I am part of a weekly video call that just started using a new online meeting application to connect. Setting everything up on the first meeting precipitated the usual technological glitches as everyone struggled to sign in and get their microphones and video cameras working properly. We were almost 30 minutes into a somewhat tiresome troubleshooting session when the leader suggested that myself and another participant turn off our cameras in hopes of correcting an issue.
Now before I go much further, I need to insert a little context from my personal experience of online video meetings. I can’t stand seeing myself on screen. I find it utterly distracting because I literally can’t stop glancing at my own image every few seconds. And this has nothing to do with finding myself narcissistically compelling. The truth is that when I’m faced with a live image of myself on screen, a little inner drill sergeant pops up and starts chastising me with all kinds of critical commands; “Sit up straighter! Hold your chin up. Tilt your head more. Smile.” And while I know on one level that its just silly tripe, it’s very LOUD tripe and it can create a surprising amount of anxiety in me.
I come by this ‘inner drill sergeant’ honestly. He was forged in the fires of my codependent childhood where I’d learned that happiness and peace of mind were mine as long as I could perfect the art of seeing myself through another’s eyes. Having the ‘inside track’ (and I really believed I had it) gave me a steady source of intel about whether people were satisfied with me or not. I could tweak what I said, did, my facial expression, all of it. I was my own worst scrutinizer, but to me, it meant the difference between acceptance and the utterly intolerable opposite, rejection. (The Coles Notes version of The Coles Notes version of ‘Codependent No more,’ by Melody Beattie).
That was then and I’ve unquestionably made some pretty major shifts in this area of my life. I’m a recovering codependent (do we ever really get past this?) but like it or not (and I don’t) there are still some things that have the power to trigger a relapse back to those old survival mechanisms. A live image of myself on screen is pretty well guaranteed to thrust me backward into the company of my old drill sergeant.
So I was relieved when the leader on my group call asked me to turn off my camera while he continued troubleshooting. I clicked the ‘hide’ button and exhaled a sigh of relief. I could now see the other participants, but was mercifully invisible. Or so I thought.
For the next 10 minutes, I sat at my desk farting around with my stapler, jotting a few notes, doodling, putting on lip balm, reading a few pages of my novel, sniffing my underarms, yawning (without covering my mouth), standing up to readjust my skirt and lifting my feet to peel off my socks. Nothing to write home about. Usual garden variety stuff we all do when we’re alone in our home office.
When 10 minutes had come and gone, I started to wonder why the group leader hadn’t told me to switch my camera back on. I opened up the control panel and scanned down the list to my name. My camera still showed ‘hidden.’ I stared at the panel for a few more seconds when suddenly a little door in my brain opened. Hidden didn’t mean hidden from the group! Hidden meant I couldn’t see my own image on screen! Bam! I’d been visible to everyone for the last 10 minutes! My mind went nuts, leaping for the rewind button and combing through the footage to see what I’d been up to. Stapler, doodling, lip balm, readjusting my skirt, sniffing my underarms??? Oh good God! But there was more. I hadn’t just sniffed my underarms. I’d tucked a couple of fingers into my armpit and then held them up to sniff them!!!! AHHHHHHH! No no no no no no no!
It must have taken me 15 minutes to breath normally, laugh at myself and decide this would make a good blog topic. But that was a very uncomfortable 15 minutes.
And it woke me up to a couple of things;
One: if the green light at the top of the screen is on, I’m on camera. End of story.
Two: (and incidentally the much more valuable learn of the two) despite all of my spiritual practice and growth, my ego can still trip me up and shame me into feeling awful about myself.
One thing I think people on a spiritual or personal growth path need to be cautious about is the temptation to think that just because we can grasp what Tolle or Chopra or Krishnamurti are talking about on a cognitive level we automatically live it. If left unchecked, these blind spots have the power to keep us stuck for years. Because we just read Adyashanti’s latest book, we may fancy ourselves more enlightened or conscious than we are, and from there, judgment of others (a decidedly unenlightened pastime) is just a hop, skip and a jump away. That’s the paradox of ego (and the reason I’m writing this blog). The very thing we fear (outing ourselves, transparency, showing our shadow) renders our ego powerless. Showing our least attractive side willingly is like Kryptonite for the ego. Poof! Gone.