Medicine For People!

December 2018

Sunrise
By Jessie Eastland - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61912268

Season of Birth

As you may know, I taught Transcendental Meditation (TM) for many years. Our organization resembled many others in its desire to make the world a better place, and like many other such organizations had less success than we hoped. Still, I meditate twice daily though I have not taught TM in many years.

This is a round-about way of acknowledging the founder of the movement, a Hindu named Maharishi. Many of his teachings remain with me. Here's one: Whatever we put our attention on is a kind of food. We know how important food is. Healthy food leads to better health, and of course the opposite is also true.

What we take in through our other senses—such as reading and listening and watching—is also a kind of food. If we ingest negative things, we contaminate our minds. When we attend to life-supporting aspects of the world, our physical and spiritual self is affected in a positive way.

If you have not run across the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling, let me bring it to your attention. Dr Rosling worked with the World Health Organization in many places around the planet. During that experience he noticed that our communal views of the world are seriously warped. Loss of the middle class?  Big gap between the rich and the poor? Well, about 5 billion of us inhabit the middle of the income and prosperity range with about a billion on either extreme. Immunization rates in poor countries? Not the 20% most people guess, but closer to 80%. Worldwide life expectancy? About 70 years, counting countries both rich and poor.

A Swede, Rosling emphasizes he is acutely aware of the terrible challenges we face today, including political gridlock, corruption, our feeble response to impending climate disaster and many others. Yes, the world situation is alarming; at the same time, it improves in significant ways. There is no contradiction between those two facts. We must not take our eyes off either phenomenon.

Rosling also points out that we should not blame the media. There are many news sources and many styles of reporting. Consumers choose what they will subscribe to or click on, and thereby influence their universe of news. No one would seriously argue that our conception of the world could ever come exclusively from the media. Our neighbor who adopted and raised six children may make no ripple on the national news scene but is a vital indicator of the state of the planet. Or think of our paper workers here in Port Townsend. They recycle a third of the cardboard collected in our state; these individuals raise families, pay taxes, and work three shifts seven days a week, holidays included. All over our country ordinary people do the work which needs to be done without riches or the promise of fame. They don't appear in the tabloids or receive recognition at banquets. They do the heavy lifting without trumpets. They are the living bricks and mortar of which our world is built.

We cannot blame the media because it cannot tell us what is right in front of our eyes.

And now to this season of the year. Christians celebrate of the birth of God's Son. Jews celebrate the renewal of their temple in Jerusalem. While other religions, including Islam, have no religious observation at this season, their adherents also welcome the lengthening of the days and the promise of new life in the springtime.

One other teaching of Maharishi was that we in a democracy get the government we deserve. We can look at our fellow citizens with understanding and compassion. We can vote with thoughtfulness and with regard for the interests of all and not just our own. Or we can, without intending to, neglect those ideals and understand only our own point of view. Either way we influence the quality of our governing institutions.

And so in this season of birth and renewal, let us give our attention to those things that affirm life.

Let's be aware of the cost associated with popular sensational news. These costs include disengagement with civic affairs such as voting, reduced volunteerism and decreased involvement in the community. These costs include contempt for people with differing views, people who also have children, worries, and their own labors. These costs include today's epidemic anxiety and depression.[1]

When we indulge our very human habit to look at the worst[2], we are looking backwards. In this season of rebirth, let us look at what is being born. Let us open ourselves to a personal renaissance in all senses of the word, including the spiritual.

Then we can help build what is to come.

Postscript: My current favorite daily newspaper, a source with neither rose-colored glasses nor a blind-fold, is the Christian Science Monitor. Like a good doctor, the Monitor illuminates all aspects of the issue at hand. It looks with compassion and understanding of at the motivations of all parties involved. It elucidates our current problems while reporting as well on the background story and on those who propose solutions.

Our world mirrors our individual selves in our squalor and in our glory. We do not want to turn our faces away from it.

Endnotes

[1]https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/17/steven-pinker-media-negative-news https://archives.cjr.org/behind_the_news/good_news_is_good_business_but.php

[2]Numerous psychological studies demonstrate our fascination with bad news. News outlets experiment with many methods to increase their readership and income, and they all know the one quick route to oblivion-land: provide only positive news. https://qz.com/307214/heres-what-happened-when-a-news-site-only-reported-good-news-for-a-day/

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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.