A few thoughts on having Mental Health

My life has been something of a struggle the past couple of months. Online friends may have noticed a silently decreased presence. I’ve been struggling with my health. The problems have been mainly emotional, however, there have been physical issues as well. I won’t go too deep into the reeds with this one; suffice it to say, I’ve been suffering deeply.

It started with a few nights in a row getting poor sleep. If it wasn’t one thing it was another: I was too hot, I ate too much, I mismanaged my intake of substances, something upset me before bed, something excited me before bed, I was too cold, ect. I have posted about this issue in the past.

At any rate, a few nights in a row of disturbed sleep was all it really took. Eventually I reached a point where my circadian rhythm was completely disrupted and my life spun out of control. At that point it didn’t even take a sleep-disruption anymore to result in a poor night’s sleep. I was going weeks on end with maybe 2-4 hours of sleep a night. Completely insufficient for maintaining health, and my body and mind were deteriorating.

I wish I could say I’ve made a complete recovery, but unfortunately I’m not there yet. In order to kick-start my circadian rhythm I needed to resort to daily sleeping pill use. At first, that didn’t cut it, and I had to add antidepressant use as well. I’m currently taking an antidepressant called mirtazipine, which in addition to being an antidepressant, also causes sedation (which helps falling asleep). Right now I’m off the sleeping pills but I am still taking the antidepressants and melatonin supplement nightly.

I don’t like being on antidepressants, but they are helping. The thing is, I don’t feel clinically depressed right now. I actually went through a short period of hypomania on them that I needed to suppress. I suffered from clinical depression previously, in my teenage; I guess you could say I’m in remission. I’m reluctant to stop using the antidepressants, because I was suffering deeply from lack of sleep. But now, everything feels kind of fake. The medication has given my waking life a vaguely-unpleasant dream-like quality, whilst also being… not happy, but anti-depressed. It sucks, it feels unwholesome.

Worst is, the antidepressants blunt my feelings of metta, or loving-kindness. I’m still able to practice, but the feeling is distinctly less pronounced. It requires more effort to produce a feeling with half the intensity. Which, in of it self, makes me feel… not depressed, but wistful.

At least its way better than the anti-psychotics I tried for off-label use as a sleep aid. Those made me feel like I was drowning in a stupor of mental dullness. And they also didn’t work to get me to sleep. One night was all I needed to know that I never want to take that mind-poison ever again.

At any rate, my aunt, who is a psychiatrist, encouraged me to take the somewhat-helpful antidepressants and the thoroughly unhelpful anti-psychotics. She termed what she observed me having as a kind of “lucid depression” wherein I had the physical symptoms of depression without the affective (emotional) symptoms. This seems to be a word she made up on the spot, because a web search returned nothing. If this is the case, I chalk up the maintenance of my lucidity within the depths of chronic suffering to my dharma/meditation practice. So even though I’m not doing great, this experience has been confidence boosting for me. Dharma practice really has fortified me with indispensable mental tools.

I really hope to re-invigorate my practice after this episode of poor health has blown over.

Rough draft of my Mastodon Instance Rules

I am posting the following so I may get feedback from the Fediverse community before committing to starting an instance.

The guiding principles for the instance’s acceptable posting policy holds its roots in the Buddhist Five Precepts, namely:

  1. I undertake to train myself to kill as little as possible
  2. I undertake to train myself to abstain from taking that which is is not freely given
  3. I undertake to train myself abstain from sexual misconduct
  4. I undertake to train myself to abstain from unwholesome speech
  5. I undertake to train myself to abstain from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause heedlessness.

It’s important to understand the precepts not as rules to be blindly followed in order to achieve enlightenment, but as guidelines deliberately created by the Buddha for living harmoniously with others. Living by the precepts will not enlighten you, but violating the precepts will make attaining enlightenment difficult, both for yourself and those around you.

Another thing to understand is that these precepts are laid out as a standard of interaction on this instance. I am not asking people to live by this code in their personal lives, just to observe it during their interactions within this community.

What these precepts mean in practical terms, as applied to online moderation, will be described in turn below. These precepts apply principally to users of this instance. However, users from other instances, or other instances as a whole, may be blocked as a means of protecting this community.

1: I undertake to train myself to kill as little as possible.

This means that this server is deliberately a pacifist place for nonviolent discourse. This means that any incitement to violence, murder, capital punishment, or aggression is strictly forbidden, no matter what the justification may be. I am not willing to comment on what kind of violence can be morally justified, because I believe that is a determination the individual must make for themself on a case-by-case basis. That is a determination that can only be made by an individual, for their own actions, which carry their own consequences to bear. In the context of public discourse, all incitements to killing are disallowed.

2: I undertake to train myself to abstain from taking that which is not freely given

All enticements encouraging theft or piracy are disallowed. As is enticing others to acquire things/resources through deception, con-artistry, subterfuge, misrepresentation, or lying by omission.

This rule also means that practices that exert manipulation of others to pressure them into giving things unfairly are forbidden. This includes all talk encouraging the practices of capitalism.

This rule requires an explanation of wether theft is justifiable in the context of a fundamentally unfair capitalist society. Although I realize that, especially in a capitalist society, those with capital often acquire it through exactly these means, I believe that resorting to the same means to “even the playing field” does one the same existential damage. Weather you believe it is justifiable to pirate media or shoplift in order to “get back” at capitalism is your business, but encouraging others to is not allowed in this space.

As such, I strongly encourage people in this space to limit their their involvement with capitalism as much as possible, and to develop the practice of true generosity (giving freely without the expectation of anything in return).

Regarding “begposting”, you are allowed to ask for monetary assistance on this instance and retoot others’ requests for monetary assistance. However, it must be understood that this instance is not meant to be a place for fundraising. Any such, requests for monetary assistance may only be made a maximum of three times per month (counting separately, requests for oneself and requests made on the behalf of another). This may seem like an arbitrary limit, and to some extent it is, however it is rooted in the tradition of some Buddhist orders directing monks to ask for assistance no more than 3 times for a given issue. If you feel your (or others’) circumstances are especially dire, there is some flexibility here; please reach out to the admin if you wish to discuss the matter. Admittedly, I do feel uneasy about publishing this particular rule, as I do wish people will take up generosity as a spiritual practice; however that must be a decision they make for themselves. It must be remembered that abstention against taking that which is not freely given includes abstaining from placing pressure on others. If someone is feeling pressured to give, and gives out of a sense of obligation or pity rather than self-generated compassion, then their giving is not done out of true generosity.

Commercial advertising on this instance will result in a summary ban. Advertising for artisanal goods is allowed and encouraged.

3. I undertake to train myself to abstain from sexual misconduct

This means that all sexual interactions must have free, informed, and prior consent from all parties, and that sexual interactions must take place in private. I believe it is impossible for certain people to give free, informed, and prior consent, and as such, discourse/media that encourages or depicts sex with the following groups is strictly forbidden:

  • Children
  • Animals
  • People who are mentally incompetent, such as people who are under the influence of drugs; or people who have medical conditions that limit their ability to make rational decisions, such as dementia or intellectual disability
  • People you have social or institutional power over (for example, having sex with one of your employees or students)

In the context of public posting, all text/media that make allusions to genitalia/sex must be CW’d.

Regarding sex work, I believe that sex workers have the right to benefit from this community and they are welcome here. However, this community is not the appropriate place to solicit sex or advertise sexual services.

The requirement to CW talk of genitalia/sex does not apply at all to talk of sexual orientation or gender. This space is deliberately welcoming of all sexual orientations and genders. In other words, this is a safe space for all LGBTQIA+ people.

This space is also deliberately welcoming to people who are asexual, and sexual people who have decided to remain voluntarily celibate. As such, posting that is meant to sexually arouse should be avoided. Although appropriately CW’d talk/images of sex is allowed, this is not a space for posting pornography.

Regarding maithuna practices, all such posts must be CW’d.

4. I undertake to train myself to abstain from unwholesome speech

For the sake of organization, the details of this precept will be expounded by itemized list:

  • Lying & deception
    • Deliberately tying to mislead people with false statements and lying by omission are all forbidden. Whether or not the listeners actually believe the falsehood is not a factor.
    • Pretending to know something that you are not professionally qualified to comment on is not allowed. For example, if you wish to give someone medical advice but are not a doctor, you must qualify your statement by saying so.
  • Speech meant to hurt, pressure, oppress, or intimidate
    • Sarcasm, mockery, snark, ridicule, and contempt that are targeted at a specific individual are all forms of harsh speech to be avoided. As a principle, you should always assume good faith when interacting with people, and make an effort to be courteous. If, through conversation, someone displays a blatant disregard for reciprocating this social norm, that does not make it alright to stoop to their level.
    • Prejudiced and discriminatory speech, such as:
      • Racism and prejudice against cultures
      • Sexism
      • Transphobia
      • Any kind of anit-LGBTQIA+ speech
      • Classism
      • Nationalism
      • Discrimination against physical ability; medical or psychological conditions
    • Words meant to demean, dehumanize, or humiliate groups of people (slurs) are forbidden when used in a evidently hurtful manner. It is alright to engage in metacommentary on slurs, however this must be CW’d.
  • Speech meant to confuse
    • This includes speech meant to cast doubt on empirically verifiable material facts.
    • This also includes spreading conspiracy theories & speech rooted in conspiracism.
  • Proselytization
    • Attempts to convert one’s faith, religion, or political ideology on the basis of bribery, coercion, threats, or violence. This includes threats of what may or may not happen in the afterlife, or how you believe God(s) may personally feel about one’s conduct.
  • Meaningless/repetitive/automated speech
    • Posts that are not meant to convey a meaning (ie. Strings of random characters or words) are not allowed.
    • Posts that are not generated by a conscious being (ie. Bots) are not allowed to originate from this instance, although they may be retooted.
    • Posting the same thing over and over is discouraged, and may earn you censure if sufficiently repetitive. Retooting past posts that you think are relevant to a current discourse or situation is allowed and encouraged.
  • Gossip and rumours
    • Do not talk or speculate about the personal and private affairs of specific people when such matters do not directly involve you.
    • Do not tell stories about others’ conduct with the intention of harming their reputation. This includes “beware” type posts. If you believe someone has violated the rules of this instance, contact the admin and let them deal with it.
  • Illegal speech
    • The admin of this instance lives in Canada. As such, he is most familiar with Canadian law, and will use that lens for evaluating whether a particular post post has broken a law.
  • Speech that contravenes the rules of our hosting provider, masto.host. The following list of forbidden content is taken directly from their website:
    • Sexual content involving minors, including artistic depictions
    • Gore and extremely graphic violence, including artistic depictions
    • National Socialism
    • Nazism
    • Holocaust denial
    • Racism
    • Alt right, including under the disguise of freedom of speech
    • Gender-critical
    • Sex and gender discrimination
    • Transphobia
    • Misogyny
    • Pro-ana / Pro-mia

A thought on shitposting: Humour is encouraged on this instance! Please feel welcome to joke and have fun! However, humour that is passive-aggressively crafted to contravene these rules is not welcome. “It was just a joke, lighten up!” is not an acceptable defence for rule-breaking.

5. I undertake to train myself to abstain from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause heedlessness.

This means that all talk or images of personal intoxicant use must be CW’d, and that it is forbidden to encourage others to use intoxicants if they don’t ask you for your advice about it first. This includes using entheogens, use of “mind expanding” drugs, and/or taking intoxicating substances as a spiritual sacrament.

High/drunk posting is not allowed.

This rule does not apply to talking about mind-altering psychiatric medications prescribed by a physician (i.e. antidepressants, anxiolytics, antipsychotics, ect…) in order to treat a physical or mental illness, although it may be considered courteous to CW such talk anyway.

What happens when a rule is broken?

Please use the Report button when someone is seen to be breaking a rule. Or DM an admin. If you are not an admin do not publicly challenge people.

As a general principle, when things escalate to an admin’s involvement, things that are brought up in public will be dealt with in public. This is for the sake of transparency and so that others may learn the group’s norms. The admin will reply to the post in question by pointing out which rule it contravenes, with a warning that similar posts in the future may result in a suspension or ban. At this point the person who violated the rule may choose to keep their post up or take it down.

Rule-breakers from other instances will be blocked/muted without notification, at the admin’s discretion.

Generally, users will not be disciplined upon the first instance of breaking a rule. There will be slack and leeway. Only people who have displayed a repeated and persistent pattern of misbehaviour will be suspended/banned. I understand that, most of the time, people break social rules without realizing they are doing it. Only particularly egregious and obviously deliberate violations of the rules will result in a summary ban.

What should I do if the admin is breaking a rule?

Please, let me know by pointing out which post is questionable, and which rule is relevant. I am not a perfected being, and I do not claim to have achieved enlightenment. My conduct is not above reproach.

As with other rule-breakers, my this may be in public or, if you feel more comfortable keeping it private, by DM. Conversation about my conduct is welcome so long as it is done in good faith. However, I reserve the right to defend and justify my own conduct. If, after conversation, you sill believe that I am in contravention of my own rules, you have the right to request an instance-wide public poll to determine the appropriateness of my behaviour.

Sleep is the Key

This is going to be a rambly one because I’m currently on major sleep debt. 3 days of minimal sleep; only 30 minutes last night. Pardon my dust.

I have something to admit: I have poor sleep hygiene. This has been a longstanding issue throughout my entire life.

The following is a list of things that contribute to poor sleep health

  • Staying up late
  • Sleeping in
  • Smoking pot
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking coffee in the afternoon
  • Overeating
  • Playing videogames before bed

And the following is a list of things I like to do:

  • Staying up late
  • Sleeping in
  • Smoking pot
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking coffee in the afternoon
  • Overeating
  • Playing videogames before bed

See any problems here?

In graduate school I took a Psychology of Health class. My professor, who I really liked, had a class dedicated to sleep health. One of the things he said that really stuck with me was this:

“You want to know what it’s like to be ninety years old? Stay up all night; do not get any sleep. Then go to work. That’s what it feels like to be ninety.”

Dr. (redacted), Psychology professor at (redacted) University

For the past couple of weeks I have been living that life. And I’m sick of it. I don’t want to be ninety years old anymore.

Lately I’ve been dealing with an ennui in my personal life due to a few low-level chronic conditions. Pain and sleeplessness. And guess what; they feed into each other and make each other worse. it sucks.

I’m done.

I’m stating this as a promise to myself. An act of self compassion: no more avoidable disturbances to me sleep.

I have made a sleep log and will be tracking my habits. I shall keep myself honest.

No more of the following:

  • Staying up late
  • Sleeping in
  • Smoking pot
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking coffee in the afternoon
  • Overeating
  • Playing videogames before bed

How to find eternal happiness

Originally written in January 2021

Focusing on your own happiness, trying to gain, maintain, and protect your own happiness; This will work for a while, and the basic needs must be maintained in order for the body to flourish. But impermanence will eventually sweep away any gains you make. Your tastes will change or circumstances will change. This will not work in the long run.

Only by contact with a deeper nature that transcends impermanence can people feel eternal happiness. What is the only feeling that we cannot get enough of? What is the only cup that cannot run over? The answer is: love. This is the only psychological state that people do not grow tired of. We can always feel more love. It is the deeper transcendent nature of people to love.

Therefore, if you wish to find a happiness that does not go away you must practice love deliberately. To feel happiness all the time you must learn to generate love consistently. This includes love with yourself, with those you are close to, with those you do not yet know, and with those who you find difficult. To reliably access the only deeper happiness that does not fade, you must not let your love fade.

The only way to keep a constant supply of love, and consequently, happiness, is to orient your attention to love. That which you love, and that the qualities of things that elicits that state. Salvation from misery is an attention that is always focused on love.

This is not an easy thing to accomplish.

Billions of years of conditioning have primed people to always be on the look out for trouble. Our attention is scattered, and that which brings us suffering easily grabs it. Most of us have had emotionally stunted upbringings and we live in harsh times of destruction; this condition has made us neurotic and has confused our ability to recognize the things we love. But you would have to be pretty far gone to not know of a single thing that makes you feel love. Start where you are comfortable.

Practice feeling love on things that elicit those feelings in you automatically. For every being this will be something different – for some it will be the imagery of a particular situation, for others an aesthetic experience, and for others a word or concept. But we all have at least one thing we can imagine that gets those feelings going. See how long you can hold onto love after stopping contemplating the thing that elicits it. Spend time getting in touch with the physical and psychological states that come with love. See if you can stoke the feelings of love by mimicking those physical and psychological states in your being. This is subtle work, but it can be done.

Once you can reliably stoke those feelings of love, think about yourself while continuing to elicit the physical and psychological states that come with love. For some this will be easy, for others who have been taught by life not to love themselves this will be incredibly painful and difficult. However to be able to be in contact with happiness reliability you must be able to orient your attention towards the conditions that cause love reliably, and you are not more constantly in contact with anyone else but yourself. It is very hard to feel genuine connection with anything else when the experience of everything is mediated by something the Self does not like. You must start with you.

Then orient the attention to those you are close with. This will probably be easy. It does not take much effort to feel love with those who are responsible for our wellbeing. Ride this wave of easy love. Abide in the space it creates and absorb its rejuvenating qualities. You have earned this.

Then orient the attention to those who you do not yet know. The people who you’re aware of but do not have an opinion on one way or the other. This might feel boring or difficult, but if you are able to focus on the physical and psychological precursors of love, as you had practiced, you should be able to get it going while focusing on those you do not yet know. By doing this repeatedly something magnificent happens; those you do not yet know become automatically associated with the states that create love through repeated conditioning. Consequently, recollecting people you do not yet know becomes the grounds for, ultimately, experiencing happiness.

Now the only thing left to do is to replace love’s opposite, hatred. You cannot feel love while feeling hatred; this is impossible. So in order to reliably experience the love that creates happiness, you must condition yourself to never experience feelings of hatred. This is not easy, because we have already learned how to hate and this has become a mental habit. But using the principles described previously, we can also grow love for things that would usually cause us to experience hate. By doing this we deliberately replace hate with love, and thus sorrow with happiness.

So next, orient your attention to those you find difficult. These are the people you do not like and who do not like you. But while doing this deliberately generate feelings of love using the same technique. Deliberately mimic the physical and psychological precursors of love, allowing those feelings to grow, while thinking about the people that elicit its opposite. This is very difficult, but it can be done. Start easy; with someone you only mildly dislike. You have plenty of time to practice this skill until you are proficient enough to use it on those who elicit full-blown hatred.

The more you do this, the easier it gets. You will find if you do this enough, it starts happening automatically. You will start to notice that the list of people you find difficult shrinks, and eventually it becomes hard to think of anyone you feel enmity towards.

But keep going. Practice the same skills on places, on objects, on groups, on situations. Keep on orienting your attention to love while exposing your mind to things, and the more things will be associated with love. The more things that are associated with love, the more frequently you will encounter things that make you feel love automatically. Consequently you will experience happiness more consistently.

When you can experience love while considering all things, you will find eternal happiness.