“My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” (Anne Lamott, Novelist)

Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

These are times that are creating great and widespread anxiety, to be sure. Many people report experiencing nightmares. Few of us can remain fully unscathed as we’re forced to change our routines and cut ourselves off from the people and places that have offered comfortable reassurance.

And being alone with our thoughts does not, as Anne Lamott cleverly suggests, always provide us with the best company. We can be hard on ourselves by ruminating on our plights and getting stuck in a cycle of worries. 

For me, mindfulness meditation has a very calming effect, and I’ll share with you below one particular resource I find helpful—whether or not you are a meditator, and even if you’re a “fidgety skeptic.”

I also love these wise words from the renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield, which underscore so much about being human:

“If you can sit quietly after difficult news,

If in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm,

If you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; 

If you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; 

If you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;

If you can always find contentment just where you are…

…..You are probably a dog.”

It’s a tough time for the two-leggeds, as Internet sensation Pluto the Dog refers to us. (She seems to be having the time of her life; so far there’s been no interruption in her treat supply chain…) And if you haven’t seen her and need an instant lift, I encourage you to look for her repeat performances on YouTube.

Fortunately, there’s also a treasure trove of free material on the Internet to help us get through this terribly difficult time.

I don’t want to oversimplify this issue. Andrew Solomon, a professor of medical clinical psychology at Columbia University who has written about his struggles with serious mental illness, observed in The New York Times that nearly everyone he knows “has been thrust in varying degrees into grief, panic, hopelessness, and paralyzing fear. If you say, ‘I’m so terrified I can barely sleep,’ people may reply, ‘What sensible person isn’t?”

If you’re feeling the way Sullivan describes, you may need professional help. Even if you’re  just seeking some reinforcement, I won’t pretend the resource I’m recommending will banish your psychological or physical pain—or make it easier for you to ignore your sudden or worsening economic problems. 

But I hope if you’re looking for some way to help you better adapt to our truly bizarre situation, you’ll give it a look.

And you needn’t be a meditator to appreciate its offerings and to find these common sense approaches helpful.

The source is Ten Percent Happier: tenpercenthappier.com. I actually paid a discounted price for a phone app last year.

Now, and for the duration of the quarantine at least, the content is available for free on YouTube. 

Live sessions featuring some of the most prominent teachers in the world are aired at 3 pm weekdays and are subsequently available on video. I listen to them (I don’t always watch) each morning before I get out of bed.

Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, is the founder. Harris has explained that he turned to meditation after suffering a paralyzing panic attack on the air. He’s since become immersed in mindfulness and has developed strong friendships with a number of the leaders in the field. 

But he remains ever the “fidgety skeptic” (his words) and is clear when he’s asked to recite or act in a way that doesn’t come naturally to him.

He will repeatedly interject about the scientific grounding of certain practices. I think this approach makes him a perfect host for a program that is far more universal than it might otherwise be.

Each session begins with Harris talking with the guest speaker, who briefly describes her/his background. The speaker then gives an explanation preceding meditation lasting about five-minutes—suitable for those who’ve never meditated before as well as more practiced folks. 

And then the speaker answers viewers’ questions—often my favorite part of the session, as the questions, while unique, underscore so many similarities in what we’re all experiencing. And the answers are invariably helpful. In their entirety, the sessions run for about 20 minutes.

The goal, Harris says, is to bring some sanity into this rocky time, and to build a community, realizing the loneliness experienced even by those of us who are not quarantined alone—because we’re cut off from so many whom we care about. 

Today I heard Rev. angel Kyodo williams (sic), trained as a Zen priest, describe ways to recognize the importance of being in the present moment by trying to look at things in a different way. 

She used the acronym SKY, suggesting boundless spaciousness, to counter the constraints of both being so isolated and experiencing fear in these unprecedented times.

S is for Self-care: We should radically protect our own health and well-being, assess our own situation and take steps to protect ourselves, such as practicing social distancing. She noted that since her health situation puts her at risk, she has become considerably more aware of the need for self-care.

K is for Kindness: That means being kind to both ourselves and others—for example, accepting the annoyance we may feel toward people who seem oblivious to the 6-feet distancing advisory, but not being rude to them.

Y is for Yearning: We tend to contract with suffering, but if we acknowledge that we wish things could be different and are hopeful people take care, we can move out of that mindset. She suggests writing down our yearnings in order to breathe space into our perspectives.

Here is a video of Rev. williams’s presentation.

I have been so pleased with the sessions to date that I’m doing what Harris suggests: spreading the word to help build a community when many people are feeling cut off. I hope if you think you may need something like it—or just want to investigate—you’ll give it a try. 



21 thoughts on ““My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” (Anne Lamott, Novelist)

  1. Thanks for the info Annie. I read his book Ten Percent Happier a few years ago when it came out, although I have not had much luck meditating, only in the class I took, but I never practiced it faithfully which is the key. I do listen to a meditation tape occasionally and find it soothing but it has a music background. PS. I loved Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird many years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joni, those more expert and experienced than I would say that whatever you do (eg, listening to tape with music background) is valuable.
      Isn’t Anne Lamont great? I just read a slew of her pithy witticisms and enjoyed them all.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those for whom “being alone with our thoughts does not always provide the best company” may want to ponder this:

    “I have lived with several Zen masters — all of them cats.” –Eckhart Tolle, THE POWER OF NOW: A GUIDE TO SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that! Brings back memories of our beloved Monty, who wriggled through our backyard fence as a tiny kitten and adopted our collie-shepherd as his mom. He taught us so much.
      I haven’t read Tolle. Do you recommend him?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t, but I haven’t read his book. However, Oprah has, and she does:

        “I keep Eckhart’s book at my bedside. I think it’s essential spiritual teaching. It’s one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read.”


  3. Hi Annie, I am definitely going to check out the daily presentation on YouTube. It sounds great! I’ve been dabbling in meditation for years – was lead into it through my yoga practice. For the past number of months I’ve been doing different courses on an app called “insight Timer” which is really great, as you can pick from so many and then do a daily session. There is a free version of the app but I upgraded so I could unlock some of the gems on there. It has very accessible things for beginners, like guided imagery, which is a great way for people new to meditation to learn to relax. I often used this with my teenage clients.
    I’ve read two of Tolle’s books and find him to be quite wise. My husband is currently reading “A New Earth” and is enjoying it. Have you read “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer? This book really helped me to understand the difference between my thoughts / the voice in my head and the real me (the patient, timeless observer in the back). This really helped in my meditation practice.
    Thanks for some new leads to follow up on a topic near and dear to my heart! I could go on all day but the sunshine beckons and Cleo is sitting in front of the door waiting for her walk. Hope you are well and safe 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Janine–
      Your comments are so gratifying–meaty and informational. I’m glad you’re going to look into TPH, which is what Dan Harris calls it. I’ll check out your referrals too. thanks.

      You mentioned using guided imagery with your students. I wrote a post about how mindfulness helps kids–especially disadvantaged kids–that you may find of interest. It appeared on October 21, 2018, and is titled: “RX for Schoolkids: Open Your Mouth and Say Ommmm…”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Annie, I read your earlier post and enjoyed it. So interesting to note that the idea of teaching meditation in schools has been around so long. In my experience doing yoga with troubled teens at the junior high where I work, there are so many benefits to mindfulness. I build meditation and mindfulness into my counselling and yoga sessions, and so many kids say things like, “this is the most relaxed I have ever felt.” For kids who are living in fight, freeze or flight mode it is such a relief to learn to sit in the moment. It also teaches them to trust their bodies and listen to their bodies. They gain confidence. They look forward to the meditation we do in shavasana. And even simple practices such as noticing what they hear, see, feel and smell in a given moment are ways that they can learn to calm themselves.
        I was fortunate to take part in a yoga in schools training that was rolled out here in Newfoundland a couple of years ago. It is a locally developed program with mindfulness built in. It has benefitted so many students in our district since then.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting thoughts on meditation, Annie. I’ve found since retirement my time spent in meditation has decreased significantly to all most non-existent, almost, but not quite down to zero yet. I think it’s due to less stress and busyness since retirement. Also leaving the Catholic Church around 10 years ago has played a significant part in less meditation, as most of my meditation time was in church. Years of habit, as soon as my feet stepped over the threshold of the church my mind would immediately pop into meditation mode. Some useful resources you have named here as well as some comments to your blog. I’ll check them out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Len. Glad to hear from you. I trust you got my message that I was concerned about you during your absence? Less stress is great! Unfortunately, this is a very stressful time for people worldwide.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your concern, Annie. I took a few months off to read. I was getting behind on the books I had accumulated. I am not stressed by this inconvenient bug, though I am aware that a lot of people are. We all do what we must. Trust you are well, Annie.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I have found myself surprised to be as calm as I am about the whole thing. I think that the things you are sharing are to be found in religious faith for those of us who seek and practice it. None of us will make it out of this deal on Earth alive. Like most, I would prefer to delay my exit, but I need to be mentally prepared for death, whether it comes in another 30 years or at 4:30 this afternoon.

    I realize that my approach is not that popular these days, but it’s getting me through this difficult time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You reminded me of a book I have somewhere on the dusty shelves of the library room. I believe it is titled: Eight Minute Meditations. The concept is that everyone, no matter how busy, can set aside 8 minutes a day . Now I have to locate it again.. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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