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In the age of the internet-educated master-of-everything, social media is the awakened warrior’s go-to platform for disseminating their spiritual findings.
Everyone and anyone is now a coach, healer, shaman, and yogi, and they’ve all got something to sell you, myself included.
The irony is that the effects of social media are detrimental to the so-called “awakened” or “spiritually minded” yogi-type. We are like dogs chasing our tails—deeply yearning to be One, while immersing ourselves within an environment that’s been designed to perpetuate our sense of separation and lack. By its very nature, social media is in direct opposition to that which yoga is: realization of the non-separate Self.
Social media has been sinisterly developed to be highly physically and psychologically addictive.
Teacher and author Michaela Boehm accurately refers to it as “lifestyle porn.” If you think our Instagram obsession is any different than the all-night porn junkie or the alley-dwelling crack user compulsively hitting his next rock, then you are mistaken. Those likes, comments, and message responses that we so eagerly anticipate work the same reward and pleasure centres of the brain as any other addictive device.
There are plenty of alarming social media addiction statistics and an endless stream of expert opinions. While actual addiction rates range from the conservative to the extreme, it’s clear that social media and screen overuse can and do lead to a myriad of emotional and psychological problems, including narcissism, anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness, isolation, difficulty learning, and so much more.
Addiction and childhood development expert Dr. Gabor Mate says that “broadly speaking, social media is highly addictive and a lot of people are addicted. It has had a devastating effect on our lives.”
It would be rather redundant for me to further describe the psychological harm of social media, and it’s certainly not my area of expertise. Although social media can negatively affect anybody, my interest is in exploring the effects of its use on the spiritually enthused Insta-cyber-yogi. I’m speaking directly to the sea of well-intentioned, spiritually awakened, self-proclaimed yogis disseminating their self-quoted memes and half-naked contortions within one of the world’s greatest dualistic dividers—social media.
Remember the dog chasing its tail? It never catches it.
Let me explain.
The Nature of Our Suffering
Humans have a sickness. It is ignorance. We’ve forgotten our nature. We are misidentified as a physical body and with the contents of a personality (ego) named so-and-so. We think that we are the body. We believe that we are a collection of memories, stories, traumas, philosophies, conditioned beliefs, patterns of behaviour, and thoughts swirling around somewhere within the boundaries of our heads and expressed through each movement in our bodies.
The problem here spells big drama for each of us, for you see, most of that noise within our heads is nonsense. Lies. Non-truth. None of it exists other than as thought-stuff. So here we are, believing we are nothing but a mortal body with a confused collection of ideas, and suffering deeply for it. We are ignorant of our true nature, which is the pure non-dual Self beyond all ideas. It is the non-separate witness of all sensation and all mind-stuff.
What I’m saying is not to deflect from, bypass, or minimize in any way the significance and depth of what was experienced. The impact of our past is deeply imprinted within the body and mind, and profoundly affects the way in which we perceive, experience, and move through each and every moment.
The Fragmented Personality and Social Media
The personality’s primary aim is to maintain its own existence at all costs. This isn’t a bad thing! It’s just doing its job. The personality is our sense of “I.” It is comprised of all that stuff we’ve collected and now identify as. The personality creates splits between itself and everything else. It fragments everything it perceives, desires, and experiences into a “me and that” relationship. Herein exists the dualistic structure that is at the foundation of our suffering as humans.
The personality is in duality to everything within its internal and external objective field of experience. Me and that idea. Me and that feeling. Me and that thought. Me and that person out there. Me and that thing I think I have to heal. Me and that spiritual practice. Me and that problem. Me and the world out there. Me and that technique. Me and that Divine source out there.
The problem here being that there is no “out there.” There is no “other thing.” There is only one thing, and I Am That, You Are That, and That Is All There Is.
Social media is the kingdom of duality. Your profile essentially allows you a space to more deeply and rigidly define the character that you name your personality. As we endlessly scroll, we naturally do exactly as the personality does. We create splits between “me” and “all the stuff out there.” We label, compare, and judge.
Me and that person who is doing this and that. Me and that stuff out there that is in conflict to my likes, dislikes, and beliefs. Me and that stuff out there that aligns with what I believe to be good and right, and so on.
Unlike the dog who never catches its tail, as long as this split or duality exists, we will suffer greatly. If a yogi is defined as one who has realized the light of the Self beyond the dualistic nature of the personality and mind, then we are certainly working in direct opposition to that through our compulsive use of social media. While nothing is absolute, it is my opinion that one would have to be highly developed to escape their regular daily use of social media without harm to their sense of self. However, I’m sure this awakened Being would have no interest in scrolling endlessly within the ego-box of duality, as they would be too busy living joyously.
Cue the Insta-Yoga Revolution
The tidal wave of popularity of modern postural yoga has come right alongside our rapid rise toward a socio-cultural landscape that for the first time in human history is being carved through a simulated e-vironment. While the internet and social media have created the opportunity and freedom to share teachings globally like no other time in history, this technology has also left us wide open to an overwhelming stream of nonsense, misinformation, contradiction, and propaganda. We are living in the time of pick-your-part spirituality, and people are generally more confused than ever before!
All one has to do is type #yogawhatever into your favourite insta-app and it becomes clear that the west has quickly and effectively dismantled the entire science of yoga, reducing it to a torrent of postures, tricks, contortions, and incomplete and misrepresented teachings. It is palpable that we are overly obsessed with the physical body, and the way in which we are using yoga and social media is only perpetuating our bodily misidentification. Ironically, this is the very thing that yoga, as a complete science, seeks to obliterate with its own powerful technology.
I’m not interested in another debate about whether social media is good for yoga or not. In my opinion, obviously, it is not. In fact, I believe, in general, we are doing a great disservice to this great technology. I am aware that people see this in 1,008 different ways. I know that we believe this is our art, this is our yoga, and it is unique to each of us to express and share how we like.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. While yoga’s technology is certainly open to evolving along with the current times, it is not free to become anything anybody desires just because they say it is so.
I acknowledge with great respect so many incredible, well-intentioned humans, teachers, and leaders out there using social media in the most positive ways possible. I, myself, rely on social media to deliver my message and my music through my own carefully crafted online persona named Aaron Patrick. Despite knowing these truths, they do not resolve, for me, the wrenching sense that both handheld devices and social media are the worst things to happen to humanity since the dawn of duality itself.
Be Vigilantly Aware
It’s time to wake up and see how much time these screens and our social media lives are stealing from our real lives.
They are stealing our capacity to be Presence. They’re stealing our sense of true self. They’re stealing from our children and our relationships. I would love for all of humanity to be rid of their handheld devices all together!
That being said, I am accepting of the reality that this technology is here to stay, and it’s unlikely that people will stop using their devices completely. I also acknowledge that many people use handheld devices and social media in ways that are not disruptive to their lives or sense of self, and it can be an important way for them to keep up-to-date on the happenings of their friends’ and families’ lives.
Final Contemplations and Meditations
Get a journal and your favourite pencil, pen, or quill. Or, if you prefer, find a comfortable place to sit and be still. Take a few minutes to feel and connect to your ground, and develop a global sense of the body and the body centres. Feel the body and breath.
How much time do you spend on social media/handheld devices each day? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about or planning for your life on social media? Do you use social media to relieve stress or numb out? Do you crave it? Do you become restless or anxious if you are not able to use social media? Does your handheld device/social media use have a negative impact on your life?
What other meaningful things could you do with that time? What are the benefits of not using social media? Do you share yoga or spirituality related teachings? Why do you share the content you share?
Feel your body as you consider these questions. Notice any shifts in any areas of the body. Be aware of tightening. Contracting. Tension. Lightness. Heaviness. Openness. Spend a few minutes breathing through whatever is experienced. Be aware. Feel the ground.
To take this further, attempt this practice of grounding, feeling, and sensing the body the next time you are actively consuming your “lifestyle porn.” Observe the thoughts, the stories, the lies, and the truths. Take breaks as needed to practice yoga, move the body freely, or shake out any accumulated tension or stuck energy.