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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.

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