February 17, 2012

Is Social Media the Key to Enlightenment? ~ Angela Arnett

The irony of the controversy surrounding the discussion and coverage of a recent “scandal” in the yoga community is not lost on me.

Efforts to define what yoga is or isn’t often focus on the asanas themselves, and these conversations often take place  in relationship to yoga media personalities like Bikram Choudhury, and new incarnations of yoga like the Hot Power ball and the karaoke yoga recently featured on Good Morning America. Using yoga to define how we should directly interact with those we may never meet is a new one for me though.

Is yoga something that can be concretely defined by instructors or like-minded journalists?

Does it need to be when the asanas or physical poses which are often at the discussion’s epicenter are such a small part of the only thing I can confidently say that yoga certainly is? It is a philosophy or path composed of eight limbs that are said to provide guidance towards self awareness. The inflation of and stereotypically Western preoccupation with emphasizing the tangible external aspects of the practice (asanas) can be argued to be at the expense of the impalpable limbs and benefits of the philosophy. Let us hope that the discipline cultivated and required to nail chaturanga provides a solid foundation for the discipline required to cultivate compassion from judgment. For me, yogic philosophy and asanas are the nourishment from which the seeds of cultivation take root and flourish.

So how do the non-tangible limbs of yoga fit into the new frontier of the communication and interaction that is social media?

This uncharted territory provides a platform for  ultimate freedom of exposure and expression and destroys barriers that conceal  the ideas and like-minded folks that geography, socio-economic status, transportation and political freedom previously posed. So what do we do with it? What do we do when a cloak of anonymity provides just the shot of cyber courage we needed to succumb to the urge to make snarky, judgmental, hurtful comments or implications that we would never dream of making when we are sharing a dinner table or bus seat with our conversant?

Again with the definitions…honesty versus integrity. I have been told that honesty is doing the “right” thing when people are watching or when they could find out. Integrity is doing the “right” thing when no one will find out. Social media is perhaps the most demonstrative example of an opportunity to navigate and define integrity in action. The interactivity that constitutes the “social” of social media, provides a lens as to how we interact when we have the ability to do so anonymously and how we react to others exercising that same freedom.

For those of us who have chosen to use the eight limbs of yoga as a tool to attain self awareness through nurturing and examining the inner dialogue that serves as an internal barometer for “right” speech and actions, relying on the Yamas is a natural inclination. The Yamas comprise another one of the eight limbs of the yogic path and can be defined as abstentions or restraints. Ahimsa (non-harming), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing/covetousness), Brahmacharya (non-sensuality) and Aparigraha (non-greed/ non-grasping) can act as specific catalysts towards samadhi, that elusive self discovery that everything else seems to be hinged upon.

We often wish to use as the Yamas as a definitive formula for integrity or mindfulness, and this desire to refer to well-defined guidelines for enlightenment reveals laziness and cowardice on our parts. By referring solely to our interpretation of the external “rules” laid out in the Sutras or by a guru, we short circuit cultivating the internal barometer that only a deep and sustained exploration of self can provide. Duplication of another’s recipe is not the answer. Ironically, seeking a concrete definition of the specific day-to-day “rules” that the five Yamas outline is equally incredulous. Just as yoga is seemingly uncharacterizable, the specific applications and restrictions outlined in the Yamas will be defined and redefined as our ability to recognize and trust the internal compass that is the byproduct of increasing self discovery, evolves.

The definition of yoga and the key to conducting our life (and, in turn, our social media activity) mindfully and with integrity is simultaneously complex and quite simple. If we are at a place to seek insight, yoga is a philosophy and a collection of asanas which have the ability to serve as a catalyst towards introspection and self awareness. It can provide a stepping stone towards creating examined and deliberate interactions with ourselves and others. They “key” to conducting our life mindfully can only be defined as a continuous effort to cultivate, trust and maintain an openness to the fluidity and constant redefinition as to what “feels right” and then to trust in our experience and act accordingly.

Social media provides insight into the integrity we show when all barriers are removed and we are free to remain incognito while indulging and reflecting our own struggles through our interactions in cyber space. On the other hand, it allows that no one has to wither in spirit feeling like there are no like minded souls to connect with. It also allows friendships and collaborations to occur where creativity, not geography, is the only barrier.

The only consideration we have as yoga practitioners in social media, is the same consideration we have in daily living – examining, reflecting, remaining open and discussing.

As the Buddha said, “the path is the goal”. Social media has provided a platform unlike any other in history to discuss, examine and sharpen that internal barometer and trust it enough to act accordingly. The path is the goal; the discussion is the goal; the conflict is the goal; and the constant redefinition is the goal.

An often repeated Buddhist maxim is that “the smallest fragment exists in the whole”. Perhaps social media is a catalyst for a self-awareness so intimate that it can only be achieved thru examining the conflict that the anonymity of the internet offers. Perhaps it offers a radical lesson in trusting the intention of others and/or a practice in non-attachment towards control. What is displayed in this microcosm of unregulated, unstructured interaction has the ability to be our greatest lesson or the most depressing reflection and cautionary tale of unexamined freedom.

Pretty heavy stuff, especially for a gal as likely to be reading David Sedaris and The Sutras, so…how about this? Keep defining and redefining what specific actions and words make you feel like a jerk. Don’t do those things on-line, in traffic, at the grocery store, to your friends, to a stranger, in a restaurant or to yourself. Repeat daily…

Photo credit here.

Angela Arnett is an introspective creator who seeks to strike a balance between peace,enlightenment & being a smart ass. She has found that dividing her studies between Pantanjali, David Sedaris, John Steinbeck and Jacqueline Susann brings her closest to bliss. Baxter (her lab) and Neely O’Hara (her chihuahua) round out her life as a California transplant in a 200 year old house on a horse farm in the heart of the thoroughbred business in central Kentucky – think Under the Tuscan Sun meets Dallas, only colder and with less realistic story lines . She can be found on Facebook and Twitter and is in currently in recovery from a fairly extreme Dynasty/Falcon Crest phase.

Edited by Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor.

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