My Teacher Says

A Teaching by Narayan Helen Liebenson

Reading the papers and listening to the news these days is not for the faint of heart. We may have the perspective that terrible events have always happened, but because of 24/7 media, we are just more informed. Even so, it may be difficult not to react with helplessness, fear, and grief. How can we stay connected to the pain in this world and engage in beneficial ways without becoming caught in emotions that paralyze?
Some yogis try to avoid reading the news because it is all too much. Personally, I’ve never favored this approach, other than when on retreat or when the intention is to disconnect from electronics for a given amount of time. For me, even during the time many years ago when I was hitchhiking around the country, I usually found ways to read the paper. Maybe my mind during that period left much to be desired but I still appreciated being in touch with the wider world.But how to read? Mindfully, of course! You already knew that. Mindful reading, viewing, and listening means awareness of reactions rather than becoming lost in reactions. It also includes awareness of motive. Are you connected or merely provoked? Is attention to the news an addiction or entertainment — or is it a vehicle of connectedness, an invitation to offer metta and compassion to the very real people being read about?One approach to practicing mindfulness while we read or listen to current events is to include attention to the body and the breath. Aware of the belly, aware of an ache in the chest, aware of numbness, tension, temperature. This is difficult in the beginning but becomes easier as we engage with it. Staying connected to the body keeps us connected to the here and now and allows something other than mere reactivity to take place.

By merely reacting, we join the crowd of frustration and fear. By reading, viewing, and listening mindfully, aware of the body, there is a deeper engagement with what with is being received, as well as a growing strength of heart to respond with greater wisdom and compassion. In this way, even if we are “faint of heart”, we can participate more fully in this world of profound pain and also, always, this world of deep inspiration and beauty — the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys.

 Narayan is one of the teachers at Cambridge Insight Meditation Society. I am a founding member and in the eighties I was happily in her “Old Yogis” (time meditating, nothing about linear years on the planet) group until I moved away. If you have a chance, it is a great and wonderful place of respite. 331 Broadway, Cambridge MA