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Lions Roar : November 2017
Thich Nhat Hanh would always teach that we have to sit down and have a strategy for what we consume. We have to set an intention—to talk about it and come up with a plan for ourselves as individuals, as couples, or as a fam- ily. How much media is enough, and of what kind? Using a website-blocking app, I’ve recently brought my daily news limit down from ten minutes a day to five, and that’s plenty. It’s one thing to be informed; it’s another to be overwhelmed. Sometimes we’re so overdosed with information that we forget the simple wonders of the present moment: the presence of our loved ones across the table, the sound of the wind in the trees, the clouds scudding across the sky, the early morning birdsong. “When you eat your breakfast, are you eating your breakfast, or are you eating your projects or the morning radio show?” Thich Nhat Hanh would ask. If there is a lot of violence in our soci- ety, he says, it is also because as a nation we are consuming so much violence every day, in everything we watch, hear, and read. It pollutes our compassion and our peace. Advertisements are designed to trigger the seed of craving in us—to convince us that we can only be happy if and when we have this or that new product. There is a whole new field of research on “atten- tion”—and how to steal it from us. Just traveling through a city, even if we don’t want to consume, we are consuming anyway. “Is it right,” asks Thich Nhat Hanh, “to allow people to get rich producing prod- ucts that are toxic for ourselves and our children? They cannot in the name of free- dom poison us with their products, films, magazines, books, and computer games.” We speak about “freedom of the press,” but what about “freedom of the media consumer”? If we wish to cultivate healthy and compassionate minds, that freedom is something we’ll have to claim for ourselves. ♦ I realized that it’s true: once those images, sounds, ideas, and feelings come into your mind, they stay there. There are disturbing scenes from movies I watched as a teenager that still come up in my consciousness twenty years later. There are conversations I walk away from feeling queasy. If I’m mindful and honest enough, I recognize how a single news bulletin can touch off seeds of fear, despair, anger, hatred, or helplessness deep in my consciousness. Or how a movie can nourish my baseline anger and aggression. Or how one riff from a music track in a supermarket or escalator can spark sorrow, craving, or nostalgia, just as easily as it can trigger joy or delight. I remember meeting a practitioner who wore earplugs when she did her weekly shopping so she didn’t have to hear the Muzak. “It’s my mind!” she announced. “I’ll choose what to put into it, thank you very much.” There’s a kind of freedom in choos- ing what you will let into your mind and what you won’t. But how many of us allow ourselves that kind of freedom? When you stick with a TV show or news article, is it because you really want to? Or is it because you’re afraid to confront what comes up inside when you switch it off or put it down? In the newsroom, we were trained in the art of “sticky” news— the kind of news that’s hard to turn off. “We have more than enough infor- mation,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, “but is it the right kind of information?” How many hours a day do we spend receiving input? What is coming into our con- sciousness along with it? Is it violence, fear, anxiety, craving, and despair that feed negativity, or something that helps positive seeds grow? We have to be honest with ourselves— to check in with our heart–mind—not only after we’ve watched, read, or listened to something, but also while we’re consum- ing it. We need to ask ourselves: How am I feeling now? What am I really feeding? We also need to be aware of the suffer- ing caused by unmindful consumption. 4 STEPS TO A HEALTHY MEDIA DIET 1. Take a reality check. Make use of the clarity and courage you have gener- ated in meditation to reflect honestly on your current media diet. What’s coming in? How does it make me feel? What is it triggering? 2. Set your intentions. Decide how much time is enough for certain apps, websites, books, movies, or television series. Make a commitment like “No Facebook in the evenings. Only 10 minutes per session. No phones at the table.” Try a one-day media fast. 3. Create supportive conditions. Post your intentions on the fridge or near your computer. Install time-limit apps like StayFocused or Freedom and track progress with Productive. Bite the bullet and delete apps or cancel subscriptions that are eating your time. 4. Don’t give up. It takes about 21 days to change a habit or create a new one. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to look back. You may notice obstacles or inclinations you hadn’t identified before. Look deeply into their roots and explore other ways to meet those needs. —Sister True Dedication MASTERQ/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2017 14 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE