News headlines are dominated by catastrophes, conflicts and controversies. Reporting is sensationalistic and biased, and is designed to deliberately manipulate and trigger our well-honed predispositions and instincts. These stories are slanted to evoke fear, outrage, despair, and worry in us.
With this awareness foremost in our minds, every time we turn on our televisions, watch or read online news, we should have a reliable method (according to Ponlop Rinpoche) to mindfully consume the news and deal with strong emotions.
1. Respond not React
Before turning on your phone or television, breathe deeply into your belly, and check in regularly with your breath and feelings throughout. It is worthwhile to know which situations or current issues evoke strong feelings, and to make a conscious decision to respond rather than react when that issue arises. This skill of responding is beneficial for our overall well-being.
2. Different Perspectives
Know that every situation or issue has different perspectives and supporters. To lessen your reactivity and broaden your mind, read international reports and other accounts of the situation. Doing this kind of research automatically pulls us out of our tight focus, and give us a bird’s eye view of the situation. Distance decreases emotion, and increases clarity and wisdom.
3. Training the Mind
Decide in advance that you will use the news as the opportunity to train your mind and grow your knowledge about yourself. So as you read or watch the news, let one part of your mind be calmly observing your reactions, thoughts, feelings and attitudes. We know how to split our minds in this manner. For e.g. we do it when we are walking and talking: one part of the mind is watching where we place our foot and another is tracking the conversation. This practice of detached observation of ourselves will train the mind to be more controlled.
4. Seeing the Commonalities/Inter-Connectedness
We can also use the news to grow our understanding of those we oppose. This doesn’t mean we condone everything or even agree with them. The choice here is to shift the focus away from our differences and onto our commonalities. We make the choice/choose to be tolerant, expansive and kind towards the people we disagree with. We try to understand their point of view and emotions around the issue.
We grow this sense of shared experience by recognizing that they are just like me: they want happiness and not sadness, they care for their loved ones, and they suffer fears, vulnerabilities and worries just as I do. And for victims of natural and man-made disasters we send them loving kindness, or wishes to be free from their pain..
Be kind to yourself when you forget to follow these steps. Here too, use your own experience of forgetting and your response to forgetting for reflection and growth.
May all our experiences lead us to freedom and happiness.