Cell Phones, Social Media vs Mindfulness and Spiritual Meditation

Cell Phones, Social Media vs Mindfulness and Spiritual Meditation July 6, 2019

Mindfulness meditation practices are becoming increasingly popular and provide stress reduction and psychological well-being. In today’s hyper-connected world, cell phones and other mobile devices and the desire to ‘connect’ with the world via social media continuously bombard our thoughts, making it nearly impossible for us to focus and be mindful of our present, or be God-conscious.

The technological advances, and specifically the use of mobile devices have become an integral part of our daily lives. We cannot imagine living without having the ability to google a person, a location or do other searches. We cannot drive without having the GPS ready when we need it. Finding a nearby gas station or a restaurant in the hour of need has the obvious benefits. The breaking news on twitter or an event on facebook keeps us connected with rest of the world. Then there is the text messaging, the basic variety and on Whatsapp, where we can instantly communicate with our friends and families.

These are of course all very helpful things to have at our disposal.

But we seem to have crossed the line and have become enamored with these gadgets. In order to stay connected with rest of the world, we have become disconnected with ourselves, and our immediate surroundings-literally and figuratively.

How often have you seen someone crossing the road, eyes glued to the cell phone, or texting someone, and almost getting hit by a car? Texting while driving is a rising cause of auto accidents.

Then there is a social price to pay. You see family gatherings where everyone is busy checking something on their cell phone- messages, emails, checking their stock performance and so on. Many researches have shown that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, and that your brain can only do one thing well at a time.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. ….The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the research-backed stress-reduction program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), explains how mindfulness lights up parts of our brains that aren’t normally activated when we’re mindlessly running on autopilot[1] Mindfulness meditation helps with anxiety, depression and pain. [2]

Mindfulness meditation in Islam is known as Muraqabah-a conscious state of comprehensive awareness of Allah, and our inner states in relation to Him. It is deeply rooted in the Sufi Islam. A detailed discussion of meditation and Muraqabah is beyond the scope of this post and likely a topic for future post/s.

The aim of this post is not to describe the mindfulness or meditation or how to practice it, but rather to point out the negative influence of the social media and mobile devices on our awareness of the present….and awareness of the Lord.

Mindfulness meditation and mobile devices are nearly mutually exclusive. I am aware that you can actually use many mobile apps to meditate, and to engage in the Dhikr, and other ways of connecting with the Lord. But that’s not the issue here.

The seemingly incessant use of mobile devices and cell phones is not conducive to practicing mindfulness and meditation. This has some negative impact as it relates to our awareness of our connection to God. Some of the negative effects are direct. Others are more subtle and indirect.

I see people, young, and not-so-young during Friday prayer sermons and other religious gatherings, getting distracted by their cell phones. Sure, they have it on mute, but their eyes, and more importantly, their minds are distracted constantly by the flashing message alerts, rather than the sermon. Instead of getting their hearts and minds turned to God, they are turning to the mobile device. They seem more pre-occupied by their social media feeds rather than satisfying their appetite for finding the tranquility in their hearts that comes from the Dhikr, or remembrance of God.

Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction. The Qur’an 13:28

The more indirect and subtle issues relate to the attention span. Everything must be in sound bites. We are now programmed to get our thoughts across in 280-character tweets. You loose your YouTube audience in 30 seconds if you have not made a positive impression by then. We get ‘bored’ if a speaker talks for more than a few minutes, the Friday sermon being no exception. Sure, many of these speakers do need to polish up their speaking skills to ensure they stay relevant and grab the attention of the audience. But it is impossible to grab the attention of a wandering mind. Same goes for a parent-child conversation.

It is hard to connect to our Creator when seemingly trivial things in our lives consume our attention. It is hard to be God-conscious when our consciousness is occupied by text messages, the sports world, Hollywood, financial world and so on.

Growing up, we are taught to start eating meals with Bismillah– in the name of God. I see our Christian cousins starting meals with a prayer and thanking the Lord. That is now increasingly replaced by snapshot, facebook and instagram shots of us with our meals that we instantly want to share with rest the world.

Taqwa is often translated as fear of God but it truly means being God-conscious or being aware of God-in everything we do. It often requires contemplation and pondering.

But those who are mindful of their Lord will have lofty dwellings built for them, one above the other, graced with flowing streams. This is a promise from God: God does not break His promise. The Qur’an 39:20

To be clear, I am not an anti-social media person. In fact, I rely on social media on getting my thoughts across. I cannot imagine going back to the days before the cell phones and the world wide web. The channel you are reading this blog is part of social media. There is no denying that the social media can, and does, help in various ways- information, education and social and religious activism etc.

However, like everything else, balance and moderation is the name of the game. It seems that as a society, we have crossed the line. The deleterious effects must be recognized and mitigated.

So let’s away our cell phones while attending the religious sermons, family gatherings…and when crossing the streets.

Instead of the constant need to check the strength of our cell phone connection, let’s check the strength of our connection to our Creator.

Let’s spend a few minutes everyday in being mindful of our surroundings, ourselves and in remembering the bounties of our Creator.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/

 

[2] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/1809754

 

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