Spirituality and Technology: Best Frenemies

Via on Feb 14, 2011

Recently I went up to Spirit Rock Retreat Center for a daylong mindfulness workshop called “Wisdom 2.0.”

It was hosted by Soren Gordhamer, founder of the annual conference of the same name, and Will Kabat-Zinn, son of Jon “Wherever You Go, There You Are” Kabat-Zinn. I was excited about this daylong because technology and spirituality are two major interests of mine, and the possibilities for discussion seemed endless.

At places like Spirit Rock and events like mindfulness daylongs, it goes without saying that electronic devices are generally frowned upon. There is ubiquitous pressure to be device-free at “spiritual” events. If you even glance at your iPhone during such a thing, people will judge you as an under-present douchebag. It’s a faux pas punishable by social annihilation to bring a cell phone into a yoga studio. We’ve all hated on that one person who dared to bring her Crackberry into class with her and lay it on her mat while practicing her day’s yoga. She could be a doctor on call for brain surgery for all we know, but in yoga, all that matters is the sanctity of the $20 yoga moment, right? Hmm.

We’ve all heard the reasons why technology is “bad for us.”

It’s distracting; it promotes multitasking; it’s making entire generations suddenly A.D.D.; we’re addicted to it; we don’t know when to stop. In fact, I’m currently reading a book called You Are Not a Gadget, A Manifesto by Jared Lanier that talks about how the Internet revolution is melting our brains.

In spiritual circles it’s just not cool to be a techie.

But still, I wonder if there is a way that we can embrace the omnipotent electronic world and still be “spiritual.” Why are these things mutually exclusive? Who says?

The truth is, I’m a big fan of technology and think it’s kind of strange how rarely we actually acknowledge and give gratitude for the many, many good things it does for us and the way it’s changed our lives for the better. I feel blessed to live in the time of the Internet and thank my stars I embraced computer technology early on.

One of the refreshing highlights of the Wisdom 2.0 daylong was that we spent time in pairs discussing ways in which the new technology has actually impacted our lives for the better. Not just in the obvious ways (the Internet is hella useful and cell phones have been known to save lives from time to time) but in the subtle, personal ways.

Internet technology has altered my own life in a profoundly beneficial direction. Being a writer, I vastly prefer written methods of communication to the phone (fondly known as the bane of my existence) and have cultivated many long-distance friendships largely due to email and text. In fact, my two creative partners — with whom I recently launched the community forum Recovering Yogi — live hundreds of miles away from me. We stay connected on a daily basis by virtue of the various modes of communication available to us, yet we rarely talk on the phone. And Recovering Yogi is itself a way of connecting people of like mind via the Internet (as is this very publication, Elephant Journal).

But getting back to Wisdom 2.0.

The workshop often veered into the territory of finding ways to stay more mindful while engaged with technology. It’s pretty clear that in this age of constant access to the Internet, iPhone apps, Wii, Hulu, etcetera etcetera ETCETERA that we need to stay boundaried and grounded around our electronics use, lest we turn ourselves into virtual robots. In my own household I have a no-electronics-in-the-bedroom rule that makes for a lot less mindless web surfing late at night. And I do my best to separate my car-driving from my electronics-using (with the possible exception of Google maps).

But what I’d really like to hear about is how technology can actually help to further the pursuit of spirituality, how technology and spirituality can lift each other up. I have a hunch there are a lot of opportunities out there for people to put the new technologies to creative spiritual use. And I’m not talking about daily auto-tweets of Pema Chodron and Dalai Lama quotes. (is Parahamsa Yogananda really following me on Twitter? Dude is dead.) I’m talking about finding a spiritual experience through being engaged with technology — not despite it.

So here’s a start — some web sites I personally use that harness the power of new technology to spread positive messages about spirituality.

  • PBS’s Buddha movie (At one point this entire movie was available online. I think they may have taken it back. But full information about how to watch it is indeed available at this site.)
  • Free, streaming dharma talks available at Dharma Seed
  • Ted.com
  • OhLife – A nifty journaling service that sends you an email every evening prompting you to journal about your day. You hit “reply” to make a daily entry, and eventually you start getting them back. For instance, today you might get back something you wrote a month ago. This is a lovely tool for introspection and self-reflection.
  • Dharma Punx The hub site for Noah Levine’s paradigm-busting, revolutionary mindfulness community, where you can get information about Dharma Punx community sanghas all over the place  and sign up for mailing lists to stay in the loop.
  • The Mindbody app on my iPhone that allows me to find the next nearest yoga class, wherever I am, at the touch of a button.

Who wants to contribute to this list?



15 Responses to “Spirituality and Technology: Best Frenemies”

  1. Blake Wilson Blake says:

    I wonder if there were workshops in the past that discussed how to use the new technologies that we don't even think about. "You going to the workshop on Mindfulness and the Printing Press: How Not to Get Sucked Into Books?" I believe it will all work out.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Waylon Lewis, MATTHEW T MILLER, Marianna Papadakis, Lisa, Jon Edward Parkes and others. Jon Edward Parkes said: RT @elephantjournal: RT @mteague: RT @outsideeye Technology + Spirituality: Frenemies? http://bit.ly/edDNrW Help me answer this ? on #el … […]

  3. Padma Kadag says:

    ….And if one is not on a path which requires a Guru…then how does one stay on the path without distraction? When we surf the net we go only to those sites which we want. We do what we want just as we have been doing for countless lifetimes, if you believe in that sort of thing, and where has it gotten us? How will we be shaken out of our ignorance via technology? Is seeking pleasure a spiritual path? We under a strong delusion that somehow we are making spiritual headway if we "feel good". How will technology or the internet understand what it is to shake me out of this cloud of ignorance? I suppose if we equate spiritual experience with accumulating more and more feel good emotion and an "it's all good" attitude then maybe you are right.

  4. matthew says:

    Fantastic piece, Recovering. And a great intro to the content of new tech.

    Next up: how is the form changing consciousness itself, and how does this change the purpose and method of yoga?

    For instance: what does it mean to invoke Iron-Age values of single-pointedness in a world literally running on intersubjective dynamism? Can online asana classes offer more rather than less potential for embodiment in a world of increasing social anxiety? How is Facebook a potential tong-len machine?

    That we can follow Swami Dingdong's tweets is about the least interesting part of social media. Especially when the dude's dead. Much more interesting is the question of how tweeting is an extension of the yogic fascination with aphorism.

  5. […] have long been thought of as fundamentally at odds with each other. It is only very recently that people have slowly begun to recognize the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship between the […]

  6. […] exists (yay, technology!) and how it can actually enhance our spirituality (for more on this read Joslyn’s Elephant Journal article), but in the end it was exactly what you’d expect from the hippie camp up at Spirit Rock (God […]

  7. […] then the other reason I use them in teaching is because our Western World is so wrapped up in electronic devices. We go from car to phone, video to computer to TV. We don’t spend a lot of time just being […]

  8. I don?t even know how I finished up here, however I assumed this publish was once good. I don’t know who you might be however definitely you are going to a well-known blogger when you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  9. […] is therefore crucial that as we continue in our technological evolution, we ensure that those advances are harmonized with a deep sense of spiritual awareness—as it is this awareness that will keep us grounded in our […]

Leave a Reply