When I was at university 1994-97, none of my friends had a mobile phone or internet access. If you wanted to meet up with a friend, you would walk down to the other end of the corridor and knock on their door. I have to admit it was sometimes a little inconvenient, you could knock on their door, and no-one was there; but I seem to remember we had a good time!
From a spiritual perspective, how does social media and browsing of the internet influence our meditation and spiritual practise? Is it a harmless side-show or does it make it harder to achieve real peace of mind?
Like anything it can depend on how we use it, and also the inclinations of the user. A disciplined use of a work account a few times a week – is very different to those who find themselves spending hours everyday.
The influence of modern technology is definitely an interesting challenge for modern seekers. I now make a living from an economics website and regularly use email. However I constantly find myself (most weeks!) making New Year’s Resolutions to try and limit the time I waste on the internet. I don’t think I’m the only one in this boat either.
Because email and social media is such a recent and rapid phenomenon it has crept up on us without any real evaluation of the underlying impact. In fact, it’s very easy to fall into using social media simply because everyone else uses it.
This article is specifically aimed for those following a spiritual practice and seeking an inner enlightenment. But, the ideas may be thought provoking for anyone interested in more peace and joy in life.
This article was inspired by an article in the Guardian – People who quit social media say he makes them happier.. It was interesting to see how some ‘Millenials’ viewed the impact of social media, and how they felt after they stopped using it. Their thoughts on the subject seemed to suggest many interesting spiritual implications.
Issues with social media
With any posting, there is always the concern in the back of your mind, whether you will get online validation through comments, approval and likes. When we sit down to meditation, if part of our brain is still wired to be thinking about what may be happening on our social media account, it will make our meditation less strong. We may not even be aware how much social media influences our thought patterns, but even mildly anxious thoughts can interfere with the inner peace we seek from meditation. If social media makes us feel like this – it is like a heavy weight which makes any spiritual practise harder.
Spiritual practise seeks to develop equanimity where we do not need or seek the approval of peers, at least for relatively superficial aspects of life.
A lot of social media can subtly make us think about portraying a certain image of success. There is a temptation to keep up with a subtle form of competition and whether we are keeping up with our friends. It is true, this ego-competition has always been part of human nature, but the nature of social media tends to encourage it more than other forms of interaction.
The spiritual life tries to show us that our sense of worth comes through knowledge of our real self – and not get caught up in impressing others.
We can start social media with good intentions, but the nature of physical distance can make it easier to express strongly held opinions and we may end up saying things about people, we wouldn’t say if we met them face to face. Perhaps there is a good reason to complain about politicians, and innumerable other aspects of life, but if we expose ourselves to negativity, it will definitely seep into our system to some extent, and this will be counter-productive for the aim of spirituality which is to discover inner joy.
The positive alternative
Social media has potential pitfalls for seekers, but it’s important to look at the issue from another perspective – how can we get more joy from life?
To an aspirant, real joy comes from the heart and soul. Text based interactions online only touch the surface of our mind – it makes a heart to heart connection very difficult. With the internet we are only using a small part of our integral being. If we meet people in person, we give an opportunity for that real connection of hearts and spirit.
If we remove distractions, we have more freedom.
Real inner freedom is the spontaneous joy that comes from deep within when we are not pulled and pushed by desires, fears and addictions. Social media is just another thing that pulls at our mind. If we let go, we give more room for the creative and spiritual part of our being to come to the fore.
“It sounds so silly, but since leaving I feel like my own person. Before, Facebook and Twitter became almost like extra arms attached to me that I constantly had to be aware of. I used to check for updates countless times every day. Now, I don’t have to be reliant and dependent on it any more – it’s like a breath of fresh air.” – from Guardian article.
There is an old spiritual proverb that if we want to fill up a pot with nectar, we first have to empty the pot of the stale water that is in there. It is the same principle with ourselves. If we want the nectar of spiritual peace and joy, we can’t simultaneously be full of tweets, judgements and hoping for lots of likes. If we empty ourselves of this superficial aspect of our lives, we give an opportunity for something new to come in.
Real inspiration comes from a degree of solitude, being in nature, being absorbed in the sensitive inner psychic world. Scrolling through Facebook feeds may give many things, but soulful creativity is unlikely to be one of them.
Seekers have to decide how to use their time wisely. Like any invention, the internet can be used for good purposes and bad purposes. However, it is important to always bear in mind that real satisfaction will not come from being top of the social media tree. Spiritual satisfaction comes from an inner detachment and inner freedom, where we give ourselves the opportunity for the heart to come to the fore. If nothing else, it is healthy to undergo at least one day a week where we try to stay off the grid and remember the beauty of life outside the digital experience.