In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, prisoners are lined up facing a wall lit by a fire behind them. They’re chained in and cannot turn around to see the fire or the puppets that cast shadows upon the wall that they’re looking at. Having no knowledge of the fire or the puppets, they assume that these shadows are reality. They’re unable to see the intricacies of the actual puppets themselves, only the representations of them along the wall. John O’Donohue compares Plato’s allegory to our modern reality and writes, “Television and the computer world are great empty shadowlands.”
Lately, my life has felt too shadow-y for my liking. Many of my days are spent in front of a screen of some sort, “constantly looking at empty and false images; these impoverished images are filling up the inner world of the heart” (O’Donohue). I find myself paradoxically craving screen-time and hating it. My relationship to technology, and social media sites in particular, has become gnarly, burdensome, and empty. If I had to choose a relationship status to sum things up, it would be “It’s Complicated.”
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much time the average American spends online or in front of the television for you to know that it’s a lot.
And this post isn’t meant to convey the idea that technology is all bad, because it isn’t. The ability for us to connect with others across time and space is a straight-up miracle, but like anything, it can be both dark and light.
My life last week was full and crazy and demanding, and I really struggled with staying integrated and balanced. I didn’t sleep enough, I gobbled down food at my desk, I never took breaks, and I ended the week feeling like you would expect: completely obliterated. This certainly wasn’t just due to the fact that I was on social media or watching television sometimes, but it forced me to get real about how I want to spend my finite time and energy.
Before deciding last week to take a break from social media, I tried a mentor’s suggestion to simply change the way that I orient to it – to think of it as a tool that I get to choose to use. I gave that my best effort, but I’m so deep in the muck and mire of my “online presence” (gross) that I can’t even see clearly enough to change my orientation to it.
All I know is that I want more time to read books, write powerful blog posts, and prepare deeply for sessions with my coaching clients. I also know that while I love connecting with readers and loved ones online, I usually log off feeling disconnected and insecure about who I am or what I’m doing.
Almost every religious or spiritual tradition in the world embraces fasting in some form or another. Typically, this has been to fast from food and drink (except water) during times of stress or intense prayer, but it has also been used by our ancestors as a way to reset our body and its relationship to food. By choosing to step away from something for a while, you’re able to see it clearly again. When you fast from something, it becomes renewed in some way so that it’s different when you re-engage with it.
So this month, I’m trying out a new way of living and working: I’m going to fast from social media, professionally and personally, for 30 days.
Easy breezy, right? Well, except for the fact that I’m a) probably addicted to it, and b) have been told numerous times not to do it because it will be the death of my business. But heck, it’s 2016, and I feel ready to try something new. This month, I’m going to trust that I won’t evaporate when I turn off my accounts. I’m going to have faith that if I put out content that is powerful and helpful, that you will want to tell your friends about it. I’m going to use the time that I spent on social media to read, write, and deepen my understanding of how to live and work in a way that is truly more integrated.
What do you need to temporarily fast from?
Which part of your life could use some renewed perspective? If you’re part of the Christian tradition, you may be partaking in Lent soon, which starts on February 10th this year. Even if you’re not observing Lent, I’m sure there are things in your life that feel heavy or burdensome and that need to be “reset.” When we step far enough away from the things in our lives that are weighing us down, we can begin to understand them again.
I’ll leave you with another beautiful quote from John O’Donohue:
“To look at something that can gaze back at you, or that has a reserve and depth, can heal your eyes and deepen your sense of vision.”
We can definitely still stay in touch without social media! You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (gasp!) call me at 971-279-6755. To get these posts sent straight to your inbox, just enter your email address into the little black box on this page.