The Stories We Comfort Ourselves With

I was reading Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Trungpa Chogam, and a passage of the book has been popping up in my mind ever since.

We would rather hoard and preserve the flavor and beauty of the experience so that, when bad times come, when we are depressed and down, we can bring that memory to mind in order to comfort ourselves, to tell ourselves that we have actually done something worthwhile.

I believe Chogam was talking about the way some people mentally cling to some of their more moving spiritual experiences (frankly, I don’t fully understand a lot of what he’s saying) but it stuck out to me because it seemed to be a more general applicable. Why do people post only their happiest memories on the internet? Why do people create this sanitized, beautified story about their lives? I had always found it somewhat offensive, even though I do it too. But, when I read that line, instead of feeling my normal annoyance at all the people who did this, I felt a sort of sadness – as if I were looking at a bird with with a broken wing trying to fly.

Apparently, the singer Amy Winehouse died alone of alcohol poisoning watching youtube videos of herself. Something about her death struck me as particularly iconic of our times, as if she had given a bolder expression of what so many of us do every day. It’s so easy to get caught in this loop, watching ourselves, and obsessing, trying to see how beautiful we are but never quite seeing it. I’d always thought facebook was a tool to show off to others, but I think actually it’s appeal is that it allows us to show off to ourselves.

When we are forced to see something difficult about ourselves, we can turn to these stories and say “see, this is who I am, the person in these photos!” But, we never actually believe it do we? Because if we did, we wouldn’t need the stories.

3 thoughts on “The Stories We Comfort Ourselves With

  1. I don’t tend to post to Facebook for that very reason. If I don’t fully feel free to express myself, why express a false, incomplete, or misleading notion of my reality? It seems dishonest, to a point. Social media is useful for projecting a filtered reality because it allows for that level of control. However, I’d like to believe that it’s not the only way it’s used.

    Seeking outside reinforcement for a belief (by projecting that belief via Facebook post, for example) can never change your mind. If you believe it already, what you get back is reinforcement. If you don’t believe it, people agreeing with something you don’t believe doesn’t change anything. Hoping to believe and having a projected idea be reinforced can push you to the edge of belief, but you have to want to believe it yourself. More than that though, you have to choose to accept it. I view moments like those that you describe–looking for beauty in self–as those chances to take a leap of faith and begin seeing the world from a new perspective. It helps to understand why your life is meaningful in a framework that you can ascribe meaning to. Jumping into the deep end with nothing to hold on to will still end up with a great struggle to breathe.

    Stories can be things that people share with one another because it is their life. The idea is that Facebook is a place to share moments of those stories. In that case, it is not projecting an idea, for others or for self–it is simply sharing the life you are actually living. Freedom of expression is messy because everyone has their own set of beliefs about “how things should be”. There are always practical considerations. Sometimes those considerations aren’t worth keeping though. People always have unfulfilled desires, but for many the life one lives does not involve a schism. That is what my view of happiness (or at least contentment) is–where belief and reality coincide.

    You are right that the tendency is to reject notions about reality that contradict a comforting belief. It is easy to retreat or reject–to dismiss or debase. It is the difference between taking the red pill or the blue pill. Accepting damage to self can be ultimately destructive, but if placed in the proper context, it can serve as a tool for growth. Sometimes it shows parts of the framework that don’t quite match up with the reality you’re being faced with.

    I really like your observation about Amy Winehouse–I didn’t know the circumstances of her death.

  2. Yeah, facebook ends up being complicated. How is my filtered life on facebook any different from my filtered life on this blog? Should I not share my experiences because I cannot share all of them? Also, whenever I use it, the *act* of using facebook is part of my life, as valid as any other part of my life. That said, facebook still sorta gives me the creeps. I am still trying to figure out the role I want social media to play in my life – as, I assume, are many other people out there.

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