Celebrating World Mental Health Day with mindfulness & self-compassion

While updating apps on my phone, I learned via Google Play that today is World Mental Health Day. Appropriate then that I already had started the day with continuing a course I started earlier in the week, “Coping With Anxiety in Times of Coronavirus” with Dr. Lillian Nejad on the Insight Timer app.  I also have been reading Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn and plan on continuing that today.

I thought throughout the day, I’d share highlights from each, starting with Dr. Nejad’s course:

Mindfulness does not remove the stresses and demands of your job or life. It does not change your difficult circumstances. It does change how difficulties, challenges, failures, and painful experiences affect you and how you respond to these experiences. Ultimately mindfulness changes your relationship to the realities of life so you can live it how it really is right now.

Here is what I’m listening to as I start my day:

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in addition to starting Dr. Nejad’s course on Tuesday morning, that I started another course on Tuesday night, an online six-week introductory course for Christian Meditation that is being hosted by a group in Houston, Texas and to which I was invited by Deb Nance of the blog, Readerbuzz, and host of the weekly Sunday Salon. The group is part of The World Community for Christian Meditation. The first week was on what Christian meditation is, with the course continuing for five more weeks. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was with a group of about 30 people, including Deb, on Zoom.

While I thought it was good, as it was after work and dinner, I was distracted primarily by myself, not realizing the hour would include a 20-minute meditation on a mantra, in this case, “Maranatha” (an Aramaic word meaning, “Come Lord Jesus”).  I also was distracted to a lesser degree by the group leader, whom it sounded like had a baseball game on the radio in the background. Luckily, during the meditation portion of the course, he had his sound muted, but I still had a hard time focusing as I still was distracting myself. I did let the host know about the background sound issue, so hopefully next time, it will be corrected. As for me distracting myself, I’ll work on that.

It is now early evening and I haven’t read as much as I’d like, thanks to distractions and a nap. The distractions included my wife stepping on my glasses, that I accidentally left on the floor, my getting an eyeglass repair kit at Rite Aid, and then trying to fix them. However, we couldn’t get a screw out so I’ll have to take it Monday to the optician to repair. In the meantime, I popped the glass on the right side in enough to hold for the weekend.

Now after the nap, I had dinner with Kim before she goes to work and am beginning to read again. Here is one of the highlights so far tonight from my reading in Wherever You Go, There You Are:

We have precious few occasions nowadays for the mind to settle itself in stillness by a fire. Instead, we watch television at the end of the day, a pale electronic fire energy, and pale in comparison. We submit ourselves to constant bombardment by sounds and images that come from minds other than our own, that fill our heads with information and trivia, other people’s adventures and excitement and desires. Watching television leaves even less room in the day for experiencing stillness. It soaks up time, space, and silence, a soporific, lulling us into mindless passivity. “Bubble gum for the eyes,” Steve Allen called it. Newspapers do much the same. They are not bad in themselves, but we frequently conspire to use them to rob ourselves of many precious moments in which we might be living more fully.

This explains fairly well why since mid-May this year, I have been taking a break every Sunday (and some Saturdays too like this weekend) from news and work to focus on reading, journaling, listening to music, and watching TV in what I have called “My Own Personal Sabbath,” of which this post is a part.  As for what I’m listening to tonight, it’s mostly disco-themed, with Róisín Murphy and Tracey Thorn.

It is 10:48 p.m. and I have finished Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Overall, I liked the book, although I admit I found myself skimming some as I really couldn’t relate or I didn’t find some of it applicable.

Update, Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m.: Initially, I had planned to celebrate World Mental Health Day on just one day, then changed my mind to celebrate both Saturday and Sunday. I was going to include reading the book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff. This morning, I changed my mind back to only celebrating it for one day, yesterday, and gave myself compassion to not think I “had to” extend it for two days for you or anyone else.

My Own Personal Sabbath #22

Every Sunday since mid-May 2020, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phone. This past weekend, I tuned out for two days and participated in a readathon on Instagram, #october8in2, to read 8 hours in two days. What follows is what I read for the readathon:

I only finished one book: Cocaine Blues, the first Phryne Fisher mystery, by Kerry Greenwood. But I started a second, Flying Too High, the second Phryne Fisher mystery, also by Greenwood, and continued another, Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. By the end of Sunday, I was about halfway through the former and I am about two-thirds through the latter, which I started last week.

I tried restarting where I left off this morning in Flying Too High and decided to parachute out of it after I decided I didn’t care for the flight path it was taking.

It was time for Phryne to call in the debts that were owed her after the affair of the Cocaine Blues.

That opening sentence at the beginning of Chapter 8 was the place I finally decided to deploy the parachute,o since nowhere in the previous book did any of the characters refer to the case as “the Cocaine Blues.” I even did a search on the ebook to see if the phrase appeared anywhere beyond titles or an epigraph, and it didn’t. To me, that is laziness by the author referring to the title she gave the case.

The first one held my interest mainly because I recognized characters from the TV series as they were introduced. In both books, I didn’t like the way Greenwood was jumping back and forth between two cases that were unrelated. I just want one case and didn’t, and don’t, appreciate the distraction of a minor case.

I had a lot of other issues with the second one, but since I am moving on to read something else, I don’t feel like hashing over those issues. I’d rather just move on to another book and not waste any more thoughts on a series I won’t be continuing.

A series that I wish I could continue is Cold Case, which has been available for free with commercials on The Roku Channel. I only learned yesterday that the show from the 2000s will no longer be available on the channel after the end of the month. Earlier this year, I just rediscovered it after not having seen it in years. I’m only in the third season and with seven seasons and more than 100 episodes left to watch, I’m not going to make it through them by the end of the month.

Instead, I’ve decided I’ll try to watch most of the episodes with higher than a rating of 8 on IMDb. It still leaves a lot, but I also have searched on Reddit and found lists of favorite episodes by other fans to help me narrow down what I choose to watch. Unfortunately, because the show used a lot of popular music, it never has come out on DVD because of licensing issues and probably never will.

Aside: I wish other shows like Northern Exposure were available on DVD with the original soundtrack too. Years ago, we bought a collection only to discover the music, which was a huge part of the show was missing.

I’ll leave you with a song from the recently released Super Deluxe Edition of Sign o’ The Times by Prince, which I just am beginning to delve into:

My Own Personal Sabbath #21

Every Sunday since mid-May 2020, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phone. This past weekend, I started Saturday and am extending it through Tuesday, because of the presidential debate on Tuesday night. What follows is what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, doing so far this extended Sabbath.

As the weekend began, I had lots of choice for what I might read, from Kindle deals I’ve recently purchased to ebooks I have checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia that I thought I might read but hadn’t yet. After a few misfires throughout much of Saturday, I finally settled on beginning to read Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kakat-Zinn, a recent ebook I picked up through a Kindle deal. There are three parts to the book. So far, I’ve read the first part and here are a few highlights from that first part:

TRY: Stopping, sitting down, and becoming aware of your breathing once in a while throughout the day. It can be for five minutes, or even five seconds. Let go into full acceptance of the present moment, including how you are feeling and what you perceive to be happening. For these moments, don’t try to change anything at all, just breathe and let go. Breathe and let be. Die to having to have anything be different in this moment; in your mind and in your heart, give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Then, when you’re ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.

If we don’t really know where we are standing— a knowing that comes directly from the cultivation of mindfulness— we may only go in circles, for all our efforts and expectations. So, in meditation practice, the best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying to get anywhere at all.

Nor are we forcing ourselves to be non-judgmental, calm, or relaxed. And we are certainly not promoting self-consciousness or indulging in self-preoccupation. Rather, we are simply inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.

The spirit of mindfulness is to practice for its own sake, and just to take each moment as it comes—pleasant or unpleasant, good, bad, or ugly—and then work with that because it is what is present now. 

TRY: During the day, see if you can detect the bloom of the present moment in every moment, the ordinary ones, the “in-between” ones, even the hard ones. Work at allowing more things to unfold in your life without forcing them to happen and without rejecting the ones that don’t fit your idea of what “should” be happening. See if you can sense the “spaces” through which you might move with no effort… 

Being in a hurry usually doesn’t help, and it can create a great deal of suffering—sometimes in us, sometimes in those who have to be around us. 

A non-judging orientation certainly does not mean that you cease knowing how to act or behave responsibly in society, or that anything anybody does is okay. It simply means that we can act with much greater clarity in our own lives, and be more balanced, more effective, and more ethical in our activities, if we know that we are immersed in a stream of unconscious liking and disliking which screens us from the world and from the basic purity of our own being. The mind states of liking and disliking can take up permanent residency in us, unconsciously feeding addictive behaviors in all domains of life. When we are able to recognize and name the seeds of greediness or craving, however subtle, in the mind’s constant wanting and pursuing of the things or results that we like, and the seeds of aversion or hatred in our rejecting or maneuvering to avoid the things we don’t like, that stops us for a moment and reminds us that such forces really are at work in our own minds to one extent or another almost all the time. It’s no exaggeration to say that they have a chronic, viral-like toxicity that prevents us from seeing things as they actually are and mobilizing our true potential.

Meditation does not involve trying to change your thinking by thinking some more. It involves watching thought itself. The watching is the holding. By watching your thoughts without being drawn into them, you can learn something profoundly liberating about thinking itself, which may help you to be less of a prisoner of those thought patterns—often so strong in us—which are narrow, inaccurate, self-involved, habitual to the point of being imprisoning, and also just plain wrong. 

TRY: Recognizing the ways in which you meet obstacles with harshness. Experiment with being soft when your impulse is to be hard, generous when your impulse is to be withholding, open when your impulse is to close up or shut down emotionally. When there is grief or sadness, try letting it be here. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Notice any labels you attach to crying or feeling vulnerable. Let go of the labels. Just feel what you are feeling, all the while cultivating moment- to- moment awareness, riding the waves of “up” and “down,” “good” and “bad,” “weak” and “strong,” until you see that they are all inadequate to fully describe your experience. Be with the experience itself. Trust in your deepest strength of all: to be present, to be wakeful.

Concentration can be of great value, but it can also be seriously limiting if you become seduced by the pleasant quality of this inner experience and come to see it as a refuge from life in an unpleasant and unsatisfactory world. You might be tempted to avoid the messiness of daily living for the tranquility of stillness and peacefulness. This of course would be an attachment to stillness, and like any strong attachment, it leads to delusion. It arrests development and short- circuits the cultivation of wisdom.

Meditation does not involve trying to change your thinking by thinking some more. It involves watching thought itself. The watching is the holding. By watching your thoughts without being drawn into them, you can learn something profoundly liberating about thinking itself, which may help you to be less of a prisoner of those thought patterns—often so strong in us—which are narrow, inaccurate, self-involved, habitual to the point of being imprisoning, and also just plain wrong.

Dwelling inwardly for extended periods, we come to know something of the poverty of always looking outside ourselves for happiness, understanding, and wisdom. It’s not that God, the environment, and other people cannot help us to be happy or to find satisfaction. It’s just that our happiness, satisfaction, and our understanding, even of God, will be no deeper than our capacity to know ourselves inwardly, to encounter the outer world from the deep comfort that comes from being at home in one’s own skin, from an intimate familiarity with the ways of one’s own mind and body.

Dwelling in stillness and looking inward for some part of each day, we touch what is most real and reliable in ourselves and most easily overlooked and undeveloped. When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or make us happy, we can be at home wherever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are, moment by moment.

This past month, at the recommendation of my therapist, I started using a meditation app, Insight Timer. I’ve mostly been meditating with a Morning and Evening Examen from a website called God in All Things created by a married Jesuit lay minister named Andy Otto. I also took a guided course, Learn How To Meditate In Seven Days, on the app. So this is just a natural progression/next step on the journey to read more about mindful meditation.

Yesterday I also decided to try a show new to me, Mystery Road, an Australian show. An Acorn TV show, it had been available for free on Amazon Prime, but it’s not now so I’m watching it on Hoopla through the Free Library of Philadelphia. That’s also where my wife and I watched The Brokenwood Mysteries, a New Zealand mystery series. While you only can borrow four titles per month with Hoopla, what was good that each season of The Brokenwood Mysteries was four episodes long. Mystery Road is six episodes long, so I’ve now watched four episodes, but with it being the end of September, I won’t have to wait too long to watch the last two (with my wife, she’s catching up on it today with me).

The story seems simple: Two young men go missing from a cattle station. Detective Jay Swan, played by Aaron Pedersen, is called in to investigate with local copy Emma James, played by Judy Davis. Except, of course, it isn’t that simple as Swan and James discover. Both Pederson and Davis are excellent in their roles and the story, four episodes in, is very good since I want to see the rest of it and now have roped my wife into watching it.

Last night, after reading a review of Adele’s 21 (each Sunday Pitchfork reviews a significant album from the past), I listened to it again and it still is stunning for songs like this:

Tonight as we watch Mystery Road, Kim and I are enjoying a little (or maybe a lot of) wine as we celebrate the resolution of an $11,000 bill from my knee surgery last year. I learned in May, almost eight months after my surgery, that our insurance company denied the claim back in October shortly after the surgery and that the bill was under dispute. Since May, we have been going back and forth with the hospital and the insurance company, but on Saturday we received a letter from the hospital’s financial assistance office that I had been given a 100 percent discount backdated to September of last year and for the next three months. This morning, I called the financial assistance office to confirm that meant I didn’t owe anything and they said my bill was $0.

My Own Personal Sabbath #20

Every Sunday since mid-May 2020, I have been taking my own personal Sabbath, where I tune out of the news and social media and turn off my ringer and all notifications on my phoneThis past weekend, I started my Sabbath early on Saturday.

I began the weekend by continuing The Moving Target, the first Lew Archer, by Ross Macdonald, which I started earlier in the week. I decided to get out of the house and drove to a local ballfield where I finished it. It was good, but I’ve heard the series gets better as it goes.

Then on Sunday, I decided to take a break from the crime noir in California and classic crime, mostly from England, I have been reading over my last few own personal Sabbaths and went to Florida with Tim Dorsey for the sixth in his Serge Storms series, Cadillac Beach. I think it is just what I needed, a hyperkinetic romp through the streets of Miami with Serge at the wheel as opposed to the slow drive along the coast of California with Lew steering. Maybe with as crazy as the world as is right now, I needed the craziness that Dorsey depicts in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a counterbalance.

Later in the afternoon, I went for a walk in a park near where we live. I ended the night by starting Last Bus to Woodstock, the first in the Inspector Morse series, by Colin Dexter, part of a collection of the first three novels in the series. My wife and I have watched much, if not all, of the original TV series and now are making our way through Endeavour on Amazon Prime. I picked up the collection on Google Play Books as part of a deal that wasn’t available on Kindle at the time, but as such, I only can read the collection on my phone. It’s not my first choice of format, but sometimes a reader has to do what a reader has to do.