By Tammy Stone
“Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius
I’m hardly a pioneer in noticing that huge doses of time on Facebook (to say nothing of the Twitters/Instagrams/Snapchats/whatevers/blogs) compromise everything from the way I manage time, the way my brain and mind works, and the way I feel about myself.
The kicker is that I’m actively curating my own personal descent into the e-rabbit hole with every group I join, every page I like, and even everything I don’t attend to, on purpose or by accident, stuff that ends up disappearing from my virtual existence without a trace, to be replaced by scarily-targeted ads.
I do love being connected.
I live in Japan, and if I couldn’t be online with my friends and various communities, I don’t know where I’d be. But this doesn’t stop the overwhelm from seeping in. This world we’re living in, with its potential for universal communication is delightful, rewarding, democratic and important.
So why are we exhausted and anxious so much of the time? How many of us have the discipline or wherewithal to use technology solely in our best interests, exclusively to promote our sense of fulfillment and well being?
How many us can be mindful about how we navigate the clutter, how we use our time online, and by extension, how we use our time in general?
It seems that our ever-growing online identities are taking on new lives of their own. We catch ourselves buying into the glorious, social-media-versions of the lives of others and even more telling, of ourselves.
We compare. We self-loathe. We share in hopes of hearts.
We vow to get off social media and realize we don’t really know what remains.
This is not nothing; our move into a world wholly relational within a cyber-context and dependent on invisible pathways of connection are, for better or worse, engendering a new mode of existence. We really need to be aware of this, and on more than just a superficial level.
To be truly aware of something, we need to pull back from that thing.
This is also the foundation of meditation—to discover truths about existence, including our true identities. We learn to step back so we can take a profound look at ourselves.
We take the stance of the observer, or the witness. Practitioners of various religious and mystical traditions have understood and practiced living from what we can call the seat of true consciousness, from which the other, more transient aspects of life can be seen as coming and going, ebbing and flowing, fleeting and transitory. Regarding things this way, to put it one way, really appeases the anxiety within.
Before social media, we had a different relationship to ourselves.
There was a time when, as a teenager, I’d wake up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to school without so much as looking at the landline sitting on my night table. Except for my family, I had no clue what anyone had been up to in the last (gasp!) 16 hours or so. There was no uploading and updating and checking in.
At most, I was having fake conversations in my head with my crush of the day. Later, I would elaborate on this phantom conversation with my best friend, on my clear landline phone with the neon insides.
It’s fascinating, how when we have a crush on someone that is rapidly entering the obsessive stages, we tend to have a version of them on loop in our minds, so that they are a virtual companion to everything we do, say or think. We might be at the dinner table pretending to listen to our parents speak, while trying to smother a smile at some totally invented, witty joke we just made to the object of our lust.
We are not present in these moments. We have fused our lives with a wholly imaginary realm.
In a very important sense, this is how we are all the time now as we tend to, feed, embellish, try to improve upon, and panic over how others are perceiving our social media identities, as if they are real, live entities. We care for them more than we might be caring for ourselves.
Why do we feel the need to be heard above the din? Who is it that needs to be heard? Do we even know anymore? Most of us are behaving as though we need a lot of attention, but but to what end?
I think that when we need to be heard, it’s a sign that we really need to be listening.
We need to be listening, but not only by glancing at the stories and posts of others online and actively liking and commenting. We need to pull back, be in the world in which we move and touch and hear and see, and listen deep down, to and from the recesses of our hearts.
Everyone has a story to tell, and we would all be doing the world a great service if we could attend to those aspects of others that manifest through their own stories. But, we cannot truly listen if we are part of the noise.
It is only from a place of awareness, which comes through silence, that we can begin tell our stories with any level of conscientiousness and context. We need to tap into the benefits of taking the time to be silent, reflect, read, grow, learn, to be in nature, to reclaim a strong, healthy sense of who we are—even have always been.
From this place of silence and peace, I can meet you.
I can start to see who you are, because I have a growing sense of who I am, in connection with the world that has engendered me, holds me and embraces me, and wholly accepts me.
Before wondering what we can post online to get a reaction (fueling a need to be loved that can never be fulfilled in this way), maybe we can:
- Spend time in a forest.
- Take a long walk with no destination in mind.
- Hug a friend for 30 seconds or longer.
- Close our eyes and listen to the sounds around us.
- Gently ask which of our stories no longer serve us, and let them go.
- Draw something, even a doodle, on a piece of paper.
- Ask how we can be there for someone today.
- Close our eyes, place our hands on the heart, and wish for great happiness for all beings.
- Shut off all screens, and read a book, or have a cup of tea, or sit in gorgeous silence.
“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” – Martin Buber
Editor/Photo: Peter Schaller