Are You Frustrated?

Are you frustrated? I am. What frustrates you? I’ll tell you what frustrates me. It’s a fairly long list: School shootings, suicide bombers, lying politicians, rich people who grasp for more while many go hungry, corporations who pursue profits regardless of the human cost and lie to us about it, health insurance company executives getting rich off the sickness and misery of others and lying to us about it, climate change (don’t get me started), conspiracy theorists, people with the “every man for himself” attitude—I could go on and on. But, you get the idea.

The common theme here is things that cause suffering and scare people. That’s right. If you are frustrated by any or all these things, chances are you are scared too. I recently spoke to a group of county mental health social workers about mindfulness and was somewhat surprised when one of them asked “We’ve all been seeing a sharp increase in anxiety disorders and depression. What do you think is causing it and can mindfulness help?” As for the cause: just look at the time we live in. And yes, mindfulness practices can help. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The point here is: if you are frustrated and feeling anxious and depressed, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. It’s an epidemic. Our society is sick and getting sicker. Accept it.

We, as a society, need to get started on recovery and sooner is better than later. The first step in recovery is acceptance (a mindfulness concept) and the first step in acceptance is “talking about things the way they really are”. That means you have to put some effort into learning how things really are. I know, that sounds like work. However, what you don’t know CAN hurt you and what you ignore probably WILL hurt you.
Acceptance is awareness without judgment. That means people who don’t agree with you or are doing any of those things I mentioned in the first paragraph are not evil—they just are. I know it’s hard to get your mind to the point where you can condemn the behavior and not the person, but it can be done.

So, if you are frustrated and maybe a little anxious and depressed I have a few suggestions if you’re interested.

1. Begin the study of mindfulness practices AND principles. Find at least 10-15 minutes every day to practice a meditative, “deep relaxation” type of mindfulness practice.

2. Reach out. Talk about those things that frustrate you—talk about your fear.

3. Take action. Education is the beginning of action. Learn about how things really are. You might even find some of the things you fear are not real.

4. Learn about the issues and VOTE. I know people who think it doesn’t matter who is in power— “they’re all a bunch of crooks.” Well, it DOES matter. Politicians who want to keep their jobs must pay attention to their constituents: you and me.

I know my suggestions might seem a bit simplistic and even a little cliché. But you gotta start somewhere and I swear that as more people follow these suggestions and start pulling together things can and will get better.

Thank God for Donald Trump

People who know me might be surprised to hear me make a statement like that. My political leanings have been in the direction of an “FDR-New Deal” Democrat. I believe that we have a “Collective responsibility” to attend to each other and that government needs to play a leading role in that.
However, Donald Trump transcends traditional partisan politics. Whether you support him or not, his behavior tends to generate strong emotions in most of us. Not only that, but his flamboyant style tends to keep him in the news every day. He cannot be ignored. His election and subsequent behavior have taken an already bitterly divided country to the point of internal hostility not seen since the Civil War.
Like Civil War times, every individual has to examine their beliefs and make decisions based on those core beliefs. Like those times, people on either side of the issue can’t believe that seemingly intelligent, good people can hold such beliefs. We tend to vilify those who disagree with us. This is the kind of thing that could destroy this country. Or, to put it another way, our society is sick, and it could be terminal.
So, how do we make it better. I think our sick society is analogous to a person struggling with an addiction or mental illness. It is well known that often such a person needs to hit “rock bottom” before they are willing to put in the effort to change. An important part of that change is self-examination. The recovering person needs to challenge their core beliefs.
Donald Trump is the catalyst for the self-examination our society needs. He is our “rock bottom” (I hope). He is the lens through which we, as a society and individuals, can examine our core beliefs and take action based on those beliefs. Do we as a society believe in honesty, integrity, and compassion; or are willing to trade those things away to get something on our own agenda—regardless of the consequences. What is true and what is false? Each individual must decide. Donald Trump and his cronies won’t let us stand on the sidelines. They will not be ignored.
That is why I say, “Thank God for Donald Trump.” He is either the rock bottom that will trigger a great recovery or he is a sign-post on the road to destruction. You decide.

The Problem With Citizens United

Like many people in this country I have always thought the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision was problematic, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. Then today, for some unknown reason, it came to me.

As I understand it this controversial decision, the Supreme Court stated that corporations have exactly the same legal status people; even when it comes to political contributions, which it stated was equivalent to free speech.

I see two problems with this.

  1. Almost without exception corporations are owned by a group of people–shareholders. If these people are American citizens they have the right to vote and to say what ever they want, politically. The corporations themselves do NOT have the right to vote and so should not have the right to free political speech. They are a business entity–created for the sole purpose of conducting business. The Citizens United decision allows not only the individual shareholders to participate in the political process as individuals, but collectively as well. It seems like a violation of the “one person, one vote” rule to me.
  2. Additionally, people who are NOT American citizens can own stock in American corporations. That means that people in other countries can influence American elections. I am sure everyone can agree we don’t want that.

Get rid of Citizens United, what ever it takes.

#Neveragain Part 2

In dealing with the mental health aspects of mass shootings it is important to realize there are two components: Immediate needs and prevention. I’ll address them in that order.

The obvious choice is to respond immediately and appropriately when someone talks about committing a mass shooting or if someone has reason to believe a person is planning one. The appropriate response when someone makes a “terroristic threat” is for the police to pick them up for an involuntary commitment to a mental health facility of some kind.

In addition, all the guns in their possession should be confiscated. Temporarily suspend their Second Amendment rights until it can be determined they are no longer a threat. I have heard such a thing referred to as a restraining order. That means a judge would have to sign off on it. The person would need the approval of a mental health professional and a judge to get his 2nd Amendment rights and firearms back.

I believe if you couple this with better background checks when you buy a gun and a ban on civilian purchases of assault rifles it would significantly reduce these kinds of tragedies.

The question of prevention when it comes to mental health is a complex one. I have a couple of suggestions that revolve around the idea of beefing up mental health services in schools. Many schools today are teaching mindfulness practices because the students benefit by learning better and behaving better. I say make it mandatory in all schools as part of a comprehensive mental health curriculum.

Start in the first grade or even pre-school and continue through high school. Teach mindfulness principles and practices. Teach that mental illness should not be stigmatized. Teach the symptoms and signs of mental illness and teach what to do and who to reach out to if you experience those signs and symptoms in yourself or others.

I’m not saying that doing these things will be a quick fix. I am saying that implementing this would start to show positive results very quickly in improved performance on standardized tests, better behavior generally and reduced bullying. Furthermore, as time goes on and the kids who are in the lower grades now reach the age when they might be thinking about getting that AR-15 and shooting up the place, they will have had years of learning how to NOT act that way–years of learning how to be mentally healthy.

All this is going to cost money. I, for one, would rather spend money on this than making our schools a more dangerous place by putting more guns in them regardless of how much training and bonuses you give teachers for bringing guns to class.

 

#Neveragain

Once again, our nation’s children are being murdered. That’s the truth of it: conditions are such in this country that anyone can buy a military assault rifle and shoot people until somebody stops them. Most often the people that get murdered are our children.

This is an issue that transcends partisan politics. No sane person is in favor of murdering children. I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of Americans want this fixed–whatever it takes. As I see it the problem has two components: The Second Amendment and mental health. Both areas need attention.

There are people who adamantly believe that we can’t outlaw assault rifles because the Second Amendment  says we all have the right to bear arms. It also says that it is related to a well regulated militia. A guy buying an assault rifle just because he thinks it is cool is not part of a well regulated militia. In fact we already do regulate firearms. Anyone who has ever hunted knows this well. Where I live in Minnesota it is illegal to hunt deer with any kind of rifle–only shotgun slugs are allowed. If you want to hunt waterfowl you can’t have more that 3 shells in your gun and you can’t use lead shot. So we already accept regulations on our right to bear arms. The question is: What regulations do we need?

Since the Second Amendment was written, the technology of war has changed significantly. I don’t think any thinking person thinks it would be OK for any individual to own an atomic bomb–or a functioning war plane or a functioning tank or any number of mass killing machines. So where do we draw the line? I say no civilian needs an assault rifle.

The other night I watched Marco Rubio say that he did not support a bill banning specific weapons because it would be too easy to get around. I say that writing a bill to solve the problem of readily available assault rifles would be easy. Really, it needs only 2 components:

  1. Rate of fire: Any rifle that keeps firing automatically when you hold the trigger down should be illegal.
  2. Magazine size: Any rifle that holds more than 6 or 8 bullets should be illegal. Reloading takes time.

Again, we already regulate what weapons individuals are permitted to own. I think a law that does these 2 things will go a long way toward solving the “readily available assault rifle problem”. Politicians need to transcend party politics and fix this ASAP.

I see this post is getting long so I will address the issue of mental health in my next installment.

Before I close I want to applaud the efforts of the students of Stoneman Douglas High School in addressing this problem. They are in the crosshairs and we need to listen to them.

Christmas wishes

I haven’t blogged in quite a while. You see, my house burned down on April 10 this year. I had intended to blog regularly to keep posting on progress and changes. However, I under estimated the stress of getting my life back on track. If not for the concepts and practices of mindfulness I don’t know how I would have made it.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I have talked a lot over the years of compassion, about how we should all cultivate compassion in ourselves. Since the fire I have met so many compassionate people. I find that when I try to express the depth of my gratitude that words fail me. A simple thank you doesn’t seem to be enough, but it’s all I have to offer.

We moved into our beautiful new house (the house that State Farm built) on December 14. Since then, we have been busy unpacking. Finally, yesterday my wife and I were able to relax. The best Christmas present ever. After eight months of living out of a suitcase we are finally home.

Thinking about this situation caused me to realize that, in spite of all my hardships in life, I have been truly blessed on many occasions. So, my Christmas wish for all of you is that you can see the compassion in others and feel the gratitude I do on this Christmas Day. It feels pretty good.

Merry Christmas to all.