A Twittering of Consciousness, Part I & II by Matthew Gilbert

According to a recent Retrevo Gadgetology Report, almost half of social media users say they check Facebook or Twitter sometime during the night or when they first wake up. Nearly 50 percent of those under 25 don’t mind being interrupted by a text message during dinner. Celebrities Kim Kardashian and Soulja Boy make up to $10,000 for a sponsored tweet. At an estimated 50 million tweets a day and rising, there is significant upside! Are these the signs of a technology drawing us closer and closer together toward an experience of immediate and shared consciousness, or simply the extension of a fragmented collective psyche onto a wider and more visible stage?

Several colleagues of mine have written eloquently on how social technologies such as Twitter and Facebook are reflecting the inner realities of our essential spiritual natures. In a piece last year titled “The Spiritual Importance of Twitter,” Stephan Dinan wrote “I’m now convinced that Twitter is part of the spiritual evolution of our species. Its growth corresponds to the accelerating spread of a global consciousness, one in which …we are increasingly in touch with our sense of ‘oneness’ with others.” Steven Vedro, ruminating on his blog Digital Dharma about both the challenges and evolutionary engine of the Twitter-verse, believes that “the ‘ambient awareness’ that is emerging within Twitter circles can be extended beyond the subconscious knowledge of what one’s friends are up to into an actual mindfulness practice …and to something even more powerful: the ‘seeing-everything-all-at-once’ consciousness where one is a node on the network, and simultaneously the entire web itself.” (See also Vedro’s 2007 piece “Our Evolving Global Brain” from Shift magazine.)

Then there’s the viewpoint of the person who responded to Dinan’s article with, “When I start to read stories of how the advertising industry continues to work its way into all new realms of technology and social media…what I see is the dominant paradigm on a path of inexorable infiltration and take over…‘Be here now’ has been supplanted by ‘be digital now,’ and I’m not sure this constitutes an evolutionary breakthrough. One could argue that this is merely another enviroscape for the monkey mind to bounce through.” To wit: the response thread that follows ultimately ends up in a discussion on the best price for Velcro sneakers.

In his book Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, Soren Gordhamer takes the middle road. He acknowledges the negative impacts of a ubiquitously wired and always-on world, citing various studies that show how our collective addiction is playing havoc with our health, our creativity, and the depth of our personal relationships. But with the right tools of inner technology, he says, one can safely navigate both worlds. (See, for example, “Keeping Twitter Relevant: The Art of Unfollowing.”)

Putting this theory to the test, Gordhamer organized the Wisdom 2.0 Conference, which took place in the heart of Silicon Valley from April 30–May 1, 2010. High level execs from Google, Zappos, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere mingled with Zen Abbott Joan Halifax, neuroscientist Philippe Goldin, and a variety of “spiritual living” digital entrepreneurs to discuss how to find balance in our high-speed, techno-saturated culture. Will our consciousness merge and co-evolve with these effervescent, unrestrained technologies, struggle to keep up, or simply drop out of range?

Part II

With cautious anticipation, I attended an inaugural gathering last May of technocrats and wisdom-sowing digerati at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in Silicon Valley. My motivation was both professional education and personal curiosity. Admittedly a late adopter of anything more complicated than a transistor radio, I nevertheless felt the call of a phenomenon that, with me or without me, is moving forward at breakneck speed. And of course the irony of technology serving or even reflecting our deepest spiritual yearnings—the primary focus of this event—was not lost on me. At the intersection of faith and reality, could wisdom really be found?

After two days of rich dialogue and presentations, I came to the conclusion that the answer is…maybe. I was intrigued and even inspired at times by the authenticity of motivation behind the many new initiatives seeking to raise consciousness, inspire social action, and unearth our better selves, but still nagged by a vague sense of unease. Are we deluding ourselves into thinking that technology is the answer to the most persistent challenges of existence, or are we blessed by a tool that may only be at the cusp of its potential to help spark a global social and spiritual renaissance?

Karmic Acceleration?

Perhaps the best description of social media’s evolutionary role was given by Roshi Joan Halifax. Sharing the stage with high-level execs from Google and Twitter, the renowned Zen Abbot called it a “karmic accelerator…dharma metabolizing as social networking.” Google’s Bradley Horowitz described it as a “lubricant for human nature…with all the distractions, connections, and emotions,” while for Twitter’s Greg Pass, “It’s about making the invisible visible.”

Growth in usage rates has been charting exponentially across nearly all demographic groups, and with it an unprecedented level of transparency, accountability, and impact. “I love that I have instant contact with students worldwide,” Halifax said. “I can also sense the immediate energy of a global trauma.” But she tempers her appreciation with a warning: “I consider my most valuable gift as a human being to be my presence. You cannot replace the power of face-to-face presence with a device. How can we hold both, being fully present and hyperconnected?”

Indeed, part of the conference was oriented around how each of us can adapt to the new technology—since it isn’t going away—and numerous suggestions were made on how to stay balanced and avoid the digital abyss: texting gratefulness messages to friends, practicing one-minute yoga, watching our breath as we descend into our inboxes. The dominance of the medium has been felt in both our work and our personal lives, where it quickens the pace, fragments our awareness, and eclipses conversational traditions. Last fall a treatment facility dedicated to “pathological computer use” opened in Fall City, WA—just a few miles from Microsoft headquarters.Yes, a “lubricant for human nature,” but what parts of it? What drives our obsession?

Neuroscientist Philippe Goldin, advocating for the role of mindfulness in these chaotic times, pointed out that “feeling alone” is our “primary psychoemotional distortion” and a major driver in social media’s remarkable adoption rates. We are, by definition, social beings. Others mentioned the influence of our reality TV culture, enforcing the idea that everyone has a right to be seen and heard, to get their micro-window of fame. And of course there’s simply the appeal of distraction—doing always seems to trump being.

Conference organizer Soren Gordhamer noted an “implied intimacy” among our vast networks of friends and colleagues. “People can deceive themselves that they are connecting authentically with others while not knowing what feeling inner-connected really means.” One young audience member wondered about the relevancy of “Dunbar’s number”—a theory developed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar stating that the human brain is not cognitively organized to maintain stable social relationships with more than 150 people, including those on the periphery such as our mechanic or an old college chum. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr presents a litany of new studies showing the neurological blowback of the medium. Longtime techno-consultant Linda Stone, now specializing in the study of “continuous partial attention” (disorder?), noted the growing affliction of email apnea—the withholding of breath while processing email, which leads to health problems. She added, “The overconsumption of information leads to the overconsumption of food.”

An Era of Paradox

There is a heroic quality to the motivation behind many of the digital leviathans driving this medium. Twitter’s motto is “Be a force for good.” Google’s intent is to organize and democratize all human knowledge. It has a Department of Personal Growth, headed by “jolly good fellow” Meng Tan and featuring classes on emotional intelligence, meditation, and even “the way of tea.” Silicon Valley’s executive class devours such progressive management-book classics as Good to Great, Tribal Leadership, and Your Brain at Work.

People have certainly made meaningful connections with friends and family through their social networks, and those relationships can have a spiritual impact. There are now iPhone apps for auras, mantras, saints, and even Tibetan singing bowls. And for those in isolated locales, “leveling the playing field so that a poor Indian kid has the same access to knowledge as a Stanford graduate student” (as Google’s Gopi Kallayil reminded the audience) is surely a force for good.

Indeed, the most poignant – and hilarious – image from the conference was shared by Kallayil, who had recently returned from India’s Kumbh Mela, a colossal Hindu celebration considered the largest religious gathering in the world. While wandering the streets near the Ganges River, he saw an ascetic who had given everything away save for a single item: a cell phone.

So if turning it all off is impossible, how can social media alleviate suffering and generate more compassion in the world? Both as mirrors and drivers of our human potential, these technologies will only be as wise as those who are developing and using them. Like most everything else these days, the larger consciousness of social media remains full of contradictions. Perhaps the tension between them is enough to drive one to, or keep one on, a spiritual path.

Mr. Gilbert is Director of Editorial and Web Operations at IONS, former editor of Shift magazine, and founder of Noetic Books.

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How to Set Goals Without Caring About the Outcome ~ Margaret Paul Ph.D.

Are you confused between the difference between setting goals and being attached to outcomes? Learn the big difference between these two.

Many people experience confusion regarding the difference between setting goals and letting go of attachment to outcomes. A client and I were discussing being in the moment with her work, rather than stressing about the outcome. “Then how can you set goals for yourself? Everyone sets goals based on the outcome. Why else would you even set goals or try to accomplish anything?”

Setting goals is a very positive and powerful thing to do. Setting goals helps us take the loving action we need to take in our own behalf, to accomplish the things we desire to achieve.

However, setting goals and working toward accomplishing those goals is very different than attaching our happiness, worth and well being to achieving those goals. If we attach our happiness and worth to accomplishing our goals, then we will never feel happy until we have what we want. And, because most of us continue to create new goals once we accomplish our previous goals, this means never being happy or feeling worthy. As long as we attach our happiness and worth to accomplishing our goals, we can never be happy in the moment. There is always the proverbial carrot dangling in front of us, and we never reach it. No matter how much we have and accomplish, the carrot is always there. This is why there are so many successful people who are very unhappy and never feel that they are good enough.

Goals are wonderful, and achieving them is fun, but happiness is right now — being fully present with all that you have. Your sense of worth needs to be based on your intrinsic qualities — your goodness and ability to love, your compassion, caring, and understanding — rather than on achieving goals.

Attaching your happiness to outcomes is what causes distress. As soon as you attach your happiness, worth and wellbeing to something — to connection with someone, to money, things, approval, success, and so on — you then want control over getting what you want. And it is your controlling behavior that causes your distress. Not only does the attachment itself cause anxiety because you might ruminate on getting what you want, but all the things you do to attempt to control the outcome keeps you from being present to your experience of life in the moment.

Taking loving action in order to accomplish your goals is not the same as trying to control the outcome. Loving actions may include hard work, staying open to learning, being honest and acting with integrity, being on time, following through on commitments, caring about others, and so on. Controlling actions may include lying, using others, ruminating, getting angry or defensive, being closed to learning and so on. Controlling behaviors not only make it harder to manifest what you want, but these behaviors often result in feeling alone and unworthy.

When you are willing to accept that you are not in charge of outcomes, you can be fully present in this moment, connected with the inner guidance that will help you to achieve your goals. It’s wonderful to want to be in a loving relationship, to be rich, to have a baby, to be accomplished in your chosen profession, to lose weight or be healthy, to buy a new house or new car, to plan for a vacation, and so on. It’s wonderful to do all you can do physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually to achieve your goals. But if your happiness and sense of worth is dependent on achieving these goals, and if you spend your time trying to control the outcome of things, you will not be a happy person and you will not feel worthy, even if you achieve all of your goals.

Do all you can do to achieve your goals, while being present, open, loving and caring about yourself and others. Do the work you need to do to achieve your goals, while being connected with yourself and with your inner guidance. Do the necessary loving actions to accomplish all that your heart desires, while being unattached to outcomes.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a bestselling author of eight books, a relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process — featured on “The Oprah Show,” and recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette. Are you are ready to heal your pain and discover your joy? .

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