An early 21st century word in the news recently is selfie. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as follows:
‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.’
It is often perceived to be narcissistic, a photo taken with the lens of the ego. But it is not a new phenomenon, it is an outer reflection of something that happens internally all the time. We are constantly taking ‘selfies’ in our minds. But we don’t just take them with the lens of the ego.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a mindfulness incorporating therapy talks about cognitive fusion, where we look at life from our thoughts. Each thought can be a little selfie. Here are some examples from Steven C. Hayes book Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life (p.57):
- I am so depressed
- I am so anxious
- I am so tired of being in constant pain
The problem with this as Steven Hayes points out is ‘Cognitive fusion means you are taking these statements as literal truths and, eventually you begin to believe that you, in fact, are your pain.’ (p.57).
The antidote is to look at your thoughts rather than look at life from your thoughts. This is cognitive defusion. If we look at our thoughts and say ‘I am having the feeling of sadness’ (p.75), this is a more accurate picture of reality than the fused selfie ‘I am sad.’
As we step back and observe our thoughts we disarm them and they begin to dissolve. This is part of being mindful. The central insight of mindfulness, from the perspective of secular psychology, Buddhism or Christianity is the realisation that I am not my thoughts, that I am bigger than my thoughts, that my thoughts are just passing events in the mind.
So we can say the following:
- mindfulness is not a selfie taken through the lens of ego it is a reperceiving of the self taken through the lens of awareness
- mindfulness is not a selfie taken through the lens of self-hatred it is a reperceiving of the self taken through the lens of mindful compassion
- mindfulness is not a selfie taken through the lens of anxiety it is a reperceiving of the self taken through the lens of cognitive defusion
Our culture’s current preoccupation with selfies is a sign that we need mindfulness and mindful awareness practices.