Things are getting a little crazy out there to say the least. Politically, culturally, and spiritually, the world situation we’ve been seeing over the last few years is almost beyond description. Depressing at times? Yes. Puzzling? For sure.
Why is this massive disruption to the planet and our own lives happening and why now? I will leave any thoughts I have about that for another blog perhaps. For now, the challenge seems to be to engage in what sometimes feels like a desperate attempt to maintain some kind of equilibrium in a “world gone wrong” to quote the title of a Bob Dylan song. So here are a few ideas I’ve been mulling over and some practices I find useful and wanted to share. I hope they’re helpful:
Stay out of fear.
Job 1 is to not get overwhelmed by fear and anxiety or both. One of the downsides of social media and “always on” communications is the steady stream of horrific and troubling news that comes pouring in on our phones and computers. It’s hard to get away from it. But this kind of information overload can paint an inaccurate picture of what’s happening in world events because the mainstream media tends to be geared towards focusing on the negative and ignoring reporting on positive changes if they happen to threaten the status quo.
We all need time to process and if you’re hit with one bad news bomb after another in rapid succession, that can be hard on the psyche. While it’s good to be alert to the latest supply chain disruptions, COVID subvariants, water supply crises, or climate disasters, there’s a balance to be struck. Only you can decide how much is too much. If you need a break, just take it. Consider a “media diet” for a week, i.e. drastically curtailing TV and computer news feeds and see how that feels. Also consider subscribing to some positive email alerts from publications that provide a more positive outlook on things such as Yes magazine or the Utne Reader.
Kill your television.
I haven’t actually seen that bumper sticker around for some time. Back in the day, Jerry Mander wrote a book called Four Argument for the Elimination of Television. Then of course, media viewing and “watching TV” was vastly different from now. And you could simply and easily switch “the idiot box” off or just not turn on to begin with. But some things never change: the amount of content on broadcast television that’s negative, mind numbing, violent, or just plain surreal is even worse than it was decades ago. Switching it off one way or another can be an act of liberation and affirmation.
Then of course there’s streaming entertainment. As a former media analyst, I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the underlying messaging in Hollywood movies along with the massive video production coming from Netflix, Amazon, and others. Occasionally, they come up with excellent fare. But I’ve noticed that over the last few years, movies have become increasingly dark and violence-prone. As a simple exercise, make a quick note of how many war-themed movies are now being promoted by these New Media houses. It’s also interesting to observe the correlation between the high number of war movies now being promoted when the world is poised for wars and their escalation.
All of the major spiritual traditions have important things to say about the time we’re now living in even though some of that might be classified as esoteric knowledge. I was amazed to discover this as part of a research project I did with The Emergence Project back in 2009. Getting a deeper understanding of the notion of world ages and what some call deep history can help provide a broader perspective on the huge changes and upheaval we’re experiencing on the planet at this time. The work of Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy is a helpful resource. And the spiritual teacher Yogananda has an organization that studies world ages and the existential puzzle of whether or not we’re living in the Vedic dark age called the Kali Yuga. But it’s also helpful to keep in mind the balancing of Yin and Yang: even though things appear to be falling apart and seriously awry, we’re still living in a somewhat magical time with many amazing positive changes occurring behind the scenes.
Don’t fall for the war narrative.
I recently Googled “Is war a good thing?” I was curious to see what results I might get. I couldn’t have been more surprised to see what Google’s Q&A coughed up: “As war leads to larger societies, it also leads to greater pacification and greater wealth. (Nice Google.) The drumbeat towards war coming from various governments, including the US, is getting louder. But war is one of the greatest causes of human suffering. That the global community has not learned to avoid them after two horrendous world wars (including the supposed “war to end all wars”, WWI) is both sad and profoundly disappointing.
The Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing once described the advent of war as a communicable psychological phenomenon that’s passed from one person to the next as a purely irrational tribal response and contagion. We think we’re rational creatures until we’re not. I believe it because I see no other explanation for the otherwise smart and thoughtful people I know who have suddenly become comfortable with the “We must win at all costs” chimera. It seems important to ask: how can anyone ever be comfortable with that level of human suffering? One thing to keep in mind is that those who enthusiastically advocate for war and try to convince the populace of its necessity are often the ones who are best insulated from its horrific effects. Funny how that works.
It’s important to try to resist its faux-patriotic lure. It’s important to try to break the chain of strong social conditioning towards state-sanctioned violence in the hope of breaking this seemingly endless cycle of hate and destruction in humanity’s history evolution. I find it deeply concerning that so many seem to be zoning out about the threat of nuclear war and WWIII at a time when the world desperately needs to establish global cooperation to deal with the many existential threats to Planet Earth and the Web of Life. As nuclear activist Helen Caldicott put it so well, we now seem to be "sleepwalking into Armageddon."