Too Much Information Mindfulness and the Challenge of Modern Media

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Dear Still Water Friends,

Mindfulness practice encourages us to cultivate present moment awareness. We learn to become aware of our breath, our bodies, our feelings and emotions, and our cognitive states, and also to become aware of the sensory impressions that stream in through our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, bodies, and minds. The tradition tells us that if we develop our mindfulness and concentration, over time our insight and wisdom will grow. We will see ourselves and the world in new ways, and we will create less suffering for ourselves and others.

In our contemporary world, however, the capacity to inwardly focus is challenged by an array of media, such as the Internet, email, Facebook, Twitter, and smart phones. They increase the amount of information we process each day and subtly change the way we receive information and communicate with others. A study from researchers at UCSD quantified recent changes in information consumption. They found that, on average, Americans consumed information at home 7.4 hours per day in 1980 and 11.8 hours per day in 2008, a sixty percent increase. (Information was defined as data — artificial signals — that are delivered for use by a person and included radio, television, movies, Internet, telephone, print media, computer use, and computer games. Information consumed at work was not counted.)

The study substantiates the impression many of us have that most Americans are now consuming man-made information almost all their waking hours. A range of inner experiences accompanies the media use. Sometimes it is delight in being able to easily communicate with old friends, have questions answered, or keep up with events in other countries. Sometimes it is a sense of being controlled or overwhelmed by the media, such as when we spend more time than we would like with the Internet, email or Facebook, and don’t feel able to cut back. In talking with Juliana, my daughter, I learned a new acronym, FOMO, “Fear Of Missing Out,” that identifies the inner compulsion to be constantly checking in with one’s digital network of friends.

This Thursday after our meditation period we will focus our Dharma Discussion on mindfulness and media: What challenges do we personally face? How do we cope? How do we use — or intentionally not use — media to develop our mindfulness and grow our hearts?

You are invited to join us.

In the excerpt below, Thich Nhat Hanh offers some suggestion on how to use a computer mindfully. I would like to draw your attention, as well, to a WAMU interview with a local mindfulness practitioner who is experimenting with digitally-free times for her family.

You are also invited to join us this week for a brief orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner

Special Note: Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Monastics will be offering retreats and days of mindfulness in North America, August to October, 2013. Information is available at .

Turning on the Computer Gatha

by Thich Nhat Hanh, from Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

Turning on the computer,

my mind gets in touch with the store.

I vow to transform habit energies

to help love and understanding grow.

Sometimes, when we are on the computer, it is as if we have turned off our mind and are absorbed into the computer for hours. Mind is consciousness. The two aspects of consciousness, subject and object, depend on each other in order to exist. When our mind is conscious of something, we are that thing. When we contemplate a snow-covered mountain, we are that mountain. When we watch a noisy film, we are that noisy film. And when we turn on the blue light of the computer, we become that computer.

The “store” in this verse refers to alayavijñana, the consciousness where all our seed-potentials are stored. We receive seeds from our ancestors, friends, and society and they are held in our consciousness, just as the earth holds the seeds that fall upon it. Like the seeds in the earth, the seeds in our store consciousness are hidden from us; we are seldom in contact with them. Our store consciousness has a strong capacity to receive and absorb impressions and this affects our patterns of seeing, feeling, and behaving. We interpret everything we see or hear in terms of our habit energy. If you crumple a sheet of paper, it is difficult to make it lie flat again. It has the habit energy of being crumpled. We are the same. The good news is that we can change our habit energies.

When using the computer we practice mindfulness. Before turning the computer on, recite the gatha. It’s possible to program your computer to make the sound of the bell every fifteen minutes so you can stop, breathe, smile, bring body and mind together, and release any tension in your shoulders or hands. If you are working for a longer period, you may want to get up occasionally and take some steps around the room to refresh yourself and help your circulation. Always type and read in a relaxed way, taking breaks to Look out the window to rest your eyes.

The Buddha said that the eyes are a deep ocean with hidden waves and sea monsters beneath. If you are not mindful and do not know how to protect and guard the doors of your senses, you will be drowned in the ocean of forms, sometimes several times a day. With the boat of mindfulness, we sail across the ocean of forms, sounds, and other sense objects and we hold on tight. Our boat does not sink and we do not drown in the ocean of the senses.