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Almost every day, millions of us wander into a crowded pub where just about everyone we know (and some we’ve connected with but haven’t yet met) are all waiting for a chat. Sometimes its invigorating; sometimes its aggravating, and its often overwhelming.  Of course I’m talking about Facebook.   And its no small thing these days since if it were a country, Facebook (with over 400 million users), would rank third in population behind China and India.

For some yogis and yoginis, who are striving to be open to the universe with peace and compassion, Facebook can be irresistible.  Its like having pen pals all over the world without having to wait for a letter in the mail and the chance to share so many thoughts and ideas can be very enriching.

Like so many people, I was ambivalent at first but, as it is with so many yoga enthusiasts, a strong desire to connect drew me in.   Before long, I was re-connecting with people I thought I’d never see again, including relatives as well as old colleagues and classmates.   Of course thrown into that mix were ex-girlfriends, bullies, and people who previously wouldn’t give me the time of day but suddenly wanted to “friend” me.    How to respond?

Of course this wonderful open world of Facebook is not without a darker side.  Some people I know use an alias to avoid being tracked down by an old stalker while most people are careful about the details we share on our info page.   I’ve seen a Buddhist friend in Texas shouted down by her family for “not following the way of the lord” and seen people “drop” each other over a disagreement in political views (and that was well before the 2016 election).   Last fall, I even had a long-running debate over health care with some conservative cousins in North Carolina but we never let it deteriorate into name-calling or negative feelings about each other.

If anything, Facebook puts our relationship with the world under a magnifying glass and one thing is for sure; whatever baggage you already carry – you bring it with you.  How much about ourselves do we share?  Who do we open up to?  How open are we to other ideas?  Do we see the world as full of potential friends or creepy people who will do us harm?   Which feelings rule our universe; happiness and joy or fear and insecurity?

A few months ago I wrote about living your yoga in the face of fear and anger but how do you live your yoga on Facebook?  How do you take it off the mat and onto your laptop?

When you see the pictures of your friend’s recent trip to Maui, do you feel jealous or are you genuinely happy that they got to have that experience?

Take a look at your own recent posts on your own “wall” – are they boastful, positive, negative, mean, kind, or fun?

How do you respond when a lonely friend or acquaintance is reaching out to you?  Do you take the time to respond or do you ignore it and get on with your day?

How do you deal with someone you barely know reaching out to connect with you?  What about someone who bullied you or ignored you in the past?

These are questions we all seem to grapple with and how we respond can tell us a lot about ourselves.

Let’s say you accept the “friend request” from someone you hardly know or who used to  barely acknowledge your existence.   Some people will then write on that person’s wall  “thanks for the friend request…” as if to tell the world (in a very fifth grade note-passing kind of way),  “hey look everyone, she asked to be my friend!”   Instead of feeding the ego, how about just a nice “Hi, I’m glad we’re connected now?”

It seems many yoga people like to connect with each other but not everyone does.  As  Candice Garrett, a yoga teacher and author in Santa Cruz, CA found out: “I used to request more people…other yoga teachers and authors, until I got a few snarky letters demanding to know who I was, or why I wanted to be their friend.”

Sure, some people are mobbed with many friend requests (or have gone to a fan page) but few reactions are quite as unkind as the “do I know you?” response, especially from another yogi or yogini.

And what about those annoying “I just sent you a Teddy Bear” posts that seem to show up like bad wallpaper?   I’m sorry but however well-intentioned, these just don’t seem like a genuine attempt to connect but look more like spam.   You can always block these applications and if it gets really bad, you can consider setting up your page so that only you can post to your wall (but others can always respond to what you post).

A big question for many people is, after years of having so many walls between family, friends, work colleagues and others is how the dynamic changes when they’re no longer so compartmentalized?   Your relationship with each of these people was once quite unique and if they’re all part of your Facebook posse, how well do they mix?

You may be quite open and accepting but what if one of your relatives decides to tear into something a friend wrote on your wall.  Of course this puts us in an awkward spot because the last thing we want is to be forced into is a situation where we must choose sides between friends and/or family (no matter who was “right or wrong” in the situation).  As some people have found out, its often their own family members who turn on them for the views they post.

Of course these are great opportunities to work on our peacemaking skills and try to bridge the gap.  That said, if this happens too often and it can’t be rectified, perhaps the best way to keep the peace is to have separate accounts so your worlds aren’t so intertwined.

Perhaps most importantly, how do we respond to someone in need?    We saw many people on Facebook raising money to support Haiti and Chile in their times of need but what about that lonely friend or acquaintance who just needs someone to chat with?

While I’m not the biggest fan of the chat feature, it does seem to be an amazing way to help someone deal with loneliness and depression or (as I spent over an hour on Friday night) someone with a broken heart.  To me, this is social media at its best; opening channels between people when a real connection is what someone needs most.

And its not just those who are lonely and depressed who need us but sometimes it’s a friend facing a challenge who needs that little bit of extra wind at their back.   It doesn’t matter whether you’re interviewing for a job, having a baby, or teaching your first yoga class; having that Facebook cheering section behind you sure can’t hurt.

And despite all of the wonderful doors that something like Facebook can open, its perhaps good to remember that outside your door is an entire world of people also looking for a connection, in person.

Taking it off the mat and onto Facebook is great, but its even better to live it out in our everyday lives.

This article was originally published in 2010.