The poison of comparison in the Instagram age

by Sep 30, 2019

Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are all utterly unique. Well, that’s a cliche, isn’t it? Partly why it doesn’t seem to warrant deeper investigation. It is a slippery slope acknowledging our uniqueness, while also stripping away our claims to specialness. Perhaps the best approach to unity-in-diversity is to celebrate the uniqueness of others; derive genuine joy from their delightful weirdness.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are all utterly unique. Well, that’s a cliche, isn’t it? Partly why it doesn’t seem to warrant deeper investigation. It is a slippery slope acknowledging our uniqueness, while also stripping away our claims to specialness. Perhaps the best approach to unity-in-diversity is to celebrate the uniqueness of others; derive genuine joy from their delightful weirdness.

But how to do that in a spiritual marketplace – as a collective strata of consciousness – that uses the siren of glamour to promote its offerings? Where glamour becomes the object of the pursuit itself. This cultural daemon can’t be caught, and that’s the rub. The marketplace can be a crucible for jealousy and envy, not celebration.

Shiny portraits trapped under glass

It’s no secret that the wheels of commerce are greased by insecurity – not to mention the millennial phenomenon of Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). How often do the inducements to a better life, one worthy of our conscious kick-ass selves, only serve to reinforce the underlying sense of deprivation and failure?

Comparing ourselves to the projected images of others is terribly fraught, and ultimately a form of self-abuse. Yet a feeling of failure is still the shadow side of entitlement (a yearning for that specialness that must be fulfilled in order to be transcended).

Reorienting the emotional manipulation of traditional marketing is a collective task, to which, of course, we can all contribute. I am personally interested in shedding light for those who feel they do not measure up, and at the same time not making the measure itself a new idol. Social media is a double-edged sword. May we wield it wisely.

First, the obvious. It’s not real. These are curated images and lifestyles, which are then filtered through our biases. The result is pure projection; a confection of fantasy images constellated to form some impossible-to-reach ideal. Second, these flashy images, slogans and inducement are hypnotic. I’m not suggesting an intention of mind control, as opposed to the massed effect, which indeed is mersmerising.

Of course, this whole thing is inseparable from our data addiction. But what’s the antidote? Apart from modulating exposure, there is something else that might offer a different filter for the exposure itself and undercut the comparison compulsion.

‘Failing to measure up to those shiny images trapped under glass could be the catalyst to integrate both light and dark and make neither our master.’

Chaos theory and uniqueness

What is it? Our unique ugliness. Yep, I said it. Let me use chaos theory to demonstrate a point. Why does a butterfly flapping its wings in the Peruvian Amazon cause a tornado in Kansas? Because everything is interconnected, significance is not measured by scale, and we can never know how things are going to turn out. We can make our best educated guess, but let’s not kid ourselves.

Consider the interconnected factors that make an individual unique. Unlike other mammals, the human brain continues to develop outside the womb. From an evolutionary perspective, great risk equals great reward. That is, until you look at it from the perspective of the ‘loser’. Trauma during crucial developmental windows while the brain is still developing have a disproportionate effect.

Add to this that pre-verbal trauma (including in-utero and birth trauma) itself is stored in the implicit memory of non-linear (or non-chronological) recall, and you have an itch that cannot be scratched. It can promote a vague, ever-persistent feeling that something about us is fundamentally broken – and we can’t work out why, no matter our efforts.

Now let’s add other factors. Karmic predisposition. Parental coping styles. Inherited belief. DNA. Culture. Schooling. More trauma (it’s the price of admission). Soul calling. Ancestral inheritance. Empathic sensitivity (exacerbating trauma), amplified and expedited ascension evolution. We could add many, many more (parallel existences, anyone?). Consider also the filtering task of the brain to protect against sensory overwhelm: we can only recall a fraction of our influences (yet children are sensitive to even micro movements of feeling and mood in their environment – it just gets stored subconsciously).

Now imagine the intersecting streams of consciousness that every single episode affects in the quantum field – and then in turn how each stream affects each other. Are we unique yet?

Painfully unique

One of my biggest personal struggles has to been to dis-identify my challenges as a sign of regression or failure. To regard apparent crises as an expression of the evolutionary edge – the turning over of the soil – rather then emergencies.

Yet how could I possibly account for all the factors in play? Until we know, we don’t know. The presence of darkness in someone’s life is only evidence of the presence of darkness. Like the Dalai Lama once said, not getting what you want can be the best thing to happen. If one person’s soul path is to master the light, and another’s is to master the dark, might they not look different? Failing to measure up to those shiny images trapped under glass could be the catalyst to integrate both light and dark and make neither our master.

The name of the game is sovereignty. Instead of second-guessing ourselves through comparison, we can do the radical thing and honor the difficulty of the task and the nobility of our undertaking. We can even presume that at our lowest moments, we are living our purpose with courage and dignity. It just wasn’t the purpose we imagined in the brochures.

Like the classic image of the knotted, gnarled underworkings of a Persian rug, there is a tapestry being woven and we can surrender to the Artist through loving ourselves in our darkness, our ugliness, the seeming endlessness of the task.

The single unbroken thread of forgiveness expressed by us, and through us, is the same thread that unites us all and banishes the comparison that keeps us separate. From this radical ground of self-emptying, we are free to celebrate another’s uniqueness. In fact, it is a source of true joy nowhere to be found in the spiritual marketplace.

And haven’t we all been waiting for that.

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