On knowing yourself

October 19, 2016

Last weekend, a professor and mentor of mine posted a link to an article titled “I Used to Be a Human Being.” The author discusses his dependence on, his addiction to, the internet and the constant stream of “content” being created (Sidenote: I absolutely loved his statement of photography, writing and video being lumped together and called “content” which, upon reflection, belittles the creation and the work that goes into making it).

There are so many things I would like to pull from and quote from the article, but I’ll let you read it yourself. Suffice it to say, I was struck by the way the author felt unable to disengage from the online world we have created. We’ve become a society addicted to the online world, and our true world, our physical reality, seems secondary.

I had the great fortune of interviewing my yoga and meditation instructor for an upcoming article on meditation I’m writing, and she had some incredible insight. In working with her for the past two years, she has opened my eyes and my heart to the incredible power of meditation and mindfulness, of being truly present in the moment. One thing she said in the interview was as humans, we think our thoughts are special, our feelings are unique when, in reality, everyone else is also having similar feelings. But, because of the online world we now live in and our nature as humans to pre-judge, we create this persona for people that is not their reality.

Take, for example, my yoga instructor. Every time I get on the mat, she is there to lead me through practice. I may assume that she has perfected yoga and meditation, that every pose she does she does perfectly every time, that every time she sits to meditate, she is able to do so effortlessly.

But that’s not true. She shared that while she has been practicing meditation for many years, only in the last two or three has she been able to release some of her past emotions, let her walls down, and is able to sit with her thoughts with less struggle. She has shoulder pain, so she does not do certain poses because they hurt her body. But it is only by interacting with her on a personal and human level that I was able to learn these things; I could have spent the rest of my life assuming things about her, rather than learning she’s a human being just like I am, with flaws and feelings. I was opened to the reality of her humanness. By leaving pre-judgement behind, you leave that person open to be whomever they truly are instead of who you think they should be.

The lives people portray on social media are not real. Photos are posed and edited; they offer a tiny little snapshot into someone’s life. And it’s affecting our ability to connect with our friends and family in a real and meaningful way. We “like” a photo on our Facebook feed and if we happen to see our friend who posted it, we may comment on it. But that doesn’t constitute a conversation, an intimate connection between two people. Unless we take the time to ask them what they were doing before the photo, what happened after, what is really going on in their life, our interaction is surface-level at best.

And while our potential inability to connect with other people is disturbing, it’s not near as disturbing as the fact that we are no longer connecting with our own self.

The author of the article talks about going to a meditation conference, and having to give up his phone. Can you imagine going without your phone for one day, let alone an entire conference? I’ve often forgotten my phone at home and have felt incomplete all day at work: what if someone needs me, what if I miss a phone call, how can I check my Instagram?

But the reality is, if someone needs me, they can call me at work. They can send me an email. They will get a hold of me. We’ve become so attached to our phones we forget what it is like to be without them.

At any given downtime during the day, our automatic reaction is to reach for our phone. Waiting for a pot of rice to boil? Phone. Waiting for a meeting? Phone. Even watching tv, when the ads come on, we reach for our phone. We are quickly losing our ability to sit with ourselves and our thoughts and to just be.

What does it mean that we struggle so badly to let our thoughts happen? We spend so much of our day trying to keep ourselves distracted so we don’t have to listen to our inner self. But that is the reality of who you are. And if you don’t take the time to listen, you’re losing the depth of your person.

When going for a walk, how many times do you stop to take a picture of something rather than simply stopping and enjoying it? Last weekend, I spent an afternoon hiking in the woods, and it was really hard not to take pictures every other minute. I mean, it’s the peak of fall color season here in southern Minnesota, and I was overwhelmed by the glorious colors surrounding me. I was so accustomed to taking photos that I even started coming up with captions for the images I wasn’t even taking!

It took a while, but by the end of my hike, I was finally comfortable not grabbing my phone at every beautiful thing I saw and instead, taking time in the moment to simply see it.

Our online world is taking over our physical reality. And while this may not be a bad thing (only time will tell, though I believe it is certainly not a good thing), we need to be aware of it. By being aware, we are able to react to the situation.

Our thoughts are scary. But they don’t define us. They are part of us, but not all of us. So yes, it is unnerving to sit and listen to your thoughts, to truly be alone with yourself. But that is an important part of what it means to be human. If we lose this ability, what will we become?

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