Spending less time online

My spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy is very keen on New Year’s Resolutions. He advocated both making a few personal resolutions and a few resolutions for achieving things outwardly.

In the past, I have been very poor at making New Year’s resolutions, but this year I am following one resolution, almost by accident.

In 2016, I spent a lot of the time wishing I didn’t waste so much time reading online news, opinion and comment. I would have a good meditation in the morning but, before I’d finished breakfast, I was back in the world of opinion and judgement.

It was like eating a healthy breakfast of fruit and oats, only to finish it off with a chocolate gateaux cake and cream. The point is you can’t lose weight by eating chocolate cake and cream, no matter how much fruit and vegetables you also eat. Similarly, if you want real inner peace, you need to meditate – but also be careful of where else you spend your time and energy.

The problem is that the easy accessibility of online news means there is a never ending stream of things to read. You start with the intention of just seeing the headlines, but then I found myself reading more than I intended. Time can pass by – you haven’t done anything productive, only filled your mind with more opinions.

There is an addictive quality to browsing the internet – a spare one minute appears in the day and, before you know it, 15 mins have passed. I noticed that it is usually when bored or unhappy that I often sought refuge in online browsing, but this didn’t help.

Importance of knowing what is going on

Last year, there were issues in the UK and the world where I felt it was important to be aware of what was happening. If there is a big vote affecting the future of your country, I feel a responsibility to try and discern the truth and what would be in best interest of the country. I wrote quite a few articles on the EU referendum on my economics blog. But, to understand what is happening, you don’t need to spend several times a day browsing through sites, and reading countless opinions. Nor does it need to be everyday.

Last year, there was a part of me really wishing to spend less time on reading news and take a break. Going away on a vacation to Greece was the catalyst I had been looking for. The vacation was a breath of fresh air and a lot of fun. In this different atmosphere of meditation and purposeful activity, the attraction of reading news rapidly diminished. There is a marked contrast between the inner joy of meditation and the dryness of the internet.

When many things are going on, there is no need to fill in the odd gaps of the day with some mindless browsing. By the 1st Jan, I just couldn’t face logging on to see any news.

It wasn’t a conscious resolution, it just kind of happened. Three days into the New Year, I wasn’t reading the news and I felt a new kind of freedom. In particular, I noticed my mind was less busy ruminating about some political issues and the injustice in the world.

Good meditation and prayers for peace

Spirituality doesn’t mean retreating into a Himalayan cave and renouncing the world. Offering good will to the world is an integral part of spirituality. But, my experience makes me think – what helps the world the most – reading news and getting dismayed or meditation and cultivating a genuine sense of goodwill to others?

My experience is that reading the news doesn’t really make the world a better place, but trying to remain in a cheerful frame of mind might have some positive influence on those around you.

There are many ways to try and create a better world. One of these is to work in the political field. I’m grateful to those who advance progressive values of tolerance, oneness and peace in the political world. However, I feel that this isn’t my particular path. In my case, I feel drawn to different avenues – you could say the inner path of peace rather than the outer path. It is not a question of one approach being better than another approach. But, with limited capacity, it is hard to be in both worlds at once.

I was recently reading a book about the experience of nuns (‘Unveiled: Nuns Talking’ by Mary Loudon). One chapter interviewed a Carmelite nun, an order who live in retreat from the world. A big part of their order is to offer prayers for the world – prayers for peace and love. The sister remarked, we get a weekly snapshot of important events, but to pray for peace, it is not necessary to know every bad thing that happens.

Perhaps if we spend less time reading the news – and more time in purposeful activity or prayer, we can make more of a difference.

Work as an economist

Coming home from the spiritual vacation and place of joy was hard. Living on your own, without the positive energy of like-minded friends, means the world tempts with a stronger pull. At home, the temptation to start the day by reading the news comes almost as a habit. But, I was getting so much joy I wanted to continue with the experiment. If nothing else, I like the challenge of doing something different. I don’t know how long it will last, but it has helped to break bad habits and give a very different perspective on what is important and what gives joy. I am determined to waste less time in the future.

As it happens, I work as an economics writer so I need to know what is happening to the economy. I will be following economic statistics and some economic events, but it is quite possible to keep in touch with the economy, without following the 24 hour news cycle.

For almost the whole of 2016, I didn’t like the fact I was wasting so much time in the world of politics and news, but also felt incapable of changing. I held a vague idea that taking a break would be good, but I always slipped into the daily habit. Travel and a spiritual retreat was a very good way to re-evaluate what gives joy and what doesn’t.

“I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

Thomas Jefferson

Dear President, how I wish I could be a perfect follower of yours! Do we learn anything from the newspaper?

Sri Chinmoy, Choice Wisdom-Fountain-Souls

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