You know those public memes your friends sometimes share from another page? Clicking on them is like sneaking under the troll’s toll bridge to see how it lives.
Some of the comments are funny, sure. Some are earnest and insightful. Some are pure toxic waste. But I don’t wanna talk about that.
Have you ever clicked on a pic to post a comment, and while scrolling through the hundreds of quips, see that someone’s beat you to it? Not only that, but that dozens of other people have posted the same comment over time?
How does that make you feel? Do you join the choir and offer your two cents anyway, or just let it be? Do you try to think up something original that no one else has said in the thread? Do you go back to it every now and then to see how many people have liked or replied to your comment?
A lot of Zennists can’t stand FB or FB Buddhism—especially the, “Beyond words and letters,” crowd. But the Dharma’s everywhere. Each experience we have in life is a teaching. The interactions we have and witness on FB are the Social Media Sutra.
When we read a comment and have the urge to reply, that’s a valuable opportunity. It’s a moment we can use to stop and see. We can examine our train of thought, we can see all those impulses and feelings and ask, “What is this? Why is this? Is this skillful?”
Then we can turn to the comment we’re about to reply to and ask the same questions. After that, we can decide to reply or not and what to say. We can ask, “Did investigation just change my course?”
Those moments of awareness and investigation reveal both the smudges on the surface of our minds, and the clarity that sees them.
Another interesting thing about FB comments is that, when dozens of people have beat us to the punch, it shows that we’re everywhere. The things we take to be ourselves—our views, preferences, humor, and personality—we can find them in millions of other people.
That’s a bit humbling for me. A lot of us were raised with an, “I’m special, I’m unique,” ethic. But those comments show that that’s not the case at all. It feels good to think that we’re special, but if something we feel is founded in fiction, then it can’t last. Sooner or later, a breeze always comes along and blows apart our house of cards. So, Facebook can be a practice in humility.
That isn’t to say we’re not special, because we are, just not in the way we think we are. It isn’t our views and personalities that make us extraordinary, it’s, well, this. This is extraordinary. Being able to sit here and read is extraordinary. Understanding that we’re ordinary is extraordinary.
So, we have a few choices. We can keep saying that we’re our personalities and either keep on suffering, or we can see that we’re everywhere, that everyone who thinks and feels the way we do is—in some way—us. If we identify as just a mixed bag of characteristics, then we’re everywhere, because those characteristics are everywhere.
Or we can go another way and say that, since these characteristics aren’t mine, then they’re not me. I’m something else that can’t be characterized, that doesn’t have any discernible traits.
Compassion and patience are possible down any of those paths. If we suffer, we can look at all the vitriol on FB and see that it comes from suffering as well. If we decide to take the path less traveled and see through our characteristics, then we can see through other’s traits as well to that common core.
Social Media and the Traditional Teachings
We can see the traditional teachings in action everywhere all the the time. I recommend taking a day where, instead of posting and commenting, you just stop and see.
Look at the comments to a controversial or strongly worded status or article. Why is there so much anger and mean-spirited mocking in response to it? Where does that come from? If someone wasn’t grasping onto their own views, would that status have thrown them into a shitfit?
Look at the words, would they be there if people hadn’t typed them? Would they still have meaning if you didn’t know what they meant? Look at the implied emotions and personality traits of the posters and commentators. Are they unique or shared by others?
Are these comments going to last forever? Are the views and traits behind them going to last forever? If not, where did they come from? Where do they go? Where are they now?
Stop and see. That’s the practice.