Since I rarely take my own pictures, it seems puzzling to me of what motivates people taking many pictures of themselves. In these pictures they are pouting, frowning, smirking, smiling. They face the mirror and shoot themselves either wearing make-up, a strange hairstyle or sunglasses. They take them in many angles, in many places, in the most extreme manner, playfully capturing a moment in their lives. I have seen so many of these self-taken photos from friends, acquaintances and strangers some years before the word selfie became as popular as today. I first read the word as a caption in an online article probably around 2012. Now, selfie has grown into a huge phenomenon. What started as personal is now a global culture, and we have seen so many selfies from a group of celebrities, politicians, astronauts and even from the Pope himself.
Looking at what selfie has made us led me to ask these questions: Is taking selfie too vain? A waste of time? Or worse, narcissistic? I honestly do not understand what motivates people to take theirs. It seems easier to judge the habit, which is something perhaps many people are silently averse. Nevertheless, I do not mean to judge selfie people because, rather than judgments, my questions are clearly meditations of what I see outside and what stirs inside. This selfie phenomenon wakes me up to see its symbolic significance. I have become curious of a new spiritual conundrum: What does selfie mean in the greater spiritual scheme of things?
Painters in past and present have painted self-portraits to capture their own image. In the dawn of photography, taking pictures caught up with capturing not just the world but also one’s image. I think it goes beyond the artistic expression towards the ancient desire of understanding the self – the image, the picture, the photo being a powerful message-bearer that freezes and preserves an iridescent, kaleidoscopic, impermanent personal symbol at one point of one’s lifetime.
I like to think that Higher Selfie is quite similar: a phenomenon of capturing the image of our true self.
So a selfie, like a picture, is worth a thousand words. Every selfie speaks so much about the person. Those unspoken words can be as positive as affirmations and as negative as insecurities. A picture is always symbolic, throwing infinite meanings and messages. For me, the best I can see is the energy of presence in one’s selfie that undeniably tells many stories. Sadly, the stories most selfies tell are the ones seen only on the surface: the superficial fun of glamorizing oneself; the shaping of physical beauty; the way to keep up with the pace of the evanescent fashion and style of our judgmental society; and the ultimate masking of our true self. If selfie remains an external pursuit of perfect self-image, then it muffles its deeper symbolic call to us: of capturing a deeper and soulful image of the self.
In one workshop I attended, one activity was to look at oneself in the mirror. It was a way to make us realize that the wisdom is found in us and not in anyone else. While reflecting on this, something dawned on me . It was too obvious that it never occurred to me in countless times I looked at our bathroom mirror – the only thing we don’t see in this world is our face. It is a fact that naturally traps us to only see people around us and the world out there, until we face the mirror and examine ourselves, an intimately personal way of looking at the self that our eyes do not literally see. I feel this is the call of the selfie phenomenon, taking the mirror-seeing into picture-taking, so the fleeting reflections can be eternal images.
While having a serious conversation with a group of friends, I suddenly quipped a funny wordplay that later became a personal insight, the Higher Selfie. This “selfie” must be a way to capture not an external picture of ourselves, but an inner image of our Higher Self, a mirroring and self-portrait of what is beyond us yet nonetheless very human. This Self is the wise, aware, conscious and Loving self in all of us, something we rarely strive to discover. Ancient philosopher Socrates captured it in this timeless sentence: Gnothi seauton – Know thyself. I have always felt that he referred to this self as the Higher Self, and its names are different: the loob (Filipino word/concept for selfhood), inner being (the dynamic, pivotal center and the nucleus of one’s personality), Atman (Hindu basic concept of the universal self), Bodhicitta (Buddhist concept of the “awakened mind-heart”), and the Christ within. It is a wisdom we have forgotten, and the selfie phenomenon has inadvertently begun to remind us.
This year, a trillion of photos will be taken and many of them are selfies. With more and more people owning webcams, digital cameras and smartphones, taking selfie continuously becomes a force in this borderless world. We are creating a culture and art of taking pictures of ourselves. And it’s like to capture one’s image is no more done by someone but by oneself. I like to think that Higher Selfie is quite similar: a phenomenon of capturing the image of our true self. The challenge here is not about how selfie changes the world, but how it transforms our way of looking at – and into ourselves. Do we take selfies to be recognized? Or do we take selfies to deeply recognize (Old French: to know again) ourselves? Selfie calls us to know our self, our Higher Self, for this self-knowledge is the first step to the true embodiment of Love.