Last week, I went to Friday night services at synagogue. Immediately following, and all week in fact, I have been aware of feeling profoundly human, grounded and well — a part of something much larger than just myself. As is customary, the evening included singing, meditation and a talk by the rabbi. The topic of the talk changes weekly, but what remains constant is the nature of the theme. The conversation is always about something universal and what it means to be human. This week’s talk was about our relationship with obstacles, fear, and limitation. The rabbi spoke of the fear of both pain and joy, addressing specifically our desire to run from that which scares us. He counseled us to lean into fear and to work with and within our limitations — not against them. Wise words.
The rituals that this rabbi and countless religious and spiritual leaders offer each week in their in-house services are important not only because of the content of the messages they deliver, but because of their power to make us feel connected to the profundity of the human experience, and something more vast than just our ever-changing personal experience. They provide a narrative for our lives, mark the stages and passages of a life, place us in a larger human context, and address the infinite shared aspects of this mortal journey. Services provide bones for the body of life. These rituals point us to the big picture and remind us that our personal story is part of a larger story: humanity… existence. We come to understand that we are living something profoundly real — life — and that it is deserving of our most serious attention.
Given the fact that we as a society, and particularly our younger generations, are spending far less time engaged in brick and mortar religious and spiritual services and far more time engaged in social media, I am wondering how this shift in our habits will impact us. What I see in my psychotherapy practice is that people feel increasingly disconnected from a sense of context, meaning and the larger human narrative. They speak of being un-tethered, and not knowing what their life is supposed to be about or when it is going to begin. The teen years disappear into the 20s and then the 30s and 40s and onward, all while they wait to feel connected to some purpose, permanence — something bigger and more lasting than their momentary dramas. There is a growing sense of ungrounded or placeless-ness in people’s experience, as if the larger narrative within which their lives could be understood and once made sense is slipping away. We are floating in a world that is changing by the nanosecond, but at the same time, has no ground.
Social media is about immediacy. Before you can finish a thought, there is a new one to replace it. We are living in a Disneyworld for the monkey mind, celebrating every opinion, like, dislike, emotion, and sensation that passes through our awareness. “I am drinking a latte.” “I like this movie.” “I hated this steak.” “I disagree with this decision.” The thoughts stream by unceasingly, beckoning seductively as their 140 characters evaporate into the ether.
Tweets, Facebook musings, and even blogs (this one included) find form for a split second and then splinter into the vacuum that is social media. The speed, impermanence and shallowness of the conversation causes us to feel disconnected and disintegrated. Instant and irrelevant. The opposite of brick and mortar services, social media leaves us feeling ungrounded and without a larger context in which to place our human story. In this immediately-consumed and discarded culture, there is no longer any weight to be found and only banter to anchor us. Our own journey, indeed our own being, feels as transitory and meaningless as the latest tweet.
It is important to come together, shoulder to shoulder, to contemplate life — to consider where we fit into the larger human story, and what meaning our collective and individual journeys hold. It is important that we give weight to this thing called existence. This contemplative process not only keeps us feeling well, but also helps us develop and evolve as people. We mature through the examination of our place and purpose on earth. We develop wisdom and substance. By acknowledging and addressing our shared experience as human beings, we grow more connected to others, the world and ourselves. We deepen personally and collectively as we honor that which is not whimsical and ephemeral.
My hope is that as we disappear farther into the world of social media, we do not forget these rituals that create a structure and narrative for our human story. I hope too, that in our love affair with the instantaneous, we do not lose touch with the disciplines that allow us to feel the roots beneath our feet and all that has come before us, and will come after our personal “I”s and momentary musings have disappeared from the twitter-feed. We cannot maintain a sense of meaning or wholeness in an entirely pixelated world. We become pixels ourselves — without a sense of where we are or even if we are. It is crucial that we stay grounded in some kind of permanence, not a personal permanence, but the permanence of the human journey. Ultimately, in order to stay anchored, we need more than just hashtags.