Human Beings Having a Virtual Experience

¨We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.¨

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

This credo by the French philosopher Pierre Chardin is something that really strikes a chord with me.  It is a reminder to look beyond the physical and realize the untapped, unlimited potential within each one of us.  In the ancient gnostic texts (religious texts in early Christianity that weren’t included in the bible) there are many references to the ‘divine spark’ within human beings.  The path of spirituality can be seen as a journey to recognizing your own divine spark, and fueling it, so that it grows bright enough to be your guiding light.

I believe that in modern times we can expound upon Pierre Chardin’s belief by changing a few key words.

¨We are not virtual beings having a human experience.  We are human beings having a virtual experience.¨

This thought is almost a precursor to the more idealistic vision of Chardin.  Unfortunately it seems more pragmatic and applicable to our current situation.  As technology progresses were are more enveloped by its awesome potential to show us anything at anytime, to allow us to escape from our surroundings.  How incredible is the power of the internet, allowing ideas from a small farm in Bhutan to reach the top of New York city skyscrapers, and vice versa.  The internet is a tool, perhaps one of the most useful tools ever created.  But like a hammer or a saw, using that tool can be dangerous.

I believe that the internet has become dangerous not just because of the possibility of hacking or publishing misinformation but from the distraction that it creates from our real lives.  With social media people start to take on a virtual identity rather than a physical identity, let alone a spiritual identity.  Oftentimes we are more concerned with how we will appear on our Facebook accounts than how we appear in the present moment.

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Cartoon by Pawel Kuczynski.

I was recently in the beautiful town of Minca, enjoying the sounds and sights of the Marinka Waterfall when I noticed a group of people arriving.  The first thing they did was pull out their cell phones and take a series of ‘selfies’ with the waterfall in the background.  The sound of running water was then replaced by the visitors complaining that the small restaurant nearby didn’t have wifi so they would have to wait to update their Instagram or Facebook accounts.  Their first thought was not to take in the sensory information of the waterfall: watch the water cascading down into a bubbling white pool, smell the dew collecting on tropical fruits, hear the chatter of birds over the rumble of the current, feel the refreshing jolt of the water on their skin.  They have become conditioned to place more importance on the virtual world, to connect with their virtual identities, than their human experience.

Getting away from the internet for a little while can be highly therapeutic.  Instead of focusing on how we are going to relate our current experience on the internet we can actually focus on what is going on around us, being aware of the present moment.  When we are having a human experience instead of a virtual one, we start to relate more to our fellow man and woman.  We may even start to recognize the divine spark within one another, or within ourselves, and move more towards the precedent that Chardin believes.

It is highly ironic, and I hope not too hypocritical, to be using the internet to convey these thoughts.  I find myself eager to share to my thoughts and experiences with friends and strangers alike, using the internet as a tool.  I’ve often wasted many hours in front of the computer, having a virtual experience and accomplishing next to nothing, later wishing I had been able to ignore distracting myself from all that’s going on in the real world around me.

I hope that in the future I can turn off the light of the computer more often, even if it plunges me into darkness.  After all it is easier to recognize light when it is dark.  And in that darkness maybe my divine spark will start to shine more brightly, taking me from a virtual being, to a human being, to a spiritual being, having a profound experience.

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