FOMO

Fear of Missing Out.

In our attempts to keep up with what the technologies demand of us now, we have tapped into and amplified a kind of deep inner tension and primal human fear that seems to sit squarely on our chest, day in and day out. And it is one that we are passing on to our children. That being, the unbearable terror of being left out of the loop. Of not knowing something. Of being “excluded.”

Does it in any way strike you as ironic, or perhaps more to the point, sad, that the more ways that we can know and connect to one another, the more intense the fear of missing something, or of being left out has grown? With our virtually infinite number of ways to gain access to anything and anyone now, there is still the ever-present fear that, if even for a moment you step away from your device, don’t bring it with you, or god forbid don’t answer or check something that comes in, that you will miss something that you cannot afford to miss.

Can you allow yourself to take a step back and feel all the way through you the intensity and the burden that this places on a life? And for a moment, can you imagine the enormous, indelible, and fear-based imprint this is leaving on our children? The anxiety, the vigilance, and the imprisonment that this generates within their growing psyches? And can you extrapolate out to how all of this leads them to believe that there is one recourse, and one recourse only; remain on guard and ever-attached to the demands of the machines. Always. No matter the cost.

No matter the way that it interferes with their ability to think their own thoughts, or to organize their time as they see fit. No matter how this interferes with sleep or with the experience of spending uninterrupted time with another. No matter the way that they, like Pavlov’s dogs, are continually at the beck and call of pings as opposed to the call of their own soul.

Think this one through. Or better yet, as an experiment, step away for a time, and see what happens. And if this feels too extreme for you, begin by asking yourself one simple question; “Realistically speaking, what am I most likely to miss out on, the vast majority of the time?” Another political rant? Another recycling of the same old themes in the news hopped up to make them seem as if they are new and worthy of your attention? A cute emogee? A post about how great and care-free another person’s life is, or how “amazing” their child is? A string of time-wasting, inane, throw-away, or insecure texts? A ridiculous picture or another stupid video that you just have to see, right now? A tweet from someone that you do not, and will not, ever know?

It just goes on and on.

It is time to get real with this one. Especially for our children. Otherwise, both they and we are doomed to suffer through the most obscene, asinine, time-consuming, and soul-sucking experiences that have ever been available to human beings. All of this happening every single day of our lives, and all in the service of never, ever, missing out on a single thing.

Interestingly enough, and despite all of our best efforts to keep up with the output being generated through the screens, we may just find that, in the end, we have indeed missed out. That we were, in fact, justified in our fears around missing something. Only, it will not be what we imagined. It will be something far worse.

 


 

 

Spaciousness

 

The space to do nothing. The space to be bored. The space to learn about yourself and the world without time lines, marketing agendas, or too much outside influence. The space to be on your own or with others without a lot to do. The space to get comfortable with yourself, by yourself, without the need for externals to make you OK. The space to feel. The space to just be. As is.

This is one face of childhood. And it is life-giving in its offerings of inner resourcefulness, ease within your own skin, the ability to know your own mind, the capacity to be with the up and down rhythms of Life, and so much more.

This is not an easy thing to find in a world that is suspicious and intolerant of nothing to do. Or having too much time on your hands. Or allowing for quiet. Or for welcoming stillness and solitude. Not to mention the epidemic of fear around feeling. Yet, when I look back and remember the unfounded concerns that I had that my children were not scheduled into enough things, or were missing out because they were not on Facebook, or learning about the world through the computer, I would tell that young mama, and all the ones like her, to rest easy. Why? Because this older and more seasoned mother knows some things as reflected by the way her young adult children are moving through the world now. The ways that they can keep their own company and be with life without trying to get out of it. The ways that they do not make themselves so busy that they cannot feel what they are feeling, or know what they are knowing.

In a week where I read that almost half of our children now will suffer from a mood disorder, a behavioral problem, or substance abuse, I am struck by the contradiction in this statistic with the conversation I had with one of my own children currently in the midst of a difficult romantic break-up. In our conversation, they spoke over and over again of letting themselves be with the process, giving themselves time, letting the hurt be there while knowing simultaneously that some day it would end. In sum, an awareness of, and an ability to be with, what is difficult. Space created to be with and feel what is there without looking for an escape route.

We live in a time when our children never have to feel anything they do not want to, nor develop a skill set to be with those very same unwanted feelings. In a time where because of the seemingly infinite ways of the modern world to keep them busy, entertained, distracted and checked out, they never get the experience of spaciousness in childhood. And it shows.

It shows in how they are more interested in what is coming across a screen than what is right in front of them. It shows in all of their fears and in their inability to be with themselves.Through the devices, there are far too many ways for our children to numb out and distract themselves when they hurt, bored, lonely, sad, angry, or disappointed. There are far too many avenues to never have to feel, or be alone, or to come up against yourself in any kind of a meaningful way.

Does it strike you at all that in a time of increased exposure to screens and all that that opens our children to, we have increasing levels of mood disorders, addiction, and behavioral problems? And while we can never point the finger at any one thing, do you see the possibility of a connection here?

What do you know to be true around the ways that the screens occupy, medicate, distract, and distort the beauty, necessity, and innocence of childhood itself?

As parents, if we can give our children a foundation of spaciousness, allowing for their childhood life to organically reveal and resolve itself, we give them the gift of knowing not only that feelings come and go, but that they have the capacity to meet what comes their way. This will never be possible in a world where keeping your children busy, over-scheduled, and glued to a screen is often seen as the best way to prepare them for life.

Distractions

 

Bear with me as I cycle back to the woman from the yoga class that I struggle with. This past week, true to form, she comes in late, creates a little disturbance as she sets up, and then gets back up, goes to her bag, and pulls out her cell phone. She starts checking something, and than makes an audible sound as if to signal that this important thing has come in, and even though it is an inconvenience, she must absolutely attend to it. Right now. She then steps just far enough outside of the room, but not so far that her conversation cannot be heard by the rest of us.

My mind is exploding. It is like a feral animal locked in a cage as it hurls itself around this topic. I am lining up all of the ways that I am going to approach the teacher, and maybe even the studio owner. I have got this cold. My argument is irrefutable. Her transgressions egregious and worthy of reproach. Her awareness of others so non-existent as to be justifiably offensive. Her behavior so very un-yogic. And then…

I notice myself. I see how much attention I am giving this and I begin to wonder why. Suddenly, it hits me. My body is struggling today. Muscles are stiff, and things that usually are not a problem, are hurting. As I turn towards all of this bodily sensation, I am moved to emotion by how much we must navigate each and every moment of every single day as part of the human experience. Some things desired in terms of the sensations we feel. Some things not.

That is when it dawns on me that it is much easier to be railing against her than it is to be in my own body. It is much easier to blame another for the experience I am having. It is much easier to distract myself from my own experience than it is to be with what is too uncomfortable to be with.

It is so human to want to get away from the intensities of being in a body. There is so much to be felt; other people, stress, traffic, weather, politics, pollution, body ailments, moods, emotions, mind states, and more. A continuous stream of sensation that never ends. And depending on how we are choosing to live, that stream will be more or less intense. More or less confusing. More or less tuned into as a source of information and guidance

So, what are we to do given, that through our use of the screen technologies, it has never been easier to distract ourselves from ourselves? How are we to be with the truth of our bodies, and what it is to be alive? Maybe you can try what one of my college students came up with. On her screen she has the words “Turn Over.” Every time she picks up her phone, she sees this, turns her phone over, and reads the sticky note she taped to the back. There, she finds the big, bold question “Why are you here?”

Who We Are

 

I am no longer what I once was. I am not yet what I will be. I can only be as I am in this moment. This comes to me in a yoga class as I am looking out over my life around where I have been, and who and what it is that I am trying to grow into.

Have you ever noticed how often people angst over what has come before, along with how often we long for what is yet to come? How many of our thoughts go to revisiting, living in, or fighting with, what came before? How much of our attention centers around anticipating, struggling with, or glorifying, what will be? And yet, we can only be whatever it is that we actually are in any given moment. We can only change, act, create, or anything else we can do or imagine, from this moment.

Can you envision what it would be like to get back all of the hours, days, weeks, months, and ultimately years, that you have spent in your mind in either the past or the future?

It is such a propensity of the ordinary mind to fret over the future, or to drag the past around. Both are a trap. Neither offers happiness. Or peace. Or anything else for that matter that we really want. And yet we do it, over and over and over again. Interestingly enough, as bad as this is for us, it is getting even worse. How? Through the amplification of both of these tendencies brought on by how we are using the technologies.

There was a time when you could leave your past behind. You could make the choice to break from who you were at a younger age, or from ways of being you no longer wanted to be associated with. No more. Everything we are doing is being documented. And saved. Indelibly imprinted on The World Wide Web. (Unless of course, you are rich enough or have the kinds of connections that can make anything go away, but not the kind of power most of us possess.)

And then there are all the ways that we can spend our days polishing and performing the ideal version of the us we most want others to see. We can create our future yearning, our idealized self without actually making a single change in how we are living. Without any of it actually being real.

I often joke with my college students, “Thank God, nothing I did in high school, college, or through my early twenties lives on through the Internet.” They laugh. Partly because somewhere they are nervous for themselves, and what they have posted. And partly because that admittance on my part, surprises them; for in many ways, and in the most important of ways, the woman that stands before them in no way resembles what came before. And that is exactly how I want it.

Why would I want to move beyond and away from aspects of my past? Because I want the freedom to be able to reinvent myself; to cast off aspects that were not the truth of who I was, and therefore who I truly am. I want the chance to move beyond old habits and ways of being that do not serve my current values and ideals. I want the opportunity to be different. I want the space to transform.

Don’t we all deserve this? The chance to remake and reshape ourselves into the best version that we can possibly imagine for ourselves? And to actually do it for real? By that I mean, not the fantasized versions that so many post, calling it them and a life, but honest to goodness transformation of who we are and how we live through real world blood, sweat, and tears.

The opportunity to move beyond our old selves and to claim a true and authentic representation of who we are is not just necessary for us, it is necessary for the world. We are here to learn and to grow in the service of our fullest expression with the result being a greater contribution to all of Life. How will this be possible for the generations coming up where everything they have ever done will follow them around like a bad smell for the rest of their lives? How will they ever be allowed to be solid with who they are at any given moment when the driving zeitgeist is to be constantly reinventing yourself in cheap, showy, unreal, and shallow ways; performing that out in virtual reality as the new and improved version of yourself?

Quantity vs. Quality

My children are in Nashville and Seattle. Sometimes we speak one or more times in a week. Sometimes several weeks will go by with no contact. I have no rules, nor any expectations around the number of connections we make within a specified time period. And when I am not holding myself up to what I often see happening around me, I feel the rightness of this for our relationship; for what I am personally after is quality, not quantity. What I am after is a give and take in relationship that honors where everyone is at; recognizing each person’s need for both sovereignty and interconnection, while understanding that that ebbs and flows over time.

This flies in the face of how many of us relate to one another now via our devices (With “to” versus “with” being the operative word). I hear this regularly from college students who text intimate others or parents multiple times a day; even when there is nothing to convey. It is less a communication than a neurotic, obsessive, dogged obligation. Too harsh? Maybe. But when you line up that for all of our ways to be in contact, too many of us do not allow, and are not allowed, any space to exist in the relationship outside of continuous contact, obligation gone bad becomes the most apt description of what is happening between us. For how else would we label how no to little time is allowed for anything of significance to arise or happen to us before we are back in contact again? How else would we label how we leave no to little time anymore to be on our own, or to digest an experience before we report it back out?

These same ever-in-contact students often talk about feeling harangued, dissatisfied, and burdened with so many obligatory and meaningless exchanges. But they find it impossible to break free as this way of doing things has become the new agreed upon currency of love and connection. Without which one risks violating a social norm of what it looks like to care. Without which one runs the risk of looking like there is not much of a bond between you and those you care about.

Why have we done this to one another? Why do we continue to do something that so burdens and diminishes what is between us? Why have we taken something so precious and so life-giving and reduced it down to a neurotic numbers game. Have we so little faith in each other? Have we so little faith in ourselves to experience life without immediately reporting out every last detail ad nauseam to anyone that we can text?

Texting is not talking. And quantity does not equal quality. It never has, and it never will.

Monsters

 

I am in the check-out line at the co-op this week. I often enjoy this time as I get to interact with all kinds of people; many of whom are twenty-somethings, and I love to hear what they are into. Some days it truly inspires me. Some days it truly breaks my heart.

On this day, when I ask the young woman how it’s going, she responds by saying, “Tired.” She then cheerfully adds, “But that’s OK-I’m always tired.” Even though I know that social etiquette would say that now it’s my turn to say something, I pause. She then picks the conversation back up by saying, “Well, it’s my own fault. My hobby keeps me up all night.” Hmm. At first I am wondering if it’s something like reading, knitting, cooking, or art. But because it somehow doesn’t seem to fit in with being up all night, I ask, “What’s your hobby?” She smiles a big, wide grin at me and says, “Gaming.” Pause. Pause. Pause.

Truly, I do not know how to respond. Where would I even begin? Since when has spending time in front of a screen been given the lofty designation of a hobby in the life of a human being? Since when did we collectively agree that depriving your body of one of its most basic and health-promoting needs is something to be proud of? And since when did women start jumping into a pathologically imbalanced male-dominated arena, leaving us now just as vulnerable as the men in making the wrong thing essential? It is so eerily reminiscent of women trying to be like men in the work force; ultimately putting us on the same level as them when it comes to rates of stress and heart disease.

Because the woman part hits me the hardest, I decide to wade into the pool on this one.

“Oh,” I say, “I haven’t run into many female gamers.” She tells me that’s because up until a few years ago it was really hard to break into the gaming circles if you were a woman, but that now it’s gotten way easier. “Why’s that?” I ask. Because, she tells me, the companies have figured out that they are losing money by not including women, so now they are much better at monitoring these sites and squelching bad and exclusive behavior on the part of male gamers.

“As a matter of fact,” she tells me, “there was a recent study that proves that the number of female gamers is the largest growing group. Even bigger than teenage boys!” She is absolutely glowing with pride as she tells me this. Pause. Pause. Pause. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. “Now they’ve got the women,” is all that I can think. This is truly terrifying.

This precious young woman has not even begun to consider what this “hobby” of hers is doing to her physical health, and her ability to be in her real life in any kind of a meaningful way. She has not stopped to consider that the open access that the companies have created for her and other women like her is being done at the expense of not only her body, but her very heart and soul sensibilities as a woman. She has not stopped to consider that this league of which she is now a part is a littered graveyard full of wasted human potential.

The irony of it all? Her favorite game is Monster Hunter. What she loves most of all is the skill set she has developed. The one that allows her to identify where the demons are and, even getting good enough to be one step ahead of their clever, demonic, and dark adaptations at eluding extermination. Would that she turn these skills on the very real monsters that haunt and elude her in the real world, she might just have a chance of getting out with her very own life.

Why The Abdication?

 

In the wake of the most recent school shootings, there has been a strong and widespread response from our teens for #NEVERAGAIN. They are taking to the streets, and to their social media outlets demanding that what is happening be addressed. Now. Some postulate that with these teens coming into voting age in a few short years, this has the potential to shift politics; putting our politicians on notice that they had better get serious about making changes around gun laws. Or risk being voted out.

So much possibility here. And if this were to come to fruition, how amazing that finally we would see some real movement on an issue long overdue for change. And yet, one question aches to be addressed and answered. Why have we left this up to the children? Why has this generation been so systemically left on their own? Why have we, as the adults, not been the ones protecting them? Not being the ones to get this, and other things like it, done on their behalf?

There has been a strange and harmful reversal of the roles between parents and children afoot over the last generation. Instead of the adults claiming their position as the ones to be the grown-ups in the relationship, we opt to be their friends. Instead of us setting and enforcing, necessary ground rules around what they eat, when they go to bed, how many activities they can sign up for, and how much technology they can use, we ask them if it is OK, or what they think we should do around limit setting. Instead of us drawing lines in the world on their behalf to protect them, we look to them to change the world for us. And for them.

What has happened to us? Are we too busy? Too distracted? Too overwhelmed? Too brainwashed? Too addicted? Too afraid? Too disempowered? All of the above? In order for our children to be able to take a healthy stand in the world, they must first have the experience of someone standing up for them in a healthy way. Too often, as a culture, we are dazzled by all that our children can do and have taken on without recognizing that we have forced the bud; and with it all of the consequences associated with putting children into the role of the grown-up long before they are emotionally mature enough to handle that level of responsibility.

Could this be why so many of our young people are so disproportionately suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, along with the overwhelming and bizarre fears they experience like no other generation has held in the way that they do? Let us never forget that when it comes to our children and the world they inhabit, it is always, and always will be, up to us.

Escape

 

Have you been noticing how easy it is to escape from our lives through the way we are using the technologies? Nowadays there is always a way to get out of where we don’t want to be, or what we don’t want to feel, or what we don’t want to experience.Think about it for a moment. Exactly what is it that we are trying so hard to get away from? Exactly what is it that is so awful that we cannot bear to be with?

Escapism is defined as the need to get out of, or away from, reality. It is essential to register that the very same reality we are trying so hard to get away from, is in fact, our very own lives.These lives that we are trying to get out of are, in fact, the very same ones that we ourselves have created, and continue to create; whether we know it or not. Whether we accept that as true or not.

If you buy this, then the most obvious question here becomes why do we create, day after day, lives we are so desperate to get out of? And while reflecting on ourselves in this way can be time-consuming and difficult to be with, without this knowledge, we live as if our lives are something we would just rather not be a part of. Lived long enough this becomes the hallmark of our existence, and the legacy we leave behind.

Without the recognition of the painful “realities” we have been creating through stress, busyness, and distraction we wind up using the technologies as a perpetual escape hatch as opposed to a tool to uplift our lives. Through our escapist uses of the screens, we create the life-depleting belief that we are getting away from something. That we are getting ourselves to a more desirable “reality.” Virtually. When looked at through the lens of escapism, all of this is true.

What is also true is that we are individually and collectively creating a world that is noticeably and distinctively uninhabited by people. Without occupying the world of our own making, we live removed from the truth. That being that when we live at a distance from seeing and feeling what is not working for us, there is no opportunity to self-correct. That being that our lack of personal accountability becomes a loss not only in our lives, but in the lives of others as well. And if there are enough of us vacating our lives, what will that do to the ones who choose to remain?

Some of us will go on to live all of our lives like this. Some of our children are having their lives built on becoming exquisitely skilled escape artists. If this is you, one way out is to begin an honest exploration of why it is that you feel so compelled to create a life built on such inhumane levels of busyness and overload, that you are left with one, and only one option; get out of your life any way you can.

P.S. If you want a big reality check, find Generation Zapped; a documentary on the negative impact the wireless technologies are having on our health, and the health of our children.

 

 

Personal Responsibility

 

Because of the way that we can keep track of our children, they are losing essential opportunities to grow into responsible and trustworthy grown-ups. When did we trade a childhood-long apprenticeship, seasoned with our guidance, for turning them into objects of surveillance? When did we forget that for healthy responsibility to develop, our children must be given time and space to figure things out on their own? What kind of citizens are we molding when their every move is being monitored and tracked by the technologies we possess? Which by the way, can be gotten around.

It puts me in mind of the college student who leaves her cell phone in her room at night while she goes to sleep over at her boyfriend’s apartment. Why does she do this? Because her mother is tracking her. So, while this mother sleeps soundly at night “knowing” that her daughter is in her dorm room, reality tells a different story. Not only has deception been installed in the relationship, this mother has eroded her daughter’s opportunity to learn how to live with a code of conduct based on a developing judgment and growing integrity that can only come through careful tutelage under an adult, coupled with increasing opportunities for un-monitored experience.

When we place our children under surveillance, they may learn how to go undetected, but never will they learn how to take what we have given them, add in their own life experiences, and move towards taking greater and greater levels of personal responsibility. Their lives, and our world, needs people who have developed an inner code of conduct that they can navigate by; whether someone is watching or not.

Additionally, we are training our children to be comfortable with being monitored, watched, and followed. How will this serve our children and the collective good? Big Brother really misses the mark here. For their future and for the future of a democratic nation, we must be intent upon raising a citizenry, who through years and years of training, guidance, and support, learns how to take personal responsibility for their choices. Not because they are being watched but because they have come to the conclusion that this is the kind of person they most want to be. Because they have internalized the best of what we have to pass on to them. Because they have learned to think about more than themselves. And because they have matured into understanding the cause and effect relationship of their actions in the world.

How will our children learn self-regulation, independent thinking, and trustworthy behavior, all aspects of personal responsibility, if they rely on being watched in order to do the right thing?

 

Undying Attention

It is as though our children have a kind of technologically induced ADD. Their focus shifts all around and is anywhere but where they are. They leap to the sound of every ping, chime, and buzz no matter the circumstances, no matter who they are engaged with. And even when it looks like they are listening, they are not; far too prone to utter the words “Wait, what?!” when someone is talking to them. They scroll, check, text, and post in the middle of whatever they are doing; seemingly unable to stop themselves.

Because there is always something else to devote their attentions to, some other choice, another place to be, another thing to see or “share,” another person to be with, they are rarely focused on where they are, what they are doing, or who they are with. Why expect or train the mind to settle on one thing when being scattered is the most easily accessed, and most socially accepted form of attention now? Why should they bother to hone their focus? The machines do not require that of them, why should anyone else?

Who knows, maybe they’re right. Maybe it is better to lay back into the screens when you have trained your attention to be so short-lived, conditional, non-existent, and where the constant offering up of increasingly louder and more stimulating ways to grab your focus is so readily available. All of this and more is theirs without expecting anything of them, or asking anything in return. Except of course, for their undying and short-lived attention.