The Disconnection Contagion

Be curious, not judgmental.

Walt Whitman

Well, I’ve had a few days to myself in complete solitude. Aside from the company of my two lovable pets, of course. This has given me some time to consider my relationship with socialization in general, and some of the unconscious fears or desires I may have tied up in that. I’ll be honest, I am struggling more than usual with this journal entry. I am stressing about the promise I made to post them to my blog unfiltered. What is the root of this stress? Perhaps social anxiety over how I may be judged.

For awhile I’ve been pretty back and forth on whether I’m struggling with a lack of personal autonomy or a fear of connection. It’s a dilemma, and there may be a bit of both in there. But fundamentally, I think we all have preferred survival styles or strategies for invisible trauma. Increasingly, I think mine is rooted in autonomy and subsequently affects my ability to connect. I strongly desire and attempt to reach people on a deeper level. The proverbial doors to my soul are wide open you could say, or at least willing to be open if I perceive a likewise open reception.

But that leads to another struggle. The lack of willingness from other people to connect on that same deep level. Both the hesitation to reveal themselves and, more importantly, the reluctance to fully receive another person’s being or soul with open-mindedness. Most people enter into social engagements with a sophisticated set of preconceived opinions or “lenses” obscuring their raw perception. This leads to the tendency to judge books by their cover, or people by the out-of-context details of the first impression they give.

These micro-judgements are ultimately inaccurate and limiting to the experience of who a person truly is at heart. And since these predetermined impressions are two-way, most conversations take the form of an ego dance, where both participants play the little roles they feel are expected of them. This back and forth of inauthenticity perpetuates itself. Human nature is simultaneously amusing and frustrating, is it not? The superficiality of most interactions is the ultimate inhibitor to the connection I desire.

Even as I know I fall into this pattern in my own way, I am quite sensitive to the ego dynamics of people. It is a very back-of-the-head, subconscious sort of thing. But it leaves me in anticipation of the judgment and subtle narrow-mindedness I am likely to notice. And it truly is subtle, and mostly innocent as well. Something so commonplace as to be unnoticeable to most people. But I guess my awareness or sensitivity creates the anticipation that causes my social anxiety. When you can practically see the shifting thought-patterns just by looking into a person’s eyes, it will give you anxiety too.

But here are some questions: Is the anticipation of judgement a self-fulfilling prophecy? Does it compel me to join in on the ego dance by overcompensating for the aspect of my persona or “experience” that I feel is about to be misinterpreted? Does that tendency result in inauthenticity? Does autonomy require staying true to yourself despite the risk of being misunderstood? Can you be fake by trying too hard to stay true? These are difficult questions. Welcome to the mind of a chronic self-inquirer.

A New Attempt

I thought I had given up on journaling after an absence of over one month. But today I was compelled to recommit myself. Partially, I was inspired by a very good friend who recently made a comeback in her ambitions. But I was also motivated by my own failings.

The possibility of alchemizing my pain and fears into something creative or spiritually fulfilling has always been a desire of mine. You could say that this is one instance where I am making a concerted attempt. But what are these “failings,” you ask?

Simply put, my existential indecision, or my inability to resolutely choose a direction for my life. I’ve been stuck in a purgatory between all the choices I envision myself making. This could be a decision to boldly throw my energy into creative endeavors such as writing. Or it could be something as simple as just tightening my belt and getting a job.

You see, I am eternally torn between the path I feel I should take versus the misty and dim desires of my heart. Melodrama aside, the friction is real. But the conflict resides entirely within my head. The nonexistent external pressure I perceive is simply a projection of my own fears. Overall, this has led to a sort of paralysis in my professional and social life.

I’m not where I feel I should be, despite bravely giving therapy a second chance and returning to school after five years. The fact that I’m 25 years of age and still living in my mom’s basement is a serious confidence killer. And it doesn’t help that my ever-developing spiritual insights are seemingly totally at odds with everything society represents.

But alas, this is the hand I’ve been dealt. I obviously live a very privileged life if my biggest stressors are abstract existential dilemmas. You would be right in saying that I just need to DO something or HELP someone. I firmly believe that with great privilege comes great responsibility, and this is the North Star I’ve been increasingly pursuing.

With that thought in mind, I am recommitting myself to publishing more of my informal writings in hopes of helping or inspiring someone out there. But I put emphasis on informal. I’m going to be posting my raw, unfiltered journal entries here on the blog. These writings are much less crafted, and much more personal.

I plan on returning to my usual cadence of writing every three days, but may extend that to weekly. This means that there will soon be more regular content on here. In fact, through such informality, you could say I’m returning to “traditional” blogging. Anyway, I think this is a worthy experiment. Hopefully some soul will benefit from my ramblings.

A side note: I am working intermittently on messy primer to the metaphysics of my worldview, tentatively titled Lux et Veritas. It has taken a long while, but the end is in sight. It’s pretty much an amalgamation of preexisting ideas that I feel are intuitively cohesive. Nothing truly inventive, but necessary to pass on. Authenticity exists, even if originality does not.

Monocultural Hybridization

In the article “Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm?,” published in Vox, author Kyle Chayka outlines two opposing concerns in the mass culture of entertainment. On one hand, digital streaming has resulted in a reduction of society’s ability to connect and relate through entertainment. The author states “The fear is that we exist in a fragmented realm of impenetrable niches and subcultures enabled by streaming media” (Chayka). The other concern is that social media and algorithmic recommendations in streaming are causing culture to become more similar than different. He further explains “We are worried that our digital niches cause a degree of homogenization, which the word monoculture is also used to describe” (Chayka). It is my opinion that these two seemingly irreconcilable concerns are interrelated and happening concurrently. I argue that mass media is both a homogenizing and fragmenting force on culture through a process of hybridization.

In chapter 3 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, culture is described as “. . . both the technology by which humans have come to dominate nature and the belief systems, ideologies, and symbolic representations that constitute human existence” (Conley). As we are witnessing in the age of the internet, the technological impact on culture happens on a global scale. The rapid dissemination of media is only enhanced through the advent of streaming services, which optimize viewing time through the use of algorithmic recommendations. In contrast to linear television, the modern popularity of digital streaming has fragmented media consumption into various dichotomous categories, such as social vs. intimate and niche vs. mass, with much overlap. This indicates not a reduction but an evolution in monoculture. As Kyle Chayka states, “These are all forms of monoculture that don’t rely on an enforced, top-down sameness, but create sameness from the bottom up” (Chayka). Rather than monoculture being purely determined by the gatekeepers of traditional broadcast media, algorithmic homogenization is a rising influence.

In an academic journal from the University of Pennsylvania, the effects of globalization on culture through different forms of media were explored. The researcher outlined a more nuanced perspective on cultural imperialism, which is the idea that audiences across the globe are disproportionately affected by media from Western countries. This alternative perspective is cultural hybridity or hybridization, which “. . . does not give prominence to globalization as a homogenizing force, nor does it believe in localization as a resistive process opposed to globalization” (Kraidy). The process of hybridization involves mediation between different cultures, which in the example of media streaming, gives birth to the various subcultures of entertainment we have today. The study concludes “Consequently, the globalization of culture through the media is not a process of complete homogenization, but rather one where cohesion and fragmentation coexist” (Kraidy). Thus, I believe this process reconciles both concerns outlined in author Kyle Chayka’s article. The hybridization of monoculture has occurred through both the fragmentation of media consumption and the homogenizing forces of algorithmic recommendations.

Works Cited:

Chayka, Kyle. Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm? 17 Dec. 2019, http://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/12/17/21024439/monoculture-algorithm-netflix-spotify. 

“Chapter 11: Health and Society.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Kraidy, Marwan M. “Globalization of Culture Through the Media.” ScholarlyCommons, 2002, repository.upenn.edu/asc_papers/325/?utm_source=repository.upenn.edu%2Fasc_papers%2F325. 

2020

The title of this post. Enough said.

In actuality, there are not enough words in all the tongues of the ages to describe the complexity of our collective experience this past year. We’ve witnessed a pandemic of globally disruptive proportions, political polarization, a hastening of economic stratification, and an overall fragmentation of social cohesion. The seeds of doubt and confusion have long been sown in the dirt of our society, but this year they sprouted. I am no prophet, but I foresee a spiritual reckoning on the horizon.

I am not going to explain my understanding of the fundamental dynamics concerning recent events. A large aspect of these circumstances involves cyclical patterns of civilization and consciousness that exist far outside our sphere of personal control. There is a “wave function” to the progression of this discord that naturally rises and falls. And we are all along for the ride. But alas, I am not here to elaborate on the metaphysical nature of reality. I will save that for a later dissection. I am here now to give a simple update on my life.

I feel guilty for saying that Covid has been a blessing in some ways. While the social disruption this year has made it harder for many to carry on with their productive lifestyles, it has enabled me to resume my academic career and integrate spirituality more consistently. The availability of online classes and normalization of social distancing has been a godsend. Serial misanthropes unite! (But six feet apart, for heaven’s sake)

My hiatus from social media has also been rather therapeutic. The Facebooks, Instagrams, and Twitters of the world play a role in hastening our polarization and subsequent fragmentation. I have not been entirely cut off from the pulse of the world, however. The shift in the zeitgeist or collective mood is palpable to even the most isolated of hermits, such as myself. In fact, I find it necessary to stay clear of the opinionated chatter to see the bigger picture more clearly. There are too many narrow outlooks and unexamined sentiments being propagated. People feel the unwarranted need to defend themselves against thoughtless and oversimplified opinions condensed in 280 characters. It’s easy to get lost in the muck.

As the year finally comes to a close, I look back appreciatively on the many realizations I have been gifted by the universe. While immersed in syncretistic research on Hindu cosmology, solar cycles, and cliodynamics, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for the smaller details of truth and wellness. Characteristics such as kindness, compassion, and detachment. My heart has ever been influenced by Buddhism and original Theosophical teachings, and I now find myself a regular practitioner. It’s the nature of depression and anxiety to be frustrated by the lack of ability to control your own emotions. But meditation helps you accept the rhythms of your feelings with grace and also, with time and persistence, to balance them.

I plan on posting a multitude of mini-essays written for class this past semester. The topics range widely, but they are all sociologically relevant. A few of the issues discussed are races I normally choose not to have a horse in, but nevertheless obliged with a loosely held opinion. I will probably share links on Twitter, despite my healthy distance from that place. I hope you find some of these topics interesting! There might also be an update on the podcast front soon. Ideas have been stirring, and plans are brewing. We shall see what that entails.

A reminder to everyone that there is never such a thing as too much love or compassion. Even a misanthrope can abide by that. The only way to reestablish unity is by first embodying a greater degree of agreeableness within your own heart. We are all just trying to do our best, and we are each still ignorant in our own way. Have mercy on all sentient beings, including those whose opinions are diametrically opposed to your own. Sit down, and drink some tea.

Eternally Encroaching

This is probably going to end up being more of a “random musings” type of post, but I wanted to get these thoughts out of my system. As I was perpetuating the mindlessly scrolling culture of social media yesterday, I ran across an interesting article. Apparently the Joe Rogan podcast will be moving exclusively to Spotify. Now, I am not a HUGE fan of this dude, but I’ve found several of his guests to be interesting. But more importantly, this got me thinking about the creative industry online as a whole, specifically podcasting and blogging.

I started blogging when I was around 13. The online world was different back then—a little less monetized and systemic, and definitely more genuine. There was more of a focus on the individual experience, and that was expressed in the variety of creative mediums available. That technically still exists today, but the underlying reality is different. Everything has become more focused and tailored. The algorithm rules now, and content is being crafted to cater to that. Once-independent productions are now being enticed by platform exclusivity, thus selling their soul and freedom.

Something was lost as the internet matured. I remember when I first started out writing and being inspired by the plethora of unique and interesting blogs on the net. Chronicles of people’s lives, their ideas, their adventures, all recorded for the simple act of expression instead of financial gain. While everyone is on lockdown, I think the changes of online culture are easier to perceive. With more spaces of time to pass, we naturally gravitate toward the endless streams of media on our devices for entertainment.

So much of that media has been distilled into bite-sized snippets of instant gratification. The cynic in me recognizes it as a dopamine market, preying on the baser and easily manipulated nature of people. The encroachment of greed has touched many previous bastions of creative freedom. YouTube is an especially poignant example. While one could point out that the vast increase in online content is good for consumers, I disagree when most of it has been cheapened in the process. Authenticity is what I feel missing today. The catering to social trends and algorithms in order to simply reach more viewers has left a valuable part of the human experience in the dust.

There is a fundamental unhealthiness underlying the online economy and greater culture, and even a serious risk to the wellbeing of consumers. Not to mention the fact that data harvesting by big companies is a legitimate concern for privacy and anonymity. I can only hope that small time creators can continue to find the will to persist amidst the eternally encroaching greed that follows mass consumption. The near future is worrisome to me, but the impermanence of any system or paradigm provides hope that things will eventually change.

Musings on Acceptance

As an INFJ, I often feel trapped in life by obligations. There is a constant battle inside of me between what I want to do and what will please others. Upon verbalizing this struggle, I am often told to simply ignore what others want and start following my own heart. But the simplicity of this advice doesn’t save it from being fundamentally wrong in my case. If I hypothetically abandoned my responsibilities and took off to pursue my own spontaneous desires, I would find myself immersed in guilt and constantly worried about the expectations I was failing to meet. The paralysis of this anxiety would keep me from doing what I love.

What is the solution? Should I give in to the extreme pursuit of people-pleasing just to feel like I am worthy? Or should I abandon my obligation to others and immerse myself in purely personal endeavors? The likely answer is to find balance, which is a fleeting force in my life. This somewhat crazed over-analysis will probably lead to someone telling me that I am taking myself too seriously again. They are partly right for volleying such a criticism. I tend to overthink more than is healthy. I am driven to “think up” the perfect solutions for my plights. I understand the futility of this process, yet unhealthy mental habits can be irrational.

Ultimately, I realize that there is no easy solution for the suffering we face in life. The irrational nature of much of the pain we endure only proves this reality. In the realm of our mind, it’s easy to dwell amongst idealized constructs and solutions. It’s second-nature to imagine the clean and perfect version of a scenario. However, there is a discrepancy between the reality in our mind and the one around us. This cognitive dissonance marks the commencement of suffering. In actuality, life is messy. Imperfection and failure are inevitabilities.

All of this tells me that on some level, I will never be able to please everyone. It’s an even laughable prospect now. There will always be a small part of me that feels stretched, or pressured by outside obligations. This is life, and my grace in the face of such shortcomings influences my ability to be happy. Accepting imperfection and the promise of future suffering enables me to find the ever-elusive balance I need to be at peace. I hope that anyone who relates to this plight can find some shred of understanding in my shared insights.

Coffee & Contemplation: The Importance of Friendship

Note: Publishing work from my past is quickly becoming a series of sorts. There are so many pieces I’ve written that haven’t seen the light of day since Writer’s Workshop back in high school. Sharing them here seems like a cheat way to keep up with regular posts, but it’s also a little cathartic. I get to look back on how I’ve changed over the years, for better or worse. I get to reacquaint myself with an optimism and hopefulness I might have lost. This next piece highlights an appreciation for camaraderie I wish I could still embody. I also express my hedonistic and everlasting love for coffee, which thankfully has not changed. Let’s do this!

I have always been fond the coffeeshop atmosphere. A proud addict of the caffeinated drink myself, I am often found lingering in these havens of ripe conversation and artsy individuals. Today I am a part of this greater experience once again, with a double-shot espresso in hand and an ear toward the people around me. Listening in on various conversations but never truly committing is my speciality, for I am an observer. Today I bear witness to the remarkable manifestation of friendship among a group of fellow students who I am lucky enough to call my friends. These individuals have inspired me with their kindness and unwavering sincerity.

I believe that one never truly appreciates something they hold dear until it is gone. This is the most troubling form of ignorance, and we all suffer from it. In turn, one of the great aspirations of life must be to learn to incorporate gratitude in our perspective and appreciate the blessings we take for granted. Such blessings include our friends, or the people in our lives we trust with our uninhibited selves.

I’ve begun to realize the inherent nature of friendship. Making friends is not merely a search for another individual you can relate to, but the spontaneous “coming together” of two souls, each walking the path of existence. I don’t think we can control who befriends us. It merely happens. Increasingly I find myself drawn to the metaphor of leaves dancing in the wind to describe life. A leaf has no navigational capabilities, and so it is propelled into the great oblivion, careening throughout space and time and bumping into its brethren along the way. Many friends are made, and some are even lost.

The ultimate lessons come from our friends, for they are the very pinnacle of teachers. They gift us with love and kindness. They nurture our hearts and cultivate our spirits. They shed light when darkness falls and the path before us becomes murky. These are our true friends, the ones we never lose. A true friend is one who imprints a piece of their heart in another’s soul. Life throws us all into a mess of blessings and curses. It is our job to disentangle and learn from each. Our friends are here to teach us the way.

And so my day at the coffeeshop comes to a close. I glance at the kind folk around me and think about how truly lucky I am to enjoy such decent company. I stand up and push my chair in, taking care not to trod on anyone’s book bag. I throw my empty paper cup into the garbage and exit the shop, surrounded by a troop of comrades who have unknowingly imprinted my life with the simple yet profound lesson of appreciation.

The Significance of Names

Note: Here is another interesting piece written back in high school. I stumbled upon it amidst my insightful yet often cringeworthy delve into lost writings. There is a chance it was never finished, so I simply confined it to my forgetful, mental to-do list. Nevertheless, it marked my discovery of “Om,” the sacred mantra of Brahman in the Hindu religion. It would be a disservice to my younger self not to share. Shall we begin?

A mere name is sometimes capable of expressing deeper meaning, implying something of greater importance, and instilling a value previously overlooked. They are symbols in their own right, tools used by the workers of language to shed light on otherwise unspoken subjects. In ancient times, names were thought to hold extraordinary power and even to act, in some ways, as a separate manifestation of a person. The power of names was also applied to deities and has endured in religious tradition for centuries.

I have always found a mantra-like power resonating from particularly powerful names. Sound currents and profound words can be used to strongly influence the mind and spirit. They have the potential of bringing a certain harmony to life and even inviting a tide of sometimes much needed optimism. Thoroughly understanding the power of names can both enrich and enlighten one’s consciousness.

A name that has particularly impacted me is Om (or Aum), a sacred utterance often found in Sanskrit mantras. With a meaning suggestive of a deity, it actually implies a primordial vibration from which the universe was originally created. Om is the eternal beauty and sustenance found in all aspects of reality. It is the order of the cosmos, and going one step further, is reality itself.

Om is comprised of three sounds, of which a distinct meaning can be super imposed upon each. The first sound “A” stands for the entire physical world we can experience. The reality we perceive through our senses is most attributed to this sound. The second sound “U” stands for the world of thought, as opposed to physical reality. This includes the imagination, dreams, and abstract thinking. The third and final sound is “M,” the unmanifest condition. According to the Vedas, what could be found before and after creation is the meaning of the sound of “M.” It is the unified state of the cosmos, the great fabric of which everything else is a part of.

In essence, Om is the composition of all there is. It is what existed before, it is what exists now, and it is what will exist later. Words may only be a conglomeration of letters, strung together in a particular order to imply a sense of meaning. But like Om, those words may harbor a message from a deeper, more inexplicable state of being.

Journaling Update

Back in February I wrote a post detailing my plans to take up the arduous yet cathartic task of journaling. I am here to say that for the most part, this goal has been met with success. Sure, there were some missed days and uncompleted entries. But this was something I kept at in hopes of instilling discipline and a better state of flow in my life. I was surprised to discover that once my pen hit paper (or in this case pencil hit iPad), I enjoyed the process immensely. Knowing that I would be my own audience gave me an unbridled sense of freedom. There are things I etched down in journals that I never would have had the courage to blog about.

So here I am to say that this is an endeavor I am going to keep up, making it a permanent ritual in my life. Journaling has helped me dispel many of the half-baked musings and anxieties that haunt my mind at the end of each day. Everything in my head is nebulous—an interconnected web that solidifies near my point of focus and fades away into ambiguity at the periphery. This area of inexactness is what causes the greatest source of stress in my life. Having a regular outlet to pen down this junk gives me focus and perspective. Really, it’s a tool that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, but especially those with a chaotic mind such as mine.

All of the magic happens on my iPad with a trusty Apple Pencil. In the beginning I considered using an old-fashioned composition notebook to scrawl my scratchings. There is nothing more grounding and conducive to the ever elusive “flow state” than hand writing your notes. And the tangibility of a notebook devoted to a single purpose has its charm. Yet I am an ardent lover of convenient and intuitive technology, so my iPad is now fulfilling an unforeseen destiny. My journals are cloud synced, locked by facial recognition, and ready to peruse at a moment’s notice on ALL of my devices. Not that I do so, of course, which leads to my next point.

I generally don’t like looking back on my past journals. This flies in the face of my expectations, which were conditioned by my love for rereading old blog entries. But what I decide to pen down at the end of each day, for my own eyes, is an altogether different beast than the articles I craft for an audience. The words are rougher, the ideas rawer, and my integrity fully intact. I am not presenting myself, if you will. I have true freedom to be as messy, honest, and insecure as I please. Such is the beauty of having a personal journal. But generally speaking, looking back reopens a can of worms that I have already sealed shut. There is no need to stuff back into my head the anxieties I have already dispelled. This brings to mind an image of Dumbledore pulling strands of memory out of his head and into his pensieve.

This does not mean I find looking back totally useless. I have a plan at the end of each year to read through all of my entries. I can see how much I’ve grown and changed throughout the months. It’s hard to imagine a better way to get this kind of perspective. The second part of my plan is to write a “year in review” post detailing my highlights and conclusions. And finally, I will permanently delete all of my journals to make a fresh start for the new year. Out with the old, and in with the new. I am always looking for a new self-improvement project. This little experiment has turned into something I wish to make a solid fixture in my life. Healthy habits and rituals are a proper step in getting back on my feet and climbing out of this pit of purposelessness.

Conversation with a Friend

Sometimes the greatest of insights arise at the most unexpected of times. Good conversation can be the perfect lubricant to get ideas flowing and those mental gears turning. With permission, I’ve shared an existential concern of one of my dear friends below. The universe has decided to use my head as a data dump again, so I’ve also shared my thoughts on the matter.

Friend: I don’t know — I just feel like I don’t know what road to take, because all I truly want to be is happy. I know it seems selfish, but I just truly want that. I want to be at peace and happy with everything that I am and everything that surrounds me, and I don’t know how to go about it. I see a few roads to take, but I feel like the road I’m taking will sooner or later kill me. I’ll reach a point of complete burn out, and I don’t want that. I just want to truly rest and find a way to do what I love — to hope that doesn’t take away all of my energy.

Me: The answer that I’ve come to, after all of my soul-searching and pondering, is that there is no right answer. There is no single path that will navigate you around all of the suffering, conflict, and confusion that life has to offer. One has to wonder if it is an almost necessary experience to doubt yourself, burn out, and question if you are doing the right thing. Sooner or later, every life path will kill you.

Look around and tell me if you see a single soul who has reached a state of true peace and happiness. If you say yes, I will tell you to delve deeper — beneath the surface — where you will undoubtedly uncover their very real and present fears and insecurities. We have a habit of portraying our successes without the context of our failures. The two go hand-in-hand.

The best advice I can give is to let go of expectations and any semblance of control you think you have over life. You are too intelligent to believe the lie that is a comprehensible order to the universe for long. It is too vast, varied, and twisted for any one of us to discern a “right” answer. Trying to find definitive clarity amidst the chaos is like trying to catch air with your bare hands. It’s all relative.

The answer is everything; it cannot be distilled into a statement, direction, or philosophy to live by. Simply let go, and allow the tidal forces of energy to carry you toward the nonexistent destination. To be carried without resistance is to live. 🌹