Today is the fifth day of my vow to not watch the news on cable TV. The images of destruction over the past few weeks are painful to see and the sound of the voices of the journalists is one of sustained outrage, regardless of what part of the political spectrum they represent. I find that listening to that tone, sounding to me as if each sentence starts with the words, “Can you believe?…” even though it doesn’t use those exact words, jangles my nerves. One of the remarks of the Buddha that comes to mind is, “Whatever the mind ponders, whatever it dwells on, by that is it shaped.” I found myself becoming irritable. I realized that I was thinking belligerent, intolerant thoughts. That’s when I made the vow to stop watching. It should have been entirely easy. I don’t need the TV to stay up with world news. I read the same daily New York newspaper that I’ve read all of my adult life and trust to be more or less balanced in their perspective and thorough in their reporting.
I discovered, halfway through Day One, that the impulse to “just turn on the TV to see what’s happening” started to arise at predictable times. I’d be folding the laundry, sitting down to sew on a button, or about to take time to finish knitting the sweater I’m working on. As I paid attention to the impulse, I realized that it was driven by more than just a desire to enhance a moment of rote activity. I discovered that although my mind was already noticeably less jangled, I was missing the jangle. I recalled saying to a friend just recently, “Watching news on TV is like watching a Super Bowl, or a World Series. You get excited wanting one side or the other to win.” I could see that I had been beguiled by the excitement and addicted to the buzz.
I’ve discovered that the National Geographic Channel is, for me, an amazing and inspiring accompaniment to laundry folding. Nat Geo alternates extraordinary videos of natural wonders with episodes of Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, calming down overwrought dogs, dogs that are out of their owner’s control, by taking charge of situations with kind resolve. Mr. Millan begins most training by walking resolutely forward with a dog held close by him on a leash, all the while talking softly: “Let’s just keep walking together, steady and calm, you are doing great, and everything is going to be okay.”