Why I Quit Facebook (July 2013)
Shambhala Sun | July 2013
Why I Quit Facebook
What if our online life gets in the way of our flesh and
blood connections? SUMI LOUNDON KIM on how she cut the wireless tether. (It
My Facebook addiction began six years ago when my husband
said to me, with no apparent irony, “Facebook is so cool! Why don’t you join so
we can become friends?”
A year later, we relocated to a city where we had no friends
or family. The lively and loving exchanges with old friends through Facebook
mitigated my sudden isolation and got me through a pretty tough year.
Eventually, I made friends in the new city, but my Facebook habit continued. In
fact, it intensified.
After five years of clicking through the News Feed, however,
disenchantment began to creep in. Who would have guessed that normally exciting
stuff could become so repetitive? Same-ol’, same-ol’: snapshots of chic
restaurant meals, babies, vacations, calls to rally around causes—Oh my God,
how many causes can someone take on?!—snippets of wisdom from Buddhist teachers,
cartoons, jokes. I became further disenchanted when I realized I was using
Facebook for approval, a sense of belonging, and subtle self-promotion. And I
often mentally rebuked some of my Buddhist friends for their own blatant
I then made a commitment not to post anything personal.
Using the guidelines of right speech, I only commented on others’ status
updates and posted what I found truly useful, uplifting, and funny. Doing this
helped me recognize where Facebook was entangling my ego. It also changed the
way I sought approval and friendship. Now these came from the people around me
rather than through online connections.
Paring back on my postings showed me how I had been living
my life through “Facebook status possibilities,” rather than just being in and
enjoying the moment.
Anything interesting was now a potential status update, and I would spend a lot
of time formulating the most clever, attention-grabbing wording—a fairly
universal trait of Facebook users. It was like looking at life through a
camera. That distanced quality was increasingly incongruent with what I was
trying to do in meditation practice.
Last December’s shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, gave me a
whole new angle on Facebook’s impact. One of the first things I did after
hearing the news was to scroll through the News Feed. I wondered why I had this
impulse. Observing my grief-stricken and terrified mind, I saw that I was
looking for comfort from others. But what actually happened was that other
people’s outrage and anguish intensified my own. I was searching for a sense
of connection, but as soon as I walked away from the computer, I was alone in
my empty apartment. What I needed was physical comfort, a hug, to hold and be
held by others. That Facebook cannot provide, yet I would return to it again
and again, searching for what was not there.
Daily meditation practice began revealing to me how living
in continual distraction robbed me of so much. When I rested my attention on
the breath and let go of distractions (thoughts about Facebook being one of
them!), my mind felt restored, revitalized, made whole in a very pleasurable
way. I began noticing how my online habits were splitting my attention and
reducing my quality of life. one time, I was toodling away on Facebook, my back
turned to the family, when my four-year-old son came up to me to talk and
cuddle. I told him to go play. Noticing this and similar instances, I made a
rule not to use my computer unless the kids were in bed or at school.
That was when I discovered the strength of my addiction. one
day, while watching my kids at the park, I literally had to sit on my hands to
keep myself from sneaking a peek at my phone. What I felt was, “The present
moment is really boring in comparison to what’s happening online. What’s
happening online is more like a big, chatty, nonstop party!”
In the middle of the night in early January, it hit me that,
taken altogether—the repetitiveness, self-promotion, superficial sense of
belonging, fractured attention, disconnection with those present around me, and
my addictedness—Facebook was doing me more harm than good. I couldn’t wait
until the morning to shut down that damn account.
The first few hours after closing my Facebook page were
mind-bending. My husband went onto his account to see if any trace of Sumi
Loundon Kim remained. Nothing. For a few minutes, I felt like I no longer
existed. There was no “Sumi” in the online ecosystem. I’m not sure what an
insight into nonself feels like, but it seemed close. It was freaky and liberating
at the same time.
It felt so good, in fact, that a few days later I disabled
Google chat in my Gmail account because my eyes would constantly flicker over
to the box to see who was online. I noticed how often I checked email on my
cell, so I removed that function. A month later, I changed the texting aspect
of my mobile-phone plan and now only use it for immediate, necessary
It was quite interesting to observe the psychological
effects of leaving Facebook, in addition to reducing online
connectivity in general. I see that I was living with a divided mind: one in
reality and one in a kind of mental dia- logue with my online/media world. My
mind had been playing a continuous loop, asking and answering seven questions,
at all times, even when I was away from a computer or tech gear:
What’s new on Facebook?
Did an email come in?
Did I get a text that I might have missed? Who’s on Google
What’s new on Huffington Post/in the news cycle?
Is my phone ringer at the right setting so I can hear it?/Did I miss a call?
Are there any messages on the home answering machine?
As I’m letting go of the alternate reality of the online
world, I find myself much more attuned to actual reality. I am more interested
in the people right in front of me because I am not half-attending to the
virtual people online. I kind of feel like I am waking up: Oh wow, there’s a
blue sky! There’s the sound of birds chirping! My daughter is giving me a big
hug right now! It has been fascinating to feel my attention restored to greater
wholeness. I have a lot more buoyant mental energy, and I can feel a certain
return of tranquility, as well as a willingness to think about one thing at a
time more deeply, rather than many things in a cursory, shallow manner.
The online world is a reality; it’s not nonreality. And yet,
as with our thought process, if we get too wrapped up in it, we risk losing
touch with the beauty, richness, and wonder of the present moment and loving
fully those in our own homes. Thoughts are a reality, too, but if we live only
in our thoughts, we miss a great deal and misunderstand even more.
The Sumi of 2007 would have felt that the Sumi of Now is a
real party pooper, a dour Buddhist who can’t handle the modern world. But for
me right now, renouncing constant connectivity doesn’t feel like deprivation.
It is renouncing an addiction—and, therefore, gaining a degree of freedom.
Sumi Loundon Kim is the
Buddhist chaplain at
Duke University, minister to the Buddhist
families of Durham,
and editor of the
anthologies Blue Jean
Buddha and The Buddha’s Apprentices. The
mother of two young
children, she is working
on a book that provides
curriculum for families and communities.
Spurred by her liberation from Facebook,
Kim also quit texting,
mobile email, chat, and neurotically clicking over to the Gmail
inbox. (The fetter of
LinkedIn was abandoned long ago.) She
can be reached by carrier pigeon.
The Great Reversal (July 2013)
Shambhala Sun | July 2013
The Great Reversal
Putting others first—it’s the great switch that changes
everything. It cuts samsara at the root and plants the seed of enlightenment. SAKYONG MIPHAM on how to be a bodhisattva.
The Mahayana Buddhist tradition is defined by the supreme
thought of bodhichitta, the intention to bring all sentient beings to
enlightenment. Those who vow to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of others
are known as bodhisattvas. Their path is based on the six transcendent
perfections, the paramitas.
Paramita is a Sanskrit word meaning “arriving at the other
shore.” On the bodhisattva path, one’s view, practice, and action are based on
simultaneously benefitting self and other. The bodhisattva is likened to a
ferry operator whose sole purpose is to take passengers across the water. Yet
while taking others to the other shore, the ferry operator is crossing, too.
The paramitas are generosity, discipline, patience,
exertion, meditation, and prajna—wisdom or “best knowledge.” They are the
supreme way to attain merit, giving one the fuel and strength to take all
beings across the waters.
Only with prajna are the other paramitas transcendent.
Without prajna they are simply ordinary generosity, discipline, patience,
exertion, and meditation. The paramita of prajna is like the ferry operator
keeping an eye on the other shore, which we could equate with great emptiness
and great wisdom. Prajna always sees the purpose of the journey. Therefore,
prajna keeps the boat from going adrift. Generosity, discipline, patience,
exertion, and meditation are like the oars of the boat.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche’s new book is The Shambhala Principle: Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure, published by Harmony.
Illustration by Megumi Yoshida.
Pleasure Pain Performance Path (July 2013)
Shambhala Sun | July 2013
Pleasure Pain Performance Path
There were shiny hardwood floors and lime-green walls
decorated with black-and-white photos of bodies bent into intriguing angles. It
was a lovely, light-filled space to do yoga, but I couldn’t stand this class.
It was like a cross between a military drill and an anatomy lesson.
“You will externally rotate your arms,” the teacher barked.
“You will turn your feet slightly in. You will release your back.” He did not
crack a smile, nor did he remind us of our breathing or lead us in a round of
oms. There was nothing meditative going on here.
At the end of class, I followed the crowd into the changing
room and waited for my turn behind the curtain. “That class was so gooooood,”
one of my classmates moaned. “I’m so relaxed now.”
My eyebrows arched into an asana of surprise but I kept my
boredom and frustration to myself. However, another classmate responded
incredulously. “Really?” she said. “I’m totally stressed! I’m always worried
about making a mistake in this class.”
Three people had each stretched and twisted their bodies
into the same forms yet had entirely different experiences. This makes sense in
the context of the Buddhist teachings on the workings of the body and mind.
In “What Is Your Body?” Zen teacher Norman Fischer explains,
“There isn’t a body per se, just a variety of momentary mental events. Some of
them we think of as ‘physical,’ even though they’re not.” In short, Fischer
concludes, the body is nothing more than “an idea based on unwarranted
assumptions about the coherence of our conscious experience.”
Yet the idea that we have a body is incredibly powerful.
Much of our thinking revolves around our bodies, and the lion’s share of our
resources are dedicated to them. We preen our bodies and shelter them, feed and
clothe them, enjoy and loathe them. Our bodies can spur us to awakening.
It is said that Siddhartha decided to embark on the
spiritual path only after he encountered the sufferings of the body, and more
than two millennia later the same bodily sufferings are still leading people to
profound truths. In “Now the Bad News,” four writers unpack what they’ve
gleaned from giving birth, growing old, being sick, and dealing with death. It
seems that in these challenging situations, uncertainty is the principal
teacher: What happens when nothing is what we thought it would be? What happens
when we no longer recognize ourselves?
Pleasure can be another call to awakening. Indeed, in
“Through the Gateway of the Senses,” Vajrayana Buddhist teacher and scholar
Francesca Fremantle makes the point that our world is one of delight— a pure
land, in fact. Spirituality is frequently believed to be unrelated or even
opposed to sensory experience, yet senses and sense-objects are not themselves
a problem. The problem is grasping. If we grasp at what gives us pleasure,
we’ll find ourselves more tightly bound to delusion. Yet freed of attachment,
says Fremantle, the bliss of touch, sound, taste, smell, and sight can be a
powerful means of transformation.
In “Flesh Sex Desire,” novelist Karen Connelly delves deeply
into erotic pleasures. Yes, watch out for this one—it’s a lot steamier than the
material we normally publish in the Shambhala Sun. It’s also an insightful
contemplation of a complex subject, and it’s funny. “The body is an honest
comic,” says Connelly, just before she recounts a romantic encounter gone wrong
Finally, this issue celebrates the pleasures of performance
and sport. Four amateur athletes show us the spiritual side of skiing, golfing,
surfing, and horseback riding. To finish up, Thich Nhat Hanh offers us three
mindful movements to help us return to the present moment.
Personally, the body practice I connect with the most is
yoga, and a few days ago I went to another class. This time I went with my
husband, Adán, and worried that he wouldn’t enjoy it because it was a
restorative class—it didn’t have any cardio component and just involved taking
resting postures fully supported by props. About halfway through the class we
had our legs butterflied out and our hearts lifted with bolsters when I
whispered across the space between our mats: “Do you like this type of yoga?”
Adán nodded and smiled—totally relaxed. We were on the same
–Andrea Miller, Deputy Editor
About a Poem: Gary Geddes on Don McKay’s “Waking at the Mouth of the Willow River” (May 2013)
Shambhala Sun | May 2013
About a Poem: Gary Geddes on Don McKay’s “Waking at
the Mouth of the Willow River”
WAKING AT THE MOUTH OF THE WILLOW RIVER
Sleep, my favourite flannel shirt, wears thin,
shreds, and birdsong happens in the holes.
In thirty seconds the naming of
begin. As it folds into the stewed latin of
afterdream each song
makes a tiny whirlpool.
One of them zoozeezoozoozee, seems to be
making fun of
sleep with snores stolen from
comic books. Another hangs its teardrop high in
the mind, and melts; it was, after all, only
narrowed air, although it
unheard, perfectly. And what sort of noise would
make, if it could, here at the brink?
Scritch, scritch. A claw, a nib, a beak,
its surface. As though, for one second, it could let
the world leak back
to the world. Weep.
If mindfulness is a virtue, then Canadian poet Don McKay should be
considered one of the major voices of our time. He describes his credo in “some
Remarks on Poetry and Poetic Attention” by comparing the act of writing to the mental set of bird-watching: “...a kind of
suspended expectancy, tools at the ready, full awareness that the creatures
cannot be compelled to appear.”
Writing about nature does not make one a nature
poet. It’s the quality of attention that is paid to language and to creatures
and objects in the natural world that makes all the difference.
“Waking at the Mouth of the Willow River” is one of
my favorite McKay pieces. I love this prose poem for its verbal play and for
the way it conjures the mysterious territory between sleep and waking, where
dreams unravel and things are no longer, or not yet, quite what they seem. Read
the first sentence aloud slowly and let its sounds and stresses linger on your
tongue and in your ear. It’s so subtly scored—its trochees, iambs, and the
final stress of the anapest that allows the metaphor to end with the same
authority as it began. Talk about tools at the ready; McKay’s poetic toolkit is
also equipped with near-perfect pitch, able to marshal all those recurring
consonants (f-, sh-, t-, l-, h-sounds) like an organ base and make them nest in
If you know your Shakespeare, you might notice the
link between that first line and Macbeth’s speech in Act II, scene
refers to “sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of
care.” McKay, a less
troubled Scot, is not ashamed to riff off the master, making new music. In his
case, it’s a guiltless moment, thinking his way into and giving linguistic form
to the varieties of birdsong he hears on waking. A poet who can blend Shakespeare and comic books and turn them into a meditation, not so
much on the
act of naming as on that moment beforehand,
when the poet—suspended, expectant,
aware—struggles for the appropriate sound and can only weep at the folly,
unavoidability, and joy of the task, has clearly demonstrated a quality of
attention we could all do well to ponder.
Gary Geddes has been called Canada’s
best political poet. His most recent books are Swimming Ginger, poems
set in twelfth-century China, and the nonfiction book Drink the Bitter
Root: A search for Justice and Healing in Africa. He lives on Thetis Island,
Books in Brief (May 2013)
Shambhala Sun | May 2013
Books in Brief
THE TRUE SECRET OF WRITING
Connecting Life with Language
By Natalie Goldberg
Free Press 2013; 256 pp., $25 (cloth)
The title of this book is somewhat tongue in cheek. It’s a phrase
that Natalie Goldberg has long used when a student is late for
one of her writing classes: “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Goldberg likes to
tease the tardy individual. “You just missed it—a moment ago I
told the students the true secret of writing. I am only able to utter
it every five years or so.” In actuality, Goldberg’s stance is that
no one possesses the one single true secret of writing and that if
you ever meet someone who claims otherwise, you should make
a run for it, as all of life is about diversity—nothing is singular.
That being said, in this new release Goldberg does offer a fresh
practice for writing, and it is rooted in the Zen tradition. A frequent contributor to the Shambhala Sun, Goldberg is the author
of twelve books spanning fiction, poetry, and memoir, but is best
known for her writing guide, Writing Down the Bones, which has
sold more than 1.5 million copies.
FEARLESS AT WORK
Timeless Teachings for Awakening Confidence, Resilience, and Creativity in the Face of Life’s Demands
By Michael Carroll
Shambhala Publications 2012; 304 pp., $16.95 (paper)
How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press 2012; 120 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Years ago, I taught ESL to children in Korea. Not well suited to
working with kids, I dreaded all my classes, but teaching students
aged two to four made me feel particularly hopeless. According
to the curriculum they were meant to learn colors, numbers, and animals, yet my little charges preferred (quite literally) to run in
circles. I remember one low moment when a tiny boy cried in
my lap and attempted over and over to tell me something in his
native tongue. “I’m sorry,” I kept repeating. “I don’t understand
Korean.” Clearly, I was in dire need of these two new titles: Fearless at Work and Work. Michael Carroll begins his book by asking
readers to complete the following sentence with the first word
that comes to mind: At work, I want to be... In his experience,
most people say, happy, successful, stress-free, effective, fulfilled,
or appreciated. Yet—since it’s not actually possible to always
be any of these idealized states—what we should really try to
cultivate is a sense of confidence no matter what arises. Fearless
at Work then lays out the path—rooted in Buddhist thought—
for developing this confidence. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, he
emphasizes the importance of right livelihood and teaches that
no matter what our profession, it offers us the opportunity to
help others and create a happy work environment. I particularly
enjoy Nhat Hanh’s final chapter in which he lists thirty practical
ways to reduce job-related stress.
THE WISDOM OF COMPASSION
Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insight
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan
Riverhead Books 2012; 272 pp., $26.95 (cloth)
Just out of college in 1972, Victor Chan drove a used VW camper
from the Netherlands to Afghanistan. When in Kabul he met a
New Yorker named Cheryl Crosby, and they were at a chai shop
when they were abducted at gunpoint. By the time they managed to escape their kidnappers, the harrowing experience had
bonded them, and they left for India together. There, because of
some of Crosby’s connections, they were granted an audience
with the Dalai Lama, yet Chan managed to blurt out just one question: “Do you hate the Chinese?” In
those days the Dalai lama’s English was
bare bones, so mostly he relied on a translator, but he answered this question in
English—emphatically. “No, I do not hate
the Chinese.” Then his secretary translated, “His Holiness considers the Chinese his brothers.” Fast-forward to today
and Chan, of Chinese descent, has written two books, which he has created by
interviewing the Dalai Lama extensively.
In their new release, Wisdom of Compassion, they explore the idea of compassion
in thought, speech, and action.
BUDDHA'S BOOK OF SLEEP
Sleep Better in Seven Weeks with
By Joseph Emet
Tarcher 2012; 160 pp., $15.95 (paper)
A dharma teacher in Thich Nhat Hanh’s
tradition, Joseph Emet is the founder of
the Mindfulness Meditation Centre in
Montreal and the creator of A Basket of
Plums, a book with two CDs of songs for
the practice of mindfulness. In the introduction of his new release, Emet draws
attention to a recent survey that claims 75
percent of us have some difficulty sleeping, then goes on to say that many of us
have failed to find relief from the standard
recommendations. We’ve tried creating a
positive sleeping environment, we’ve tried
avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening, and maybe we’ve even tried medication. Still, however, we find ourselves
tossing and turning in bed. Now Buddha’s
Book of Sleep gets to the heart of the problem: our agitated minds. For readers new
to mindfulness meditation, Emet explains
the basics of the practice. Then he offers
seven guided meditation exercises geared
toward helping us get the rest we need.
GROWING IN LOVE AND WISDOM
Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian
By Susan J. Stabile
Oxford University Press 2013; 272 pp., $19.95 (cloth)
Susan J. Stabile ordained as a Tibetan
Buddhist nun and followed the Buddhist
path for twenty years. This was such a long
time that even after she returned to the
religion she was raised in, Catholicism, she saw it through a Buddhist lens and
found herself spontaneously incorporating Buddhist practices into her Christian
prayer life. In Growing in Love and Wisdom, stabile explores why it’s helpful to
look outside one’s own tradition for the
means to spiritual growth and offers fif-
teen Tibetan Buddhist contemplative
practices adapted for Christian purposes.
One of the fifteen is a modified tantric visualization practice. Tibetan Buddhists visualize themselves as a Buddha or
bodhisattva for the purpose of recognizing and bringing forth their own buddhanature. So in this vein, Stabile suggests
that Christians visualize the shining face
of Jesus and generate a strong desire to
be Christ—to manifest his love and compassion. Stabile then makes compelling
arguments for why this practice, though
borrowed from Buddhism, is a fit for
Christianity. Scripture, of course, is her
starting point. she quotes Philippians 2:5,
“let this mind be in you that was also in
The Complete Works of Shunmyo Masuno,
Japan’s Leading Garden Designer
By Mira Locher
Tuttle Publishing 2012; 224 pp., $39.95 (cloth)
In addition to being a celebrated landscape
architect, Shunmyo Masuno is an eighteenth-generation Zen Buddhist priest
who presides over the Kenkohji Temple in Yokohama, Japan. When he was a child, he
and his family went to Kyoto, where they
visited various temple complexes with
outstanding gardens, and this affected him
deeply. By junior high he was tracing photographs of great Zen gardens and in high
school he was sketching his own designs.
At this point, he met Saito Katsuo, a garden designer who allowed him to observe
his work and later become his apprentice.
Now Masuno is the creator of both modern and traditional gardens across the
globe; their settings range from temple
grounds to high-end hotels to private residences and even to some more unexpected
locals, such as a crematorium. Zen Gardens is a stunning volume that showcases
thirty-seven of Masuno’s finest works.
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