News and the internet has become all pervasive. There is no shortage of information and opinion in the modern world, and whilst keeping up to date can have certain benefits – there is also a danger of being overwhelmed with news and articles which act as a permanent distraction.
Thomas Jefferson wrote
“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”
Jefferson also illumines us:
“I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”
How we would like the happiness of Thomas Jefferson!
Why I wanted to try take a break from the news
The problem with the news is that it is mostly depressing, and accentuates the most negative image of the world and people. It can create a disconnect between perception and the reality of people’s good hearts.
The nature of the news is that it tends to focus on bad events. You can have 10,000 people leading good lives; but by nature this is not newsworthy.
2. I spend too long
The truth is I spend too long watching news, reading news online. It is too easy to fill a few minutes here and there. I can find myself checking news sites throughout the day. But, it’s not a profitable or useful experience. It’s bugged me for a long time, so I thought I would try something different over the Christmas holidays.
3. It affects me
The problem with being absorbed in a 24 news stream, is that you can end up thinking about it all day. Your mind cultivates opinions, and you can end up frustrated with the injustice of the world. Yet, at the same time, you are not doing anything to create a better world. You can’t help it, but the more time you spend on the news, the more your mind is jumping around with opinions of its own. It is an energy that is self-perpetuating. There is no peace, no connection with the heart, only opinions and endless un-winnable arguments.
There is an oft repeated quote:
“Be the change, you wish to be.” – M. Gandhi.
It is of-repeated because it is intuitively true. Spending hours reading the news does not make me the person I wish to be. After the news, I don’t have any inner peace or inner joy to offer anyone. I’m just fighting against negativity myself. We only deceive ourselves if we think spending time on reading the news is making us a better person and the world a better place.
“The greatest misfortune that can come to a human being is to lose his inner peace. No outer force can rob him of it. It is his own thoughts, his own actions, that rob him of it.”
– Sri Chinmoy
What I really want is the peace of meditation, and to hold on to this peace, I need to spend less time in things which suck it out of me.
5. Do something better
My hope is that if I cut down the time I waste on surfing the internet, I will do something more productive / more peaceful / more rewarding.
I think our growing attachment to the internet (be it news or chat) is that we have become fearful of spending five minutes in silence, five minutes with ourself. Instead we always seek to throw ourselves into the never ending churn of events beyond our control.
A zen proverb suggests that if we fill a glass with dirty water, there is no room for any clean water. To fill a jug with nectar we have to empty it first.
6. The all-pervading news
There was a time when you would get a newspaper in the morning, and that was it. Once a day, you had the newspaper, and you made of it what you will. It was then 24 hours to the next newspaper for sale. But, the advent of 24 hour tv news channels and internet news, has made rolling news and opinion a constant presence, a constant temptation to tug on our mind. It is an assault on the senses – a reality hiding in full view, but it didn’t always use to be like this. Everything is now just one click away. I resent the intrusion, or perhaps I resent my lack of will.
24 Hour news fast
I wanted to see if it is possible to spend 24 hours without reading or watching the news. How easy is it? What is the effect?
- First thing in the morning, post-meditation, I resist the temptation to start the day with reading newspaper which lands through my parents door.
- As I turn on the computer, I turn off the wireless connection, to finish off some writing.
- Now with some little trepidation, I turn on wireless and go to a website where I work. I realise it has become such an ingrained habit to check certain newspapers for articles to read.
- I weaken, and glance through the sports section of the newspapers. Football results don’t count as proper news, they are er… educational. I won’t read any of the sports opinion pieces, though. – Manchester United out of the European Cup. Manchester City are through. That’s fine with me.
- Next I’m taking the train, free papers at the station, free papers on the seats. You can’t avoid the headlines. “Hate Speech” are the two words of the day I will have imprinted on my consciousness. Almost helplessly, I formulate a mental response – why can’t we live in a world without hate? – is it a prayer or another human opinion? Perhaps it is a bit of both.
- The person in the next seat is reading a newspaper on their tablet, I can’t avoid briefly seeing. I don’t want to be nosy at all, but still it acts as a little temptation. I busy myself with off-line work on my computer.
- Walking through Leeds city centre, more free papers being handed out. News channels on displays in certain shops. I look at the sky instead. They haven’t yet worked out how to put advertising in the sky yet.
- At the cafe in a bookshop, the wifi connection is not working on my computer. An unexpected bonus. Higher productivity today!
- Back home, the laptop gets flipped open. I have to stop myself surfing around; instead straight to work. It’s a welcome feeling of purpose.
- Dinner time, my parents often have news on whilst eating – but it gives me indigestion. We eat in dining room away from telly. Conversation with family is good.
- I finally stumble upon some news. The telly is on – local evening news. Floods in N.W. England teams of local volunteers helping to keep people fed and safe. This is genuinely moving. By a beautiful paradox, I chance upon the best three minutes of news all day. A reminder not all news is negative. I turn off the tv, before my luck runs out.
- I work as an economist, so I definitely need to keep up with economic news. I dislike politics and debate, but I still feel the need to keep informed on major topics, which affect my country and local surroundings.
- However, I was aware I’d slipped into spending too much time surfing the news. It was counter-productive and creating more negativity in my life.
- Being conscious of how easy it is to avoid work by surfing the net, the experiment of being very conscious about what I’m doing has been quite interesting, and valuable. There’s a great benefit to turning off and keeping life simple.
- For a long time, I’ve felt slightly guilty that I end up doing something I don’t really want to be doing. This has made me realise it is up to me, what I want to do.
- There were never any awkward moments of boredom. If you don’t spend 10 minutes reading news, what else can you do? Plenty of things.
- I felt it was quite a worthwhile day. Much easier than giving up chocolate for a day anyway.
 Sri Chinmoy, Yoga And The Spiritual Life. The Journey of India’s Soul, Agni Press ↩