Mindfulness in the Electronic Age: Part 2
Recently on This American Life, Ira Glass interviewed some teenage girls who gave him the rundown on how interacting with their friends on Instagram is crucial to their social standing. They basically explained that in their circles, if a friend did not respond to a photo posted with the expected type of response (ie. “You’re so pretty!”) AND within the expected period of time (ie. within 1 hour or less), this was possible grounds for ending a friendship.
How many Facebook posts have you LIKED in the last week? How many Instagram photos did you give a HEART today? On the flip side, when was the last time you left a scathing Yelp because you got bad service at your regular cafe? Or, have you publicly flamed someone because their post upset you? Engaging with one another online has become as natural as scratching an itch, and we can easily forget that there is a real person on the receiving end of our reactive click.
Now, everyone has an opinion, and opinions are important. Opinions help us discern our wants and needs. Opinions help us navigate through our day. However, it is when opinions turn into judgements that they can cause suffering. These thoughts and ideas — these strong opinions — can be the seeds of suffering for both yourself and others.
A growing concern which has had a great deal of press in the last couple of years has been online bullying. The ease with which you can direct judgment and negativity at someone, and often without being held accountable for it, is astonishing. Yes, most of us, including myself, have had nasty thoughts about another person — usually when we are hurt or angry. We can take a breath, let the moment pass, and go on with our lives. Or we can let the flood of emotions blindly encourage us to post a rant or smear a person instantaneously, creating a digital record of it “forever.” Thankfully you can delete a post or a tweet, but you cannot unsend a text message.
There is a lot of bad stuff going on in the world today. And if you’re on social media, it is everywhere: innocent people being shot and killed, politicians throwing each other under the bus, displaced immigrants seeking asylum and being turned away by entire countries. It’s hard stuff to face, and being constantly bombarded by it hurts our hearts and triggers all sorts of feelings. It’s important to monitor our inner landscape and take care of ourselves, even when we are just catching up with friends online.
Here’s your challenge: Notice when using social media leaves you feeling good about yourself and others; OR when it leaves you feeling depleted, angry or hopeless. Notice what you want more of and what you want less of — LIKES or hugs, FaceTime or face-to-face time. Now, can you sit with it all in a place of being grounded and present, engaging in a kindhearted way without preference? Without pushing or pulling? Without loving or hating, but simply being? This is the beginning practice of equanimity.
My teacher Isa Gucciardi, defines equanimity as the practice of “engaged presence without preference.” Without the preference to pull toward you for more, or push away and ignore. Another translation of the Pali word for equanimity is, “to stand in the middle of all this.” So how can we stand in the middle of all this love and hate, and just be present and compassionate? It takes practice, and this is what it means to be a human today. It’s wonderful and beautiful — it’s heart wrenching and challenging.
We are here to experience it all. As my good friend Uncle Bear says, “Feel your feelings.” Then take a breath, don’t push, don’t pull, and be here now.
~ Nick Venegoni, MFT