Sunday, January 09, 2011

Dealing with the Mail

A dear friend from Los Angeles wrote me a beautiful letter about how, during 2010, she went on a virtual news fast because she felt overwhelmed by all the information -- most of which was negative, the media being what it is.

A news fast like this can be very useful. We don't all have to have our heads in the news all the time. What's the point, if we get burnt out and lose sight of our own lives? If we stand any chance of avoiding getting trapped in the narrative created by the media, its deceptions and propaganda, our critical faculties and imaginations must remain sharp. When our energy is low, this is not easy.

It can be good to take breaks from the news. The mess will likely be in progress whenever we return. Maybe we will never feel the need to go back to it. But if we do, it's not as though we will be Rip Van Winkle.

How much would we really miss? As a thought experiment, imagine someone entering a monastery and doing a year-long Kyol Che with no access to the news for the entirety of 2010. They come down from the hill on New Year's Day 2011 and say, "What did I miss?" In a minute or two, how would you summarize the year for this person?

The fundamental poisons of greed, anger, and delusion were in command of human affairs when they went up that hill, and remain so today.

Why turn on the news? Why turn it off? That's the important thing. Of what use is the information? Of what use is switching it off? Are you on your center, breathing fully, and is your immediate situation and purpose clear?

Turning off the information can be a healthy retreat, and perhaps this is dropping something you don't need. You don't have to follow the 24-hour news cycle in order to feel like a responsible citizen. On the other hand, it also can be ignorance, in the sense of "ignore-ance."

To illustrate this, let's go to the mail pile.

Lots of junk here. SELF magazine? Really? We can throw that away, along with all these advertisements and offers, and we can shred these credit card offers, and that takes care of most of the pile.

Here is a quarterly statement on my retirement account. I don't know about you, but my money is in a fairly conservative, reliable old mutual fund, and maybe there is no pressing need right now to look at that statement and expose myself to panicking and entertaining rash decisions that won't really help my retirement. On the other hand, maybe I can open it later today, in a calm frame of mind and consciously breathing, look at it, and file it, knowing that the numbers there reflect a dynamic economy, and that the figures go up and down through time, and remembering that given my choices, my best option is to have diversified holdings and savings, and so on in that vein.

There are good reasons to look at it, and good reasons to use the "file and don't open it" approach. It's a decision you and I make for ourselves.

And here are the bills. Oy, the bills.

In an earlier chapter of my life, I had overwhelming money problems. Not bankruptcy, but close. I had poor habits, worked in occupations that did not pay well, carried a lot of debt, and did not insulate myself against unexpected events. This led to big trouble, the kind of trouble that takes years to resolve.

It was interesting to note the psychological toll of this daily emergency. For a while, I got into the understandable yet horrible habit of letting my mail pile up unopened. The thought was, "Another bill I can't pay," and it went on the pile. This is like ignoring a toothache: the longer you ignore it, the worse (and more expensive) the problem gets. Luckily for me, I woke up from this before I ended up in court or had my salary garnished.

Ignoring the world can be like ignoring the mail. We are involved. Ignoring the world does not make us safe and does not make us "spiritual." On the other hand, there is a lot of mail that is not useful to you, and would best meet its destiny in the recycling bin.

Every mind needs a daily shower, and an occasional deep-cleaning. The purpose of that deep-cleaning is to be ready.

Ready for what?


quid said...

I became a news junkie during the 2008 election cycle, and let it continue well into 2009. Thank goodness, or boredom, I have slowly weaned myself away from the constant cacophony and back into the world of varied inputs.

Good post. (PS, I ignore my mail as much as possible. Have never stopped to analyze why!)

Kelly said...

No one can accuse me of being a news junkie. Quite the opposite. If anything, I have to make myself take an interest in what's going on in the world.