Here Comes a Thought: How a powerful episode of "Steven Universe” taught us about Mindfulness
Steven Universe is one of the best animated programs on television right now.
It’s very easy to feel pessimistic about the state of animation in television, especially with major channels like Nickelodeon and Disney weeding out the more mature shows in their programming to pander to a much younger target audience. Cartoon Network is no exception. “Pander” is the keyword here, as these channels have recently been getting rid of their more mature family shows (see: Young Justice #NEVERFORGIVE ) in favor of generating dumbed-down “kid shows” based on their perceived intelligence of their target audience (Looking at you, Teen Titans Go! #NEVERFORGET). But thanks to Rebecca Sugar – Cartoon Network’s first ever female show creator, Steven Universe is a glowing exception.
Disguised as your typical kid fantasy show, Steven Universe has revealed itself to be one of the most mature and progressive animated shows on TV. This is mostly due to the writer’s fierce dedication to character development and their uncanny ability at making the shocking plot twists, witty comedy, and beautifully composed music contribute towards the growth of its characters. The show also expertly toes between the line of tackling important social issues (marriage equality, domestic violence) under the metaphorical guise of the science fiction ideas while presenting them in a format that is fun and entertaining for everyone.
Just in time for R U OK? day, the show’s most recent episode, “Mindful Education”, is a powerful episode on taking care of your mental health, and features a pretty handy musical lesson on the psychological technique of Mindfulness, as well as the importance of talking to someone about your problems you are facing.
Some brief context for non-show-watchers: This show is about magical beings from space – The Crystal Gems – who protect the Earth from evil. The characters have the ability to “fuse” – merge with one another to become stronger. In this episode, Connie, comes over for “fusion training”, but seems distracted. Aptly enough, our main protagonist, Steven, asks if she is OK:
Essentially, Mindfulness is an evidence-based psychological practice that promotes mental wellbeing by asking you to be aware of your own thoughts and feelings, and to address any negative or intrusive thoughts that float into your mind, whether if its anxiety, anger, guilt, stress, even suicidal ideation, as just that – a passing thought.
Upon realizing that Connie has some unresolved conflicts, Garnet sits Steven and Connie down to give them a delightfully moving lesson on how to deal with their feelings, personified by glowing butterflies:
Research on the benefits of mindfulness has suggested that the practice of mindfulness is associated with a decrease in stress and anxiety levels, as well as reduction of depressive symptoms. It is a strategy to help you regulate your own emotions: observe your thoughts and feelings, accept that they are happening, and then let them go. Check out here and here, or more importantly, visit your local psychologist for more information on how to implement Mindfulness in your life.
Did Garnet’s advice help Connie? Turns out it did. But unbeknownst to them, Steven has been suppressing more complicated, more intense issues of his own:
Perhaps the most important theme of this episode, as clearly illuminated in its poignant final act, is how important it is for us to talk to and listen to the people we care about. We may not have all the answers, but sometimes, “Are you okay?” is the best question to start with.