writing on suffering and awakening

A social media dharma

Since the last election, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Twitter. Most days, it feels like the world is burning down, and I’m curious to hear what people have to say about it. I like to think that I follow a fairly wide range of folks; people from different backgrounds who offer different perspectives. Interestingly, I find that I agree with all of them at least occasionally.

What I also find is that many of the posts on Twitter follow a similar pattern. Person A writes about how something terrible has happened and this person or group of people is responsible. A bunch of people agree.

Then Person B writes that actually no, Person A and their group are the bad guys. A bunch of people agree. The whole thing turns into an ugly back-and-forth.

Whatever your personal perspective is, you probably recognize this basic dynamic.

If you’re like me, you probably get emotional about it sometimes. It’s impossible not to. I feel threatened and disgusted by much of the news. I feel anger when I witness someone attacking a group I care about or see myself as part of, or a belief that I hold dear. I feel personally hurt too—why does this person not like me, or value what I value? I feel guilt and frustration and a desire to turn away in response to the seemingly never-ending stream of atrocities we learn about every day. Sometimes, I just feel despair.

This makes Twitter a wonderful place to practice the dharma—the art of accepting what is and loving in the midst of it. It’s a constant parade of suffering and people at their worst, and the trick is to make room for the suffering and love them anyway—or even because of it.

When I find myself reacting emotionally to someone’s Twitter post, I’ve been making an effort to really be with that feeling for a moment—to feel the hurt that wells up in my heart. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s also a reminder that yes, I’m connected to this person. They affect me (and I affect them), even from behind the walls of our respective screens. That means that whether I like it or not, they and their well-being matters to me, because it’s inextricably tied up with mine.

If I have patience with myself and stay with this process for a little while, my angrier feelings tend to fade. It helps to say a prayer for or offer a kind thought towards the well-being of the person who brought up those feelings as well—indeed, doing so regularly can really shift how we see someone.

As the anger starts to drain away, I am reminded that I don’t need to act on it, or do anything with it. Nobody needs to hear my thoughts on why they’re the ones who are wrong. I don’t need to rush off and tell someone else about the horrible thing that Person A or Person B said. I can let it be.

We’re all just bouncing off each other because we don’t quite see each other clearly. But if we’re willing to be vulnerable to the impact we have on each other, maybe we can change that.

Ian Cooper