thing to be able to do, because in conflict, we immediately go into our survivor mode—into our protective self—and then we want to crush the other person. Everyone wants that when they get into their reptilian mind. They want to win. They want to be safe. Ultimately, they’re afraid and they’re trying to keep themselves safe.

Venugopal: You brought up empathy, which we’d had this exchange about. And it’s interesting, because I keep on seeing this figure thrown around in serious places. The Times had an article by Sherry Turkle, I think, recently about how technology seems to be making people less empathic.

That there is a 40-percent decline measured in studies, actual proper peer-reviewed studies, amongst college students in the last 15 or 20 years. And I’m wondering, is this something that you’re seeing, that people are more likely to have conflicts because they just can’t relate to how the other person is feeling?

Clemants: Yeah. I don’t know about the studies. I can’t quote studies, right? But I do feel that the world is changing in this strange way, which is I think people are becoming less empathetic, and some people are becoming more empathetic.

There is a great divide forming between people. I see people getting darker, getting heavier, getting more afraid. When they start to manifest their life from fear, what ends up happening is they create conflict everywhere they go. Everything is seen as a battle, as a war to be won, as a fight over limited resources. You know, that they see the world through this distorted lens of deprivation. There isn’t enough and I have to fight for what’s mine. Then you start to meet these people.

It could be my age, right? I started this at 25, and now I’m 45. But I feel as if I see more and more people where, everywhere they go, they’re just starting little conflicts. You walk into the yard at 234 where my kids go to school, and you’re, “oh, look at that mom. She did that.” Or, “look at that teacher, I can’t believe she said that.” You know, you’re going to start conflict.

Venugopal: Online. I mean, social media. I’m constantly worried that I’m going to say something innocuous that’s going to be perceived as misogynistic, homophobic, racist. I feel like everybody is walking this very thin line when it comes to social discourse. And I feel like there is that sense of embattlement. What you’re saying seems to be very true, I think.

Clemants: I just want to say, because I don’t [want] that to be the way I see the world. There is also the opposite happening. That you are seeing people breaking free of fear and going into their higher minds. And again, it could just be my age. But I feel like I see far more people getting to the point where they think, this is ridiculous. I cannot live my life like this. And they’re walking away and making very different choices. Those people are showing up in peacekeeping circles. Those people are coming to shaman. Those people are showing up in the meditation. Those people are leaving their Wall Street jobs to spend more time with their kids. Those people are also growing in number, I think.

Venugopal: So you think that the people who are coming to you as well who are in these battles with other people, or other businesses, or whatever it is—their spouses or whatever—that this is sort of representing the shift in attitude that you’re seeing?

Clemants: Yeah. Mediation was nothing 20 years ago. People never went to mediation privately. Now, there’s tons of mediators, but there’s also tons of clients. To me, every conflict could go to a mediator, and it should if the people can get into that place where they say, “I actually want to work this out for the higher good. I want to walk in and I want to concern myself with what the other person wants, and concern myself with what I want.” But that takes a different quality of consciousness in order to come in and resolve your conflict in that way.

So I do think there has been a deep expanded increase in people showing up to resolve their conflicts in that way. I also think it dovetails perfectly with people trying to grow spiritually, people trying to become more self-aware, people who are trying to say, “What’s really important? Because I know it’s not scrapping and scraping and fighting over resources.” It’s actually something bigger and more broad.

Venugopal: So tell me how you integrate being a shaman with being a mediator. I mean, you talked about energy—that you’ve always been able to sort of pick up or register somebody’s energy. Is that sort of like a sense that you’ve always had? You think it was just a part of you, even from childhood?

Clemants: Definitely. Some people come into the world perceiving in that way. But all people are capable of perceiving in that way, and probably all people do.

Culturally, we’re not taught to think about it. If you think you know when someone walks into a room and they have a lot of heavy energy in their system, they weigh a thousand pounds, everyone gets depressed, and they’re like, “oh, I’ve got to leave this party because of that person.” You may be not even aware that it’s because that person came in. There are these people who have energy in their system that makes us want to move away from them. In fact, there are people who have so much heavy energy in them that they’re sucking light out of the world. They’re sucking light out of other people.

Everyone wants to protect themselves from those folks, because they’re too heavy. They haven’t done the work to get that heavy energy out of their system. And so where they walk through the world, they’re creating conflict. You know, whether it’s directly creating conflict or just the sense that the heaviness of them.

Venugopal: They’re just kind of gloomy or always down. Like, “oh, this isn’t working out, that’s not working out.” And you’re like, “we’re friends, but gosh, I’m not sure how much time I want to spend around you.”

Clemants: Right. You feel heavy when you’re around them. They’re complaining. They look through this lens of negativity and they sort of see what’s wrong everywhere they go. That’s actually because they have heavy energy caught in their system, which could be taken out. It’s not by nature that they’re that way. We always say, oh, that person’s just a complainer. It’s not true. They actually are not that. They’re a light being who could be light, but they aren’t because they have so much heavy energy trapped in their system. That’s what a shaman does. They take the heavy energy out of your system. I mean, it’s an oversimplification, of course. But that’s more or less what it sums up to be.

Then there’s other people that walk into a party and the whole party lights up. Everyone feels like, “oh, who’s that? I want to be next to that person.” Why is that? It’s not because of their personality or their character. It’s because they don’t have a lot of heavy energy in their system, for whatever reason. They’re in a very light place.

And of course, we ebb and flow through heaviness. We all have heaviness in our system, and there’s more on the surface at times in our life, and there is less on the surface. We all go through dark periods. We’re meant to. It’s about our evolution. But as the heavy energy lodges in our system, we say, “I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to be this person.”

So we start to look internally. We work it out of our system one way or another, whether it’s with a shaman or having a coffee with your friend. There’s all kinds of ways to work it out, and then we get lighter again. That’s part of how we evolve as a human being.

How does that dovetail with mediation? It does very clearly. Like if two people come in and they’re super heavy, full of heavy energy. They’re going to struggle to get into their higher mind and try to work this out.

Yesterday I was watching my students do a case where, you know, one of the parties weighed a thousand pounds. But how do you get that heavy energy out of your system? It’s through insight. It’s through self-awareness.

One of my mediators had a trust fund and he was 40 years old, and he had been being controlled by his father for whole life, probably, and still at 40, being controlled by his father. The mediator said something to him about, “What would it be like to step into full adulthood and not have to consider what your dad wanted you to do?” It was like, ding. This light went off. This heavy chunk of energy just like fell out of his system, and his whole body changed.

And he said, “What? Wow. I’ve never even thought about that.” All of this lightness came to him, just through that one moment of insight in the mediation. Of course, it impacted the mediation considerably with his business partner, who had been so frustrated that he could never make a decision on his own. So that case will continue on and we’ll see what happens. But through insight, we clear our field.

To me, those things line up perfectly.

Venugopal: Do you think you’re better equipped to be able to like diffuse something than somebody who doesn’t have the formal sort of training? It might be that obnoxious person you’re encountering or a more serious sort of family squabble.

Clemants: Well, I think that one of the things my shaman training has taught me is to feel very compassionate about what people are going through. So when people come into my shaman room, I hear the deepest, darkest ugliest things that people have gone through, and that’s a lot.

And I see why that heavy energy got locked in their system. It’s from child sexual abuse, or physical violence, or domestic violence, or neglect—inherited, intergenerational trauma. There’s so many traumatic things that have happened in this world that can be passed down generations and generations. I think in particular in this country because we have so many immigrants. Why did they come here? Just the immigrant experience alone is so traumatic.

That gets passed down. It’s not to say there isn’t a lot of lightness and good things that have happened in people’s lives. Of course there are. But the trauma is what gets locked in their system. What I try to teach my mediation students is that the tendency is to be like, “Why is that guy such an ass?,” “Why is he acting like that?”

Because he has this heavy energy in his system. And it got in there honestly. We all get it in there honestly. There is something that traumatized us. And so it locked in there. And now it pushes us into our fight or flight, and then we act like an ass in a conflict.

Everyone is like, “I hate that person. They’re so heavy. They’re so negative. They’re so this. They start a fight everywhere they go.” I feel like because of my shaman work I know where it comes from. Even if I don’t know where it comes from, from that particular person. I feel a deep compassion for people as they struggle.

Some people have this very, very upfront, difficult life. It lodges a lot of heavy energy in their system and it throws them into a place where they have a more extreme version of darkness in their system. They’re not going to survive if they don’t get it out in some way. And so they do. Some people act it out, but some people actually work it out of their system. When it’s out, it’s replaced with compassion, expanded consciousness, and an ability to see others who are suffering in that way and feel for them. I do think sometimes people who have had extreme circumstances actually become the more enlightened people.

They also have the chance of becoming the darker people. Right? The people that are really suffering, indulging in drugs and alcohol, and acting out in all these ways because they don’t know what to do with all that heavy energy in their system. But people who have lived easier lives sometimes have less depth. And so—

Venugopal: Yeah. Obviously if you’re raising a child, you want them to clearly not have to suffer.

At the same time, you don’t want them to be so cloistered that they can’t empathize with somebody who, say, has a harder life, right? You want them to have challenges in some ways.

Clemants: Well, actually, I think the ability to have empathy actually comes from having caregivers who have empathy. That it’s a directly taught experience. That you only learn empathy by having someone be empathetic toward you. Somebody has to role-model that for you. You’re not born—I don’t know, maybe you are born that way—but I think that if you have the people around you putting themselves in your shoes and showing you how and then wondering what’s your experience.

That’s my main skill that I teach mediators. I’m trying to teach mediators empathy. So normally what we do, most people sit and listen to someone else’s story and then they relate it to their own life and they pass judgment on it. They have an opinion about it, and they think it’s right, or they think it’s wrong, or they think it’s black, or they think it’s white. It’s a yes, it’s a no. They’re doing what we call filtered listening. They’re taking what you’re saying and filtering it through their own experiences and rendering a judgment on it.

“You did the right thing,” or, “you did the wrong thing.” That’s not what mediators do. Mediators sit in your shoes and wonder at your subjective experience. If you want to tell me that you want revenge, you’re going to court because you were betrayed, and say, “I don’t care, I’m going to crush him. Even though he has two new babies, I don’t care. I want to crush him because it’s revenge,” the mediator doesn’t say, “Well, that’s not right.” The mediator says, “Wow, you must be really angry, to want to crush your former friend that way. The betrayal must be so deep for you.”

What’s going on internally that he wants revenge that badly? That’s empathy. That is the primary skill that mediators employ. But that’s a very difficult skill, and I do teach it. I insist the mediators do it. For some it comes easy, and for some it’s very hard.

Venugopal: So walk me through a family situation or a couple conflict that you’ve dealt with and how you got them out of absolutely despising each other, thinking about whether splitting up, and figuring it out.

Clemants: I was thinking about one case that I had a little while back where the woman was pregnant and the male was caught deeply in fight-or-flight, bullying her and intimidating her. It’s very hard, especially as a mom to sit and watch a man scream and yell at a really pregnant woman. It’s very difficult to see that. My fight-or-flight will get triggered as the mediator and say, “What kind of jerk would point at his own child in the belly and say such horrible things?”

I realize I have to catch myself first. It’s an internal practice mediation. I have to catch myself in my fight-or-flight and say this is not about me. Why is this man doing this? I have to stop myself and get in his shoes. I say, “Wow, you must be hurting a lot to be saying such hurtful things.” He said, “You don’t understand, Elizabeth, what I’ve gone through” and then enumerated all the things he’s gone through.

And I say, “Yeah, I can hear how difficult it’s been for you, hard it is, and how scary it must be to feel like she’s leaving you, and you’re not going to be around your baby.” He started to cry and sort of shake. The acknowledgement that what he was going through was really horrible. That his baby is not going to be born in his house. He’s going to go to work every day and pay her to live elsewhere and not have what he thought he would have with his child.

I had to step into my higher mind to trigger his, and then he apologized. He said, “I know I’m saying really hurtful and horrible things. Obviously I love the baby, and I love you. I’m just so upset about what’s happening.” This is how we resolved the conflict, by getting him up and out of his angry, fearful, fight-or-flight, intimidating, bullying place. But it’s through empathy that we do it. When you say empathy is declining, you’re stating statistics.

People’s capacity to resolve conflict is declining along with empathy. Because without it, we can’t really get into the other person’s shoes and then resolve the conflict in these higher ways. In the end, if we hadn’t intervened with mediation in that case, they would have gone to litigation. They would have gone to court. They would have gone through a horrible divorce proceeding that actually separated them more and more and damaged their relationship further and further.

Who pays the price for that? Of course, that unborn child does. I do think it’s concerning that we find empathy in the decline.

Venugopal: So do you have tips? Are there three things that you would tell a couple that’s fighting a lot that, wants to avoid getting to this particular place where they’re going to a mediator or going to court? Are there certain things that you would say, these are things you have to be able to do in order to improve your relationship?

Clemants: Well, I think you have to do your own internal work. That would be the first thing. I think there’s also an increase in codependency in the world—that I’m not going to be okay if I don’t control you and make you do exactly what I want you to do. If you’re not jumping through the hoops in the way that I want, you’re not saying the things I want, you’re not going to work, or make money, or clean the house, or show up in the way I want, then I’m unhappy. This is a form of codependency—that I’ve decided that my happiness is dependent on my partner acting in a certain way.

This is not the way it works. I read something that you sent me that said “Generation Me” or something, right? That there’s this way in which we start to think of ourselves as, “It’s all about me.” Or, “how are you going to show up for me?” I think that what I’m trying to say is that it isn’t that. We want to move away from this sense that I should be controlling and manipulating the people around me to show up for me in the way I want. There’s a different way of looking at it, which is to say that everyone around me is trying to do something for themselves. We have a life that we want to live, and there’s resonance. There’s things that excite each of us and we’re passionate about or we want to learn. The people around us should be in support of watching us do that. But instead, they’re grabbing at us trying to get us to do things for them. If everyone is trying to manipulate everyone around them to do what I want, so that I feel safe, so that I feel loved, so that I feel cared for, so that I feel better, then everyone is just trying to manipulate everyone else.

As opposed to, “I’m going to be in charge of myself, and then I’ll support you in your path, whatever it is, whatever you can unfold.” I had a client who came in yesterday, it was a shaman client. He’s a long time Wall Streeter, and he lost his job. It was a series of things, how Wall Street started spitting people out in ’08 and they’ve had trouble sort of coming back into the workforce. He spent his whole life with this idea of what a man is.

Make a lot of money, support the family. His identity is tied with making a lot of money. And now that he isn’t, and he can’t, and it’s hard to get back into the workforce because his self-worth is so low. I said, “Well, what do you love to do?” He said, “I have no idea.” I said, “You have no idea what you love to do? What are you passionate about? What are your interests? What are your hobbies? Like, what lights you up?” “Nothing. There’s nothing. There’s just, I need money so that I can support my family.”

I said, it’s such a perspective of deprivation, right? It’s such a fear-based life that he’s living, because he’s following along what he thinks he should be, rather than ever discovered what he is, like what he wants to be, what’s exciting for him. It’s not an unusual occurrence. I’ve had that before. But to see a 50-year-old man and say, “What do you love to do?” “Nothing. I can’t think of a single thing.” It’s sad. But it’s partly because there is what that article called Generation Me, which made me laugh.

I don’t think it’s just the twentysomethings. It’s all of us. We’re starting to say, “What have you done for me lately?” Or, “what are you doing to make my life better?” And if everyone says that, what kind of society do we have?

Venugopal: So in his case, he wasn’t really thinking about what he liked to do or what he wanted, right? He was only thinking about his family and providing for them. Is that right?

Clemants: Yeah. I think this happens particularly to men. They get into the world and they say, “What’s it mean to be a man?”

It means you make a lot of money, you have a wife, you have some kids, you have a car. Or you have a house, you get a second house. That’s not necessarily their natural unfolding of their life. It’s just a cultural path that gets set up for them. Somewhere along that path, they wake up to how unhappy they are, because they’re walking the shoulds instead of the what could be. What would be uniquely theirs. My niece and my nephew who are both in their 20s live with me. I think that their generation has really been pushed to do the shoulds.

This is what you should do. It’s not about playing football because you love football. It’s about becoming the captain so you can put it on your résumé so you can get into the college. We’re really teaching people to stop listening to what’s the thing that they love, what do they enjoy in the moment, and just say, “you should go volunteer at the nursing home so we can put it on your résumé.” “You should become the debate captain so that we can put it on your resume so that you can get into college.” You know.

Venugopal: It feels like all of us are in some way selling constantly to everybody else.

Clemants: Yeah, I agree. I do think that increases our inability to resolve conflict and be happy and sort of know who we are. Eventually, you’ll hit what shamans call the “dark night of the soul.” We all do. Or maybe we don’t. A lot of us resist it. But you’re meant to hit that point where you say, “Who am I?” Like, “Who am I really?” If we’re just distracting away from it, not just through social media and the like. It’s also drugs and alcohol and sex and shopping.

We can distract now in ways that you could go your whole life and never stop and know yourself. You can binge-watch TV, you can sit on the Internet for hours. If you have one second waiting for a friend on the corner, what do you do? You pull out your phone. Because God forbid you should just stand there and have an internal experience. It’s like there’s so many ways in which we can mood-alter—move away from what’s happening internally and just tap into something to distract ourselves.

At any moment, we can distract ourselves. We’ve gotten so busy that there just isn’t enough downtime to even wonder what’s happening internally. Eventually, it will tackle you to the ground with depression, anxiety, stress, and illness. It will take you down eventually. But then it’s gone too far, right? Like a pendulum. And there are people who been like, “no way, I’ve got to just give this whole thing up and go swing to the other side.”

You see more retreat centers and people going out to circles. I feel like there is the backlash of it too, and some of us will recover from that and come back into connection.

Venugopal: Thanks for listening to this episode of working. We’d love to hear your thoughts about this podcast. You can email us at working@slate.com. And dig through our first three seasons at slate.com/working.

This episode was produced by Jayson De Leon. Our senior producer is Mike Vuolo, and our executive producer is Andy Bowers. I’m Arun Venugopal. And that’s it for me as the guest host of Working. It’s been a lot of fun.

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Venugopal: So what is your relationship to technology? We’ve been talking about this, but I feel like technology just sort of exacerbates certain kinds of conflicts or issues.

How do you deal with phones and everything else?

Clemants: Well, my family hates that I will never answer my phone. I have a kind of unique life, because I make my money by being with people. So my shaman clients, my mediation clients, teaching class. Some days I’ll go, like yesterday for example, 9 to 9, just back to back human beings, sitting down live to converse with them, or teach them, or do a shaman work. I could go 12 hours, the whole day, and just be with my clients.

Venugopal: You’re not going online and checking your phone and all that kind of stuff that whole time?

Clemants: Right. I’ll spend the whole day interacting. Then I get out of work and then I have my kids. I don’t want to be on the phone with my kids. A lot of my interactions take place on text message. It takes me a few days to read my email. I never answer my phone. I never watch TV. I don’t read the newspaper. I don’t read magazines. I don’t go on the Internet. I have a rule against looking people up on the Internet.

I don’t interact with technology that much. I find that it increases the quality of my life considerably to not do that. I think newspapers, and Internet articles, and sort of the constant flow of content that’s happening actually lodges heavy energy. I think media—I mean, I’m talking about news—it tends to want to trigger your fight-or-flight response. I am trying to live a life not being triggered by my fight-or-flight response.

I find that going on a diet from news, for example, is a really important way to not spend your day in an unconscious panic.

Venugopal: Is this something you learned the hard way?

Clemants: Actually, it was part of my shaman training, that they required us to go a year without reading the newspaper or watching news. Once I did that I was like, the qualitative difference of my life was extreme. I mean, there are funny stories too.

Where you know, people come to town and they’re like, oh, that bomb that almost blew up Times Square. I’m like, “what? A bomb almost blew up Times Square?”

Venugopal: You’re totally out of it.

Clemants: Yeah, I’m totally out of it. I have no idea. But in the end, did I really need to know that? I mean, of course I needed to. Someone told me once that anything you really need to know, someone will tell you.

Venugopal: I’ve got to try this with my boss. I’m like, “no, I didn’t read about that issue. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Fill me in.”

Clemants: Yeah, maybe it wouldn’t work for you.

But somehow for my life it works. People always make reference to things, I have no idea.

Venugopal: So that’s one tip for you that you give to people— you’ve got to unwind a little?

Clemants: Yeah. Or be aware of what news you’re taking in. Right now not all news is this way. It’s not all fear-mongering, but a lot of it is. The stories are like, oh, that’s terrible. Oh, that happened. Oh my God. I look at my mom who just watches CNN all day long, and she can’t sleep at night.

I say, why do you think you can’t sleep at night? You live in the middle of a rural area, but you think a terrorist bomb is going land on your house. It’s because you’re watching CNN all day. I think something else that I do that I really appreciate is I don’t look people up on the Internet. When they come into my shaman office, or they come into mediations—there’s a lot of famous, well-known people in this city—and they come to my shaman room and they say, “Oh, do you know me?” I’m like, “Nope, I don’t know you.”

They’ll say, “But I’m very famous.” “I’m Tom Cruise. What do you mean you don’t know me? Why don’t you know me?” Right, I know who Tom Cruise is, but I don’t actually know the latest scandals. So it’s—

Venugopal: I can fill you in.

Clemants: Oh, OK. You can let me know. Yeah. I find that maybe they’re a little bit like, taken back that I haven’t looked up every single thing about them before they walked in. But actually, it gives them this clean slate, which is true in mediation too. I don’t want to know about it. I want you to tell me what’s important to you, because what I’m trying to do is understand your subjective experience.

I don’t want to create my own idea of who you are based on some objective information on the Internet, that it will just be more or less made up of me. When I read you’re from India, then I have my own experiences of people from India or whatever it is. Then I’m starting to form who you are based on my experiences, which is to say I’m distorting who you are.

So if I don’t have any idea of anything about you and you walk in, then I start to form my understanding and connection to you more cleanly, I think.