Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Trans-personal Metaphors of the Cloud

If texting challenges us at the personal identity level, and the Internet and social media offer us an opportunity to examine our inter-personal boundaries, then our move to “the cloud” can be seen as a technological reflection of the metaphors of the transpersonal.

As we move more and more of our memory and our intelligence into the shared space of the cloud, we confront a set of metaphors based on drawing from a common source of Being.Distributed processing technology allows for data storage, software and computing processors to reside out on the network "grid" and be called forth only when needed. Extremely large-scale computing projects can be shared across millions of smaller processors worldwide, each "donating" its spare computing cycles to the functioning of the whole. In addition to connecting data sensors and data processors, the cloud is also becoming the "place" where we store more and more of our cumulative human intelligence, relying on ever-more-powerful search engines and "data mining" algorithms, crowd-sourcing and the "long-tail", to make sense of this overflowing abundance - the unleashed outpouring of the new and the taking from and recreating of the old, the collages and mash-ups, meshes, mixes, remixes of our popular culture - to our computers, MP3 players, and smart phones.

This scenario has a frightening side - in the service of our "lower selves" these technologies can lead us to a beehive-like world devoid of quiet personal space; where global corporations extend their control to the most remote corners of the planet; where the smallest personal action is tracked in giant marketing databases; a world where physical nature and even human love are replaced by computer simulations. The spiritual metaphor is the blasted open “Crown Chakra” – connecting unfiltered to all the gins and tricksters of the astral plane; lost in the psychic hall of mirrors, caught in never-ending attention deficit.

But when seen through the lens of metaphor, the very structure of the cloud offers us a path to a very different outcome: what mystics have understood as "unity consciousness," the simultaneous knowledge of the knower and the known, of individual identity and cosmic oneness. Beyond the communicating appliances, the mash-ups and the long tails, is the vision of an interconnected creative culture. And beyond this cultural vision is a spiritual teaching, the modeling of a world where consciousness connects with every other being, and simultaneously with something greater then itself.

On the net we negotiate with the other, protective of our boundaries, but understanding that, like it or not, we are all connected; in the cloud we begin to see how our intelligence has always been connected in every action, past, present and future – the we and the other are individual processors sharing the same memory and power source. On the net we share some of our localized content; in the cloud we download what we need from the Divine Treasury and return it to the greater good. On the net we process our own data, drawing from external repositories as needed; in the cloud we hold all the repositories in common, maintaining our foreground processing, but intentionally making room for seed programs to use our spare computing cycles for a higher purpose: our bodies and our life experiences, vessels of Divine Curiosity; our prayers of gratitude, the uploading technology that refreshes and heals the great web of consciousness.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Internet Mindfulness

In the Internet world we are all connected. Boundaries mean little, when all knowledge, both public and private is available to anyone. Our inter-personal relationships are being challenged at every level of intimacy. Infection and contagion, border control and foreign infiltrators, modification of our very DNA, are the metaphors of the day. On the web nothing is protected from our eyes and ears.

It seems that we are becoming “data naked” when every transaction, every credit card purchase, every trip through the grocery store, and every phone call (and its originating location) is now “on the record.” Even once-expunged court records (the “clean slate” granted by a judge for minor convictions years ago) are finding their way on to the Web, as records once held only in paper, are now are routinely digitized.

Pushed into the Infosphere -- all of our secrets revealed, our every thought accessible, connected to the planet's very intelligence -- we are being forced to redefine our boundaries. Who am I and who do I pretend to be? Where am I, and where do I end and you begin? Who do I let into my space, and how can I trust that you say who you are?

This is a core existential challenge, and has brought us a great deal of pain. Yet, from a spiritual point of view, maybe being mutually naked isn’t such a terrible thing. The Internet has allowed us to see beyond the masks of the ego-self, corporate and government posturing, and build our own “peer networks.” Yes, social networking allows for addictive connection, personal posturing and closed-minded self-referential “friends circles.” But, it also offers the possibility of experiencing self as part of a larger web – of friends, of communities of interest and of place, of creation itself.

As we struggle to define our multiple overlapping circles of “close friends, friends, or acquaintances” on Facebook, we are reminded that social connection to a small group of trusted souls (in support group, recovery meeting or sangha), has always been how we found the safety to explore the dreams and the shadows of our own souls. In an environment where everyone is connected and sharing their every experience, learning how to observe incoming data without reacting to every stimulus is a critical cyber-survival skill. The core tool is mindful awareness without reaction to every new message. Our flood of tweets and emails can inundate and overwhelm, or like the stick of the Zen master, invite us to pay attention to where we habitually put our attention. The shaman’s skill is in cultivating a wider-seeing vision that takes in all vibrations, and the shield ofdiscernment, that allows her to know what signals require action, and which ones are part of the background.

Many forms of spiritual practice involve stilling the busy mind and being present to, without being hooked by, these incoming data streams. Awareness meditation is, in effect, a process of observing the instruction codes of reality without processing them into thoughts, emotions and suffering. In Buddhism this is called mindfulness, watching the codes go by, “indifferent” to one story over another, but still very much connected to the experience of life – processing the reality of the outer world in full consciousness that one is in fact,data processing.

Signals of Aliveness: Staying Grounded in a World of Electronic Alerts

In Digital Dharma I discussed the impact of electronic media on each of the body’s seven psycho-energetic centers, the chakras. This approach be too “new age” for many potential readers, who might be interested in the social, psychological, and indeed spiritual, challenges of the Infosphere. So, in my next three posts I will summarize the core impacts of our new always-on, always-connected, information environment on our (a) personal, (b) interpersonal, and (c) transpersonal relationships. This posting is about the "personal" domain.

I believe that the explosion of text messaging among the world’s youth (many send hundreds of messages a day), the constant email alerts on our PDAs, and the never-ending roll of “tweets,” are primal cries for acknowledgement – for recognition of existence and individual ego identities, in a time when everyone and everything is calling out their unique location and update status. The danger of this explosion is a crisis of ego need and electronically amplified narcissism: everyone has a voice, and everyone is afraid of not being heard.

On a positive note, giving everything a “voice” is a deep immersion in what we too often chose to ignore or deny: the voices of the disempowered and marginalized, the voices of objects we take for granted, the voices of Gaia herself, the voices of our own body’s cellular broadcasters. Our challenge is to learn to listen with discernment, to create systems to recognize threatening changes in our ambient data environment, and to both figuratively and literally, keep ourselves “grounded.” Walks in nature, and quiet time listening to our own breath and heartbeat, are important centering strategies, and so is dancing and drumming, making vibrant tweets that arise from our physical being.


For more discussion of "everything has an [IP] voice" see my earlier essay on "Ambient Awareness."