Bodhisattva, the iPhone and You

Recently, I was able to attend a mediation class at Spirit Rock, a famed spiritual center that teaches Buddhist mediation, mindfulness lifestyle practices, and hosts high-end spiritual retreats. During the Dharma talk, our guide mentioned the ‘points of intervention’ along the cycle of ‘dependent-arising’, or what we might call the cycle of habits (good and bad). The cycle is straightforward enough: we approach life with certain dispositions and behaviors – conscious and unconscious – which, over time, manifest into habits by being repeated over and over again, birthing new cycles of habit along the way. The cycle is unavoidable, but how we react can change the cycle from one of dependance to one of spiritual liberation. Pain is part of life, but suffering is an option: this theory of mindfulness is profound, yet simple in its resonance. Breaking the dependency cycle is a choice, and requires one to be mindful of its existence in order to change its course.

As Newton’s famous third law of motion goes, ‘every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction’.  This is true in the physical world as well as the spiritual, emotional and metaphysical worlds. Life happens, and we react to it. This law explains a lot about our internet worlds, the spaces where our identities are symbolically attached to physical forms, even if through a few letters strung together with an icon – what we call avatars. Newton’s law occurs constantly, in the ether and in ‘the cloud’. An echo-chamber-like reaction is created, birthed, and destroyed alongside every article, TV episode, tweet, text or post that is released into the world. Our mediated lives are constantly bombarded by images, texts, sounds and energy particles that are generated by these reactions: comments fuel diatribes, anger begets violence, speculation creates fear, fear shapes ideology, and so on. Wherein lies the discourse? Wherein lie the pauses, the time for reflection, meditation, and questioning? The dependency cycle of our internet age is self-perpetuating, and appears to be accelerating at an unsustainable rate. Where’s the stopping point? And more important, to what end does it benefit having rapid-fire access to information, even the most tedious and uninteresting kind? Are we pushing ourselves towards a greater purpose, or seeking to touch the darkest, most visceral parts of the human experience? Which reaction are we really aiming for, and which parts of the spectacle really matter?

Our brains are often referred to as ‘supercomputers’. We need to ‘download’ the data off our brains in order to rest our hard drive, and reboot our systems. See how easy that was to comprehend? Science likes analogies, and the public needs them in order to understand our complex and complicated world. And yet, in the endless quest to ‘optimize’ our lives and progress to a better future, we are left with a shell: the calcified outer layer of society, protecting, guarding and safekeeping our cultural mores in a solid structure resembling the simplest forms of nature. What about what lives underneath this layer? What about mindfulness, of truly understanding the impermanence of our human existence? The bodhisattva, or enlightened being, is not treated as sacred; it pales in comparison to the relationships we have with our iPhones, popular culture, and societal ideals around family, wealth, and happiness. What we call life equates to the physical and material world, and yet we ignore the spiritual and metaphysical worlds that shape our experience.

Where is the space for mindfulness, when our iPhones serve as physical and emotional extensions of our minds and bodies – a beep, chirp, buzz or swoosh elicits reactions from our brain that we, up until recently, would only associate with a whimper, cry, scream, or nervous laugh. With emerging products like Google Glass, Kinect, or brain-controlled computers, we have leapfrogged toward a new era of man and machine. The bodhisattva isn’t going anywhere, yet our failure to recognize and embrace it may result in us losing way more than we have ever thought possible.