Updated: Feb 11
Pic by Jared Krichevsky at DeviantArt
Social media is a powerful thing, friends. And yes, like any tool, what matters is what you do with it. How you choose to use any tool reflects back to you your level of self-awareness, your level of consciousness, and also reflects back to you the degree to which you become dependent on a tool to your own detriment.
Now, I know that in saying some of the things I am going to say on here that I am going against all of the build-your-business gurus (‘spiritual’ or otherwise) that are out there in the world, and if that is uncomfortable for you, you don’t have to keep going. I realize that many people, myself included, have used social media as their primary avenue of connecting with seemingly-like-minded others, and I have made some of the most beautiful connections in my life through social media. So, I’m not here to bash it. I’m here to bring to you a perspective that I have been mulling over and meditating on for a bit.
As with all things, we need a common frame of reference to begin. Enter Koh, The Face Stealer. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I personally think it is the best thing to ever happen to television. One of the things that I like to do with my clients and students is use examples of deep spiritual concepts that arise in modern media in order to explain those concepts. This cartoon is full of them. And if you haven’t watched it, well you’ll get enough of the concept by clicking on the link above.
People that have spent some time developing their spiritual awareness have an understanding that the material world as we experience it is only a fraction of reality. Reality is much more extensive than what we are taught to perceive through the limited senses and awareness of modern living. Those of you that have studied with me in our Spiritual Foundations course or worked with me individually have gotten a strong awareness of this. In the Toltec teachings, the world that is perceived with the waking senses is called the Tonal, and it emerges from a deeper place, an unfathomable place, called the Nagual. It can, for our purposes today, also be referred to as the Spirit World.
Those that understand this also understand that every aspect of the Tonal emerges out of something that exists in the Nagual. In other words, there is nothing that you see in your waking life that does not have its origin in the realm of spirit. And the realm of spirit is a complex ecology, one that houses the immense spectrum of everything that exists. Light, dark, all things in between and all things encompass both.
In this “kids” cartoon, there is a point when the main character Aang, has to enter the Spirit World to speak with an entity named Koh: the Face Stealer. Koh is an ancient being, one that possesses knowledge that is valuable to those that seek it. An understanding of the Spirit World is that it exists outside of linear time. This is why people have sought oracles throughout human history for counsel on things of the past and potentialities for the future. The ability to interface with spirits that are keepers of this vision outside-of-time can be very alluring to those that want to impact or influence the world they live in. Many stories are told the world round of people that have sought to do exactly this, and often they face disastrous consequences.
The thing about Koh, is what his name describes. Koh is a face-stealing entity. One that promises things like knowledge and power, but is intent on robbing those that visit it of their face. Koh does this by getting the person to have an emotional response to it, then devouring them and taking their face. Any emotion will do. Anger, fear, love, lust. Anything. If Koh can elicit an emotional response from the person that comes to it looking for knowledge or power, it takes the person’s face.
What does it mean to have your face taken?
If you have your face taken from you, you no longer have any reference point for who you are in the world. This has vast implications. A person that has had their face taken can no longer interact from a place of authenticity, because they spend their lives trying to reclaim a sense of who they are. We can look at this in terms of the individual and the collective. It can be said that the many many people that are attempting to connect with their ancestral heritages are people that are trying to reclaim the face that was stolen from them through the culturally genocidal processes of colonialism and social indoctrination. It can also be said that the popularity of terms like “authenticity” comes from the very same root cause. If we didn’t live in a modern world of faceless people, would there be any use for such a term?
What I have seen over and over again in social media is the attempt that people make to take the faces of others. Now, granted, we all learn from one another and in doing so we adopt new ideas, behaviors, and identities, but in the modern world ideas and identities are worn and cast off like fashion trends. Those that have a weaker sense of identity are given a hall of masks to choose from, made increasingly available through the fragmented representations of others that they perceive on social media. But taking on the face of another can never lead one to find their own true face. Not unless the one that is wearing these faces understands that they are seeking something in the mirror of the other, which is an extremely infrequent occurrence.
Social media provides a powerful function, one that can help us develop new connections, be exposed to new ideas, and deliver instant confirmation of how our ideas and identities are received by others. However, the responses that we have to what we see on social media are always responses based on the things we are prone to seeing. The things that are indicators of who and what we are internally, and what it is that we are seeking. When we respond to the things that others post we are responding to our own reflection as we perceive it in the face of the other, but that does not mean that many of us are aware of it. In most cases, people are just looking for a face to call their own, as opposed to inquiring what the deeper essence of the communication is letting them know about themselves.
This is combined with the dopamine rush that people experience, physically, when they feel that entire communities of people are giving them approval. Which, in itself, becomes an addiction. Addiction is a powerful indication that a person’s face has been stolen. So, through social media, people become addicted to the responses they get from taking the faces of others, all the while neglecting to go inward to find their own unique face.
As a person builds this external persona that is often the amalgamation of those they have taken from others, they get farther and farther from the essence of what they are. They fall into a pattern of giving their energy to feed the avatar that they are creating in order to receive the instant gratification that avatar provides, without getting to the source of the emptiness that they feel inside.
There is a reason that people spend more time throughout their days tending to their social media profiles than to their intimate relationships. Starting with their relationship to self. People fall into the trap of making each aspect of their lives food for the illusory identity they have created for themselves through social media, to the extent that things that are meant to be communal with the Sacred become posts for social media. People display rituals, prayers, sacred songs, offerings of all kinds as vehicles for self-gratification as opposed to the intimate acts of communion with the Sacred. People even offer their children on the altar of self-gratification to the extent that their children, newly born, are quickly turned into hashtags.
Intimacy with self and others becomes secondary to the expected gratification that a few voyeuristic glimpses will provide each time a person clicks ‘Like.’ And so, the energy that could otherwise go into cultivating genuine and real connections with self and Spirit goes to feed a technological void that is operating behind the scenes of the visible experience of social media.
Which brings about another question: what is really being fed by the time and energy a person puts into maintaining their social media identity?
Everything that you post on social media goes into a carefully crafted algorithm that then provides as complete a profile of who you are as possible, so that it can use this profile to sell you more of the things that this AI version of you would potentially want. Have you ever thought of that? With everything that you put into social media you are actively participating in the creation of an artificially engineered double of yourself, so that industries can know the inner workings of your mind, in order to sell you things based on what you are most likely to buy based on unconscious impulse. Your decisions are being pre-emptively made for you based on the mathematical probability that you will unconsciously fall into acting according to what corporate interests want from you. How does that sit with you?
In the Toltec tradition, we talk a bit about the awareness that, for millennia, collective human consciousness has been largely shaped by very conscious external forces. We refer to these collectively as predators of consciousness. These things are so insidious and instrumental in shaping the worldview of the collective masses, that they have engineered the conditions that make groups of people unconsciously act in ways that destroy and devour them as individuals and as collective groups for thousands of years.
To develop an understanding of them you have to witness your own unconscious impulses and behaviors. You have to start looking at the repetitive patterns in your life, and see how those repetitive patterns are aligned with or reflected by the larger patterns that are happening in the collective. If you stand back far enough and look at the ways that destructive patterns have occurred time and time again throughout human history, you will see that there has been little deviation in the patterns.
At the heart of these predators of consciousness is something very much like Koh: the Face Stealer. It is something that takes the faces of people and social movements and little-by-little warps them so that they end up serving its purposes. So, on a large scale, the image of a figure like Christ, Prince of Peace, becomes its opposite and is used to justify rape, slaughter, and the genocide of millions of people the world over. On a smaller scale, it takes social movements that claim to be about peace and inclusivity and turns them into identities of ravenous judgment and social criticism that lead to acts of interpersonal and mass violence. On an even smaller scale, it takes a person’s hunger to have a face and transforms them into something that will devour and be devoured indiscriminately in the name of having a face.
In the allusion that we are making to the face stealer, the person’s face is not stolen in the material world, it is stolen in the Spirit World. Which is to say that the person that has had their face stolen walks around in the material world with an emptiness inside, that can only be filled by going inside and reclaiming their own face. Not by taking on the faces of others that they perceive in the material world.
Not a thing happens in the material world that doesn’t have its counterpart in the Spirit World. What are you feeding? What is feeding on you? What, or who, is wearing your face?
These, like all worthwhile questions, are not requests for immediate answers. They are invitations to sit with something that is potentially very uncomfortable, and always, go deeper.