I’m one of those people who will post 3 times a day on instagram and then delete the app for weeks without notice in an act of purported ‘self love’. I’m fascinated by the process of constructing a digital self, of somehow externalising parts of ‘me’ and putting them out to be interpreted. But I find that I get too caught up in symbols. And recently I’ve realised that’s why I indulge in my frequent social media cleanses.
The people I follow are people I genuinely admire and am inspired by. They’re ‘woke’ and grounded and spiritual and they promote more than just mindless consumerism. Whenever I find myself getting jealous or feeling self-conscious after being exposed to something on social media, I unfollow and unsubscribe from whatever made me feel that way – a habit I picked up after graduating high school and deleting my instagram for the first, liberating time.
But recently as I’m scrolling through various feeds I can’t seem to escape that incessant voice that follows: I don’t have enough. I don’t do enough. I’m not enough.
I can look at a post about manifestation or gratitude and the only thing my mind will focus on is that ‘I need to have those cool sunglasses’. I need those pants. That hair cut. I need to have my own apartment. Need need need. Only once I’ve gotten, will I feel whole.
I fell down a rabbit hole of hating myself for being so materialistic. It goes against everything I thought I stood for. But then one night, with a journal and Frank Ocean probably playing in the background, I figured out what it was all about.
“The things you think you’re searching for are just symbols for what you really want. You think you want the hair, or the glasses, or the tattoo, or the apartment, or the plant. But what you really want is the way you think these things will make you feel.
Consumerism tricks you into believing that if only you had this one more thing, you will feel whole and content. But then you get it and you don’t feel any better so you convince yourself that the key is in the next thing, and the next.
Instead of trying to obtain these ‘things’ put more effort into attaining the state of mind you think they symbolise.
The cool sunnies aren’t gonna make you magically feel more grounded and confident. But you have the power and capacity to feel that way right now. Shades or no shades.
Consumerism leads you to believe that powers inherent to you are locked inside objects. But they’re not.
And the best part is, you don’t need to wait to embody the state of mind you’re searching for. You can have it anytime, anywhere. Because it is within you.”
As Alan Watts puts it: thoughts, ideas, words, images – they’re all just ‘coins’ for the real thing. They’re social conventions we’ve constructed for convenience, like money in place of a bartering system.
But symbols are not those things they represent. You cannot eat money instead of food and expect to feel full and satisfied.
And in the same way, you can’t buy the clothes you see happy people on instagram wearing and expect that they’re going to make you feel content.
Instead of reaching for symbols I need to reach for real food.
I need to invest less time consuming ideas and images, and more time using my energy to actualise what it is that I really want. Because I’m damn sure that it isn’t locked inside an Instagram post. It’s here and it’s real and it’s within me – and always will be.