Zen and the art of WhatsApp

CakeThu 25th April 2019

How do you feel? Need to check your phone? Want to see if that message has been read, seen, replied to? Want to *just check* if they are online? Or maybe *just check* when they went offline? How many times have you looked at your phone today? Are you holding it right now? Is it right next to you? Is it closer than your own child when they are at home?

Mine, in truth, is right here, mere inches away from the keyboard, and the moment it beeps or buzzes I WILL pick the fucking thing up. And do you know what – that’s okay!

This post is not about telling you that it’s wrong to have your phone by your side like a small shiny pet. It’s just about seeing that it is. And then seeing how it might be otherwise, if you would like it to be. Which, if you’re like me, I suspect you do.

I love to read old historical essays about people and society and see how appalled the writers always are at how things were ‘then’, and how much better they were ‘before’. I smile as I see how much more of a mess we are in now.

And that that same culture, that demands many, many essays about how things are ‘terrible’ now as opposed to then, is still dominant.

I smile and think of the likes of Alan Watts because most of the time he was smiling too – because it’s okay that things are a mess. Life has always been a mess. A fuck-up. We’re all fuck-ups to some extent, and really, mostly, that’s okay.

Most of us cause some harm to others, and more to ourselves and our immediate friends and family. That cycle of inter-generational trauma has been going on since the beginning of time. The systemic problem is with the people who take their pain and brokenness and use it as a weapon to harm others, or to reinforce systems like Big Finance, Big Media, mainstream politics, Big Food, Tobacco and Alcohol, to cause large amounts of harm to everyone who is different from them.

There is no mythical time period in the past where we were all nice and living in tune with our environment, nor will there be one in the future (sorry, Jean-Luc). What there is instead is acceptance.

It’s easy to swallow whole the idea that Zen and mindfulness are about a retreat, away from life and from stress, in search of peace. There is no such thing as total peace: no state can exist without its opposite. Zen is not about escaping your life, but about stripping away the stories from how it really is right now. It is about acceptance. (Yes, that word again.)

And so what, you ask, does any of this have to do with WhatsApp? For me, WhatsApp crystallises Zen and the absolute importance of stories in our lives.

The 2am ‘Last seen…’ when your partner didn’t text you after 1am? A simple fact? Or a story about how they are texting someone else? Prefer someone else. Hate you. Are about to leave you… The fact that they are online and not talking to you – is that because you’re not important to them? Or maybe they are just talking to their aunt about the Museum of Poo…

I don’t know about you, but I often feel as though everyone hates me. Or that they will, if I say how I really feel, what I really think, what I really need or anything else that, if based on me and the truth of me, always feels like the wrong thing.

The challenge with the stories we have in our heads about us and who we are, about the people and world around us, is that we have been telling ourselves these stories for a very long time. The narrative structure and themes were created before we were even babies. Our story is shaped by our mother’s life and that of her mother before her, by our families dynamic, and by the ways in which they, and then we, fitted in or didn’t, to the societies and culture into which we were born. These stories started, were baked into our bones, at a time before we were ever able to question them, and they are listened to in an environment that rarely gives us the space or the time or even the tools to question them. We hear and we believe, as a child believes in Santa. But, unlike with Father Christmas, there is rarely a point in our lives where someone comes along and tells you that those stories are not necessarily true.

The stories our mind makes up – these are eddies in the tide. Waves on the surface. They are not the full picture. The truth is under the surface: deep and calm and smooth. It is up to you to dive deep enough inside to see it.

For example, I see that sometimes I am anxious. I see that sometimes I could not give a toss. I see that sometimes I can be petty and judgmental. I can think mean thoughts. I feel good. I feel bad. I feel something all of the time. And the key is to notice and accept and to start to really listen to what those feelings might be telling you And to learn to accept and move on from them when they are not self-compassionate, or are creating a block.

Of course, accepting what is, when we do not necessarily like it, is really bloody hard. Which in itself becomes another feeling we have to learn to accept. The glorious thing about Zen is that it already knows this about us – it knows that the fighting, the resisting, the refusing to see are all part of seeing. So, the pain and resistance and fear? They are okay too. Just accept them. Let go of the stories and just see what is.

We should, of course, discuss and challenge behaviour that triggers difficult or
discomfort. We have conversations about our feelings. We understand the
fact that our own behaviour also provokes unpleasant responses even if we have not intended it, and we take responsibility for that. We also understand that most of the time the feelings come from our stuff, not others’ behaviour, and that that works both ways.

Or rather we learn to. We need to learn to do those things, and we’re going to fuck up along the way and that is also okay. Really.

Too often we wait to feel better about ourselves before we make changes, take action. But sometimes it takes the action to make the different feelings come. And sometimes it takes not doing the action to see that that is what we really need. This is where you have to learn to trust yourself and your inner body-wisdom about what you need right now.

Accepting that we do not want to go the gym or cook dinner, or be in that relationship or job any more, accepting and then doing it anyway, or seeing that we need to stop and take the pressure off ourselves, is the first step on the way to accepting ourselves as we fully are, in all our perfect, flawed glory.