By Amit Pagedar
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” ~Plutarch
We live in an age of information overload. Our televisions and the Internet are flooding our senses with a myriad of things.
Researchers carefully craft all the advertisements we watch and all the magazines we read to prime us to think certain thoughts and take certain actions. A particular color, a special tone in the voice, a slight gesture with the eyes—all are designed to do one thing, and one thing alone: influence our minds.
They affect us just enough that the subsequent thoughts we may have seem like our own, and the decisions we make based on those thoughts seem rational.
On a daily basis, we are ‘primed’ to spend our time or money on something we may not need. A thought is planted in us so carefully that suppressing it feels like denying our most basic instincts. And why not? It stirs our primal desires of power, sex, and influence. The results are obvious, and all around us.
We are always looking forward to the next gadget to purchase, the next movie to watch, or the next television series to binge on. We are consuming information and material possessions at a startling rate, and we don’t seem to mind. We feel that when it comes to entertainment and information, there is no such thing as too much.
We also engage in the use of social media as a means of connecting with people. We want to share everything from pictures of our family to the latest meals we cooked.
Sending out that daily status update makes us feel a certain kind of security about who we are. We know we are living a good life when someone confirms it with a “like” on the Internet. It’s a form of social validation that encourages sharing, often at the expense of true feeling.
This constant outward search for approval is often the reason why we don’t look for an internal source of approval. We get used to asking others about who we are, and become unable to see the reality for ourselves. If they tell us we are doing the right thing, then we must be; otherwise, we are not that sure.
The result of this trend is we have no time left to reflect or ponder. If, on occasion, we do look inward, we feel a sense of emptiness and fear. Not knowing what to do with it, we try to fill that emptiness with some external source of gratification.
That emptiness is important. It is telling us that we are disconnected from who we are. This disconnect is one of the main reasons why we end up in painful life situations.
A few years ago, I was about to graduate from a US university. The job market was tough, and I needed all the help I could get to find decent work. At the time, a professional contact who I greatly admired became my mentor. He seemed to know it all, and I always looked forward to his advice.
He believed that a person in my field would not find a job easily out of college, especially because I was an international student and would require a work permit.
He thought that in order to survive, I needed to get certified as a programmer in a particular high-end software. Although it would be tough to get, the effort would be well worth it. And if I still couldn’t find a job, he would get me in touch with the right people himself. And so, it was decided.
Over the next six months, I spent thousands of dollars on books, coaching, and commuting in order to get certified in a computer language that I struggled to develop any liking for. I was jobless for six months and couldn’t even afford to pay my rent. I lived with friends who were kind enough to let me sleep on their couch and study for twelve-plus hours every day.
The day after the exam, I had to go to the ER for severe dehydration. It turned out that I had lost close to twenty pounds over the previous few weeks and weighed only 125 pounds. Obviously, I could not afford health insurance at that time, and got hospital bills that took me two years to pay off in installments.
When my mentor found out how terribly I had performed in the exam, he told me my chances weren’t looking good and he wouldn’t be able to do anything for me. I never heard from him again. After a month, I got the result that I did manage to barely clear the passing mark, but it was too late. I had already accepted a job that would let me pay the bills.
Over the next few years my self-esteem continued to erode. It ended with me leaving the country and heading back to India after four years of struggle in the United States.
Looking back at why I placed my trust in someone so blindly, and continued to face self-esteem issues, I realized that I was totally disconnected from who I was as an individual.
I knew that I did not like computer languages to begin with, but while making that fateful decision, I ignored all the self-knowledge I had until that point. I put more trust in someone else’s belief about who I was, just because I needed their approval.
I suffered, not because someone gave me bad advice, but because I was unable to reject it. I kept ignoring my instincts because I thought they didn’t matter.
A good sign of having lost connection with yourself is that your true instincts feel like distractions, and distractions feel like true instincts.
When we are distracted, we feel bored, confused, and unmotivated. We become inclined to pick the easiest path from those available.
The post-Internet world is designed to distract us, disconnect us from ourselves, and keep us that way. It gives us one novelty after another, just like giving a child one toy after another to keep her occupied. Otherwise, she might cry. But sometimes, a child needs to cry.
We are afraid of crying, of getting hurt, of looking at ourselves as we are. So we prefer to be distracted and entertained, no matter what the cost.
Is there a way to rediscover that connection with ourselves? To feel centered, and confident about who we are; to understand our emotions, feelings, and desires clearly; to know our strengths and acknowledge our limitations?
Can we know ourselves from moment to moment, every day, not with words or descriptions, but with an actual perception of our inner selves being intact, self-sufficient, and free from outside influence?
I think there is a way. This three-step process has greatly helped me reconnect with myself. I hope it helps you too.
1. See what you see.
Take a moment to notice what you are seeing at the moment. Is it your phone or a computer on which you are reading this, and your surroundings? Or, are you also seeing, at some level, mental images?
Most of the time, we are unconsciously seeing things, such as what happened at work today, or what our friend said to us, or some scenes from a favorite TV show. At other times, we are often seeing things that we want to happen, or fear might happen.