Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
Happy New Year to everyone reading! It has been a while since I last posted, not because of a lack of inspiration, but rather due to a lot of moments of pausing, reflecting and then sitting with those ideas in silence. The quote above was offered by my mentor and yoga teacher, Jennifer Prugh at Breathe Together Yoga during her Friday “I-will-hand-your-ass-to-you-today” 2-hour Mandala Vinyasa Krama class. I love going to it and was inspired by her daily poetic musing. Why it spoke to me is because I have explored “flying low” and stillness for the past year and it has reaped interesting results and observations-the first being public image and approval in today’s world.
There are so many people making sure they keep up shop: maintain their social media feeds, take pictures at every opportune moment and generate interesting content as a regular part of their branding diet. I get it. Our digital world requires this kind of online public presence in order to make a living at whatever truth you have to give. However, it is that exact idea of image maintenance that is the food for thought in this here article: what happens when we keep it to ourselves?
Did your parents ever tell you, ” If you don’t have anything nice to say, keep it to yourself?” It’s the old polite way of maintaining graceful social interaction and in today’s world is a basic mindfulness principle: pause to process thoughts and emotions before regrettably blurting out defensive and childish claims. Case in point, our current president and his inability to handle knee-jerk reactions in the public sector. It lacks tact, grace and reflection. However, he is not out of line with today’s use of social media’s open-opinion-based platform, he is, in fact, using it appropriately according to the unwritten handbook of tech giants helping to sculpt our online worlds. With social media and internet technology, it seems that we are now expected to hold an opinion on everything and that if we don’t speak it, we are uninteresting and inactive social members. We seem to be caught in a Wild West world of keeping up digital appearances, but to what end?
Online presence is discussed ad infinitum in business schools, yoga trainings and high school locker rooms: what representation of yourself are you putting out there? It is what drives our identities in today’s world: the digitally-curated self. Please don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of authentic representations on the internet of people doing and sharing things they love-I am not claiming phony bologna on social media and digital business branding- however, I see an excessive generation of content just for the sake of fulfilling marketing duties, not because it comes from the heart. A lot of this is fueled by the need to be someone, to make a mark on society and to make your own personal image a profitable household brand. It is, after all, a competitive world out there, right?
A little unintentionally, I have been playing with the idea of staying out of the public eye and living simply for the past year. It has been hard to not “Be Someone,” especially when sitting at the dinner table with family members on holidays, or at a social engagement in Silicon Valley when the inevitable question comes up: “So, what do you do?” I’ve begun to wonder if I’m wiling away the wonder years by not having war stories from the Valley to share with inquiring minds. And yet, here I sit silently in the temple of my own worthiness, whose golden statue can be tarnished or caked in mud, invisible to undiscerning eyes, but underneath lies an immensely beautiful work of art. Not all secrets must be shared on a public feed.
Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by the opportunity to not have to hustle my way to the next branded, money-making identity; or, perhaps I am seeing what it’s like to be on the other side of the game and stepping back in observation. I bet this is what happens to parents that decide to become stay-at-home caretakers or recluses who retreat to the woods and live off of their land. Identity then becomes simplified and basic: everyday chores and routines fill up a whole 24 hours, self-identity turns to a silent expression of just living, the interior world grows vast and endless. Does reading a book and not posting your review of it online not count as doing something meaningful in today’s world?
Let’s look back over the past 100 years for one answer. A majority of the population lived throughout most of the 20th century in a rather quiet existence without a public profile and daily digital maintenance of their thoughts and image. They also didn’t have penicillin (until 1928) or grocery stores stocked with banana and avocados, never mind an online encyclopedia of the world (thanks, Google). The proliferation of a self seen through digital media didn’t take place until the last quarter of the century, maybe making this whole silly thing seem like a playroom of children with their new favorite toys instead of an existential crisis.
Over the holidays, I was watching E Entertainment Television with family and saw that while the camera crew was rolling on Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian at their Taco Tuesday house party, the girls were also taking selfies on their own cameras. As if having the media, the paparazzi and your whole entourage there taking evidential photos wasn’t enough, you also need to get in a selfie because there just aren’t enough images of you circulating on the internet. It’s like we live in a world of meta-imaging-a self-representation within a self-representation-so that, by the end of it all, we understand ourselves through pictures taken by us (a selfie) with the help of the lens of a camera projecting an image onto a computer screen seen remotely through someone else’s eyes and appreciated through trough clicks and comments. Oh boy, Narcissus has been staring at the computer screen too long! We are reaching farther outside of ourselves and our physical bodies in order to understand what is going on inside our own identities.
Just being human today requires a great amount of pageantry that plagues us. Schoolchildren, who are already in the throes of a popularity contest, now must feign incredible identities just to keep up with their peers and avoid even more bullying from not participating in online social culture. Being a bookworm was always a little uncool, but just imagine nowadays a child that is not only a reclusive bookworm, but also invisible on social media. They would be considered a “nobody” by their peers, socially invisible, although probably very interesting and profound people face-to-face. The same holds true for anyone seeking a job. If you are not active on LinkedIn or Facebook, then you might as well not apply. Your public presence matters, whether or not you care to keep up a daily Instagram feed or grow your number of followers.
Since we are no longer given the choice of going about daily life in a private, quiet existence, we participate. Every moment must be seen as an opportunity to let the rest of the world know who you are and how you are doing. There can be much inspiration in that sharing and there can also be much pressure to outperform and gain attention for what are really mundane or constructed things. Everyday is a new chance for an online legacy-recognition for a life well-lived and no moment wasted. From breakfast to what you wear and the amazing commentary on those people you sit with on the congested freeway. Make every moment count for not just yourself, but the whole world who cares to watch though their screen. But in a world so full of beautiful moments and stunning photos, why are there still so many cases of depression, adultery, eating disorders, isolation and sadness?
I don’t claim to know the complete answer, but I do know that when people come together in the physical world, there is true interpersonal connection. There is no replacement (not even the powerful Eleven could reach Mike completely in her meditative, virtual world) for human contact and interaction. The real-time exchange of energy, ideas and physical contact with others has been proven to cure diseases, relieve emotional trappings and reconnect people to a higher sense of purpose. When face-to-face with each other, the playing field is leveled. Compassion, authenticity and presence arise and the goal of life becomes very simple: to live in the name of love for the betterment of all beings.
There is no doubt that the advancements of technology in today’s world are beneficial and that social media is connecting people across physical limitations. It has made stars out of the ordinary, the ordinary into the amazing and artists out of us all. Maybe there is a balance of our virtual and physical worlds on the horizon, once the novelty of our new toys wears off, or the potential dangers of online information currency become a real threat. What I ask for as an experiment in the meantime is for all of us to curb the curation and see if everyday life left unannounced, unphotographed, unadulterated is enough for you to sleep on.