Part III – Chapter 19
Limit input from the media.
It is nowadays nearly impossible for most of us to avoid influence in one form or another from the various media of communication among human beings. Whereas in times past many people could pass most of their lives in relative isolation and freedom from external influences, today this is very difficult.
Of course, in the past one’s family relations and village neighbors could and usually did have overwhelming influence. In today’s more individualistic setting, in a much more populous and technological world, the overwhelming influence comes from the media.
“The media” includes principally every press, cinematic and electronic medium of information, propaganda and entertainment. Novels and non-fiction books, newspapers and magazines, fiction movies and documentaries, radio and television, the Internet and mobile telephony – these are the major media we are subject to, at time of writing, in my part of the world.
On the surface, the media are free (of government controls) and competitive. But, in view of the spiritual and intellectual poverty of most producers and consumers, most of the media tend to develop, and for a time perpetuate, certain beliefs and values in common. We call this almost general tendency towards the lowest common denominator our “culture”.
Thought is standardized and formatted in easily digested bits, and the flavor of the day is mass-fed. Although fashion currents are getting more and more short-lived, the fact of homogeneity continues. This is of course a reflection of human nature – “man is a social animal”, and imitation is the stuff of social cohesion.
Admittedly, not everything is spiritually debilitating in our culture, but many things are and it is important to be aware of such things. It is for instance very important to be aware of the devastating emotional influence of daily, and indeed hourly, news bulletins in the press, on the radio and on TV, and in the newer media. The emphasis being on dramatic bad news, we are bombarded with data that seems designed to arouse negative emotions in us.
All this is food for sensation and idle thought. One who is intent on developing the art of meditation has to overcome the strong temptations the media offer. It is important to reduce such sensory input to the minimum necessary, because it only serves to keep us in a certain excited state of mind. We cannot truly plunge into the depths of our nature, into true self-knowledge, if we allow such distractions to constantly rule over us.
Of course, as concerned and responsible citizens, we do need some information, on which to base our judgments and actions. But consider the massive input from the media, and ask yourself how much of that you actually need to fulfill your duties. Following such considerations, find ways and means to limit input as much as possible.
Gradually, as one advances in meditation, one realizes most media inputs to be useless interference in our lives, which block rather than enhance contact with reality. The media pound images and sounds into one’s mind, and it takes great effort and time to clear them out. It is easier to just stop them from entering it in the first place.
In this respect, one particularly poisonous input is pop music. This is like a mental virus, because it is sound that is easily memorized even against our will. It consists of some simple, usually repetitive, often loud, jingle – which seems designed to enter the mind of anyone within earshot and remain glued there as long as possible. This causes people to become habituated and attached to the sounds in question, and to buy the record (as the music publishers have well understood).
Such “music” differs considerably with regard to adhesive properties from more classical music. When such a virus enters one’s mind, it is sometimes difficult to shake off. We may try to listen to or recall some other sound, to smother out the first. Or the virus may stay on for quite a while, disappearing from consciousness (though often remaining in memory, to reappear at some future time).
 Pity at the victims of natural disasters, heinous civil crimes, wars and terrorism. Anger at criminals, at unjust officials, or even at lying and misleading journalism. Hatred towards people who seem to be destroying the world, or simply in response to other people’s hatred. And so on.