With a weary sigh, I closed my Macbook, pushed the upholstered chair back from the roll top desk, and sat for a moment in the dim light of the hushed living room.
Outside the front windows, bright jewels of stars were scattered upon a black velvet sky, twinkling amid the dark outlines of trees. It was past my usual bedtime by nearly an hour, my two English Whippets were curled up asleep together on the sofa, and I felt not only tired but unsettled. Bleary and buzzing.
I have been spending an increased amount of time online in recent weeks, working to expand my ‘network’ and build out my author’s platform. It’s an aspect of modern life that, frankly, I loathe, and I’m trying to lean into my resistance.
I find the vast majority of social media content to be incredibly superficial, offering little sustenance for the soul. Like television, it’s mostly junk food—filling us up with empty calories devoid of nutrients. And just like the refined sugar in processed and junk food, it’s incredibly addicting. (Especially with a smart phone in your pocket, purse or bag, that you can whip out for a quick little fix and sweet media bite.)
Three years ago, in my early attempt to build an author’s platform with a podcast and blog, when I first ventured reluctantly into the waters of social media, I wrote a post called “Evolution of A Twit.” I outlined my trepidation, but also shared my hope that I might use Facebook and Twitter to connect with other socially conscious, soulful people. Though the ‘voice’ and focus of my posts has evolved, much of that early post still rings true for me.
My early bout of lukewarm enthusiasm quickly cooled, and feeling that I was wasting inordinately large amounts of time with little gain, I pulled back from social media. I found it far more nourishing to spend my time at the farmer’s market, in the kitchen making a fresh and alluring supper, reading a book, tending my honeybees, or walking my dogs on the mountain.
Naively, I hoped that the content of the podcasts and the Soul Artist Journal would simply build out my network and platform on its own—sort of a Field of Dreams, “build it and they will come,” sort of thing. I pulled the plug on my Facebook page, ‘unfollowed’ nearly everyone on Twitter, and for two years did little more than tweet my latest SAJ post once a week.
Honestly, it suited me nicely but, not surprisingly, my platform and network failed to grow in any meaningful way (though readership of the Soul Artist Journal crept slowly upwards). When the time came to rally support for and promote The Bones and Breath: A Man’s Guide to Eros, the Sacred Masculine, and the Wild Soul (White Cloud Press, 2014), I realized that my tiny network was ineffectual—and largely disinterested.
In the past month, along with writing articles for elephant journal and the Good Men Project, I’ve circled back to actively increasing my social media presence. I’m spending a chunk of each day at the computer, ‘tweeting’ and following people/profiles. Like brushing my teeth or exercising, it’s something I’m doing because I realize that I have to, not because I enjoy it.
The irony is this: the larger your network grows, the more easily you are pulled into it for increasing amounts of time because there is more content to view.
Last night, after spending well over an hour on Twitter—sucked into the void of ‘following’ and ‘unfollowing’, reading profiles, tweets and articles—despite the late hour and my tiredness, I felt strangely unsettled and restless. Sitting in the chair, observing my two dear doglets curled up together, I considered balance. Or my lack of it, rather.
I decided that I don’t want the hour(s) before bedtime spent on social media. I’d rather curl up with a good book, or be seated at my Navajo loom, hand weaving the hand-dyed churro sheep yarn through the warp threads. (Read my recent SAJ post, “A Ball of Yarn: A Meditation on Place.”)
I have noticed that when I go to bed after being on the web, my sleep and dreams are restless and agitated. Perhaps it is because of the way the bright, artificial light of the computer screen affects the pineal gland rather than the gradual dimming of light as in the natural world, making sleep more difficult (an interesting series of studies has been done on this). Maybe it’s the repeated, rapid stimulation of the optic nerve with active computer use (another intriguing study). Or it could simply be that my mind is regurgitating the various content I’ve ingested before bed. Whatever the root cause, I don’t fall into the deep, peaceful slumber that I normally enjoy when I retire after being at the loom, reading a good book, or listening to music.
Social media doesn’t feed my soul, it merely occupies me. Certainly, like walking the long, windswept beach and finding a painted, glimmering sea shell, there are posts that inspire. Yet it remains a very mental pursuit, and my earthbound soul prefers that which grounds me in the sensual, tactile, present moment of the ‘real world’.
When life tips too far towards the things and pursuits that don’t sufficiently nourish, something goes missing. We begin to feel restless, disconnected and adrift. Too easily we can be afflicted with that blight of modern life, the “meaning void.”
Distractions like social media (also television, Internet, etc.) are convenient avoidances and roundabouts, easily diverting us from our deeper, soulful work. Employing only our overly dominant sense of sight to read the screen, our other senses grow dulled to the richness of every moment that enfolds us. Rather than inhabiting our bodies, we’re simply holed up in our heads.
On the narrow wooden table by the window, the beeswax candle had burned down to nothing and flickered out. Seated in my chair, gazing through the old, thin glass to the dark silhouette of the Grandmother, a venerable Monterey cypress tree that presides over my little coastal cottage, I decided two things.
If I’m going to spend an hour each day building my online platform, then I need to offset or balance that investment by increasing the time I spend walking the dogs and being outdoors. Too, I need to get back to my yoga mat and/or my movement practice. It feels imperative to focus on some bodysoul nourishment as a counterpose.
Also, I’m now choosing to do my social media time after dinner rather than later at night, so I can spend the final hours before bed with a book or at my loom. Or seated outside on the deck, bundled up with a soft scarf around my neck, watching the twinkling stars while savoring the scents of cypress and the sea.
I launch my days in a very deliberate manner with a quiet morning routine—greeting the dawn barefoot, a cup of tea, a candle and resinous incense, several pages of longhand writing. Why on earth wouldn’t I want an evening routine that was equally nourishing?
Repeatedly this journal explores the little, ordinary ways that we cultivate and tend the soul, that deepest, essential and creative part of us. Weekly I muse on what it means to be a Soul Artist and share it forward. In these past couple of days, once again I have realized the importance of balance and the necessity of emphasizing those elements that actually nourish.
Friend, here’s hoping that amid the demands of a modern life that you find a sense of balance, that you consider what actually nourishes your body and soul, and then make it a priority in each day.
Honestly, if you had only a few days to live, how much of that time would you want to spend on the computer rather than feeling the earth beneath your feet and smelling the flowers….?
Go outside and play.