The Zen of Leaving Facebook
Current events have made us all think about our relationship to social media and Facebook in particular. As someone who is continually looking for ways to explain Zen this is a great opportunity.
Facebook is a tangible representation of one of our masks, or one of our stories. It is a specific self that we present to the world. Playing to this bit of human nature is the basis of Facebook’s success.
We all present different selves all the time, we have a work self, a nuclear family self and an extended family self, a gym self, a significant other self, an alone time self, a driving self … on and on. Some are similar, some are vastly different. The plot line of many movies is navagating two of these selves into one, but I digress.
The goal that brings people to Zen is to find the ‘one’ behind all the masks. Some have had a glimpse of the something before they start, others come because life isn't working and they have heard or read that there are people who claim another view. Seeing through the masks is commonly expressed at the time, as ‘I am not my story’. Intellectually knowing something like, ‘I am not my story’ is wholly different than experiencing it as insight.
Our Facebook self represents a story of our better-self, for the most part. Most of this is on us, but FB biases the propagation algorithms away from Eeyores and toward the Poohs, Piglets and Tiggers.
As hard as it is to own and disconnect from aspect of self that we hold as lesser, it is even harder to let go of those we see as virtuous. Letting go, transformation and change are difficult*, but typically centered around loss which brings up fear.
If you left Facebook what would you lose? Friends? Identity? Connections? Control?
Are Facebook friends really friends? Likely some, certainly not all. Is the cost of finding out the truth something you could bear?. What if you deleted your profile and created a new one who would accept your friend request?
This is exactly what we do when we join the Zen tribe and take on a dharma name. Rod becomes Eno and it is surprising who has trouble with this. One of my best friends disappeared overnight for 7 years all for fear of the conversation. I broke one of the first rules of human-ness:
“i’ll pretend you are who you think you are, if you pretend I am who I think I am” … stolen from Ram Dass
In everyday life, others learn this when they are indicted and tried or when they come down with a terminal disease. The true friends show up and sit with you or cry with you or even laugh with you. These are the same people who will reconnect, regardless of your name or the social media you choose.
In Zen we do not give up our identity to become someone else, even though we do. It is impossible to be in the world without being somebody. We take on a new identity to break down the layers of crusty build up of ideas, limits, rules, etc…. Rod doesn't do a lot of things, like post on Medium, Eno actually doesn't either, but RodEno does. It traumatizes my mother, embarrasses my kids and baffles many friends. Can’t you just be normal?
Zen practice shows you that the aspects of self are not permanent, solid or fixed. Once you see this, through insight and experience, you just cannot take your self so seriously. Therefore, you hold it more loosly.
Many people have built social media identities that have made them famous and rich. But this is a narrow and fragile thing. One mis-step, one wrong word or post and their backers and identity are gone. This is the true nature of identities. Kylie Jenner doesn't keep reminding people she left SnapChat because she didn't take a hit she still feels. POTUS’s tweets would not be so closely watched if they lost the smash-mouth train-wreck brand.
Meditation is synomonous with Zen practice and meditation is many things to many people. For my purpose here I want to emphasize the aspect of being OK with ourselves. When you sit still and silent for even 30 seconds, the endless and random thought train and the twitches of sensory input become apparent. In the beginning this is uncomfortable, even unbearable for many.
Over time these surface distractions settle down, you work through the layers and you see you are alone to take control of and sort this life out. This is a later phase of practice, however it’s precursors are the loss of connection to those who you thought you could count on.
The human part of us needs to feel connected and is uncomfortable without it.
Being addicted to connection is where Facebook plants it hook.
Our favorite moments in life are when we are most intimately connected. Given the choice of no connection or meaningless connection we will usually choose the later.
For this purpose, Zen practice and sitting can be seen as going throught the DTs of addiction to connection. After withdrawl, we can be OK with ourselves and choose to only engage and spend our energy on meaningful connections.
This is the very reason, this post took a while to formulate and a full day to write. Posting drivel here daily does nothing for me or you.
Many are writing about the benefits of getting off the grid for a week and working through the anxiety of being disconnected. I am all for this, just know that it is the meditation equivalent of that little respite at the end of yoga class or when the shower water hits you after a good work out or long day.
Zen works for people because it is very empowering to see and express your true Self. If you want a little aroma or flavor of Zen ponder leaving Facebook. If you want a taste of Zen suspend your account. If you are ready for your first bite, delete your account.
May your life go well.