Tweet’ked Out: Social Media and the Monkey Mind

It’s been a month of technology interfacing for me.

I designed and launched this website, got an Android smartphone, increased my presence on Twitter and Facebook, signed up for LinkedIn, and set up a new email account for my private practice.

Needless to say, my new phone has been blowing up with new things to “like”, new people to connect with, new opportunities, new passwords to commit to memory – multiple phenomena calling for my attention.  The game Angry Birds in particular, seems to be designed to hook me into repetitive patterns and an insatiable desire to clear whichever level I happen to be stuck on.  Rather than destroying greed, hatred, aversion and pursuing freedom, it’s become more important at times to obliterate blocks and liberate fowl on Angry Birds Rio!

The Buddha referred to this as papanca (pron. pah-PON-chah), or the proliferation of thought.  He also offered the image of monkey mind – swinging from branch to branch, from one thought to another.  I get the sense that some of these new technologies are feeding bananas to the monkey mind, giving it energy to swing wildly from one thought to another.  At times, all this input of information has left me scattered and distracted.  Attention has become fractured, dismembered.  I’m left feeling Tweet’ked Out.  Do you share in this experience with me?

In Pali, the language of the Buddha, what we now call “mindfulness” was called sati, which along with present-time awareness, also carries with it a sense of remembering.  In line with the narrative therapy tradition, I like to think of this in its hyphenated form, as re-membering.  As in, gathering parts of ourselves that have been dis-membered and reintegrating them back together.

In the case of new technologies, including social media, I think of them as neither essentially good nor bad.  These new technologies are allowing me to connect with, and assist, colleagues and clients in ways I could not have imagined even ten years ago.  At the same time, I feel called to be dilligent about how I’m interacting with them – maintaining my centre and staying grounded in the body, in the breath.  In my better moments I’m able to read a tweet on my Android and notice emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations as they arise.  A snarky email message from a colleague – I can open to the tension arising in the jaw, heart-rate increasing, and persecutory thoughts arising.  Complimentary Facebook message from someone who attended one of my retreats – the mind starts weaving a tale of inadequacy and imposterism – or perhaps appreciative joy surfaces in hearing about their experience.

In these moments, I occupy a balanced and awake state, re-membering attention, opening to whatever arises – and I find that I can then respond in ways that are more compassionate and  helpful for myself and others.  It’s my intention to continue trying to practice in this way, while of course being revisited at times by the monkey mind.

Thank-you for being a witness to that.




  1. Jeff Fisher says:

    Hi Brian,

    Wonderfully thoughtful article. I’ve recently been doing a training program with Ronald Siegal on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. As a result I have returned to my practice.

    I have had a rather counterproductive practice of turning on my iPhone when I can’t sleep and checking out CNN updates. (Is there anything more counterproductive for sleep?!!)

    The evening after doing the eating meditation — the famous single raisin one — I work up in the middle of the night to go to the washroom. I picked up my phone and carried it with me. I held the phone. I felt the sensation of having the phone in my hand. I did not turn it on and I did not watch CNN (not did I have the desire to do so). I returned to bed with phone in hand and placed it at my bedside.

    Interesting phenomenon for a guy who is so ridiculously hooked in to technology.

    I love the stuff you’re doing.


    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply and reflections Jeff!
      Glad I’m not the only one struggling with this at times.
      Hoping to do a workshop on this very topic (Mindfulness and Technology) alongside Ross Laird, sometime this Spring.


      • Jeff Fisher says:

        Well I’d definitely be interested in attending that, given the speakers, my focus on technology and the training I’m now doing with Ronald Siegal. Right in line with my interests, and that’s rare (these days), I assure you!


  2. Heather says:

    I’ve often laughed at myself when using my meditation timer app on my Iphone. But I also feel that the social media phenomenon has allowed me to stay more connected to the kind of information that keeps me in tune with my mindfulness practice. I may be jumping around from this to that but it is always littered with something (like your article) that brings me back to my center.
    Thank you!
    ~ Heather

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