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I'm Not Okay. I Need Something Else.

A close look at what compels the scrolling. And how to stop.

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The other day, I got some scary news about something. Hellbent on putting some distance between me and it, I went on a scrolling spree. That whole day, every free minute I had, I opened one of my Big Three (Facebook, Insta, Twitter) and went to town.

When the reels started, (they know my weaknesses: comedy and tender dogs), that was my free fall into the rabbit hole. Before the reels, I was at least ‘engaging’ with people I knew, commenting, reacting and whatnot. But once I started with the reels, that was over. It was just about me.

Then I couldn’t stop, even after I wasn’t having fun anymore. I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, I’m on the john, I’m in a long line, I’m ‘going to sleep,’ or I’ve just opened my eyes in the morning — scrolling. I think to myself, Okay, that’s enough. It’s junk food. Stop. I keep going. Scrolling, scrolling. What the hell is going on here? The loop is this:

1) I watch, 2) I like, 3) I want more, 4) I scroll.

It doesn’t even matter whether Step 2 is “I like,” “I don’t like,” or “I don’t care” — it always results in a scroll for more. Why? Why can’t I stop this rat-in-a-cage-clicking-for-the-treat behavior?

The answer is my brain’s been hijacked. By my own habitual dissatisfaction (something that all humans share). I actually believe that if I just scroll to the next thing, I’ll feel better.

I’ve fallen under the spell of I’m not okay right now, and I need something else.

It’s an unconscious, insidious process, and it’s running our lives. Because on the back end of this thumbslide, someone is watching. Not someone, but a series of algorithms created by millions of programmers, engineers, and marketing/sales execs. They measure everything — what we click on, how long we watch, what apps we use, all our searches, when we put down or pick up our phones, everything.

We’re being watched. So what?

I used to think only criminals needed to worry about being watched. I used to think, I’m not doing anything wrong. Go ahead. Watch my clicks, my purchases, my visits to Have at it. I even went so far as to argue that I didn’t mind being targeted for ads that would interest me. Doesn’t that save me a lot of leg work?

Yes. It does. But here’s what else it does: The more they know about my tendencies, beliefs, and desires, the more they can remind me I’m not okay right now, and I need something else. Which feeds debt and starves bank accounts.

Put another way, when I scroll, I’m giving 'them' a big shovel with which to feed my dissatisfaction — and I can only do that by starving my joy. What would it look like to feed my joy? I hate the phrase because it’s just so new agey and general and blah.

But, really, what could it mean?

Joy is the starving animal tied to a tree in the Heart’s back yard.

I must free this animal. I must bathe it, check it out, nose to tail. But first of all, I must very carefully start feeding it.

In the case of bringing a human or animal out of starvation, we can’t feed them too much too quickly or they will die. Their digestive systems aren’t ready for food yet. We must start gently, introducing balanced electrolyte liquids, and maybe very small amounts of soft solids.

Here’s what it might look like if you’ve been starving your joy by scrolling: When you catch yourself, try stopping immediately, and maybe for only five or six minutes, put the device down, stand up, and look around. As in, turn your head to the right and to the left, look behind you. Register where you are in this world.

What do you see? Can you see it without judgment? Whether it’s the air conditioning unit that only sometimes works, or the linoleum coming up at the edges by the wall, or the view of the building across the street, what part of the world is coming to you through your eyes right now? Can you say yes to it, and stay open to that yes for a little longer than you’re used to?

At this moment, I’ve got an easy job. I’m in my back yard at the table near the grill. I’m writing with Lisa, so there she is at my left, working on her laptop. The sparrows, finches and cardinals jostle for a turn at the bird feeder. A flock of mourning doves on the ground beneath it pecks at the leftovers. They are startled into an audio bouquet of fluttering wings by our little dog, Ruby, who lives for this moment.

Just being aware of that for a second takes me out of the worry over health concerns, grief for the world, dread about the direction my country is taking. It puts me back in my yard, where I actually am.

As our joy gets more adept at digesting these sensory snacks, we can try for longer or more frequent periods. Maybe we work with sounds. All of them. (Remember, resisting the construction workers, and weed whackers, and leaf blowers creates suffering. When we resist, we enter the world of I’m not okay right now, I need something else.)

So, when I tune into sounds (especially when I’m annoyed), I like to imagine a cosmic conductor leading an internationally acclaimed avant-guard orchestra. This orchestra hires the finest musicians in the world. That guy in front has been First Jackhammer for seventeen years. The woman in the back has been playing the Airlines Overhead since she started nine years ago at the age of seventeen. There’s the Siren Section. Opera from the apartment next door. Bird Song, barking dogs, car honks.

The conductor is brilliant at leading the group so each sound flows exactly the way the composer wanted.

And that’s only the world of sound. What could you let yourself feel? The floor under your bare feet? The nubby outer edge of an orange peel? And when you peel an orange, can you smell how that zest finds its way to your nose on the citrus breeze? When was the last time you tasted every single bite of a meal — not just the first one?

You get what I mean.

Our joy is so much closer than we think. But we must free it from that sad little tree and invite it into our home. We must take care of it so it can take care of us.

And because there are only twenty-four hours in a day, that means we must choose what we feed — I’m not okay? Or joy?

Let the world give itself to you in all the ways it can. Every day. Let’s trade scrolling for sensory joy breaks, and we might find ourselves in the world of Thank you. I’m okay now. I don’t need anything at all.


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