“Everything you do is political, everything you do is ethical (or not).” – Michael Stone
I have avoided reading the news for a long time.
I grew up in Northern Virginia, near Washington DC, where politics are almost unavoidable. My parents never hid what was happening in the world from me and when I was younger I would ride the waves of my liberal mother’s reports on what was displayed on the front page of the Washington Post into the halls of my middle school, wondering why my classmates were not as upset as I was about the state of the world. When terrorist attacks became real to me I walked out of movie theaters because I imagined bombs in extra large buckets of popcorn. I talked to every suspicious looking person on a flight just to make sure that we both knew we were human.
I moved out to California and stopped reading the news. I was tired of being afraid. And slowly but surely fears started to fade and I became more involved in my life. No, I could no longer carry on a debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but I stopped inventing stories about buckets of popcorn.
I should also add that around the same time that I stopped reading the news, I stopped watching “scary movies”–I’ve probably never seen a horror movie, ‘The Shining’ is as horrifying a movie as I have ever seen. But I stopped watching movies with guns, movies where bad guys try to kill the good guys and the good guys have to fight back.
In the past couple of years I’ve incorporated action movies back into my viewing repertoire and it feels okay. I don’t have time to watch TV very much and as long as I don’t let my imagination get away with me the movies don’t become real life. And a few months ago I started reading the news again.
Maybe I started reading the news because world news was a big part of the life of a person I was dating. Maybe I started reading the news because again I had a place that I call home hit by a person who wanted to inflict terror. Maybe I started reading the news because there is more going on in the world than before and it’s impossible to ignore. Maybe I started reading the news because I felt strong enough.
For whatever reason, I now check news.google.com everyday. And everyday something horrible has happened. It is so hard to find good news and so easy to become depressed, or anxious, or nauseous, even, about the headlines that change every few hours.
A friend recently posted about the ISIS beheadings which I find incredibly disturbing. I am disturbed because 1. The beheadings bring me back immediately to the same feeling of terror that I felt in movie theaters and airplanes after September 11th–uncontrollable and helpless fear. 2. I work with people for a living, it is my job to read faces and the looks on the men’s faces in the pictures break my heart. 3. I have a vivid imagination and with just one picture my mind comes up with a million stories. 4. I really have/cannot offer any solution, this situation is way beyond my control.
I have spent quite a bit of time sitting with and thinking about how I respond to world news and have come to the conclusion that the best thing for myself is to do the best I can to create a healthy, kind local community by doing my best as a human being to interact with everyone that I meet in an open, honest and kind manner. There really is not much that I can do to stop these beheadings except to choose to not react. If I can make sure that these beheadings do not impact how I respond to MY world then I am not giving these forces power.
So what I found to be even more disturbing than the beheadings, more disturbing than everything displayed on the homepage of Google News, were the responses to my friend’s post on Facebook about the news.
A few responses were logical, but many were extremely upsetting to me. Does the desire to watch the beheadings and the simple solution of “killing them all” actually move the world forward in any way?
When I read articles about events such as the ISIS beheadings my heart starts to beat faster and stronger, my palms start to sweat, I can actively feel my body getting tense and angry. But these are the physical signs of becoming out of control, becoming aggressive, and really not being able to think clearly and solve any problems in a logical manner.
I am bothered by these Facebook postings so much more than the actual news because this is what we do have the power to control. We have the power as human beings, as a small or large community to take a step back and feel what our bodies are doing when we read the news and choose NOT to make our lives, choose NOT to make the world, a horror movie. It does not have to be. Yes, there are people and forces that might challenge us but I know that if we choose to fully greet each other and are honest in our thoughts and actions that we have the ability to use light to drive out the dark. Responding to aggressive, inhumane behavior with aggressive, inhumane behavior merely makes our enemies less evil. I do not know the solution to the world’s problems, but I have seen so many people change, become stronger, become better leaders, become more lively, and in turn help others become more lively, just through a mindful practice on their mats. We can do this off our mats too, “yogis” or not, be human. To me, exercising our ability to feel, recognize what we feel, and then choose our response in a mindful manner is the only way that we can change the world. Honest behavior is not emotional behavior. Honest behavior is acknowledging and being aware of every way that our actions impact others and then choosing the action or response that is most beneficial to both ourselves and those around us. It takes practice but it is possible.