Mental health has been seriously eroded all over the world as a result of Covid. Restrictions on freedoms, isolation, mask wearing, vaccine roll outs and general fear have all contributed; it’s been incessant and is still going on especially in Nepal and India. In Surviving Covid #1 I wrote about the effects from a personal viewpoint and expressed an opinion that a negative media approach had been a factor too. In Surviving Covid #2 I wrote about how a group of us had “survived” the mental health trauma by “inadvertently” following certain maxims of some Ancient Greece philosophers. Now I turn to how Dr C and I followed our Buddhist philosophy to remain sane!
“All states of being are determined by mind, it is mind that leads the way”The Dhammapada, Gautama Buddha
This is my favourite of all quotations and has been a “guiding light” to me for the past 25 years. It is a saying of Buddha and an interpretation from the first verse of the Dhammapada, a collection of sayings from Gautama Buddha. Its essential meaning is that everything we perceive or feel is an interpretation we place upon the experience, sometimes in a negative sense. Conversely we could, and should, discipline our mind to merely “observe” the experience without interpretation as positive or negative. For example my ongoing recovery from an operation to remove my prostate cancer naturally involves some pains, twinges and aches, but if every time I experience this I think “oh hell it’s coming back” then I’m in a semi permanent state of stress! Instead of just feeling a twinge my mind takes over my whole being in a very negative sense. So, with a little effort I merely acknowledge the twinge and try hard to be mindful ONLY of what I am doing at the time ….. reading a book, making a cup of tea, cutting up the carrots …. you get the picture. The quotation is also a good mantra to use for meditation, I use it to start every meditation I do so as to discipline my mind away from stray or random thoughts popping into my head.
During the ongoing Covid pandemic, but especially across 2020, Dr C and I tried really hard to become much more “mindful” on a day to day basis, to focus mindfully on our activities without distraction. But we also tried to involve ourselves in daily activities of a type that could be experienced with “full mindfulness” and therefore preventing us from adding further negativity in our minds towards restrictions of freedom, media negativity, isolation from friends and family. This was different from the engagement with our close neighbours I described in Surviving Covid #2 Mental health from Ancient Greece. It meant that we had to get personally organised rather than just watching tv, listening to the negative news and sinking lower and lower.
We each decided in general how we would spend our days, sometimes together, sometimes alone, sometimes socially distanced but with our neighbours. If this starts to sound a bit regimented……. it was …….. but it worked! Each day began with a morning walk, together, same “area” around our village, but different distances, followed by breakfast. Next, across mid morning to lunchtime we would do different and separate things …… this is my creative time for writing. At noon we’d come together again and prepare lunch together which in our case is the main meal of the day. Afternoons were for reading and gardening, a late afternoon walk again, then a social wine gargle with the neighbours before a light evening meal. Now a bit of tv, Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, then early to bed and more reading, or scrabble. Weekends included Zoom wine tasting with our daughter as well as drives around our beautiful Cotswolds for a change of scenery.
This combination of organisation plus mindfulness really did work. For example it helped me to write not one, but TWO books last year. The first was called An Englishman in Nepal, the second was It’s Not About The Wine, both published on Amazon. The Nepal book was fairly short, less than 100 pages, and was organised into a series of chapters describing my experiences of Nepal in relation to Family, Food, Religion, Mountains, Education Aid Work, and History. In a way it was quite cathartic as well as being a complete distraction from Covid as I would write for 2-3 hours each morning. I enjoyed creating it and learned a lot from the process, though I am considering rewriting and extending it! My second book was almost 300 pages in length and described 50 years worth of being a “wino”. The title, It’s Not About The Wine, is truly indicative of how an interest in wine expanded my knowledge and understanding of philosophy, art, history, culture, geochemistry. Each of these subjects is described in relation to wine together with our family travels around Europe, but France especially as we explored vineyards in winemaking regions annually. Writing this book was cathartic too, it enhanced my friendship with many internet bloggers, winemakers in England, and especially my friendship with Danell in Italy who blogs at Vinthropology.com who helped me with the book in several ways.
In Buddhist philosophy activities, thoughts, and feelings are simply categorised as “wholesome” or unwholesome” and therefore recognised as to whether they are contributing to a negative and stressful state of mind. Buddha’s Eightfold Path to well-being includes Right Mindfulness, Right Thinking, Right Concentration and Right Effort, all of which are “actions of the mind”, so it could be said that our well-being, or mental health, certainly originates from mind activity which is 4/8 of Buddha’s path. This is the core of my point about our Covid induced mental health, that our THOUGHTS of what we saw happening, what we had to stop doing, plus constant attacks on our government by opposition parties, the European Union, and worst of all our own media was a complete vicious circle. Of course many reading this will say “so what, we already knew that” but we need to also know that the solution is in our own hands …… or more correctly ….. in our own minds!