Time for Tuning Out

As computer gadgetries spin us around faster and faster, I have to work harder and harder at cultivating quiet in my life. In the not so distant past, quiet came more easily. Certainly, quiet was plentiful when I worked as a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service, wandering remote mountain ranges for weeks at a time with only a pack on my back. But with each passing year, the tide of responsibility seems to rise (for better or for worse), and it gets tougher to create time for simple pleasures. With so many daily demands, I find that cultivating quiet requires a heightened awareness of triggers that fuel stress, and I’m learning to dodge them before they bring me down.

One of the biggies for me, and one that tends to slip under many people’s radar, is the ever-present stream of information we call “news.” With news alerts no longer relegated to the evening news, alerts come into our computers several times a day. The heart-wrenching minutiae of grand-scale disasters leave me wringing my hands over things I can’t possibly fix. Even the mention of hot-button headlines has a way of making my heart race. It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world — I do! Way out here in Idaho, I get a daily dose of The New York Times in hand, delivered pony express a day late, in addition to my local newspaper. And I am compelled to lend a hand whenever I can. But there is way too much dirty laundry being generated by the media to be washed and hung out to dry here on my Idaho farm.

With news no longer limited to newspapers and brief evening broadcasts on television, it is more difficult than ever to avoid it. The internet, iPhones and 24-hour talk shows beckon us constantly, demanding our attention with shock tactics and relentless tugging at tender heartstrings. The media doesn’t discriminate as it doles out drama, either. Whether we’re hungry for the latest financial market numbers or eager for tidbits of breaking news to share around the proverbial water cooler, there is a surplus of fast facts ripe for the picking at any given moment. When we can’t go for an hour without plugging into one press source or another, the news starts to feel like an addiction, and super-sized stress is often the price we pay.

As if anxiety about global goings-on isn’t troubling enough, the media also has a nasty habit of feeding us hefty helpings of health-related hoopla, blaring miscellaneous hazards from the rooftops like the latest fashion trends, and blowing the fear factor way out of proportion. When you consider that the average television news story lasts only a matter of seconds, it seems crazy that we would even try to base decisions about our wellness on these flashy and often contradictory blurbs.

That’s why I’ve decided to take a routine break from the news — a kind of “fasting” from the sensory overload. I’m turning it off and tuning it out, and the quiet sounds sublime! Resisting the urge to gorge on news offers a whole new perspective. Scaling down to simple tasks and mundane reality makes me feel safe again with little to fear but fear itself. So I, for one, would rather concentrate on living well within my own small world, finding moments of precious peace, than wearing myself out worrying about the many things I can’t change.

It works like a charm. As soon as I switch my focus to something tangible, I instantly feel grounded, sane. Sweeping the porch steps, harvesting broccoli with my granddaughter, gathering eggs for breakfast — these are the “events” that assure me, in no uncertain terms, that life is as it should be right here, right now. Plus, it’s a whole lot more productive to get a grip on the variables we can control. We can nourish our health with fresh, organic food and regular exercise. We can nurture our kids with access to green grass and sunshine. We can bolster our communities by lending hearts and hands. Simple. Satisfying. Now that’s newsworthy.

Try it. Indulge in a “news fast” for a day now and then, or even a week. You’ll be surprised at how liberating it is to let the world turn without feeling as if you are somehow responsible for cranking the wheel. Should you get antsy wondering what’s going on out beyond the horizon, take comfort in knowing that there are others, like me, who are also blissfully ignorant, at least for the moment. I figure that if the news can find me in my chicken coop tomorrow, it’s worth my attention. Otherwise, the gossip of my hens will be all the news I need!

Copyright 2010, MaryJane Butters.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.