The paradox of using the internet to develop our spiritual journey
New year is associated with changes, resolutions and fresh starts, even more so in a consumerist society where ‘new’ is a buzzword. Although messages of letting go of the past to ‘start a new chapter’ seem to be particularly present over this period, images and texts that encourage life transformation and promote positivity are present throughout the year and can be accessed at anytime, anywhere on the internet. ‘Life is what happens while you are looking at your smartphone’, “log out, shut down, do yoga’ and ‘sometimes you have to unfollow people in real life’ are examples of quotes found on social networks that relate internet behaviour to offline life.
On the one hand it is ironic that web content is now encouraging its readers to go offline, on the other, the proliferation of these feel-good quotes on the web testifies to how intertwined online and offline experiences are nowadays. Virtual and real existences can contradict, complement and compete with each other and this symbiosis has transformed the very way in which humans attempt to learn about themselves and find a life purpose. It is therefore not surprising that an increasing number of people are now resorting to the internet for personal growth and emotional comfort.
However, we live in an era of the ephemeral, the immediate and the replaceable, which shapes the approaches to spirituality in the western world. Firstly, there is the difficulty of accepting what the present moment has to offer in a system that incites people to be constantly longing for more. Professions dedicated to repairing things have vanished, while the culture of throwing away whatever appears mildly inefficient or outdated, has taken over. Such a replacement rationale has not only proved to be unsustainable for the environment, but disastrous for society as it goes against the need to embrace and work on what we already have. Secondly, there is an appreciation of the ‘fast’ and ‘efficient’, which informs many aspects of life ranging from food, appearance, transport, to human relationships. As a consequence, contemplation has been replaced by immediate consumption and humans are faced with the challenge of balancing the demands of a system that quickly makes things obsolete, and also accepting the inevitabilities of the human existence such as aging and death.
Given our limited time to explore or even acknowledge the disquietudes caused by contradictory demands and the culture of the ‘quick fix’, the smartphone emerges as a spiritual portal offering a number of texts, images and videos that aim to promote spiritual awareness. For instance, Instagram accounts are popular for the combination of punchline quotes on striking backgrounds to convey feel good messages – a well-established mechanism in publicity. Although those texts might function as accessible reminders of the spiritual path pursued by the follower, living mindfully requires more than a simple daily dose of virtual encouragement. In a society where cosmetic surgery, medicines and other forms of quick fixes are available, it requires discipline, persistence and practice to adopt other coping strategies such as meditation. As a result of the objectification of spirituality, these quick replacements perpetuate the constant need for novelty instead of promoting acceptance and contemplation.
Moreover, communication on the internet has changed our relationship with time and space, as emails or Skype calls make geographical distance irrelevant, just as an email or a message from across the globe can reach its destination straight after it is sent. In this globalised context where events unfold in a dynamic way, it gets harder for humans to describe, acknowledge and identify their experiences, making it difficult to bring themselves to the present and tune in to a state of stillness. Expecting a connection with oneself or the universe with the same patience as someone who is waiting for a pizza delivery is not a productive approach as it is a process of gaining awareness of one’s unique mental obstacles and potentials. A goal-oriented attitude to spirituality reduces awakening into just another item in a user’s online cart. This objectification of spirituality also mirrors the belief system obsessed with rigid notions of success and not coincidently, some accounts dedicated to spiritual awakening bear resemblance with fitness or other motivational accounts.
Within this context, there is a whole market around spirituality, which is endorsed by celebrities and brands that want to be associated with Zen or positivity. This is when the contradictory quotes such as the aforementioned ones emerge and users go online only to be advised that they should be doing the opposite. In other words, spiritual growth from the internet is paradoxical. Internet is about interaction, doing or engaging with a number of activities at the same time, whereas pursuing a spiritual path requires contemplation, acceptance and silence. Nonetheless, they are now interconnected as one cannot dismiss the impact of the web on people’s lives. Through self-reflexiveness, online content aiming to promote spiritual healing addresses the very use of the internet to remind us that users should be doing exactly the opposite. That is, disconnect in order to connect.
Image from: http://pixshark.com/yoga-breath-quotes.htm
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