If ever we were tempted to forget the world’s pain, these days it’s undeniable. From Africa’s Ebola outbreak to deep unrest and bloodshed in the Middle East, to ongoing racial tension in the US following the deaths of black Americans by whites, the world is crying. Yet rather than tears, an outpouring of opinions and colliding perspectives propagate mainstream media and permeate our social media personas.
Though many of us harbor a love-hate relationship with social media, the medium is ethically neutral. The content of our newsfeeds and our relationship thereto reflects our relationship to life at large. How can we engage with our social media in a way that consciously aligns us with our values? Put another way, how can we turn our engagement with social media into a laboratory for practicing yoga “off of the mat?”
When you log on and scroll past bigoted, racist, sexist, violent or otherwise offensive content, how do you respond? Do you engage with the poster, speaking your truth but risking the connection? Do you ignore the post or sanitize and clean your feed, hiding or unfriending the offender? Next time a triggering post shows up for you, take a moment to notice what arises for you mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Can you honor, respect and hold your own experience in kindness—as well as the reality of the person who has posted?
Sometimes, hiding provocative content posted by repeat offenders is necessary. Yet learning to be exposed to conflicting views, while extending compassion to the person expressing them with the understanding that some views are borne of ignorance and conditioning (while not elevating yourself above them), can be a powerful practice. Can you love the person, while maintaining equanimity? Can you cultivate compassion despite your own anger, anxiety or outrage, knowing that their expression of prejudice, racism or injustice reflects alienation from their own hearts?
Although it may feel most comfortable to us, when we consistently block or hide reminders of pain or injustice on our feeds, we turn our hearts and eyes away from the world’s suffering. In so doing, we become more comfortable in our insular existence, yet we also maintain the internal and external status quo. We perpetuate the problem, even as our hearts long to be part of the solution. In the moment, turning “off” or ignoring a particular story may make us feel better. Yet every time another uncomfortable story pops up we may also be reminded of our unwillingness to speak our truth in the face of injustice, reminding us of the discrepancy between our gut values and the face we present to the world.
Are you willing to sacrifice your personal comfort and likeability for collective well-being? In yoga’s seminal text, the Bhagavad Gita, the warrior Arjuna was asked into battle by Krishna against his family and beloved peers, in the pursuit of truth and self-realization. Each of us on the path of yoga is called to the same. When we read articles we do not agree with, or hear convictions that conflict with our heart, do we keep scrolling, silently recoiling inside as we silence ourselves? Do we retreat from the battlefield to preserve the peace, to keep being liked, to avoid making waves? Or, like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, do we sacrifice our personal comfort—in the service of truth, justice and the inner and outer liberation of all beings?
There are no right or wrong answers here. One person’s truth is not the same as another’s. Yet attuning to the wisdom of the heart-mind (bodhicitta) facilitates a conscience and truth that transcends the petty defenses, preferences and opinions of the conditioned, egoic mind.
Notice how you show up on social media. Do you post content that feels safe and comfortable for your friend group, and prefer friends that do the same? Or do you post provocative content? If a post doesn’t receive any likes, do you delete it, or feel secure enough to leave it intact, knowing that it was reflective of something needing expressed, even if those around you didn’t necessarily validate it? How does this reflect your behavior in life, when exposed to views or actions you don’t agree with?
The path of Arjuna is not an easy one. It requires taking up the sword and engaging in battle with those you love most to honor the wisdom of your own heart and humanity’s collective liberation. It requires sacrificing the parts of you that feed on social desirability and likeability, although the fruits of this sacrifice facilitate liberation.
“Blessed are warriors who are given
the chance of a battle like this,
which calls them to do what is right
and opens the gates of heaven …
… But if you refuse the call
to a righteous war, and shrink from
what duty and honor dictate,
you will bring down ruin on your head
… If you are killed, you gain heaven;
triumph, and you gain the earth.
therefore stand up, Arjuna;
steady your mind to fight.”
Bhagavad Gita, 2.32, 2.33, 2.37, Stephen Mitchell translation
How do you engage with social media? What have you found to be the best approach to managing difficult content others post?