Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play

One of the habits that I've stumbled into recently is watching movies that were produced in the mid 80's and early 90's.  Back then, I was old enough to watch the movies, but I was too young to really appreciate what was happening. 

So I'm finding that watching some of my old favorites is a lot like seeing them for the first time.  The most recent feather in my movie-nostalgia cap is War Games starring Matthew Broderick and directed by John Badham. 

The plot of the movie is fairly straight-forward.  Broderick's character is a hacker who gains access to a military super computer named Joshua that controls all of the nuclear weapons in North America.  I don't want to give away the plot, but suffice it to say that by the end of the movie the super computer is convinced that Russia is launching a nuclear strike against America, and World War III nearly ensues. 

However, Broderick saves the day by getting Joshua to run simulations of all the possible outcomes of a nuclear war between Russia and the United States.  Upon realizing that there was not a scenario that didn't end in stalemate, Joshua calls nuclear war a "strange game" and states, "The only winning move is not to play."

A casual glance at my social media feeds makes me think that most things on the internet fall into that category.  In fact, with each passing day I'm realizing that the best way to deal with internet trolls, hatemongers, and people who comment, "yum bacon" on Facebook posts about veganism is to make the choice, "not to play," and just keep scrolling down the page without posting a comment.

In the past, my first instinct would be to "educate the masses" with a pithy, well-written three paragraph response.  Next, I'd share the offending article on my wall with a comment like, "Can you believe people like this actually exist!"  Finally, I'd spend the rest of the day engaged in a flame war with anyone who disagreed with me while simultaneously talking to people in real life about the epic battle that I was waging on Facebook one "liked" comment at a time.

But I'm realizing that my actions were a mistake, and a source of unnecessary suffering.  This understanding came to me when I was chanting the Heart Sutra as part of my evening meditation, and my mind seized on the following lines:

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fear exists.
Far apart from every perverted view 
one dwells in Nirvana
This is a really beautiful passage, but I think the most important word in the whole thing is "fear".  Because if I'm being honest, the reason that browsing Facebook occasionally sends me into an epic rage spiral is because I'm scared by what I'm reading. 

I read articles about what's happening with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I'm scared corporations are going to destroy our planet.  I read about the water crisis in Flint, MI, and I'm scared that the next generation will grow up without clean drinking water.  In short, if I'm not judicious about how I spend my time while using Facebook and other things online, I feel a good bit of fear in regards to the current state of our world.  

And as the wise Zen Master Yoda  once said, "Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering."

Thankfully, this passage in the Heart Sutra provides an alternative course of action.  Essentially, it says that if I rely on the perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita) and let go of my conceptual thinking which is rooted in the mind, then my fear will naturally vanish because fear (like all negative emotions) is a product of the mind. 

Furthermore, if I can learn to let go of my perverted view (which is ANY view that's not 100% grounded in the present moment), then I can dwell in a state of Nirvana and be free of suffering.  I used to think that this passage only applied to meditation, but now I think it might be applicable to internet browsing as well.  

That is to say, if I can observe my thoughts on the cushion without engaging them or feeding them with any emotional energy, why can't I do the same while browsing Facebook?  

I've been attempting to cultivate this mindset for the past two weeks with good results.  Each time I log into my Facebook account, I treat everything on my news feed the same way I treat my thoughts during meditation.  

I observe what's in front of me, I acknowledge any emotional response that it brings forth, and then I let it pass away like clouds in the sky.  Of course, that's not to say that I agree with everything that I see online.  However, I find that when I take a step back and strive to remain non-attached to my views about what I'm reading, my responses become much more skillful.  

Sometimes I just click on another article without leaving a comment because my feeling of anger is strong, and I don't trust myself to not say something hurtful.  Other times, I try to "balance the scales" by posting something positive and uplifting on my social media feed.  

And if things really start to get crazy, I just turn off my laptop and choose to spend more time in the real word riding my bike, playing with the dog, and talking with friends.  Actually, I've been doing the last one a lot lately.  Because I'm realizing that when it comes to Facebook, there are a lot of battles that can't be won.  And those are the situations where the only winning move is not to play.

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