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Eliminate Proxies for a More Authentic, Present Life

On the web, there is something called a proxy server. It often sits in between a request (for example, let me watch YouTube!) and what is requested (in this case, the YouTube video file) and “passes” the request, and the result, back and forth between two computers.

In the early days of the Internet, it was created as a way to make easier and more efficient the incredible complexity of so much information and so many people wanting to access it. There are other benefits, too—security, speed, protecting identities and information. But, it’s still an intermediary between Thing A and Thing B.

There is, however, another kind of proxy. Whenever I hear the word, I think of Afghanistan and the notion of a “proxy war.”

The USA and USSR might not have faced each other in battle, but in Afghanistan and so many other places, fought a “proxy war” by taking different sides in a different conflict and letting others fight it out on their behalf.

I’ve reflected on the notion of proxies as relates to the human experience, and wanted to share some observations from my own life.

Let’s say work is stressful; I’m facing the reality that I am, in fact, middle age; I’m out of shape and not happy with what my lack of exercise says about my discipline or, given the history of heart disease in my family, my priorities.

We’re late for school, and my son is slow to put on his shoes.

“Son!” I yell. “Come ON! Put on your shoes. We’re late for school. This is NOT ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR!”

Valid points. My son needs to learn responsibility, and understand the importance of commitments—in this case, the implicit contract between him and his school, as to his obligations and what he gets in return in the form of an education.

But, he’s only 6. A clear and direct, but supportive and loving, reiteration of why he should remain mindful of the time would be more appropriate. Losing my temper makes my son an unwitting proxy for other things.

These proxies are not productive. I try to keep an eye out for them—whether I’m the proxier or the proxied—and I try not to let people, situations, or things become transformed into something that they aren’t.

Allowing this to happen clutters my thinking and adds emotional confusion to other things.

But I also reflect on the other kind of proxy, too—the proxies we create as a buffer to insulate us from the world and from other people, to protect ourselves from hurt and harm: the face we prepare to meet the faces that we meet.

Like proxy servers, there are, no doubt, some near-term advantages to, in effect, pretending to be someone we’re not; hiding our fears, insecurities, questions, and honest points of view about who we are and where we’re going from others.

And if anything, the ubiquity of social media is like a steroid for self-proxies. Many people use their online identities to project an idealized self to the outside world. By doing so, they miss out on the chance for more honest “Likes” and “Follows.”

These proxies can be dangerous, as they can mask our authentic selves from others, and over time, ultimately, also from ourselves. Self-delusion is not a healthy thing for personal development.

The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche once brilliantly illustrated to me the philosophy and purpose of Buddhism and Buddhist practice.

He held up a clear glass of water and explaining, in effect (and much more eloquently), that the goal is to have no color, opacity, or lens of distortion between oneself and reality—basically, to utilize no proxies, and remain directly connected to experience and aware of the nature of reality.

If it is helpful to you, perhaps take a moment over the next week and reflect on proxies.

Watch to find examples of where they creep into your lives in your interactions with others, and the self you present to the world, and experiment with starving them of the energy that feeds them.

If you find yourself:

  • Erupting in anger, frustration, or impatience at someone or something disproportionate to what an objective view of the situation might merit
  • Sensing that sick sense of falseness as something comes out of your mouth about another person or a situation that is unfair, negative, or harshly critical (or more about you than him, her, or it)
  • Spending way too much time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest—or FaceTwitStaGramTerest—cultivating the way you “seem,” rather than “are,” to manipulate the way a specific person, or group of people, understands you

Then…stop!

Practice proxy mindfulness.

Take a breath. Acknowledge the situation. Identify as best you can the underlying issue or emotion that is troubling you (or at least, that it isn’t what is being proxy’d), and take a time-out to put everything in in its place.

Perhaps develop a visualization technique you can use to center yourself. Maybe visualize the proxy as a tangible thing with a physical body—that grows when it’s fed.

Imagine it greedily gobbling up your emotions, your time, your relationships with the people around you, engorging itself on them, growing larger as you grow smaller—a kind of disease, feeding on your energy.

Then pummel it with the medicine of perspective and objective honesty to starve it and inhibit its growth. Imagine it shrinking smaller and smaller until it’s just a dot, and it disappears.

Then, go about your day—closer to a clear glass of water.

Photo by followtheseinstructions

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About Greg Scholl

Greg Scholl is Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He lives in New York City with his wife and two kids. He tweets @GregScholl and post occasionally to his blog, platedissipation.tumblr.com.

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  • Lakshmimurali

    Well written and so true!
    It is said in one of the Indian scriptures, that before you talk you consider these questions-
    1. Is it necessary?
    2. Is it true?
    3.Will it hurt somebody.
    It is said that 90% of the time you do not need to speak!
    Thank You!

  • Alixandrea

    I really like this post, but I’m intrigued by the idea of being more ‘authentic’ online.  I try as far as possible* these days to be my ‘own best self’ online rather than the warts and all me that I am in real life.  In doing so, I hope to become more like my ideal self in real life.  I’d be interested in your thoughts on this, whether it’s a good or healthy thing to do, or whether you think it’s not so good for the reasons you’ve outlined above. :-)

    *Not that I’m by any means perfect online, but I do seem to try harder than in real life; where I slip up repeatedly…

  • Jo-Anne

    Alixandrea

    I agree it is much easier to be ‘the best self’ online and I have decided it is because we do a quick proof read before we hit send and if what we have written is not congruent with ‘best self’ we edit our ‘warts’ out……….and we know [or should know....] that once in print it is out ‘there’ forever……so delete is our best friend.

    Face to face we are ‘all warts’ with no proof reading or editing or delete button…………which is great because this is the moment ‘best self’ is waiting for………your thoughts, words and actions are your opportunity to prove you can and want to express your ‘best self’…….so we say sorry, repair the damage if we can, be accountable, own 100% of all we think, say and do without a proxy and keep attempting ‘best self’ thoughts, speech and deeds. That is ‘authentic’.

    Think about it………..just because it isn’t written and recorded that doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘out there’ forever……every thought, word and deed is, indeed ‘out there’ recorded in all Time.

    But it’s all good…….

  • Jo-Anne

    Thank you

    A powerful post……….very relevant….

  • Greg Scholl

    I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on this. I’m far from an expert — I’m figuring this all out just like the rest of us, and I don’t pretend to have any answers — but I think intention goes a long way. Someone once told me that the intention, not the action, creates karma. From what you describe, sounds like your intentions are good! Maybe try to create the space in your “real” life to enables the authenticity you seem to find more easily online? A thought.

  • http://twitter.com/MoodTuner Mood-Tuner

    so true! I always find that when I become aware of what the real issue is, it somehow diffuses all the emotional huff around the proxy…

  • http://roriescove.co.uk/ Aurora

    Reading this I thought about how we, or I use my mother and other people as proxies, blaming people or circumstances for the way I am feeling, especially when I am feeling something related to fear.

    Also I recall a time when I un-liked a lot of music on Facebook so that I wouldn’t appear a certain way (i.e. not myself), at the same time deciding that I no longer liked these artists. Now I make a point of going on Facebook to like the artists whose songs resonate with me, whether that be through joyous songs or crazy, wretched ones. I’m really trying to use my online presence now to become more vulnerable and exposed, to help me connect with others more deeply, and express myself more freely in all areas of my life.

    A great post with an interesting take on life, thank you :)

  • http://roriescove.co.uk/ Aurora

    Hi Alixandrea, I just spoke about this in my comment :) I think that if you try to edit yourself online, then you are basically saying that parts of you are unacceptable, you are judging yourself and being false, even though what you say about yourself is true, it is not all of you. Not that you should only focus on your ‘flaws’ all of you is unique and valuable and serving some purpose. Of course that doesn’t take away our right to change ourselves, but still I am reminded of the phrase that what you allow to be exactly as it is completes itself (from Working on Yourself Doesn’t Work by Ariel and Shya Kane). Essentially, you will grow out of those aspects of yourself that you wish to transcend if you allow them to be, without resisting. But hiding those parts of yourself is what prevents you from seeing through and outgrowing them. Even though you know it is there, only in SEEING it for what it is will you be able to transcend it. And that might take some time, in your patience possess ye your soul :) And in the meantime, you are still being a perfect example of some quality for someone to learn from. Be true to all of who you are! :)