One of the peculiarities of Zoom or any online conferencing system is that you can see yourself. This is completely unlike the real world in which, during an in-person meeting, the most you could see is the tip of your nose, your hands, and the front of your body from the clavicle down. Back in March 2020, when my workplace moved online, I found the sudden switch to seeing my Continuous Selfie incredibly beguiling, distracting, and at times irritating. I did my best to not look at myself, keeping my box in the corner of my eye to ensure that my image was still within the boundaries of the camera. Still, I was always there.
Then I discovered, in the upper right corner of my box, three dots that led to a small menu, at the bottom of which was an inscrutable option titled “Hide Self View.” Clicking on that, I miraculously disappeared from my screen. I was still visible on the screens of my colleagues: they could see me, but I no longer could see myself. I’ve been experimenting with this feature and found that it provides an amazing, real-time experience of one of Buddhism’s central aims: to decenter the ego-identified self.
Here’s how to practice this. On your next conference call of two or more in which meeting members are visible and can interact (that is, not a webinar), locate the Hide Self View option in the upper right corner menu of your personal image. Turn it on. As the conversation progresses, notice:
- The contrast between when you could see yourself and when you can’t. Try toggling back and forth to get a feel for this. For most of us, our eyes are mostly on our own image. Once Self View is hidden, observe how the quantity of attention you unconsciously allocated to tracking yourself is now given fully to others. Do you listen more carefully? What is the impact of this increased attunement in terms of the nuance, empathy, and insight you bring to your responses?
- When your image box is removed, the images of others expand automatically to fill the screen. How does this increased size help you to actually see others more clearly and in greater detail? Notice the subtleties of facial expressions, (upper) body language, and the environments others are situated in. One thought often crosses my mind, “Isn’t it funny: when I remove myself, there’s more room for others.” It feels good.
When we are able to step outside of Self View—or our ego-centered perspective of the people and events around us—we’re more attuned, communal, caring, open, receptive, and clear. Sometimes I wish I had a little Hide Self View button on my right temple. In the heat of a dispute that’s been exacerbated due to my own assumptions, conditioning, and summary judgments, pressing that button would help me step out of an ego-centered perspective to listen better and see things more clearly. Though not an installed option in human bodies—yet!—dharma practice in its myriad forms, such as generosity, meditation, bowing, and practicing ethics, assists us in releasing some of this self-centeredness. Likewise, doing something as simple as turning on Zoom’s Hide Self View can serve as a practice that shifts us from a preoccupation of the oneself toward being more fully present with others, facilitating connection, meaning, and joy.