When too much news became bad news:  lessons I learned from too much news consumption

Today, I start a week-long digital detox.  I consumed HOURS of news this week, reeled in by the drama, the weight of the outcome, and that interactive map.  I went to bed on Friday feeling quite heavy.  There was a palpable relief mixed with confusion.  I realised I spent a week thinking in a very Black or White way.  As a result, there was little space within me to think about anything else.

Staying informed is important but I craved the news this week and that was not healthy.  As I consumed the news, I felt an irrational level of hope and fear.  I was hoping the election would go one way, and I had a fear that it would not happen.  These polarities attached themselves to me and I was stuck in this thought loop.  This unhealthy attachment is something that Buddhists unpick in the second noble truth.

Samudāya shines a light on our happiness or lack thereof.  It calls for one to explore the origin of suffering.  And the cause of suffering is craving or tanhā.  This week, I craved the news.  I woke up with an urge to view the headlines.  During the day, I was reaching for my phone to scan the breaking news updates.  Even though I felt anxious when I did this, I could not get enough of it.  My conversations with family and friends were about the most mundane aspects of the news.  It became an ever-present theme of my mental chatter.

To find peace, the Buddha advised being willing to detach from stories and be free from craving.  We crave external things to make us happy but rarely do the outcomes we crave give satisfaction. This week, I craved the news, the discussions, the results. Hook that cable news into my veins if it’s easier. The Buddha teaches that attachment to an outcome is the root of suffering.

What are the attachments I have to the news cycle?  Seeing the stories of power, greed, and money? What stories was I telling myself to justify my decision to consume this much news?  It is in these stories where we can find answers.  We become attached to our stories and opinions.  And attachment to our opinions is an example of craving.  We crave to be a part of a community and certain opinions cement our place within our tribes.

The Buddha taught us we go through life grabbing at things to get a sense of security about ourselves.  We attach ourselves to material items, ideas, and opinions about ourselves and the world around us.  We grow frustrated when the world doesn’t behave the way we think it should, and our lives don’t conform to our expectations.

Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his 1987 book Being Peace Humankind suffers very much from attachment to views”.

With my attachment to the news, I felt waves of dread, disbelief, happiness, and relief wash over.  I saw a divided country and I realised that there is a polarisation within me too.  Work needs to be done.  Not just in America, but here too, wherever you are reading this.  And for change to happen, groundwork is a prerequisite.  A good, solid foundation put in place.

On a walk with my five-year-old niece, I was showing her a building site.  The foundation for a new house was dug this week.  “They’re going to build the house on mud?”  As I explained the concept of laying a foundation, interrupted me and asked But how will that stop the mud from making the house slipHow will that stop the house from falling down?  Beneath every foundation is the instability of slippy mud.  It’s a wise lesson from a 5-year old.  

If I stop watching the news, I risk cultural isolation, hide away so I can have peace of mind?  That’s an avoidance strategy.

But this week, where I itched each scratch to check it over and over was no good either.  It led me to a mindset where I was unable to experience the present moment.  By letting the news dominate my thoughts, my time, and my conversations, it harmed my personal sense of ease.

I have a choice, (always remember we have choices) – I can be happier, I can watch the news with more awareness and intention.  Start with a schedule and hold myself accountable that I don’t go over it.  I can also take the Buddha’s advice, watch the unhealthy thoughts I form in my mind, and just let them go.  Wish me luck!

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