Photo by Katy Morikawa
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I’ll never forget how my friend explained why she doesn’t watch or follow the news. (This was back when Trump got elected and most of us were gripped by the news on an hourly or minute-by-minute basis.) She said, “Everyone is looking in that direction. But the world doesn’t need another set of eyes looking there. I decided years ago to look somewhere else. I think it’s important.” I knew that her gaze pointed at the forests and mountains where she lives, to a daily meditation and yoga practice, cat time, good fantasy fiction, some Netflix, and work online. She wasn’t advocating unplugging entirely. She’d simply made the conscious choice to turn away from the twenty-four hour news cycle. And it wasn’t just a self-care move, or a lack of interest in the world, or self-absorbed narcissism (believe me, this is the least narcissistic person I know!). It was an insight into the power of her attention (which, by the way, big businesses are paying top dollar for our attention these days, so we should recognize its value too), and she’d taken it on as a kind of spiritual activism, something she’s affirmed many times over the years.
I was addicted to NPR at the time, and had subscribed to the New York Times the day Donald Trump was elected. I’m still subscribed because I want to support good journalism, but at the beginning of the pandemic, suddenly I couldn’t bear to listen to NPR anymore. It was too dreary, and I didn’t think I needed minute-by-minute updates on the pandemic. So I turned it off! I decided that if any news was important enough for me to know about, I’d hear about it through Michael or through direct interaction. And that’s become my rule of thumb.
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Focus On What’s Right In Front Of Me
I’m working with the “focus on what’s right in front of me” philosophy that’s proven so reliable and life-changing, that I learned from Glenda Green’s Love Without End. I think about it as staying in my own lane, and being here now, and trusting that I’m contributing more to the universe by staying open, experiencing joy on a regular basis, listening to the birds and the wind in the trees, laughing at my cat, writing blog posts, and doing my work. It has actually freed me up emotionally and psychically enough to begin to give back through volunteer work, as well as to contend with hard topics like my series on cancer. You can read more about journey in activism in “Great Generosity (The Jupiter Principle)” or Episode 11 on this podcast.
For that and other reasons, I don’t see this as escapism. I do keep my ears open, sometimes scanning the news round-up from the New York Times or listening to podcasts. Michael watches the news and sometimes shouts headlines at me (lol) or asks my opinion about events. But even there, I let it flow over me like water. I’ve turned my attention to living inside a question through which I now filter everything, including the news: “How can I make the world a better place?” This is because I am a Sagittarius and we can’t help but live for a mission! And because it’s better than feeling freaked out and burdened by the state of the world, about which I am still very aware. I don’t block out reality, I just pay attention to my present life. Believe me, if I was living in the middle of a war zone, I would be paying attention to that!
The Magic Bubble
I kind of live in a bubble. I live on a dirt road in my little house in the woods, and it’s a place of privilege. But…even while living in a bubble, the bubble can definitely slip and then I’m all alone in the woods with my fear and anxiety. With less to distract me, I’ve needed to develop more tools for warding off worry and insecurity, and for cultivating a better mindset. So, I thought I’d share some of these ideas, because let’s face it, a better mindset is something anyone can enjoy whether they live quietly in the country or in a busy urban life. Not only can these improve your sense of well-being, I’ve come to see these strategies as a kind of everyday activism. Rather than running around, stressed out, escaping into Netflix or getting drunk or high, constantly pissed off or resentful, you can move beyond just surviving to becoming a stillpoint of joy or warmth or well-being that radiates out and changes everything you touch.
Jewel’s Brilliant Insights
First, I’m going to share Jewel’s insights into counteracting negative emotional states which she discovered when she was a homeless teenager–she is so amazing, by the way, and not just for her singing. Her insights provide an excellent framework. You can use these together with my ideas as a springboard to come up with your own menu for creating your own magic bubble!
Dilation & Contraction
Jewel realized that there two basic states of being, which she calls dilation and contraction. Dilation (which I call expansion) includes all the positive emotions: joy, peace, wonder, love, contentment. Contraction includes all the negative emotions: fear, anxiety, depression, hatred. Her brilliant insight was the realization that you can’t be in two states at once, and she used this to eventually hack her way out of a panic attack and overcome self-harming and a shoplifting addiction. She had kept a careful journal of the types of thinking, feeling, and doing which were happening when she was in states of dilation and contraction, and observed a clear pattern of correlation. You can use her observations as a jumping off point, or track your own patterns in a journal:
- Dilation: Curiosity, Gratitude, Joy, Observation, Helping Others, Reading, Sleeping, Exercising, Being Outside
- Contraction: Uncertainty, Fear, Jealousy, Greed, Worry, Not Sleeping, Not Exercising, Not Connecting with People
Jewel shared her insights on Joe Rogan last year (beginning at 46:30):
Building A Magic Bubble
All of these either reduce the amount of time I spend in contracted states (worry, fear, judgment, insecurity) or increase the amount of time I spend in curiosity, observation (witnessing), delight, wonder, joy, love.
- Tune Out or Lower the Volume on the News
- Tune Out or Lower the Volume on Social Media – Last fall I deleted the Instagram app from my phone, especially because Meta tracks your every move, but kept my account open and post new episodes on there.
- Watching the Sunrise and Sunset Every Day – the moment of sunrise and/or sunset when you can look directly at the sun plus 10-30 minutes of morning sunlight (where you don’t look directly at it, but go outside and be in the light) – resets all of your internal body clocks, helps align your circadian rhythms, and is a natural anti-depressant that science has yet to replicate. It has helped my sense of well-being so much, but I realize that it also helps through simple observation and curiosity. Use the weather app on your phone to find sunrise time (just scroll the hourly forecast until you get to the next sunrise). Check out Andrew Huberman on Armchair Expert for more about this (starts at 1:20:07).
- The I Love Mantra – simpler and more powerful even than gratitude, this can be sprinkled throughout your day as you’re inspired or serve as the focus of a whole body of work. You know you’ve really accessed it when saying it is accompanied by a burst of warmth and light in your heart or throughout your whole mind and being, as well as usually a sense of spaciousness, joy, and timeless aliveness. It’s also very magnetic, and if it’s uncomplicated by contradictory blocks in the way, it will tend to magnetize these things to you.
- Fun, Inspiring Stories – I listen to audiobooks with wireless earbuds (Jabra Elite Actives) on my phone throughout my day. Audible or your local library has lots of amazing audio content. It stops the negative self-talk and rumination, and makes household chores, walking/running, and driving a time to look forward to. So it has the added benefit of helping me take care of my life. I think it was key to let go of my judgments and picking stuff that really delights me. Which brought me back to Fantasy and SciFi (check out my Pandemic Reading List in Fantasy and Sci-Fi, Ep 3.) So if you always loved Louis L’Amore, give in and go back to the genre! Or Tom Clancy spy novels or bodice ripper romances!
- Tracking the Moon and the Sky – Together with the moment of sunrise and sunset, I’ve been tracking the moon and Venus among other things. I feel related in a more organic way with it all, and that in itself is nourishing. But the simple act of making daily observations, the basic curiosity, and spending time on something other than the latest social trauma-drama or work challenge is, I realize now because of Jewel’s insights, part of the medicine. So you could create your own project like this. It doesn’t have to be skywatching or nature watching, but could involve social science observations of people. It could be fun and lighthearted or work toward a larger body of knowledge through simply daily observations that get you to understanding over time something that’s always felt beyond your grasp.
- Next Project: Cataloguing the Plants and Animals on Our Property – I am planning to use an unlined journal and to draw or sketch or paste in photos, maybe collect samples (not too much of this, though). I might try to draw a map and identify where each of these plants or animals or rocks can be found on the property. This gets me closer to my longer project to get closer to the natural world, at my own pace and in my own ways. 🙂
Using Jewel’s insights and mine, I invite you to create your own menu of habits and practices for building a magic bubble not just to improve your well-being, but as a kind of activism that transforms your whole field of energy into one that creates space, flow, aliveness, joy, and well-being that radiates out into the lives of everyone around you.
Jewel’s Inspiring Children Foundation helps at-risk teens.