Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement about a new parent company for Facebook and its siblings sent a shiver down my spine. The good news is that we have choices, and sitting atop that same spine — mine and yours — is the most phenomenal option for creating a future that is brilliant and thriving and deeply human.
The whole notion of a Meta-verse has me worried. It makes me concerned in the same way that I was uneasy when I first heard about the concept of “the brand of one” many years ago. Today, the quest for the perfected personal brand is a major contributor to self-esteem issues, the isolation epidemic, as well as mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
As with a “brand of one,” it seems to me that a Meta-verse ignores the basic human need for real connection with other human beings and with ourselves.
I live in two countries. I appreciate social media for keeping me in touch with a myriad of people, and I happily use it as a channel for sharing my ideas and growing my business. But I get into trouble whenever I lose the perspective that social media is a tool – not a way of life.
My study of the human condition, communication, and connection has taught me that technology and digital platforms can be wonderful assets, but they do not generate real meaning, vitality, and joy, which are at the essence of a fulfilled life. Time and again, I have found that there’s no replacement for cultivating self-awareness as the foundation for authentic communication and connection. It turns out that a thriving life is an inside job.
Still, we tend to spend an inordinate amount of time gazing outward by scrolling through our social feeds minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day.
We know that social media is intentionally addictive. (Thank you, Frances Haugen and the 12-step movement, for confirming that.). And that’s before it gets under our skin – literally.
Meta positions itself on the vanguard of “melding online, virtual and augmented worlds that people can seamlessly traverse,” says The New York Times. This sounds eerily like a step toward transhumanism, a journey on which Mr. Zuckerberg has already embarked by funding research for technologies that would “extend life” by “augmenting” the human body.
Transhumanism is defined by Oxford Languages as “the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.”
That includes, among other things, video-recording sunglasses, chips under your skin to open doors and proffer computer passwords at the wave of a hand, and, as I learned in an article on Forbes, genetic pre-selection for “the most intelligent embryos.”
This all has massive moral implications, and it scares the pants off me to think that the drivers and levers for these kinds of developments are in the hands of so very few.
Which is why I think it’s utterly miraculous that there are some 7.7 billion others of us who have an even more powerful resource at our fingertips. Or, better said, housed in our cranial cavities.
We have amazing, bountiful, tremendous brains!
I’m not referring to the “metaphorical” brain which can often be translated as “intelligence.” I’m talking about our actual gray matter. And every single one of us has it.
Every single one of us has a beautiful brain.
But how much do we know about our brains and the power they have to connect us to ourselves and to each other?
Last week I watched the most uplifting, humanizing, and encouraging interview with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor about our super-duper cerebrums.
Dr. Jill is a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who suffered a stroke and temporarily lost capacity in the left hemisphere of her brain. This tragedy transformed into a boon when she used it to study the different functions of the two halves of our brains. She’s well known for her 2008 TEDTalk.
In her most recent book, “Whole Brain Living,” Dr. Jill teaches us about four distinctive parts of our brains and how they influence our behaviors, our lives, and our futures – individually and collectively.
In illuminating these amazing aspects of our brains, Dr. Jill offers us some things that Meta doesn’t: real personal sovereignty, empowerment, and deep human connection.
We are not condemned to march blindly toward ubiquitous bio-technological adaptations. We have options.
Instead of continuing to look “out there” for a solution, why not start closer to home? Why not look “in here” for the miracles that can open worlds of possibility? Why not contemplate our inherent magnificence as a way to understand ourselves and others, to connect and collaborate, and to forge a way forward together? Why not love ourselves and our exquisite brains so that we can better love each other?
Perhaps we can start to do that by getting to know our own brains – and their boundless and untapped potential – just a little bit better.
By teaching me about my bean and how it works, Dr. Jill helps me understand why I think and feel the way I do. She gives me a whole new level of insight into my marvelous melon, which helps me communicate more authentically and relate more deeply with everyone else I meet along the way.
And Dr. Jill points me toward hope. She says, “We have the power to choose who and how we want to be in the world each and every moment, regardless of what external circumstances we find ourselves in.”
And that, my friends, is more meta than Meta.
I’m not closing any of my Meta accounts – for now – but I am taking a stand for human dignity and the need for real, eye-to-eye, knee-to-knee, heart-to-heart connection with ourselves and others. I am fervently convinced that this means loving myself – all of myself – and continuing to learn all that I can about the gift of being human.
As I deepen my awareness about myself, including my magnificent brain, countless possibilities open for how can I do the vitally important work of connecting with you. After all, for all of us, the way forward is through, and the way through is together.
Perhaps you’ll join me on this journey. I’d really like that a lot. No emoji (or microchip) needed.
I was driving home on a road I’ve taken countless times before. It curves and crests and reveals a spectacular view of the Tramuntana mountains, the Mediterranean, and the gorgeous city of Palma de Mallorca – all in one fantastic display. It always makes my heart open like a flower.
Well, almost always.
That day was different. That day the magnificent view landed with a dull thud.
I was headed home for a call with my spiritual counselor and trusted friend. I talked with her about the experience of being in the presence of great beauty and feeling nothing at all. She pointed out that I had been reporting these kinds of experiences for a while. She reminded me that failing to feel joy in the presence of joy-giving events could be a sign of depression.*
I have danced with mild depression for most of my adult life. More often I have had extended encounters with anxiety. Depression, though, is anxiety’s kissing cousin, so she, too, has made frequent appearances in my life.
As with most of my depressive cycles, this one snuck up on me – like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. I didn’t know I was in it until things were too hot to handle. And, in fact, I couldn’t see for myself what was happening. I needed someone else to point it out to me.
I couldn’t detect it because, when I enter the realm of mild depression, my focus narrows. I simply cannot see the truth of what’s happening. My sense for options and possibilities diminishes. I tend to get very, very busy doing just about nothing.
As John O’Donohue so beautifully says, I needed “those who looked for [me] / And found [me], their kind hands / Urgent to open a blue window / In the grey wall formed around [me].” **
My counselor’s astute observation that this ennui was not just a matter of my mood or mindset or whether I’d gotten enough exercise that day was a revelation to me. She also invited me to slow down. To allow space for what was happening. To let this particular cocktail of emotions – yes, despair, but also anger and confusion – to rush toward me and to ebb back.
I doubt I would have done so if not for her presence, her willingness to support me and walk with me wherever the wave took me. She gave me stable ground, and I gave myself to the murky gloom. I asked it what I needed, and I let it speak to me.
The need was, as it always is, connection. Deep, meaningful, empathetic, compassionate connection. Authentic connection. Me being totally me – magnificent and messy – connection.
If you were to look at my life, you would be forgiven for wondering that this connection was missing for me. I’m graced with a sunny disposition and a generally healthy life. And, after all, my business is called Authentic Communication.
But – like lots of other people – I have been known to make choices geared to not making waves rather than to expressing myself fully. I have been known to people-please to minimize the external disruptions in life. I have been known to attempt to control outcomes to prevent my own discomfort.
Unfortunately, when these actions become patterns, the inevitable consequence is that I shut down. My internal infrastructure fails, and I collapse in on myself. I may be in a room filled with people (or a social media site filled with “friends”), but I am dissociated and very much alone. The isolation of depression is devastating
Although some part of me believes that it’s up to me to do everything myself, my wiser self knows that this is an absolute impossibility. That story of self-sufficiency is defeatist and a lie and a fabulous way to erode any foundation of resilience that I may have established.
One of the most important elements of resilience is relationships. I simply cannot do my life alone. I need you.
Not you that’s a name on a screen, a “like,” or a heart emoji. I need the you that says, “Hey, are you OK? Do you want to talk about it?” I need the you that’s willing and able to hold my messy magnificence and share yours with me. And bring the Kleenex, my friend. Bring the Kleenex.
About 10 years ago, a former boss and wonderful human being received my Vesuvian release from one of these disconnection-depression bouts. We were having an ordinary one-on-one, and something in me just broke. Before I knew it, he left me sobbing in the meeting room, only to return seconds later with his pockets full of paper towels. That was an act of pure love.
To receive that love, to have these real and meaningful connections, I need to make myself available for them. I might even have to ask for that love. I certainly have to offer it.
My work is all about interpersonal communication. It’s about relationships. It’s about love.
You might look at my CV and ask what I know about this stuff. It’s a fair question. I will tell you that I have walked through the fire of trying to do it all alone, and I know that there is a better way. For me, it’s a pattern for living, communicating and connecting with authenticity.
To lift the veil of despair that had settled over me, I had to talk to people who could sit with me in this morass. Who could listen without a need to fix or correct anything. I needed honest and authentic communication with others who could hang in there with me and my mess.
I started with that conversation with my spiritual sponsor. Then I talked to my beloved, to my dearest friends, to my Mom. I wept and shouted and got messy. There were plenty of Kleenexes in the bin by the end. Step by step, the connection to myself was restored by reconnecting with others.
A day or two later, I found myself at the flower stall in the local market. I was hovering over a brilliant bouquet of locally grown zinnias. I couldn’t stop staring at them, mesmerized by their colors and form. I felt my heart opening over and over and over again.
“They give joy,” the florist said.
“Yes. Yes. Yes, they do,” I thought, and for the first time in many weeks, I could feel it.
Relationships are vital to our resilience, and communication is the lifeblood of our relationships. Communicating with deep authenticity makes those relationships nourishing and life-giving. And that’s what ultimately shattered the grip of this sadness for me – connecting to the great gift of life by connecting with others.
* Depression is a very serious mental health condition. My experience is not exemplary, and my ideas are definitely not clinical solutions. My aim with this post is to share my experience of walking through mild-grade depressive episodes and my hope for how we can support each other to come through them healthier and more joyful.
** from “For Your Birthday,” in the book To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue.
Here you'll find some of my thoughts about communication, contemplation, yoga, life and various other topics. Thanks for giving them a read.