I stopped using social media entirely for a year when it became overwhelming. I was excavating deeply held beliefs, and could not find my balance with so many varied opinions perennially flickering before my eyes.
When I came back, after the year-long hiatus, it was to run a few business ads. I could barely endure it. It reminded me that, when in 2013, I did a 10 day Vipassana retreat sans technology, it took months before I could comfortably use social media again. It was blinding and overstimulating. It made me nauseous.
There was this moment during the retreat when I saw nature glistening, and heard ants walking up the trunks of trees, and the rustle leaves twisting in the canopies above became like a symphony. It was a level of depth, clarity and focus that I never experienced when I was plunged into the world of social media and sensory overload. I'd experienced it in younger years, and had nearly forgotten the possibilities.
In my mind, seeing the summaries (or interpretations) of countless moments in a thousand extraordinary lives; weddings, holidays, deaths, distilled into the span of a few minutes… is an abstraction that the body has not evolved to process. My body, anyway. It reminds me of when I saw the Up Series; a documentary that interviews the participants every 7 years, from age 7 to 56. After I watched all of those in a row, I slept for a few days. It was powerful, beautiful, too much.
I want to hear those ants again, and see nature again in that light, the way it glistened. That was seven days into a silent retreat of almost constant meditation, without reading, speaking, or eye contact. I haven’t been silent that long since.
It comes back to this concept of curating reality. Not long ago, it was the mainstream media in a sense, curating our realities. There were a limited number of realities to choose from, really. CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX, BBC, and the alternate channels of investigative journalism, or new age channels, or conspiracy theory channels. Now anyone on their digital soapbox can potentially be a channel.
What I came to realize, when I left Facebook, was that I felt better. There was a detoxification process first, where I felt worse. I’d find myself reaching for my phone, for some sort of hit of the good stuff. Eventually, that automatic behavior died away, and a haze lifted. I felt better.
When I came back on, Trump was vying for the presidency with Hillary, and I saw the most bizarre rants about each of them, most of which seemed like personal projections more than anything. They were opinions I didn’t care to hear.
I realized that by following someone on Facebook, I was at least opening myself to their opinion, if not directly soliciting it. I unfollowed almost everyone.
We are a constellation of stories. It is critical to consider where our stories, the stories that make up who we believe we are, come from. Many of us adopt stories passively. Diagnoses. Relationship theories. World views. I call this ‘victimhood.’
After my hiatus, I saw, with vivid clarity, that the random associations of friends and strangers, their edited or unedited rants, however unlikely, were burrowing my belief systems through sheer repetition. When I was talking on subjects, I’d notice their phrases slipping into my head, or even into my speech. I could espouse eloquently on many things I knew nothing about, without ever slowing down to realize a conscious thought.
They told me that the end was near. Clearly this was the end of the Kali Yuga, and some huge cataclysm was mounting, as financial and governmental systems were crumbling.
When I looked out my office window, to the tall grass waving in the gentle breeze, I saw a different playing field… one that was more… open to interpretation. It was the faintest whisper of the wind. I was taking the time to let nature glisten. There is a difference between the window and the screen. One seems closer to reality; via the other, reality seems to be many more veils and interpretations away.
It is one of our birthrights to be able to interpret our experiences, and suffer or rejoice accordingly. We live in a time when suffering seems to the more popular path. People love to suffer, and they’re drawn in as if by gravity to the mainstream views. Social media gives us an opportunity to be ostentatious in our suffering, our loss, our grief. If you believe that the world is an unjust place, rail about it. You can instantly see whatever you tune into from any area of the world. There will always be pain, suffering, and agony to rail against. Join the huddled masses, digitally. Or, force a smile, photoshop your teeth until they glow like the surface of the full moon, and only post your world through rose-colored glasses… you on the beach and such, or on a date. We can still see your pain… rest assured of that.
The Trump rants reminded me of that quote that is attributed to the ‘Buddha’, ‘Anger is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies.’
Social media platforms are like these elaborate alchemical devices that can dilute and distill emotional toxins, which, through some mysterious and complex circumnavigation, always seem to wind them right back in the sender’s mouth.
Mostly, people automatically underestimate and oversimplify the ever expanding dance of consciousness. The evolution of a human being is the opposite of this… becoming more open to possibilities and alternate realities. Even ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ a post erodes consciousness, by imposing black and white distinctions onto every subtle, nuanced sliver of reality. In cognitive behavioral therapy, ‘Black and white’ thinking is one of the cognitive distortions. Is it any wonder that Facebook as been shown to be correlated with depression?
(Now I see that you can also choose little yellow emoticons to represent your response to a Facebook post, though I haven’t tried it…).
Most people are so certain of their reality, they have immunized themselves against personal growth. From an intellectual perspective, they are corpses. I’m not certain you can die to growth and still have a flourishing soul, though it is probably in there somewhere. Note to the zombies: If you’ve died long ago, I suggest being quieter. Let the people who are still open to discovery hear themselves think. I know, I know… you can’t hear me.
If you want to know a topic profoundly, so that it resonates in your bones, unlearn what you think you know by approaching it from every angle. Especially the angles you don’t agree with. If you’ve sanctified someone, read a critique of them. Don’t muscle through it, but see if you can read it with an open mind. I can guarantee that you’ve read books in a soft and accepting mindset that turned out to be false, and vice versa. History is always unfolding based on new discoveries and political and cultural agendas.
I suggested this to one of my clients, and he decided to read Hillbilly Elegy, which, for him, was leaning into his edge, as a liberal gay man. He was able to actually take in the other viewpoint (conservative, 'right'), though he didn’t necessarily agree with it.
Live your life. Guard your sense doors. Keep your eyes wide open.
In the end, we create out of what we take in. Nourish your soul without feigning blissful ignorance. It is a balance, and most of us tilt toward overstimulation. Allowing yourself to be constantly inundated with the inane opinions of others leaves little room for original thought. Everything is in reaction to a skewed version of reality.
Choose wisely. Unfollow energy drains. Find antagonists and inspirations that impel you onward, toward your highest path. Tiptoe lightly across this minefield we’ve created.
Oh, and remember the flowers.