I have always been a great fan of Berke Breathed’s cartoon strip ‘Bloom County’. For those of you whose life is as yet incomplete, lacking reporting from the strange world of Bloom County, I refer you to https://www.facebook.com/berkeleybreathed/ where the current ongoing daily adventures of the characters can be found.
Originally Bloom County stopped being published in 1989 or thereabouts, and was reactivated in 2015, and details the adventures of, amongst other characters, a penguin called Opus, a dodgy, sleazy lawyer called Steve and a monster-packed anxiety closet.
But for me, the most important thing to come from Bloom County was the concept of the ‘Dandelion Break’. When life became too intense for Opus, he would decamp to the top of a local ‘grassy knoll’ and sit among the dandelions for a while until he gained his composure. Here’s the strip in which I first saw the concept used…
I doubt a month goes by without me resorting to a virtual dandelion break of some sort. In fact, with my inability at gardening I can, if needed, indulge in a real life dandelion break for several months of the year by simply going in to my back garden.
What’s lovely about this particular script is that whilst the details in that first panel have changed, the course of Opus to resolve the anxiety is still valid today…turn off the tech. For those of us old enough to have been around the first time, the list of news stories being broadcast is a litany of anxiety from the 1980s – the old Soviet Union, teh Lebanon, Central America, Northern Ireland, the Falklands – the great Cold War, Post-Imperial, Contra-Irangate hotch-potch of issues that used to give the rolling TV news consuming folks in the world ulcers.
Today it’s Trump, ISIS, the Middle East, the Baltic region, Brexit, climate change, fascism, xenophobia, homophobia…you get the picture. But today we’re equally – if not more – likely to get our drip-feed of anxiety inducing horror through our social media feed as we are through Sky News or CNN. We tool rolling news and rolled it up and put it in our pocket on our phones.
I was again reminded of this in recent months when I’ve felt the urge for the Dandelion Break growing – not particularly in me, but in lots of people around me and people I know through social media. I recently saw a comment on my Facebook feed to the effect that the person concerned was incredibly depressed to the point of crippling anxiety by the state of the world, and another comment from a gentleman being interviewed:
“When I look to the past I get depressed, when I look to the future I get scared.”
I think I’ll be returning to that particular story on another occasion.
There is certainly enough to make so many people take dandelion breaks that the whole of Bloom County’s grassy knolls would be full of anxiety crippled folks sitting and meditating on the beauty of nature. Everyone has to find their own version of the Dandelion Break to save their sanity…or do we?
Whilst loving the concept, I’ve managed to cut down my need for Dandelion Breaks caused by the external events in the world by simply not immersing myself in the day to day stream of ‘world news’ stories that buffet us.
I turn off the tech.
I’ve chosen instead to put myself on a strict diet of ‘catch the headlines if they’re passing by’ and focus on things closer to home – family, cats, friends, work, church. I strengthen my relationships with people around me; I look after my own community and my job and my church. I guard my soul, and hopefully support the souls of others.
As I said on Facebook the other day:
“I catch the headlines online and then that’s it. If WW3 breaks out I’ll know when I see a big flash of light and hear the local ‘Comic Book Guy’ say ‘I have wasted my life.’
Being aware of the weight and tumult of the world when we’re unable to prevent it is a form of torture; I prefer to work locally and try to make things better that I can make better.”
We all have circles of action – the world around us in which our doing or not doing something has immediate and lasting action. The part of our lives where we can do something to reduce our anxieties in a practical manner. Then we have circles of influence – we might argue a point, make a decision and communicate and delegate action to be done – the part of the world where we don’t necessarily have that direct impact on the world but we stand a fair to middling chance of influencing it. Then we have the circle of concern – stuff ‘out there’ that we can’t realistically impact.
Right now, I’m pulling back in to my circle of action. My circles of influence and concern can, for the moment, go screw themselves. I am not going to cripple myself and by extension my family, cats, friends, work and spiritual life by gaining sleepless night worrying myself stupid about issues I cannot influence.
I know that people will accuse me of being isolationist, uncaring, selfish – please fill in your own words here. But I can do nothing for the world if I’m broken; and the constant, daily – no, hourly – forcing of the issues of the world over which we have so little influence in our day to day actions simply kills us.
One day, I’ll be strong enough to grow my circle of action further in to my circle of influence – to extend the area around my life where I can do things that have a direct impact on reducing my anxieties. Until then I intend to push my existential anxieties in the my equivalent of the Bloom County anxiety closet, and use my energy on DOING stuff that benefits me and those around me – family, friends, community – rather than getting in to the depths of ‘The world sucks, it’s all pointless.’
I like having the fallback of a Dandelion Break if needed, but it will be down to earth, practical worries that sends me there.