Being Watched

 

“The only thing that Orwell failed to predict was that we would install the telescreens ourselves and that our biggest fear is that no one would be watching.”

 

Our children’s insecurities are mounting, magnified in part by their use of social media. They fish and maneuver for compliments and reassurances in the forms of “likes” and “followers.” They grow more and more comfortable spinning and marketing themselves. They remain ever-vigilant for feedback. They spend their precious days ruminating over getting their words just right, or their picture “flawless;” desperately needing others to see them as they most want to be seen.

I once read, “Men watch women and women watch themselves being watched.” This pierced me all the way through the first time I read it in ways that are not easy to articulate. Suffice to say, it spoke directly, acutely, and poignantly to my experience of growing up female in this culture.

I know what it is to watch myself being watched. To watch myself being watched through the eyes of a culture whose expectations, standards, images, accepted behaviors and social norms, of and for a woman, are degrading, disrespectful and dehumanizing. I know what it is to watch myself through the eyes of misogyny that is candy coated in layers of denials, justifications, and projections, and then rolled out as something I should want, even count myself lucky to be on the receiving end of.

For too many years, it left me unnaturally oriented to and even “at home” with being watched in all the wrong ways. It left me at home with being seen in ways that shattered my spirit, denigrated my sense of self, and sacrificed any ease or well-being I might have experienced in my female body. It taught me that my very existence, my right to be here, to be loved and appreciated, was conditional, always, upon what another saw in me. Men most especially. It felt to me like what they saw in me and wanted from me was who I was, and who I needed to be. Whether that was good for me or not. And whether what they saw was true or not.

It felt like all that it would take for me to be banished or reduced down to nothing, was one bad picture of me posted for all to see. A picture deemed so hideous in the eyes of another that it could only mean that that was the truth of me. Because of this, part of me could never, ever stop checking. Could never, ever stop posing and positioning myself in ways that I believed others would like. It felt as though my very existence depended on me knowing precisely what others wanted of me. I worked very, very hard to line up with this.

After I had been doing this long enough, all of the monitoring and the feedback that I had been receiving from outside of me, got installed inside of me. It felt necessary to my survival. I did not trust myself; only those watching me. I did not see myself as separate from being watched. To do this would have required me knowing that I was not what others saw. Since I did not possess that knowing, well, it was anybody’s game. Except mine. It is deeply disturbing to witness how much a woman will go against herself when she is wedded to watching herself being watched; bound by what they “see.”

What is it doing to our children to grow up needing to be watched to feel as though they deserve to exist?

Feeling

We are living in intense and overwhelming times, leaving us with a lot to feel. Simultaneously, we have never had more ways to not feel a single thing. From over-the-counter medications to pharmaceutical prescriptions to recreational drugs. From coffee to sugar to energy drinks to alcohol. And from a never-ending stream of distractions in the form of our screen technologies.

I am a yoga teacher in the Kripalu Yoga tradition. The namesake of the lineage, Swami Kripalu, once said that just when the right thing is happening, an aspirant will perceive it as being the wrong thing that is happening and end the practice. Just when, in all actuality, they are right on the edge of a breakthrough. This is why, he counseled, that it was imperative to receive guidance and support from someone further along on the path.

We see the way this plays out in life. Sometimes just when the right thing is happening, we will label it wrong, or not what we wanted, or expected it to be. It is so hard to imagine that difficult or unwanted feelings could possibly mean that we are onto exactly the right thing. But it is true nonetheless. Our feelings serve as guidance, and as such they are an important source of knowing in the world. Further, our unwanted feelings serve to let us know exactly how and why something is off in our world, requiring our attention.

That includes feelings of anger, anxiety, disappointment, sadness, rage, shame, grief and overwhelm. Can you imagine feeling what you are feeling without trying to medicate it away? Can you imagine seeing awful and difficult to bear feelings as guidance while allowing that perception alone to serve as teacher and guide? Can you see the possibility in this approach in a world gone made with pushing for exactly the wrong things and where it will only be our feelings of discomfort that will light the way for us?

This requires both great sensitivity and great strength. It requires your attention and willingness. And it requires your patience as you learn skills you do not currently possess. What you can expect from this level of effort is that some day, down the road, you will wake up to the realization that not only can you bear what you thought was unbearable, but that in the meantime you have gained great strengths, along with ways of perceiving life where you see the merit and the necessity in being with what is “too difficult” to feel.

Otherwise, we run the risk daily, individually and collectively, of creating over and over again a living hell. If you are feeling something there is a good and valid reason for it. What if you could see it as just that? And if all else fails, refuse to take guidance from anyone or any way of living that is more screwed up than you.

 

The Game

 

There is a way that we all play “the game.” One way or another. A way that we pretend we are enjoying something when we are not. A way that we believe we should want something that we do not. A way that we engage in Life according to rules that we do not believe in.

Sometimes we will fight against this; inwardly or outwardly. Sometimes we will smile our way through; acquiescing to it all. Sometimes we will put our heads in the sand; refusing to engage. Sometimes we will disappear; using invisibility as a way to get out of it. And sometimes we will be passive-aggressive; pretending to play a game that we are subversively trying to undermine. All of this is some form of hiding out; way of refusing to engage with what is not working for us, giving us just enough relief to continue on in a game we don’t want to be playing.

Believing that our only recourse in living is to be found in following rules that we find intolerable is never the answer. The answer lies in knowing yourself and living according to your own rules. The answer lies in completely, totally and even-handedly removing your energies from a game you want no part of, and then funneling all of those powerful, personal energies into a game that does make sense to you.

As someone once said to me; “If I throw a ball at you and you don’t catch it-the game is over.” Learning how to play your own game requires letting the balls drop that are not working for you. That takes guts. It takes trusting what is working for you and not working for you, without judging yourself to be wrong because you do not measure up to the rules of a game you never wanted to be playing in the first place.