Mindfulness and world events

Mindfulness and world events

by Headspace » Tue Jan 06, 2015 1:32 am

Question:

There can sometimes seem to be a lot of bad news happening in the world. How can mindfulness help with any sadness, helplessness or insecurity caused by this?

Andy's answer:

Yeah, it’s a great question and one which I know many people find themselves asking in the context of meditation. It’s true, there does seem to be just so much bad news in the world right now. It’s sometimes difficult to tell whether the situation has got worse or our awareness of it has increased, due in no small part to the internet, social media and 24/7 rolling news channels.

That’s to take nothing whatsoever away from the horrific events and horrible suffering so many people are going through of course. But it is an important part of how we perceive the world around us and how those insecurities you mention can influence the way we live.

There are some unsettling truths about meditation which rarely get discussed. Meditation is not about enhancing power, it is about embracing vulnerability; it is not about strengthening control, it is about letting go; it is not about maintaining the status-quo, it is about accepting impermanence; and it is not about distancing ourselves from the suffering of others, it is about gently moving closer. As unsettling as these things can sound, they are, paradoxically, the very qualities that lead to a healthier and happier mind.

When we hear of atrocities around the world it is sometimes hard not to feel overwhelmed. But it is important to be clear whether we are experiencing the pain as genuine empathy, or whether we are experiencing pain cultivated by our own reaction to the events.

For example, the former may be hearing the news, feeling a wave of sadness, experiencing that fully as a fellow human being, and allowing that sadness to wash over us, taking as long as it wants to dissipate. We could say that this is allowing the mind to be ‘as it is’.

The latter is to hear the news, to feel a wave of sadness and then engage that sadness, to make it our own, to move beyond witnessing it and instead to become it. We might then cultivate that sadness some more by thinking over and over about something which is clearly beyond our control.

So we are not ignoring it, we are not chasing it, we are not resisting it, we are simply being with it. Obviously the more challenging the situation, the more difficult it is to maintain this kind of stability of awareness, but like any other skill, with practise and repetition we become more familiar with the process and more proficient in our ability.

Taken out of context this can sound a little cold and even divorced from the world around us. It is, in fact, quite the contrary. It is knowing suffering as it is, without any projection, distraction or judgement, a wholehearted sharing of the human condition.

It can also sound a little passive for many people, as though it is turning a blind eye and just accepting things as they are. But this is not true either. By seeing clearly, we become more able to see where we can make a real difference, not just grumbling about things and getting angry, but actually taking positive, proactive steps, when possible and where appropriate, to help others.

This clarity also allows us to see how these events are impacting our internal universe and our everyday life. We start to see that fear is natural, that it is impermanent, that we do not need to buy into it, even if the papers try to convince us otherwise. When we do experience it, we understand what it must be like for those always living in fear and we are able to empathise more easily. And it is very difficult to be caught up in our own insecurities when we are more focused on improving the happiness of others.

I’m not sure if that answers your question or not, but hopefully there are some useful ideas here and please do let me know how you get on with this subtle shift in perspective.

Warm wishes, Andy
 
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