In her dharma talk at Kannon Do, Valorie Beer offered a number of suggestions for coping with the fear and grief of the covid situation. Here's another suggestion.
It's pretty easy to feel distressed when reading or listening to the news. News reports usually headline disturbing content, since it grabs our attention more than heartwarming news does. We may think we prefer good news over bad, but selective attention to threats is a powerful evolutionary survival mechanism: it arouses us and prepares us to respond to even hints of threats. Because of this, most of us have sat down to read a newspaper with an attitude of curiosity, and gotten up feeling tense, worried, sad or angry.
One day I was visiting my friend, Zen teacher Catherine Cascade. She was reading the newspaper and I commented: "Sometimes I can hardly bring myself to pick up a paper these days." Her reply stuck with me. She said, "I open the newspaper every morning and read it as the next chapter in the Iliad and the Odyssey."
This is a wonderful way to gain some perspective on current events which clamor for immediate responses. Chaos is not new. Greed, hate and delusion are at least as beginningless and endless as the story of humanity. If there is a difference in degree these days, it's because the septupling of the human population, combined with an escalation of technological power, now threatens not just ourselves, not just other people in our interconnected human community, but exterminates entire species and injures the earth, air, and water of our planet. No wonder news reports alarm us.
I've had a practice of sitting down with the news in the morning and, when I read something that arouses anger, fear, or disgust, I invoke my practice vows and attempt to cultivate equanimity, compassion and kindness. Recently I realized I've been doing this in the wrong order.
Since I know the morning paper will bring reports of political turmoil, insults to our environment and encroachments on the well-being of all sentient beings, I've changed the sequence. When I sit down at the breakfast table and open up my newspaper or iPad, I place my tongue so it's touching the roof of my mouth, as in mediation or qigong. I take a breath, and then recite my vows before I begin reading the news.
I vow to awaken with everyone; to liberate myself and others from the weight of greed, hate, and delusion; to find an opening to the Way in every thought, feeling, and impulse stimulated by each news item; and to acknowledge the unfathomable, ungraspable nature of our ocean of Being. I cultivate an appreciation of how reading the news offers me an opportunity to practice navigating the waves flowing, and the waters still.
Sometimes I vary this by reciting a single vow, or a mantra. Sometimes I invoke the Four Immeasurables or the Metta Sutta. Of course you're not restricted to Buddhist methods: you can invoke whatever is most meaningful for you. You could draw on other religious rituals, prayers, blessings, or summon a secular frame of mind. Perhaps you'd like to approach the news from the standpoint of an anthropologist, social psychologist, or systems analyst. Whichever you choose, instead of bracing yourself you can anchor yourself in your intention and draw on the resources which nourish and sustain you. Doing so, you'll likely find being proactive as you face the news will likely leave you feeling calmer than plunging in and then trying to cope with your unpremeditated reactions.
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