Awaken To Spiritual Selfies In 5 Steps

VanGoh Selfi.jpg

Mindful Minute Up Front (MMUF):

Post by post — like by like — the story we tell others, trumps the one we live. But what if a 10-second hack — could 10X the quality of our memories? This is the story of killing zombies in India, 3 Girls & 1 Cup in Vietnam, & awakening to spiritual selfie. (8 Minute Read)

*Post Rewritten April, 2019*


Why did I tell him no, that was such a dick move. But who does that?

Ohh if he only knew about Spiritual Selfies. Instead, he’s a selfie zombie — capturing everything, yet living nothing. And now I broke my noble silence.

Fighting to focus — the zombie attack replays in my mind....

“Right foot —  goes — thus”……”Selfie?”  

“Left foot —  goes”……“Selfie Sir?!”

As I look up in confusion, wearing my lay Buddhist white party costume of white pants, a white v-neck, and no shoes — I realize this voice is talking to me.

Brandishing his phone and starring at me is a skinny Indian guy in his mid 20s.

“Can I have a Selfie?” — he chirps.

Still confused, my walking meditation halts. A good Buddhist would just say yes. It’s weird, but harmless. But I am bit edgy, and who interrupts someone’s meditation for a damn selfie?

So with my feet stubbornly planted, I mutter “No”. And by his reaction, you would think I kicked his puppy.

“No???? But Why?!”, he fired back.

“Why? You don’t even know me. Not my name. Where I am from? Nothing about me, So why do you want a Selfie?!”“

To show my friends”, he says with a that teenager like duh-ish tone.

Silently (ironically) I think, “To show what? A giant sham? The stranger you never really met. The stranger you can’t even say Hi to. Phony picture after phony picture?”.

India 1, Alf 0.

But filled with pride and pity — I cave. “OK one selfie”, I say with a devilish smile. Time for me to be a good zoo animal. But also time for Raghu? Babu? — to get an Alfieri Special.

So like a wedding bride, I scoop up Raghu in my arms. Laughing we take not 1 — but 3 meditation retreat selfies. And God willing — hopefully he got his 27 likes. 

“We are so busy capturing photos of ‘experiences’, that we are not fully experiencing — experiences!”


These bobble-heading photo zombies are not just in India, they are marching everywhere. We are so busy capturing photos of “experiences”, that we are not fully experiencing — experiences!

A gourmet meal arrives and we immediately reach for our phones — not our senses.

The sunset is watched through the screen of the phone, not the lens of the eye.

Technology is conditioning us to become Wild Wild West gunslingers with our phones.

We have a tick to click. With Pavlovian conditioning — something catches our eye, reflexively we reach to the hip - and mindlessly fire away. But in each snap - how aware are you of your intention? You Energy? Where is your mind really?

We have a tick to click. With Pavlovian conditioning — something catches our eye, reflexively we reach to the hip - and mindlessly fire away. But in each snap - how aware are you of your intention? You Energy? Where is your mind really?

But what if there is a middle way — one of experiencing life AND filling news feeds?

While people watching hundreds of travelers, this question began to fascinate me. And so after a lot of creeping — the Spiritual Selfie was born (see down below for the 5 Step PIACs Method).  

But before the remedy, we need to dig into root cause. From the devolution of memories to the story of 3 girls & 1 Cup — you have been warned.


We are devolving from poses — to being posers. Yes, we are desensitized with digital ubiquity. But the photo — and more importantly our life memories — are being corrupted. Slowly we capture more and more pixels, not moments.

The photo use to be a precious and iconic thing. An instantaneous encapsulation of a moment. A slice of space and time -a slice of history. More importantly, it was a recorded moment — of an actual memory WE LIVED.

‘And Now?

Now a days — post by post — like by like — the story we tell others is more important than the story we live. Raghu Zombies are rampant.

Instead of being wedding guests crying, eating, and dancing away —we act like a 24x7 wedding photographers. We think we can do both. But slowly the wedding photographer lives more and more of our lives.

“Now a days — post by post — like by like — the story we tell others is more important than the story we live.”

Technology has mutated the photo to a self promoting propaganda film. Tapping into our evolutionary programmed psyches of needing social connection — it games our social comparison engine — you know the my banana is bigger than yours one.

As social apes we breathe - we stare. We rank - we compare.

As social apes we breathe - we stare. We rank - we compare.

In this digital propaganda world, we are sadly both the star — and the paparazzi. Capture, filter, post. Capture, filter, post. Each beating our chest, one humble brag at a time.

I’m hypocritically guilty of this too. Yet like an addiction, I have had to consciously battle the compulsion (e.g. Spiritual Selfies + digital health apps like Quality Time).

Of course times — and the role of the photo — change. I am not crying over the good old days of Polaroids. Rather, our photo addiction is tainting the quality of our life moments. Our experiences are being diluted — becoming more hollow — more Raghu.

I am not crying over the good old days of Polaroids. Rather, our photo addiction is tainting the quality of our life moments.

And nothing displays this better — than the time I was in Vietnam. The horror of being in the front row, watching 3 girls and 1 cup.


I was buzzing — sore ass and all.

It was a looong time to ride with my vegetarian girlfriend. After riding a motorcycle for a month on the back country roads of the Ho Chi Minh trail, we finally arrived in a proper city. But now she had to leave the country, for a visa — and before we killed each other.

And now it was time to cheat!

Not on her, but with my stomach. For it was Flexitarean cheat (meat) day. And if you’re going to cheat you mine as well as treat yourself right?

But this is the dharma bum version. Meaning instead of living on $10/day and grandma’s kick ass $1 street food — I splurged for that $25 meal at the fancy place. You know with white table cloths — a waiter who isn’t 12 years old — and no animals walking around. In solitude with my gourmet burger and California Red, I still recall my horror.

The culprits?

3 girls having dinner together. 3 girls that ordered 1 glass of Cabernet. And obvi — it called for a photo shoot.

3 girls wine selfie

First up, 10 group selfies. Followed by each girl posing with the wine - holding it like it was a 15 point trophy-deer. Now it was time for rotating photographers and a ‘couples shoot’. 10 minutes, 30 poses and 50 photos later — the #winegram was complete.

But do you want to know what my hedonistic self found most baffling?

All these poses and photos were before anyone even smelled the wine. All before a single taste. Where is the pretentious wine swirl when you need it?

Who are they fooling?

But wait, who the hell are any of us fooling?

We may not be THOSE GIRLS, but we all have our moments of fake sunset gazes or perfectly staged food grams.

When our mental bandwidth of intention and attention are focused elsewhere — thinking of cute posts, funny hashtags, or getting the perfect shot — we can’t be 100% here and now.

The story trumps living our life. We slowly become 3 Girls — 1 Cup.


3 Girls — 1 Cup shows us two things.

Firstly, that I am probably a self righteous asshole. But secondly, we need to wake up and be more aware of how WE USE technology AND — how technology USES US.

As a vagabond, I see a world being consumed. Being hacked. Being manipulated.

A world of actors sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, their legs dangling, and taking pictures galore.

And I want to pull them in. Why dip your toe in water, if you can dive in, skinny dip, and swim laps? Now that’s soaking in the moment.

“Arguable, the most important asset in the universe — our conscious minds and attention — are being hijacked.“

So this is why I rant about silly selfies. Not because of the fire hose of humble brags and hashtags. But because arguable, the most important asset in the universe — our conscious minds and attention — are being hijacked.

Because anything that makes life enjoyable — or shitty — is painted on the canvas of consciousness.

Every juicy cheeseburger, splendid sunset, relieving fart, loving embrace, mind blowing orgasm, playful moment with our kids, family holiday, artistic creation, or spiritual insight — ALL OF IT — is experienced through the lens of our consciousness.

Every moment, every memory — is the multi-mediaplex of mind mashing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, thoughts and emotions. Without consciousness, time is useless. Family is useless. Life is useless (to us).

So fucking esoterically what?

This gift of consciousness, is becoming a commodity under attack.

The crusade of our times is not for treasure, oil or Gods — but to hoard data on us. The smartest minds of a generation want to make us good clickers and swipers — all to monetize our attention. Our conscious minds are both the war-zone and prize.

kids on phone.jpg

“Our conscious minds are both the war-zone and prize.”

Social Media Giants with shareholders care about engagement scores — not our happiness and well being. Data science geeks and machine learning are driving platforms to hook us in dopamine craving cycles — manipulating us into living for likes, social validation, and significance.

These reinforcement algorithms* are not only addictive, but they change behavior (ironically by not providing content we want — but content that will consistently encourage us to click e.g cat videos). They change the way we live our lives. Or ironically, not live them. Post by Post, like by like, their product cycles make us selfie zombies.

So what the hell do we do about this war?


To kill selfie zombies, we need to kill mindless living. And to do that, we need to optimize not what — but how live.

Happiness is not about maximizing pleasure (Ramen noodles vs Michelin Star restaurants). But optimizing our relationship to it. Thus, it’s not about WHAT is in our life, but HOW we interact with the world that optimizes utility.

So with each conscious moment we can notice the nature of our moment-to-moment experience —


we can be lost in thought. Lost in anger. Lost in worrying. Lost in compulsively capturing the ‘perfect shot’.

Managing this is the juice of all that mindfulness mumbo-jumbo. It’s up to you to decide how you want to live — swipe — and snap through this world.

And now it’s about damn time for the not so satori awakening — of the spiritual selfie.   

Awakening to Spiritual Selfies IN 5 STEPS

Meet Spiritual Selfies. Surrender PICS and embrace capturing moments with the PIACs approach.

It will:

-Change your awareness and intention — giving you the space to enjoy and feel moments more deeply.

- Enhance the quality of your memories. Transforming memories from hollow shells — to more mindful moments in your heart.

- Free you to capture AND live moments.

- Kill the Selfie Zombie in you.

Step 1 of PIACs


Like any habit (or addiction) we need to break the the conditioned habit loop. To stop the zombie gunslinger.

So for any any photo, when you reach for your camera, stop and PAUSE.

You will probably start to notice this prior blind spot. This frantic habitual photo taking energy. A nervous tick — to click.

Simply pause — holding your phone — go to Step 2.  

Step 2 of PIACs:


This is the spiritual part. Not staged Yoga tree or the fake “contemplative” sunset gazes. Rather it’s about Air baby. In ancient Greek, spirit(ual), meant breath or air. This will be our graceful Zombie killer.

If this experience is so ‘great’, take a moment to fully enjoy it. Cause a psychological state change by inhaling 3 times (eyes open). Take in the scenery while focusing on your breath. This will anchor you. Let the “Scene” flow through you like the air you breathe. Absorb the moment like the sun on your cheek.

Time to put some frosting on the moment.

Step 3 of PIACs:


During your 3 breaths and couple seconds after, admire and be grateful for the moment you are experiencing.

Gratitude is a like magical rain for the soul, it will nurture pics into meaningful moments. This appreciative intention gives some more juice, more emotion to moment and the picture.

When we recall this memory - it will be more ALIVE in our nervous system (triggering the limbic to sympathetic system).  

Step 4 of PIACs:


Take your photo, snap, selfie, whatever. Now you can have that mindful moment captured for eternity: digitally and in your heart. Sorry - bad hallmark card.  

Step 5 of PIACs:


What’s worthy of sharing? What’s a humble brag? Like being lonely and reaching for the gallon of ice cream - sometimes we post online longing to connect and fill a void.   

Traveling the world, I have struggled with this. I have went through phases where I am too cool to share. I don’t want to be that guy rubbing it in with my daily travel post — “look at me” while you’re stuck at work.

But then I realized that resistance was self righteous pride. That there must be a middle way of sharing my travels with friends and family.

So now before I share, I pause to check my intention. Why am I posting? How is my emotional state? Am I lonely or insecure? Is this post helpful or entertaining? Is it for me or for others?

It’s not perfect, but it makes me less of an obnoxious asshole.

So give #PIACs a try. It’s simple yet profound. With 3 little breaths and a sprinkle of appreciation you will unlock more of the beauty of the universe, a better pic, and a more beautiful memory.  And more importantly you won’t be 3 Girls & 1 Cup.

~ Alf


The Morality of Stranger Selfies: I have literally taken hundreds of selfies in India with strangers. And I still struggle with this cultural tick. Usually I just say yes. But part of me feels like I am encouraging bad or weird behavior. It’s like donating money to kids on the street. Easy in the short run. But long term it just causes more beggars. Or if I go up to your beautiful wife and ask for a photo - is that appropriate behavior? And so is the predicament with zombies.

The ex-marketer in be has segmented selfie zombies into 2 groups. And I do that by trying to look at their intention.

Kids and some people are just excited. Curious. It’s harmless. Others, it’s like they are using you for a prop. Their is nothing genuine about their interest or desire. I’m a prop for likes.

For these people I created a passive-aggressive question: “Sure- just tell me Who the selfie is with?” For the people that talked to me first, it’s easy. For these people using me, it forces them to think. It points to how they are acting. After projecting my culture, I still usually cave. Ohh 1st world problems!

Attention vs consciousness, and unconscious minds

Social media isn’t hacking consciousness as much as the unconscious minds per se. But everyone uses these terms slightly different.

I think of attention as the flashlight where we focus mental awareness. And awareness as the general field of consciousness we are aware of (e.g. you’re reading but smell smoke).

When one looks closely at intentions, desires, and thoughts — one realizes they kind of just come on their own. This is the unconscious mind (or illusion of the '“self”). An area with tons of pre-processing and evolutionary conditioning. Tech companies are hacking this psychological programming.

But just as we don’t masturbate or eat dessert 20 times a day, careful attention to our conscious minds (a form of mindfulness) can catch these push and pull forces. So the hacking is subconscious, the battle we can win is in the conscious mind. And with reconditioning, neuroplasticity or Buddhist karma (all same same but different) we can program the subconscious more skillfully against zombie attacks.