(This is the second part of a short series offering my thoughts on holistic activism. I welcome responses and your own contributions to this subject.)
Processing the News with Body, Mind and Spirit
Every now and then it hits me like this: “the news is making me sick.” Using the term “sick” in this way, people generally mean disgusted. But I want here to emphasize the literal nature of “makes me sick” with reference to how following the events of the world can cause mental, emotional and physical illness. Additionally, I’d like to offer some suggestions from a holistic perspective for maintaining health and well-being in the face of the horrors streaming at us through the media.
A basic understanding of the holistic orientation is that the body, mind and spirit are a unity, not separate from each other; they are ongoingly inter-dependently relating. Whatever is happening in our mind effects our body; whatever happens in our body effects our mind. Further, both mind and body are nourished and regenerated by the spiritual sources of life within us. Body-Mind-Spirit, All One. We can be unaware of or ignore this inter-connectedness, but our life experience will move us in the direction of waking up to it.
Take a moment when you are hearing any thought, perhaps what you are reading right now. If you resonate with the thought(s), you will feel a positive emotion and perhaps a tingling or exciting energy in your body. On the other hand, if the thoughts challenge your previously held views or opinions, you may feel angry or defensive or afraid, and your body will contract, get tense, even if just a little. We all tend to do this.
When we read the newspaper or listen to the news on the radio, tv or social media, the same thing happens. Usually the ideas and events are presented so rapidly that we don’t even notice our internal reactions. If we do recognize that we are getting angry or afraid, we probably don’t notice the physical correlates to those feelings; the tension, stress or pain in the body. Unaddressed, as the weight of these experiences continues to accumulate, we may find ourselves depressed, in chronic anger or anxiety, dis-ease. Many folks today are suffering in this way from hearing the news.
This is not to say that anger or fear are in themselves unhealthy or unwarranted. They are natural reactions to threats to our personal safety or the safety and well-being of those we care about. When what we love is threatened, whether it is our family, other humans or other species, a mountain, river, forest or ocean, we are going to find ourselves reacting. This is natural and universal. What’s important is how we relate to our reaction and what we do with it.
From all the research on mindfulness meditation, we’ve learned that being fully aware and non-judgmental towards our feelings, begins to lighten their intensity and loosen the tightness with which we hold them in our body. It involves not pushing those feelings away, but also not feeding them. What’s important is that we are fully aware that there are these feelings and they are in us, not out there.
Returning to the experience of listening to the news: we therefore recognize that what is happening out there is triggering a reaction inside here, and we respect our feelings for what they are, whatever they are. In a sense, we become the observer and don’t personalize the reaction; our feelings are a part of what is happening in the whole of the experience. Just as there is rage and fear, conflict and competition out there in the world, something like that is happening inside us as well. We are moved to humbly accept our part in the pain and suffering in the world.
From a holistic perspective, the spiritual aspect of our nature is the source of love and empathy, whether for ourselves, our family, humanity, other species or Mother Earth. It is this love, however lost from our conscious awareness in the moment, that is truly at the root of our reaction to injustice, war or the damage to the natural world. It’s why we care. Our frustrated, impatient, justifiably righteous, egoic self may distort the flow, but at the source is generosity and love. Just remembering this can shift the way we feel because we are reminding ourselves amd getting back in touch with the healing force of that love. The focus of our attention is then on healing, healing ourselves and whoever or whatever we were disturbed by. We shift towards the motivation to respond to the situation creatively and skillfully.
Just as the holistic healer takes time to work on themselves, the holistic activist needs to take time to work on their own consciousness. As Ghandi said, “be the peace you want to see in the world.”
A few suggestions for relating to the news:
Process: Recognize that your body and mind are deeply impacted by events in the world and you need to take time to digest, metabolize and assimilate what you are letting in as information.
Step away: Humbly admit that the world will not be any the worse if you don’t listen or watch the news for a day, or a week. Take a news fast now and then. We need time to process the undigested material, refresh and renew our consciousness.
Act: In addition to what you are learning about yourself, your reaction may be your soul calling you to actively respond. Learn to communicate and act in ways that are in harmony with your nature, both the loving essence of your soul, and the gifts and talents of your personality. This will be the topic of the next piece in this series.