The inspiration for todays post is somewhat offbeat, albeit characteristic with my nature. Yesterday Jose and I sat home and had a super lazy day because I am on Gardening Leave whilst waiting to start my new job and his Doggy Daycare hasn’t gotten back into full swing after the holidays; we decided to watch, of all things, Harry Potter. There is a scene where Dumbledore says to Harry that Professor Quirrell didn’t want to touch Harry because he had been marked, not by a mark that could be seen but one that lived within his skin, and that mark was love. That really got me to thinking… In todays world it’s a person doesn’t want to to connect that stands out more than someone that does.
This age that we live in now is all about connection. I type this as I look at my bookmarks bar on my laptop and see that it is laden with shortcuts for all of my social media. The desire for connection in this society is quasi-narcotic, so strong is the pull of these outlets, and I am by no means immune to that pull. I get to be as flippant as I like on twitter, as vain as all get out on Instagram and on facebook I can show people that are from my past just how great my life is. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
I mentioned in my previous post about Authenticity that José and I had spent Christmas in a beautiful cottage on the Scottish Borders, we went there to stay with my parents and because it was such an unusual circumstance (I haven’t spent Christmas with my parents in over a decade) I really wasn’t very often near or with my phone. It has become the norm at any event or gathering to do do ‘the group meal photo’ or the ‘couple selfie’ and I was genuinely surprised when I got back home that I hadn’t managed to get a single photo of José and myself with my parents and my Nephew, Mason. I’m actually pretty sad about that but it does make me really happy that we were totally able to exist in the same space for a few days with little technology and really be human!
As is the pattern with me, I really thought about trip, how was I different, what effect did that have on me and I realised that the whole time I seemed so walk a bit lighter, sleep easier and conversation came so much more naturally – so without discussing it with anyone I got straight onto my iPhone and turned off pretty much all push notifications. At first my rationale was to focus on me, you know, mindfulness and self reflection etc but the more I think about it I don’t know if that is why I wanted to make this change. I have recently been thinking that my daily interactions have become concentrated and repetitive and as a result of that I have established a routine of ‘living in the problem’ which has caused a kind of mental and emotional block that I really need to clear.
There is this ongoing thinking that ‘self’ is what separates us from others whereas actually there have been studies into ‘social pain’ that have found evidence that, actually ‘social pain’ and ‘physical pain’ are largely the same thing and certainly affect us in the same way… think about it, if a relationship comes to an end we say, “He has really hurt me”. etc.
I’ve always been a bit of a hippy, you know water sign and all that (I’m a Pisces) and I have done some very beginners meditation and I have a very strong belief in ‘the third eye’. Turns out, it is a thing, but in science it is a part of the brain known as the Medial Prefrontal Cortex. Research has shown that when we are ‘self processing’ that is to say when we are thinking about our favourite shoe designer, which drink we prefer from Starbucks or even are we a Cat or a Dog person then the Medial Prefrontal Cortex is always recruited – wouldn’t you know it, this part of the brain is located right between our eyes!
The research suggests that actually the ‘self’ or Medial Prefrontal Cortex is actually a kind of Trojan Horse which will subconsciously align with those that we spend time with in order to establish and maintain social harmony. It makes total sense really, we are all products of our environment. I don’t mean that in the childhood sense; as adults we get to choose our environment including what we are and aren’t exposed to and the thing about being free willed adult Humans is that given the freedom to make choices, ultimately we also are free to make the wrong choices.
A few years ago, I was a pretty run of the mill guy in a stable relationship (not a healthy one but a stable one), I wasn’t part of the gay club scene and I had a great job etc. Then I met an old friend and offered him a job in my company because he wanted to move to London – here’s the thing – he was active on the London Club Scene already! He would invite me out a few times and this new world was amazing to me, everybody was so carefree, joyous, beautiful and loving and I wanted so much to be around that more and more. I would be introduced to the Go-go dancing boys of the famous gay clubs of London, be invited to after hours parties – I still remember that first night I ever went out with them I was the only person in the club wearing a white button down shirt in this glistening sea of rigid, rippling sea of bodies and one of the more beautiful guys, a Brazilian with pectoral muscles the size of my head and abs that were as perfect as a any marble statue found within the Vatican Museum coerced me into removing that shirt. I felt so included, it felt… familial. It took me two years to realise that they were actually stupid, numb, full of steroids and permanently high on drugs. I lost myself for the two years, I totally thought and believed that I had found my true self but eventually I realised that I had willingly become a product of that environment. I have to be clear, that there is no judgement in what I am saying and certainly no malice in their behaviour – it is simply, fact.
Another example of this is something I see regularly in recruitment offices (recruitment sales is my day job). I have hired people in the past with minimal experience in what we do, in fact I really enjoy working with inexperienced recruiters because in this case the effect of being being exposed to driven, supportive and professional ultimately creates a micro-dynamic that cultures similar values and drives in all parties (this is of course dependent upon the team culture which is a whole different thing and not part of what I want to talk talk about here). I have seen time and again, individuals come in to a team nervous and insecure and develop over time a practice that is all the best elements of each of the people they are exposed to on a regular and consistent basis.
Then there’s our relationships, for example, I am loud, brash and ALWAYS on the go. I mean, I would much rather force myself to be busy, that is my natural ‘go to’ behaviour. I used to say, “You have to keep moving, if you stay still they’ll get you”. The they I was referring to were my demons, you know the thoughts that I might not succeed, I wasn’t good enough etc.
Wow that’s scary to even write now.
Anyway, José is quite possibly the complete opposite and over the two years that I have been with him I now find it a lot easier, and considerably more valuable, to be more present. Jose and I laugh about it regularly because he sees times when I really am challenging myself. If we are out shopping and someone cuts in line or some other minor social infraction, I find it very hard to let that go. It’s great that I have a strong sense of justice but not so great that I will risk an explosive encounter for what might cost me only a couple minutes more of my time… I have to be clear, José doesn’t ask this behaviour of me, nor does he expect it – it is borne because of our relationship and as Humans we will subconsciously use this social-influence to self help so that we’ll be more aligned with the kind of beliefs and values as those of the people around us and this is a great catalyst for social harmony.
Thinking about the case studies above, what does that mean to the floating mass of vacuous interactions that we have, or are exposed to every day via social media… not all negative positive or otherwise; in fact how many images per day do you look at on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tindr, Grindr or even the Internet in general? Every single one of those is a social influence on your Trojan Horse, Third Eye, Medial Prefrontal Cortex. With the constant onslaught of those influences, how do you categorise them – can the result be anything other than a confused ‘self’?
So to bring it back to connection, is is possible to be disconnected? My answer would have to be a firm No. That being said, we can all be aware of what we are being exposed to and be mindful thatallexposure will leave a mark on us.