The mystics, rishis, and yogis, and the many scriptures and teachings which have streamed forth from such beings have all emphasised the importance of being impeccable in our use of the word. How does that apply today, and specifically how does that apply in a world where much of what we convey in words is on the Internet? I know many people who spend as much time “socialising” on Facebook as they do in the flesh and blood world. I also know people who turn up their nose at networking systems like Facebook, judging it as unconscious or contrary to ones Enlightenment.
On what basis are such judgements made? If we judge something like Facebook as detrimental to spiritual development then would we not have to judge all other forms of the written word, and all the other forms of conveying information? Telephones, text messages, emails, books, letter writing, talking at the local Farmers’ Market, newspapers, magazines, etc.? What differentiates Facebook from all these other methods of communication with our fellow Man?
My own observation is that what triggers some people to react against technologies such as Facebook is that Facebook and the Internet can be very absorbing. I am sure our recent ancestors had a similar experience when the television became common place. Suddenly people are spending hours each day watching a TV screen. That meant time away from the family, time away from the garden, time away from work, time away from all the more important things in life. Similar sentiments would have come up when the telephone became commonplace, when theatre first emerged into popularity, and so on. I get the impression, however, that there is something about the increasing technological sophistication of these various developments (writing and reading, theatre, letters, radio, television, phones, text messaging, email, Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). The more technologically advanced the more engaging the absorbing they become. I doubt many people in the past got totally absorbed for hours and hours every day writing letters in the way people today can get absorbed into jumping around on Facebook.
This increasing capacity for these technologies to absorb our precious attention presents Man with an increasing challenge to be the master of his attention. The challenge of consciously and proactively maintaining balance in life grows every day. We go from being passive participants in our life—which was previously much easier, on certain levels, to get away with—to having to make very conscious and self-determined decisions about how we participate in life. It has always been about balance, and that applies as much today as any time.
Coming back to Facebook, the question I ask myself is this:
What is my intention in posting this next “status update” or in posting this photo?
Am I posting this picture in order to impress people in a certain way? Do I want people to think something in particular about me? What particular impression am I trying to make? In what particular way am I trying make people think about me?
Of course, every interaction we have with other human beings is, without fail, going to manipulate their perception of us. It’s unavoidable. Just opening our mouth and people giving attention to our words is altering their perception of us and perhaps of themselves, of others, and of the world. That’s a given. The question is, what is the nature and quality of the way in which I am influencing the people around me?
For the Hṛdaya Yogi it comes down to this:
Is this action with or without Heart?
Is what I am saying from the Heart?
Is what I am sharing in alignment with a Path of Heart?
Will it add to and enrich Life—my own and that of others—or does it detract from Life?
It’s all a question of intention. As the technologies make communication easier and increasingly divorced from the flesh-and-blood world it becomes easier and easier to act in a way that frivolous and lacking in mindfulness. It’s so easy to quickly comment on something on Facebook or to post a new status update. In less than 60 seconds we can blurt something out there to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. To achieve such voice 100 years ago, for most people, was almost an impossibility. One would have to be a well known public figure—a politician, someone famous, a priest, or some similar such role. Today, pretty much anyone can have their say to thousands of people at once, and potentially be heard. That can be very enticing for the egoic self. There’s nothing right or wrong about it. Again, it’s a question of
what is my intention?
What our ancestors shared in public would have typically reached the attention of just a few people at a time. What you say on Facebook for instance might reach the attention of as many people in a few days as the words of your great grand parents reached in a year or even a decade! Think of the old family photo albums your grand parents had? How many people do you think would have seen those photos, even during the many decades they likely had those photos? 100 people? 200? 400? I doubt it was much more. Now consider the photo you post on Facebook? My account has 700+ “Friends”. They all see that photo, and if my Facebook privacy settings were the default ones, the thousands of “friends” of my “friends” would also see those photos, and then the public at large (people with no particular relationship with me) would see the photo too! One photo could realistically reach the attention of thousands of people in a matter of minutes.
As I pointed out above, the demand to be impeccable in our word and intention is increasing, and it’s increasing exponentially. The challenge to maintain balance is significantly greater than ever before.
So long as a person is still entangled in what I refer to as social unconsciousness there is a high probability what that person says and shares to those around them is motivated by a self-centred volition within their psyche. We try to manipulate the attention of other people in a self-serving and self-centred way. It’s about “me” and reaffirming the image of “me” we want to maintain in the mind of the perceived other. From a spiritual perspective, this can take up a huge amount of our psychic energy. What we implant into the minds of others is like a seed, and at a psychic level if that seed was a self-centred one, then we continue to have a level of responsibility for it. It demands out ongoing psychic attention to grow and develop in accordance with the intention with which we planted it.
Most people are not conscious of their personal life-force diffusing out every minute of the day into the minds of all those people they have planted self-centred seeds of intent into. What they are aware of is how stressed, tired, and enervated they feel. Maintaining all these seeds is hard work, yet it’s mostly playing out at an other-than-conscious level.
I think it is safe to say that at some level most of us know in our heart it is not life-supporting to engage in and perpetuate gossip, for instance. Most of us know in our heart gossip is a life-taking act for ourselves and all those involved. Not engaging in gossip is one example of being impeccable with the word. If we are inclined to engage in gossip and we take it out on a medium like Facebook, suddenly we are potentially involving the mind of thousands of people. Think about it.
If I act in a way that is self-centred and it reaches the attention of say four people who are around me at the time, we could say this self-centred act has X level of influence in the social matrix or mandala around me (at a subtle level). Now let’s say I carry out that same act on Facebook and it reaches 200 people on my immediate network, and it then reaches an average of 10 people on each of their networks, we’re now at 2200 people. Now if it reaches on average 10 people on the networks of those people, we’ve now hit 22,200 people, and if it reaches just 1 person on each their networks we’ve hit about 45,000 people! That’s 11,250 times more reach than when I simply engaged in that act with four flesh-and-blood friends.
Consider that for a moment…
If my action was out of accordance with Life, if it was not an act of Heart, of Love, when it involved the attention of only 4 people beyond myself, it’s life-taking effect is limited to that. Yet when it potentially reaches the attention of 45,000 people (as seen in my hypothetical example) that life-taking act is amplified by 11,250 times! One life-taking act on Facebook effortlessly takes on the life-taking effect of 11,250 similar such actions with ma few close friends offline. If I was to make 1 such act every single day, it would take just under 31 years for my life-taking act to have the same level of influence. Add to this the fact it is so easy to take social (or anti-social) actions on Facebook.
Now let’s turn this around…
Exactly the same potential exists in each positive or life-affirming action we take on networks such as Facebook.
Using the same hypothetical example from above, each impecable and life-affirming act taken on Facebook can impress upon the same amount of human attention as a similar action taken with a few friends offline, every day, for 31 years. Of course these are all hypothetical numbers and potentially higher than what would play typically play out, but I think the point remains the same.
What does this mean for the spiritual aspirant?
With the socially amplifying nature of technologies such as the Internet and online networks like Facebook and Twitter we can massively accelerate our race into karmic entanglement and social unconsciousness. We can, however, also greatly accelerate the life-giving acts of service which naturally emerge through Man when we’ve transcended self-centredness and turned our attention inward toward the heart, and the Light of our Spirit.
Of course, whether we use networks such as Facebook for self-centred gain or as an act of service to Mankind, we still must keep a balance. Facebook is a communication tool not a virtual world in which Man can reside. Yoga, meditation, walking and resting in nature, chanting, cooking, eating, gardening, playing music, and whatever other activities resonate with your Spirit all need our attention.
For myself, I have not felt to get involved in using Facebook as a way to share my life story with my friends. I’ve never felt the need. If people want to know—if they have a genuine interest in my “personal life”—they can email or phone me and ask, or pop around to my house and visit. What I had for dinner last night or how I am feeling each day hardly seems like something I would want to to entangle with the attention of huge numbers of other people. Of course, we must each act in accordance with the Wisdom of our own Heart. If you find Facebook has become a significant part of your day and your life story, it may be a good idea to ask yourself what is driving such behaviour. Ten years ago I was no doubt saying something similar to people who felt compelled to watch television every day.
In summary, I would say those on a Path of Heart would be wise to recapitulate their activity on Facebook and question what the motivation is and what the intention is behind each action taken on that system. If the intent is self-centred in nature, there is an excellent opportunity to bring light to your unconsciousness and awaken more fully into your self-less nature. Facebook, like most technologies, is not inherently good or bad. Nothing is. Yet because of its social nature it is a great way to discover what aspects of our persona are still living out in shadow and which are not.
As an aside… Some interesting Facebook statistics
In August 2012, Facebook revealed the average U.S. user spent over 6.5 hours on Facebook each month. If we take into account the likelihood ma significant number of users are not particularly active on Facebook, I think we can safely assume the total hours online each month for the average active user is actually much higher. I know many people who easily spend 6 hours a week on Facebook, which is more like 180 hours a month. Now how many socially entangled actions are these people taking?
According to Facebook statistics released in August 2012, 2.5 billion content items are shared on average each day. That includes status updates, photos, likes, and comments. That’s coming from approximately 845 million active users. Here is some interesting info from early 2011 statistics:
With over 500 million users, Facebook is now used by 1 in every 13 people on earth, with over 250 million of them (over 50%) who log in every day. The average user still has about 130 friends, but that should expand in 2011.
48% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook when they wake up, with 28% doing so before even getting out of bed. The 35+ demographic is growing rapidly, now with over 30% of the entire Facebook user base. The core 18-24 year old segment is now growing the fastest at 74% year on year. Almost 72% of all US internet users are on now Facebook (50% of US population is on Facebook), while 70% of the entire user base is located outside of the US.
I would suggest if Facebook is the first thing I check in the morning, even before getting out of bed, my relationship to Facebook is seriously out of balance. The yogi relishes the morning silence, the darkened stillness before sunrise, the emerging light of the sun, the spaciousness in which to be with breath, body, and Creation. Somehow incorporating Facebook into that seems somewhat skewed . It would be like running down to a local café first thing in the morning and catching up with the gossip of a few hundred friends, and then coming home to be with whatever remains of the inner early morning stillness. Hard to imagine.