My son loves Christmas bows. Whenever he joins us for our workouts in the mornings, he inevitably raids the Christmas box and steals a few bows to spruce up his look that day. I'm going to need to buy some more before Christmas arrives this year, but I appreciate his unfettered joy from blinging out his outfit with little shiny bows. Honestly, I need that right now.


It is both a difficult time to be present and the best time to be present right now. There is plenty of trouble in the world, but then, when hasn't there been. I remember Bill Hicks back in the 90's saying:


"Turn on the news and it's: War! Famine! Recession! Depression! War! Famine! Recession! Depression! Then I look out the window and the sun's out and the birds are chirping"


There's some good and bad in everyday. The chorus of voices we hear on the news and social media would make us think that it's mostly bad. Good news doesn't really sell. It's easier to get folks attention by telling them what they should fear. Confronted with all of these doomsayers, we feel a responsibility to warn even more people about what's happening, which only adds more fear and alarm to the conversation. It's a vicious cycle that raises everyone's level of anxiety to a point where it's seriously impacting our mental and physical health.


To exacerbate this even more, news and social networks are vying for our attention in ever more sophisticated ways. AI measures everything we do online from clicking a link to lingering on a post to find exactly the best content to get our attention. This means that we will get more of whatever we consume the most. If you spend time on gloom and doom, then that's what you'll get more of. It's easy for this to spiral out of control in very unhealthy ways. If you're anxious or depressed and consume content that reinforces that, then you'll get more content like that which will make you more anxious and depressed. Your mood can literally change the nature of the world you see through your screen. Watch the Social Dilemma on Netflix if you want to learn more about how those feedback loops work and the terrible impact they're having on the everyone's health and well being.


It is not an option to retreat from the world and hide from these realities, but if we let them overwhelm us we will have no energy left to confront them. As such I've taken a news and social media diet, not a complete embargo. Other than posting, I rarely spend time scrolling through social media. I'll admit it's a little selfish. Sometimes I feel like Ed Norton in Fight Club writing little haiku poems and emailing them to everyone. Unlike email, people can ignore or unfriend me if they don't like the poems but that's splitting hairs. My hope is that it might offer someone an alternative to all the fear and anxiety inducing posts there. Maybe if they linger on a peaceful haiku, the AI will decide to send them more peaceful posts. At the least, it keeps me from accelerating the anxious doom spiral that social media is.


I was recently inspired by Thich Nhat Hahn's book, "Being Peace", where he says:


If we are peaceful, if we are happy,

we can blossom like a flower,

and everyone in our family,

our entire society,

will benefit from, our peace


It can feel wrong to find peace in a tumultuous time. But if we wait for peace, it will never come. It can only be found in the present. If you can not find peace and happiness while doing what you can to address the problems you see in the world, then you will never find it. The process of fixing things must be sustainable or it will not succeed.


It's not necessary to read the news everyday to fix the problems you see in the world. At a minimum, it is taking time away from what you could do to help. At worse, it's draining your energy and your will to have an impact. Choose the issues you care about. Set reasonable expectations for how much time and resources you will regularly apply to those issues. Then fulfill those expectations. No news or social media is required for those.


I've replaced checking in with the news with checking in with myself. Those minutes I'd spend staring at my phone after I wake up I've replaced with sitting with a notebook watching the sun rise. If something is troubling me, I'll write it down so I can do something about it. If things are good, maybe I'll just write a haiku or even just sit and admire the peace of the sunrise.


There's plenty of peace and happiness available outside your phone. Beyond the torrent of news, the sun still rises. The trees outside still stand tall and strong breathing in the wind. Little children still raid the Christmas boxes for pretty bows to wear to remind you each day is a gift.


Find some peace out there. Share it. The world needs that right now.

© 2019 Andrew Casteel