We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages about what it means to live the American dream and achieve the perfect life. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have given us the unique ability to filter out the less glamorous aspects of our lives and offer to the world some watered down, inauthentic version that fits with that idealized image. I have thought a lot about the costs and where have we have paid the price for these advances in technology. I have wondered if the rise of the internet and social media have played a part in the frightening rise of mental health issues, especially among our youth and young adults.
Before global connectivity and social media, what we learned about our world came largely from our flesh and blood relationships, our family and friends. We had the opportunity to learn through these deep and meaningful relationships, that life is often messy, imperfect and filled with the unexpected. This is the price of being human. Sure, many of us spent time, even before the rise of the internet, trying to hide the more uncomfortable aspects of our private lives. But here’s the thing, in real-life that’s a lot harder to do.
Our heartaches and struggles are unconsciously revealed through the subtle rounding of our shoulders when we walk, the unexpected catch in our voice, or the hint of sadness in our eyes. The countless ways the people around us really know who we are without our having to say it out loud. How often has a friend intuitively known when something was wrong, the truth revealed by our subtle cues long before we found the strength to share our story with others. We learn that it is okay to not be okay because we see the people around us, those we love, during the times in their life when they are decidedly not ok and watch them make it through to the other side intact.
On social media we often fail to see this kind of honesty. Whether it’s an Instagram influencer or a classmate from high school, we all feel the pressure to look perfect. And because we are privy to such a skewed personal narrative, we miss out on witnessing the beautiful sequence of events that transpire when we witness each other’s struggles. It is here we see how unbelievably awful life can be, how capable we are of persevering and overcoming, and just how much of our time can be spent feeling like we are living in chaos.
This kind of upheaval is a requirement for change and growth. Period. Chaos theory tells us that when you work to change a system, you push it out of its previously stable state. When that occurs, it then begins to oscillate between the old system and the new. The previous system must let go and fall apart for the new state to emerge. When we are in the middle of this it feels like nothing is ok or ever will be again.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is thing’s don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen; room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron
Our current obsession with the Marie Kondo brand- controlled, sanitized, and demanding it meet our insatiable need to be filled with joy is antithetical to personal and spiritual growth. Perhaps, we can’t get enough of it because it offers an illusion of safety or a measure of comfort in uncertain times, but it fails to prepare us adequately for the challenges we will face in life.
We spend our time and energy trying to manipulate and manage our circumstances instead of fostering our innate resilience and strengthening our ability to accept life as it is and not how we want it to be. We build valuable muscle memory each time we struggle and find ourselves on the other side, stronger for the experience. We learn to trust and have faith when we practice letting go in the moments when it feels impossible and everything in us screams for us to hold on tighter.
In some measure, the collateral damage from the digital age has been alienating us from the very thing that protects us in times of hardship and struggle. It is impossible to be connected to an image on a mobile phone and a status update cannot feed our soul’s need for belonging. That falls squarely in the province of the real world and in our real relationships. Those positive social interactions protect against stress and we are failing to access this brilliant evolutionary system when our attempts at bonding primarily occur via technology and social networking. At the end of the day, it is the bonds of love and connection that allow us to endure when things feel like they are falling apart.
So, how do we learn to feel okay not being okay? Cultivate relationships with people committed to living authentically and whole-heartedly. Find your family, those who know the intrinsic value of chaos and struggle on the road to reorganization and self-love. Connect, love deeply in the places that hurt. Reject the illusion of perfection everywhere you see it. Remind yourself to stop comparing your inside to everyone else’s outside.
Be here now, invite the present moment into your life and make space for whatever may show up. Remember that the idea of beauty and perfection is only a construct, so give yourself permission to make your version big enough to include the parts of you that feel so exquisitely tender and vulnerable. Invite them to show up, then love them unconditionally and often. Learn to welcome not being okay because deep in your bones you know that it is here you will remember that you were ok all along.