We are sick from this past election. I don’t mean we are sick of it, which most of us are, but we are sick from it. Americans have ingested the vitriol between candidates, the fear and loathing exposed and enflamed from voters, the high anxiety surrounding who might win, and the churning of the ever-shortening news cycle. The seeds of fear, anxiety, anger, and despair have been overfed in us as individuals and in society as a whole. It’s as if we have been subject to the mental programming the main character Alex in A Clockwork Orange opted to endure: strapped to a chair, eyes pried open, forced to watch unending horror.
The end of the election is a perfect time to reevaluate what we are consuming in terms of news, information, and even conversations. How are our habits of reading, watching the news, surfing the internet, looking at Facebook, etc., creating a positive and healthy mental attitude or a negative and anxious one? Are our consumption habits ones that increase happiness, gratitude, and compassion in our psyche, both individually and collectively?
This isn’t a call for becoming ignorant of the developments around us, but to more carefully gauge and observe the quantity and quality of the information, sights, and sounds we take in, much as we strive to be mindful of the types and amounts of food we consume to have a healthy diet.
The first step is to become aware of what we are taking in. Is this activity nourishing my mindfulness, my joy, my centeredness? How do I feel after watching it or engaging in it? Second, why am I taking this in if it isn’t helpful? What am I running to or from? Finally, what could I do as an alternative that would be positive, both for me and the world around me? What are my aspirations for myself and my world that I can act upon?
This past week I stayed with a relative in Jacksonville, Florida, who had the TV on 24/7 tuned to a news channel. It was like living in hell. The political ads were unbelievably negative, filled with very harsh speech, and ran in an unending loop. The programming itself often had panels of pundits arguing about, not discussing, issues. I finally asked if we could turn it off and go for a walk. What a relief for both of us, walking in 70-degree sunshine with palm fronds moving in a gentle breeze that had the familiar, slightly sour North Florida scent of pine trees mixed with ocean salt. It was as if we’d opened the door into another world just by turning off the TV and stepping outside.
Turning off what doesn’t nourish us, tuning in to our needs and our aspirations, and then turning outward to appreciate those things that are nourishing and to act out our aspirations are the core of mindful consumption. This Thursday we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and discuss the Fifth Training on mindful consumption. Please join us to discuss how you practice, or hope to practice, mindful consumption and how you’ve fared during the election cycle. What have you learned? What are your aspirations for how you want to practice? A brief quotation from Thich Nhat Hahn is below.
Also, Still Water is facilitating a discussion of the Five Mindfulness Training in the next few weeks that can help us share with each other our understanding of, and struggles with, these trainings in our daily lives. The group will meet November 12 and 19 and December 3. Please register ASAP if you would like to join us, which I hope you will.
From For a Future to be Possible by Thich Nhat Hanh
There is a deep malaise in society. When we put a young person in this society without trying to protect him, he receives violence, hatred, fear, and insecurity every day, and eventually he gets sick. Our conversations, TV programs, advertisements, newspapers, and magazines all water the seeds of suffering in young people, and in not-so-young people as well. We feel a kind of vacuum in ourselves, and we try to fill it by eating, reading, talking, smoking, drinking, watching TV, going to the movies, or even overworking. Taking refuge in these things only makes us feel hungrier and less satisfied, and we want to ingest even more. We need some guidelines, some preventive medicine, to protect ourselves, so we can become healthy again. We have to find a cure for our illness. We have to find something that is good, beautiful, and true in which we can take refuge.
When we drive a car, we are expected to observe certain rules so that we do not have an accident. Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha offered certain guidelines to his lay students to help them live peaceful, wholesome, and happy lives. They were the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and at the foundation of each of these precepts is mindfulness. With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world, and we avoid doing harm to ourselves and others. Mindfulness protects us, our families, and our society, and ensures a safe and happy present and a safe and happy future….
The Five Mindfulness Trainings are love itself. To love is to understand, protect, and bring well-being to the object of our love. The practice of the precepts accomplishes this. We protect ourselves and we protect each other and we obtain even deeper peace and joy.