Health Food for the Mind?


Have you ever stopped to think about how your patterns of media consumption may be affecting your practice? Most yoga and meditation practitioners I know are motivated by the desire to unify body, mind, and spirit. A devoted yoga practice tends to result in a healthy, well­balanced body; meditation brings clarity of focus and a calm, lucid mind.

On a daily basis, media outlets overwhelm us with images and headlines designed to evoke a visceral, outraged response in us. Broadcast media are particularly infamous for their strict observance of the dictum, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Now that news and commentary have become a 24­-hour­-a­-day affair, screens are everywhere, and most people stay connected to social media throughout the day, we wind up taking in an astonishing number of horrifying images and alarming headlines daily. Not exactly health food for the mind!

In fact, psychologists now have a name for the affliction that tends to strike empathetic individuals who binge on bad news: vicarious trauma. Interestingly, test data suggest that people who compulsively watch and read about traumatic events may actually sustain slightly more emotional damage than those who experience them first­-hand.

We find ourselves in need of psychic shelter; desperately seeking refuge from the mental toxins that fly at us nonstop. Mindfulness is the key. If we can muster enough awareness through daily meditation practice, we’ll know what’s going on (Breathing in, I know I am handling emotionally combustible materials. Breathing out, I am alert to their effect on my psyche.) We’ll thus be aware the moment we’ve reached our legal limit for bad news (“Breathing in, I know my mind cannot handle any more toxins. Breathing out, I take refuge in the beauty of my practice.”)

Broadcast news and social media, with their constant attention to What’s Wrong and Why You Should Be Outraged, can paint an unrealistic picture of the world. Overconsumption of these media may convince us that there is only bad news, that nothing life­ affirming is happening anywhere . For every atrocious news story we take in, we should seek out at least three observations of the beauty that constantly surrounds us:

“Today, the sun shone brightly on trees in full bloom, which busily converted sunlight into energy.”

“In a moment of extraordinary clarity last night, a grieving woman was able to visualize the presence of her wise ancestors in the palm of her own hand.”

“A village in the developing world just secured a dependable source of clean water for the first time.”

And so on.

If you manage a page or a group on social media, you may discover that you yourself sometimes fall into the trap of over ­reporting the negative and the abysmal. Please help all of us ­­ and yourself ­­ by following the Three-­for­-One rule of posting. Please give us more of the things that nourish, sustain and empower us, and less to aggrieve us and threaten us with despair.

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