By Dana Gornall
It’s early morning and my bedroom is still dark.
My alarm is playing and so I do what I do every morning when I first wake up—I shut my alarm off and slide the button to open my screen to see if I’ve gotten any texts or messages. I check my email and then hit the little blue square that opens my Facebook feed.
Scrolling with my thumb, stories and images flash in front of my eyes.
The sun is still hidden far below the horizon. I haven’t swung one leg out of bed yet, and I’m met with political campaigns, images of animal slaughter and stories of violence and protests, photos of loved ones smiling at weddings, the occasional funny meme, articles and everything in between.
A red notification pops up on my messages and I hit it with my finger. A few seconds later a text message comes in, then another, and then I flip back over to my news feed. I haven’t gone pee, but I’ve talked with two people, read an article on relationships and watched a video on the grisly origin of gelatin (which I was already aware of, but found myself drawn into watching, regardless).
The morning continues with my phone always in reach. I am constantly checking and re-checking as I pour coffee grounds in the filter and pop bread into the toaster. My head is bent downward and my face is focused on the small, blue-white screen while urging my dog to hurry up outside so that I can return to my coffee before I need to take the kids to school.
I keep checking the time, always aware that it is steadily slipping away as my time is split between tasks and my phone, my phone and my dog, my kids and my phone.
It was somewhere in the midst of all of this chaos, that I realized just how much madness has surrounded my mornings. Feeling my heart tugged this way and that, my brain as scattered as an array of pixie sticks flung onto the floor, I am constantly unfocused and preoccupied with the lives of other people.
Partaking in social media often leads to being constantly bombarded with everyone else’s worlds—worlds of selfies and hashtags, petitions and products. You’ll be assured that this person has the solution to getting your life on track if only you participate in their “get your life on track” seminar for $99.99. You’ll be told your opinions are wrong or stupid, or that your lifestyle is wrong or stupid.
You may even be the lucky recipient of the occasional off color sexual comment or dick pic sent to your inbox. When faced with the possibility of drowning in a sea of social media, how is one able to find a moment of peace?
Turn off notifications
The fact that I have this option occurred to me after feeling myself reach some sort of boiling point. Swiping over to my settings on my phone, I shut off all social media notifications and went back to my morning routine. Admittedly, after a few minutes, I was tempted to pick up my phone and just check it, but I stopped myself.
Once I got away from the desire to look, something extraordinary happened. I got things done. Timely. But most of all, I found a little bit of mental space. What a revelation.
Following this newfound freedom for the rest of the day, I kept my notifications off. Suddenly my breaks at work were more enjoyable because I looked around instead of at my phone. I breathed a little deeper. I gave my brain a little bit of a break.
Don’t be afraid to block or unfollow people
This seems like a simple solution for most, but for me this wasn’t an easy thing to do. I am a people pleaser at heart and never want to hurt anyone’s feelings or come across as uncaring or cold, so I tend to allow others to trample right over me—again and again. This isn’t good for me (or any of us) and isn’t good for the person doing the trampling either.
There is a Buddhist term for this kind of thing: idiot compassion. The first time I heard of this I was taken aback; how could compassion ever be wrong? But by giving someone else a free pass to cross our boundaries because we think we are being nice, we are actually hurting that person as well as ourselves and we are doing it because we are uncomfortable with setting those boundaries. We are doing it because we think it’s right for them and in actuality we are doing it for ourselves. As Pema Chödrön explains:
When you get clear on this kind of thing, setting good boundaries and so forth, you know that if someone is violent, for instance, and is being violent towards you —to use that as the example— it’s not the compassionate thing to keep allowing that to happen, allowing someone to keep being able to feed their violence and their aggression. So of course, they’re going to freak out and be extremely upset. And it will be quite difficult for you to go through the process of actually leaving the situation. But that’s the compassionate thing to do.
If someone is regularly assaulting your page or your space block them, especially if they are being vulgar and inappropriate. And for the dick pics, you can always do what this woman did by turning it back onto him.
Don’t take things personally
One of the most life changing points I took away from The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, was not to take things personally. Again, this seems like a very simple concept, but when put into practice, it has finally given me some peace of mind. As Ruiz points out:
What causes you to be trapped is what we call personal importance. Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about “me.” Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.
It’s true I can overthink things (many of us do) and occasionally something I read or see upsets me. But is that post directed at me? Most likely, it is not. As Ruiz explains, everyone is living in their own world and looking at it through their own eyes.
Its not up to you (or me) to save the entire world.
Animal cruelty. Child abuse. Illness. The environment. War. Shootings. The world is full of violence and dis-ease. And when you are a sensitive save-the-world type of person, getting slapped with this fact over and over can be overwhelming. So, let me say this: You cannot save the world.
When the Buddha first emerged completely on his own from his isolated castle, he encountered aging and sick people as well as a corpse. He was shocked because he had never witnessed anything like that before and didn’t know how to come to terms with that after being constantly fed rainbows and smiles his entire life. But unfortunately life is not all rainbows and smiles.
While I’m not suggesting that taking up a cause and fighting for something is worthless, I am saying it is impossible to fix everyone. Be kind. Donate your time when you are able. Be there for your children and those who need you. Love people. But then, let go of that world on your shoulders, because thinking that you alone can carry it is just your ego talking.
Use it to build connections, but don’t obsess.
Social media has opened up doors for me that I never thought possible. I have learned and grown so much by forming bonds with people from all over the world. I have reconnected with old friends that I haven’t talked with in years. I have been knocked over by waves of change that began as a tiny ripple in the ocean. Yet, just like anything else, too much of anything is simply too much.
It is possible to find a moment of zen is a world of hashtags, selfies and yes—even dick pics, if you just know when enough is enough. Because even hurricanes have a calm spot in the chaos.
So set down that phone and go wash those dishes or take a walk. It will all still be here when you get back and your mind and soul will thank you for it.
Editor: Ty H Phillips