Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Social Media, Spinning Lies, & Whirling Dervishes

droplets of light
“Stories move like whirling dervishes,” Elif Shafak concludes her magnificent TED Global 2010 talk*, “drawing circles beyond circles. They connect all humanity.” Shafak credits her grandmother (clearly the model for her powerful character, Auntie Banu, in The Bastard of Istanbul) for impressing on her the power of circles: “If you want to destroy something in this life, be it an acne, a blemish, or the human soul, all you have to do is surround it with thick walls. It will dry up inside.”  In the novel, Shafak compellingly moves us into compassion for persons who are caught in the walls of lies with their layers of distortions and destructions. 
The stories we tell, to others as well as to ourselves, believing them or not, must be clean if we are to avail ourselves of their healing properties instead of abandoning them to act as destructive forces. Our best stories tell the truth; their circles draw our imagination toward advancing consciousness and civilization.  But, of course, stories can also spread lies; and then, as Shafak warns, we risk damage to the soul. Lying separates oneself from the inner essence and, since they are so interconnected, also from one’s life-affirming work outside in the world. Participating in lies takes so many forms: fake news, denials, avoidances, screens, cover-ups, escapes, absorption in past or future, addictions, on and on.
Participating in social media presents perhaps the latest battleground involving this manipulation of reality. According to recent reports, in the 2016 presidential campaign, a third of the U.S. population likely received Russian-backed fake news through Facebook.
“Underscoring how widely content on the social media platform can spread, Facebook says in the testimony that while some 29 million Americans directly received material from 80,000 posts by 120 fake Russian-backed pages in their own news feeds, those posts were “shared, liked and followed by people on Facebook, and, as a result, three times more people may have been exposed to a story that originated from the Russian operation.”
Although more guarded in use, I continue actively viewing and posting on Facebook and to a lesser extent in Twitter. As anything that is powerful, social media can be used negatively as well as positively.  Rather than increasing isolation, I want to work toward global citizenship and to sustain world-wide friendships. My status updates on FB usually feature photos that witness beauty in the natural world; my camera’s on alert for views that glimpse, that invite wondering about other worlds, possibly that even guide us in composing our lives with more harmony and balance. Milan Kundera writes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:
“Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual’s life. . . Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.” (p. 52)
With or without social media, we are individually at high risk for closeting ourselves in mindsets vulnerable to diseased thinking and feeling. As with physical health, early detection of infection is crucial. I believe that a vital step comes in sharpening the sense of the inauthentic. The most precious early-warning system lives in the soul, not in any news media, not even in friendship nor family nor religion. All those are very important; but because each individual has unique wiring to/from the Source, the ultimate test for truth comes within. To know oneself is to know one’s Lord.  And to do that we have to polish the mirror of the heart. Rumi teaches this over and over. I’m now reading in Book 4 of the Mathnawi, around lines 2881-2914. Here are some selections from Nicholson’s translation:
Does any painter paint [the beauty of the picture] for the sake of the picture itself, without hope of conferring benefits… from his picture (arises) the joy of children and the remembering of departed friends of their friends///the external form is for the sake of the unseen form; and that took shape for the sake of another unseen (form)./// even so (proceed), having perceived reasons within reasons, one after the other, in order thaty you may arrive… step by step…///those insights that are not frozen (dense and dull) are nothing if not piercing and veil-rending. He (such a one) sees with his own eye at the present moment that which will come to pass in ten years. /// Every one, according to the measure of his spiritual enlightenment, sees the things unseen in proportion to the polishing (of the heart’s mirror).///God alone is the giver of aspiration…God’s assignment of a particular lot to any one does not hinder (him from exercising) consent and will and choice. 
I believe we find much value in making our own versions of such texts. Here’s my work/play with the above:
When enthused by the beauty of the source, does any true artist intentionally compose primarily for the sake of the superficial layer while discarding the everflowing transcendent rays of light? The higher aim sights toward the joy of children and remembrance of love’s departures. Vision and memory track and trail the Unseen, reason unto Reason, living with abandon step by step. Each movement in trust rends another veil, dependent on dedicated polishing of the heart’s mirror.

*Note: Shafak is also featured in TED Global 2017.