Do you enjoy taking selfies? Technology now allows this in a way that is unparalleled in human history. But it’s also a double-edged sword. It’s awesome to be able to capture memories with a simple touch of a cell phone, to share with friends and family. However, if used thoughtlessly, it can also feed vanity, insecurities, and addiction. Like Narcissus, we can become lost in our own image, to the potential tune of 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week.
Cell phone overuse effectively wipes out our real lived experience, as we become completely absorbed in an artificial electronic landscape that has been deliberately designed to be addictive. We literally lose our way in the endless search for the next dopamine hit, fuelled by comments, emojis and “likes.” We also forget to fully appreciate what is right before our eyes, when we become too busy trying to get a selfie of whatever is happening instead.
Taking a selfie to capture an experience is different from experiencing the experience.
This is not to demonize selfies or cell phones! But how do we find balance? Researchers have found that in our chronically stressed and overworked society today, people on their deathbeds never say, “I wish that I had spent more time at work.” I’m willing to bet than in a few years, researchers will also find that dying folks never say, “I wish that I had taken more selfies” or “I wish that I had spent more time on my cellphone/IPad/laptop.” Dying people almost always reflect on real people and real lived experiences, like travel, creating something new, and doing some good in the world.
So where do you want to end up? And how will you spend your time as you journey there?
Meditation is a selfie for the soul. We take a moment to step outside of ourselves, our churning thoughts, and our own very important dramas and opinions. We sit and observe ourselves, i.e., “the self,” and we get the opportunity to appreciate our triggers, habitual reactions, longstanding wounds, and the tender places of vulnerability (why am I not getting more “likes”?!). This is like unlocking a treasure chest…we learn about our own essential nature, and the path to true lasting happiness.
And once we are off the cushion, we understand how to bring this real self to really live each experience, like seeing a new place or painting with our real eyes, or hearing a band play live music in real time, not through an electronic lens or video which detracts from the enjoyment of the moment as it unfolds. Real, unadulterated joy.
So the next time you feel an impulse to pull out your cell phone, try savouring the experience with all five senses instead. Caution: extra happiness may be a side effect 🙂
Kara Santokie, PhD, teaches mindfulness meditation in Toronto, Canada.