Dear Abbey Dharma,
I’m concerned that my mindfulness practice is making me indifferent. I still feel genuinely connected when I sit at the bedside of a dying person or with a person who comes to see me for counseling at church, but if I watch the news on TV , I feel curiously unmoved. I used to feel that I could care about people I didn’t know, but now I’m not so sure.
Just today, I read a headline on AOL News that declared that “Daytime Dramas Have Disappeared from TV.” I think they have been replaced by news presented in tabloid form, easily mistaken for an adventure series: The War in Iraq, in real time, playing on one channel and The Earthquake in Turkey, also in real time, playing on another. Death and misery happen right before your eyes as you walk on the treadmill, or relax on the sofa after work. They become unreal. “Stay tuned for more on the tsunami after this word from our sponsor.”
Real life does not have commercial breaks. Everyone lowers their voices when they step into an intensive-care ward or look into the waiting room on a surgery floor of a hospital or drive by an accident on the highway. The sense that something of momentous import is happening in the lives of real people right now wakes the mind from daydreaming or self-preoccupation, and elicits compassion. Knowing the people involved is not necessary. Knowing it is real makes the difference.
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Sylvia Boorstein is a psychotherapist and a founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California.
Illustration by Chelsea Cardinal