Last Days of the Year of the Dog

Last Days of the Year of the Dog

While not Chinese, I am a fan of all astrology, mythology and folk wisdom. The stories of the stars and how the positions of the planets imprint on human personality and behavior in identifiable patterns is endlessly fascinating to me. I began studying astrology after my life started to fall apart 3 years ago. The ending of my marriage and…

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10 Tips for Social Media Detoxing

Originally published on Medium.com | 3 Feb 2019

I quit Facebook cold turkey last June and once I got through the first few weeks of addict-level withdrawal, I haven’t looked back! Social media became an addiction that really snuck up on me over the course of many years. I’m a disciplined eater, spiritual seeker, physically conscious person, so letting an addiction go unchecked this long in my life should be proof of it’s power of distraction. It took a few months to stop thinking about it entirely. I’ve gained so much mental space and clarity from being away from it, I thought I would share some of what I learned in order to help anyone else thinking about cutting the social media cord. (I wrote at length about this here.)

Walking away has been challenging, and lonely at times, especially because I moved to a new city and quit Facebook the same year. I had to remind myself often that for millions of years humans existed without knowing so much about each other, surely I could survive in a world without social media too. I went back to deactivate my account in October and have been on Instagram all of 3 times in the past 3 months. Everyone has to wrestle their own FOMO demons, so it may be different for you, take what ideas are useful and leave the rest. I wish you luck in your return back to the “real world” — you’ll find that it’s really nice here!

The Devil Wears FOMO

The “Fear of Missing Out” (aka FOMO) is one of the most insidious devils there is, and greatly warned against in most spiritual and mental health traditions. It is a form of comparing ourselves to others that prevents us from being present in the moment and focusing on our own path. It often derails us with longing, regret, jealousy, envy, sadness that isn’t based in reality. Beware this beast who will drag you by the hair behind a rollercoaster as he speeds over the rails of your heart and mind! This can even happen from seeing people paying other people on Venmo. It’s crazy how many unwanted thoughts get triggered by the endless barrage of social “connectedness.” Learn to spot it as soon as it rears its ugly head and use all the tools in your kit to avoid and subdue it. For me, that is primarily meditation and journal writing. Learn to spot the FOMO devil in all of his disguises, process the feelings that come up, use all of your mindfulness super powers and get back to the present moment as soon as you can.

Put Away Your Dirty Laundry

95% of social media is over sharing. We simply don’t need to know this much about other people. Even sharing articles or photos is a way of putting our opinion out there for others to respond to, but it really doesn’t matter. Decide to put your own laundry where it belongs and not to look at anyone else’s. Savor your own ideas and inspirations privately…like wearing the finest French lingerie under overalls- you will feel the difference (and may even carry yourself differently) but it’s no one else’s business. I write 3 pages by hand in a spiral notebook every morning, a practice I’ve kept up since reading and doing the Artist’s Way 3 years ago. I find morning pages to be a great way to quickly and efficiently process the events of my life so I can move on to enjoying more of my life. I also spend time writing on my blog and Medium, where people that want to engage with my thoughts can find me.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Persist through the pain! You will feel the withdrawal, you may feel lonely and isolated, you may feel forgotten by people you once considered friends…keep going. On the other side of the addiction is a spacious landscape waiting for you to remember who you really are. Set timelines- I started with taking the summer off from Facebook (from Solstice to Equinox) and then I found I didn’t want to go back at all and deactivated my account in November. I started to send more letters, buy cool stamps, I starting using a wax seal, I called people more often, I wrote long emails, I savor my memories of time spent with people I love. If people don’t want to stay connected with you in the “real world”- then, chances are, the relationship wasn’t what you thought it was anyway. It takes time to be comfortable without the need for instant feedback from others about every trivial event of our lives. We’ve gotten accustomed to a pointless, exhausting and debilitating social feedback loop. Break the cycle, find yourself again.

Eliminate Mental Clutter

Like a dusty bookshelf covered in knick knacks, dirty dishes and spider webs, you can’t actually get to the wisdom on the shelves of your mind when it’s filled with clutter. Clean it up! When you succeed in making more mental space, it’s incredible. You’ll want more. I’m very protective over my clean, orderly mental book shelf now. I had HEARD of this thing called serenity (or was it sanity…?)…I just never imagined that I could have it! You can too. Insist on it. Ask for it by name. Do the work to find and keep it.

Starve the Hungry Ghost

Collecting followers and likes creates a hunger that can never be satisfied because it’s not based on real human interaction- it’s literally junk food, not a healthy meal. Somehow we all bought into the illusion that it was keeping us connected, but how many of your “friends” and “followers” (what a horrible word!) are the people that would show up at your birthday dinner? Call you after your parent dies? Go to your show? Attend your funeral? Showing up for people in the real world is much different than posting an emoji of sympathy — it requires emotional availability and compassion, the qualities that being a good friend, spouse, or parent also requires. Social media is a phony digital currency that leaves us broke. Leaving Facebook has truly made me a better friend and made me value my family more than ever. Focus on what is real, true and beautiful about the relationships that mean the most to you, and feed them instead.

Clean the Lens

Get really clear on the reason these social networks exist in the first place. Social media is propping up a distortion of reality that is created by algorithms in order to increase ad revenue to feed a greedy corporation that doesn’t care about you (or America, for that matter), only how much you’ll buy. Is this the lens you want to see your life through? The side effect of our buy-in is a lot of personal insecurity and a dissociated culture that feels very fragmented. Is this a world you want to live in? Is this a company you trust to re-package your life and show it to you on a screen? Take some time make sure the lens you look at your life through is the one you want! Personally, I just couldn’t make any more excuses for how bad of a company Facebook had become and that definitely contributed to my decision to pull the plug.

The Joy of Not Giving a Shit

A desire for validation and connection keeps us going back, but this is where being rooted in yourself and your values is key. Social media is not real validation, like actually being honored for an achievement that you worked hard for; and it’s not real connection, like actually having dinner with a dear friend. It’s completely disposable and artificial…as easily forgotten as the next post. Letting go of the need for validation is basically zen-ninja level spiritual work, but even mere mortals can achieve a level of not giving a shit about others opinions of us. Every single hero I have from Lou Reed to Gandhi, mentions some form of this sentiment as a key to success in life. Social media forces us to live in-reaction-to the world instead of inspired-by it. Choosing not to give a shit and instead following the breadcrumbs left by my heroes, I can focus more on living a life of integrity and inspiration. Plan some long term projects or achievable goals…I started writing two books. Ideas that probably wouldn’t have come to me if my mind wasn’t so open. I didn’t have ideas for books before…is this a side effect of leaving Facebook? Very possible. They may take me 10 years to finish, but I work on one of them almost every day and it’s really enjoyable. Once you get further into your detox, pay attention to any new ideas that bubble up and follow through on them. Also, reconnect to your personal heroes, the ones who inspire you to live a big and awesome life.

Kicking a Bad Habit

Think of leaving social media like quitting a drug or quitting smoking. The temptation will always be there, maybe you will even enjoy the “smell” of it from a distance or enjoy seeing others get high off it, but you know that it’s dangerous for you to be around it too much. You may be lulled into complacency by hearing other people wax pathetic about how they have to be on it for work, you will feel like you are missing some golden opportunity (FOMO again!) and maybe you actually can manage it in a healthy way...I don’t judge. For me, it’s like playing hot potato when I already have blister scars from playing that game already. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results, then we have to change our behavior to get the results we do want. Handle the addiction like you would any other dangerous substance.

The Power of Personal Power

Taking agency over my life has been a big theme for me since my divorce. In my previous life, I would sometimes be passive and deferred to someone else because I had a lot of insecurity, was frequently exhausted emotionally and wanted to keep the peace or because it was easier to let someone else do the thinking for me. This was similar to my relationship to Facebook too, but those are ways that children behave, not self-actualizing adults. Take control over your life by filling it with the things that feed your soul and actually improve your quality of life. Eliminate things that don’t make you feel good and increase the things that are good for you. Don’t expect that anyone else is going to be protecting you from parasitic technology, only you can take control of your life and decide what to engage with and what to edit out. You don’t have to use something just because other people do. We still have agency. For now. So, use it while you still can, before the robots take over!

Analog Life

A side effect of my detox from social media has been a lot more free time, mental clarity and return to what I call “analog” life. I spend more time in nature, writing, reading, talking to my friends….the quality of my life has improved greatly and it has made examine my relationship to all technology. I’m much more cautious; I want to curate thoughtfully, assessing what aspects of modern life are actually improving my life, reinforcing healthy habits, making me think and become a better person. The ocean of “progress” often feels like it’s drowning me, so I try to remember that I still have agency and (relative) freedom to decide what I allow to have power over me. Holding on to these “analog” values has become more important to me and I encourage you to decide for yourself what you allow to have power over your experience of the world too. Choosing to live a life of integrity is an endless process of self-examination, which Socrates, himself, was willing to die for, believing that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” While I’m glad we don’t have to drink poison hemlock in defense of our right to question the nature of things, I sure had gotten lazy about it. Leaving Facebook feels like I took a positive step forward in the pursuit of an authentic and truly satisfying life.

Live More Life, Leave the Social Demon!

Originally published 14 Mar 2019

Trixie and her 2001 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.

Trixie and her 2001 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.

What if these are the dark ages? What if technology has been hastening our separation and destruction instead of our evolution? What if social media is as addictive as morphine? What if we look back on these as “The Lost Years” after we wake up from the fog of the algorithms? What if we all decided to re-invest in the real world again en masse and sparked a Renaissance that brought people back together and healed the Earth at the same time? That’s nuts!!!!!! That would never happen….

Of course we could never leave social media — its tentacles are too tightly wound now. So, it’s best not to try to escape. Trying takes effort. And if it’s one thing corporate capitalism doesn’t want, it’s for you to have to make any effort. Just leave it all up to Amazon. You don’t even have to leave your couch for toilet paper anymore. Soon you won’t have to leave the couch to use it either. There’s plenty of technology being developed to keep you as useless as possible, I’m sure a self flushing toilet couch is just around the corner.

And yet, those of us who remember what a life of connection, individuality and complexity USED to feel like (Gen X, I’m specifically talking to you, the last generation allowed to fall out of trees), should see this as the “moment of truth” that it is. This is the moment when we look at our experience and decide if we keep going down this road or we make a new one. Has our time on social media been positive? What is true, real and beautiful anymore? Do you like this world that is being created? Is it possible that this cultural mess we are in is a byproduct of our collective unchecked addiction to social media? It’s time to weigh our actual experience. Has this path we’ve been on made us happier, richer, healthier or more successful?

I was addicted too, and it’s only because I have been off of it for 8 months that I can even see the epidemic for what it is (also, thanks to Douglas Rushkoff for stating the problems so eloquently in Team Human). The algorithms have taken on a life of their own and are modern demons wreaking havoc on our sleepy little village. Right now, I’m asking YOU to do a favor for humanity, treat social media like a food allergy. We are having these horrible reactions to what we’ve been ingesting, so take a fast or detox immediately. I suggest 3 months minimum to deal with the FOMO and the millions of ways your mind will make you crave the crack of swiping. Get off any app with ads and agendas. You’ll have to learn to re-engage with what I call “analog life” — the world of books, boredom, daydreams, art, poetry, nature, subtlety, nuance and synchronicity. It will take several months for your system to re-align to the cycles of nature and to try to find the actual flow of life again.

When you disengage, you will have to strengthen the animal instinct that we have all but lost — also known as intuition. Once you reconnect to yourself and to your intuitive ways of knowing, you will start to hunger for more connection with other humans. You’ll seek more connection from your friends, loved ones and in your community. You may be discouraged at first because it’s hard to find people that aren’t under the spell of the demon. Legions of others are still addicted, but be patient, and spread the word about how great it is to remember what matters most — connection.

Our connection muscles have atrophied. We are, quite literally, losing our ability to connect deeply with each other. This is the fork in the road. This is the moment when we take our power back from corporate capitalism. This is the moment we choose to stop drinking the Kool-aid that tells us we “can’t” live without it and decide for ourselves. If you want more out of life, then find out for yourself. Take a good long break, return to the real world, return to yourself, and see how it feels. I promise you, you won’t go back. And you’ll be hungry for others to join you in the real world. Just like I am.

Some resources: 
https://rushkoff.com/books/team-human-book/
https://restoreprivacy.com/google-alternatives/

5 Things I Learned from a Year without Facebook

Originally published on Medium.com

Watercolor by me! Beatrix Burneston

Watercolor by me! Beatrix Burneston

This June I am celebrating my year anniversary of leaving Facebook. Aside from being the target of some epic trolling, my decision to return to the real world was inspired by my fear for the direction in which humanity is evolving and my belief that the real world was better than the virtual one, which turns out to be true! Unlike many people, I don’t have a job at the moment that requires me to be on it. I left New York after a divorce, car accident and a falling out with my creative community and moved to Los Angeles to figure out the next chapter of my life while walking dogs for work. While life in a gigantic, new city has been lonely, I decided to double down on what I call “analog life” as an experiment. I was an early advocate and frequent user of most social media platforms but the past few years on it had no joy for me. I had selfie fatigue, was disgusted by the way people were presenting themselves (as if our social lives need branding) and I began to question why we all acted like the march of technology was “inevitable” when it was just marching on top of us. Everyone said the same thing — they had to be on it — and acted as if we had no choice. Social media was the law of the land. But breaking rules is kind of my thing, so I set out to see what would happen if I just left it all behind. Facebook went first, Instagram followed a few months later with maybe 3 posts total the past 6 months. I even left all dating apps. Here’s what I learned…

  1. The addiction is real. It took about three months for me to fully conquer my “fear of missing out” aka FOMO. At first, I felt like everyone was having a great time but me. I struggled to keep my finger off the button. It was such a mindless, routine habit that often I would click and be on it before I even came to my senses and remembered I was abstaining. After a week or so, I deleted it from my phone entirely. I found myself searching online for some kind of distraction as intensely as an addict looks for the next fix. It occurred to me that when drugs like cocaine or opium were first introduced into society, they, too, were casually used in soda or by doctors to treat anything and everything before the full impact of the addiction lead to laws limiting the availability of such lethal drugs. I began to think of these years of unchecked social media addiction as “the lost years” because of the compounded effect of living our social lives through the filter of social media, while the quality of our relationships and culture has suffered in ways we haven’t even figured out yet.

  2. Let boredom be your guide. Depending on your source, it takes between 21–90 days to change a habit. I’m a disciplined eater, athlete and artist, so making new healthy habits isn’t usually hard for me. Kicking the social media habit took the full 90 days, which speaks to the severity of my addiction. Once I handled the FOMO and became more skilled with navigating the urge to fill the void with virtual distractions, I found myself reading actual books again for the first time in years. It didn’t even occur to me that I hadn’t fully finished a book in about 3 years. This realization shocked me! Not only did I return to books, but I started writing all the time and painting more. I had a lot of free time. I found that the urge for virtual distraction was easily filled actual substance. It was as if I had to keep telling myself to put the Doritoes down, and when I did, there was a nourishing and delicioius meal waiting right there for me.

  3. The magic returns. Algorithms are actually designed to keep us online by any means necessary. This means that they intentionally show upsetting photos of your ex and their new partner, endless cute cat videos and keep dramatic stories on your feed longer than their shelf life. Algorithms aren’t benign, they are actively working all the time to keep us in a stunned, numb and paralyzed state which isolates us and helps them succeed in their mission: we stay online longer and longer. One of the biggest gifts of what I call “analog life” is that I notice synchronicities again. Synchronicity is when things that appear to be a coincidence share a theme or relevance to other aspects of your life. These are the little bread crumbs that life leaves for you along the path. Out in the real world, when I bump into a friend unexpectedly or hear a song over and over again, I pay attention to it and I look for connections. This has made my life feel magical! Chance encounters feel important and my life feels like a mystery that I am unwrapping with curiosity.

  4. Feeding the hunger for human connection. In addition to improving the quality of the media I was ingesting, I found that I was actually hungry for human connection. I started talking more to people in public. Before, I always had a busy, distracted way of moving through life, but I began to feel a genuine curiosity about everyone around me. So I started talking to cashiers, helping people anywhere I could and even just making my face available to smile or say hello instead of gazing into my phone. The ripple of effects of small kindnesses are huge and there were many depressed days feeling lonely in LA when the cashier at Trader Joe’s would be my only social interaction and I started to appreciate every gesture of connection so much more.

  5. The power of showing up. The past few years, it has become commonplace to send an email or text to someone and never get a reply. When I was addicted, I thought nothing of picking up my phone in the middle of a face to face conversation and casually checking for any new likes, updates or comments on my feed. In actuality, it is just plain rude and it’s delusional to behave as if you can be fully present with a person while mindlessly multitasking. People can be dismissed entirely with a swipe, interactions are reduced to likes, and birthdays only require posting a bunch of emojis. Disconnecting from the culture of disconnection has helped me show up more for all of my relationships. Now, I have to call, email and and send letters to people. Yes, I send actual mail. I have developed some pen pal relationships in which sending and receiving surprises in the mail can fill me with anticipation and excitement for days. I have learned the value of showing up all the way to support my loved ones and, in return, I have been surprised with the depth of their love for me. It is an endless loop — the more I connect with people in real ways, the more they connect with me. I was a shitty friend when I was addicted to social media, but now I’m learning how to be a better friend and person every day with people in the real world.

I will not be going back to Facebook. I wouldn’t “dabble” with heroin after I just kicked the habit either. My future work may require me to use other social media at some point, but if I do, I will only use it as a conduit for connecting in the real world. I found other outlets to share my experiences and observations (Medium is one) that don’t have ads and agendas or rely on addiction to hold me hostage online. The real world is amazing and having a healthy, minimal dependence on technology has changed my life exponentially for the better. I can’t recommend it enough and I hope to see you out in the real world too…