Mindfulness as an Antidote to Frenzied Media Culture

Since I have worked in the radio and news media since 1986, I have had an insider’s view of this business and gained a unique perspective of how it works. Media, all media is driven by ratings, which is about attracting attention. Once the attention of those ears and eyes are secured, they are used as leverage to gain advertising dollars for profit and non-profit media outlets alike.

More often than not, the most sensational stories lead any newscast or pop culture program. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the old adage. The word “sensational” is key to this discussion. By sensational I mean that which is the most surprising, emotionally titillating, upsetting and attention grabbing. Many stories are simply bad news, like war, disasters, threats to our safety et cetera. They are amplified repeatedly like a psychological battering ram.

Also, remember this: news outlets often act as organs of particular political points of view. This is a long tradition.

Once upon a time, networks made their money on other types of programming like dramas and sitcoms. Now, all commercial networks demand that the news broadcast also be a profit center. This is one thing that has led to the sensationalist 24 hour news coverage we now see. It’s all about the money, the worship of money and the influence that money can buy in our society.

This is also true about the entertainment media. The number of programs on currently that deal with the deepest kind of human depravity or silliness has skyrocketed along with the number of cable tv channels.

A steady diet of sensationalism can have a strong effect on the human nervous system. It can provoke a range of emotions that keep us in a constant state of turmoil or at least imbalance. It can contribute to depression and despair.

But here’s the worst thing about feeding heavily on media trash culture: we so often feel disempowered to do anything meaningful to change our world. Disempowerment leads to apathy, and apathy to inaction. We can get frozen into a permanent state of inertia. We are then subject to manipulation by a whole host of demagogues whose points of view are eagerly broadcast by—the media.

Thought I wouldn’t claim that there is a conspiracy involved in media programming, it’s wise to remember the words of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. Hamilton, who strove to secure the support of the wealthy for the fledgling U.S. government, had little but contempt for common folk. He encouraged the wealthy to supply the “the rabble” as he termed us, with “bread and circuses” while our betters handled the serious business of governance. And that is, by and large the pattern we have today: poor quality fast food on nearly every corner and 24 hours of news, sports and celebrity drivel.

This is where mindful practices like yoga, tai chi, qigong and meditation come to our aid. These ancient mindfulness practices offer us a way to take control of our nervous systems so that we can connect with what’s in our soul instead of being whipped into the chaos that is the commercial news media.

For those of us who may yearn to stop the world so we can get off for a while, these mindfulness practices help us reset our nervous systems so we can gain a clear perspective on life untainted by the greedy maw of consumerism promoted by the media industrial complex. When we regain autonomous control over own minds, we get a panoramic vista of our own lives and how we fit into the crazy world we’ve created. We are no longer manipulated by every violent atrocity, celebrity news tidbit or the other magnified trash foisted upon us. Our buttons and triggers are not so readily accessible to the barrage of commercial stimuli constantly directed toward us.

So, if you’re weary of the rat race and the endless, ruinous competition that is being offered, retreat. Retreat to the nourishing practices that our ancestors have nurtured and handed down to us. We may always drink from the fortifying springs of these traditions as an antidote to the toxicity of so-called modern culture.

Yoga Musings 20 Years After the Rwandan Genocide.

As covered by National Public Radio this last Sunday, Rwandans are entering a three month long period of remembrance of the genocide that occurred 20 years ago. Poverty, inequality, repression of women and ethnic hatred fanned by influential Rwandan men ignited a spree of murder that claimed the lives of nearly one million souls.

After the killing was over 70% of the population were women. These women were left to pick up the pieces left them by the murder of neighbors and families. The women of Rwanda have had no choice but to heal their wounds by the kind of decisive action that has now, buy some estimations, elevated their country to the status of one of the cleanest and least corrupt in Africa poised on the brink of a technological revolution.

Today, women hold more seats in Rwandan parliament than any other nation in the world. Forty percent of the president’s cabinet is female and over 50% of the judiciary is comprised of women. Women may now own property, girls and women may inherit wealth from their parents, and girls are being educated in unprecedented numbers to prepare them for future leadership roles.

Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, proudly recites the rebirth of women’s empowerment in Rwanda, but admits that full gender equality is still a work in progress.

Hearing these stories about Rwanda’s rise from the ashes of genocidal holocaust got me thinking about an entry I posted on November 19 last year. In my essay, The Meek Will Inherit the Earth, I wrote about the human race as a geological force strong enough to change our climate and threaten our existence as a species. I also defined meek as not merely humble, gentle and patient, but as cooperative. One part of the inheritance of the meek that I didn’t speak about but have always held as central to my thoughts on this subject is that after the aggressive and hateful extinguish themselves in a national blood-letting like Rwanda, that the meek will be left to rebuild a society based on justice and equality rather than hate and violence.

Now the formerly oppressed women, girls and orphans of Rwanda who were brutalized, raped and tortured en masse 20 years ago are in the unique position of inheriting their native land. In the process a balance is being established between the men and women of this society that may well lead this once desolate country to become an example of what human potential can achieve when it is based on the cooperation of the meek,  the kind and the respectful.

I like to look at this blossoming Rwandan transformation as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the Sermon on the Mount that that indeed “the meek will inherit the earth.”

I would also like to think that the whole world could take a lesson from what the Rwandans have so cruelly endured. When girls and women are excluded and disenfranchised, when they are relegated to serfdom, when their human rights and their very bodies can be violated without consequence their society is on a collision course with disaster. When patriarchy enforces itself half the potential of the human species will never reach its potential. Any species that allows such incalculable waste will never have the tools it needs to survive much less flourish.

As I alluded to in my November post, humanity is facing multiple challenges that may well be surmountable. However, considering present circumstances and future trends, our survival as a race is by no means guaranteed. Certainly, without the genius of every man, woman and child willing to guide our troubled evolution we risk everything. Inequality, sexism, racism and hatred are no longer affordable. With nearly 8 billion souls on the planet, the margins of success grow thinner each day.

The Rwandan renewal, though incomplete, presents possibilities for us all; possibilities of a world where every one of us has an equal opportunity to contribute our best. When we get the best from everyone, we can all get the best of every thing.