By Amanda Moreno
This week I’ve had several conversations about various online communities. Some have covered the apparent exodus from Facebook on the part of the “younger” folks. I apparently don’t fall into that category anymore, as I have no idea what Snapchat is and feel a stubborn reluctance to learn.
Others have talked about series of self-help-esque videos they subscribe to on YouTube, paying specific attention to the comments that spring up and the relationships being forged between those who make the videos and those who watch. Then there is Fetlife, or “Facebook for the kinky,” complete with events and groups for every fetish imaginable.
These conversations have occurred alongside my growing awareness that people are requesting I do classes online. Once again, I experience somewhat stubborn aversion to the format. I prefer in-person exchange, and the nature of much of the work I do involves small group exchanges where physical presence seems vital. I rely on the container of the classroom in which to hold space for grief and anger.
I try to reframe this stubborn aversion quite frequently. I was reading a New York Times piece this morning that got me thinking a lot about how lucky we are to have online communities during this time of rapid change. As the author points out, our society tends to teach us the skills needed for external success while ignoring the skills needed to radiate “that inner light.” These are skills that help us to develop a moral compass and to engage our lives from a place of passion and continuously deepening self-understanding.
Online communities are definitely fertile grounds for the kind of external gratification and self-centered focus that allows us to promote ourselves and broadcast a highlight reel of our accomplishments and proud moments. But they can also be used for something else. As the digital revolution unfolds, we are faced with the challenge of using it for increased heart-centered consciousness rather than just as another form of superficial escapism.
The biggest example of this “something else” in my life is, of course, the Planet Waves community, although I am also a fan of a few “secret” Facebook groups that allow me to stay in contact with my various tribes around the world. What do these communities have in common? They are all full of people who the New York Times author calls “stumblers”:
The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.
I happen to live in a city where stumblers abound. We’re frickin’ everywhere, and not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for that sense of belonging. I’m also aware that there are so many of us in the world right now who are choosing to orient our lives around the belief that we can — and have to — make a difference. We’re figuring out how to heal ourselves and the world by facing our inner demons and recognizing our gifts in order to serve the deepest needs of the world at large. Many of us are not embedded in physical communities that are supportive.
In that sense, these online communities most certainly are a blessing. Within them we become bonded with other like-minded people in the spirit of camaraderie, mentorship and authenticity. We get to exchange ideas, understandings, and sometimes disagreements with people we would never have otherwise met. Of course, the novelty of what Planet Waves has to offer — a community of paradigm-busting seekers who get to take ownership of the forum in order to be a part of spiritual collaboration and re-calibration in action — is quite unprecedented.
There have been so many times since I became involved with Planet Waves that I have been humbled and grateful for the opportunity to share and be witnessed, but it’s more than that. I get to hear other people’s stories, which often resonate with my own. I get to learn with and from such incredible souls, all of whom are constantly challenging assumptions and striving to see through to the heart of the matter. So I definitely get the beauty of online community.
Although I’m still working out that conflicted part of me that rebels against the thought of screen time, I’m aware that this technology is here to stay and that we get to make use of it in ways that serve the highest good, if we so choose. I don’t really think that means I’ll be migrating to Snapchat, although a migration away from Facebook is always running through my mind. But I will continue to work with and re-think the ways in which technology can be used to further connection in authentic, embodied and balanced ways.