A wise friend commiserated with me about the frustration and anger that engulfs me in dealing with some of the awfulness in the world.
I remember an old “Far Side” cartoon. I will not repost it here, because Gary Larson has asked that people not do that, and I respect him too much to go against his wishes. But in this cartoon, the dinosaurs are having a meeting, and the dinosaur keynote speaker says something like,
“The news is bad: The climate is changing, the humans are taking over the world, and we all have brains the size of a walnut.”
That’s often how I feel. The news is bad. It seems unrelentingly bad. And I have a brain the size of a walnut.
I can’t handle the bad news anymore. My walnut brain can’t cope.
But this smart and thoughtful friend gave me some loving, practical advice.
She didn’t recommend sticking my head in the sand.
“You are a citizen of this world,” she said, “and you have a duty to live in the world and understand what is happening. And deal with it. Participate.
“But you also have a duty to be kind to yourself. Your health – both mental and physical – requires you to protect yourself so that you will be strong enough to participate.
“So, yes, pay attention to the world – but not EVERY MINUTE.
Her advice is transcendent.
I was reminded – and told her this story – of the time I was a teenager and was anguished over some environmental disaster, and my father said to me that I needed to find my composure. “You can’t change anything if everything makes you cry.”
My friend suggested I give myself a break every day – more than once a day – to unplug. (I dislike that word ‘unplug’ by the way, but it is literally the correct word here.)
I need, as my father advised fifty years ago, to find my composure.
So I am seeking refuge.
It’s so hard.
I admit that I am addicted to the news in general, and to Twitter in particular.
I heard someone say that the reason why social media is so addictive is the same reason why gambling is addictive. It is the quest for instant gratification. Your phone chirps and you say, “What did I get?” As if the notification were some kind of prize.
And on top of that, there is the satisfaction of just being “in the know.” I can see every moment what has just happened. I can be the most informed person in the room. And I love that. But of course, it means that I am not noticing anyone else in the room.
It also means that – much of the time – I am the angriest person in the room. Because I am addicted to the news. And I hate the news.
And I need to stop being angry.
So I need to shut off the news.
I need to seek refuge. I’m trying.
I am seeking refuge in books and music.
In writing – my blog, my next novel.
In spending time with my family.
In seeing old friends and making new ones.
In enjoying a nice meal, a glass of wine, a cup of good coffee.
But I’m worried about how much refuge will be enough. I still feel such an urgent need to know what is happening. I just popped over to Twitter just now. I fell off the wagon that quickly.
Will a small bit of unplugging be enough? Can I do it?
Today, instead of checking my phone as soon as I got to my car after Yoga class, I did not look. I made it for forty minutes.
And I did not look at my phone during lunch.
And I read a few chapters of a book at the hairdresser.
I feel anxious and unsettled. I NEED to know.
But here is what I am hoping.
I am hoping that those few moments of refuge will eventually calm me, not agitate me.
I am hoping that it will add up.
I am hoping that refuge is cumulative.