Tag Archives: homelessness

8 from google

my brain is still only functioning at 42.718% capacity (as opposed to the usual 60 7/8th) so i don’t find myself to be able to say much. what little brain power i had went to work today and another fabulous mental health chat on twitter. but i feel guilty for not blogging enough so i thought i’d show you what blog posts i’ve liked today in my google reader. i’ll even do the shocking thing and not convert everything into lower case! here we go:

The @5days_Vancouver campaign for homeless/at risk youth

from Hummingbird604.com by Raul

York and Wellington

photo credit: Danielle Scott

I was alerted by Nathan Tippe to the 5 Days Vancouver campaign, the local branch of the national 5 Days campaign, created by students to raise awareness of the situation of homeless people and at-risk youth. I was more than happy to promote the cause (a) because it is a fundraiser and (b) because the local chapter is being organized by UBC students (and as you know, I teach at UBC).

****

Mental health report focuses on multicultural groups

A March 15th news release from the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
CALGARY, March 15 /CNW Telbec/ – Statistics Canada is predicting that 1 in 3 Canadians will belong to a visible minority by 2031. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has released a report addressing the needs of multicultural, immigrant and refugee groups. The study is part of its mandate to improve mental healthcare across all areas of Canadian society.

****

8 Studies Demonstrating the Power of Simplicity

from PsyBlog by Jeremy Dean

3 people liked this

cloud

Psychological research on cognitive fluency shows why easy to understand = more profitable, more pleasurable, more intelligent and safer.

Which of these would you say sounds like the more dangerous food additive: Hnegripitrom or Magnalroxate?

The majority of people say Hnegripitrom sounds more dangerous. It turns out that the word ‘Magnalroxate’ is easier to think about than ‘Hnegripitrom’, probably because it’s more pronounceable, and people equate simplicity with safety (actually both words are made up).

This is one example of psychological research on meta-cognition: thoughts about other thoughts. Whether or not something is easy to think about”cognitive fluency”is one important type of meta-cognition, with all sorts of benefits accruing to things that are easily processed.

Here are 8 of my favourite studies on cognitive fluency, showing just how much can be explained by the feeling that something is easy to think about (or otherwise).

1. Complex writing makes you look stupid

Many of us did it in school: tried to impress teachers with fancy language and convoluted sentences, assuming it would make us look clever. As we soon discovered, though, most people can’t carry it off.

This has been tested by a study that manipulated text complexity to see how readers would judge the author’s intelligence. It found that as the text became more complicated, readers gave lower estimates of the author’s intelligence (Oppenheimer, 2005).

So if you want to be perceived as more intelligent (and who doesn’t?) keep your writing simple. This chimes perfectly with the standard advice given to wannabe writers. Sadly simplicity can be a lot harder to achieve than complexity.

(Note: the context of this study was students judging other students’ essays. This study might not extend to other types of writing and other types of readers.)

****

Babies are born to dance, new research shows

A study of infants finds they respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech. The research suggest that babies may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.
from Mind on Fire by John
Past collaborative projects here at Mind on Fire have produced some fine creative work, like the results of the 18-hour comic day, and the virtual First of May Choir-you know, the JoCo song that goes, “First of May, First of May, Outdoor fucking starts today” (original call, final song). In that same spirit of group play, I would like to propose a new project. I would like to propose a group creative experiment with chance, disorder, fate, Jupiter, Steve-whatever you choose to call it.

****

Too Big to Trust? Or Too Untrustworthy to Scale?

from Trust Matters by cgreen@trustedadvisor.com (Charles H. Green)

This will be my fourth week on the road; more on that later in the week. At least all that plane time (and waiting in lines time) makes for good reading time”thanks to the iPhone Kindle Reader app. (and no they don’t pay me for saying it).

I’m re-reading Francis Fukuyama’s 1995 classic Trust: the Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.

It’s the perfect companion for Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System”and Themselves.

Here’s why they belong together.

Fukuyama’s View of Trust

Fukuyama makes a compelling case that economic development is strongly affected by the cultural norms of a society”in particular, the propensity to trust. In this, he is up against both neo-classical economists (who argue people are rational utility-maximizers), Marxians (who argue it’s all about the money), and a ton of management theorists (who pretty much believe both).

As Fukuyama puts it:

The Chinese, Korean and Italian preference for family, Japanese attitudes toward adoption of non-kin, the French reluctance to enter into face-to-face relationships, the German emphasis on training, the sectarian temper of American social life: all come about as the result not of rational calculation but from inherited ethical habit.

Who we trust, it turns out, radically determines the nature of business we engage in.

****

The Neuroscience of Anorexia Nervosa

from Dr Shock MD PhD by Dr Shock

anorexia nervosa

One of the most striking features of those suffering from anorexia nervosa is their perception of their bodies. You can put them in front of a mirror and they will still tell you they’re to fat when in fact they’re skinny. A recent publication in Nature Proceedings has an explanation.

This explanation is based on the fact that our spatial experience is based on the integration of two different kinds of input, two different sensory inputs within two reference frames. These two reference frames are the egocentric frame and the allocentric frame.

With the allocentric frame you can “see yourself engaged in the event as an observer would”, it’s the observer mode, you can see your self in the situation. This allocentric representation involves long term spatial memory mostly located in the hippocampus and the surrounding medial temporal lobes of the brain.

december buddhist carnival – the not so fluffy edition

hello there. been looking forward to this edition of the buddhist carnival for quite a while because the last one was a bit on the stunted side, what with being busy with NaNoWriMo. so this month’s edition has a bit more meat on it; in fact, your teeth will get quite a nice workout. i’m calling this one the not-so-fluffy-edition for reasons that will become easily evident.

the poem!
we always start this with a poem. first zafu frog. thank you for contributing the poem this month, pithy and true:

there is a rule that man’s a fool,
he wants it hot when it’s cool.
he wants it cool when it’s hot.
always wanting what it’s not.

“i don’t know”
zen moments talks about not knowing. having been confronted, uncomfortably, with the question of “and what do you do?”, he finally found an answer:

it came to me in the shower, while absent-mindedly washing my hair, when i wasn’t trying to solve anything.

in anyone’s life, there are going to be times when everything seems to be going well, and when you have a sense of purpose, when you are clear about where you’re going in life.

but in the same life, there are also bound to be times when it’s not clear, times when you do not know. for some people these might be brief interludes. for others they might last longer, until things change.

but it’s impossible to have that kind of uninterrupted certainty for a whole lifetime.

so in anyone’s life, there are going to be times of not-knowing. and that has to be ok.

this reminds me once again of the best thing i took from seeing the dalai lama this year: his utter confidence in shrugging his shoulders, grinning, and saying, “i don’t know.”

ignoring vs. responding
at sword mountain, a blog that talks about zen and aikido, a question from a student regarding irritating questions.

the answer is non-trivial. to investigate this, you should consider this question from two points of view, your own and the questioner’s.

– from your own, ask: if i ignore a thought, where does it go?
– from another’s, ask: is ignoring a question not itself an answer?

once an something becomes part of your consciousness, you have no choice but to respond. so, how does one properly respond? zen looks for precisely the same thing that aikido does:

a clear, spontaneous, and appropriate response to your circumstances that restores harmony.

fake buddha quotes
bodhipaksa here does a noble deed – he throws light on a fake buddha quote:

“when words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

like many fake buddha quotes, this one has a nice sentiment. the buddha often talked about the virtue of words being true and kind, but the language of “changing the world” is not something the buddha is recorded as using.

this deserves some thinking. the buddha talks about change as a condition, not as something that we engineer. at the non-phenomenal core rests changelessness; realizing that is what buddhists hope for, not changing the world. in the process of that realization, we notice that phenomena (words, weather, people, etc.) change. the bodhisattva – the person who has realized or fully comprehended changelessness – remains in the world of phenomena and works to do the right thing but she or he is not specifically intent on “changing the world”. one moment at a time, she or he feeds a homeless man, waters a sapling, pets a cat. she just does it. a changed (different?  better? more realized?) world is a side effect.

the connection with the title of my blog does not escape me, especially since i just wrote about it in my previous post.  definitely something to think about.  thanks for the inspiration, bodhipaksa!

fake buddha teachers
over in finland, at the possible way we have another blogger talking abot fake.  a bit of a rant, aptly titled  true zen (TM) – order your DVD right away!

sometimes some are thinking that buddhist practitioner should keep his/her mouth shut and close his/her eyes when others are doing terrible things against buddhism and other people. man, that is so lame… being a buddhist doesn’t mean that you have to close your eyes and cry in the corner

buddhism and the vikings
let’s stay in northern europe for a moment longer. zen dirt zen dust has a guest blogger who talks about the parallels between buddhism and asatru, a (revived) old norse religion

i am an asatruar. asatru, literally translates from old norse as “true to the gods”, is the modern revival of the old norse spiritual belief system.

i share with buddhists the notion that my actions have an immediate and lasting effect on myself, and by extension this world, and positive actions create a positive world. even though, to me, these actions may have implications in the next world, my primary concern is that beneficial actions benefit those close to me now, and detrimental actions are harmful to this world and to those i hold dear. much like buddhist philosophy, as i understand it, i am emphatically concerned with my impact on the world as it is now, and i strive to perform just and honorable actions for the sake of the world around me

no earth-shattering insights, just hard work and no expectations
the good people at the tricycle blog discuss the memoirs of former tibetan buddhist monk stephen schettini novice: why i became a buddhist monk, why i quit and what i learned. schettini is now the director of thequietmind.org and says

i don’t promise perfect peace, earth-shattering insight or transcendental breakthroughs. on the contrary, i ask my students to work hard, and especially to beware their own expectations. we’re all twenty-first century grownups and as much as we want to believe in easy solutions and magical formulas we know perfectly well that a down-to-earth approach will pay off more than all the mantras, visualizations and promises of enlightenment on the world wide web.

gentle, peaceful buddhists – an illusion?
the following is anything but a heartwarming story: it’s about a mob of buddhists attacking a christian church in sri lanka. at the american buddhist, there is an insightful comment on it. the writer was working at a military hospital in sri lanka and met a young soldier who wanted to become a suicide bomber and kill tamils.

this soldier was ordained as a monk when he was five years old and spent his time until the age of 18 in various temples in kandy, ampitiya and colombo. he told me that since he entered the robes most of the nights he was sexually molested by older monks. some nights he was raped by five or six monks. he disrobed and joined the military as an escape route. the traumatized soldier focused his anger not towards his abusers but towards the tamils. after hearing this firsthand account whenever i see monks go in to violent protests i suspect the elements of sexual trauma.

while this is sad and alarming, it serves as a reminder that just calling yourself buddhist doesn’t do a thing. buddhist, hindu, baptist, atheist – we’re all capable of committing atrocities. “we” – that includes me. if i don’t keep my awareness sharpened and my heart soft, i, too, can fall into the trap of violence – subtle or otherwise.

losing more illusions
how does one reinvigorate one’s practice after losing the illusions that brought one to practice in the first place? hard core zen has something to say about that. it’s a different kind of illusion than the one alluded to above – it’s the one that many of us first had when we started tinkering with meditation and buddhism. the neat (and sometimes infuriating) thing about buddhism is that it helps lose all illusions – the ones we don’t like but also the ones that decorate our lives with cute stickers and fluffy rainbows.

working with people who are homeless
another story about someone who decided to stare reality straight in the eye, about a lot of things. this woman’s experience with buddhist communities have been mixed.

she would have continued living at the zen center, but she began to run into problems there.

when the zen center asked her to train a group of beginning monks to assist with the homeless meditation program, drakka pushed back. “how do you train people to be alright with homelessness?” she refused.

fortunately, that didn’t deter her. this is a great article on how jana drakka keeps working with people who are homeless, regardless of the obstacles.

15 women bloggers
finally, here’s a list of 15 great women buddhist bloggers.

that’s it for this month. hope you found a little tidbit that can accompany you on your path. good day buddha, good day dharma, good day sangha.

image by @No4

up the down staircase

garden staircase castlethis is a guest post by my blogging and twitter friend alexander zoltai. it’s the story of how, down and out with alcohol and homelessness, he almost … well, read for yourself:

at first, i was trying to push ahead when i really needed healing time.

went from a homeless situation in ohio to florida for my daughter’s wedding. (dear audra! i wasn’t able to help raise her but she loves me anyway.)

was walking, literally, 100 blocks a day to get to my job and back to the salvation army shelter. had miraculously been included in her wedding party but i was not the dude who gave her away.

one month after the wedding, i was homeless again, and deeply depressed.

must have been some turning point in my history of striking out with vigor only to be beaten down, then striking out again. this time, the fire of renewal was gone.

beat down enough to walk the streets of sarasota, florida begging god to kill me.

one of the members of my faith attempted an intervention–not for my psyche but to loan me $3,000 to move into my own trailer.

there was a delay in approval for the place and i slid further down the slope of life.

went to the bank one day and cashed the check, took the $3,000 and went into an alcoholic tailspin. rented a motel room and drank about a case of guinness a day; also smoked pot…

finally had the suicide idea hatch–hell, i’d been sittin’ on the egg a long time!

bought pills that i could overdose on, and proceeded to watch them for a whole day–i had no motivation left at all–even to kill myself.

so, on to sandusky, ohio, my hometown and continued drinking.

my sister had hacked my email account and determined i was alive. oh! i’d written a good-bye e-mail and shipped it out to all my friends.

while in my hometown, i bought two knives and tried slicing my wrist–again, no motivation at all–even to kill myself.

my sister did intervene with love. i went back to florida and stayed with her, went to the VA hospital for psychological examination, got stuck with a chronic depression label, and found out i had hepatitis c!

this is when i was certain something “spiritual” was going on: god, the humorist, was letting me know who was in charge. he “said”: “so you thought you could end your life and i stopped you; but, just to give you a chance to truly repent, here’s a deadly disease.” i told family and friends but they couldn’t understand my delight.

next, six months on antidepressants, quitting smoking, and spiritual recharging–creating a 300-page compilation from a 500-page compilation of powerful spiritual writings.

the day for starting treatment for the hep C arrived and i skidded into eleven months of debilitation, crappy feelings, hair-loss, muscle-mass-loss, flu symptoms, bone aches, anemia–all “normal” for the treatment.

i’ve said before, the poet in me taking center stage, that truly spiritual events have an inherent contradiction embedded in them. for those eleven months, i experienced the contradictory pulls of massive physical degeneration and ecstatic spiritual upliftment–feeling my existence as worth more than i’d ever imagined, as long as i profoundly submitted to god.

here i am 17 days past the end of treatment and resigned to the further tasks of being proactive about depression mitigation and establishing myself in a home-based business.

like i told my VA psychiatrist last week: “before, i’d rise from a fall with conviction of conquering; now, i don’t know what will happen…

just moving ahead with resignation: “in the sense is of making an entry (signum) ‘opposite’ — on the credit side — balancing the former mark and thus cancelling the claim it represents. sense of ‘to give (oneself) up to some emotion or situation'”– we so often consider being resigned to a situation a depressing alternative. however, if the resignation is to cling to the way the universe actually works, it can be a calming and steadying position.

no idea, or could even pretend to guess, what my future holds. but, the captain of my soul shouts, “steady as she goes!”

alexander m zoltai is a writer with roaring flames in his heart, a blogger with a global agenda, and a nutrition entrepreneur.  alexander has also written a beautiful poem that goes with this post.

homelessness and mental health

i recently found out that my friend aaron zacharias wrote an article on mental health and homelessness. you can find it at heretohelp, an e-zine dedicated to mental health.

the article shows very clearly how mental health and homelessness interact. tenuous mental health, especially when coupled with adverse events such as divorce, workplace accidents, or, in aaron’s case, unemployment, can explode into a literally maddening spiral of not just mental illness but severe and alarming deterioration of all of a person’s life. homelessness is perhaps one of the most damaging consequences.

it’s interesting to juxtapose this with anti-psychiatrist psychiatrist (yes, you read this right) thomas szasz’s thoughts on homelessness. szasz argues that mental health is not a cause of homelessness per se. he also says that once a person becomes homeless, she or he will often act and think in ways that are associated with mental illness.

that is, once a person is uprooted, they can and most often will experience hopelessness, confusion, sadness, lack of motivation and can display extreme anger. that only makes sense since a lack of physical place/space and the attendant personal security is almost always accompanied with irregular and insufficient sleep and meals and increased exposure to violence, to name but a few adverse events. these alone are apt to drive a person crazy, in a very literal sense.

aaron traces this from both ends – a decrease of mental health while he was homeless, and an increase once he found a home again. here is a shortened version of his article:

i had already been through more than my share of trauma, beginning with an abusive childhood. but it wasn’t until i became homeless at the age of 42, that i developed a paralyzing sense of despair and hopelessness that led to several years of prolonged anxiety and depression.

when i was in my early 20s, i had been unable to finish my education because of financial problems and stress – guaranteeing me a lifetime of low-wage employment.

but in the 1990s, our governments began to slash social programs and restructure the economy, with disastrous effects on the lives and livelihoods of the working poor. unemployment insurance was renamed, ridiculously, employment insurance and became difficult to qualify for. getting social assistance became a humiliating nightmare.

before i knew it, i was unable to pay my rent. i had quit my job; funding cutbacks had affected my employer and they wouldn’t give me more than seven hours of work a week.

the severe economic pressure i was living under, along with unresolved issues of childhood abuse, precipitated several breakdowns. i wasn’t thinking clearly. and the cost of housing was rising much faster than most people’s incomes . . .

i ended up homeless.

i was one of the fortunate homeless – i was able to couch surf. that worked for a while, but people soon began to get sick of me. i was paying my way, but they made it clear they wanted to move on with their lives and, since i wasn’t doing this for myself, i was too much of an emotional burden for them.

i was easily victimized because of terrible self-esteem, stemming from the childhood abuse. being dependent on the kindness of others, it was like the proverbial wounded chicken getting attacked by the others in its flock.

being homeless and constantly distressed made stable employment impossible.

later on, among other places, i found a room in a shared apartment with two other people. not only were there three of us in a cramped two-bedroom apartment, but three days a week the landlord’s mother and young son were there. day and night, there were comings and goings. it didn’t feel like a healthy situation: among other things, the landlord insisted on keeping his cat’s litter box in the bathtub.

fortunately, i had been networking with judy graves, who coordinates the tenant assistance program for the city of vancouver. one day, judy asked me about my housing situation and then got me onto a number of wait-lists.

i have now been living in candela place1 for almost five years, and i’ve been employed and off social assistance for the past four and a half years. when i moved into candela place, i began seeing a psychiatrist, who for four years helped me work through my traumatic stress issues, without putting me on medications. i am now working full-time as a peer support worker with vancouver community mental health services

thanks to safe, secure and affordable housing, my life is finally in a good place – i no longer feel as though i have to squander all my energies at merely coping and surviving.

now that i’m no longer in a panic about having to survive each day, i can actually enjoy things – and with a depth of pleasure i never thought would be waiting for me at this stage of my life (i am in my early fifties). i’m still a working artist, and i’ll be travelling to costa rica this spring, where i’ll be painting murals in a bed and breakfast.

(you can find aaron zacharias’s paintings here).

(you can find this article posted in the surfers’ paradise blog carnival. that’s web surfers, not wave surfers. and no, i don’t look like that lady standing right over my post 🙂 )