What is new and what is Real


Don’t look for yourself in the reflection called social media. Be.

Originally posted on Inner Light and Grace:

Questioner: What effort is necessary for reaching the Self (Atma or the True Being)?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: ‘I’ should be destroyed. Self is not to be reached. Is there any

moment when Self is not? It is not new. Be as you are. What is new

cannot be permanent. What is real must always exist.

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Posted by on November 16, 2014 in Journal


Are You ‘You’ for You or Are You ‘You’ for Others?

Complicated title, no? I read a fascinating article by Rob Horning on New Enquiry about social media and how we construct ourselves not for ourselves but for others, therefore our introspection is merely the capitalist consuming of communications and media. Wow, but bear with me. Try to wrap your mind around this quote:

“..artists make a lot of great work for no greater purpose than attention-seeking, and the idea that anything is truly “inner-directed” may be a ideological illusion, given how we all develop interiority in relation to a social world that precedes us and enables us to survive. But what I am trying to emphasize here is how production in social media is often sold to users of these platforms as self-expressive creativity, as self-discovery, as an elaboration of the self even, but it is really a narrowing of the self to the reductive, defensive aim of getting recognition, reassurance of one’s own existence, that one belongs. That kind of “creativity” may crowd out the more antisocial kind that may entail reclusion, social disappearance, indifference to reputation and social capital, to being someone in particular in a network. Self-invention in social media that is perpetually in search of “feedback” is really just the production of communication, which gives value not to the self but to the network that gets to carry more data (and store it, and sell it).”

I would go so far as to say that all artists who paint, write, create music, etc. in order to be recognized and get feedback are not true artists, but consumers of the production of communication media. They aren’t really expressing real feelings, but showing others what they want to see, or hear, or read.  In other words they are creating for others in the hope of becoming themselves, they are creating to make money and to be counted in the social milieu that exists outside themselves. They are no one unless they are SEEN.

I would also suggest that ‘artists’ who only exist for feedback are incapable of humility and introspection simply because they cannot feel at home in themselves without the approval of others and will go to greater and greater lengths to get the attention they crave.  Only when we are at home in our own souls can we invent ourselves as we wish to be or truly create something artful and meaningful. True art requires a certain self-forgetfulness which is in short supply in social media. Horning writes,

“Actual “self-invention” — if we are measuring it in range of expressivity — appears more like self-dissolution. We’re born into social life and shaped by it; self-discovery may thus entail a destruction of social bonds, not a sounding of them.”

Alternatively, living a religious or spiritual life calls for self-dissolution into the Divine in such a way that we can truly exist without the restraints society puts on us. Letting the Divine fill that God-shaped hole is the only satisfying solution. One can so easily get locked into the social feedback loop where one has to do greater and perhaps riskier things to get the feedback, even to the point of possible self-harm. Where does it end?  I think this is why so many artists die young or by suicide. They are destroyed by the very validation they seek. Relationships die. Self-esteem plummets because feedback is never enough to feel at home in their own skin. Horning says that

“Validation is nice, but as a goal for creative effort, it is somewhat limited. The quest for validation must inevitably restrict itself to the tools of attracting attention: the blunt instruments of novelty and prurience  (“Kanye West in a balloon chair”). The self one tries to express tends to be new, exciting, confessional, sexy, etc., because it plays as an advertisement. Identity is a series of ads for a product that doesn’t exist.”

As religious Quakers we are called to live plainly and simply in a society that demands more and bigger and even better. As Quakers, our yes should be yes, and our no, no. As Quakers we are asked to walk and speak as representatives of the Light so that others will see a better way to live and perhaps a more peaceful way. Does that mean we give up social media? Not necessarily. Horning suggests this:

“The alternative would seem to be a sort of deep focus in isolation, in which one accepts the incompleteness that comes from being apart from an audience, that comes from not seeking final judgment on what one is doing and letting it remain ambiguous, open-ended, of the present moment and not assimilated to an archive of identity. To put that tritely: The best way to be yourself is to not be anybody in particular but to just be.”

Spirituality is about breaking that cycle by tuning into the Light/Divine and just BE as a child of the Light. Don’t let others consume you. Don’t be consumed by the curiosities and gluttony of the press or even those who are also trying to fill that void. One way to ‘be in the world and not of it’ is not to fall for the traps it lays in front of us; to face up to an economy that tells us to keep consuming because that is all that we can do. We need also to stop consuming others as much as we consume things. Turn to creativity, Love, peace, and those things worth pursuing.

This is why Quaker worship is so important. In Quaker worship, one day out of 7, we are supposed to sit in silence and come face to face with all that tries to take our attention away from loving our neighbors, caring for and nurturing our families, taking care of the poor and needy, and yes, loving ourselves. We are to face our limits and realize what a poor imitation we make of trying to stay relevant to a social audience. We spend money to make ourselves more conspicuous, sexier, and younger. Always desiring an audience will temporarily fill us with satisfaction, but it will leave us wishing for more and is never ultimately satisfying. How scary it is to give all that up and face who we really are when no one is watching, but I would offer: how more fulfilling! We might even be more creative.

“My life has been one of great vicissitude: mine has been a hidden path, hidden from every human eye. I have had deep humiliations and sorrows to pass through. I can truly say I have ‘wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way, and found no city to dwell in’; and yet how wonderfully Ihave been sustained. I have passed through many and great dangers, many ways – Ihave been tried with the applause of the world, and none know how great a trial that has been, and the deep humiliations of it; and yet I fully believe it is not nearly so dangerous as being made much of in religious society. There is a snare even in religious unity, if we are not on the watch. I have sometimes felt that it was not so dangerous to be made much of in the world, as by those whom we think highly of in our own Society: the more Ihave been made much of by the world, the more I have been inwardly humbled. I could often adopt the words of Sir Francis Bacon – ‘When I have ascended before men, I have descended in humiliation before God.’”

Elizabeth Fry, 1844, Quaker Faith and Practice 21.09, 5th Edition Online


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‘This Lovely Emptiness’

This is a good web site for daily thoughts and quotes:

Heaven is nothing we can seek through our own virtue: it cannot be earned; it is a gift of the God of love. When we are self-emptied enough to make room for this love, it is not as a result of our own moral rectitude or willpower. But it is sometimes given to us, this lovely emptiness, and then the Holy Spirit can fill it, with prayer, or music, or a poem, or a story. Or, sometimes, it goes beyond all these to the greatest gift of all, being filled with that which is beyond all symbols, with God’s Presence. And then we are far more than when we are filled with self-probing, self-centeredness, or self-righteousness.

Source:Madeleine L’Engle A Stone for a Pillow


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“Where We’re Stuck”

I like this quote from Pema Chodron, even if she does use the faddish buzz words ‘lean in':

…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are..

via Someone Has Frustrated You. Now What Do You Do? | Psychology Today.

This is a good article about making a response that is about you and not about someone else. Sometimes I worry that focusing so much on Self will create a generation or two of narcissists, but I can see how focusing on our reactions first helps us to check unreasonable anger and perhaps even violence if we are so inclined. Perhaps we should be teaching children similar techniques in controlling their reactions. The hard part is checking ourselves quickly before we react.


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What Are Philosophers For?


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