My most recent viewing obsession is Lucifer. It’s a series (1-3 on Prime; 4-5 on Netflix).
In it the central character (exquisitely portrayed by Tom Ellis) is the Devil. If you’ve seen the show you’ll know that Lucifer has an impressive party-trick: he asks people what they want, what they really want, and they tell him. He then grants them favours to help them achieve what they desire.
[He also visits the most absurdly unethical therapist in literature or screen, but let’s gloss over that for the moment].
When Lucifer Morningstar asks this question, the person he asks, no matter how fed-up, angry or disconnected they were before, immediately drops all defenses and simply tells him. As well as coming in handy for his crime-solving antics (yes, the Devil is solving crime with his LAPD partner, I said it was silly) this let’s him learn more about humanity, and how he can help people/himself. (Why? We’ll come back to that in a bit.)
At the heart of this show are some deep truths about being human. It explores themes of heaven and hell, sin and desire, pain and pleasure, anger, joy and love … yet at the same time it is silly and playful. I heard Tom Ellis say, in a recent radio interview, “we have a lot of fun, the show doesn’t take itself too seriously”. The characters to wander through our complex humanity: holding lightly the most painful/joyful of human experiences.
Anyway. This morning, while walking the dog, I was not thinking about Lucifer. I was thinking about Steve Hayes. Well, his book “A Liberated Mind.” Having just read the end before getting up this morning, something about the final story came to mind. In it, a dedicated professional asks a distressed man “what do you want?”. The circumstances of the story are truly awful. Yet in that sensitively-asked question, a space was opened. In that space the man was able to chose how he responded to the unfolding events. The way he responded allowed him to connect with what he wanted, his family, and to face his death with their love and support.
In reflecting on this deeply moving and inspiring story, I was a bit surprised when an image popped into my thoughts: Lucifer Morningstar, asking, with a Devilish smile – “so tell me, what is it you truly desire?”
It’s the same question.
The question at the heart of ACT, the question that I ask people every day: “what is it you want?”
ACT is a bit different from a lot of other therapies. In other approaches we often focus a lot on the person’s problems, distress and diagnosis. But I’ve learned that we get further in helping people if we can ask: “what is it that you truly, deep in your heart, want your life to be about?” – i.e. “what do you want?”.
It seems obvious, but having worked in mental health services I can assure you, it is frequently left out. It’s there, but it’s left out. In statutory services, the goal is to “fix” the person … as if they are somehow broken. People are not broken.
If you are struggling to find and fix what is wrong with you, there is a risk that you’ll move further and further away from what you actually desire (like Lucifer, in chopping off or hiding bits of himself he is pushing away what he really wants).
In ACT, we learn how to accept those bits. Turning our attention instead to doing what matters in life.
So tell me, what do you truly desire?