Monday, April 27, 2009

Twitter, the Anti-Meditation Global Positioning System

Maybe someday I will look back at this post and shake my head, but for now, I have to say I am not inclined to Twitter. Whenever I think of issuing short updates to inform the world of my global positioning, current activities, or state of mind, I am reminded of time I spent at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center across from Lake Calhoun, "just sitting" in zazen or listening to the lectures of Danin Katagiri Roshi.

When you just sit, you try to quiet the monkey mind. There is something so difficult – and so calming – about this practice, which connects you, at best, to the broader stream of life. That is life beyond the sphere of random determined human activity, which to such a large extent surrounds us, blinds us, and swallows us up.

So if you Twitter all day long, sending out 140 character communications from an electronic device, expecting others to take an interest in your whereabouts, your monkey mind, and your scraps of wit, banality, or insight, doesn't that just magnify and geometrically accelerate the noise that a practice like zen meditation aims to make still?

I like to send out these daily interweb communications, make occasional phone calls, and visit with people face-to-face. But the idea of Twittering gives me pause. Isn't privacy the greatest luxury? Time spent "off the radar"? Time to quiet the mind and the dispersal of personal information? It's just a thought.

"It's just a thought." I can imagine Katagiri saying that, in such a way as to make you take in the full weight of the phrase and its implications. Here is a quote from Each Moment Is the Universe. I think contains more than 140 characters, so it wouldn't work for a tweet:

"Even though we understand who we are, we have to see what we are. Are we separate from the grasses, trees, or birds? No, we are the grasses and trees, snowstorms and fine days. So we have to learn what the storm is, what winter is, what spring is. We have to understand everything in our whole life. So accept that life is just a continuation of learning. Day after day, life after life, we just have to learn constantly. That's enough."

Other books complied from Katagiri's lectures are Returning to Silence: Zen Practice in Daily Life (1988) and You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight (1998).


Jeanne said...

You always make me think! This time, about why I Twitter and how it works fine for me (even though I meditate!).

First, I am not my "self" in my Twitter feed. I am an aggregator and distributor of information (on behalf of my employer, really) with a personality that may or may not come through in 140 characters. Regardless, that's not the point. It's a compressed method of communicating in a time-starved, connection-starved period.

I control whose feeds I see--and to some extent, who sees my posts. So it's not an endless flood of completely useless bleats ("how dreary to be somebody" comes to mind!). It's an occasional burst of selected information that I am free to ignore, read, pass on, or savor.

It works a little bit like those old ticker-tape news feeds. I scan it, take the part that is useful, valuable, or funny and leave the garbage on the floor.

And really, Elenabella, I am much too shy to blog. And much too lazy!

A lot of the chat on Twitter is incredibly banal and reflective of the "monkey mind." But just a couple of days ago, I discovered that an acquaintance was in the middle of having her garden bed planted by Backyard Harvest, and then I found a lovely post about frugality that I probably would have missed.

I guess it's like any other source of information: choose your books and your friends and your media wisely and your zazen can remain relatively undisturbed.

elena said...

Hi Jeanne..this is all fascinating: thank you so much – I feel somewhat enlightened, but (like zen?) perhaps titter has to be experienced for its appeal to be understood. Someday I will probably be watching your feed..

Which media? Which message? Those are the questions these days.