There’s a new disease going around, and boy howdy… it is communicable.
I first noticed it affecting some of my patients in 2009 during my clinical internship in acupuncture school. In the intervening years, the illness has become virtually omnipresent in my circles; almost every adult I encounter suffers from one or more of the symptoms.
The disease is a belief – a social imperative that states it is our duty and responsibility to be up-to-the-minute on all the ugliness of the world. Domestic terrorist attacks, international terrorist attacks, murders, genocide, political upheaval, environmental crises, corruption, etc. ad nauseam.
There’s a cultural, tacit belief these days that bearing witness to life means instantly viewing it through the filter of headlines on our smartphones or tablets.
The belief is almost plague-like in its tenacity, and yet is insidious. And like all insidious things, it behaves in ways we may not recognize with actual awareness.
It is disorienting, crippling, and results in Shutdown. Shutdown usually shows up as armoring, numbing, anxiety, or sadness. Since acupuncture is a medicine that treats the individual, we see that these “Shutdowns” show up in a variety of ways in the body. Exactly what ways depends on the relative strength of any given person at any given time, but can look like nightmares, anxiety, digestive disorders, emotional sterility or volatility, menstrual problems, etc. etc. etc.
The bottom line – by which I mean “the most essential” – is that no human can operate healthfully in the modern world without implementing his or her own boundaries. And operating healthfully is the only way to truly and lastingly help vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
If you burn yourself out on despair and the continual bombardment of tragedy, you experience a continual low-grade level of trauma. Eventually, you will enter Shutdown (of some variety and degree.) When that happens, you are not able to actually bear witness to this world. You are able to help no one. Instead, you are allowing the sickness to enter you and then to own you.
Here’s what I think is true:
Your responsibility is to love what you love, and to support what you love in the ways that you can without harming yourself. Without harming yourself, I said.
Here’s how to manage that responsibility:
(1) Choose with awareness and consciousness ONE thing to support in a concrete way, and do it.
Instead of being pulled around by the various headlines and latest tragedies, pick a direction (or cause or organization) to be the beneficiary of your desire to help the world.
Something that’s focused on helping – not something that’s focused on taking away from others. Those types of organizations serve only to solidify your own Shutdown.
If you care about animal welfare, care about it. Give what you can in the way that you can. Follow Ricky Gervais on Facebook. If you cannot bear gun violence, find others like you. Support the Sandy Hook Promise.
(2) Cut off toxic sources.
You cannot connect with your responsibility if you are addicted to the news and drama. Set a certain time that you’ll check the headlines, and then move on and live your life. If that feels too strict, give yourself certain news-free times throughout the day – guaranteed times that you’ll allow yourself do something other than scroll through news feeds and get hit with the messes of humanity.
This extends to your relationships, too. Keep an eye on how and what you talk about. If your conversations revolve around outrage and contentiousness, you’re likely draining yourself. Patch up those energy leaks and talk about things you do like, too.
(3) Connect with something artful and allow yourself the time to reflect.
The poets are the people to listen to – not the pundits. Not even most journalists at this stage of our massively hysterical, trigger-happy, reactionary, copycatting, dramatic media.
(If you doubt this truth, good for you. Now please point your technological power in a beautiful direction and read Shel Silverstein’s Masks and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Then email me for your second reading assignment. I will show you where to find some good stuff.)
Poetry – even if it’s “bad” – can open up something inside us that gives us access to ourselves and our nature… which is to say, to each other. We can stop being so isolated and so crazy, and so certain that we must destroy ourselves and each other.
The following 4 lines of poetry are old. Their author died in 1850. Yet they are so relevant to us (now!) (today!) that I wonder that he didn’t write them for us.
And then I remember, of course he did. Poets write for everyone, in all the times. Let’s take a quick look: