Digital Dharma


As I get ready to head downstairs for morning meditation, I’ve already checked Facebook and Twitter from my iPhone: my Facebook friends are still exhausted from running around with kids or working long hours, and my Twitter feed is filled with world news — links I’ll chase up later — and some inspiring Buddhist quotes.

This is all before the sun has come up.

During meditation my mind will wander, and I’ll let it; I bring my focus back to my breathing and I slowly become more aware of the morning stillness that will last only a little while longer, until television noise and traffic replace the hushed tranquility that exists only in the off-hours between apartment blocks in my Sydney suburb.

Sitting half-lotus I wonder if that “ambient” app I have might help me attain enlightenment, or maybe the last half of the podcast I was listening to last night will free me from attachment to form and concepts. It occurs to me that being constantly plugged in to the din of online life — a place I’ve somewhat reluctantly and increasingly come to inhabit over the past few years — is probably the polar opposite of the spotless void of non-attachment.

I’ve always been a loner, even as a kid. It’s probably why I tended towards more creative and artistic pursuits; it’s also probably how I survived countless hours alone in front of a Mac, just doing my thing, for the better part of the past 20 years. Moving overseas was, as I’ve mentioned, surprisingly shocking, even for a loner like me; so like a lot of people who became savvy as the interactive part of the ‘Net grew my social life (as sad as it may sound) is largely online. Thankfully, though, I never got addicted to WoW or some of the other time-wasters, although I did spend a fair amount of time posting drivel in an online “community” (one that, if it didn’t get greedy and stupid, could have been a rival in Facebook’s earliest days). But the overwhelming majority of my “friends” are people I don’t see in the flesh — and some I probably never will.

On the other hand, the Internet is like the ‘soundless sound’, a void in itself — high-speed emptiness. The Web and meditation are both about rewiring the brain, about learning to interpret things differently and, to varying degrees, can completely change someone over time, little by little. It depends, I suppose, on how focused you remain on realizing there’s nothing to attain. 

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