Journaling, meditation, and social networking

In my practice, journaling and meditation have become linked, in a sort of dynamic tension and feedback. Every morning (okay, not every morning, but most mornings) I journal, and then I meditate. Journaling functions as a prerequisite to meditation because in journaling, I record the high points of the internal monologue that’s my normal state of being; I put them down, and then I literally put them down, close the journal, and find myself prepared to go to a place where my internal monologue takes on an entirely different character. In meditation, I take my monologue out of words. I ground and center myself, and in that space, I can just be, just exist, without the overlay of the constant self-created, self-monitoring narrative. Meditation is healing; the break in the narrative reminds me that the narrative itself isn’t the sum of life. Then, when I go back to it afterwards, my narrative, my monologue, is refreshed and restored, re-centered around the immanent, the important values, experiences, and beliefs of my life.

It occurred to me the other day that one of the first forms of social networking was aptly named: LiveJournal. It was, exactly as the name implied, a place for people to journal “in real time,” in a forum that could be shared with others. And boy, does it have all the characteristics of journaling: people stop for ages on end, people say they don’t know what to say, people record their lives in numbing detail, people show flashes of the brilliance in their souls that makes you want to weep. And people experiment with what to put online and how, and if they’re reflective, they may come to realize that their choices on LiveJournal amount to a performance of themselves, a presentation of themselves to others.

Yes, of course my private journaling is a performance as well, but it’s a private performance, of myself to myself, where I don’t worry so much about the infinite hall-of-mirrors effects of my presentation. I’m not going to argue that that privacy makes it more true, but for me it makes my journaling more accurate, more linked to the self that I am when I meditate. My private writing is a better reflection of the narrative I tell myself each day, and that makes it more useful when I go back and review it later.

As social networking has evolved, it strikes me that Facebook and Twitter have become immensely popular because they provide interaction in a very different situation than LiveJournal. Both of them, but especially Twitter, are designed to facilitate the stream-of-consciousness style of writing. When used to an extreme, they broadcast the internal monologue, externalizing it and transforming it in definitive ways in the process. When the performances become our lives, the social networks we create through these media become a sort of group mind, with an endless, chattering polylogue echoing through it. Sometimes that polylogue gets summarized and coheres into a sort of journal entry, but usually not. And we interact with each other, sure, @you and @me, but we seldom stop and try to shape the polylogue into something that communicates outside of our group mind’s echo chamber.

We create a group mind, turn ourselves inside out and immerse ourselves in it, but we don’t create ways to exercise that mind, to direct it and harness it and heal it. And a mind, let alone a heart, whether group or individual, that does not ground and center, that does not create, discover, and nurture its core, well…it becomes empty. When do we, how do we, ground and center the existence of the kind of networks we’re creating?