Spirit Matters: What happens when we internalize chaos

This week has been chaotic for me, both inside and out.

I’ve shared here before about my sensory processing sensitivity, which results in everything striking more deeply than it does for the average person. While I appreciate good things like beauty on a profound and subtle level, negative events and emotions hit hard and deep.

It can be exhausting spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Here is Pearl Buck for a moment:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly senstive. To him ... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.”

None of this is an exaggeration, for those of us with this trait.

When national tragedies or controversies occur, I try to steer clear from the wall-to-wall news coverage we’ve come to expect in our modern world.

I do this not because I’m not interested, or don’t care.

I do this to save my sanity.

I was in eighth grade when The Challenger space shuttle exploded moments after liftoff, on Jan. 28, 1986, killing everyone aboard. This groundbreaking mission was to carry a teacher, Christa McAuliff, into space. As students, we were invested in this event. Soon after one of the teachers broke into our room and told us what happened, they wheeled a television into our classroom so we could watch the unfolding situation for ourselves.

Of course, this explosion didn’t just strike me to my core; it did the same for everyone who watched. I imagine it is probably what it was like for those who were alive when President John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated.

Fifteen and a half years later, early in the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists flew jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, after passengers thwarted their goal to fly into The White House.

I had just arrived at work — Easter Seals’ Timber Pointe Outdoor Center in Hudson.

Within a few moments we locked the office door, and the year-round staff — five of us — and their young families, huddled around the television in the camp director’s living room and watched as the towers burned and collapsed, and human beings everywhere ran with terror for their lives. The irony was not lost on me to see the trees across the lane blowing gently in this remote central Illinois camp, while all hell broke loose in other parts of the country.

After an hour or so, I couldn’t take any more.

I quietly left the house, and walked back up to the office, and sat alone and in silence on the porch gazing up at the clear blue sky on that crisp Tuesday morning.

The continuous news coverage lasted for months, and I did watch some of it in my own living room as the weeks carried on.

But that experience taught me I must take responsibility and set limits for what I allow into my sensitive mind and heart, because I am the one who has to process all of this, and suffer the consequences.

Most of the national media as it is today is designed to give its viewers, listeners and readers exactly what it wants to hear. This is true across the spectrum. If a news outlet attracts more conservative viewers, its content and commentary is designed to keep those viewers coming back for more. Same with the outlets that attract more liberal viewers.

They tell you what you want to hear. They present the news to you in such a way, that your personal and political views will be corroborated. Politicians know this, and use this reality to their advantage. You hear a relatively one-sided take on any matter.

I intentionally seek out the few sources that still pretty much report just the facts, like the Associated Press and Reuters. Having worked for years in a newsroom with a staff that strove to present both sides fairly and accurately, I know how important this is.

I also know that in our reactionary society, many people on social media share links to articles that support their own views — many times having just read the headline and nothing more — without bothering to research whether the content is factual.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, I told myself I was going to stay clear of the news and social media for a few days. I knew what to expect. Unbendable convictions on both sides.

And yet, I didn’t stay away, and soon found myself wrapped up in the conflicting, emotion-filled posts, from both sides.

And I felt it all.

After a short time of reading these intense posts on what is arguably the most contentious issue of modern times, I couldn’t think straight.

But, I will tell you this.

While I do have my own opinions, I also have the ability to step back and see various sides of an issue, which is why in most matters, I try to take a middle-of-the-road approach.

And when I read posts from those whose beliefs were somewhat contrary to my own, I actually thought about what they were saying, and why they were so passionate about it. I made an effort to understand where they were coming from, and not just writing them off as evil.

I began to empathize with people whose life experiences are different than my own, and who have valid reasons for believing what they do on an issue that has various shades to it.

I sought to listen.

I sought to understand.

I sought to do as my teacher, a Jewish rabbi named Jesus, would do.

  • SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.