Notes on a Buddhist path

Love in the age of emoticons

January 27, 2013 By | 8 Comments

I always feel better after a hug, or after I talk to someone. My plants grow taller when I tell them I love them, my kitty used to purr when I scratched him under his ears, but my toaster is unresponsive.” ~ Lucas Wilson

It’s funny how the inspirations for writing can appear. Sometimes I’ll feel a tug in one direction by the way the clouds recline in the sky. Another time it may be in the subtle way the air shifts the steams of sun through the prism of my water glass. Today it found me in the words written by an 11-year old boy.

ToasterIn his article, “Society without Love”, published at, young Lucas Wilson writes with the wisdom and compassion of a being who has passed through life many times before. I don’t know Lucas, but I’d like to. I’d like to sit down with him in his kitchen and talk about the world he yearns to see. I’d like to meet the plants that he talks to and hear about his cat who purred at the touch of his hand. And I’d like to meet his toaster.

More than anything I’d like to talk to Lucas about love in a world of smiley faces and coded acronyms. I often wonder whether we truly see each other through the billowing cloud of social networking. Be it texting or Facebook, twitter or email, most times there doesn’t seem to be much that is “social” in the streams of data and words that rain down from the ceaseless storm of our perma-connectivity.  I correspond with most of my friends in short and sometimes lengthy cyber notes, but unless I can lean my body into their voice as it spools my ear or feel my lips curve into a smile of reunion in seeing their eyes touch mine I don’t really feel the heartbeat of anything called social. Instead I feel more like I’m plugged in to a disembodied current of impersonal efficiency. A lot like Lucas’ toaster.

Yet there can be the sparks of humanity that cross the plane of a computer screen. Reading Lucas’ article this morning awakened my social heartbeat, the pulse inside of me that longs to feel connection to all beings. Lucas writes about our submissive postures as we stare down at our machines and in that is a brilliant summation of dukkha, unsatisfactoriness or suffering, as the Buddha defines it. It’s our cravings, our ceaseless hunger to stay plugged into this world in whatever form we can scratch or swipe or touch upon, that subjugate us to our machines of desire, to the trappings of self aggrandizement and the faulty belief that all of this will last.

Understanding that cravings exist everywhere in this worldly realm, is our addiction to social media more of a delinquent desire than say the longing to be held or to be loved? In the truest sense all cravings are the same. One is no more or less dukkha than another, although the strength of our attachments to them vary for each of us. For some the need to own the latest i-Whatever permeates every cell of their body whereas for me I don’t feel even an itch in that direction. I’m finding my attachment to things is subsiding, but I have more than a bit of an addiction to almond butter. Although my desire for an intimate interlude has waned, all of that could change in the next minute. You never know with cravings. They’re tricky little beasts.

I may never meet you Lucas, but I’d like to offer you four friends who may be handy in the years that lie ahead of you. They’re called the Brahma Viharas, the Divine Abidings, and they’re wondrous companions to remind you that love indeed is all around us. The first is metta, lovingkindness, that isn’t like romantic love, but instead is a gentle affection offered to ourselves and to all beings, kind of like the purr your cat gave you with each scratch behind his ears. The second is karuna, compassion, the beautiful open heart of yours that cares for others with deep empathy when they’re bent over texting or missing out on that amazing sunset that just fell from the sky. Third is mudita, sympathetic joy, the warm fuzzy feeling of happiness that washes over you when you see someone else is happy. Finally there is upekkha, equanimity, a middle way that neither clings or pushes anything away yet stays in perfect, serene balance. Think of your plants just growing contentedly in the light of your kindness.

They may not be able to give you physical hugs, but they are like hands reaching through cellphones and computers to touch the hearts of everyone you know and the billions of beings you haven’t met. And who knows; maybe even that toaster will someday feel the joy of your presence. Stranger things have happened.


By Thich Nhat Hanh

You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.

I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.

“Interrelationship” from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh

 Image credit:

Toaster via Wikimedia Commons


  1. Hey Tess!

    Great piece. Love this line:

    “Instead I feel more like I’m plugged in to a disembodied current of impersonal efficiency. ”

    Well put and I think it captures how a great many people feel … if only they were open enough to admit it!

    Thanks Tess!

    • Thanks Gil!

      As you so well know, our work is at the computer keyboard so sometimes it takes an article like Lucas’ to be just that sniggle of a reminder of what’s really important. Give Jazz a hug for me!


  2. Thanks Tess!
    Jazz has been hugged! You are spared the doggy licks LOL

    And … my new song “You Are My Sky” which I am still working on for Collie, is a Jazz instrumental piece!
    Slowwwwwww … dreamy … now … I just have to master it!


  3. Tess, your piece reminds me there is hope for the future and it resides in young folks like Lucas. Cheers to you both.

  4. I remember Joseph Goldstein saying that he came to the realization that wanting a cookie was the same as wanting a Cadillac. I was shocked. How could my wanting an innocent cookie compare to wanting a monstrosity of an automobile. The latter was so much more … commercial … impactful … status-seeking. The former, well, *just* a cookie. But after eating a Chips Ahoy, or two, (OK, a bag), I had to admit in my sugar-haze that he was probably right. It’s the craving that’s the problem, not what we crave.

    On a totally different topic, it’s kids like Lucas, eleven years old, that really make one feel a little less boastful of one’s achievements. As Tom Lehrer once said, “It’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished. It’s a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for ten years”.

    So much for my CV; Lucas is writing intelligent, insightful, thought-provoking articles at age eleven. I could crave after that level of maturity (genius?), but I supposed I’m a little late.

    I guess I’ll just try to let go of my ego, and have anoth

    • Thanks for the cookie/car story, David. What a great comparison! Yes, cravings comes in so many shapes and sizes. Unlike Lucas and Mozart my creative leanings and insights at 11 ran more in the direction of choosing another outfit for my Barbie doll. I’d like to think I’m a late bloomer, or perhaps just a mindful cookie monster.

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