I used to enjoy watching news reports on TV and reading multiple newspapers and magazines to get both facts and analysis from interesting writers. The Sociologist in me got excited to see how our theories of human behavior either were playing out in real time, or needed some serious revision.
During the US presidential campaign of 2016, I found it fascinating to hear how people came to their opinions and I managed to stay as detached as possible from the escalating fights that were breaking out within groups of friends and even families. I tried my darndest to stay a non-violent peacemaker, but gosh that was hard work. I felt exhausted. When I turned on the TV at night to catch up on the daily news, I mostly heard shouting. I thought I had turned on the wrong channel, to a sports game, or a soap opera.
I was away from the USA all of December 2016, in Africa, where people did ask me what was going on in the US, but I was not bombarded with stories all day. It was very healing, rejuvenating, to be at a distance, in the womb of Mother Nature, and hearing only snippets of international news.
I re-entered the United States for a few weeks in January-February 2017. I was immediately swept up in a swirling, chaotic national conversation (quasi-shouting match) that made the sociological part of my brain short-circuit at times. Wait, What? Facts vs Alternative Facts? The evolution of human society can be called into question and attempts can be made to stop the flow and try to move backwards?? Oi! My head began to spin, information was coming much too fast. I didn’t want to get exhausted again. Fortunately, I had a trip planned to Europe for business and family so I could be at a distance again from the chaos. Aaaaaaa…
While I was in Germany, Italy and France, I did find myself in conversation about not just what was happening in the USA in the socio-political realm, but also what was happening in those European countries, and in the world at large. Whether or not the world is in a more challenging place than it was during World War II can be debated, but the folks living then did not have 24 hour news, Facebook, Twitter and smart phones attached to them.
My dominant emotion has been a feeling of being unsettled. How do I know what is real? What is true? And why are so many people so angry, really, really angry, and fearful? From my time in Africa and in Europe, I have to say, Americans, at least on the media and social media, win the prize for shouting. We even beat the Sicilians!
Going back and forth between lands and worlds has afforded me a certain perspective on life and I have come up with some tricks to stay calm and well wherever you are. I call this “How to be In this world but not Of it”. In other words, how to be engaged enough in your reality to be there, present, alert and contributing; while staying detached enough from drama so you don’t go crazy, get depressed, or get sick. I am happy to share some of these tricks with you here. The ones I have so far:
- As tempting as it is, do not check news stories as soon as you wake up. Instead, meditate, for at least 10 minutes. Then check the news if you must.
- Consider getting a good chunk of your news from comedians like Trevor Noah on the Daily Show. Someone once told me that there is a Zen Buddhist saying that “If you wait long enough, everything becomes funny.” Well, the comedians on TV have already processed the daily news for us and made it funny. This is not to diminish the importance of what is happening with national policies and their impacts on our livelihoods, but getting the news in this way helps soften the blow. Laughter is better than shouting.
- Take some time each day to remind yourself how lucky you are to be alive, and to live in relative comfort.
- Focus on your own work and responsibilities, for a healthy amount of time each day. It is easy these days to think “what am I doing all this for? What is the point? What if the world is really coming to an end?” If you hover in those thoughts too long you will lose motivation, and hope. Do your own thing, not selfishly, but rather keeping in your awareness that you are part of the whole, and just need to do your thing the best.
- Bracket your work day from other activities in your daily life. Make a ritual to begin your work at a certain time and with a particular event (e.g. opening your laptop or checking your business email) AND a ritual for ending your work each day (e.g. closing your laptop or shutting off business email alerts on your phone). Create some serious downtime in your day, go for a walk, exercise, spend time with family and/or friends, cook a nice dinner.
- Take good care of yourself. Don’t feel guilty if you pass on an invitation because you would rather be at home, relaxing. Plan a holiday. If you are tired, exhausted, shut everything down and sleep. Eat healthy foods you love. Have a glass of wine after a long day. Tell stories to good friends. And just be you. If we all do this, we’ll all enjoy being around each other more as we are all in this world…but not of it.