After my colleague Janet's brilliant dissection of Sarah Palin's wink, I've felt at a loss for what to comment on. Her assessment of the anatomy of that manipulative facial punctuation is so right on, so to the heart of the matter. I've got nothing to add except my appreciative agreement.
But this morning in my yoga class, as I began the simultaneously grueling and tranquilizing series of exercises that has become my drug of choice, it came to me. Perhaps it's time for an about face. So what I want to say is what I was saying to myself as I bent my 46 year-old body into a pretzel shape I'm particularly proud of: "Breath." That's it.
Yoga often hurts. Muscles strain. Your outside life insists on inserting itself into the calm you're seeking. The best way I've found to stop the spinning of my mind and my preference for reaction over reflection is to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Yoga requires that your mind be relaxed even as you prompt your body to attempt the impossible. You learn to observe your physical state without judging it or entering to far into it. The result, amazingly, is that the pain recedes. I'm not an expert, and I don't experience lovely glowing, nirvana-like apparitions. But I have managed to experience waves of peace, which come and go, with the cyclic engagement and relaxing of my mind.
What does this have to do with Sarah Palin? With politics? With next Tuesday? Well, somehow, a lot.
I confess that I'm right up there with the most rabid election addicts. Even when I'm supposed to be working, or better yet, relaxing for one brief minute, I am wasting time clicking back and forth between Rasmussen, Real Clear Politics, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera in English, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Andrew Sullivan's "The Daily Dish," Salon, Slate and an increasing dose of YouTube (as it provides me all the American stuff I miss by living in Italy) in search of a whiff of where this thing is going "right now." And as we all know the internet and our bottomless addiction to it have reinvented the immediacy that "now" connotes. You can read a story "now," only to have to click to another source to read the latest version, which is already more "now" than the one you just read. All day long between other jobs and responsibilities I follow the polls ticking back and forth by tenths of points in their nervous, incremental, undecided—and very irritating—little dance.
It is, in a word, insane.
But what does this mean—this continuous flow of updates, analyses, commentaries, attacks and counter-attacks? It means, really, that no one's thinking a whole lot. Everyone's reacting. And over-reacting. Who's breathing deeply in the middle of all this? Who's observing, reflecting?Every now and then Sarah Palin does take a deep breath, but like her wink, it's designed for dramatic effect. ("While I take a break to breath you can absorb the truth of my latest lie.")
I can't make this rolling stone stop to gather moss, but I can stop the way I let it infect my mind and my quality of life. Because it is effecting my life, and not in a good way.
This election IS important. I'm not denying that. It may well be the most important thing that happens to us American collectively in our lifetime. But, I repeat, but, it is not the most important thing in my existence.
I live. I breathe. I love. I have children to raise. And while I'd like to raise them with a consciousness about what's happening in this world, this nonstop participation in the media circus is neither consciousness nor conscience at work. This is addiction. This is madness. This is not helping us.
From here on out in this post, please slow down. Forget about all that mad bubbling stirred up by your favorite internet news source. Breathe. Think about how your breathing feels as it travels in and out of you body, carrying in new air and carrying away old. Breath deeply. Enjoy the fact that you can.
I'm asking you to do this because what would help us, would be to stop. To still ourselves. To find a silence inside. What would help us would be to breathe deeply, to slow down our processes, to reflect well and long and without hurry or preconceptions about what is happening in our lives. To observe from a distance. What color is the sky today? How does the air feel against our skin? What muscles hurt? How do we really feel? How can the relaxation of the mind relieve our various ills? How long can we sit still and simply observe what that feels like—without input, without stimulus, without browsing. Without judgment of ourselves if we fail, at first, to find stillness.
And then, with calm and maybe with a greater degree of detachment, we can view the news as a deservedly small part of an even larger picture: just existing. And maybe there, we can find a place to contain it so that it doesn't consume us and in so doing destroy our capacity to react appropriately and to live our lives despite it.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.