Lately, I can hardly read the news. I know I’m supposed to know what’s going on, but every day I’m left with a sense of dread and overwhelm with what’s happening in the world. Even though I meditate every day, I’m not sure how practicing zazen applies to this problem. I just feel helpless in the face of so much suffering.
Dear friend in the dharma ~
You are not alone. To be troubled by the suffering of others is a requirement for an open compassionate heart. It is important to dig deeper however into this “troubled” and where we go with it. Zazen is not a cure for our discomfort of being touched by the world. Rather, it is the deepest silence capable of holding your experience, from which a right response emerges. That shift makes all the difference between adding your suffering on top of the world’s suffering and becoming free and responsive in the midst to suffering. Practice gives us that choice.
Zazen with newsfeed begins by examining this “self” that meets the headlines. Pause and wonder “What is my motivation?” before you begin. What are my gut reactions — anger, anxiety, dread, disgust, rage, and helplessness? Do they become embodied states of mind that create distance and impulses to flee or fight? Conversely, what softens the heart and connects me to one another to reach out, to act, to seek understanding? Kindly, without blame, look into the root source of any fixed selves rooted in fear. Follow the fears down. What are the underlying beliefs and conclusions constellating into familiar opinions of this set-apart self?
Looking into my own experience over the years, I’ve found a whole host of karmically conditioned delusions and conclusions rooted in fear and anger that make for an impoverished response to the troubled world despite my wish for more wisdom and compassion. I alone am responsible for this suffering and must do something to fix it. The world is getting worse every day, more violent, mean and dangerous. Ignorant aggressive people will soon dominate the planet. Everyone is living is misery and destitution while my own relative comfort is criminal. How can those people think that way? There must be a solution if everyone would just do X.
These selves and these conditioned ideas are all rooted in the same ground — my idea of myself vs. the world that seeks reinforcement for beliefs and conclusions I’ve already made. The “I” separate from all others that must have the answer or feels helpless to change things in the way I believe they should be changed. When this self view is in the lead, it begins in opposition and always ends in stuckness, because, in truth, this separate self is very limited when faced with the problems it encounters on the global scale. The Buddhist path shows us another way. We may have fears about letting go of our insistence that the world be a certain way, but notice, if this mindstate was “working,” we wouldn’t be asking these questions.
As bodhisattvas in training, we are tasked with the most important job of developing courage in the face of our worst fears and anxieties. Liberation is found when we release attachment to our reactive views and allow bodhichitta to be our guide. This mind of awakening begins with intention, openness and acceptance when faced with what we consider awful or unbearable. We hold lightly the conclusions we’ve drawn about what it “true” about the world. Deliberately bringing the mind of practice to media consumption, we look beyond the surface of what we read into understanding the causes and conditions that have brought about the suffering.
It is certainly important, that as people of practice and often privilege, we open up to the realities of human life on this globe and its unfathomable sum of suffering. That being said, it would be a mistake to take what we read about the world as the true world. Our mantra with the morning dispatch should be “This is the world. This is not the world.” For each story we read of violence, war and tragedy, it is never the whole story.
For every story there are another 10,000 overlooked stories. What is not written about in the lead is the neighbor who comes to comfort the family who lost their home in the fire. The paramedic operating on the pedestrian caught in the crossfire. The congressman going door to door to listen honestly to his constituents with genuine care. The group that brings together opposing sides to work on peace. As the media inclines toward the shocking and incredulous, the stories of wisdom and heart fail to make the grade of titillating and tragic.
We would do well to consider the Buddhist teaching on the six realms of existence. There is a Buddha, an awakened one, found within each condition — in the animal realm driven by base desire, the heavenly realm sequestered from suffering, and the hell realm where everything burns. If we were reporters on the scenes we see in the news, we would witness a multitude of responses to what is unfolding, which would always be in constant flux, beyond any single narrative that shows up in The Times. Where there is fear, we would find courage. Where there is rage, we would find mercy. Where there is confusion, we would find clarity.
As we are now exposed to every happening on the plant instantaneously through modern media, oryoki may be a useful guide here. Our meal practice points to “just enough.” What is just enough news that helps me become larger and inform my practice day to day and my offering to the community? We should be selective and intentional rather than pulled along by continued online clicking that becomes more and more sensational without real depth. Avoid making the news background noise or distraction that fills the cracks in our day. Choose wisely and digest what you take in, nourishing the reason for your commitment to practice and alleviate all suffering.
By reorienting to our news consumption when we practice deeply, we are bountiful and creative rather than helpless. We can accept the base fact of suffering and aspire to respond with what we are called to do. How might you respond? Letting go of large and small, success or failure, practical or impractical, what comes forth? To follow the path of the bodhisattva means to hold the world of suffering and move forward naturally with what we have to offer, which can look a thousand different ways from person to person. We are each blessed with different gifts in this one Buddha Body. You be the hands, and I will be the liver, and my friend here will be the eyes. My teacher would say, “Go boldly forth.”
With palms together,
The Culture of Fear by Glassner — a well researched book on fear driven media trends over time and their impact on policy.
Enlightenment Now: A Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress by Pinker – An interesting check on some conclusions we draw about a worsening world. Not necessarily the “right view” but a way to question what we assume as true.