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The iPhone and the Dharma by Werner Brandt

The iPhone and the Dharma by Werner Brandt

Moving at the speed of life, we are bound to collide with each other.” ~ from the movie Crash

Imagine a device you can hold in the palm of your hand, use to access an almost infinite amount of information that can be read, heard, or seen, and then use to share this information with anyone in the world who has a similar device.

Welcome to the iPhone.

As our culture advances into the 21st century, the proliferation of time and labor saving electronic devices has expanded exponentially. These devices are part of our daily attire as we carry our cell phones, personal digital assistants, notebook computers, digital cameras, and mp3 players everywhere we go. Now, Apple, Inc. promises to combine the functionality of all this equipment into one small aesthetically pleasing tool, controlled by the touch of a human finger on its 3.5 inch screen. The iPhone is the latest technological advance, beckoning us to stay connected in a world that seems to breed isolation through the false notion that consumption brings us true happiness.

In my own spiritual practice, the benefit comes from moving deeper into stillness of mind, and from this solitude, a profound awareness and gratitude arises. But learning to slow down or even stop can be quite challenging when bombarded by endless information continually over-stimulating the brain. We’re more like Pavlov’s salivating dogs, as we frantically search for the musical ring emanating from a misplaced cell phone, rudely interrupting whatever we might have been doing. (A friend of mine suggests using the ring as a mindfulness bell and taking three relaxing breaths before answering the phone.)

Consider this: how much time do you currently spend in direct experience, conversing with friends, walking in the wild, using your hands to create art, as opposed to indirect experience, such as watching television or surfing the internet? Whatever your answer, it could soon become less because the digital highway can now deliver so much more information into that device in your hand, creating a cornucopia of indirect experience that is hard to ignore.

The iPhone represents the latest development in our endless pursuit of new ways to stay in touch, but are we really connecting? Marshall Rosenberg, known for his visionary communication process, Nonviolent Communication, suggests that the reason we communicate is to establish a heartfelt connection with another in a way that makes us feel alive. Listening deeply and being fully present offers us the skills to stay connected with each other. Is this what the new technology is all about?

If the Dharma is a roadmap for finding purpose in life, can we use this technology wisely to support it? Perhaps. It allows us to connect to a vast library of digital information and tailor it to our own needs, listening, reading or watching it when and where we decide. Apple boasts that the iPhone is an “internet in your pocket.” Martha Boesing, in an article in Turning Wheel (Summer 2004) talks about the information revolution and Indira’s net.

There’s a Buddhist teaching about a network of jewels so arranged that if you look at one you see all the others reflected in it, and if you move to any part of it, you set off the sound of bells that ring through every part of the network, through every part of reality.

Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit mystic, said that by the end of the 20th century we would realize Indira’s net. The earth would grow itself a new skin. It would be a vast thinking membrane, encircling the entire world, which would one day contain all our thoughts, our dreams, and our experiences.

Was he talking about the Internet, do you think? Way before its time?

Ironically what we are missing is connection with ourselves, which might only be possible as our mental clutter begins to subside. As spaciousness arises, we learn to dismantle the armor of the heart so love can radiate in all directions. In our society, multi-tasking is rewarded while spiritual practice is considered anything but efficient from the industrial growth society’s point of view. Can we take just ten minutes a day and sit with ourselves and watch the show without self-judgment? Is it possible to quiet down? Have you turned your cell phone off yet?

The iPhone underscores the acceleration of our technology and how it caters to the instant gratification of our desires. It also presents vividly the colliding of worlds—between the stillness of practice and the lure of technological extenders of our minds. Can we make room for it all?

Werner Brandt is owner of Netforest, Inc., a computer consulting firm. He spends much of his time offering his services to organizations working for a sustainable future.

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