One day this week I was looking at the news on my Guardian app. Relentless awful news: Covid rising again, young students confined to their rooms, new policy in schools to not teach anything anti-capitalist and a further undermining of the BBC and free journalism in the UK. I have friends who are facing the struggle for life and the impact of death in their families. I am separated from my own family and from my spiritual community. One could easily get overwhelmed!
Last week I started the Mindfulness Based Inclusion Training (MBIT) (link to November weekend) with fellow tutors at the MA. One of the things we considered was an image of George Floyd with the police officer’s knee on his neck, as he was killed. It was a striking image showing a callous emptiness in the face of the police officer. We then went on to consider a video of a similar incident that occurred subsequently in our own country, the UK. It was pretty shocking.
I tend to avoid watching the national news on TV so that I avoid seeing violent scenes like this. The point was made that avoiding seeing such things is a result of my privilege in our society, because some people who are living this reality get to see images like this regularly in their lives. They don’t have the privilege to avoid such acts of violence. This teaching hit me powerfully and I have been reflecting on it all week.
My policy has been to watch the ten minute lunchtime or late local Scottish BBC news on the iPlayer once a day and to rely for national and international news on the Guardian weekly magazine which I receive each Thursday. But as the Covid cases have kept rising, I notice a strong habitual patterns of wanting to listen to the radio 4 news and to check the Guardian phone app. It is interesting, because in the aspiration to take in more balanced news coverage I subscribed to Positive News. The magazine comes four times a year and there are regular emails. I notice that I have not read all of the magazine and that I don’t pay much attention to the emails, while I tend to go through the Guardian weekly soon after it has been delivered.
This is the negativity bias, that the news media play on. We attend far more to threat, as a survival imperative, rather than attending to all the good things in life. As Rick Hanson is fond of saying, the threat sticks in the mind like Velcro and the memories of good things slide off the mind like silk. Therefore, part of our mindfulness and compassion practice is to pay sustained attention to what is good in our life and actively practice gratitude and appreciation.
It is a privilege to be able to choose the mind diet of news that I allow into my mind. My rationale is to be able to achieve equanimity – to rise above – and see a bigger, more balanced picture. The photo is from my morning walk with my dog Holly (Nutmeg is at home, too old for this long walk). As I was walking through the layers of mist to rise above the valley I was stunned by the beauty of this morning. It made me feel very happy to be on that walk, in that place, this morning. My practice, exercise, walking and listening to music are all things I schedule each day to promote my wellbeing, and I pay sustained attention to all the good things – and there are many of them. In this way I don’t get overwhelmed.
The risk with watching too much news, too much violence, on the TV is if we do get overwhelmed and begin to feel completely helpless and disempowered. This does not help us and also prevents us from helping those around us. Is there a balance we can strike to stay informed, but not overwhelmed? Perhaps we can make the most of the privilege we have to look after and empower ourselves, so that we can continue to look after and empower those around us.
I had a great experience of this, with our group of trainee teachers this weekend, who with courage and grace, made themselves vulnerable in the teaching of mindfulness to peers and in the receiving of feedback. I am deeply encouraged that many people wish to train to teach compassion-based mindfulness at this time. Their deep motivation is to share the benefits of mindfulness with their communities. I see a handful of pebbles falling in a pond and all the rings spreading out to benefit more and more beings. I am hopeful that our new Masters degree in teaching Mindfulness and Compassion down in London will do more of this important work. Some positive news. What could be better?