Media's impact on the ecology of our being
Most of us engage media strictly on the basis of content. We accept or reject, moved in some way by that content. What if we assumed the statements being made could never be verified and instead studied our relationship to it, both the way it moves and the way it moves us?
The other day, as I was listening to the fabulous Australian Aboriginal author and lecturer, Tyson Yunkaporta (55:05), I came upon a snow-covered bridge on my cross-country skis. I stopped, looking down into the rushing, frigid creek that flowed underneath me, flanked all around by tall Douglas fir and blue spruce trees. I regularly stop at this spot and take in this creek, but I don't often hear someone like Tyson make a statement like this one while I'm doing so:
“People want this indigenous wisdom, but these are things everybody knows. If you’re a human being, that’s your ancestral wisdom. Respect your ancestors. They weren’t brutish, primitive, simple, bloody ooga-boogas running around, murdering each other. That’s not what they are; show them some respect.
What you have now isn’t progress. You’re not evolving beyond what your ancestors were; you are them. And your descendants are them and your descendants are you. You belong in that continuum. That’s your people. Respect them. You’re not going to transhumanize and grow beyond that. We’re certainly not doing that now. We’re not advanced beyond that.
Look in yourself. Not just your own self but your people. Your ancestors, your descendants, and you’ll find that pattern there. You don’t need to look for indigenous wisdom in a book or a drum circle or something like that. That’s not where you’ll find it. You’ll find it in your own patterning as an organism, and more importantly as a species, collectively as a species. And there’s that perfect individual vs collective again. You are an organism but you are also a species. There are patterns of being that are encoded in everything that is you. Biologically there’s an informatics going on, within you but also within your species and then also within your habitat, between you and every other entity within that land space. It’s all there. It’s pretty easy, man! It’s easier than THIS.”
I cried. The truth in those words rang right through me. And the timing was beautiful: there’s a subtle but consistent joy I experience when I ski out into the mountains, following along the creeks, surrounded by snowy conifers and aspens. My sense of historical context often falls away, and I feel a strong connection to my nordic ancestry. For a timeless moment, I am both here and long ago, and all the moments in between. When Tyson talks about how tapping into the indigenous wisdom inherent in our very beings is much easier than "this," what he's referring to is this modern global society we built with all its social, economic, and political systems. And if you’ve been near any amount of media lately, caught even the slightest whiff of the world, you probably wouldn't argue with him. It seems as though we’re suffering more than we truly need to be. Every collective challenge seems to be followed by another, or sometimes many, and there seems to be no abating or ending in sight. It's natural to grieve, to sit stunned and breathless, to experience a whole range of emotions and reactions to these events and issues being shown to us via many forms of media every day. I hope we all make time to do that.
And I’d love to offer a different, even complementary approach to deepen our understanding of the way we're relating to any media we may encounter, in whatever form it may take. I wonder, what if we applied some of our ancestral intelligence to these information encounters? What if we consider another way to relate and explore the information streams that enter our awareness than the typical unquestioned consumption?
Not simply by trying to cut it out, but by allowing the fundamental intelligence at the heart of our species to have a go at it.
As human beings, we're inquisitive, relationally-oriented, playful creatures at our core. What if we applied those patterns of relating here?
Seeing the world of fractals
One of the things that Tyson mentions earlier in this podcast is that his culture has a “fractalized” perception of reality (11:19). That is, his culture understands, as do many western scientists, that nature unfolds in fractals - repeating patterns across space and time. Humans are, of course, an expression of nature, and so our relational patterns also repeat across the larger and smaller spatial and temporal scales, relating to ourselves as we do with each other, within our families, as a community, and as a country, just for example. I’ve often thought of media - whether that’s the news, an Instagram post, or this blog post - as an externalized fractal “layer” that mirrors the flurry of private thoughts and inner dialogues we're often experiencing as various voices, memories, and mental images.
When we explore this inner ecology, that could include noticing our relationship with a thought that pops up - what it elicits in terms of body sensations, or impulses/urges. We might see what stands out to us about a particular image that keeps flashing across our mind’s eye, the way our bodies may move in response. In my outdoor sessions with folks, we might even see what we experience when a tree that we feel drawn to is presented a question that comes to us. In all of these instances, we don’t focus so much on the veracity of any particular thought, image, question, or emotion, but we become curious about it, play with it, and see how it relates to other aspects of our experience without necessarily trying to reach any conclusion. We could say that it all revolves around a question: where does this particular thought, sensation, urge, or image sit within the ecosystem of our present experience, the ecology of our beings? So what if we were to apply the same principles to any media that comes into our attention the way we would with a thought, image, or sensation? What if we were to slow down enough to pay attention to our relationship with this particular information rather than give all of our attention exclusively to the content, getting caught in trying to determine the veracity of the information, or being possessed by the impulse or emotion it has activated? What if we contextualized it within this inner ecology?
Exploring media within the ecology of our being
I find a critical shift that makes this exploration possible is to first see if I can be okay with not knowing whether this information is true. The more activating the information is, the more likely this will be difficult. So there’s no need to start with the most horrifying news story you come across, or the most euphoric spiritual video. Try an ad that hooks you a bit, a social media post that strikes you, a short, feel-good or annoying YouTube video. I imagine it as putting these claims on a shelf; Maybe one day I’ll know whether it’s true or not, but not today.
Once we can sit with it and consider “maybe this is true, maybe not,” a not-knowing mind, we can start to get curious about what else is happening. There’s *no* right or wrong answer here. There is only what you notice happening in your attention. And there is nothing you have to do with what you notice. No ultimate conclusions to be reached, just an ongoing process of discovery and play with the thoughts, images, body sensations, urges, movements, postures, and whatever else you notice when you engage with any form of media.
Here are some questions to ask yourself/things to notice as you explore:
What aspects of this piece of media stand out to you?
What, if any, mental images do you notice?
What general emotions do you feel? Is there a specific word that really names what you’re feeling?
Do you have any verbal thoughts kick in? Are they repetitive?
Does your body respond in a particular way via posture, movement, sensation?
Does it spark an impulse in you to do anything? If so, what? What would be the short and long-term consequences if you followed that impulse?
Do any of the answers to the question above feel familiar? Have you been “here” before?
How does any of this impact how you relate to others? Who are these others?
These are some questions to help ignite curiosity, but there could be many other questions you could ask. It’s also key to not torture yourself with this, and that doing this with any disturbing material is liking to bring up disturbing sensations, images, thoughts, etc. Be gentle with yourself. Again, there are no right answers or anything you’re supposed to do. Make a light-hearted game of it, invite in some child-like curiosity. These capacities are the inherent strengths of all our ancestors, of our species as a whole, and we can use them here to help us learn, discover, and stay grounded throughout it.
The fractals of war and empire
Tyson’s words at the end of that podcast brought tears to my eyes because I knew what he was pointing to, and I sensed the profound truth of his words not just because of what I felt, but because he reminded me of my own experiences that confirmed them. I also found myself more engaged with the sensual world around me in that moment, more patient when thinking of others, more willing to trust the wisdom that emerged from my own being while also feeling less pressure to “get it right.” Telling, isn’t it?
I'm talking about play and curiosity, but the truth is this exploration is important to me because of its potential: my own explorations have shown me that all empires follow the same rules of fractal patterns that I discussed earlier. They depend upon a populace at war with itself in order to gain support for and consent to an external war with other nations, which in turn traumatizes the masses both directly and vicariously. That trauma, this dissociation from ourselves, each other, our environments, and the Earth, fuels the war within us, and the cycles continues.
We can find another way to relate to both ourselves and each other as we engage the vast and complex information ecosystem in which we're embedded. We can explore all our relationships, including these, by trusting these brilliant capacities encoded in our species, and maybe then we can begin to end the cycle of war.
P.S. It was only after I wrote this whole thing that the term "media ecology" popped right into my little ol' brain. I googled it, and whaddya know, it's a real field (of course!). I haven't done much research into it, but if you like to nerd out like me, here's one place you can dive in: What is Media Ecology?