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How Social Media Detoxes During This Pandemic Can Teach Us Maitri.
It surprised me that I still kept showing up for both family and friends on social media, throughout some of the most tumultuous events in my life since the Coronavirus was publicly declared a pandemic in 2020.
It started with a series of lockdowns by my country’s current administration mid-March, and witnessing how our inefficient and corruption-prone public sector systems can leave entire families, class of jobholders, and industries destitute.
Then it was losing my new job in international travel and hospitality due to company losses from the global travel hiatus, and deciding to temporarily move back in with my family of origin (dad, ma, & younger sister and experiencing old and new growing pains with them.
After stay-at-home orders finally made social media our de facto hangout and lifeline (for better or worse), my knee-jerk (maybe even trauma) reaction was to be there for other people, since I knew there was little else I could do for them during this period of restrictions and deprivations.
I messaged members of my extended family within the country and in different parts of the world (especially the medical front-liners during the first brutal wave of the pandemic) and asked how they were doing. I reconnected with long-lost friends.
Aside from sharing helpful news updates and information, I relished posting everything from #CoronavirusComicRelief jokes to mental health memes on my social media accounts.
I felt that showing up for others during crises like this pandemic and all the physical, emotional, mental, and socioeconomic difficulties that came along with it, was tough (understatement of the year), but we had to do it whenever and however we could.
I was convinced that even if we didn’t know the real extent of each other’s lockdown burdens, we could still be of benefit by paying attention, being kind to, and encouraging each other, even on social media.
I kept doing all these things and sharing on social media all throughout the first year of the pandemic. By April 2021, I was faltering, I felt overwhelmed at yet another tragic turn in my country’s fight against the virus.
The Philippines was on the heels of a crisis similar to India’s brutal second wave: our daily number of COVID-19 cases kept increasing exponentially, most Covid-dedicated hospital wards were already at maximum capacity, and family members and friends were getting infected with the more transmissible variants of the disease—some even dying before they could secure a bed or room at a medical facility.
Our major urban mega-centers were put on yet another ill-planned lockdown as part of our government administration’s economically stifling Covid response—evidence of our incumbent president’s frustrating lack of effective leadership skills.
To help our fellow Filipinos needing the most but still lacking any form of government assistance, ordinary citizens nationwide started putting up community pantries (everything from centrally located small bamboo carts to unused store spaces) where people in need could get just the right amount of canned food, instant noodles and other basic goods donated by people with extra means.
This provided an invigorating breath of hope for me and my fellow countrymen and women during this pandemic when our very lungs seemed to hold our grief.
After that, I just felt so tired, or more accurately, soul-tired of constantly watching news of the world outside my home, but not devoting enough time to my own priorities.
I compensated for this by pushing myself to do as much as I could, instead of setting up a kinder pace for myself and befriending and adapting to this radically changed life.
I tried to save other people but forgot to do the same for myself, whilst still grieving and feeling threatened by some relationships and situations from before the pandemic.
By that time, social media had become too much for me, so I took a break for about a week. I’ve decided to repeat this and will go on many more online sabbaticals during these rough times. This is by no means an easy decision because I know how much good social media can help us accomplish.
I’ve been learning and practicing using social media more mindfully these past few years, as summed up in this prescription:
“Don’t use social media less. Use it intentionally. Follow people who inspire and motivate you. Engage with experts you can learn from. Create genuine, positive friendships. Just stop mindlessly scrolling, complaining, hating and engaging in negativity and bitterness.” ~ @jojoansett on Twitter
But this pandemic has added another important lesson on top of that: it’s truly okay to take social media breaks to simply live and enjoy our lives. It is okay not to be online and social when we don’t feel like it and especially when we feel it isn’t what our bodies, minds, and souls need at the moment.
It’s better to tune out the world every once in a while so we can tune into, feel, know, and care for ourselves better. For some of us, this “time away” is even a crucial and life-altering time for us. It is our time to know, accept, and care for ourselves unconditionally after a trauma-filled lifetime doing this for others first. It is our time to practice maitri or unconditional friendship toward ourselves:
“I often use this definition: maitri strengthens us. One of the qualities of maitri is steadfastness, and that’s developed through meditation. So through boredom, through aches, through indigestion, through all kinds of disturbing memories, to edgy energy, to peaceful meditation, to sleepiness, it’s steadfastness. You sit with yourself, you move closer to yourself, no matter what’s going on. You don’t try to get rid of anything—you can still be sad or frustrated or angry. You recognize your humanity and the wide gamut of emotions you might be feeling.” ~ Pema Chödrön
With the radio silence of a social media sabbatical, we can stop getting distracted by social media highlight reels and being emotionally exhausted by bad news. We give the ordinary moments of our ordinary lives opportunities to show us what is heart-achingly beautiful and to teach us what truly matters.
We can enjoy more sunrises and sunsets and appreciate the simple blessing of just living. We can slowly sip our cup of tea or Joe, and still be grateful for being able to secure food and nourish ourselves and our loved ones.
We can let our children and/or pets teach us how to really pay attention, care for another sentient being, take more play breaks, and learn how to persevere as we prepare their meals, clean up after them, and nurse them back to health from illnesses.
We can allow our hearts to keep feeling even through so much suffering—ours and other people’s—by being immersed in nature, belly breathing, tonglen, music, dance, poetry, and absolutely any form of mindful ritual and creative expression that calls to us.
With the spaciousness we experience, just breathing in and out and being aware in the present moment, we’re able to stop dwelling on and pining for our old conveniences, interactions, connections, travels, goals, accomplishments, and milestones. We can simply accept, appreciate, and learn from whatever the f*ck comes up, moment by moment, in our daily, ordinary, and currently constrained lives.
We can rest after looking for a new job, managing our side hustles, working from home, or taking care of the bare necessities we need to in this season of too much. We can fully accept our present realities—work with it instead of against it— and finally make real progress.
So what’s the point of all this maitri during a social media break? Hopefully, by accepting unconditionally and caring for ourselves effectively, we can do the same for as many other beings we can online and offline, in any and all circumstances. Waylon Lewis, editor-in-chief of Elephant Journal put it succinctly:
“When I care for myself, I can care for others.”
Before I went on my latest social media detox, I did come across something writer Robert M. Drake (@rmdrk) shared that felt just like a warm and reassuring hug from a close friend I’ve yet to catch up with in the flesh, even from a distance of two meters:
“People are tired. Exhausted of the bullsh*t other people bring. Exhausted of paying bills. Exhausted of living under constant stress. Under constant anxiety. And under constant pressure. So I get it. I really do. I understand why you feel the world is against you. Why you feel like you’re all alone, fighting this never-ending war. This never-ending battle between you and everything else. I get you. It’s hard. People are hard. Life is hard. But you have to keep going. Keep fighting. Keep pushing. Keep going against the grain. You just have to. No matter what type of hardship you go through. You were built from the fire. Made of the chaos and collision of a thousand dying stars. Of more than that. Of what you’ve gone through. You are significant. And yes, you are exhausted of the bullshit but you got this. It is just, sometimes you need someone to remind you of all that you are.”
I hope you’ll also be that someone for yourself more and more. I hope you’ll ask yourself what you really need right now and give that to yourself too. I hope you continue being kind and accepting yourself unconditionally and do the same for as many beings as you can.
I hope you also keep learning about, setting, and maintaining healthy boundaries. I hope you’ll continue creating the life you deeply love and a world that’s truly kinder and better for us all. I hope you’ll take as many breaks as you need and begin again when you’re ready.
And I hope we’ll say, “It’s good to see you again!” when we come across each other next, no matter how little or how much time has passed.