A Serene Mind in the Digital Age

by Schalk Viljoen |
September, 2020

YS I.33 maitrī-karuṇā-mudita-upekṣāṇāṁ sukha-duḥkha-puṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam
To preserve the innate serenity of the mind, a yogin should be happy for those who are happy, be compassionate toward those who are unhappy, be delighted for those who are virtuous, and be indifferent toward the wicked.

The Digital Era we live in, with. Facebook, Twitter & Instagram, 24-hour online news (and the instant access to these tools with so many devices) can easily create a perpetual state of distraction and disturbance. I have found that this can lead to emotional exhaustion and alienation.

‘Just switching off’ is easier said than done. Digital tools have become embedded in our work and social lives. I have family and friends around the world. Social Media provides an easy way of staying in touch and feeling involved. Even my 84-year-old mother is on Facebook! Is it possible to develop and retain a mind state of citta-prasādanam (a serene mind) rather than citta-vṛtti (mind fluctuations/chatter) in this digital world?

In YS I.33-39, Patanjali suggests several actions we can take to be less disturbed and distracted, which still applies today. In YS I.33 he starts with our relationship to others, as this is probably where we are the most easily disturbed. Patanjali helps us with a shortlist of 4 challenges to relationships, making it easy to identify when we are being triggered and to develop antidotes. These antidotes are actions one can take, e.g.:

  • We may feel resistance or distance to those who are happy, especially if we are not that happy at that moment. Remember that picture of a glowing, happy friend on a pristine beach in Thailand? A good way to deal with this negativity is to actively cultivate friendliness or kindness focused on that what makes the person happy. Learning from them. Finding your own happiness, wherever you are.
  • We may perceive ourselves as being loving and caring, but when having to deal with the reality of someone who is suffering, we may feel inadequate, helpless, or even imposed upon. Here it would be good to look for ways that you could support that person and thus deepen your compassion. Is this person close to you? Call them. You do not know them personally? Donate to a cause that supports them.
  • Jealousy or feelings of inadequacy may arise when other people are successful or virtuous. Instagram yoga selfies of hands-free headstands? Rather than feeling jealous, be delighted for that person and their achievements. They probably practiced for many hours to be able to do this asana. Pick an asana that you find challenging, e.g. an arm-balance and work towards mastering it. Work with a partner in class and help each other. Maybe they have a great technique tip and you just need the courage to ask. Or the other way around. Share your experience.
  • The most difficult relationship for many of us, is anger towards those we perceive as being wicked or evil. Patanjali’s advice is to cultivate indifference. This does not mean that we should not care or act, but rather that our actions should come from a neutral place. Thus, the actions taken will have a chance to provide meaningful impact.

Patanjali says in YS I.33 that we should act. Our actions are our choice. If our actions are unselfish, meaning that we are not attached to the outcome or any personal consequence, and if we are focused on the upliftment of others, then we are practicing Karma Yoga, a path of spiritual liberation as laid out in the Bhagavad Gita. And on this path, we can collectively help to make the world a better place.

So, when you feel your serenity of mind disturbed by one of the relationships above, take the appropriate action to ensure that you can bring your mind back to a state of serenity. After all, as Shri Brahmananda Saraswati said, “Mind your own business”. Then he said, “And what is our business? To know who we are.” (Manorama).