Switching Off, Momentarily: surviving the news deluge the middle way


Yesterday I sat down to eat my breakfast and got up again straightaway to turn the radio off. The news was on, it was Monday morning, my back felt out of sorts and I decided it was time for a break from the torrent of bleak updates from around the world and, principally, the USA.

Contemplating the garden

I ate my muesli, listened to the birds and looked out over my garden at the wintry scene. It was a damp morning and the garden wasn’t, perhaps, at its most glorious but I enjoyed focussing on it nonetheless. There was no wind; the bare trees and dormant plants looked still, at rest. I felt more still, at rest. Finishing getting ready for work afterwards, I put the radio back on. My media fast had been short-lived but now as I listened, I felt more robust.

Balance and wellbeing

Finding a way to support my sanity and nourish my wellbeing while staying informed about political developments, is a balance that’s been more challenging to maintain lately. The twinges in my back over the last two or three days seemed like information to take notice of: to paraphrase the title of a book by Mantak Chia, my energy was feeling out of balance. Being more intentional about when I do and don’t listen to the news was something that was starting to seem more significant.

Buddha’s middle way

The other night I watched a programme, the first of three episodes on BBC4 of a series called Genius of the Ancient World which explores the legacy of three great philosophers, Socrates, Confucius and Buddha. The latter was the subject of the programme I saw. After years of consistent and intense investigation, Buddha decided that neither asceticism nor indulgence was the way to live a good and meaningful life, but something in between, the middle way. This might not sound particularly revolutionary but it can be surprisingly hard to sustain; constantly steering a course away from an ‘all’ or ‘nothing’ approach demands discipline.

Managing consumption

I’m aware that consuming the news and following social media is something many people choose to switch off from long term, at no cost to themselves or others, and that was largely my choice before Brexit. I’ve been making a different choice since then and grappling with how to get it right. I don’t want to gorge; I don’t want to turn everything off; I do want to understand what’s going on so I can choose how to engage, without feeling overwhelmed.

Food for thought: Fuentes’ analysis of Trump’s first moves

Today I saw a post on social media from Medium.com analysing what Trump’s immigration ban might really be about: as utterly dark as the Executive Order is in itself, Jake Fuentes argues that it could be a smoke screen enabling an even more dangerous consolidation of power to be established. Fuentes goes on with a stark but necessary warning in relation to activism and civil society responses. He points out that protests in themselves are not enough and that protestors need to be alert to the fact that having an outlet for anger through demonstrations can be ‘useful to the other side’.

Creative campaigning

Something else I heard about today, by email from a friend, was the 10 Actions for 100 Days Campaign, launched by Women’s March on Washington. The first action is designed, in principle, for people living in the States, but it can easily be modified to be used elsewhere. The knowledge of this campaign brings me comfort, inspiration and focus.

Switching off for sustenance

However, between reading Fuentes’ important analysis and hearing about wonderfully creative and rousing campaigns, I know I also need to switch off momentarily, every now and then, to listen to the birds, to watch my dormant garden, to notice my heart rise and fall as I breathe in and out. This is my middle way which I hope will sustain me for the long haul.

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