I did the unthinkable yesterday. I deactivated my Facebook account. And you know what? It felt really good.
A year ago, you would have found me on Facebook for hours at a time, scrolling through my feed and messaging friends while claiming to be hard at work on my next book. Several times during these “work” sessions my husband would pop in and tease me: “Have you beat Facebook, yet?” as if I was one of our kids, compulsively attached to their newest video game.
I may not have won, but I must admit over the past eight years, I got pretty darn good at the Facebook “game”. As a writer, I know how to engage folks and pull them in. I know how to elicit responses. But being a decent writer is not the key ingredient to succeeding at Facebook. Like many of us, I have the tendency to believe that I’m a rather important sort of human. Couple this notion with a mild need for approval and a dash of narcissism and I am the perfect candidate for advanced level Facebookery.
About three years ago, in the midst of my Facebook fascination, I started meditating regularly, listening to the likes of Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle, and Thich Nhat Hanh. As I did I noticed a change in myself. I was still acting in all my silly, neurotic ways, however I was now finding that I was able to step back and gently observe all these quirky habits. I was starting to see the whole me. Gradually, as I acknowledged my weaknesses, changes inside were happening. Meditation was forcing me to look at the parts of me that needed work (which are many!).
About this time, I started taking morning walks on the beach by my house and snapping pictures of the sunrise. Without knowing it, this little morning exercise became a form of meditation as well. As I walked, reflections about life percolated. I began entering my life observations down into my phone and posting them with my photos on Facebook. It turns out the people liked what I had to say. Pretty soon I started a small following of people who looked forward to my introspective sunrise posts. It became sort of “a thing”.
However pleasant and insightful my thoughts were, Facebook wasn’t going to let me get away with simply sharing my messages. Instead it did exactly as it’s designed—to get me and my friends to engage and respond. And that they did. Friends responded with comments, hearts, laughy faces, surprise faces and in turn, me, the latent attention seeker, watched with secret glee.
As the ‘likes’ blossomed… so did my ego.
So, there I was, like a lab rat, tapping the lever to see who applauded my insights of love, the cosmos, and humanity. I knew something wasn’t right about this picture. I could feel it nagging at me every time I tapped that little blue “f” on the phone, but I kept on doing it, with the hopes that my meditation practice and those Youtube talks I watched about the perils of ego attachment would neutralize my distraction, but it wasn’t working. Turns out, I’m still purely human—an absolute sucker for that little, computer generated thumbs up.
Then just a few days ago something happened. I was hanging out with an acquaintance who decided to give me her brash opinion about my presence on Facebook. She told me that she thought my posts were exhausting. She said reading them was like watching a bipolar person. She then proceeded to go in depth about how much I overthought things, pointing out how I needed to ‘just be’—the exact thing I had been striving for in all my spiritual work.
I drove away from her that day feeling a whirlwind of shame, doubt, and anger. On one level she was right. After all, I am bipolar. I live a very intense life, and I’m not afraid to share it. And yeah, I am all about self-reflection. However her critique showed no kindness, no attempt at understanding who I am or why I act the way I do.
But something good happened from this woman’s remarks. It forced me to look at myself. My reaction to her abrasive statements made me realize how wrapped up I had become in people’s opinions. I had been making myself sick trying to get approval. Everyone loved me online, but as soon as someone showed disapproval I was crushed.
Stepping back I could now see my behaviors in their rawest state. I could see that I was seeking love from others, while simultaneously preaching peace, mindfulness, and self-forgiveness in my posts. I was living a dual life. I was both a radiant, wise being and a hungry little girl dancing for applause. I decided then that it was time to give that little girl a break.
So, after that car ride home, I decided I wanted out. I no longer wanted to wait around to see how many likes I got on Facebook. Nor did I want to be the one scrolling through other people’s posts judging them or enabling their own ego trips. Although I can see the many benefits to Facebook and may return at some point when I have a healthier perspective, right now I need to get away from the machine designed to awaken my narcissistic self.
I was (am) an approval addict, and though Facebook is not the root of my addiction it was the fuel. Facebook may not be the heroin, but it’s the needle used to stick it in.
If I have learned anything on this journey, it is that love is not out there. It’s not going to be found in a little blue icon at the bottom of my screen, or in any human being for that matter. I can seek the opinions of others day in and day out, wait for them to pat me on the back, but in the end, that is empty. The love I found on the beach all those mornings or on the meditation cushion didn’t come from my eager fan club awaiting my words; it didn’t even come from the rising sun, or the rolling waves. It came from me. I chose it. I chose, in those moments, to be free.
Social media is not inherently evil. Facebook creates lasting friendships, it connects people across the world and functions as a wonderful community builder. However as users, it’s important that we understand the reason Facebook exists. In the end it’s not there to make sure you’re having soulful engagements with other humans. Facebook is there to make money and we, in all of our positive and unhealthy behaviors, are the tools it uses to create revenue. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it simply is what it is, but it’s important to see it for what it is. Just as you wouldn’t place full trust in the guy selling you a car, we need to watch carefully and be conscious of what social media wants from us.
The key to social media (and anything, for that matter) is to be mindful. Watch how it affects you. As you go about your day, observe yourself in different environments: work, hanging out with friends, alone in a place of peace, and then look at how you feel as you scroll through Facebook. See what it does for you, what it doesn’t. For me I learned that not matter what I did, I was unable to not be seduced by the game. It always left me feeling ill.
This morning I walked on the beach at sunrise and didn’t post any pictures, nor did I stop in my tracks to tell all my friends on Facebook about my deep reflections. As I strolled, a smiling woman approached me. I had seen her several times on previous walks, but we had never talked. Today as she came up to me, she formally introduced herself. We chatted for a bit and laughed at our shared, quirky perspectives on life. She then looked at me with a beautiful, warm smile and said, “Hey, let’s do coffee, sometime.” My first impulse was to pull out my phone, so I could immediately look up her name on Facebook to friend her, but I stopped. I put down my phone and simply said, “I’d love to do that, very much.”