How meditation on basic goodness can keep it from controlling you

Mindworks spoke with Mind Trainer Tsony Francis Devroux about understanding the connections between social media and stress and potentially negative effects on self-esteem. His answers, rooted in decades of experience meditating and teaching meditation, go straight to the heart of the matter.

Mindworks: Nowadays, and maybe even more so since the pandemic has limited our social interactions, it can be very difficult for us to temper the grip that these forms of media have on our lives. Some people can’t imagine living without it—they suffer from a sort of social media addiction. Can meditation help them break this online addiction? Who’s to blame?

Lama Tsony Devroux: We can’t really blame the media because it can be used as a positive professional or personal tool that connects us with family, friends, and social networks. On the other hand, it can be an outlet for all sorts of neuroses that we haven’t been able to recognize and work with.

From my own experience, I see that when I’m working on something and I’m bored with it or I don’t want to do it, I just go and see what’s happening on FaceBook. It’s a distraction that helps you procrastinate: you postpone the task at hand because it’s overwhelming or you simply don’t want to do it.

It’s just like in meditation. Maybe you’re bored with counting your breath; you’re not accomplishing anything so you start doing what I call “hanging wallpaper.” You remodel your house in your mind, you think about what kind of wallpaper you need, and so on. I remember once after I’d led a one-week retreat a woman came up to me and said, “I didn’t really meditate but thank you very much because I had time to come up with all sorts of good remodeling ideas.”

MW: Do you see a link between social media and stress? Does this form of interaction cause stress or relieve it?

LTD: That’s something of a chicken and egg question. Particularly during this pandemic, we feel like things are happening that we should belong to. Because of physical isolation, we need to be part of a social network in order to belong. So maybe we worry about being left behind and join a group because it seems to connect us with others, we somehow exist in the eyes of these people that we want to be with. Next, we see things on FaceBook or Instagram that we have no control over and we start freaking out. All of this causes stress.

MW: Some people say that when they really got caught up in social media, it became like an addiction and it felt like mind control. Even if objectively that’s not what it was, that’s what it felt like: like someone had gone in and changed the way they thought about things.

LTD: Let’s be serious–nobody forced them to go there. That’s exactly what leads us back to meditation: we have be courageous and willing to look at our own stuff. And the practice of meditation is about learning to be comfortable with all the garbage we see surfacing, about encountering our neurosis without a major drama. But if we don’t want to have a long hard look because we want to maintain a positive image of ourselves that we can present to others, then we’re in trouble.

MW: That ties in well with the next question! How would you say that social media affects self-esteem?

LTD: The grass is always greener, isn’t it? When you look at what others project, you imagine that they have really groovy lives and you’re confined to your little flat, and they have a wonderful job and you don’t.

It isn’t only this kind of media—there was a TV series called MTV Cribs where the rich and famous opened their doors and invited you in to their multi-million dollar mansion cribs with the Lamborghinis in the garage, and so on. In a way it makes you dream, but when you come back to your reality it makes you even more miserable.

MW: Yes all of the media are going to portray how the top 1% or 5% live and the rest of us are supposed to feel inferior and envious. So how do we build genuine self-esteem instead?

LTD: Well, you need to be in touch with your basic sanity or basic goodness. And that’s one of the things you discover with calm-abiding meditation, mindfulness, for example. You poke through your stuff, you let it happen, you recognize it, and you don’t make a drama out of it. And as you poke through it, your mind becomes more settled and beyond the artificiality you start to see the basic goodness.

Once you have that, everything’s fine. Nothing you see on television or social media, the lives of the rich and famous and all that, is going to interfere with your understanding. When you have real, stable calm-abiding—not circumstantial calmness—you’re always satisfied with very simple things.

MW: So real self-esteem is a basic satisfaction with things the way they are?

LTD: It’s a recognition of your basic goodness, in the sense of being fundamentally sane and wholesome. That’s where dignity comes from. Dignity is embracing who you are: your fundamental goodness as well as the neuroses that come and go as part of your psyche at a given moment. In the process of your transformation, you reconnect with your fundamental goodness.

MW: Which brings us back to the starting point, because when you’re sucked in to social media you don’t have the space to recognize that goodness.

LTD: And you don’t necessarily want to. You don’t know that it exists, and you’re not someone whose mind or gaze is turned inwardly. You’re constantly looking outside for confirmation of who you are. You’re just a junkie–a confirmation junkie—because you don’t realize that there’s another way.

You don’t have to be on a particular spiritual path to decide to look inside. When you recognize that not looking inside is the main source of your misery and the pain you inflict on others, you want to change. You want to look inwardly in order to find a solid ground on which you can stand. And this solid ground is the dignity of your fundamental goodness.