01/09/2014 11:42 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2014

What James Franco Taught Me About Selfies as a Tool for Self-Actualization

I was thinking about James Franco this morning (I know... who wasn't?). Specifically, I was reflecting on the piece he wrote for the New York Times about selfies and wishing I could get back the five minutes I spent reading it.

I was complaining inwardly when my higher intelligence remembered itself. "Wait a minute," it said over the din, "This kind of outsize annoyance is usually a sign that there's something here you should look at more closely." Indeed there was, and the nugget was in this passage:

It's what the movie studios want for their products, it's what professional writers want for their work, it's what newspapers want -- hell, it's what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power.

At first the words conjured for me a celebrity's empty ego-drive. My spontaneous response was to relegate Franco's commentary to the junkyard we call pop culture. But as I shone the light of... yes, attention... on the issue, it began to morph, and without warning it reached out and pulled into its orbit a couple of genuine experiences related to attention that I've been thinking a lot about lately.

The first was a yoga experience. Once a month, Sri Dharma Mittra, a living saint and one of the yoga community's brightest lights, teaches a three-hour master class at his temple on 23rd Street in Manhattan. At the end of the class, populated by some of the most lithe people you are likely to meet, he gathers the students in a circle, puts down four mats right in the middle, and cranks up the music. For about 15 minutes, students are encouraged to enter the center of the clapping, singing crowd and perform some of their best yoga postures. Yes... in front of everyone... and God.

Before I attended the class, I was confused and intimidated by what felt to me like the encouragement of showmanship. But, when I finally experienced it myself, I found it to be empowering. Attention is power. As we circled up, as I stared at those empty mats in the center, my heart started pounding... with fear, but also with desire. I wanted to be out there in the middle. I understood there was something special about summoning the courage and the devotion, the trust, required to expose myself, to perform in front of my peers in this very physical, very raw way. Before my mind could jump to self-defeating comparisons or generate an excuse, I rose to my feet and walked to a mat. And then I felt the surge of energy directed my way by 75 pairs of eyes... not judging, but holding me up. Not waiting for me to fail, but wishing me to fly.

The second experience was a dance floor revelation I had during a 5 Rhythms class. As we moved into chaos, the music escalating and the energy of the room reaching a frenzied peak, I looked around me and marveled at the beautiful abandon. The saying "Dance like there's nobody watching" came to mind, and in the moment I understood it to be true, but limited. As I whirled and convulsed along with the others, I was aware of the presence of my friends, the smiles of strangers, the appreciative looks and movements that knit us together. Mentally, I revised the saying: "Dance like a lot of people are watching without judgment." I can dance like no one is watching in my living room any day of the week. The magic that happens in a class is that lots of people are watching. And that is powerful medicine. To expose your vulnerabilities alone is normal, to do it in public is an invitation to experience unconditional love.

As the associations came together, I was visited by the idea that right now we're all being asked to explore the empowerment possible in attention. In the evolution of consciousness, it is important to be able to stand up to attention, to withstand it, to blossom in its light. It's important to not shrink from being seen, but to bear it and even transform it into the power we need to accomplish our goals, to grow into ourselves fully. Each of us is one day going to find ourselves with a mission too important to pack away, to avoid for fear of being seen, and on that day we're going to need to feel comfortable putting ourselves out there, putting everything we have on the line. Each of us has to find our voice and also the courage to use it. Practice can help.

Perhaps, I thought, the fact that we live our lives in public now is not just a quirk of social media, but a chance for us to step into the limelight, to push ourselves beyond our own comfort zones. As Franco goes on to say in the article, "In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, 'Hello, this is me.'" That's actually quite beautiful. Most of us go through the day hiding our eyes, avoiding the gaze of others. The time to stop this habit is now. The time to summon the courage to expose our essence is now. Something as simple as a selfie can be a start. Of course, that's assuming its your essence and not your abs you're exposing in the selfie. But hey... baby steps.

There is nothing more magnificent than a human being finding his or her groove and owning it in front of the world. Yes, attention is power. I think this is true. Today we're all working to gain comfort with this idea. Maybe tomorrow we'll figure out what to do with Instagram account full of selfies.