The Toxicity of Information - How Much News is Too Much? The Fifth Mindfulness Training

When someone asks, "Do you care? Do you care about me? Do you care about life? Do you care about the Earth?", the best way to answer is to practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This is to teach with your actions and not just with words. If you really care, please practice these mindfulness trainings for your own protection and for the protection of other people and species. If we do our best to practice, a future will be possible for us, our children, and their children.” From “For A Future To Be Possible” by Thich Nhat Hanh

This week we will look more deeply at the sense impressions we consume and consider whether and how we are taking in toxins, especially with regard to listening and reading the news.  

In the Fifth Mindfulness Training it says:

..I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations... 

I have heard many friends talk about how they can no longer watch or listen to the news because they feel it is making them sick. So they take a news fast or they stop paying attention to the news at all. 

Think about what happens when we take in toxic foods and medicines. They make us sicker and/or they make our children and future generations sick. It's complicated by the fact that some foods and medicines make us feel worse before they make us better. So feeling bad isn't necessarily an indicator of toxicity.

Toxic information, then, would be information that makes us sicker or makes future generations sick. Some information, like strong medicine, may make us feel uncomfortable and unwell at first, but serve to motivate us to be and do in ways that create a better outcome for all. 

For me, this translates into being aware of when I am taking in difficult information, such as watching videos of violent police abuse or shooting unarmed Black men, and making sure I am taking the right "dose". 

The right does for me is one that will spark awareness, compassion and motivation and not cause me to collapse in despair.

The reverse is also my practice - to enjoy taking in laughter in the form of funny movies and TV shows. I try my best not to overuse them to simply numb out and escape. 

How do we know how much is the right amount? Just like medicine, we sense into our bodies and minds and see whether the medicine we are taking in (in this case our sense impressions) are having a healthy/wholesome or unhealthy/unwholesome effect on us and therefore on the greater world.

When we consume more than the appropriate dose, we may get overwhelmed, be chronically angry or depressed or have difficulty talking about anything other than what we saw or heard. If we are taking too low of a dose, we may end up disconnected from our own empathy and compassion.  

Some questions we might ask ourselves:

  • Does listening to the news the amount I listen each day cause me to feel hopeless or on edge or does it generate compassion and energy for helping?

  • When and if I stop listening to the news, do I end up living in a bubble of delusion and simply ignore the suffering of others?

  • Does reading about suffering cause me less distress than watching a video?

  • How strong does the information source need to be in order to spark my empathy?

  • What intake of information allows me to feel I can live in harmony with my values?

After our sitting and walking meditation this week, we will read the Five Mindfulness Trainings together (see below for full text of the trainings) and focus on this Fifth training. After, we can share our experiences with calibrating taking in the right about of information that is non-toxic for us or whatever is on our hearts.

I look forward to seeing you. 

with love,




The Five Precepts are not prohibitions to restrict our freedom, and they are not an authority, which we have no choice but to follow. The precepts are the fruit of our mindfulness and experience. Because we are mindful, we can see that the precepts protect us and our happiness, as well as that of those with whom we live. We take the vow to receive and practice the precepts in order to preserve our freedom and happiness in days to come. 


Being the fruit of mindfulness, the precepts are the embodiment of enlightenment, which is the Buddha himself. They are the embodiment of the Dharma, which is the path shown by the Buddha. They are also the embodiment of the Sangha, the community of all those who have taken up the path. Practicing the Five Precepts is to be one with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. To recite the precepts is an exercise in mindfulness of their teachings and a way of looking deeply at the benefits of keeping them.  – Thich Nhat Hanh



The Five Mindfulness Trainings

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non- attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth