We currently live in a culture where we believe we should know “everything,” or at least have access to the possibility of knowing everything. Our culture also ingrains in our mind that we should be “popular” and “relevant.” This mix implies that we should be a popular version of Einstein, maybe close to Neil deGrasse Tyson, but even cooler, more popular, and smarter. Think of a hip version of Iron Man.
Our modern culture of popularity teaches us to stick out in front of the crowd for no apparent reason at all. We should be popular even though we don’t know why. As a result, we are building a culture where we project an artificial persona into social media platforms as if this is a surefire way to popularity and being loved by the world. But this behavior exposes our psychological flaws and fears because our craving for attention is subtly an attempt to try and establish that we are worthy. We incorrectly believe we are worthless if we are not popular and respected by others. These sorts of deep-seated psychological issues that the digital world exposes are only the tip of the iceberg (I will go into these problems and many others throughout the book).
If we are fidgety with our phones and trying to be popular to feel worthy and accepted, then isn’t this anxious use of digital devices questioning our sanity? What is wrong with just sitting still and breathing calmly while listening to the natural sounds of the world? Why don’t we understand that we are worthy no matter what and that it is actually socialization that makes us feel worthless? Oh, that’s right, we have built a culture that can’t sit still for five seconds because we are trying to always distract our mind from the brutal reality we call our lives. We are addicted to busyness and so we identify with what we do rather than who we are.
Well, it’s time to grow up and understand ourselves more intimately and reconnect with life itself. Until that time comes, we need to realize that we live in a culture not mature enough to use technology wisely for the benefit of humanity. Well, not yet anyway.
Are We Headed in the Right Direction? Or is the Digital World a Dead End?
Since we exhibit a level of immaturity with the use of digital technology, is it wise to go full steam ahead in that direction? If we keep falling down the rabbit hole of the digital world, who knows where we will end up and how a human being will be (if we will be human at all. More on this later in the book). If we keep pursuing this artificial life there is a trade-off. The trade-off is we will lose all contact and sensitivity to the natural world and also our own individual naturalness.
When was the last time you went into nature and just listened to her while observing your own natural breathing? Sounds like an odd question doesn’t it. But that’s what life itself is and we are trading it off for a world that is not real. A sad fact of reality is many people find the digital world much more interesting than the real world. But when we compare man-made technology to the natural world there is no comparison, because the mystery and complexity of nature is spellbinding.
You have direct access to the most sophisticated technology in the known universe, and I don’t mean your smartphone. I’m talking about the human organism. You are the most sophisticated piece of technology in the known universe and most of us sadly don’t know anything about it. But, on the other hand, we can teach someone to turn on the television and channel surf. Sadly, we hardly know anything about our body and mind. We’re so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the world that we’ve forgotten we even have a body and mind. We forget about consciousness itself. We are like fish who aren’t aware of the water.
We invest so much time and effort in everything else but ourselves. And I don’t mean investing in your business, home, career, social media presence, and so on. I mean invest in your actual life, your health and sanity. How can we have a healthy and sane world if we don’t invest in health and sanity on an individual level? It’s not possible.
We strive for favorable circumstances externally, but often neglect our inner world. We don’t consider how the digital world is affecting our mind. Having a sense of equanimity and harmony in our life is sadly not our concern in the digital age. We have built a world on comparison and competition, and those competitive juices are being directed into the digital world.
Our natural survival instincts are alerting us to keep up with everyone else by taking advantage of the digital revolution. We better invest our time and energy into our projected self-image of who we think we should be on our Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts or people will know our lives are truly empty and boring (my sarcasm is noted). We spend so much time and energy trying to keep up with everyone else on social media that we totally forget about the real social aspect of life.
We lock our eyes onto our digital screens every waking moment. We clutch our smartphone to the very last minute as we lay down in bed and fire off that last tweet as if it couldn’t wait until tomorrow. We’ll wait for a bus and instead of making eye contact with someone else, we stare blankly into our glowing screens. Life is going by and you don’t even know it. All you know is what the Facebook feed tells you to believe, as we vicariously live other people’s digital lives.
These sorts of habits, such as scrolling the Twitter feed and seeing what is happening in people’s lives on Facebook, are causing a lot of problems psychologically (I will discuss this at length throughout the book). This is where most of our time and energy is directed. But is it intelligent to invest all our time and energy into the digital world? Are we headed in the wrong direction? One thing is for sure, we are headed in an unnatural direction and it doesn’t matter how lofty our goals are, because nature will always have the last word. So, I’m going to be unpopular and suggest we do a complete 180 degree turn and begin to head in the opposite direction.
Return to Your Nature
We have to reconsider where our time and energy are allocated if we are to complete this U-turn in thinking and way of life. We need to be honest with ourselves. Do you spend more time looking at a screen and anxiously anticipating screen time than you do anything else each day? We have to admit that, yes, we do spend most of our day staring into screens or anxiously anticipating screen time, and this wasted time compounds day after day, year after year.
We are not allocating our energy in the right places. Mindlessly living in the digital world has taken most of our time away, leaving no energy for nature or our own creativity and productivity. Maintaining our social media presence is the main energy drain. More time is spent on social media than our creativity, face-to-face communication, and time in nature. We have replaced the spontaneous beauty of life itself for digital upkeep. Our world is becoming less vibrant and alive as a result.
We have to continue traveling in the opposite direction if we wish to reclaim our mind and bring sanity back into the world. We have to drastically reduce our time spent in the digital world and reconnect with life as it truly is.
This book will explain how the digital world is destroying our mind and wasting our precious time. But, most importantly, it will explain a way out of this mess so you can reclaim who you truly are. Who you truly are brings value to the world. But, on the other hand, having a cool and spiffy social media presence is not intrinsically valuable. We’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Our intrinsic nature is what brings value to the world and that has nothing to do with being distracted by digital technology. What you have deep down within you is what benefits the world and your own life. It is the potential we all have, but sadly squander a lot of the time because of life’s distractions (ahem, social media).
We have to stop being distracted to realize the magnitude of the problem. We have to reclaim our time from digital distractions and focus on resurrecting our innate naturalness. If we don’t we run the risk of becoming robotic, meaning our thinking will become more mechanical than natural. This machinelike thinking has already begun in earnest, as our world is geared more towards analytical thinking which fuels rationality over and above everything else. This is a huge mistake. This machinelike thinking is against our spontaneous nature, which is what makes us human. Natural spontaneity is at the core of a human being. In Taoism they refer to this intrinsic naturalness in Chinese as ziran, which means spontaneously of itself. Nature and all of her children are spontaneously of itself. A machine, on the other hand, is not spontaneous or natural in any way. But, amazingly, we are starting to mimic a machine in our way of thinking and behavior (a super rationalist would obviously deny this since it exposes their unnatural behavior).
As a result, we are losing touch with natural spontaneity because socialization makes us compute and calculate everything as if nature is some sort of machine. Nature is not a machine and neither are we because, just in case you forgot, we are nature too. Yet we have constructed a society that is mechanically geared, where self-interest and digital devices destroy our naturalness. In turn, we destroy the environment to sustain our self-interested habits which include using digital technology to pacify our mind. Isn’t it ironic that the more unnatural we become the less we care about the environment? We are intrinsically linked to nature and once one aspect of nature is acting cancerously it affects the whole ever so slowly. We have sold the spontaneous experience of life in favor of a life where we think we have control of our destiny. For those of you who have lived a while, you would know that the spontaneity of life has a way of throwing your best-laid plans out the window. As a result, you have to learn to adapt and grow from unexpected circumstances.
But in the digital age we don’t believe we have to adapt to life because we have access to all information at our fingertips which seemingly allows us to navigate the obstacles of life. And you might be able to navigate through some obstacles, but life will continue to happen beyond your control or perception of how life should be. You can’t just “crop and delete” life’s spontaneous experience.
Since our world has become more rational, we think that we can analyze life to its nth degree and so we can control it for our benefit. But in reality, this will never be true. And yet, this is why the digital world is so appealing, because we can control our experience in that world. We can control the information we want to absorb, where we want to travel (web surf). We can even avoid trolls with the click of a block button. Seems like a utopia, but it’s not.
The digital world is also appealing because we can momentarily escape life’s brutality. And yes, life can be brutal sometimes, but by diving into your phone those things you have to face won’t magically disappear. The digital world acts the same as any addiction: when life is tough, we lean on a substance to try and escape life or escape, most commonly, ourselves. As with any addiction, we begin to become dissociated with ourselves and the world around us. So, the addiction we have to our phones and other digital devices is the beginning of our dissociation with our own naturalness and the environment. Hence, we only care about the next time we can mindlessly be in the digital world. Everything else is just a waiting period to be there. As a result, an addict loses their naturalness because all of their energy is spent in unconsciously suppressing their nature.
Fidgeting with our smartphones, or any other digital device, only enhances our unnaturalness which leads to chronic stress and anxiety. Digital devices ramp up our stress and anxiety, and most of us don’t even know we live in this unnatural state of mind most of the day. Sadly, most of us don’t know what an equanimous mind feels like. The digital world only aggravates stress and anxiety which ultimately destroy our nature if we live in that state of mind more often than not. Digital technology can only enhance unnaturalness in us because it is not natural. It is not natural to us.
Digital technology is not like using the physical design of a violin to train our body to the point that the beauty of Bach can emanate from the instrument. But instead, the digital world has nothing to do with the nature of your body because it is a world that keeps you locked in the mind. As a result, we disconnect from our body and reside in our own private sanctuary in our mind.
This disembodied state leads not only to an unhealthy and insane individual, but also an unhealthy and insane world. Our naturalness depends on mind-body holism (I will explain this at length in Chapter 5). Our mind and body are embodied, not separate. The digital world is trying to pull us out of our bodies (nature), where we just dwell in the illusion of our mind. We need to return to our nature before it’s too late. If we don’t take seriously what this book explains, then we can’t complain about the insane world that awaits us.
Book excerpt from Spiritual Freedom in the Digital Age by Jason Gregory © 2022 O Books.
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