It seems like everyone these days is fully immersed in technological living. Cell phones beep and buzz every other minute, you pay your bills online, you can find dates online, and without a computer, it’s hard to even manage your children’s school activities because… they're online. So how is one to cultivate a healthy relationship with technology if it seems to be constantly demanding attention? We spoke with Shrijnana, the Executive Director of Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire, about how she sees technology serving -- and hindering -- connection in today’s world.
“I think technology as a whole is neutral, it really depends on how we use it. The positive impact is that we have a means to connect with a much wider variety of people than we’ve had before. So, we can have meaningful interactions with people that are on the other side of the country, in a completely different culture. If used well it can bring us closer to people without being bound by geography. It’s been very helpful for people who are ill and disabled and can’t leave the house. It’s a way to breakdown the isolation of being housebound. And it’s an incredible way to share ideas.”
As the Executive Director of a retreat and workshop center, technology has, no doubt, enabled Shrijnana to share the work of Buddhism with a wider audience. Newmarket isn’t exactly a metropolitan center, and yet Aryaloka has touched the lives of people from all over. But it isn’t without its drawbacks, she says:
“There are risks though, the risks of balance. If we get out of balance and stop nurturing the relationships that aren’t screen mediated, that are real live people in front of us, then something is definitely lost. Technology and social media can be addictive, which means that it becomes harder to create that balance for ourselves. The endless information available, the ping of a Facebook or text notification, are always pulling us to be out of balance, to be more in our virtual world than other parts of our lives.”
Naturally, Shrijnana and her colleagues have gentle practices to bring everyone back to mindfulness during retreats -- and those same tools can be helpful in everyday life. She calls it “bringing pause”:
“Bringing the pause into the day -- there’s a mindfulness bell, when in our retreats somebody rings the mindfulness bell and it’s a reminder to come back to the present moment, to let go of whatever train of thought has been distracting us. Mindfulness bells can be even more useful outside of the retreat environment. Many people have mindfulness apps on their phones. At random times the phone will ring a bell; it sounds just like the singing bowl we have in our meditation room. It’s a reminder to pause. Some people pause at a particular activity, like before they commute home from work, or make it a practice to drive in silence.”
Even without a fancy app or the context of a retreat-setting mindfulness bell, the art of bringing pause allows a moment to breathe, connect, and choose. This aspect of choosing mindfully seems to be the crux of maintaining a healthy relationship with others as well as our technology, particularly with how busy life can be.
A Buddhism retreat can, of course, offer a helpful reset of sorts when technology seems to be taking over. But in the meantime…
How about we pause?
Shrijnana began practicing Buddhism after her first visit to Aryaloka in 1987. After having taught middle and high school science for over ten years, Shrijnana works as the Executive Director of Aryaloka Buddhist Center. She coordinates programs of retreats and classes and teaches Mitra Study and yoga occasionally. Visit Aryaloka Buddhist Center's profile on Retreat Guru to learn more.