Monday, March 20, 2006

Where Does Blogging Fit Into Spiritual Practice?

coolmel started a great discussion with his original assertion that blogging is his spiritual practice. He followed that up with an uber-hyper post filled with hyperlinks -- what he describes as blogging flow.

Not everyone is on board with coolmel's program, though. Part of the problem might be that he is using "developmental line" and "spiritual practice" interchangably:
I feel like I’ve stepped into the next level--metaphorically speaking of course, because I don’t know of any blogging developmental line. But if there’s such a thing, then yeah, I feel like I’m onto something.


Just this morning something inside (or beyond) made me blog this statement: blogging is my spiritual practice. I had no worries on what others may think about this crazy affirmation.
Vince posted on a related topic. In the comments section he finds issue with coolmel in that blogging can't be seen as an authentic spiritual spiritual practice because its aims aren't the confrontation and diminishment of suffering and attachment. Others disagree with this Buddhacentric (is that a word?) definition of spiritual practice.

ebuddha also jumped into the discussion here and here.
Hmm, somehow I doubt that blogging counts as transformational, although it can be very translational.


But of course, divine creeps in everywhere - so is flow and inspiration from the self, the super-self, or the Divine?
This is a move in the right direction.

I wouldn't be bringing any of this up if I didn't have an opinion -- of course.

I want to support coolmel's assertion that blogging is a spiritual practice and reject his notion that it can be seen as a developmental line. Blogging simply isn't widespread enough of a human experience to qualify as a developmental line, so that part is easy.

Blogging as a spiritual practice is a little harder to dismiss. I think it can be a spiritual practice, but often isn't -- how's that for noncommital? If one practices blogging, even some of the time, in an effort to attain the flow state that coolmel describes, then maybe it can seen as a spiritual practice.

Flow takes one out of the ego, if only for a little while, and offers an opportunity to be aligned with energies greater than the ego, whatever they may be. This is from Csikszentmihalyi himself:
The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.
The downside to this notion is that one can be in a flow state while clubbing baby seals if one is so inclined.

Let's look more closely at the criteria of a flow experience:

As Csikszentmihalyi sees it, there are components of an experience of flow that can be specifically enumerated; he presents eight:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernable).
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time - our subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is not too easy or too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.

Not all of these components are needed for flow to be experienced.

The important thing to note here is the absence of a values criteria. There is no moral component to flow. Hence, flow can be in service of higher values (coolmel's vision of blogging, meditation, or whatever), or it can be in service of more profane or even evil values (think serial killers who experience deep flow during their crimes).

Within this framework, in the absence of a values component, flow must be seen as a state and not a stage or a line. As a state, flow cannot be a developmental line in its own right.

So, getting back to blogging. For blogging to be a spiritual practice, it must offer the individual some way of expanding consciousness for the betterment of self and humanity. If flow is the primary criteria by which blogging can be seen as a spiritual practice, it would fail. However, I think there are other traits in blogging that allow it to be seen as a spiritual practice.

The one that appeals most to me and allows me to consider blogging as a part of my spiritual practice is that it creates community. I do not currently practice with a sangha (the Wiki definition is really lacking), so my fellow Buddhist and integral bloggers serve as my sangha for now.

Another element of blogging that may allow it to be seen as a spiritual practice is that if one chooses, blogging (as a form of journal writing) is a great way to explore psychological and emotional blocks that keeps one trapped in attachment and suffering. I try to do this from time to time on this blog, and I know others do so on their blogs as well (see here, here, and here, for example).

I also think that blogging is a form of study. We read each other's blogs, we write our own stuff that is influenced by what others write, and we exchange ideas in the comments sections. This relates to the sangha idea, but it is also a way to learn and thereby increase our range of options. This may be translation rather than transformation (a nifty distinction for this discussion), but it is important.

Finally, I think that all of these elements in combination (flow, sangha, exploration, and learning) can lift blogging to the status of spiritual practice. If one commits to the practice with focus and dedication, blogging can provide the impetus for transformation. It can be a valuable spiritual practice.
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