Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How Facebook Can Make You More 'Zen'

In 2009, I wrote an essay on how Facebook may be harming us, particularly by breeding narcissistic behaviors, as well as overall unhappiness.  Since then, numerous articles have been published devoted to the same topic, highlighting how social media (particularly Facebook) may be harmful to one’s self-esteem, sense of connection, reputation and safety, among other things. 

Well, today I’d like to share with you a different perspective, this time highlighting how I’ve discovered that we can also cultivate our ‘Zen’ with the help of Facebook.

Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify that I’m using the word ‘Zen’ quite loosely here.  I don’t mean any disrespect towards those who truly practice this tradition, and I acknowledge that it’s most likely more complex than I would make it seem here.  That said, I believe that there is enough consensus to proceed with the term ‘Zen’ as something that invokes the idea of cultivating inner peace, wisdom and and deeper spirituality. 

With that in mind, let me cite the reasons why I think engaging in Facebook, with all its superficiality and seemingly endless drama and sometimes toxicity, can still encourage you to be more evolved and live Zen-ful days.

You know those Facebook statuses announcing that your 'friend' (or their child) is sick with some contagious illness (e.g.  the flu, diarrhea, strep, etc.)?  Well, for the normal ‘audience’, those statuses are just like any other status that don’t really interrupt much of your scroll down impulse.  However, for a generally paranoid mother like myself, news of someone’s child being ill could cause me to panic and react as if it’s a full-blown pandemic that I need to protect my son against with all the power that I have (which isn’t really much)!  And the closer in proximity the sick child is, the more insane I could potentially become.  I know how irrational my thoughts and feelings could be in situations like that, wanting to confine my son in a bubble, and so I’ve forced myself to learn how to consciously pause and step back. 

When I encounter panic-inducing statuses, I take a deep breath, close my eyes and say to myself, “Our Now is good”.  I remind myself that I can’t control everything about the future and no one knows what will happen.  But right now, in this moment, my son is healthy.  All is well.  

The only moment we truly have power over is the present and there is no better time for practicing gratitude than now.  Now is also good for saying prayers for those who do need it.  See Now for what it is and do your best to make friends with it.  After all, it is and will always be your only constant companion.


Time and time again, you will encounter a one-upper on social media. There are just individuals who seemingly have a constant need to prove themselves omniscient and thrive in a perpetual state of competition. You say one thing, they say another, either to completely invalidate what you said or to highlight that they know more than you do.  These are the people who just have to say something about everything to everyone, and each situation is turned into a sport to be won.  I'd like to believe that most of the time, they probably mean well and only want to help because they think their input will save the world. The trouble is, I don't always have patience for them and I know that my Ego rages when it feels threatened by such characters.  

According to Eckhart Tolle, the Ego is the constant stream of thoughts that courses through us, that separates or identifies us from others, and that which has a constant desire to be right.  We have to understand that our Ego is not everything about us, hence should not define us or dictate our actions. Once that's clear, it becomes easier to detach or overcome the need to feed our Ego and choose something else that offers a greater sense of peace.   

When you see a status on Facebook that you instinctively want to comment on, with or without the presence of a one-upper or know-it-all, just take a pause and ask yourself what your true intentions are.  One question is all it takes before you type a comment:  What for?  If you are offering support, or simply sharing some knowledge that is truly being sought, then go ahead and make your input.  But if you feel that you are only commenting to show off, beat others to the punch, or prove something, then stop and walk away.   'What for?' is also the same question you need to ask yourself when you are tempted to engage a know-it-all / one-upper to jolt yourself into realizing that it's just not worth it.  Remind yourself that there is no need to prove anything to anyone, no trophy to be won, no spotlight to steal.  Remember that the Ego is fleeting and insatiable.  Is it really worth feeding and investing a lot of your time and energy in?


It's so easy to fall into the comparison trap on Facebook, as we get constantly bombarded with beautiful images capturing moments of a friend's life.  But as I've written before, these photos we see are but snippets of someone's complex biography, and well-selected snippets at that!  That flawless selfie, the slimmer-looking body, the sparkly jewelry in that photo, or that nice hotel room where your friend stayed at during their vacation...All these are pre-selected images, posted not because they necessarily accurately capture reality, but because they are brag-worthy. They represent the best, the happiest, and not the median realities.   You can't compare your life to others' because you simply don't know enough.  More importantly, it's unfair for you to view your life against an unrealistic (and even photoshopped) standard!  

Treat those fabulous Facebook photos you see as a reminder to practice Acceptance. Honor who and where you are now, as you honor who your friends are right now.  Make peace with what is and focus on your own gifts rather than your inadequacies.  Remember that we all have imperfect lives that are still gratitude-worthy if you just wear the right lens for viewing.  


In Facebook, it's quite common for people to ask friends for positive thoughts and prayers in times of need.  It may involve a serious illness, periods of grief, job applications, or school exams.  Whatever it may be, when you see those statuses, consider it a perfect opportunity to practice Detachment.

Please don't think that I'm using 'detachment' to mean being cold, withdrawn or uncaring of others.  'Detachment' is used here to refer to non-attachment to specific results.  And isn't this really how we are taught to pray?  In offering support to others by means of prayers, sure we clarify our intentions.  And yes, we hope for the best.  But ultimately, it is not up to us and like most anything in life, we cannot possibly control every thing to ensure that we achieve the desired outcome.  In prayer, we learn to relinquish control.  There is no way for you to be certain of the outcome when you offer your thoughts and prayers for someone.  The best you can really do is focus your thoughts on your request and then say, as we often do in the Christian tradition, 'Thy will be done'.


The way that Facebook has expanded and even strengthened our networks is undeniable.  Keeping in touch has never been easier, though certainly to an extent I believe the quality has gone down somehow.  However, time and again, we still have friends or contacts that will suddenly send us private messages, pouring their hearts out to us unexpectedly.  (I've done the same, by the way).  Maybe they have parenting problems, marital / love life troubles, health issues or a host of other things.

It's during those times when we can certainly exercise our compassion muscles.  Compassion is not to feel sorry for someone or pity their condition. It is to feel with someone and have the desire to alleviate their suffering, even just by being there, by truly listening.  Thich Nhat Hahn calls this ‘deep listening’ where you allow the other to open his heart and you are there, present, genuinely open to receive what they have to share, without judgement or a rifle filled with criticism all set to be fired.  And in this act of being able to genuinely listen, you have the opportunity to alleviate the suffering of the other.  Just by letting someone vent, even if you don't have any wise words or eureka moments to offer, can be all the gift that is needed at that moment.  To be really there for someone, even though it’s not a physical presence, could be a priceless offering and helps tremendously in lightening the other's burden. 

Facebook, or social media in general, has been both a gift and a curse.  Some have even gone so far as to say that it is the root of all evil.  But as is true for any type of technology, its value depends on the user and you can either be controlled by it, or be its master.  The choice is always there and we can always choose wisely.  So the next time you log into Facebook, remember to take a deep breath and try to invoke your inner Buddha (and/or Christ). Whatever works, right?!  


  1. Yes! The world needs to learn from this perspective, Joy. Thank you for patiently and clearly communicating it. When there is arrogance in the blanket statement, "Facebook is such a waste of time," it only underscores the need to re-examine one's own motives and expectations.

    1. Thank you so much, Cookie! I'm sincerely grateful and happy that you liked the essay. It did take a while to put together. As you may know, I'm not known for my patience, but I knew I had to cite the examples that I personally encounter and can only hope that they be relate-able to others as well. I value your input, so, thanks so much again!!


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