It was my intention this week to write about gun violence in America and how it is a failure of our culture, not our legal system. I wanted to write about how we are inundated by violent images from an early age, yet our understanding of the issue is no more sophisticated than the teenager (or the thirty-something male) playing “Call of Duty – Black Ops” on Xbox. I was going to highlight the link between acts of violence and the use of psychiatric drugs, and contrast the knee jerk reaction of politicians calling for more laws with the long standing traditions of individuals and families exercising their Second Amendment rights responsibly. I was going to close by pointing out that, though the media is howling over the tragic deaths in Las Vegas, there was hardly a whimper when about the same number were killed in Chicago last month. (Most of the victims were young, poor, and black.)
If I elected to turn on the television this morning or scan the headlines online, I would find talkers with plenty to say about this topic and others. The work of herding our attention to the topics that have been selected for dissemination across the land will have reached a crescendo for the morning. Instead, I would prefer to leave this gathering early, and I invite you to come with me. If you are like me, you have grown weary of worry, and you have started to wonder whether the constant barrage of bad news is a result of some kind of group insanity particular to our times, or whether there is some design or intent behind the effort to keep us fearful and angry, all the time.
Personally, I believe it is the former, though there is little doubt that there are those willing to exploit that insanity. The worldwide information network we have created is a powerful golem that leverages and magnifies everything we say, or see, or think. Unfortunately for the human race, our most basic programming is a survival instinct designed to identify and react to danger. We are wired to accentuate the negative, and our electronic golem consistently magnifies that natural tendency.
To compensate for this impediment to modern life, we educate ourselves and, if we are lucky, we learn self-determination. We learn to be the masters of our own minds. However, this is difficult when both parents are away from home working, when teachers are overburdened by babysitting and we are left to roam unguided among the sensations and enticements of mass media and popular culture.
Cognitive shifting is a method of consciously redirecting our attention from one fixation to another. When we are preoccupied with thoughts that detract from our well being, thoughts that cause worry, anger or anxiety, we exercise our will and we shift.
For most of us who do not suffer from mental illness, it is just as easy as it sounds, yet we forget, and we are distracted from the realization that it is well within our ability to do so. Determining the thoughts that occupy our minds is one of our most basic rights as human beings, and yet those thoughts are the aspect of our lives most targeted by those who seek profit and control.
Many of us shift without even realizing it. We shift when we worship, when we pray, when we focus on our families and communities, when we meditate, walk in the woods, work in the garden, exercise, read a book, bait a hook. We shift when we pause to spend a moment in gratitude.
Cognitive shifting does not mean that we stick our heads in the sand and ignore the problems of the world. It means that we choose not to fixate on them. It means that we make a conscious effort to have a more balanced perspective on life.
We can do it right now, together. Turn off the television. Shut down the computer. Take the smartphone out of your pocket and leave it on the desk. Shift.
There is a mist on the mountain this morning, and the valley is quiet and peaceful. The air is cool and heavy with moisture from the much needed rain we just received. The broccoli in the garden has grown an inch since yesterday, and the greens are sprouting. A single hummingbird is drinking at the feeder, one of the last of the busy little group to remain. Any day now she will come to the window and hover for a moment to say goodbye before beginning her long journey south.
These are the thoughts I choose to carry with me today. What will you choose?