don’t hate the media, become the media

Last week I happened upon an unexpected sight: an urban labyrinth. I was walking to work on my favourite bridge, when I noticed the spiral design on the grassy bank below. Funnily enough, this was virtually the same place I spotted a random black (lucky) rabbit a few years ago.

The irony wasn’t lost on me that, in my hurry, I quickly took a photo and moved on. For it’s my understanding that labyrinths are contemplative in nature, meant to be walked purposefully, symbolizing the journey to the centre of oneself.

Several years ago, I competed a program in Digital Communications. Here we learned about all aspects of social media and design. I enjoyed the training and excitedly wrote about it here on this blog.

I’ve been pondering this experience a lot lately, because my views on technology have changed so much since then. I won’t repeat what I’ve shared in more recent posts, but suffice it to say that I’ve limited my time on social media, eliminating the platform that drained the most energy.

I’m also becoming increasingly aware of, and disturbed by, the extent to which certain sites are intentionally designed to encourage addiction and consumption through use of colour, design, and various other manipulative tactics.

So much of this happens at an unconscious level. I’ve observed my own tendency to automatically reach for my phone or mindlessly surf when I’m waiting for…anything. This mindlessness, this habitual stimulus-response pattern, feels dangerous.

What are the consequences of having our emotions and brain chemistry played with? How does it affect our ability to create true community, consciousness, and empathy? Is technology bringing to light our darkness, or creating it through repetitive stimulation of our reptilian cortex?

Loving communications as I do, there definitely are aspects of technology that tickle me. Like blogging. And when I’m beading – itself a meditative practice – I listen to inspiring interviews and podcasts. It’s illuminating to get perspectives from those with lived experience and wisdom different from my own. It’s expanding, enlightening, and feeds my curiosity.

In two interviews I’ve listened to – one featuring the fabulous Danielle LaPorte, the other referencing Jello Biafra’s statement ‘Don’t hate the media, become the media,’ the message is clear: We are the new media.

I love that. Mainstream media may be controlled by the few, and we’re extensively tracked and monitored online…but we are the users, the broadcasters. We have the power and agency to express ourselves. The mass challenge seems to be expressing ourselves with thoughtfulness, kindness, and accountability.

Perhaps more challenging: How do I bring kindness into my day-to-day interactions? It’s easy to espouse my views behind my screen, from the comfort of my own home. How do I deal with the tension that’s happening out there in the physical world? It’s often the most mundane activities – our commutes, at work, in line at the grocery store – that test us.

Circling back to the labyrinth (hehe). If I had ‘more time’, would I have stopped to contemplate it? I don’t know that I would. But hey – I noticed that about myself. I noticed that I want to feel more contemplative and in my body. I noticed that I’d like to slow down instead of feeling that general, unnecessary sense of rush.

And I noticed that I’m beginning to do that, in my own way.

In one post I alluded to stories of ancient civilizations that self-destructed because they couldn’t manage the advanced technologies they’d developed. Those tales once seemed farfetched. I don’t necessarily feel humanity is doomed to this fate, but I do think escaping it requires awareness like never before.

Destruction is not about robots or AI taking over. It’s about humans forgetting compassion.

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you are irreplaceable

“You’re replaceable,” a colleague said to me last week.

These words, seemingly harsh, were delivered with fierce caring and passion upon my return to work after being away for back pain. “I’m replaceable,” she continued. “If I die tonight, my job will be posted by Friday. But I’m not replaceable to my family and loved ones.”

I’d just expressed that I felt ‘bad’ for having missed so much work, after only recently starting in my current position. “Let me tell you right now,” she responded. “Nobody is thinking that but you. Nobody cares. I mean, we care…but we’re all too busy and wrapped up in our own little worlds.”

It was clear I had limited mobility and was still in some pain. “Don’t push yourself,” she cautioned. “Nobody is going to take care of you, but you. Are you taking care of yourself?”

This is perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning from back pain: the need for self-care. I had been pushing myself, but didn’t recognize it. ‘Pushing myself’ was just so…normal.

The emotional root of low back pain, I’ve read, is feeling unsupported. There were many factors leading to my injury. I didn’t take enough work breaks, I sat improperly and for too long, my yoga practice had lapsed. But the emotional explanation resonated. I’d long felt I was ‘going it alone’ in life: I was misunderstood, my financial situation was a bomb, relationships with men were painful, God was disappointed in me.

But was any of that actually true? Or was it that I felt deeply unworthy of receiving support?

I know this is about my experience of being a woman. I haven’t wanted to be a burden on others, to take up too much space or be seen as too demanding. I’ve tried to be independent and accommodating. On the occasions I have been called ‘selfish’, it’s kicked me right in the gut. For a woman, there can be so much loaded in that word.

Hence the compulsion to people-please, to over-accommodate. The all-consuming worry about what others will think, the inability to make a decision because I’m weighing in so many voices. These aren’t conscious behaviours; they’re deeply ingrained, woven into my cells after many years – probably generations – of conditioning.

My body had long been giving me warning signals, straining against the push to live up to expectations that were largely my own. I felt so responsible to do a good job, and guilty when I let others down. Breaking my back, bending over backwards. How bad does it have to get?

stop and notice the pink

There have been many blessings inherent in this pain. I’ve had to be vulnerable in relying on loved ones for help with everything from cleaning to driving to putting on my socks. I’m physically vulnerable to strangers. Walking to work on the downtown sidewalks, people barrel towards me. I see how fragile this body can be; one random bump could re-trigger the pain.

I’m used to being the one rushing, becoming impatient with slow walkers. I’ve discovered that it’s a relief not to rush – to have no choice but to go slow. Some people give me space, and sympathetic smiles. These are small things…but they’re not.

I hope I can hold on to all this, as my back heals. I like being vulnerable. I’m self-protective, but not on the defence. I feel softer, more raw and trusting. And my vulnerability gives others, particularly my loved ones, the chance to show kindness to me.

In receiving this care, I’m realizing that I’m the only one who saw myself as a burden. And I no longer wish to carry that belief. I’d rather be irreplaceable.