should yogis watch the news?
I mean, the morning/daily/nightly news is filled with disturbing, stressful stories. And as yoga students, we are learning to transform our hearts and our minds to become peaceful, content, calm, and free from unnecessary fear and suffering. But what we absorb from the local/national/world news is full of fear, anger, sorrow… should we even pay attention to it? Watch it? Listen to it? Read it? Recently over lunch in Waldo, my friend who is a local newscaster confided in me that her work day is focused on three things: reporting who died, reporting who almost died, and reporting who’s upset about it. That’s grim. And slightly unsettling. And very disheartening.
Spending our time and energy becoming absorbed in major news events can induce stress. A recent article on NPR.org proposed that repeatedly watching the same clips of disturbing, violent images in the media can produce symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder. You can read the full article, “Binging on Bad News Can Fuel Daily Stress”, here.
Yoga teaches us that the fullness of experiencing a life here on Earth includes experiencing the ‘good’ and the ‘bad.’ The God-Spirit is omnipresent, encompassing all things and events. Right? Well, not exactly, because then: yoga teaches us NOT to assign the labels ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to anything. This is the quality of equanimity, which the Bhagavad Gita uses as the principle definition of yoga.
“Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results. Open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga.” (Mitchell’s translation of B.V. v 5.24)
Meaning, you may not be able to control everything, but you can surely control your reaction to that ‘thing.’
Christian theologian Thomas Merton says this: “No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood whether we want it to or not” (Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master, 1992).
Meaning: here we are. On this Earth we are in the midst of vacillating joyous and sorrowful experiences.
So, I guess the question is this: how do we maintain a sense of inner peace (not anger, however righteous it may be) and avoid fearful, anxious existence, even when our communities at large experience suffering or are plagued by violence? Should we just shut off the TV (yes, I have one now, Bonyen, and I will one day watch your newscast) and never listen to the news again? Should we become hermits (that sounds really enticing, until I remember that hermits don’t walk to their favorite Vegetarian restaurant with friends on a Monday evening) and block out all ‘bad news?’
Can we find a way to ‘stay present’ in our communities without experiencing despair?
I once heard this analogy: If an ambulance driver responded to an outrageous car accident and immediately started freaking out, yelling about the catastrophe, weeping uncontrollably about the ‘state of things,’ and attracting an anxious/terrified crowd… who would help the victims inside the cars? We expect a first responder to arrive at the scene of an accident and maintain serenity, choose action over fear, address the situation with loving-kindness, and offer all the help he can. You are the first responder. And I suppose the car accident is the news story. (Think on that for a few days.)
So, yes, my heart hurts every time I see the front page of the newspaper covering the violent assault on Gaza and the drowning death of a young autistic boy. It does. But then I remember that if I didn’t know about these sorrowful events, I wouldn’t know to pray for these victims of war and this family in grief. In fact, I purposely listen to the 4 minute newscast on my NPR app on my way to my 6:00 am classes so that I can dedicate a piece of my yoga experience to anyone I hear about on the news who needs extra support and good energy.
So I guess it goes two ways when you read the news: you can choose desperation or you can choose hope.
Or maybe, in the spirit of equanimity, somewhere in-between.
What do you think: Should yogis watch the news? How do you get your news? How do you respond? I’m looking forward to your thoughts.
P.S. Haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita yet? You totally should. I have two favorite translations. The translation I used here is by Stephen Mitchell, published by Three Rivers Press, New York.
Just in case the link to the NPR blog didn’t work, here is the full URL: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/07/10/323355132/binging-on-bad-news-can-fuel-daily-stress