On Social Media and Sādhana
- July 20th, 2018
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Although it’s been six years since Abbey and I opened White Space Wellness, I only began taking the work of social media marketing seriously last month.
The fact that the studio has managed to survive this long with an embarrassingly desultory social media presence is a minor miracle I attribute to good karma. While fellow yoga teachers and studio owners jumped onto the social media bandwagon quickly enough—and even increased their online presence as the years passed—I did the opposite by deactivating or deleting my personal accounts and delegating the studio’s online marketing work to others.
My aversion has been fueled by both personal and professional misgivings. On a personal level, I’ve resented how social media diverts my family’s and my friends’ attention, energy and focus. On a professional level (meaning as a yoga and meditation teacher), I’ve deplored how it tends to negate the very qualities of presence yoga and meditation aim to cultivate—while fostering an unhealthy preoccupation on the self that’s exacerbated by distorted social comparisons.
However, mounting business pressures have made it clear that I can’t continue ignoring this particular tool of my trade. Since that unwelcome realization, I’ve spent weeks immersing myself in social media, intensely studying, researching, observing and experimenting. While my initial reservations have survived intact, I’ve seen enough to modify my position somewhat.
And my position now is this:
If it’s used with mindfulness, social media can serve as a surprisingly robust, if somewhat nerve-wracking, spiritual practice, especially for those of us who teach yoga and meditation. Why? For the simple reason that in the world of social media, the line between serving others and serving one’s ego—between wanting to express and wanting to impress—is so very, very thin.
Take, for example, the phenomenon of the “yoga selfie” (a notion that comes perilously close to the essentially oxymoronic idea of the “humble brag”). Yes, yoga selfies can be used and have been used as a source of inspiration. And yes, they can be used and have been used as a tool for self-aggrandizement. And finally, yes, they can be used and have been used to achieve both purposes at the same time.
For this reason, navigating the world of social media requires a constant at-tention on in-tention—or the maintenance of a continuous meta-awareness that would test any veteran mindfulness practitioner. Participating in it fully can also be a means of recognizing what Buddhist meditators refer to as the “three marks of existence.” Impermanence or anicca reveals itself in the constant streaming of feeds and the ever-changing fortunes of hashtags. Unsatisfactoriness or dukkha exposes itself in the indignities of unfollows and the humiliation of unsubscribes. Non-self or anattā bares itself in the unabashedly schizophrenic self-disclosures of the typical digital denizen.
In short, social media can be used as sādhana. We can use it to fall more deeply asleep—which is what happens when we devote precious amounts of our time and energy in endlessly curating displays for a hyper-gallery of the self or in envying the displays of others—or, we can use it to wake up.
After all, to paraphrase American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, everything can be used on the path of awakening. On my end, I may as well use social media.
Hoping you find everything useful on the path of awakening,