Do you ever get the sense that the time you spend online is taking you away from who you really are? From your highest expression of Self?
Recently I have been exploring, writing and speaking about the potential benefits of a particular kind of approach to creating an alternative future. This involves enhancing the population-wide experience of, and capacity for, Embodied Presence. A significant part of the discussion is about how we can reclaim our power from the virtual spaces in which our minds have become entangled. Just three days ago I spoke about this at the 2020 virtual conference of the Asia Pacific Futurists Network. My talk was entitled: “Power and Presence in Virtual Futures: Conscious relationship to information in the age of “fake news.”
Embodied presence is the mindful relaxation into the present moment. An necessary related concept is “responsible cognition,” which is the deliberate witnessing of your thoughts and feelings as they arise, including your beliefs, narratives and agendas for power and control. The process necessitates accepting those experiences without judgment, and without projecting them onto other people or situations.
Cognitive responsibility can be thought of as an integral component of Embodied Presence. The former entails the latter.
It is true that there are numerous examples of related trends and initiatives that have arisen in recent decades. These include the mindfulness movement; the presence of meditation and yoga institutions; alternative spiritual cultures, and so on. Each of these has had certain successes, as well as having demonstrated limitations. Yet to date and to my knowledge, no modern economically developed society has made any genuine attempt to encourage its population to be more mindful. Neither have we seen cognitive responsibility or related concepts widely promoted Indeed, in recent years we have seen an expanding grievance culture, and this tends to discourage personal responsibility.
There are many individual and population-wide benefits that might potentially follow from the deliberate facilitation of embodied presence across the world today. Evidence for these potentialities can be gleaned from the spiritual and meditative traditions from which the modern idea of mindfulness has drawn from: including the Christian, Islamic (Suffi), Buddhist, Indic, Daoist cultures and so on. More recently, the scientific testing of mindfulness and meditation has leant some credibility to these claims; while popular practitioners have also put forward many important distinctions about such practices. The latter include Ryan Holiday, Eckhart Tolle and Leonard Jacobson, amongst many.
My focus has drawn from all these knowledge sources, and my own long experience in exploring the human psyche. Yet my recent focus has been more specific: how Embodied Presence might facilitate a greater sense of personal empowerment, especially in relation to the way that our minds have been colonised by virtual spaces: by the internet.
The Authentic Self
In the rest of this article I want to briefly outline one specific benefit to shifting attention away from online spaces and back to the body. That is, a return to a more authentic experience of life and self.
Nir Eyal in his book Indistractable identifies a crucial but oft-neglected part of reclaiming personal power from electronic distraction: deciding who we want to be, and what we want to do with our lives. “Distraction” is a misnomer if we do not have something of greater value to be distracted from. My argument here is that there is an Authentic Self which we intuitively know is the “highest” expression of ourselves. Becoming lost in digital distraction and falling prey to the agendas of online bad actors can take us far away from that ideal.
Living life via the Authentic Self is fundamental to the experience of self-empowerment. We feel “powerful” when our broader life focus is upon what we have consciously decided is most important to us. We intuitively feel discomfort, anxiety and ultimately a sense of disempowerment when we lose touch with our authenticity.
To live life from the Authentic Self, we must regularly reflect on what is most important to us: our prime values. We must ask “Who am I, really?;” and “What kind of person do I really want to be?” Mindfulness can be a key part of such introspection. Cultures and societies which operate from what I call Deep Futures will ideally encourage deep questioning. The failure to do so invites the inculcation of less embodied, ITopian societies – Money and Machines worlds.
Further deep questions follow from the two above. I suggest that you reflect upon these questions in meditation, in journal time, or in mindful discussion with a trusted friend. Sometimes we shift away from what is actually most important to us. Because the shift typically occurs slowly over time, we may not notice that we have become something other than who we would prefer.
What are your genuine responses to these questions? Listen carefully for your intuitive sense of the truth.
- “Is the person I am online today the person that my 12-year old self would be proud to have seen me become?”
- “Are the web spaces I visit and the conversations I have online (including anonymously) representative of the most noble and fulfilled expression of who I came here to be?”
- “Are my thoughts and actions online really my own? Or have I become possessed by agendas thrust into my mind my someone else; actions and attitudes that I never consciously made?”
- “Who would I be if I let go of the narratives that consume my online experience?”
- What are some more empowering values and narratives that I could express today to truly embody my Authentic Self?
- Why don’t I just live them?
It may pay to remember that as we move towards the mid-twenty-first century, we live increasing amounts of our lives online. Yet we may unconsciously hold the attitude that time spent in virtual worlds is “not really real;” or “that’s not really me or my life!” Yet if it isn’t you, then who is it?
“What have I become?” may be the most difficult of all questions to answer, but it is one that we must never cease to ask.
As actor Matthew McConaughey (who has kept self-reflection journals for 30 years) has noted, in order to become an authentic person, we must first find out who we are not. This necessitates the negotiation of many tests and trials of life, constant experimentation and regular intelligent risk-taking.
The Authentic Self is not necessarily a precise identity. It is not that we must become a banker, a teacher or a writer. It does not necessitate that we become a activist, counselor or member of a political party. What it does necessitate is that we listen carefully and deeply to what moves within us. When we move upon paths that lead us away from authenticity, it is our intuition that will alert us.
I do not see the concept of an Authentic Self as being incompatible with the realization that the self is an illusion, as is commonly attested in many spiritual and introspective traditions. It is the small self that is the illusion, founded upon a story which we impose upon ourselves, one which becomes entangled with our childhood and life biography (and now increasingly with our online biography). The Authentic Self is the big Self, the Atman, the “I am” that we intuitively know to be a genuine expression of “who I am.” But to fully realise this, we must disentangle our psyches from the narratives that are imposed upon us by others, both online and in our daily lives. The Authentic Self is the empowered self. But it is not power over others that it grants. It is power over our own minds. Most of all it is about setting boundaries, and saying “no” to other people and experiences that do not genuinely serve us.
In this sense, the internet is a gift, but only if we bring awareness to self (and Self) as we engage it. If we are conscious agents in virtual space, then we may use that experience to expand our wisdom and to become what mindfulness teacher Leonard Jacobson calls “champions of the soul.”
What do you think? I welcome your thoughts on this important topic.