Spiritual Growth in a Digital Age – Help or Harm?

In today’s digital-media infused society, has it become more difficult to grow spiritually, or easier?

A Yoga Teacher Training graduate recently sent me a great quote: “Show me what you pay attention to, and I’ll know who you are.” She shared it with me because it reminded her of my constant focus on the breath and presence during the training.

It made me reflect on the level of distraction around us, and wonder if it has gotten harder to be present.  When I finish a meeting, class or activity, the pull to check my phone for instant messages, facebook notifications, and tweets is immediate.  Instead I work on remembering to take the time to breathe, integrate into the current moment, and look around me.

I also see how digital technology can pull people away from authentic interactions.  Video games are no substitute for talking, playing, and enjoying nature.  In addition to eating away at the time we have to do this, TV and video seem to erode our ability to enjoy it, hooking us on rapid images and instant gratification, shortening our attention spans, and making the world around us seem slow and pale by comparison.

I hate to sound like one of those old timers that complain that the pastimes of the newer generations are less wholesome than their own generations’,  and yet, I do think that there is a real danger of losing our sense of connection with the earth and ourselves, and that this is also part of why we are allowing environmental devastation – because we are disconnected and addicted to instant gratification culture.

I also think that for children, “screen-time” is detrimental to the development of curiosity, independence, and attention-span, and have been very conservative with this in raising my own children.

On the other hand, there is much to say for the benefits of the digital age on spiritual growth and spiritual communities.

With new media, there are opportunities to share spiritual teachings that used to only be available as a personal transmission from the teacher, podcasts of my yoga classes are shared around the globe, and I benefit from teachers I have never met in ways that books only allowed to a smaller degree.  While one can argue that in-person is a better way to learn from a spiritual teacher, the opportunity for millions of people to benefit was never before an option, and outweighs the loss in personal transaction by a lot.

In addition, many people who otherwise would not be considered “teachers” share information through the internet that is helpful for others, and our ability to pass it on to our social networks means that we can all know so much more than we could even 15 years ago.

I have learned an enormous amount through the internet, that has bolstered my spiritual practice and my teaching.  I am able to draw together diverse sources, combine different types of information, and present it in my yoga classes that have a wonderful impact for my students.

So, as with so many things in life, the answer seems to be balance.  If I had the choice to go back to a pre-digital age, would I?  No.  But it is really important to be mindful of how we use our attention, and to make choices that support our spiritual growth – sometimes that means more technology usage, and at times that might mean less.  I think it is important for every person to have occasional “fasts” from technology for a day, a week, or a month, in order to remember our quiet mind.

As life becomes more hugely multi-layered, so must our approach to spiritual growth!

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