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Thursday, May 01, 2008

News Fast

Some of you may find this hard to believe, but I’m going on a news fast—or at least a news diet. I just can’t take any more of the presidential campaign, Philadelphia’s murder rate, or the price of oil. I was feeling worn out by it all weeks ago, and kept tuning in to hear the latest anyway. But last weekend I lead a retreat on “Listening for God’s Voice” for a group of thirty Lutheran women at a beautiful retreat center near Reading. Although I enjoyed the whole weekend—especially the friendly people and the blooming trees—I especially appreciated the break from email and radio. On the drive home I resisted my usual impulse to turn on NPR and just enjoyed another hour of quiet. Nothing like a weekend of teaching about inward listening to make me practice what I preach.

Monday morning I headed to the gym and felt like my senses were on overload. The overhead lights, the music competing with ten televisions sets on three different stations—it’s a lot to take at 5 am, so I went to the quiet room and did some yoga. When I went back to the gym on Wednesday, I remembered that my headphones were broken, so although I exercised in front of the televisions, I couldn’t hear them. I’ve still turned on the car radio here and there, but I’m trying to break the habit of doing it reflexively. I’ve checked the New York Times headlines that I get emailed each morning, but on my own time, which feels less mentally invasive than getting the news from television or radio. As I said, it’s really a diet more than a fast.

In wondering why I’m so addicted to the news to begin with, I’m remembering one of the weekend retreat participants who said she turned on background noise so she wouldn’t feel alone. I don’t think that’s it for me, though I suspect her reason is not unusual. For myself, I fear that turning off the news means turning my back on all the suffering in the world. Yes, I spend more time at baseball games than peace rallies these days, but I’m still informed. At least I care. I feel this especially when I read about Zimbabwe’s current political crisis, a story which is probably overlooked by many American readers. When I was in the Peace Corps in neighboring Botswana, I enjoyed a few wonderful vacations in Zimbabwe when it was in its post-independence prime. I feel so sad reading about how low the country and its president have sunk, but there is not much I can do about it, except keep informed, even though it’s depressing. I remember times I’ve heard people say that they were refusing to follow the news so it wouldn’t disturb their inner peace, and I felt they were somehow being callus, as if there inner peace would be just fine as long as they didn’t know about the world’s suffering. These days I’m seeing more of their point, but trying to figure out a healthy balance. Perhaps if I had one issue I followed… but I’ve never been a one issue gal.

As usual I come back to the issue of discernment, and timing. I am finishing up my university semester this week and diving back into the book writing. It seems a fitting time to cut back on the external stimulus and clear some mental space, which isn’t necessarily selfish anyway. I remember an article about Buddhist monks who were found to be more compassionate toward those who suffered for the hours they spent in quiet. Of course, I read that in some kind of news magazine.

2 Comments:

Blogger Susan said...

Hi, Eileen!
Since that retreat, I, too, have been trying to clear space for God by allowing NPR to remain out of my headspace. I don't think I turn it on to feel less alone, either, but having that constant conversation certainly doesn't leave room to discern God's voice. Makes me think, though, because although I still write "morning pages" as suggested by Julia Cameron, I dropped out of following The Writer's Way when she got to the part where I was to fast from the printed word. I guess that gives some clue as to my priorities. Thanks again for the helpful concrete information you shared at the Diakon retreat. Peace, Susan Wambaugh

4:45 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, Susan. So good to hear from you online!

7:18 PM  

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