It's a sinking feeling; a thick wave of sludge-filled despair sweeping through your gut. The uneasy sense that maybe you've been duped; or worse yet, that you're fooling yourself. And you ask: Did enthusiasm, laziness, greed or maybe that extra cup of espresso cloud my thinking and carry me away into believing--and immediately posting--my reaction to the online gossip? Should I have been more mindful of the context and asked myself how I really knew what I thought to be true before hitting "post?" Did I check my motivation and scrutinize the story's sources? And what might the repercussions be? In this age of type now and think later, these are the kinds of questions that poke up their messy heads when we power down for the day.
The fast and furious online world is remarkably vast, open and beneficial, yet it is also an invitation to isolation, augmentations and distortions of mind, and inflation of the ego. It's a medium that feeds on the unsteadiness of mind and thrives on us keeping our citta vrittis alive, active and--worse yet--shared with any unsuspecting soul who happens to absentmindedly click on our latest musing. (Like this one.) Patanjali would roll over in his grave!
As if it weren't strange enough to find fragments of thought being pulled out of the sky to masquerade as relevant content, there is intentional misuse and deception that surfaces through this technology as well; online bullying, cruel pranks that prey on recipients' weaknesses and endless hackings designed to create chaos.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing uses of the internet is what is now commonly accepted (if not venerated by some as fair play) as "fake news"--hoaxes, propaganda or disinformation used to deliberately fool others and drive traffic in one direction or another. It was, after all, President Trump's adviser, Kellyanne Conway who introduced the euphemism "alternative facts" to describe some of the fake news (like the Bowling Green Massacre) tossed out for the public to chew on--and get distracted by--just after the election so that stories of fake news impacting the election became less of a front page issue. The age-old magician's trick of drawing your attention to their right lapel pocket while slipping a coin down the sleeve of the left arm was the training ground for this kind of manipulative use of the internet.
On one hand we could become enraged or bitter about the use and misuse of the medium and swear off the internet. But realistically that wouldn't do much except to isolate us in our own limited point of view. On the other hand, it is a really interesting time to develop our critical-thinking skills and to remember the value of satyam or truth--which might be just enough to pull us back into Patanjali's graces. It is, indeed, an age of immediacy where veneer can be valued more than the truth, where sensationalism, cynicism and daring sound bites take a front seat to reflection and dialogue. Yet that doesn't mean we all need to buy into that value system.
Savoring the truth, which is enriched by the messiness and dirt that sometimes lies beneath the veneer, exposes the beauty and vividness of life. It brings us down to earth, and all it takes is a single out breath to sense into the unending support of the ground beneath us! From there we might imagine that if we had the time and inclination to run our palms along that very surface of the earth we stand on that we could connect with every other sentient being on this planet. Not as quickly as sending a Tweet but with a lot more feeling. A deliberate, momentary pause is all it takes to consider our intention, our motivation, our choice of language, the impact we might have and our interconnectedness. One breath cycle can point us in the direction of what’s right while a missed breath and an ignored sense of connection may lead us to create “fake news, fake fear, fake us.”
Truth resides in the subtle layers of our body, mind and being as part of the foundational structure of who we really are. Relying solely on our mind and its reactions, conclusions and constructs (which is what social media promotes) to offer to the world our ideas and facade of who we are can throw us into realms of confusion for lifetimes.
Any idea leaves a residue and is part of the chain of being or of karma. Residue exists not only in our own experience but in the experience of others who come across what we've tossed out with care or carelessly as a matter of ego or deception. Encountering an abundance of unchecked "news" and ideas, your mind searches for connections and starts building a web of understanding to make sense of it all in order to steer you in a perceived correct direction. But when we don't take time to pause for reflection into the idea and to examine the deeper layers of mind or, better yet, drop into the sensation of mind merging with the body, then the web constructed by mind is likely to become tangled--one of torment, anxiety, confusion or complete imagination and delusion.
As yoga students and teachers, maybe we really can be flexible after all. Perhaps we can resist the pressure to put it out there quickly and in a form that is flashy, fun, daring or strategic simply to up our ratings. Rather than searching our endless stash of citta vrittis for a quip to make them all laugh, or flipping through photos to find the extreme posture we did that one time before we blew out our shoulder--secretly thinking this one time it might go viral--rather than that, perhaps we can just pause for a moment, feel our feet firmly planted on this sweet earth and smile. At the very least, if we're sincere and see the silliness of this medium maybe we can catch a good selfie of our serenity and fleeting subtle smile. Though of course we don't care.