Embodied Buddhism – in an on-screen world

As I sit here, I have a body. That’s perhaps self evident, but when most of our communication happens on screens, it might be easy to forget. I’m on both sides of that equation: I make a living online, which means I meet my colleagues on the online water coolers of Facebook and forums. On the other hand, when sciatica kicks in as it did last week, my body can not be ignored. Don’t worry: it seems under control, but it does reinforce the limitations of on screen living. Unless I ‘share’ those troubles, no one can see them.

In my community of online publishers Kathy McGraw recently noticed that it is hard to keep track of online friends when they go off the radar. We make these connections online, but our line to them is thin as spider silk: when they go offline for whatever reason, we have no way of knowing what happened to them and if they’re ok. Take the online world at face value and we’re all just bits and online conversations. And mostly filtered to share only the positive. When the real world interferes – when our embodiment forces itself on us – our online friends have no way of knowing what happened.

As a culture we’re coming to grips with the effects of living through screens. As concerned father Steve Almond writes in the New York Times. Will his daughter remember that actual cardinal that appeared on their porch railing in a flash of impossible red? 

The fact is: kids or adults, for many of us real-life-sensory experiences are no longer our primary access to the world. And I wonder what that does to our spiritual development and emotional health.

‘Just Sit’, as a Zen Buddhist instruction is probably a great way to get people to pay attention to themselves and develop some self-awareness and self knowledge. They will experience the body through the aches and pains of trying to sit in an unfamiliar position for an hour. But will it help people reconnect with the world through the senses?

One of my Tibetan Buddhism teachers Ondy Wilson often stresses how the Buddhist path is in moving from head to heart. That is, I think, moving from cerebral to fully felt and integrated emotionally. This is relevant for us Westerners because our education stresses the cerebral a lot.

Sitting still and studying Buddhism – however valuable those practices are – will not help much towards activating the heart chakra. Meditations like the ‘Nectar Rain’ meditation (*) do work very well, however I think there is a reason many of the so called ‘preliminary practices’ are physical. Continue reading Embodied Buddhism – in an on-screen world