(This one took a while. Sorry for the delay.)
For the past week, I have spent every spare moment re-watching Downton Abbey. I love the show primarily because it reminds me of visiting London and Oxford last Spring Break and meandering alone around England while taking pictures of pretty things. This isn’t the first time I’ve adopted a show for its numbing relief from taxing surroundings. During spring of my junior year at college, I watched all five seasons of ABC Family’s Greek like it was my job. Every once in awhile a television show or book series or movie will catch me at the right moment and I am absorbed into its created world.
Yesterday, I was pulled into a different kind of story. I came home to the news of the Boston Marathon bombings. I watched a video online where a reporter had captured the explosions in real time. It felt like a movie. Like Boylston Street was the setting for some Die Hard explosion sequence. But that’s not the case. It happened on streets I know to people I don’t. A second later, I refreshed Google News to see that 34 had been killed due to the earthquake in Pakistan. A few days ago I heard a story about a gang-rape victim committing suicide that I haven’t been able to shake. Like I said, sometimes the world of a story resonates and we are pulled under, for better or worse.
How do we continue? How do we hear about the deep evils – the worst that the world holds – and keep going about our day? Ultimately, I went back to watching Downton Abbey. Because we need escape. We need breath and space away from the evils of the world. One can only ingest so much about how deeply we hurt one other before we have to walk away. A conscious, present life is a constant teetering between focusing one’s attention to the present moment and distancing oneself for protection. I’ll explain further.
1. Meditative Practices
Even though my posts about minimalism and decluttering and drinking tea all seem trivial right now, they aren’t. The ritualistic practices we incorporate into our everyday are coping mechanisms. No, I won’t say just coping, because sometimes they are thriving methods as well. They get us through our absolute worst and push us to our absolute best. The presence of these seemingly silly meditative practices gets us from one moment to the next with a calm we can cultivate. By adopting the discipline of certain small practices, we begin to develop a mind that is able to focus, calm, and soothe. We are better to others for the attention we’ve put on our own lives.
So why talk about Downton Abbey? It serves as a vehicle for a time I can set aside each day to allow my imagination to fully inhabit a created world. A fully-furnished, beautiful, overly dramatic world of both opulence and classism. But we must balance this escapism – i.e. this unleashing of our imaginations to stray from the sometimes unbearable everyday we inhabit – with a vigilant presence in each moment. We need discipline and freedom. Exercise and rest. Focus and wandering.
2. Protecting the Sacred Kindness
Now, I know I sound like your local, $5 palm reader when I say that, but I mean it. In one of my first posts, I offhandedly mentioned our limited emotional capacity. At the time, I was actually referring to Facebook and the limited amount of space we have in our minds for a limited number of people. But the idea works here as well. We have a limited amount of empathy. We can work to maximize the amount of empathy we have to offer by taking care of ourselves. When we feel emotionally nourished, we are able to shoulder more of the world’s strife. Besides our meditative practices, we must also distance ourselves from the constant stream of negative information that is available to us. This is where I want you to ask yourself, honestly, how much information you can endure in one day. Is it nourishing to be constantly connected through technology? Are you more empathetic now than before you got your iPhone? How much energy do you have for other people? Is that related to how much time you spend mindlessly on the internet, as opposed to taking a walk or sitting quietly alone?
In the light of the Boston bombings, let’s take a moment to question how we can cultivate more patience for our fellow human today.
“We are infants before each other, are we not,/ so vulnerable to each other’s words and/ movements.” – Rabia