Your heart and my heart are very, very old friends.
Years ago, I had a summer job in a delicatessen in Putney. One sunny afternoon, a man came up to my counter to buy something. I don’t remember what he ordered. I don’t remember what he said, how he spoke, or even what he looked like. The only thing I remember about him is the way he made me feel, so much so that I can still remember it all these years later.
I have him in mind today as I ponder resonance which, after a look around the Internet, can be defined as evoking a strong emotion. Depth. Spaciousness. Timelessness. Love, which is exactly how I felt that day on my deli counter in his presence. I felt waves of love and comfort in a timeless space, the likes of which I’d only felt a few times before, sometimes in dreams, and indeed I’ve only felt a few times since. It was such a special encounter which just happened.
Resonance, however seems to be something else altogether. It happens almost instinctively, like my interaction with the man. But it is not just people with whom we resonate. YouTube, books, a story or a piece of music, and even blogs stir our emotions, they feel rich and significant, they feel true, and we fall into their depths and enjoy a sense of spaciousness and timelessness as we take to our hearts the messages they have for us. The way we feel about anything is the only measurement of truth we have, even though it is often hard to go with our gut, because society and life trains us how we should behave, rather than encouraging us to follow our feelings.
In physics, resonance is defined as a specific vibrational frequency where energy is efficiently transferred into a mechanical system or indeed from one body to another so that it vibrates in sympathy with its neighbour. In quantum physics, quantum entanglement is when pairs or groups of particles behave in such a way that their states cannot be described independently of the states of the others, even when the particles are separated by a large distance, famously described by Einstein as spooky action at a distance.
Even though these particles can only be seen under a microscope, the idea that the universe is vibrating and expanding and shifting and changing echoes the ideas which some world wisdom traditions have had for centuries, which is that we are all one.
And, with the discovery of mirror neurons a couple of decades ago, it seems that humans have the same ability to resonate like the particles do, with everything and everyone around them. Apparently, all the regions of the brain involved with thinking and sensory input, appear to have mirror neuron activity. We can resonate with people even at a distance, on the Internet, or TV and radio.
We all know certain people, particularly in social situations, who just lift our hearts, around them we feel better about who we are. We mingle in their energy, we feel love and joy and happiness. We feel better.
I love this. I love that we don’t all have to work so hard to reach that lovely state of resonance. Just by chance it is possible to resonate, as Rumi says, the love within our love because in the centre of us all, in our hearts, indeed, our heart of hearts, or in the centre, of the centre, of all of us, the same consciousness and vibration is occurring. How wonderful is that?
It is just that in our busy world with all of its demands, sometimes we forget. Worse still our mirror neurons can become overwhelmed by interactions with people with whom we don’t empathise or understand, because we have forgotten that we all feel the same way and deep down the person who is getting on our nerves has the same core as us. They are just like us.
But, we don’t always need another person to do this. We can do it for ourselves, apparently. We can resonate with that love within our love anytime we like.
Meditation is the best way to calm our nervous systems and retrain our neurons so that we can form a bridge between our hearts and minds. In this way we can be the deepest, most spacious loving person in the room from which everyone takes their cue. A Course in Miracles (which I’ll be honest with you I struggle to read, it is not exactly a page turner) says something like: Give whatever is lacking in a situation. And, this is so true, if you are not feeling love in a situation, bring it, bring it first and foremost to yourself, and know that you are enough, and then share it with the situation. Because, when we let go of all the tension, thinking and feeling that is where the magic begins.
After four months of daily ecstatic breathwork, I am starting to feel that it may well be possible. In fact, I know it is possible to connect to that inner state of timelessness, spaciousness and love because of the man that day, the man I only met briefly and only once, but who resonated so brightly, so beautifully, with a pure love whilst asking for his quarter of salami or smoked salmon, or whatever it was, so prosaically and yet so magically. His energy was transformative and thankfully, I have never been the same since.
I love me some woo-woo, quantum physics, quantum love conversation. But, in these circles I often hear people talking about negative energies, energy vampires, and protecting ourselves from negativity. I am not such a fan of this advice, this constant need to defend, but will concede that we are not obliged to resonate with anything and everything that has a pulse, but that said, there will be days when we want to but still get it wrong and are left afterwards with that yukky feeling as we have clashed with people who are not on our wavelength.
But, we shouldn’t get disheartened. It is only temporary and even in those horrible moments, clashing can be an amazing creative force too, like dissonant notes in a piece of music which give us space, before leading us to harmony. Or by creating something spectacular and as glorious as the Northern Lights.
When I was choosing the picture at the top of the blog, I was looking for something which looked like resonance, which resounded with resonance, and I fell into browsing pictures of the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Ironically, the magical Aurora Borealis is created when solar wind ions collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen from the Earth’s atmosphere. They collide, they don’t resonate. So, even when crashing something good can come out of it. We need contrast so that we can feel the difference, sometimes we need a moment of dissonance, so that when it changes we appreciate and get ready to go on our way to somewhere else, to something else, to a new magical quantum entanglement which we can enjoy all the more.
You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.
I often wonder why I blog. I’ve even blogged about it, of course I have, though I often come to the end of something I have been blogging about and think yep that’s it, that’s the last blog I will ever write.
However, I am ready to organise my ideas into another format and make them sustainable in case the next blog is my last or I want to take my website down. I have spoken to several, very nice, people in the publishing world and even though the feedback has been so wonderful, I can’t quite see how I fit there. It is very different from blogging as I drink tea and swizzle round on my spinny chair and writing about things which make me feel super excited and thrilled. I understand people want to make sure you are a horse worth backing before they invest time, money and energy into you. However, given my need to please, I can’t help feel the way that I am trying to squeeze square peg self, yet again, into a round hole, it all feels a bit like the medium might just become the message and the parts of my writing which appeal to me and other people may well get lost in the process. And, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from trawling through my life during this accidental techie series is that it is important to listen to my heart.
The other thing is that I always tell myself that I only write about computing which is just a big fat lie. I write about myself on here all the time. So, why do I feel the need to lie? I guess I feel vulnerable, though I was thrilled when someone said on YouTube the other day that being vulnerability is a superpower, but vulnerable is scary and even though it’s not true I still think that no one is reading. Also, I feel that it is rather self-absorbed to be taking up precious bandwidth about my feelings. Funnily enough, the other day someone left me a comment telling me that I was a nasty self absorbed stalker which echoed my thoughts as I had blogged about how bad I felt about telling someone how I felt (let down) and my name is Stalker. I have never really felt allowed to express myself, I was taught not to burden people and when I had a chat about with a friend, she said and I agree, that it’s a woman thing – we were taught to put up and shut up. The troll who left comments here really needled me and got me thinking: Perhaps they are right? Or, perhaps they were just repeating something someone once said to them? I’ve always been quite hard on myself and so it isn’t anything I’ve not already said to myself. However, and I can’t find the blog I’ve written about it in, we do take people online as experts – especially influencers – over the opinions of people we know. And, conversely strangers’ comments can hurt us but not as much as our loved ones can. Thankfully, no one close to me shares the opinion of me being a nasty self-absorbed stalker, or at least they’ve never said as much, and this troll-y person didn’t leave a proper name or whatever so they are not experts or influencers or anyone really. They are nameless and faceless, as bullies often are, I was going to link to some other research but to be honest, I have wasted too much bandwidth on it already and am going to take the advice of Dame Helen Mirren:
Global warming is a huge concern, we have everything online and now we have data centres in the North Pole or wherever there’s a cold place to save on air conditioning, they are melting the ice caps and it’s so wasteful compared to way back when we viewed memory as precious and every input was calculated and carefully made and stored in a sparse matrix as memory was hard to come by. In California they turned off the electrical cables to prevent wild fire and people were roaming the streets in what sounded like a post-apocalyptic melt-down looking for wifi as we are all so codependent on our phones and my imagination runs riot and I think who am I to be wasting precious resources on my thoughts? And, that’s without getting into thinking about all those people who don’t have access to anything they need, like fresh water. It is unbelievable how we have all these resources and yet some people do not have access to fresh drinking water.
In almost every blog I write about anything I summarise Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, especially when we share on social media in a sentence: we all want to be heard, we all want to feel like we matter to which I added in the last blog because we all want to feel better. Actually, I think all this time, I’ve really been talking about myself. I’ve really been talking it over with myself and I read and research a lot to make sense of our ever shifting digital landscape. I am always asking the three usability questions any UX consultant hopes that their user can answer: Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we going?
I began this blog series with the same questions about myself as somewhere along the line I have forgotten what it is like to have fun when I am thinking about work. I am not even studying the theory of fun, at least that would be useful. It just feels like that there is always another hoop to jump through, someone else who needs impressing, and you have to have the right number of hits or followers on twitter and all that nonsense, and even when you get that, speaking from experience, it is meaningless, it is not my measure of being impressed, and just lately, I am wondering where are the people who are going to impress me, wow me, inspire me? It’s the easiest thing in the world to criticise. It is so much harder to create and it seems that online people either do one, or the other.
Last week, I was in Bikram and someone was standing in from of me blowing their nose and throwing the tissue on the floor. No where else in society is it socially acceptable to honk your conk on your snot-rag and just fling it on the floor, it really is disgusting. So, I asked the person to please tuck her tissue under her towel as it was grossing me out. She got really angry and refused to do it and then spent the rest of the class not only blowing her nose and throwing it on the floor but turning round so that she could give me evil death stares whilst she did it. I hate angry confrontation and was thrown into one of those transference flashbacks full of self-recrimination. So, I did my usual and apologised profusely which made her go on and on at me. Luckily, a couple of people came up afterwards to ask how I was and said: You didn’t do anything wrong.
It was lovely of them but alas, I still carried the ugh feeling with me all day and the thought: If only I hadn’t asked, which is ridiculous. It was a reasonable request, expressed politely, but it triggered something in the person who decided that the only way to respond was with an angry outburst and sustained passive-aggressive behaviour directed at me until the teacher asked them to stop.
Typing this now makes me all nervous since it came the day after I was trolled here on my website, which is such trigger for me. If ever there was an incident anywhere and I told my mother she invariably said: Well you must have done something wrong, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. So, if I hadn’t been blogging here about my feelings I wouldn’t have had my very own troll come forward and feel the need to leave comments with one goal to intentionally hurt me. You succeeded, well done, I hope you are very proud.
I also hope that my mother was trying to say that there are two sides to every story and not just being a bit of a tyrant (which alas sometimes she could be as she had an amazing scary temper) – like Bikram nose blower, she felt unfairly singled out, she doesn’t know that my immune system remains compromised and I am likely to catch whatever she is waving around – but really all I ever wanted from my mother or anyone was a bit of understanding and in the really painful moments: That sucks to be in that situation. I’m sorry that happened to you, which is what I try to do when someone shares something with me. Whether I succeed or not is another story. I try but I am beginning to see that I am sometimes a hot mess and I won’t ever reach that place where I feel balanced or happy or successful because it doesn’t exist. It is not a destination, it’s fleeting and when it happens there’s no need to hold on so tight.
I have trailed right through from my beginning as an accidental techie to now, and once more I feel like I have nothing else to say, and there’s nothing else I want to do. But then I often think that and I come back as the best bit of HCl is that it is always changing. Sometimes I am tired of being so cerebral that I run off and do other things like that time I trained to be a yoga teacher, I like yoga, I love yoga, I just don’t want to teach it (but if I did, snot rags would be banned, just saying), and I trained as a journalist and a tarot reader, and a creative writer, though I turned down my place on the MA as I don’t need another degree. And, then I come back to it, I come right back to being an accidental techie. It’s what I love to do and that has to be a measure of success – being lucky enough to do what you love and to take a break too. That’s privilege.
Success is not a destination. Feeling good or balanced or Zen is not a destination. Happiness is not a destination. All these things are subjective anyway. The good news is that it’s all fleeting and temporary which means that this funky mood I am in today is fleeting too and the bad feeling I have from asking for what I need will pass too, and it was with this realisation, once more as it’s not new, I finally understand what the Vaudois phrase above is on about: There’s no crisis. People used to say often at the quatre heure apero: on est bien ici, and il n’y a pas du feu au lac. If you aren’t in the middle of a crisis then all is well, sit back and enjoy your 2dl of vin blanc. And, that’s the thing, I’ve lived through quite a few crises it’s just that sometimes my mind doesn’t know the difference, it thinks it has to keep striving, keep meeting those goals, keep firefighting. Il n’y a pas du feu au lac.
This weekend was the 10th anniversary of our family transplant, which is super amazing, and I am so grateful to all those wonderful medical people who worked miracles – nurses, doctors, surgeons, consultants, counsellors, everyone – who saved my daughter’s life, kept my husband safe, saved my life, saved my mum’s and dad’s lives and gave us extra time together until they died. And, I kept thinking that I can hardly believe that we are still here, after everything we’ve lived through and that on est bien ici and il n’ ya pas du feu au lac though my parents are dead and gone. So, my little family went camping at the weekend to celebrate 10 years and we were dancing about under the stars in wonder and joy and sadness and hysterical laughter at the way life works.
And, this has made me think, as has writing here, I can’t control what other people say and do, and writing here gives me great joy, even when it pains me, I can only focus on what I want and either fix what I don’t, or leave them alone, snot rags and verbal abuse, and trolling, and the neighbours blocking our drains because they can’t be arsed not to put baby wipes down the sewage pipes even though they’ve been asked many times not too #ffs, and it’s me who has to call the plumber out.
So, I intend not to bend myself out of shape to keep the peace or jump through yet another hoop in the hope that everything will work out ok. I am planning to be like Jia Jiang who set out to get rejected for 100 days but was pleasantly surprised because people are really nice on the whole. And, I believe that too. No one is doing anything to purposely upset me, not even that troll on here who was typing NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOU. It was obviously very triggering for them and they are wrong PEOPLE DO GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ME. I am so lucky I can count on at least one hand the PEOPLE WHO REALLY, REALLY LOVE ME and hold me and tell me that OFTEN AND I LOVE IT AND I LOVE THEM (and I love you, random citizen). Yes! That is where I want to focus all my time and energy, on people and projects that fill me up and which I deem to make me feel good.
I chunter on here about how the Internet has compressed time and space and blah blah but lying awake in the tent with freezing toes (I forgot my thermal socks) I got to experience the great joy of how the world is always busy, 24/7, busier than my crazy mind and my even crazier troll on a hate rampage. The world is full, all night, of people driving trains, dogs howling, owls hooting, people snoring and fighting and crying and loving, crows crowing, cows mooing and I am thrilled. Thrilled to be a part of every single bit, to breath deeply, to lie under the stars and be a part of everything. I am so grateful to be here. But, sometimes I forget where I have been which is why blogging is great to keep a trace. And, there I was in the middle of the night, far from anything and yet I did wonder why the fuck have I spent any time at all thinking that I need hits, and twitter followers and all that nonsense so that someone else can use that as a measure of my success. I am supposed to decide what success is and what it means to me. I am the one. This is my story, mine. No one else can tell it for me.
I am the one because I said so.
Danielle LaPorte, White Hot Truth
So! Instead of lying awake, I have resolved to follow in the footsteps of Christopher Alexander and Edward Tufte – creative inspiring people I have quoted lots of times and whose beautiful classic books I go back to time and again – who self-published because they had a vision. (Oh and so did Danielle LaPorte and her White Hot Truth book.) I don’t really have a vision but the thing I want to do isn’t really what a publisher or agent would feel worth their time and energy, which is fair enough. I really believe everything I write about the gatekeepers of culture and publishing and the media so it feels natural that I just create the thing I want to create and self-publish and have a nice time, rather than asking people to co-create something I am not clear about. It looks like I am finally taking my own advice, and that is very nice. That has to be a measure of success and that has to be a destination. I guess I will second-guess myself again at some point but for now I am determined. And, I love how easy it is now to self-publish. It really is. How amazing is that? What would Licklieder have made of that?
I have deleted my webstats as I am so sick of measuring things, and I am just going to get on with enjoying how I feel when I am creating, that is my new yardstick, my feelings. I am going to get me a vision which will hopefully lead to me creating something very beautiful from what I have already created here and from what I feel is awesome and it probably won’t fit into any box but that’s okay by me. My intention is to light my own fire, instead of waiting for someone to either do it for me, or give me permission and if I can’t do that then at the very least, I can have some fun trying. And, the best part is, no one can tell me whether I am successful or not, as in the words of that other great dame:
I wrote social anxiety on social media back in February but have been thinking some more about us online and off doing our best to get through life. So, here I am talking some more about social anxiety and social media, and why emotional resonance matters, oh and why I decided to withdraw from Twitter:
TL:DR (or watch): Technology is a tool and an extension of us. To say that it causes social anxiety is not helpful. What is helpful is to ask if we are connecting to people who are emotionally unavailable online or off because if we are then yes, we will feel anxiety and pain. Let’s take care of ourselves and not invest in emotionally empty landscapes either on or offline, it’s not easy as social media is addictive. Be gentle and just remember to breathe.
Rereading my blog, I see that my opinion hasn’t changed and on checking, neither has Turkle’s. She now consults on reclaiming conversation ™ to stop the flight from face-to-face conversation.
I am not so sure we don’t want to talk face to face at all, rather it’s just technology gives us the option to avoid those particular prickly peeps we’d rather not see face to face if we can.
Added to that, I don’t believe that technology is taking us to places we don’t want to go. We have no idea what we are doing online or where we need to be, and I am tired of hearing technology described as an unstoppable force outside of our control as if it were freak weather or a meteorite zooming towards earth about to destroy us all. Economics is often the driver of technological advancement and human decisions drive economics.
Our behaviour online and towards technology reflects us in all our glory – the good, bad and the ugly – along with all our hopes and fears. I do not believe that we expect more from technology and less from each other. Instead, I believe that we turn to technology to plug the gaps and find solace in those moments when we feel alone, afraid, unloved, and indeed sadly, sometimes, unloveable.
Life can be crushingly hard, and many of us know that there are certain people in our lives with whom we will never have the rich, robust and trusting relationships Turkle believes have been eroded by digital technology. Some people are just not up to the job. It may be the same with our friendships online but the hope is there.
Many of us just want to get in and out of any given, often potentially stressful, situation – work, meetings, the playground, the hospital, the dinner table, events with relatives – without saying or doing anything to cause any bad feeling. So that when we do finally get to our tiny slivers of leisure time we can use them to fill ourselves up with what makes us feel better, rather than analysing what we didn’t get right.
If that means staring at a tiny screen then what’s wrong with that? One person I know spoke of their phone, and the access it gave them to an online friend, a person they hadn’t met at that point, as an Eden between meetings. And, why not? Whatever works.
That is not possible now
Turkle says that we use online others as spare parts of ourselves, which makes me believe that she hasn’t really engaged with people on Twitter in a normal way in conversation, and she hasn’t ever met people who do that offline either. Many people make new friends on Twitter and meet up #irl a long time afterwards and then only occasionally. Their relationships are mainly based online. Rather like families who live a long way away from each other. It doesn’t mean it’s less real or not important. It just means they are physically not there which might be difficult but we don’t want to not have any contact with these people because we love them. Maya Angelou said something really beautiful about this when she was on the Oprah show one time. She said:
Love liberates it doesn’t bind. Love says I love you. I love you if you’re cross town. I love you if you move to China. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to have your voice in my ear. But that is not possible now. So, I love you. Go.
We want to be in contact with people whom we love and appreciate, and who love and appreciate us in return. Those people who make us remember the best bits about ourselves. We like people who like us. It is that simple and these people are not always in our daily lives. It’s not for nothing that vulnerability expert Brene Brown says that people armour up everyday to get through the day.
To cultivate the sorts of relationships Turkle feels that we should be having without our phones takes not only a lot of time and energy (and Brene Brown books) but a fearlessness which is not easy. Our greatest fear is social rejection and a robust conversation can leave us badly bruised. Online it is slightly easier because if a person drops out of your life, then you have some control over the day to day reminders unless you turn stalker, which is understandable as the grief of any online loss feels just as real. However, know this:
You are not alone
When we seek answers to our problems emotional like grief, or physical, spiritual, legal, fiscal. Technology really does say: You are not alone.
In real life, difficult relatives and tough-love friends don’t make the best agony aunts and may make us want to keep our questions to ourselves. We may forgo the embarrassment or shame by keeping our anonymity and seeking counsel elsewhere. Giving and receiving advice makes the world go round. In the book Asking for a Friend, the history of agony aunt columns is given over three centuries, and even today with all our technology, they remain as popular as ever.
But, if we can’t wait for our favourite agony aunt or uncle, a quick google/bing or peek round Quora can give us the reassurance we need. No, we are not shoddy, terrible people. Our thoughts and feelings are completely normal. The article What’s wrong with Quora? says that we may prefer a dialectic communication (a chat) say on Twitter, but we don’t use it in the same way as the didactic Q and A on Quora. We may never join Quora or Mumsnet but plenty of us (lurkers) use these and similar forums to find answers and feel better about the difficult circumstances we often find ourselves in.
It is reassuring to know that someone somewhere has already asked the question, either under a real or false name, and some other lovely human has written something underneath which just may help.
I don’t really believe that anyone of us is afraid of having a regular conversation because we have a phone. Turkle mentions research done on teenagers a lot, but they are specific user group and shouldn’t be taken as representative of the general population nor the future. How many teenagers want to talk to anyone? The teenage years are torture. As adults, however, because of the way society is set up, we often have to spend time with people we wouldn’t choose to, at work or in families. In the past we may have tried harder, felt shittier, been robust or at least tried to tell ourselves that, nowadays, it is more acceptable, a relief even, to be alone together, and to save our thoughts and feelings for those we love and who love us in return, wherever and whenever they may be.
I was talking to a Bikram friend today, who said that the first 20 minutes of the Bikram yoga sequence is us getting back in touch with ourselves and she has wondered for a while how to take that off the mat and into her life.
I love it when someone articulates clearly something that I have been pondering but didn’t know where to start. I know that connection to others is necessary, not least of all, because we learn about ourselves. But, in order to connect to others in a meaningful way, we first of all need to be able to connect to ourselves.
Each December, I like to reflect on what I have been blogging about all year. I did so in 2015 and 2016 and in this way I connect with myself, and my words, which makes it easier to connect to others and their words, especially with WordPress Reader.
And then, the stats themselves can tell a story. As I said in Top Blog No 3 (below), we are living in an age when we have lots of data and very little narrative, or insight, which is why everyone is nuts about big data as they think it will give them insight. But, to get the insight, you need to see patterns, and then make them into a story.
So, let’s take a look. My top 10 blogs of 2017 are:
In all honesty, given the nature of 3.6 billion people online and how Google gets people to come to this site, the only real common thread in these blogs is that I wrote all of them. That said, I could make all manner of patterns out of these 10 posts because if there is one thing statisticians know: if you torture the data long enough it will tell you anything. But, what I really see in these top posts is that I have been blogging away about social media and storytelling for a few years now, and I have come full circle.
The constant theme running through all the blogs is connection and also understanding how to connect (which is why 4 and 9 have made it on, we like to make sense of our connections, 1, 5 and 6 are about making sense of bad behaviour or when connection goes sour). Now I only have two blogs left to write (one on social computing, and one on connection) and then I will have said everything and much more than I intended to, when I set out to talk about social media.
I am a year behind schedule as 2017 has been painful with some difficult life events, some heartbreak, and a lot of soul-searching, so to have felt a connection to others, more often than not online, throughout 2017, has been truly lovely. We do connect and have proper conversations on social media, contrary to what some sociologists might think.
I love blogging here. I make sense of the world and of myself, and as psychotherapist Matt Licata puts it, I satisfy that innate yearning for intimacy and aliveness.
So for that, and for the conversations, the connections, and for the laughter, especially the laughter, I am so very, very grateful, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!