The fact that I’m even writing this blog on this subject and in this domain says much about our current world. It’s not just Social Media that’s the ‘hot topic’.
The last number of years has seen an exponential growth in relation to all matters ‘spiritual’, and although this word is super loaded, fraught and/or abstract (depending on your own personal history with it), I will say that a broad definition would broadly point toward something that either: details non-ordinary states of consciousness, and/or an individual’s attempt to establish a more meaningful connection to both ‘themselves’, ‘others’ and ‘the world’ around them that extends beyond ‘only’ the physical and intellectual.
It’s fair to suggest that the sense that there is something deeper about ‘what it is to be human’ has always been a driving force; an impulse that has predicated the birth of art, music, poetry, myths, drama, astrology and so forth in order to transcend the everyday scope of things.
This innate yearning hasn’t ever really left us but it is now rearing it’s head eagerly when it appears that we are no longer satisfied with the mostly secular thinking of our modern world. The world of algorithms, technological intrusion and polemical opinion on just about anything which in the end is fragmented and doesn’t account for ‘everything’.
Redirecting the Direct Experience
The revered modalities of ancient times that are surging in popularity today – most notably Yoga but also others such as Tai Chi, QI Gong, Meditation (in its myriad of forms), Acupuncture, Martial Arts etc. – all induce experiences that direct one’s experience away from normal waking perceptions. To expand our awareness and make it more inclusive to all phenomena.
And I can only say for Yoga at least – as it’s my chosen modality of study – we are invited to directly perceive the experience. To test the waters ourselves, not to merely believe but directly experience ‘it’.
Social media tries to imply the direct experience but is it really?
What I mean by this is that we are living in a world where-by a person is glorified upon announcing ‘how it appears’ to be ‘spiritual’. That is: the algorithms of social media bump up an image of tattooed, gymnasts who post abstract quotes. The culprit of such posts – as well as many of their followers – will see this as some sort of emblem of transcendence.
But it’s most definitely not, and moreover, it doesn’t really tell us much about ‘the experience’ that the person is pointing toward, if there’s one at all.
We can all google Rumi quotes, Socrates and all the past masters, copy and paste their words and attach a nice picture, but in a world where we can communicate so openly, I personally would both like and hope to know more… what is the direct experience for that person?
Where is the revelation? Where is the magic? The unique account of their subjective experience? Usually none of that is told or pointed toward in the collage of random words, colour and images.
So what happens? Rather than moving beyond the material plane, we instead create more ornaments (Instagram posts, ‘path to happiness/success’ courses, ‘idealized’ places to live and so forth) that we then brand as something deeper and in doing so, deceive ourselves and others.
Furthermore as we move away from direct experience towards a ‘projected’ experience, it infers that on our path, we are not enquiring much about ‘what’ we do or ‘why’ we do, but rather glorifying and isolating only the ‘how’. Does this make us content or does it only serve to seek gratification and subtly purpurate feelings of lack?
How Are We Using the Knowledge?
Currently, some very important questions are being discussed on a global scale, centered around identity, race, gender and ethnicity. One thread of this is cultural appropriation. Nowhere more is this more prevalent in the world of Yoga.
As mentioned above, quotes are often misconstrued or entirely corrupted to fit one’s own personal agenda – a projected experience – instead of seeking to clarify or unravel a direct experience they’ve had on their path.
‘Jnana’ in Sanskrit refers to knowledge and it appears in many of the philosophical systems of India as an important component of any seeker’s quest.
It is generally held that in utilizing knowledge, one’s mind is expanded to new dimensions so that the prejudices and conditions that they currently harbor are slowly cast aside in order to accommodate new ideas, cultivate more awareness about those things they did not yet know. Discipline too on our path is key to building this expansion.
However in 2021, knowledge is utilized as a means of further success and material gain.
It is used to indulge in the idea of ‘me’, not to transcend the idea of ‘me’.
With less reverence to the teachings we have ended up with an ever growing abstract world of symbolism.
Infact (and ironiclly) I think these last two sections can be perfectly surmised in this Ślōka from the Srimad Bhagavatam, one of India’s most venerated texts (especially for those followers of Krishna).
panditye capalam vacah
A person’s spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next. A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he does not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar.
The Impossible Dream
Putting aside this misuse of knowledge and forgetting about the moving-away-from personal, direct experience, one more great impediment on our path occurs naturally as a consequence of connecting the world of social media and spirituality together.
Broadcasting spirituality on social media is a process of trying to pin down:
A) what should be classified as ‘spiritual’, and consequently who/what isn’t ‘spiritual’
B) the very ‘thing’ that is in itself: transitory, ephemeral and ever-changing
Point B negates Point A.
If you understand this then there is no need to attempt the impossible: posting everyday with regards to all things ‘spiritual’. It’s pretty counter intuitive.
Outlining consistency when there is none.
Alliance to Point A takes away the magic of Point B you could say, and furthermore it creates structures, ideas and dogmas that further binds an individual to their ego, their identity and even an ideology.
This makes it difficult to see beyond name and form. The very thing that we are perhaps seeking to overcome on the spiritual path.
Cynicism is the Gateway
Whilst at first this could potentially all come across a bit cynical, I do feel that these are necessary points to take into consideration when using social media in conjunction with our spiritual path and our enquiries.
Of course it’s easy for the mind to dismiss all of this and say ‘it’s all just a bit innocent really, this posting malarkey’ but that doesn’t therefore mean that our innocence and – ignorance – shouldn’t be addressed.
In Patanjali’s Sutras ignorance is noted as the key cause to suffering. So in this current scenario we are mistaking our symbols of awakening as actual awakening. We are mistaking our appearances of compassion, truth and love with actual tangible acts of compassion, truth and love. We are equating our online avatars as our real, authentic humane selves when in-fact we are housing ourselves right here in this very flesh and bones.
All spiritual practices require radical self-enquiry.
To look into the nature of things and not merely accept them blindly as truth.
So what this means is that if we are serious about undertaking a ‘spiritual path’ or contemplating things, we must look at how our social media usage affects our feelings and actions as well as the actionsand feelings of others. Deciding then is this overall of benefit or not?
We must ask if our interaction with it is diverting our attention away from other modes of understanding and expression (remember books? And we know have such access to a wealth of online, quality resources).
If what we see when we go deeper into our habits and patterns around social media is not so ‘productive’ let’s say, then we may as well indulge in alcohol, drugs or anything else that creates a degree of separation from ourselves and reality.