The last few days have been bloody.
A friend drilled through her finger at work. My dogs got into a ferocious fight over a bag of dog food left unattended. In breaking it up, my courageous boyfriend bloodied both his hands, nearly losing digits. The Jody Arias trial has been on every station, every 11 minutes. Benghazi. Boston. The Caged Women of Cleveland.
It’s been harder to sleep, too. I dream of fire, spears, strange women in bathrobes and face masks speaking a language I can’t understand. It’s the same dream each night, set in a red-lit sort of hell spa that makes Bikram class feel like a Minneapolis winter. I awaken to a clammy bed. I awaken to an unexplainable, foggy anger.
Being that dream interpretation is, by and large, one of the most misguided disciplines of The Bullshit Arts, I’ll refrain from going too deeply into Hell Spa. I will say that those women, when washed of their masks, are the three Cleveland women: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.
I don’t know these women, or know much of anything about who they were before their kidnapping. My only knowledge of them comes from articles and news stories, most of them brief but vividly horrifying. Five minutes of the news cycle that will stamp my cerebellum for months or years.
It’s strange how often and briskly we are forced to acknowledge the horrors of human existence. We serve up suffering like it’s fast food—pushing it on millions every day. My brain rebels the same way to speedy suffering as my stomach does to drive through french fries: it spews it right back up. Therefore, Hell Spa is simply my brain barfing. No interpretation needed, really.
This could cause me to shut myself off from the world, to ignore not only the events on television but those in my real life: sick relatives, troubled friends, my disturbingly ferocious dog. When you get sick from eating too much over-processed crap roughly resembling food, you stop eating that food. You clean up your insides with a salad and some water. You don’t, however, stop eating entirely.
To seal myself off, to throw the paper into the recycling bin without even unrolling it, would be useless anyway. The pain will come to me. A mental panic room is a very precarious and temporary place to be. Suffering will find you, will crawl through the cracks of your expertly-constructed little safe-zone.
So it’s best to accept the existence of murder, of rape, of horror. Not only accept it, but look at it unflinchingly and without commercial breaks. The American public accepts that Jodi Arias did, indeed, stab and shoot her former boyfriend. Ten seconds later, they accept the fact that one soda is better than the other. Then we accept that Tiger Woods is making a comeback and dating a beautiful female athlete. Then back to the Arias murder details. Then we are reminded that Princess Kate is wearing an Alexander McQueen maternity mu-mu.
It takes more time to pick out a ripe avocado than it does to experience fear, terror, anger, envy and downright befuddlement. The news cycle spits it out so fast that there’s no time for contemplation. My shock over the Cleveland story is immediately replaced by my repulsion over a thousand dollar maternity dress. My grief over the Boston marathon segues uncomfortably into Tiger Woods’ sex life.
CNN or HLN or Fox—all the news stations are selling and celebrating the monkey mind. They want us to react, to feel fear or compassion, anger or joy, but only in the briefest, most superficial way; we have all of a minute to comprehend the great questions of human existence before the commercial break.
Religions are built on the attempt to understand suffering. Philosophers have tried, with mild success, to explain war and violence. This search for understanding is as old as humanity itself. While it used to be the stuff of ceremony and spiritual introspection, it’s now being streamed between ads for personal injury lawyers and long-lasting lip gloss. This kind of understanding of human suffering, this Happy Meal consciousness, is relatively new and untested. It may be too early to tell what the results are, but it’s clear that a lot of our brains need a sick day. And soon.
By taking sick leave, we can decide to shut off the news and sit with the facts, instead. Not the facts of one specific story, but the facts of human existence. We know the facts of the Jodi Arias case, but this gets us no closer to understanding the circumstance of murder. It’s one of the 7 Deadly Sins, it’s a Yama, it’s something we’ve been told by every great sage and teacher is forbidden. Yet it continues to happen.
The news may attempt to explain why it happens—there are lawyers, shrinks, pundits, and whatever Nancy Grace is for that. The explanations are so short and one-dimensional, though. They don’t explore the dangerous hook of sexual desire when it goes unchecked. The news may tell you the best tips for making that 4th of July burger on your grill, but it will almost never explore the moral quagmire that is the meat, poultry and dairy industries. They may dedicate a few minutes to that kind of topic if it’s a slow news day, but you’ll never hear a newscaster say, Coming up: seven minutes of guided meditation to help you navigate the painful process of losing a loved one. Nuance is not something that fits neatly between ads for internet dating sites and BBQ sauce.
The monkey mind, the trickster brain that roams from this to that and this again, isn’t the beast within anymore. It’s everywhere. We’re surrounded on all sides. Hundreds of years ago, if a citizen of your village died, you knew it. You probably knew this person, knew their parents and children. You knew whom they loved and how they worshipped. Death, murder, rape––these weren’t once-every-five-minute events, just blips in a 24-hour news cycle. When these things happened, they happened to people you were intimately acquainted with. The story was very real to you, very inescapable. This wasn’t entertainment, and you didn’t have the luxury of changing the channel.
This is still the case to a large extent. We still lose loved ones, we still suffer traumas in our own lives. However, it’s easier to become detached, distracted, to feel as though pain is just something we should move through quickly so we can get to the good stuff. There is someone to sell us a way to soothe that pain just around the corner. All we have to do is walk away from the cause of our suffering and walk toward that cure.
We’re being taught almost exclusively that the monkey mind is a comfortable place to be, but it’s actually the exact opposite. Introspection, meditation, the slow and steadied examination of these questions is what leads us to, if not peace, acceptance. By slowing down the process and stepping back from it a bit, we allow ourselves to move beyond the initial reaction of fear and despair. Fear is the emotion most often used by the media to draw us into the news cycle. That snap judgment, that intense reaction to horror, is only the surface of a very deep ocean.
To meditate is to be a deep sea diver. To meditate upon murder, poverty, jealousy, joy, forgiveness, revenge, sickness is to bring the cycle to a halt. When you mediate, you aren’t preventing someone else from murdering. You aren’t preventing the death of your parents or the loss of your job. You are, however, preventing your brain from becoming a flash-fried burger. You are keeping your heart open and your will strong. Meditation hopefully provides you with a different kind of narrative to take out to the world, one that allows time for suffering, time for healing, time for peace. One that gives grief its due, but doesn’t belabor the tragedy.
Report from the front lines of human experience, people. Be there. Sit with yourself. Be spiritually, emotionally, intellectually unabridged.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel