2016-06-30
After many years of taking workshops in the world's religions, meditation, spiritual parenting, yoga, and chi kong, I have hit upon an excellent spiritual practice of my own design: not watching the news coverage of Michael Jackson's child molestation trial.

I'm only a day into this new modality, and already, I must tell you, I feel so light and free.

How does not doing something become a way to praise God or express devotion, you might ask? True, most of the time, we consider a good spiritual practice to be something like meditating, or praying at specific hours of the day. But many Jews avoid foods that aren't kosher. And contemplative orders of monks and nuns refuse to mix with the workaday world. Christians give up pleasurable things like chocolate, or even sex, for Lent. So I--journalist and general news junkie--am swearing off the Jackson trial. I know it's a step toward a greater good.

This idea came to me yesterday morning, as I stood in our kitchen, cooking breakfast for my husband and two children while watching ABC's "Good Morning America." There was Cynthia McFadden, one smart lady, looking glamorous and buff, as if she's actually dieted and exercised to prepare for these next six Jackson-packed months.

Another trial of the century. Jury selection. Oh goodie.

But then, as I heard the lovely padding footsteps of our eight-year-old son Gordon coming down the hall, I quickly turned off the television. He knows superstar Michael Jackson is in some sort of trouble. Why wrap my darling boy up in this debacle any further?

Then a leaden feeling cascaded down on me, and I had an odd awakening. I realized that I've been sitting on a lot of rage since...since when? I'm sure now it began with the Scott and Laci Peterson brouhaha, which the networks covered so devotedly. Back then, as I watched and examined the meaning of Laci Peterson's demise, I thought, "This is a tragic event, but the news coverage is farcical."

If I spare my son this tawdriness, why wouldn't I similarly nurture myself? Why wouldn't I love myself enough to stop watching Jackson's tedious entreaties, the endless blow-by-blow dissection, when instead I could do something else, anything else in that moment, to uplift my spirit?

We all know why we gaze at the coverage of these high-profile trials. It's titillating. It makes our own dull lives seem so much more exemplary. But must I continue to spend precious moments of my life mired in something that is toxic to my spiritual development and demeaning to my humanity?

I nursed our firstborn son, now ten, through O.J.

But O.J.'s trial--while laden with arousing, sensual, gratuitous detail--had a luminous and haunting significance for our divided nation. O.J. was Shakespeare's Othello (not an original thought, I know). The powerful, dark man seeking to control his universe, believes his blonde perfect wife has been unfaithful. His rage consumes him, and what? Well, somebody killed her.

Michael Jackson's story, in comparison, seems a farce with hijinks coverups, a rollicking amusement park, and wine-fueled bedtime romps. It's hard to get past the theatrical trappings to the young cancer survivor's charge that Jackson, an adult he trusted, sexually molested him.

If a crime was committed, justice must be swift and harsh. But our main character is J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. He's sewn to his shadow, and enjoys flying around. Is he old enough to get dressed by himself? Apparently not. So he hardly seems accountable. We've also got Lost Boys, a band of pirates, and no doubt, if I cared to study the story long enough, I'd find a Tinkerbell in the fable too. (Chuckles the chimp perhaps? Or is he dead?)

The sexual content and storybook characters make us all want to giggle like schoolchildren. But then we shake ourselves at the seriousness of the charges, get sober, and swing our emotions to the other side of the pendulum. I want to care, but I'm seasick. The case is so peculiar and pointed on the specific weirdnesses of a few individuals that I can't find the larger message.

Since all news has become an assault upon our time and psychic space, Dr. Andrew Weil, the holistic physician, advises readers and clients seeking "optimal health" to practice an occasional "newsfast," abstaining from reading or attending to the daily news. This would be hard for me to do, since I'm in the news business. But I have found that when I let news drop, I come back to it with a fresh perspective.

A yoga teacher once told me that we are all products of "what we eat, what we see, and the people we choose for company." That says it all for me. The Jackson trial feels like bad food I don't need. It looks too much like a freak show that makes me want to avert my eyes. And it's not only that I'm offended by Michael Jackson's evasion of the truth (he still denies he's had plastic surgery). It's the whole crowd of lawyers, reporters, pundits, and hangers-on that I don't care to be with right now.

So here's the pact I'm making with myself: Since there's no way to avoid the Michael Jackson teasers in the news program headlines, I'm going to shut off all morning television. Cold turkey. Sorry, Diane. Sorry, Katie. I love you both dearly. And if Barbara Walters starts promoting a two-hour special featuring new tell-all interviews with Liz Taylor or Martin Bashear, I will declare in a loud voice: "There by the grace of God don't go I."

I will turn the radio off when Jackson updates come on. Without rancor. Without judgment. I'll just witness what comes up for me (probably a wistful "Gee, I wish I could let myself listen to that").

Additionally, I vow that when I see Jacko's winsome visage in the newspaper (on the street, or in the hands of a stranger on the subway), I will 1) center myself, breathe, and 2) utter a grateful prayer for all God has given me: a devoted husband, two healthy kids, and a dog who only bites small children when a cookie in the hand is involved in some way.

As with any spiritual practice, the mind races to thoughts like: What will my practice bring me? And the voice of the ego creeps in. So I must not let the fact that I am not watching news coverage of the Jackson trial make me arrogant. I cannot get into a space where I feel superior to those who watch the news coverage, or inferior to those who get to hear what the identifying details of Michael Jackson's genitalia actually are.


This is hard for me. It really is.

What should I do with those moments every morning when I cook for my family and finish the dishes? Of course, here my mind dashes in all directions. I've just consulted Amazon.com and ordered Glenn Gould's 1955 and 1981 recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations. After I digest those, I thought I'd keep the boom box in the kitchen and consider books on tape. SoundsTrue.com sells fabulous taped courses in all manner of spiritual practice. I started and never finished Lama Surya Das's "Natural Perfection" lectures, so I'll have a chance to happily get back to those.

Of course, purists will say that I should just cook when I cook--watch the butter melting in the skillet--and just do the dishes when I do dishes and scrape pans. There's no need for television, tapes, or radio in the background--Michael Jackson or not.

I agree this is a good point. That's why I see this Michael Jackson thing (which I'm not thinking about) as a very great start to the rest of my life. I am open to leading chat groups on Beliefnet around this subject, but of course, we really won't be able to talk about it. We'll have to find something else.

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