Usually at New Year people vow to lose weight, give up smoking, and/or exercise more. This year, however, meditation seems to be the thing. Everywhere I look, people are tweeting, Facebooking, and sharing articles about meditation. In Technobiophilia I wrote about the connection between digital life and meditation. Here are two brief excerpts:
Being mindful involves maintaining a conscious focus on what is happening in the present moment. One is aware of one’s body, thoughts, feelings and the wider world around, but all are observed in a state of calm equilibrium. It is closely associated with Buddhism, especially the branch of it known as Zen, but the technique is also widely practised in other religions and in secular contexts. Zen Buddhism is widely practiced in California, not least in the Silicon Valley area where there is a long history of employees of the technology industries also being active practitioners. From relatively early on, many people could see synergies between the internet and Buddhist practice. As early as 1995, the magazine Shambhala Sun, for example, described the net as an esoteric place for meditation which provided ‘a feeling of complete and total immersion, in which the individual’s observer-self has thoroughly and effortlessly integrated and is at one with the experience of the moment.’ p68
In the highly entertaining Zen Computer (1999), Philip Toshio Sudo demonstrates the Zen Buddhist approach to computers. He advocates we make switching on the machine into a mindful act ‘Each time we start the computer marks a new beginning. Even if we’re applying ourselves to tasks left over from the day before, today’s start is a new start – a chance to remind ourselves that, in this moment, we embark down the path of spiritual growth with a fresh step and a beginner’s mind’. p69
I also discuss Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s intriguing book The Distraction Addiction in which he goes into the topic in considerable depth. His interviews with Buddhist monks and nuns who combine a life online with meditation and retreat are especially fascinating.
As for me, I’m celebrating my one year meditation anniversary. I’m just a beginner but I’m finding it works very well for me. I meditate the vanilla way, alone at home or sometimes on the beach, but I also attend a local weekly group run by the Thekchen Kadampa Buddhist Centre and I’m a member of the online group Buddhist Geeks, which is based in Colorado but happens in Google+. I’ve attended classes and talks there and occasionally go to Open Practice sessions where members meet daily via Google Hangout to meditate together. And I use Insight Timer, a wonderful app which also facilitates global connections and has more than 100,000 users worldwide.
As someone with a long history of living online, it feels very comfortable to meet this way, and I love the sense of presence to be gained from meditating together in virtual space. And from the number of New Year’s resolutions that I’ve seen floating around, it looks like cyberspace is about to get even more chilled!