The Covid-19 pandemic conjures strange and unfamiliar forms of stress that destabilize our sense of wellbeing. Our world is immersed in uncertainty. Relationships with family and friends have suffered. Screens mediate participation. Feelings of isolation intensify anxiety. Many suffer unexpected financial hardship. And the loss of the familiar challenges our resilience and ability to adapt.

I wrote some things to remember about mental health to confront my own anxieties about life inside a pandemic. It’s started as a private way of giving myself a good talking to and reminding myself of what matters most in life. I believe that the cultivation of mental health begins with an honest conversation about the nature of being. It’s an essential conversation, but not an easy one. It demands acceptance of harsh truths from which there is no retreat.

And, of course, it is a conversation that does not always feel good.

What to Remember about Mental Health

  1. You are here for an unknown amount of time and then you will die. Nothing you acquire in this life can be taken with you. Even your body must be given back to the earth. It’s your quality of being that matters, not the things you surround yourself with. In the end, everything you are will vanish and eventually be forgotten. If you can’t accept this, your mind will always suffer.
  2. In a cosmic sense, an individual life is a nearly imperceptible flicker of light. Let the brevity of your life be a faculty for understanding. Decide what you should do right now, while there still is a now. This is how wisdom begins to form. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
  3. Most of what you call “My Life” is not something you decided. You did not decide when you were born. You did not decide who your parents are. You did not decide what culture you were conditioned by. You did not decide that your body will age. You did not decide that the sun would rise in the morning and set in the evening. You did not decide that you need sleep. And most of all, you did not decide to be here. Life is a privilege. Treat it like one.
  4. The unexpected can and will happen to you and there is nothing you can do about it. Embrace it, learn from it, and make it part of your path in life, even when you fear it. You’ll have to find a way to adapt. That’s the best you can do. Know that you will be inconvenienced, thrown off course, struggle, and become lost along the way. But there will be joy, compassion, and love too. Your course in life will emerge in ways you would never expect.
  5. Your body is perishable. You will always get older, suffer the physical and mental challenges provoked by aging, and eventually disappear. There is nothing you can do to avoid this. Your life is a timer of uncertain duration. When you say that you may die today, don’t just say the words; feel what they mean in your body. Refuse to inhabit a small and petty life complaining about how unfair or sorrowful it all is. Choose to honor the full force of life even when it humbles you – even when it breaks you.
  6. Without a practical and personal philosophy of life you will end up wasting the one you have. Self-help is nothing more than understanding what matters most to you and then choosing to live it. No one can tell you how to do this. You must find it for yourself. Learning inside the torrential confluence of everyday life is the only way of pursuing a life worth living. Being educated does not help. If you really want to understand the essence of learning, ask yourself, “How did I learn the things I value most?”
  7. In the end, it doesn’t matter who your God or gods are – or if you have one. Your stories about how things came to be, what you are required to do, and where you go after this life are just that – stories. We are one species, but different people will always have their own preferred gods and stories to place their faith in. History shows that our sense of entitlement has always been the source of great cruelty, horror, and suffering. Reclaim your spirit from the other. The only certainty in life is the here and now. One day your here and now will no longer exist. The only spiritual task that matters is how deeply you inhabit the privilege of being alive.
  8. Your life won’t go as planned. Why would you expect it to? Your goals will not always be attained. Why should they? The reason for this is that the experience of being alive is a conversation with reality and you can never know or anticipate what the external world is going to bring to the discussion. Your life is not a monologue, unless you are depressed and turned sharply inward. When a path feels contrary to your soul,  step off of it and go into the pathless terrain, toward the unknown places you don’t want to go, and risk being authentic. This is where the conversation with reality begins.
  9. Participate in the world around you courageously, but never follow the herd. They are not sure where they are going anyway. Refuse to become ensnared by cultural pathology. Refuse to let the neon whine of anti-social media deafen you. Refuse to allow the busyness and the worry imposed on you to steal your life away. You have only one brief, fragile, and fleeting life. Find your own way. Now. This is the only way you can be good to yourself and others at the same time. This is how you contribute something of great value to the world. And this is how to love life.
  10. Finally, try to travel the road lightly. Do your best in this regard. It’s easier said than done. Accept the life you are in exactly as it is and find a way from there. Don’t try to start somewhere else. Don’t try to borrow someone else’s life and make it your own. And don’t take anything for granted because you will not always be able to enjoy it. Choose gratitude whenever you can. Try to preserve a good sense of humor as your guide. You will never know everything you want to know. Embrace the mystery of being here. Most of all, celebrate the outrageous fact that there is something rather than nothing at all.

Notes

  1. Creativity is helpful in cultivating mental health and and greater sense of wellbeing. Sometimes, though, it demands an encounter with some harsh immovable truths about life. Creativity is the energy we use to confront, adapt to, and ultimately accept the realities of this life: Looking after your mental health with creativity.
  2. Our tendency is to focus on mental health as something individual, personal, and interior. There is great need to articulate the intimate relationship between the cultural surround and its effectiveness at promoting human wellbeing. It does not make sense to cultivate mental health without addressing systemic cultural deficiencies: Cultural Influences on Mental Health.

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