Cultural Identity

South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) in the UK has been one of the most exciting things to happen in 2020. A long time coming for sure, but now that it has launched, I’m thrilled to be involved as an event manager, co-host and musician for a virtual concert – Musical Expression of South Asian Faith & Heritage.

Growing up in Birmingham, part of a spiritual, musical, Punjabi family and as 2nd generation British-Indian, I have most definitely had a fair share of ‘I have no freakin’ clue’ moments in my life. I value so much of my heritage, traditions and values but there are also certain elements that I fundamentally just don’t agree with. Over the years, it’s undoubtedly brought confusion… Who am I? What do I stand for? Do I actually belong here? I think whilst being a minority ethnicity, particularly in Western societies, it’s really important to acknowledge that it’s completely normal to feel confusion, experience *imposter syndrome and question which aspects of each culture you identify with. It can take years to figure out where you stand on the spectrum of British-Indian identity and there really is no right or wrong way.

Solidifying our identity can be a really tough and long process, no matter what our age, background or race. So many experiences and cultures impact who we are and those constructs in themselves, constantly evolve throughout our lives as humans too. We associate ourselves to many different *cultures and *subcultures, whether it’s our religion, geography, caste or race, or associations to activist movements, music genres, the arts, sport, gastronomy, history, science, technology, level of education – the list is endless. But, based on how the experiences we have unfold within each of these cultures, we either adopt the values and beliefs wholly and fragments of them stay with us for life, or they are short-lived and fade away as we outgrow them.

Having a solid identity is fundamental to our human existence, for our self-esteem and general well-being but at the same time, our identity is constantly evolving, as we continually experience and learn new things.

Honing on the strengths of being both British and Indian, to me, my identity fundamentally means being unapologetically authentic, constantly striving to be the best version of myself, being a badass standing up for things I feel passionately about and holding my values and morals as a human being at the forefront of my life – in every positive and negative situation.

Now, as a twenty-four year-old brown woman, I’m passionately learning even more about British colonialism and systemic racial issues, which conveniently weren’t covered in any school textbooks or my curriculum. I’ve started noticing *micro-aggressions and *gaslighting on so many levels and I find myself stunned, that it never occurred to me as problematic or wrong when I was younger, despite always being strong-willed and observant.

I look at my life in three phases whilst considering my identity development so far. The first decade of my life, I was the biggest Indian cinema loving child you could probably find in England. My mother raised me with Hindi language for which now, I’m so grateful. If you asked 6 year-old Vibs who her idol was, she would respond by telling you not to call her Vibs, but Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (if you know you know.) She didn’t have a clue who the Beatles were and constantly cut out Busted and Lizzie McGuire pictures from corner-shop magazines, to try and fit in with her classmates. But coming home after school, she would run up to her purple-everything bedroom, dress up in Indian attire and dance to Bollywood music for hours on end.

Then came the second phase – teenage. This still is a blurry time for me. I had so many different identities I embodied in different roles in my life, some more unfortunate than others. High School Musical and Twilight played a huge part (no regrets). I took singing and playing guitar more seriously, I started to face mental health problems, but didn’t entirely know what it meant and particularly remember having some serious body image issues. I attended a predominantly white-upper class girls’ school, where I started off as the worst academically performing student, but left as the stereotypical hard-working, conscientious Indian nerd with straight A*s and As. I was a different person in every environment – a true chameleon, but definitely shied away from certain aspects of my South Asian heritage, as I navigated through the emotional and hormonal roller coasters. I wish I had been taught about the actual consequences of British colonial history in school. I wish it had been prioritised to educate children on how *systemic racism and *inequities exist. I really do believe I’d be 100 steps ahead on my level of *wokeness, if we had fully integrated and promoted resources back then. (This is what SAHM is all about!)

Phase 3 – early adulthood to present day. I’d like to believe I’ve found a good balance in who I am and what my identity means to me today. The process of university-life in itself is educational and transformational on so many levels. In these last few years I’ve learnt what it means to be self-reliant and independent, what resilience is, the importance of being picky about the company I keep and where I prioritise my time. I’ve understood the true value of travel and life experience over any material possession. I’ve understood the only way I can truly love and care for others, is by loving and caring for every aspect of myself first. I view and place value on my family and friends differently from when I was younger. But above all else, I’m aware of what parts of every culture I’ve been a part of – whether inherited or chosen – I truly identify with. I know what makes Vibs, Vibs.

My heritage and family history comes with fearlessness and sacrifice. My roots lie among phenomenal grandparents, who were the first ever inter-caste couple in Britain to get married. It makes me feel strong and like I can achieve absolutely anything I want to. I love being South Asian. I am proud to be British-Indian, despite the hard-to-swallow histories my ancestors faced in order for me to be here today. But let’s be clear, acceptance does not mean submission. Our society and political systems today, across the world, have still very much been built on deeply ingrained, yet underlying and undiscussed *white supremacy. The most part of unlearning is still to come. Systems need to be deconstructed and rebuilt to achieve a more equitable existence for all of humanity.

I am motivated more than ever before, to continue dialogue to break down the inequality that exists because of these systems. I will keep calling out things said and done that aren’t aligned with *anti-racism and continue to stand for what is right. I will vote responsibly. Our generation is placed in a time with the greatest opportunities and technology to support bringing tangible, systemic change. Yes – it will takes years, but the shift has already begun. I hope I can be a bridge in this *butterfly effect and do my South Asian ancestors proud.

*Imposter syndrome a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalise their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field which lead to people feeling they don’t belong or deserve to be where they are.

*Cultureset of ideas, beliefs, attitudes, values, norms, morals, customs, roles, symbols, and rituals shared by a large group of people that is transmitted across generations. A way of life that evolves over time and can become very different from how it first started out. Culture influences how we see reality and has a huge impact on what we believe and feel to be objectively true.

*Subculturea cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests that vary from those of the larger culture.

*Micro-aggressionsa statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group. The insults/ insensitivities may be based on socioeconomic status, disability, gender, gender expression or identify, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion, experienced in day-to-day interactions with people.

*Gaslighting a manipulative tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality, memory or perceptions.

*Systemic racismracism resulting from the inherent biases and prejudices of the policies and practices of social and political organisations, groups, or institutions. It is also referred to as “institutional racism,” a term coined by Black Power activists Charles V. Hamilton and Stokely Carmichael to distinguish it from individual racism, which is typically more overt. Systemic here refers to the core racist realities that are manifested in each of society’s major parts including but not limited to—the economy, politics, education, religion, career, healthcare, housing and inheritance.

*Inequity – an instance of injustice, unfairness, bias or favouritism.

*Wokeness a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality

*White Supremacythe belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior and are the dominant group in any society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups – especially Black people.

*Anti-racist the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance.

*Butterfly effectthe phenomenon whereby a small minute localised change in a complex system can have a cumulatively large effect elsewhere over a period of time.

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Safety & Sanctuary

Borough of Sanctuary

Over the period of Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve had the opportunity to work with an array of organisations, charities, communities and political leaders to bring a culture of welcome to the Borough of Sandwell.

In my role, I have created and been maintaining all social media pages and communications for the #BOSSandwell Campaign. The campaign is working towards greater inclusion, equality and opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers, as well as standing strongly in solidarity with the #BLM movement and anti-racism.

If the refugee crises are shown in the media, stories rarely ever address the links to environmental migration. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 33.4 million people were forced to leave their homes in 2019 due to disasters negatively affecting their livelihoods. This number is only expected to increase as we move further into the 21st century.

“The Atlas of Environmental Migration, which gives examples dating as far back as 45,000 years ago, shows that environmental changes and natural disasters have played a role in how the population is distributed on our planet throughout history.”

Dina Ionesco – UN IOM

With more and more catastrophic climate-related events having direct causal links to human activity, it has never been more important to focus on the displacement and safe settlement of humans.

More than ever before, I feel the urge to actively work towards breaking down perceptions of “other”, separation and racism. Working in my home town, Sandwell to do just that feels right. After all, it all starts at home.

Humans have always moved. We are all (im)migrants.

Mohsin hamid

International Women’s Day

What motivated you to choose your profession and what do you love about your job?

During my time studying Psychology at university, I was unsure about which career path to follow. I happened to take a module on global challenges and I had a cliche penny drop moment. I knew whatever I did going forward, had to focus on the climate crisis. Ever since, I have not looked back and after completing a diploma in climate change, I started working in sustainable business and environmental behavioural change within the retail sector. I am lucky enough to continue my passion of music alongside this. I love that my job allows me to see direct impact and purposeful change within a large organisation. I love that through my music and creativity, I get to connect to people of various backgrounds on a deeper and more emotional and spiritual level. Both areas of my career truly fulfil me and drive me to be the best version of myself – constantly pushing the boundaries of my full potential.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

There are many accomplishments I am proud of, particularly within my music career. However, from an academic perspective, achieving a First Class Psychology BSc (Hons) degree alongside the Dean’s Award has to be at the top of my list!

What was your worst failure or setback and what did you learn from it?

I had to resit my second year of A levels, and I consider the grades I achieved the first time round as my biggest setback so far. It massively knocked my self-confidence which I struggled to shake off for quite a while. I have also overcome many personal battles over the years, particularly my own mental health, but of course this is always a work in progress.

I don’t particularly like the word failure as it implies a lack of something, according to a set standard of norms dictated by society… Which we then go on to use as personal check points. My life experience till date has taught me that no matter what the situation faced is, anything can be overcome by resilience and having an awareness of various perspectives. Everyone’s definition of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ is subjective and every individual has their own personal timeline in life – which is undoubtedly perfect for them. To compare oneself and our behind the scenes with our peers’ reams and reams of best life highlights (particularly on social media,) will only lead us down a dark hole of dissatisfaction and unfulfilled desire. I only treat my setbacks as lessons or tests of resilience, and I enjoy every positive, progressive moment to the full.

Define a great leader and what are some traits you think great leaders possess?

A great leader to me is someone who lives their belief through their actions, not just their words. The world we now live in holds many ‘influencers’ but much fewer ‘inspirers’. Thought leadership through action is the way forward!

Who has been your biggest influence and why?

My biggest influence has to be my Guru ji or ‘spiritual guide’ – Baba Hardev Singh Ji. Although sadly no longer with us, from a young age until now, I have held an enormous amount of respect and love for him. I have learnt the fundamental values of life and what it means to be a good human being, as well as the importance of holding onto purpose and self-awareness through every situation. Being a part of something greater than yourself is life changing and I wouldn’t be who I am or be where I’m standing today without his teachings. 

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

I have only just started my career and so have not had any major barriers as such. Although, being a woman of colour, I have really felt the lack of representation and pioneers to look up to within the industry, whom I can genuinely relate to. Though things are rapidly changing both systemically and within large organisations, there is still a huge gap in female representation, particularly women of colour at the “top.” I do often question whether this will still be the case in a few years time.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Take time to find your individual purpose and what YOU define as success. Not what your parents, friends or colleagues think – but what you think. Too often I have seen instances where peers and colleagues of mine have rushed into graduate or apprenticeship schemes, joined the world of work and within a year or two, find themselves lost with zero motivation and no job satisfaction. Take your time. There really is NO rush or only one right way to get to where you’re supposed to be! Once you find what drives you (and you will if you allow yourself the space,) what your natural strengths are, what feels right, what feels good – everything else will flow automatically. 

Another point: to be able to rely on just yourself, you need to learn how to be comfortable in your own company – go out of your comfort zone and test your boundaries. How are you when you’re all by yourself – alone with your thoughts? Learn to overcome the emptiness or void or need for another person you may feel inside. Once you’ve passed that step, you will become so secure within yourself and unleash a whole new level of self dependency and confidence. As a side-note, I’d also highly recommend reading ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne. It has genuinely changed my life!

What do you want your legacy to be?

I rarely feel comfortable shouting out about what I do. I would much rather just get on and DO and not talk about it. For me, if I have connected to an individual, if I have brought about positive change, helped someone or helped mitigate the climate crisis in some shape or form – I know I am doing exactly what I am supposed to and that in itself is my legacy.

How do you maintain a good work-life balance?

Like many things, maintaining a work-life balance is a constant work in progress for me. Some weeks are better than others, but I find having a calendar or diary that works for you is essential to make work-life balance possible. I also find having a separate work phone and laptop helps massively to disconnect when you’re supposed to. I try to always remind myself that if you love what you do, it’s not just a job – it’s a way of life and that (hypothetically) should mean you don’t have to physically take it home with you!

The International Women’s Day 2020 campaign theme is #EachforEqual – “An equal world is an enabled world”. What will you do to create a gender equal world?

To create a gender equal world, I will keep saying the things we as women are told to keep quiet. I will continue to educate (and not patronise) my peers by explaining what feminism really is – if they don’t know already. I will not be phased by a room full of men, or silence my opinions in-front of them,  irrespective of their titles. I will be conscious of biases in the workplace and beyond. I will point out things that need to change, particularly issues of gender pay gap, inclusion and diversity, LGBTQ+ rights and social mobility. I will continue to break traditional standards that make women and men feel they are wrong to express themselves however they please – openly wearing, eating and drinking whatever they want. I will stand up for all those who make any decision for themselves or their bodies. I will stand up to bullies and narcissists. I will openly say I’m on my period if I need to and not whisper it like it’s something to hide or be ashamed of. I will be courageous and allow myself to be vulnerable and seek help whenever I need it, including my mental health. I will have open and respectful conversations with my elders to break down stigmas, stereotypes and double standards – particularly those that exist within the South Asian community. I will not let labels such as ‘too emotional; too serious; too intense; too moody; too passionate; too quiet; too confident; too loud; too much of… anything‘ define me. I will not apologise for being my authentic self and I will continue to champion not caring about…”but what will people say?” 

I will.

The Circularity of Gratitude

In May 2019, after a whirlwind four months of ups and downs, countless rejections, near successes and let downs, I was headhunted and whisked away into a fast-paced, cut-throat yet invigorating chaos… London.

As a young child, I always dreamt of living in the city. Whenever we visited, driving passed the bright lights of piccadilly or strolling through streams and streams of free art galleries – I always knew I would end up here at some point in my life. Now I knew it was happening, the excitement was real. – actualisation

I had three days to find a place to live and ten days to relocate from my nest. After just one week of work, my every weekend of summer looked a little something like: Liverpool > Toronto > Glasgow > Birmingham > Cambridge > Leicester > London > Leicester > Birmingham. Safe to say, I had officially learnt the art of an autopilot, robotic lifestyle – in all my worlds. Never the less, I was loving summer life in the capital and taking full advantage of so many amazing things to see and do. – productivity

Before I knew it, 2019 was coming to an end and approaching the new year I realised how unnatural this crazy bubble I had kept myself in really was. I was on the go, ALL the time – nothing was slowing down. I found myself stuck somewhere in between finally being content and in the swing of things with my new job, yet feeling an escalating pressure to develop my creative side. With more opportunity, comes much higher expectation – particularly in the music industry. Then of course came the pressure of corporate culture – a constant need for more and unparalleled unfulfilled desires. – rat race

My mind was a mess. I had to pause.

I took a few weeks to reanalyse where I was heading. Did I really need to make more money? Do I really need to rush? What’s the rush for? Do I need to be so invested and affected by things that aren’t helping me grow? What was the reason behind my pursuit of career in sustainability again? What’s my passion? What’s my driving force? Is my work purposeful? Do I really want to create my own music? Am I actually present in my mind, today? Do I really need to be thinking about getting on the property ladder already? What were my goals for just the next 6 months? Why are my thoughts SO loud?

STOP. REWIND. INTROSPECT.

a game changer

I’ve just stepped into my eighth month of being in the big wide ‘corporate world’. It’s so easy to get trapped and pulled into the dissatisfaction of those around you that you forget the key to everything. The answer to silence the noise, the chaos, the rush, the pressure, the excessive material desire – everything taking you away from the present moment…

gratitude | shukraana

Starting every morning being thankful for everything you DO have and not what you are “lacking” was my refuge. Grateful to be alive and healthy. Grateful to have a sense of purpose. Grateful to live comfortably and having amenities millions don’t have access to. Grateful to be making a difference. Grateful to be able to experience so many wonderful moments, art and culture. Grateful to be empowered enough to pass on positivity to others.

Such a small shift in perspective, but a protection blanket from energy which brings you down and can sometimes make you feel like what you already have and what you already are, isn’t enough. In gratitude lies a clearer headspace which ironically allows you to still think ahead and pursue even greater goals. In gratitude you give more and receive more, you invest more and grow more. It’s a reciprocal, chain reaction. Whatever you put out into the universe comes straight back to you in ten fold.

Gratitude is clear.

Gratitude is contagious.

Gratitude is circular.

Social Media Use and Psychological Well-Being: A Review by Vibhati Bhatia

Personal Commentary

When reflecting on aspects of everyday life, I recognised the large impact of social media and social networking websites in their dominance in developing societal norms.  I have been raised in a spiritual environment in which meditation has been part of my everyday practice. Despite this, even I have found myself a culprit of being consumed by social media, not realising how much time I have lost, simply scrolling through Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook, whilst comparing my own life to how others portray theirs.  This led my desire to research the effect social networking sites are having on society, exploring how a lack of mindfulness may be impacting the way individuals use social media and the consequential negative psychological impact.  

Initially, I attempted to conduct a systematic review on social media use and mindfulness alone.  However, after researching the topics, I realised there was not enough prior evidence to discuss and review.  After consulting my supervisor, it was decided the best way to deal with this would be to broaden the search.  I went about this by conducting a larger search on social media use and its impact on psychological well-being.  After identifying frequent themes, I focused my search on specific areas that had been well researched.  

Although I have found the process of researching the literature challenging, reading about the impact of social media use on well-being has been invigorating and insightful.  I have been able to apply what I have learnt to real life scenarios as I live through them, which has been the most interesting part of studying Psychology.  Additionally, I found developing ideas for future research in this field exciting, especially since the topic is not currently researched within the Psychology Faculty at the University of Southampton.   

Abstract

The relationship between social media and psychological well-being is complex.  For the purpose of this review, psychological well-being has been analysed using depression, self-esteem and mindfulness.  Despite social media use growing exponentially, research gravitates towards the negative impacts of social media use on depression.  With regard to self-esteem, the review identifies that individual experiences with online friends, the particular social networking site (SNS) used, cultural differences and personal dispositions all effect the impact of SNSs.  This impact is unique and subjective to each individual.  In general, the more positive an engagement is, such as receiving greater number of likes, the higher the individual’s self-esteem.  Additionally, it was established that mindfulness as a trait allows for positive social media use, but it should be practiced with caution when used as a tool to deal with compulsive social media use.  Finally, it is acknowledged that there is little research into psychological well-being and other SNSs, such as Instagram.  This may be because Facebook is the most popular SNS. In future research, it is recommended to measure the effects of Instagram use on psychological well-being and whether this relationship is effected by mindfulness, self-esteem and spirituality.  

Introduction

The Internet plays a predominant role in many lives, with approximately 3.7 billion individuals around the world with daily access (Internet Live Stats, 2017).  Today, this is approximately 50% of the world’s population, compared to just 1% in 1995.  The Internet has revolutionised the way people can instantly connect and share moments with others through social networking sites (SNSs), or now more commonly referred to as social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Since Mark Zukerburg founded Facebook in 2004, it is estimated that 2.07 billion individuals use the social network every month, a figure that is constantly expanding (Facebook Newsroom, 2017). Due to this development, psychologists have taken great interest in researching SNSs such as Facebook. Although Facebook remains the most popular SNS, compared to 2015, there has been growth in use of other social networks, particularly Whatsapp (45% vs. 28%) and Instagram (31% vs. 22%) (Ofcom, 2017). 

There have been multiple effects of Internet use on human behaviour; these have been both positive and negative.  Early research into the consequences of Internet use, found significant declines in social involvement offline combined with an increase in depression rates (Kraut et al., 1998).  Despite this, individuals have continued to access the online tool exponentially, and have become psychologically and personally dependent on it (McMillan & Morrison, 2006).  A multitude of research has evolved to concentrate on specific areas of Internet use, such as social media.  The number of Facebook friends an individual attains, has been associated with stronger perceptions of social support, thus reducing stress and in turn eliciting greater well-being (Nabi, Prestin & So, 2013).  In contrast, more recently, it has been suggested that absence of likes and comments may predict lower well-being, as such elements provide visual and quantifiable measures of user’s social value (Blease, 2015).  With the number of social media users rapidly increasing, effects on psychological well-being is an issue that needs to be addressed and analysed in more depth.  

Social Media

Social media or SNSs have become a routine aspect of many lives.  Thus, it is imperative for psychologists to gauge the social and psychological outcomes for individuals engaging in this phenomenon.  Ellison (2007) defines social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to construct a profile, list other users they share a connection with, and compare their list of connections with others within the system.  Social media on the other hand, is defined as a group of Internet-based applications that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010).  Literature found concentrates on Facebook use, therefore it will be the focal point of analysis in this review, with exception to the impact of social media on mindfulness.  

The aim of this literature review is to discuss and summarise research based on social media use in relation to psychological well-being. Studies relevant to Facebook and depression, Facebook and self-esteem and social media and mindfulness will be analysed, before outlining potential future research.  

Psychological Well-being

Diener (1984) has defined well-being as the balance between positive and negative emotions and cognitions.  This implies that the way we think and feel in general and about ourselves, can contribute to our psychological well-being.  However, it is important to recognise that well-being is subjective to the individual.  The level of well-being an individual may feel, depends on what they believe it to be in the context of their environment and situation.  

The way psychological well-being is measured, can be a tool in defining the concept itself.  Numerous measures have been developed, such as life satisfaction scales (Oh et al., 2014), lifespan self-esteem scales (Harris, Donnellan & Trzesniewski, 2017) and level of stress scales (Park, Song & Lee, 2014).  However, in the context of this review, psychological well-being will be thought upon in terms of depression, self-esteem and mindfulness, which will be discussed in subsequent sections.  

Facebook and Depression

The DSM-5 (2013) criteria defines major depressive disorder as a depressed mood, or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, every day for more than two weeks, as well as impaired social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.  To fulfil diagnostic criteria, five or more symptoms must be present and episodes cannot be attributable to physiological substance effects, or another medical condition.   

It is evident that the time spent on Facebook can negatively impact an individual’s well-being.  Research into 160 Serbian students has shown a positive correlation between depression and time spent on social media (Pantic et al., 2012).  Although the study found a statistically significant positive correlation, the strength of this correlation is weak.  As the sample is relatively small and the cohort of participants were all from the same school and area, it is possible that low heterogeneity explains this weak correlation.  Furthermore, students were only asked how much time they had spent on the SNSs.  From this, causality cannot be established as there are many other confounding variables that may cause depression, (not merely spending time on SNSs) such as, the experiences students have whilst using them.  If students engaged with their close friends through tagging in comical videos, this may have a positive effect.  However, seeing other’s holiday photos for instance within their wider network, may evoke social comparisons, leading to more negative effects which may trigger depressive symptoms.  

It is arguable that to understand how social media causes depression, it first needs to be understood why social media is used.  For instance, Sagioglou and Greitemeyer (2014) state individuals commit a forecasting error, where there is an expectation to feel better after using Facebook.  Yet in reality, individuals feel worse due to the increased usage, which causes depressed mood.  Such forecasting errors may occur due to beliefs, that it is a societal norm to actively post and keep up to date with others’ activities throughout the day. Further research by Baker, Krieger and LeRoy (2016) found 368 undergraduates from a large ethnically diverse U.S university, were driven to use social media due to fear of missing out.  They state this culturally universal phenomenon drives greater social media use, to stay continually connected with others and avoid negative mood states.  Issues such as these, indicate the importance to factor in reasons behind usage, when attempting to assess whether or not it causes depression.  

In a small American undergraduate sample, Steers, Wickham and Acitelli (2014) found participants who spent more time on Facebook, exhibited more depressive symptoms.  Moreover, they identified that this result was uniquely mediated by social comparisons. Individuals felt depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook, because they felt worse after comparing themselves to others.  Such findings elicit how Facebook use can negatively impact well-being, but more importantly seek to explain how such negative impacts arise, rather than merely stating that a correlational relationship exists.  Despite the sample being relatively small, it was ethnically diverse and also covered an extensive range of ages (19-57).  Thus, the sample is credible and representative of wider populations, allowing for valid generalisations.  A further strength of the study is that diary methodology was used, providing precise representations of everyday behaviour.  This not only reduces retrospective bias, but also provides in depth data for analysis.  In addition, the method is sensitive to the nature of depression, preventing any unethical issues arising in the data collection process.  However, as it is still a self-report measure, these findings should be considered with caution, as individuals may lie.  It is further worth noting, that the association found in the study was only in male participants, suggesting potential gender differences in the onset of depression, as a result of increased Facebook use.  

Such differences are evident in a large nationally representative study, of 5,961 adolescents conducted in Hungary.  Banyai et al. (2017) found that in the at-risk group, only female adolescents had significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms, the more time they spent on social media.  However, these conflicting findings could be due to differences in sample size, as Steers, Wickham and Acitelli (2014) had a smaller sample size of 180 participants, with fewer men than women, thus reducing the study’s power. Yet more importantly, the two studies were conducted in two different cultures and this should be considered when looking at contrasting results, as data may be influenced by the differing cultural norms of America and Hungary.  Although both countries are classified as individualistic, differences have been found in how families function (Keitner et al., 1991).  When a family member is depressed in Hungary, reported difficulties involve setting family rules and boundaries, whereas those in North America experience impaired communication and difficulties in solving problems.  These findings explain why there may be differences between male and female depression as a result of social media use, as family norms and functioning may differ in the two countries due to differences in culture and traditions.  Although this study is slightly outdated, is it plausible to argue that cultural and family values would have remained relatively consistent over the time period.

A balanced view of Fox and Moreland (2015), affirms that constant online social comparison to other network members triggered dissatisfaction, anxiety and negative emotions, all of which may contribute to increased depressive symptoms, irrespective of gender.  Within this study, those with higher levels of depression also reported low self-esteem the more they used social media, which appropriately renders the following topic of analysis.  

Facebook and Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is defined as how a person feels about themselves. State self-esteem refers to how someone feels at a particular moment in time, whereas trait self-esteem refers to how they generally feel about themselves.  Individuals with low self-esteem tend to be more socially anxious than people with high self-esteem (Leary & MacDonald, 2003).  In relation to Facebook, Chen and Lee (2013) voiced that greater usage negatively impacts self-esteem and associates with psychological distress.  More specifically, low-self-esteem individuals are more likely to compare themselves to others on Facebook for self-evaluation (Cramer, Song & Drent, 2016).  As established earlier, critical comparisons to others can lead to greater anxiety, thus reduced psychological well-being.

Some research has depicted that the form self-esteem takes due to social media use, is largely dependent on the type of experience and interaction individuals have with other members.  A large group of 881 Dutch adolescents, showed that self-esteem was affected solely by the tone of feedback they received on their profiles. Positive feedback enhanced their self-esteem and well-being (78% of the sample) whereas negative feedback decreased it (7% of the sample) (Valkenburg, Peter & Schouten, 2006).  This indicates how self-esteem as a result of social media use, can be extremely subjective and varies from one individual to another.  In this study, the sample affected by negative feedback is relatively small, however, it cannot be overlooked that the study was conducted over a decade ago. In that time, with technological advances, thus a surplus to online accessibility via smartphones; it can be argued that self-esteem may be impacted more aversively from when the study was first carried out.  A practical example of this is cyberbullying.  Hinduja and Patchin (2010) outline the concept as wilful harm, inflicted through the use of electronic devices.  They found a significant association between victims and offenders of cyberbullying and low self-esteem.  McAfee (2014) found 87% of screened young adolescents experienced cyberbullying, compared to 27% the year before.  This reiterates how with time; individuals’ experiences online are changing and may impact self-esteem more negatively than before.  

Other varying experience is afforded by Facebook’s design of likes and comments, which can trigger minor and major negative emotional experiences (Fox & Moreland, 2015).  This has been studied in greater depth by Burrow & Rainone (2017), who found a positive and significant association between the number of likes individuals receive on their Facebook profile pictures, and an individual’s self-esteem.  Despite having a moderate sample of 246 participants, due to the correlational design used in this study, the direction of the relationship cannot be assumed.  Hence a true causal relationship as to why self-esteem is impacted, cannot be established.  In defence, they also found that links between likes and self-esteem diminished, for those who felt they had a higher purpose in life.  This implies that circumstantial and dispositional factors, may have greater hold over self-esteem and perhaps psychological well-being overall.  This has been illustrated by Andreassen, Pallesen and Griffiths (2017) who considered various personality and situational traits such as narcissism, self-esteem, education, student status and income.  After studying 23,532 Norwegian participants, aged 16 to 88, they propose people use social media to obtain higher self-esteem, for example by harvesting likes and/or to escape feelings of low self-esteem, providing further insight and explanation for differences in Facebook experience.  

Alternative research takes a contrastive approach, that the particular social media site used influences self-esteem outcomes.  American undergraduates editing Facebook profiles reported higher levels of self-esteem, unlike those editing their MySpace pages (Gentile, Twenge, Freeman & Campbell, 2012).  This depicts how different SNSs can impact individuals in a multitude of ways.  This could be due to key differences between the sites.  MySpace offers an opportunity to create and customise personal brands, allowing for self-expression and promotion.  In contrast, Facebook has a standard format, with more communal goals such as keeping in touch with friends and family.  Due to this, MySpace may trigger more narcissistic characteristics during use, compared to Facebook where it is more likely for social comparisons to be made, against people known in an individual’s community.  This further outlines the relevance of analysing SNSs’ influence separately, on self-esteem and overall psychological well-being. Despite this it is notable that the study relative to social media progress is outdated, and MySpace is not as frequently used now compared to six years ago.  

Research has additionally shown that an individual’s age also influences how Facebook impacts their level of self-esteem.  A two-year longitudinal study conducted in the Netherlands, among 852 adolescents aged 10 to 15, found that initial self-esteem did influence whether Facebook was used in later years, but initial Facebook use did not influence self-esteem of individuals in later years i.e. when they were older. Online feedback from close friends, seemed to explain the concurrent relationship between social media use and self-esteem, but not the longitudinal relationship (Valkenburg, Koutamanis & Vossen, 2017).  From such findings, it can be assumed that as individuals get older, there is a shift in how Facebook use impacts their self-esteem.  A potential reason for this difference, could be that by receiving rewarding positive feedback, individuals experience short-term boosts in self-esteem, resulting in them wanting to continue usage.  This has been supported by a neuro-behavioural perspective, whereby with more habitual SNS use, the brain constantly overemphasises the salience of the thrill received (Robinson & Berridge, 2003).  In comparison to other studies, a strength lies in this experiment conducted by Valkenburg, Koutamanis & Vossen (2017) as they not only test reverse correlations to establish causality, but unlike most other research, they administered repeated tests over time, increasing the study’s overall power and reliability.  A limitation is that the findings cannot be generalised to other countries, despite the large sample used.  However, as the study has been recently published, the concept can be transferred and researched in other countries, to test if the same trends exist.  

As a whole, it can be concluded that the relationship between Facebook use and self-esteem is broadly dynamic and subjective to each individual user. A single factor cannot explain such a complex field of research such as, age, gender, culture and individual dispositions.  Therefore, the following topic analyses another perspective into social media use and psychological well-being.  

Mindfulness and Psychological Well-being

Mindfulness is understood as a state of non-judgmental and nonreactive awareness in which an individual develops full perception of the present moment, a focused attention, and an attitude of experiencing the here and now (Schonert-Reichl & Roeser, 2016; Brown & Ryan, 2013).  Although mindfulness is originally a concept based on Buddhism (Neves-Pereira, de Carvalho & de Campos Aspesi, 2017), it has been identified as one of the most strongly established factors contributing to well-being (Baer et al., 2008; Brown & Ryan, 2003).  Weinstein, Brown and Ryan (2009) support this as they found college students who are more mindful, indicate more benign stress appraisals and use more approach and less avoidant coping strategies, to deal with anxiety-driven situations.  

Social Media and Mindfulness

There is relatively limited research on mindfulness and Facebook use.  Nonetheless, with consistent findings of its overall benefits to psychological well-being, it is imperative to assess the research that has been conducted on SNSs overall.  Studies have found links between self-esteem and mindfulness, in relation to online social media use.  Survey data from 219 18 to 23 year olds, collected by Yang, Holden and Carter (2017) has depicted significant associations in those who are more mindful, to show higher identity clarity, self-esteem and more authentic self-portrayal on their social media outlets.  Identity clarity is when an individual holds a clear and coherent sense of who they are and authentic self-portrayal refers to how genuinely individuals represent themselves on social media.  All three factors are indicators of well-being.  Thus, according to the research, by being more mindful, users exhibit more positive and authentic behaviour online.  Having been very recently conducted, the findings hold high concurrent validity and are therefore extremely applicable and relevant to current society.  That being said, it cannot be ignored that other factors may have implicated the findings. 38% of the sample were of Black ethnicity and overall, they reported higher self-esteem than White students. Previous research has shown Black adolescents’ parents place more emphasis on cultural heritage, history and pride than White adolescents’ parents (Hughes, Witherspoon, Rivas-Drake, & West-Bey, 2009).  As a result of this, students are likely to have higher identity clarity and may be more inclined to being mindful and authentic due to their upbringing, resulting in greater positive effects from using social media.  This highlights the importance of considering the influence of cultural heritage and values, when evaluating mindfulness and social media use, as well as psychological well-being overall.  

In continuation, Charoensukmongkol (2016) found across three differing industry samples in Bangkok, using social media during work increased burn out (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation) in individuals with low level mindfulness, but reduced burnout for those with high levels of mindfulness.  Although statistically significant associations were found, the relationships were relatively weak.  This may have been due to differing characteristics amongst participants, such as personality type, that may have influenced the relationship between mindfulness and social media use.  Despite this limitation, an advantage of this particular study is that adult users were analysed, compared to the usual undergraduate and adolescent samples.  The findings are thus representative of a wider age category within the population. The study further lays the groundwork for more research to be conducted in older adult social media users.  

Recent research has shown how mindfulness can be used as a tool to help individuals, who may have an addiction or compulsion to use social media. Turel and Osatuyi (2017) found mindfulness increases the ability of social pressure self-efficacy to reduce compulsive use of SNSs.  Social pressure self-efficacy has been defined as the ability to refuse or resist SNS use.  The study demonstrated that in the case of SNSs, mindfulness can be a double-edged sword that can increase compulsive use through one mechanism, but can reduce it via another.  From this, it can be implied that being overly mindful, may actually have a negative impact on social media use, stressing that mindfulness should be approached with balance.  Overall, as a trait, mindfulness seems to reduce negative impacts of social media use, enhancing psychological well-being, however as a tool to reduce compulsive use, mindfulness may need to be practiced in moderation to avoid negative consequences.  

Conclusion

From the literature reviewed, the evidence generally sways towards the negative impacts of using SNSs, such as higher levels of depressive symptoms and reduced self-esteem as a result of social comparisons (Pantic et al., 2012; Cramer, Song & Drent, 2016).  However, much research also indicates the subjective influence that individual experiences and dispositional factors have, in determining the effect of social media use (Fox & Moreland, 2015; Andreassen, Pallesen & Griffiths, 2017).  

It is evident there are clear limitations to the studies that have been discussed in this review.  Firstly, most research conducted in this area are based on correlational or cross-sectional experimental designs (Burrow & Rainone, 2017; Yang, Holden & Carter, 2017).  As a result, causal reasoning cannot be established.  It may well be the case that having low self-esteem, not being mindful and suffering from depressive symptoms, cause people to use social media more, rather than using social media causing such effects.  Whilst considering all arguments, it is crucial to remain cautious of this, as it is probable there are numerous contributory factors. In an attempt to overcome this issue, it is worth considering the use of longitudinal studies.  

Secondly, almost all studies were based on self-report measures (Baker, Krieger & LeRoy, 2016).  Although such methods are a popular and convenient way to obtain a large amount of data, individuals may lie or not truly immerse themselves in the study, due to social desirability biases.  This may have influenced associations found, as there is a large risk for inaccuracies within uncontrolled conditions.  The results may also be skewed dependent on the mood and affect of the individual at that point in time.  Instead, focus groups or semi-structured interviews could be used.  This would be appropriate considering social media is a community based network, allowing interactions to be observed and examined in more depth.  Advantages would involve improved control of environments and obtaining more detailed information.  

A further drawback within literature is age bias. Most studies have been conducted on undergraduates and adolescents (Pantic et al., 2012; Banyai et al., 2017). However, social media, especially Facebook is used by society as a whole, not just this age category.  Young adults are usually in a process of establishing their identities, which may particularly impact their use of social media to gain self-esteem, making it harder to generalise findings (Andreassen, Pallesen & Griffiths, 2017).  Thus, there is a pertinent need to conduct more research in older generation users, as stage of life may impact the driving purpose for using social media.  Research could analyse motivational factors when individuals are younger, such as keeping up to date with trends, compared to older generations who may use social media primarily to stay connected with friends and family.  

Although the past 15 years has seen a number of American researchers pioneer investigations into the relationship between social media and well-being, the present review contrastingly factors in more recent studies from across Europe as well as Asia (Banyai et al., 2017; Charoensukmongkol, 2016). This not only provides a globally representative analysis compared to previous years, but also highlights a rise in interest of research in the field, within European and Eastern nations.  

Overall, there has been limited research conducted into other forms of social media, such as Instagram and Snapchat.  With a 9% increase in Instagram use in the last two years (Ofcom, 2017), there is a need to investigate the effects it has on psychological well-being.  Features of Instagram include options to edit images through cropping and filtering.  Analysis of individuals posting a real or ‘filtered’ portrayal of themselves could lead to interesting findings with regards to self-esteem, mindfulness and spiritual and/or religious values.  The aim of my research project is to investigate the relationship between the above factors.  I am aware of the subjectivity that may impact research findings, as presented in the review, so aspire to remain impartial when conducting analyses and develop non-directional hypotheses.  

In summary, this review has demonstrated that whilst there is evidence supporting social media use having a demonstrably negative effect on psychological well-being, it is an association that can be refuted based on an individual’s personal experience and dispositions.  

Written by Vibhati Bhatia ©

December 2017

The University Chapter

Hi all,

It’s been a while. I am sort of back out of my cave… kinda?! I recently graduated and wanted to share a little bit about it. Alongside graduation photos, many people write about their journey in attaining their achievements and their inspirations/motivators that got them over the finish line. There was a lot to say about mine and I guess not everyone would be interested in reading, so I decided to blog about it instead. After all, it is arguably the greatest academic achievement I’ll probably shoot for so I guess it should be documented?! Anyway, here goes…

10 months ago I decided to change my path from constant procrastination to discipline and dedication. In that space of time attained PR work experience and figured it wasn’t for me, completed a photography diploma, started running regularly, meal prepped clean weekly, took on sign language and beginners Spanish, released 4 music videos, somehow got onto Spotify/Apple music and BBC Asian Network, jammed with some incredible musicians, volunteered for TedX, had a crack at pottery (pun intended… I’m so sorry), stepped into two new dance forms (Afrodynamix you were the best decision I made this year) and attained a First Class Honours with a Dean’s List award, whilst still maintaining a social/travel life and daily meditation.

Some people belittled me, encouraged self-doubt and quite frankly made me feel so uncomfortable, but most pushed me and believed I could progress and achieve anything I put my mind to. I’m equally grateful for every person placed along my journey and I would never take back the amount I have learnt from the good and bad experiences these last 3 years (specific s/o to the worst landlord of all time).

There is no growth without some struggle. We can never learn beyond our comfort zone until we’re placed outside it.

I don’t list the above for any reason other than to inspire a thought in anyone else feeling they can’t that you CAN, not just academically but ANYTHING you’re passionate about. Despite being through an emotionally and spiritually unstable two years, having {at times} multiple breakdowns a week and calling my Dad to rebalance and reset myself, setting my mind to the task of doing my personal best was what got me up everyday and kept me going through the daily grind. Although I can hear my best friend Dhruvi saying how I am just “nuts” and “on steroids” I genuinely believe it was down to a blessing I received a few years ago from Babaji: ‘work hard to make it easy.’ I didn’t understand the power of it then, but I do now – Thank You Huzoor. 

Setting an intention to do my absolute best, no ifs or buts and unfaltering perseverance is what got me to where I am today. If you’re not giving it your all, you’ll know. [Sidenote – it also helps if you have a borderline ADHD tendency from your ancestors where you know, you just don’t have any capability to relax and not do something without feeling guilty, like ever. It’s a problem. I’m working on it.] Yes, the 10-12 hour library sessions destroyed my will to live (I went for walks and split a Netflix show between lunch and dinner I promise) but, anytime I felt like giving up I pictured my family on my graduation day bursting with pride and somewhere along the line, the continual self actualisation took form and paid off. Fast forward to about a week ago:

I want to give a special mention to a few individuals who I genuinely could not have done as well without:

Pops – you da real MVP. Thank you for your guidance and encouragement constantly throughout my time at uni and for being there no matter what. I’ll never forget you telling me to ‘kill em with success’. I hope I’ve done you proud and achieved everything you wanted for me (so far).

Mumma – your multiple phone calls daily will not be missed (no seriously), but I love you for your endless warmth and never letting me struggle as a student. You spoiled me rotten whilst giving me enough space to grow as my own individual and get to grips with managing my time and priorities. Thank you for everything, especially your gene for OCD organisation – it did me so good!

Dhruvi – guuuurl. You know how I feel aka counting down the days till we can be housemates again with our dream puppies. You were the first person I saw truly dedicated to studying when it mattered. It gave me a kick up the ass when I needed it most. Gained a sister/wife/bestie all in one (that’s kinda messed) but thank you for those rare occasions of coming into my personal space and making friendship so easy. In true Dee spirit: It’s been real. Yaaaaaas queeeeeen!

Shaan – best friend/partner in crime from the start of uni till date, thank you for teaching me to ride the wave and being the biggest support. Your punny nature and dedication to doing what you love has been a constant source of inspiration. I’m so glad I forced you to get that violin back out #lifegoals #drama #thecurl #DrRanj

Rosy Bhua – I know you think I’m living a better version of your life (I’m not) but you got me here. From your support from Year 12 till now, staying up the night before my retakes and teaching me the best techniques to remember studies, giving me pep talks about how my fate is sealed when it came to clearing for universities, to our catch up phone convos over the 3 years and last minute proof reads of my dissertation. Thank you for your guidance. You were right. Everything was supposed to happen exactly as it did. You fill the gap of a big sister (now now, don’t let your head get too big pls).

Alisha – my academic genius inspo forever. Our (notorious) sprinkles date at the very start of final year made me believe in my full potential. I’ve told you and thanked you hundreds of times, but it’s true – the First would not have happened without you. Thank you for being the biggest plot twist in my journey.

The list is endless and I’d be here forever naming everyone but thank you all so so much. Bigdad, Amma, Bino chachi, Rob chacha, my closest family, best of friends (UK/N.America/Australia), sadhsangat family – all of your prayers, blessings and positive energy got me to this point. I’m unworthy of the grace and love.

Thank you.

– V

2016.

Sometimes I feel like crying out loud. Sometimes I look back on my week and realise how emotionally chaotic it was. The irrational thoughts, the insecurities, the overthinking. Sometimes I go over that one time in my mind, when I was unintentionally rude or abrupt to someone unnecessarily, or became an inconvenience to the people around me and honestly, it hurts a little inside that I was “that” person.

I try and then remind myself of the good things I’ve done in the week. Anything altruistic? Did I go out of my way for anyone? Did I sing something in a video that touched someone in a positive way? Because obviously, we all have to keep our self esteem in check with that little (ego) boost don’t we?

See we all like to think of ourselves as strong individuals. A lot of us undoubtedly are – you never really know about anyone’s hidden battles. But we strive for our lives to at least look squeaky clean; “picture perfect.” No glitches, everything running smoothly, according to our plans. Yup, I’ve done that, now on to the next stage. A levels? Done. Degree – under the belt. Internships? Jobs? Holidays? Travelling? Marriage? Family? Kids? Caught up in this successive progression of needing and wanting more and more. Do we even stop to think?

But then, something happens… Completely unexpected. Your life’s foundation torn from under your feet and you’re left sort of, well – bewildered. You question who you are, what you really want to be – and sometimes we need that wake up call to grow, to nourish ourselves and develop. But the point is, everyone goes through ups and downs, and it can be really crap. It can leave you at a complete loss, unaware of how to deal with your emotions. And like me, some of you might not be the greatest at actively dealing with them.

This year, I lost my spiritual guide. Baba Ji was someone I considered my father, my inspiration and the perfect mentor on how to be an amazing human being. It’s difficult to try and explain the connection and relationship I shared with him. But he was the one thing I never dreamt of or ever imagined losing. He was the connection between me and what I believe God to be. He was the reminder that actually, in essence – there is no difference; between me and God, between me and you. We are all collectively the same energy and nothing is separate. He was just there. So I knew everything would be okay… He was my assurance.

My mind works in a strange way. Only one or two people know this about me, but usually when I meet my loved ones, friends, relatives and particularly the elders of my family or wider community, I consciously think in my mind – this is potentially the last time I will ever see you as me, in this form – Vibhati – a soul.

You may think that’s quite dark. I guess it is in a way, but I’ve actually found so much peace in it. It makes me give that extra bit of warmth and love when I say goodbye to someone. Make that hug just a squeeze tighter. Just that one last smile or wave before I head off. Having a conscious thought that today may be your last, is terrifying but also riveting. The next morning when you wake, a sort of relief and sense of gratitude fills your body. A breath of fresh air. It seems strange, but it definitely keeps me on my toes to not take anything for granted. It’s also a constant reminder to look at the bigger picture. Is the problem bigger than me? (Which it never is.) Is this stress and pain just a thought? Am I just being outrightly hormonal and ridiculous right now? – Stop. Breathe. Be aware. Let it go.

Sometimes I can’t straight away, but eventually I take some quiet time alone and I get there. The process of being human right? I mean what even is being perfect and getting everything ‘right’ the first time round?

Because of this outlook, I thought I had the whole ‘life can throw anything my way’ on lockdown. I thought yeah I’m aware of potential unforeseen (awful) situations. I have my connection to Nirankar (formless/energy) I know that the universe has my back (hopefully) – I’ll be okay… What could possibly go so wrong?

How wrong I was. Fundamentally, I adopted this carefree and detached view on life because of what I’ve learnt from Baba Ji. But he never taught me how to apply the same to losing him.

All year I’ve been trying to deal and comprehend the void I feel within. I have bouts of feeling completely normal and then I hit rock bottom. It’s a process, an adaptation. I’m waiting to see what the journey ahead has in store.

Alongside everything else jaw dropping that has occurred this year – politically, the violent ignorance and heartbreaking amount of suffering and death – I still do hold hope in my heart and I pray that you do too.

I’m grateful for the positive people around me, that have carried me through till this point. I hope somehow, in some way I’ve impacted your year with a little happiness too.

15824584_10154322731733525_1176564732_o

What’s the meaning of life?
Life is relevant to time, and time is just a concept. 

So in essence there is no real meaning to life. 

The only thing that holds meaning to me, in my journey is experience. 

Truth is my experience. Love is my experience.

It will never be the same.

Nearly four weeks have passed
Still no courage to write
Many attempts to express myself
But no words in sight
Dumbfounded at how the whole world has changed,
I’m at complete loss and in pain.
Trying to live by what You taught
Complete surrendrance to the game you sought.
Some days I feel okay
Others, a complete void
What kind of test is this?
My faith no longer feels limit-less.
How to deal with such a change?
This entire tunnel, the darkness – an illusion
But still I feel no light,
Is even this my delusion?
The beauty I saw in all creation
Seems so dull without my foundation.
You taught us how to live in this world,
But never showed us how to live without you.
Taking us closer to ourselves; the truth of life
But now all I find myself saying is “what’s the point?”
I’m astray, I don’t know what else to say
I need some comfort
I need my purpose.
Just one last time- give me a reason
Maybe then I’ll understand,
But waiting on time for answers
Seems like injustice at hand.
“Where do we look now Beloved?”
Even this silence; it whispers.
I feel like I’m drowning
And this time, not in bliss.
My tears have run dry
Thinking about how much you sacrificed.
No calm in our hearts
Hands folded in prayer
Living but not alive,
Living… But without our life.

 

‘Everything I am, is all in owing to the kindness and grace of His Holiness Nirankari Baba Ji- the spiritual teacher who has been the centre of my world throughout my life. The vision of Satguru for the Sant Nirankari Mission was revolutionary. He worked each moment to unite all religions, nations, castes and creeds. The beautiful driving force for myself and millions to break down the barriers that exist within mankind. This is a tribute to Him, in honour of His life, His boundless love and compassion.

He had a dream for the mission to host an international gathering on the topic ‘Humanness’. Satguru himself coined the term for this very event, prevoking all to reflect on their personal contribution to society, begging we ask ourselves the question ‘how humane am I?’ Does my world even consist of humans anymore? Many, across the world, gathered to understand the depth of just the theme alone and embark on a spiritual journey that would ultimately see compassion restored. (If you’re happy to travel hundreds of miles in the name of humanity, no doubt, what you want is for good to prevail for the world!)

His Holiness Nirankari Baba Ji was the truest form of a humanitarian- pure in every way, the most humble of the humble and a lover of all, unconditionally. “Satguru” translated is “the one who takes us from darkness into light”. He did just that. The Sant Nirankari Mission (which I’m blessed to be a part of) is the very spiritual movement He led- a worldwide charitable foundation with the aim of world peace and unity. Millions who participate in the mission’s community events, artistic events, cultural events, health activities, blood donations and weekly discussions are enthusiastic, humble and compassionate people who genuinely yearn for betterment for everyone. Satguru Baba Ji exemplified all the traits of a divine being and all the while awakening kindness and compassion in all. The mission is outstanding for its’ exceptional voluntary work and the warmth and radiance of its members.

Nothing can repay Satguru Baba Ji for His tireless efforts to attain worldwide peace, in the name of one common formless creator- using this as the base for humanity’s prosperity. He revealed how a spiritual foundation in life is what brings a deeper connection with all beings and an ultimate realisation of our life purpose as human beings: to BE love (Love being The Creator, Creator being the very energy that permates us all).

I hope for those who think the world is a mess, that humanity is broken, this display alone restores faith and initiates change. To think- there are beautifully peaceful and connected beings upon this earth and even worldwide missions that serve in the name of world peace?! And there are spiritualists who really do live not according to rituals and dogmas, but on loving each other, revealing to all the very source from which we come in just a smile, just a warm embrace? One world of humanness can be realised- but it needs all our efforts. May we all pay tribute by making one world today.’

A special thanks to Renuka Jhalli who wrote the above, summarising a lot of what I feel personally. I don’t feel like words will ever be enough, so I leave you with love. Thank You my Satguru. Thank You.

Sant Kabir || Reflections

The State: The Formless:

Where there is neither sea nor rain,

Nor sun nor shade;

Where there is neither creation

Nor dissolution;

Where prevails neither life nor death,

Nor pain nor pleasure;

Beyond the states of Sunn and trance;

Beyond words, O friend,

Is that unique state of Sahaj.

It can be neither weighed

Nor exhausted,

Is neither heavy nor light;

It has no upper regions

Nor lower ones;

It knows not the dawn of day

Nor the gloom of night;

Where there is neither wind

Nor water nor fire,

There abides the perfect Master.

It is inaccessible,

It is, and it will ever be;

Attain it through the Master’s grace.

Sayeth Kabir: I surrender myself

At the feet of my Master,

I remain absorbed

In his true company. ||

Beyond all creation, all paradoxes, all processes and experiences, yet still within and amongst all those things, lies this energy, this divinity which sustains everything we see. Words cannot describe it. It can only be felt. In such a state of bliss, no negativity, no pain, nothing affects. The presence remains, eternally balanced. Such a state of mind, of peace has been called the Guru – the teacher who takes us away from darkness towards light – such a state is to be aimed for – it is nothing more than a presence, yet such a presence that is ever lasting and unchanging amongst all creation that is born out of it – energy that cannot be created or destroyed but just is. Through a living Guru’s Grace, an awareness can be attained – Kabir says, surrender to such company to be ever connected with the constant, absorbed by such a balanced and powerful presence.

I am in all

All that is, is 

The different forms in existence

Are my myriad manifestations,

Yet I am apart from all. ||

This love, this energy, universe, formlessness, God, life force, light, conscience – call it as you wish – IS IN ALL. Everything that exists, is made of this same love. Though it is expressed in millions of forms – the essence of all that we see – IS the same. Such an understanding that like a prism of light, the source is one. However, the spectrum of colours created all differ. Such beauty in its diversity is seen in the same way through creation. A garden with many flowers, human race – so many cultures, backgrounds and colours; all bring beauty into our lives. The diversity allows us to appreciate ourselves and them – if we so choose to perceive it as such. So many manifestations of this ONE, yet still subtly apart in its formless nature. Coexistent with every form. The weight on a flower petal without crushing it – such a paradox. Yet in this paradox – the very essence of life.

i_photodelta-of-ganges-river-at-sunset-carl-purcell-jpg

I have met Him in my heart.

When a stream enters the Ganges,

it becomes the Ganges itself.

Kabir is lost in the Ganges. ||

By realising your true self, what resides within you, within your heart, within what you feel – you have transformed from a separate, individual stream – to the entire ocean. You have self actualised – you have BECOME the ocean. You are no longer a separate entity. Everything has become ONE as you now know every person is the drop of this same ocean – and in such bliss, in such a strong connection to everything you have ever known – you are lost in awe.

Having recognised the Lord within, my thoughts rest only in Him.

Now wherever I cast my eyes, I see none else but Him.

Since realisation came,

Here, there, everywhere the Lord alone I see. ||

You are a part of love. You are love. Because you know this, you have become love. Becoming love – all you see is love. Since this realisation – love is the only thing you see. In those around you, in the creation that surrounds you. Everywhere – just is – this love.

Kabir says: Listen to me friend!

Bring the vision of the Beloved in your heart. ||

Without such vision you limit yourself! Bring this state of mind and realisation into action. It is the ‘beauty of life.’

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Viewing everything as my own. #2015

Another year passes by… Another chapter closed. So many lessons learnt and so many blessings held so close to my heart to take with me into the new year.

It’s funny how we base everything in our lives around time. Another ‘year’, another ‘month’, another ‘day’, ‘hour’, ‘minute’, ‘second’, ‘moment’… But have we stopped once to think about what could take away the very essence of time and simplify our entire existence? The bliss attainable within each moment that passes us, beyond time and space?

This year I have experienced so much, but not once have I felt alone. The solitude was never empty, much rather – whole. Looking back, I can say it was the only presence that kept me afloat through many trialling situations that could have completely stripped me of my balance and peace of mind.

No doubt, there was stress, restlessness, a sense of confusion and helplessness, at times – a lot of pain. There were amazing times too; so much so I’d say 2015 has been the best year of my life – but what was different this year round, was that I knew my true self was beyond all of these emotions and experiences. I knew that whatever was coming and going was all just a big game – I laughed along with it – I chose to perceive it as such.

Life is too short for the drama we create in our little minds. It’s so much easier to let it all just be – however it is. Yes, as humans we are fallible to making mistakes and faltering but why let that weigh you down? Strength is measured in how easily you can get back up and keep striving for better. As for all the amazing and positive stuff – the travelling, new friends, music and business progressions, love and laughter shared – I delved deep into it all. I have no regrets, no baggage – I feel so free!

I may have been feeling so much, but at the end of every encounter – there was a connection, a spark that eventually left me inspired, wiser, stronger, more apt and able for greater things. This was only because actually – the connection never cut. The energy was there before and still is right now. I decided to convert the negative into positive. But do I stay connected to that? And if I do – then how? How do you stay connected to energy you never think about, because you never see it?

I found such energy present in every little thing – and that’s what is so amazing about it! It’s so simple, yet strikes you at your core if you choose to see it, and feel it as it is – in its purest form.

I discovered – this connection is constant when you remove yourself from the picture entirely. By removing my ‘I’ – all that remained was the feeling, the lesson, the blessing, the experience, irrespective of where, what or who it came from – the exchange with every soul who crossed my path, every soul still walking by my side, and even those further away on a human level.

See we’re all still connected. Those who you’ve never met, even those you’ll never meet. Somehow, in some shape or form – we are all connected. We are all from this same energy, life force, light, God, universe – call it whatever you want. We’ve all got our own ideas of love and compassion. Different concepts and perceptions on the complicated stuff – the stereotypes our society, cultures ad now unfortunately religions have created – but what really matters to you? What is it that gives you true happiness? What connects you to the world and makes you feel better within?

To me we are all cups. We all come with something inside us, some having more than others, and what we all have to give is very different. Now in our experiences of all the cups around us, some we find drain us of what we have, whereas some fill us, nourish us and sustain us by filling our cup with what they have to give, things we click with. What we fail to realise is that whatever we give is our ripple effect. What we give to someone else (good or bad) – they then pass onto another person who takes from them, and that cup fills another cup, and bit by bit – we all leave our mark, we all have somehow passed on what we have to give onto people we probably don’t even know.

I found for myself – the more I gave, the more content I felt. And the more content I felt – the greater the capacity became to give – because by doing this, I was able to be completely one with my true self – an endless source. A surrendered bargain. An energy I felt giving through me. Yes, to the world – I may be Vibhati, but I know from what I feel – this body is just dust. If I’ve connected to someone, if I’ve filled someone’s cup, it’s always and only been because of THAT which drives life into me. Otherwise I am incapable of achieving and doing majority of the things that have happened in the space of my life. I’ve felt an energy beyond what my human intellect allows me to think is possible. Now I’m latched onto it, I’m lost in its whirl – an indescribable ecstasy.

You might be thinking I’m crazy saying all this, but it’s the rawest truth I’ve realised in my journey thus far. We all come alone, go alone – but the time we spend here on Earth, the good we do, the things we act upon that may or may not leave a lasting mark on someone’s heart – its source is eternal, limitless – endless. The driver of this vehicle, the inspiration behind the thought, the love behind the action – is all one. It vessels through so many channels i.e. souls – but the source just IS. Do you see it that way? Because I never used to. Different drops, made up of the ocean, but you can only merge with the ocean by realising you are not the drop – and all these other drops you see around you, are actually just a part of YOU. There is no separateness. You ARE the Ocean.

Seeing so much injustice, witnessing so much ignorance and negativity in our world and its people – it has me worried. What are we becoming? What is life becoming? And how can so many people be missing out on knowing this essence of life I’ve had the blessed opportunity to experience?

What can I possibly do to help? To make a change? To engage with society at large? The behaviour isn’t changing. Politics and corruption seems to be the only puppeteer of every community. Clutching onto strings of unawareness, materialism, greed and selfishness. What has happened to the thread of commonality? The humanity and values that should come naturally to human beings? Why do people create a wall before a bridge in their mind? Before embracing diversity – a straight difference. A barrier.

STOP.

Our lives are of too much value and potential to be wasting our time, energy and attention on such irrelevant and petty matters. Why think it’ll give you a sense of satisfaction to feel superior to another individual because of your beliefs, the way you perceive your journey? – IT WON’T. Wake up. We are all the SAME. We just have our own ways of seeing the world and if this wasn’t the case – life wouldn’t be life. We’d all be the same on a human level and how boring would that be? This isn’t a rant, rather a humble attempt to raise curiosity in your minds reading the experiences I’ve encountered. If you’re not completely satisfied in your life, why? If you’re still confused about the meaning of your life, what can you do to change it? Is there something missing? What is it?

Self realise. Self actualise. You are sewn of the same love and energy as everything around you and if you don’t understand this, you are only missing out on the most unreal experiences your life has to offer you on a moment-to-moment basis. There is no promise for tomorrow– only your present moment – here and now.

WHO you are TRYING to be is who you ALREADY ARE. This is the greatest paradox of our lives.

There is only this ONE. That is the only truth that will ever matter. The TRUTH that connects you to everything you see, touch, smell, hear, taste. It is all a part of your very being. Realise this. If the way you view your life doesn’t change for the positive – come back to me.

Know One, Believe in One, Experience this OneBecome One.

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