The digital age makes us all a bunch of dirty liars.
Wait, that was a little harsh. Let me filter that...
The digital age provides us with an unprecedented level of anonymity when we communicate, making it really easy to bend/hide the truth.
Yep, that was a bit less offensive...
Using a personal filter on social media like Facebook can feel like a relief -- you don't have to worry that a sad post will get you labeled a 'Debbie Downer,' or worry about creating an argument if you post your real opinions, or worry about annoying your followers with yet another selfie or dog photo (sorrynotsorry).
Filtering this way makes your life seem easier, but it's really not -- the only reason you're editing yourself is worry. When you spend all your time filtering, it means you're not spending your time in the present.
Of course, the best way to be mindful is to enjoy real life and not post anything at all. I do this from time to time and some people have chosen it as a way of life, which is admirable. But for most of us, we try to find a balance -- we want to utilize this social platform that has the power to connect us in new and amazing ways, but do so without going mad with worry, doubt, and regret.
There is mindfulness to be found in social media. In it's simplest form, it's a place for every one of us to share a little bit about our current state of mind -- a thought we have, a moment we capture in a photo, an article we find particularly meaningful -- it's our now.
Observing and sharing a little, honest piece of yourself is mindful. And when you observe the honest thoughts from each of your friends, you learn from that shared experience.
But it doesn't always happen that way. When you think about filtering your life you begin to wonder how many others have thought the same. Instead of mindfulness, social media starts to feel scattered and lonely, like one big digital tabloid.
Tailoring your interaction to avoid a touchy subject isn't something that magically appeared with Facebook and Twitter. Not to long ago we called that tact. But then as in now, a real friend will love you enough to hear your truth. Anyone who's offended by your honesty is not worth the worry.
Don't filter your life away. Be honest, here, right now, yourself. #nofilter
People have a tendency to take things personally.
It makes sense -- we view the world through our own eyes and process information through our own brains. Thoughts are like waves, each made up of a million drops of observations, that crash in and wash through the filter of you.
But here's a shocker, 9 times out of 10 what someone else says has absolutely nothing to do with you. It's not about anyone in particular, it's about everyone as a whole.
This happens whenever we hear a voice, whether that voice is a private conversation between you and a friend or me publishing this very blog post.
In the last month, some have asked me whether a particular theme in one of my posts is about them or a mutual friend. They saw a connection to their own real life situation.
The short answer is no, none of these posts are about anyone in particular. I would never share anything said to me in private. That feeling belongs to you and our conversation belongs to us.
But I also have my own personal filter. On this blog I write about the way I process and make sense of the world, and that can only ever be the world as I see it. It's a combination of every observation I've ever made -- every conversation, every friend, every person I pass on the street, every Facebook update, every selfie, every text message.
You might feel a personal connection when you read this, and I hope you do, but that's not because I'm writing about you -- it's because even though we each have our own individual collection of observations, somewhere along the line you had the same thought as me.
The reason you think a particular theme is about you is because it's an experience or feeling we all share. We go about our lives individually, but we're all on the same hunt for happiness.
When you start to take something personally, consider it a reminder that you're never alone. There's someone out there who gets it and who hopefully wants to make it better.
There's someone out there just like you.
You know how everyone's always saying seize the moment? I don't know, I'm kind of thinking it's the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us." ~Boyhood
It's a tough business growing up. Life starts out simple and seemingly preordained. But at a certain point you have to forge your own path–the path of who you are, what you do, and the people with which you associate.
Sometimes I'm wistful for my boyhood, which at least on the surface felt so uncomplicated. A time when your friends were everything and you didn't have to compete with bills, careers, or lovers for attention. When the stress and drama of adulthood rears it's ugly head, I tend to look back at a time of bicycles and popsicles and wish I could hop in a Delorean and go back to 1985. I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in this.
Then there's Richard Linklater's brilliant movie Boyhood. Beyond it's unique filming style–it was shot over the course of 12 years as the actors aged in real life–it's also one of the best cinematic explorations of nostalgia and mindfulness I've seen in quite some time.
Boyhood reminded me of my own wistful tendencies... and it reminded me why those tendencies are completely foolish.
To be clear, my own boyhood didn't follow the exact same path as the boy we follow in the movie. But then again, no path is ever the same. Despite our differences and our similarities, the questions I had then, the questions I have now, and the questions about life the movie explores all are on a very similar wavelength.
I guess that's what draws us towards any movie really–it's something we enjoy, something that makes us think, something that sticks with us, or at least something we find entertaining.
Both boyhood and adulthood are like a labyrinth. Looking back at our path can provide us with lessons for the future, but pining after the past doesn't help us move forward. The only way to decode the puzzle of life is to live in the moment and let those moments live through you.
In both boyhood and adulthood life is complicated. Very few of us had a perfect life growing up. In the movie, our main character grows up as a child of divorce, with alcoholic step-fathers, school yard bullies, and a slew of questions about life's path. As adults these days we live surrounded by break ups, alcoholic loved ones, work and online bullies, and a continuing onslaught of life questions.
In both boyhood and adulthood friendships take a lot of work. Very few of us are still friends, or at least close friends, with those childhood besties. In the movie, our main character has friends who are central to his life, but when he has to move or simply loses touch, he is forced to let them go. As adults, friendships are more stable because they're made out of choice and experience, but they are still fraught with complex emotions, and once in a while we are still forced to let them go.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
As we get older our minds grow. We learn through experience and slowly figure out some of the answers to life's questions. But the more you grow and the more questions you answer, the more questions you create. We grow, because of and despite of our age.
Boyhood raises questions about each of our individual paths in life, about the wistful emotions our experience stirs, and those questions are just are relevant to me today as they were to me when I was a boy.
But if you really stop and think about it, life now is no more complicated than life then. Melancholy, looking backwards, regretting decisions, or longing for the relative simplicity of boyhood, those feelings aren't going to get you anywhere in life.
The big question posed in Boyhood, at least to me, is how do we use our experiences in life to grow up? How does that growth move us along our path? What is that path and where will it lead?
That answer to those questions are not found on some preordained paved road to success and happiness. What you do as a kid, what you enjoy in high school, and what you study in college are just small parts of the large puzzle. Every moment is stepping stone taking us to new uncharted territories in life. They may be completely unrelated to one another, but they are still ours, and they've all led us to now.
It's up to us if we live in the present moment or to constantly look back at what is finished or forward at what is unknown. It's up to us if we keep trying to seize each moment as the be all/end all, or if we just let the moment seize us and see where it leads.
Remember the good times of the past–in fact, never forget them–but then take the lessons you've learned and look forward. Appreciate your present life, complications and all.
When you're searching for it, you may never quite figure out exactly what you want to be and where you want to go. But you can always figure out the right now, and that's the only thing in life that actually matters.
We are so small.
Everything in our known world is based on whatever elements somehow arrived at this specific intergalactic point of the universe. That particular blend of elements came together like a recipe and then survived a specific set of disasters and challenges... each challenge guiding the earth down a particular path... that path leading to you, sitting here reading this, right now.
The set of circumstances on our particular planet was the instruction manual for your creation. This is true whether you believe it was guided by a higher power or not.
Just as our world came together in a particular way, other worlds came together in their own particular way. There are the ones we can see - the ones relatively nearby - and then there are the trillions of others.
What if a another world came together to allow for the development of their own being, just like the earth did for you and me? Their particular blend elements came together like a recipe and then survived their own specific set of disasters and challenges... each challenge guiding their planet down a particular path... that path leading to them, sitting somewhere in the universe, right now.
For decades, as we've communicated with one another on earth, we've inadvertently sent radio waves into space. They float past distant planets where other beings may or may not live. Just like you, they wonder if someone else is out there, but because of the particular confines of their own planet's circumstances, they are completely unaware that the evidence is swirling around them, all the time.
It goes in both directions - they may or may not inadvertently send out their own communication signals. But because of the the particular confines of our own planet's circumstances, you're completely unaware that the evidence is swirling around you, all the time.
The universe is huge. The possibilities that could result from any particular set of circumstances are endless. It's overwhelming to think about.
But then, in that vast and seemingly endless perspective, it all swirls back to you, sitting here reading this, right now.
"No worry, no guilt, no doubt, no regret." ~Phyllis Herman
I like to call worry, guilt, doubt and regret my "no-no's." They're all the ways we let the world around us take us out of the present.
Worry is an especially bad violator, as I know all too well from personal experience. It's a trap even those with the best of intentions fall into.
There are two ways to quickly and easily distract yourself from being mindful:
In both cases your mind is living in another time zone, away from the reality of now, away from the potential joys of today.
I am a worrier. My mother tells me that when I was very young I would stand at the bottom of the slide at the playground, debating whether it was all worth it - was the fun of coming down the slide worth the risk of possibly falling off that tall ladder? My worry of (potential) danger stopped me from getting on the slide.
Later in life, I started to encounter regrets from these decisions. Was I missing out on all the fun?
That regret, or rather the worry of future regret, eventually caused me to start facing my fears. A little later in life when I was too old for slides, I remember climbing up the ladder to the terrifyingly high high-dive at the high school pool, plugging my nose, and taking the plunge. Way back then I recognized the folly of worry, because as much as I can think through all sorts of horrible scenarios, I also love to create opportunities for happiness. Worry would prevent me from being happy, so I had to fight to be mindful, stop worrying, and take the plunge.
At its basic level, worry is the fear of the unknown. It's something we all think about on some level: Is it safe for me to go on that carnival ride? What do I want to be when I grow up? Now that I'm a grown up, why can't I figure out what I want to be? What if I sleep too late and miss my flight? What is my spouse doing when I'm not around? What will people think of me if I post this on Facebook?
Worrying is putting your focus on what might happen, not what is happening.
It causes you to lose focus, to forget your trust in others, to forget your hope that the world really is a good place and justice will prevail, to forget how to live in the present and be mindful. It's a slippery slope that leads to doubt, anxiety, frustration, distraction, procrastination, and eventually regret that you wasted so much time worrying about something that may never happen.
Sometimes it's OK to worry - it's OK to be skeptical of dangerous things, to a point. Wen you care about someone, it also makes sense to have some concern for their well-being. Observe that worry as a sign that of love for yourself and others, give friendly advice and lead by example, but don't let that concern consume you. They have to figure out their life on their own, just like you.
Worrying is a fool’s errand because the only thing you can control is what's happening right now. The better you are at being mindful and taking care of yourself in the present, the better your chances of avoiding the very things you're worrying about for the future.
So ya know, like no worries, man.
"That's your responsibility as a person, as a human being - to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don't contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you're not thinking." ~Malcolm Gladwell
In this vast universe we call the internet, there will always someone to criticize or bemoan something. They are often bloggers (oh hai!), claim to be reporters, or sometimes they're even one of your Facebook "friends," but they're really just contrarians.
Why are they stating things that are so easy refutable? The answer is simple: money. It's an advertising strategy pioneered by the likes of Drudge on the internet, Coulter in the newspapers, and Fox on the TV.
What they're giving you is not an opinion geared to spur public discourse and improve society or government - it's an effort to get more clicks/likes/shares by bucking the popular opinion, fudging the facts, eliciting anger from the masses, and creating arguments on comment threads and shared Facebook posts.
Clicks/likes/shares/arguments = $$$
Your initial reaction is to get angry and spend your time formulating an angry response. But when you respond you're playing into their money-making scheme.
Don't do it. Don't feed the beast.
Observe your anger, shrug it off, and move along.
The term "survival of the fittest" was coined by Herbert Spencer in 1864 as a new way of describing Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. From then on, it's been used to explain everything from capitalism to sports champions. In our modern world it boils down to this: the weak die and the strong survive.
But that definition tells us we have to be a bully in order to be our best. That definition is a myth.
In the real world, you don't survive because you're extremely aggressive; you survive because you can to change to meet the needs of your environment - to adapt.
We're taught that the dominant wolf is the pack leader. The aggressive stock trader, the persuasive sibling, the domineering boss - they all lead by strength and manipulation, forcing others to adapt to them. In our dog-eat-dog world this self-assured attitude is wrongly revered.
Despite having a strong pack leader social system, the species Canis lupus (aka the wolf) is endangered. The North American gray wolf once roamed most of the continental United States, but is now confined to the northern reaches of Alaska and Canada. The pack leader of the wolves may seem strong, but his aggressive nature is leading his pack off a cliff.
On the other hand, their close relatives Canis lupus familiaris (aka the dog) are doing pretty well for themselves. After many generations, these former wolves learned how to play a clever game of submission that convinced humans to give them food and shelter, and as such they thrive. Their only real threat, other than a few cruel owners, is euthanization, but that's a problem of overpopulation and a product of their success as a species.
Dogs found their true strength by being submissive. In their battle for survival, the fittest of the Canine lupus species isn't the aggressive wolf pack leader; it's the wolf that is willing to set that aggression aside.
The same goes for all species. As humans, the most important method of survival is the ability to observe, learn, and adapt to your surroundings (aka mindfulness). You survive by teamwork, relationships, and yes sometimes by being submissive, so your group - your species, your family, your friends - can all survive and thrive together.
That does not mean you give up all responsibility. It means you still speak your mind when it's something you know is right and just. It means you speak your mind, but it also means you listen.
Sometimes it means sitting back to allow the bluster of others play itself out. A self-assured, aggressive pack leader may be right once in a while, but if they're stuck on their own opinion, not willing to mindfully observe or learn from the changes around them, then they'll be wrong most of the time.
The next time someone's being an asshole just remember that their kind will fight alone and eventually become extinct while your kind... well we'll need your kind to keep adapting and evolving. Your kind is the fittest that will help our species survive.
"I realized that very young - that a life where you don't live to your full potential, or you don't experiment, or you're afraid, or you hesitate, or there are things you know you should do but you just don't get around to them, is a life I'd be miserable living. The only way to feel that I'm on the right path is just to be true to myself, whatever that may be." ~Angelina Jolie
There's been a confluence of events for me recently on Facebook. I've felt the negativity that can come from comparing my life to others. There was that video many people shared exposing a fake social media presence. I've sadly seen instances of people using Facebook to tear down one another in my newsfeed. Then there was that surreptitious Facebook study that manipulated newsfeeds to measure the effect of negative posts (is anyone really shocked that negativity breeds negativity or that Facebook manipulates your newsfeed?).
Worst of all is the negativity that can come from everyday life - non Facebook life, real life - which reared it's ugly head for me too. It made me view my own happy-go-lucky posts through a new filter and question their utility in the grand scheme.
Does Facebook make us so narcissistic that we will say or post anything for attention? Are we merely advertisement vessels, pawns in money-making scheme? Are we reaching out into a social media abyss, grasping for validation and one more blue packet of aspartame love that we call a "like"?
There's nothing wrong with questioning the utility of Facebook, exploring the negative consequences of our growing dependence, distancing yourself from it when it feels overwhelming, or even quitting altogether if you decide it's not for you.
But contrary to the reaction most might have to the distresses and dramas I just outlined, I feel more emboldened than ever to use this platform.
Instead of fretting about what others post, what negativity it may breed, or kind of power Facebook has taken in our world, it's time for us to reclaim our social media.
The power we think it wields - the power to create depression, to upend relationships, to make us feel jealous or lonely or unloved - that power only exists if we allow it. These problems are a reaction to what others do on Facebook, but our reaction to everything in life is entirely up to us.
I'll use FOMO (fear of missing out, for those without Google) as an example, since it's one I personally encounter.
During the last few weeks I, and some people I love dearly, have endured a terrible, life-altering event. My mind was consumed with the two battling emotions of grief and contemplation. But even as I dealt with a real life tragedy, the siren of Facebook beckoned. I thought of a million things to post, some bleak, some meditative, but very few found their way to my timeline. In those that did, I tried my best to show both the negative and the positive sides of the situation, or really, of life.
As I performed this balancing act, attempting to express my true feelings without overburdening my friends with sadness, I quietly observed the posts of others. This is where the FOMO kicked in... smiling selfies, adorable puppies, cute kids, promotions, achievements, concerts, memes, clever comments, observant quotations, parties, birthday parties, pool parties, parking lot parties, fun, funner, funnest.
My initial reaction was FOMO, jealousy, and even some anger. How dare they have such a good time when there's so much sadness in the world! Or really, how dare they when there's so much sadness in me.
It took a lot of convincing, but eventually I remembered that this was a reaction of my own creation. When posting about happiness it is no true friend's intention to make everyone else sad. Their happiness is just that, my reaction is up to me.
I can choose to feel jealous or I can simply feel happy for my friends while they enjoy a good life.
I can choose to assume their posts are secretly all about me or I can remember Facebook is merely a format sharing a small piece of your life with the world.
I can choose to let worry and regret of what I'm missing out on control me or I can be present where I am and allow everyone else to do the same.
The problems we now blame on Facebook always existed. People were boastful or jealous; some people were happy and some were sad; some people tore each other down and others lifted each other up. Facebook didn't create this, it just provided us with a new platform to express these feelings. Digital age or otherwise, how you react to the sometimes horrible and sometimes amazing world we live in will always be your choice.
Facebook gives us the option to hide/unfriend those who tear each other down or the option to engage in retribution. It gives us the power to spread light or darkness. We are ultimately in charge, it has no power on it's own. What we choose to share and how we choose to react to what others share is entirely in our own hands.
Reclaim your social media. It's yours and it always has been.
For the past many years I've spent much of my free time reading and writing about mindfulness -- that is, living in the present and not worrying about the future or regretting the past. It's been a very personal journey of self reflection and observant reaction. It's also been a Pandora's box of unleashed emotions, both positive and sometimes negative, but all that have helped me grow.
Recently I started posting some of my mindfulness musings on Facebook. The response I received from friends gave me joy and I realized that sharing some of the things I've learned along the way also helps me in my own exploration of life.
So I've decided to do that cliché thing the people of my generation do and post my words to a blog. It is an uncluttered and peaceful space where I'll talk about my search for an uncluttered and peaceful life.
My personal goal is to stay present in today's distraction-riddled digital age. What I write about is based on the moment, how I feel now, and what I've noticed in others. To my friends, that means you may read something you feel hits close to home and some people have already come to that conclusion from my Facebook posts. But I will state categorically that none of what I write is about any one person in particular -- it's about everyone, all people, as a whole. Most of what I have to say is nothing new, it's made up of the things we all deal with every day. Observing and learning from each other is how we all become better at living.
And let me just state from the get-go, I am by no means perfect and I most certainly don't have it all figured out -- I'm often totally off-base, stubborn, self-indulgent, and a worrywort. But those faults are precisely the reasons why I am doing this.
I will always seek to move in the direction of mindfulness -- to better myself and hopefully better those around me in the process. This blog is the detail of that journey. I hope you'll come along with me.
Stay tuned for the first real post tomorrow...