Finding Your Soul on Facebook

authentic

The Huffington Post aired an article with the strange (to me) headline: "Facebook: A Spiritual Experience?" The author, Kelley Harrell, advertises herself as a Neoshaman and Priestess, ordained by Global Goddess, among other titles. Her webpage describes her practice as "an intertribal shamanic practice for Universal wellbeing..." It's important to have this background to understand the article and my response to it.

I think it is important to see the author's own words. She uses a vocabulary that is quite foreign to me.

Who sees what of you is one thing. What you see of others is another. The foremost insight Facebook gives into others is through status updates. Some use this blurb as an opportunity to keep others abreast of their morning coffee selection, what film they saw, or how they feel about sitting on the front porch. Some users are decidedly candid, sharing intensely personal insights. All of these are perfectly fine, though I often wonder if people considered that every status update they enter alters the collective consciousness of the planet, if they would say something more authentic? Because it does. If more people observed such, perhaps their updates would convey their soul's words, rather than their ego's. No contention, mind you. I like to know if my savvy friends think a film sucks, or they posted some gem about our healthcare system. But if the Internet is a manifestation of the collective conscious, and Facebook is its most prolific platform, could we improve how we thrive here if we chose to make social networking a more spiritual experience?
The thing about Facebook is that for it to be a social networking success, it demands radical honesty, as does spiritual growth. Indeed, that honesty can be selectively doled, based on privacy settings, interests entered, and the choice not to friend. Even in that closed scenario, I've known people whose pasts were still skillfully unearthed from the bowels of Facebook by some haunt, throwing them into a moment of panic. I think it is in that moment that the real life of Facebook thrives, not in the choice to friend or ignore, the celebrity who friends you, or the smackdown you give your old boyfriend. Certainly those things can be empowering and bring closure to karmic patterns. I think the real power of Facebook is that it's a cutting edge, worldwide awareness, within which the Universe holds up a mirror, as we all know it does from time to time, making sure we really do know where we stand on the trials, paths and joys of our lives. We can look into the bytes of our past and make an empowered choice based on the free will of our soulful present.

In any number of posts to this blog, I have been saying quite the opposite. Social networking technologies and the software that runs them subtracts an essential part of the context necessary to interconnect at the level of soul, if we can ever connect that intimately. I should start by saying I do not believe in a cosmic consciousness, and in any case, I don't see its relevance to the arguments Harrell is making. The primary feature of all of social networks is their facility in creating interconnection. There is no argument with that. These technologies have introduced a means to connect to a veritable myriad of others and pass information throughout the web at the speed of light.

To claim that they can create a spiritual experience seems to me to be too much. Using spiritual in the same breath as Facebook sounded strange to me so I went to the Internet to see what others say about it. I try not to use Wikipedia as the source of all knowledge but, in this case, their description captured well what I found in general.

Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or immaterial reality; an inner path meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life; such practices often lead to an experience of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world enabling a person to discover the essence of their being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.”

The closest I could come to connect this description with the Huffington post piece was through the reference to "connectedness with larger reality." I don't believe a network of people fits this description. Yes, it is larger in number but not in going beyond the everyday dimensions of reality. Relating to or caring for friends (Facebook's jargon for other people in your life) falls in a different domain from spirituality.

I have considerable doubt that entering anything on Facebook "alters the collective consciousness of the planet." It changes the reality of the cyberspace because some server has a new set of bytes, but that doesn't mean there is any new sense of consciousness. Maybe the cosmos can sense that, but to have any effect on us, we humans have to enter into that consciousness. Can interaction with Facebook change our consciousness and provide access to our souls? I do not believe in the existence of souls but accept the word as a metaphor for a sense of our self that we cannot describe other than as an expression of our being.

The author more or less equates authenticity with the soul. Authentic in my lexicon relates to action, not to a state of one's body. It means not acting mindlessly, conforming to some cultural, parental, peer, or other norm. It means doing something not because the "they" tell me to but, rather, from a free choice. It's exceedingly difficult to detect authenticity in someone else's actions. A hug is still a hug whether it comes from an embedded custom or from an expression of the "soul."

I think that to "say something more authentic," as Harrell does, is an incorrect use of the term. Saying anything is just that: saying. Is the choice of words what makes it authentic? If anyone is to know that another is acting authentically, it's virtually impossible without being present. The words alone can never convey the state of being. Authenticity shows up by its presence. Not in the cosmos as the article says, but in the immediate space of the actor or speaker. Speech is, after all, just another form of action.

The author does seem to recognize that most interactions with Facebook are inauthentic. Its users are keeping their friends "up-to-date" because that's what everybody is doing these days. I agree that the experience of Facebook would be richer if the entries came from some place deeper in the body but I believe it is an error to label that the spiritual. One can come face to face with his or her soul (using the metaphor from the article) though many disciplines. If that collision occurs through meditation, I would agree that it might slip into the realm of the spiritual. In our western world, the awakening is sought more often through some form of psychotherapy. But in any case I cannot label an encounter with Facebook as fitting into either of these two areas of practice or any other that comes to mind.

Authenticity comes in the way a human acts out their care for the world, including themselves and other humans. How does baring your "soul" to others on Facebook produce care? What is the soul-barer taking care of? Facebook friends fall into the "other humans" category. But is Facebook the place to take care of friends? I don't think so but I may be wrong here. I say no because I believe that authentic behavior entering at one node of the Internet will lose its authenticity by the time it pops out at the target IP address. Authentic behavior toward another human being always involves an interaction in which the responses of the receiver continuously provide feedback to the consciousness of the giver, and shape the behavior of each succeeding moment. Interposing any technological artifact between the actors distorts the reality each one perceives. So much for Facebook as a passage to the soul.

One of my students in the MBA in Managing for Sustainability Program at Marlboro College Graduate center, Laura Zeppieri, posted the link to this article on our class website. Thanks, Laura.

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Galen said:

This neoshaman is quoted as saying: "In animism, all things have souls, which means the souls of PDAs must be extremely elevated consciousnesses to do all the things they can, and for the potential they represent." (http://ideamensch.com/kelley-harrell/)

It's just a different way of interpreting space and technology and spirit, I guess.

I,too, am fascinated by the collective consciousness that can arise through social networking, but in my experience (even with some pretty ritualistic communities), facebook is not a place for spirituality. I do believe there is truly authentic connection occurring, though.