What Kendrick Lamar’s New Album Gets Right about Mental Health

If you are wondering what on earth a post about Kendrick Lamar is doing on a blog about mindfulness for lawyers, you probably haven’t listened to it yet. Even if rap isn’t a part of your musical mainstay, you should be familiar with Kendrick Lamar’s work. Lamar took the musical world by storm in the last decade, racking up Grammys, a Pulitzer, a Super Bowl appearance, and huge commercial success. In recent years, however, Lamar has been quiet and the public may not have understood why until the release of his latest album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers

In the opening track, Lamar shares that he has been “going through something” for the last “1855 days.” As you listen on, you see that he’s talking about a mental health journey that he took while managing the pressures of living as a world musical superstar and family breadwinner. Now, I imagine, you probably understand what this has to do with your life as a lawyer. If, like me, you’ve experienced mental health challenges and faced inner demons while trying to maintain appearances for the public, do your job, and manage your family, you’ll hear a lot in Mr. Morale to which you can relate. 

So, what is it that makes me enthusiastic about this album? First, I am thrilled that someone in Lamar’s position is using his voice to tell the truth about his experience. Awareness of mental health is better than it once was, but stigma and fear about mental health issues remain. As lawyers, we also may feel pressure to hide our experiences for fear of hurting how others perceive us. Lamar has been honest in the past about his life, but Mr. Morale includes descriptions of his personal failings and childhood trauma. It takes courage to face those things, let alone share them publicly, but by doing so Lamar helps his fans feel a little less shame about their own struggles. 

Second, it’s also significant that Lamar doesn’t pretend that he faced his demons alone. The voice of his partner, Whitney, is sprinkled throughout Mr. Morale. She instructs Lamar to tell his listeners “the truth” in the opening songs of the album and celebrates with him and their children at the conclusion for ending a “generational curse.” References to therapy, mentors, and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, are replete on the album as well. Why is this important? It’s important because it’s real. For many of us, shame can be a part of mental health challenges. This can make it harder for us to seek out the help we need. Lamar’s honest description of the help he received to heal from his past shows how even the most powerful people need and deserve help sometimes. 

Finally, Lamar tells his story not just as a personal one but as a human one. I’ve talked before about how self-compassion is critical for healing, including the essential element of “common humanity”. The story that Lamar tells on Mr. Morale is deeply personal and unique to him, but in telling it he links it with a broader community. Lamar uses musical elements throughout the album that call to black musical artists throughout the decades and all the way back to the era of jazz. He also speaks directly of the broader trauma that institutional racism in the United States has caused. In doing so, Lamar honors his own experience but does so in a way that honors, inspires, and gives voice to others who have shared it.

Like any pop musician, Lamar does not shy away from provocation in Mr. Morale. There is some justifiable and well-reasoned criticism of the album based on some of his comments and lyrical choices, including his claims about “cancel culture.” Still, though, Mr. Morale tells a story about mental health that the public needs to hear and demonstrates how personal accountability is part of the healing process. It shows us that extreme fame, wealth, and talent aren’t necessarily an aegis against past trauma or the influence of race and class.

If you listen to the entire album, you’ll see the full story take shape, and understand what it can feel like when you do the inner work needed to move forward in life. At the end, you will not just have a soundtrack to supplement the movie of your own journey, but some ideas that any powerful person in the public eye can use to face their own demons to live a better, happier life.

Have you listened to Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers? Leave us a comment to let us know what you thought.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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Joy Is Remembering Heaven Is a Place on Earth

I got to my mother’s house late to pick up my daughters. I was exhausted and had just finished a too long evening meeting. I had an early meeting the next day and felt overburdened by life. As always, it took too long and too much frustration for my daughters, one 8 and one 4, to get on their shoes, gather up their belongings, and trundle out to the car. After I buckled them in and sat in the drivers’ seat, I started to pull out of the driveway in a rush to get home and into pajamas as quickly as possible.

Before I got to the end of the drive, the four-year-old chirps “Mommy, can we listen to ‘Heaven Is a Place on Earth’?” Sometimes, I admit, I brush her off and tell her “Not now, baby; it’s only a short ride.” But that night, I needed her to ask me this question. I needed the reminder that life is what we make it and what we see in it. So instead, I stopped, looked back to smile at her, and said “Good idea, Ellie. Yes we can!”

I don’t remember exactly how this song came to be a special one for us. Most likely the genesis is some 80’s playlist on Amazon Music, but I can see why the girls loved it even though it came out when I was Elinor’s age. It’s catchy, easy to sing, and has this uncanny sound – like a new beginning and happy ending all in one. I started playing it and as I sang “when the night falls down, I wait for you and you come around” I was already in a better mood than when I had pulled into the driveway.

As I started to drive towards home, the song blared on reminding me that I’m still “just beginning to understand the miracle of living.” The girls were singing and smiling in the backseat and I found myself smiling too. At a light, my little one yelled “mommy!” at me to get me to hold her hand and bounce it as we sang “I reach for you and you bring me home.” And suddenly I wasn’t just an overburdened, overwhelmed lawyer mom anymore. Instead, for a moment, I was a little girl sitting in the back of my mom’s minivan singing that song with my sister as it played on the radio.

There are lots of warnings for us parents to be “present” for our children. When you live as a lawyer, that can be hard to do. Our cases can fill up our calendars as well as our minds. They can leave little room for things like fun and memories and random adventures that lead to joy and connection. So that’s why we need other people to call us back to real life every now and then, even if sometimes we have to make ourselves listen. When we give them the chance, they remind us that there is no need to constantly worry and plan because the past and future are in each moment if we only choose to see it.

This memory was only a small moment, and many would argue an insignificant one. After all, I am telling you a story about a time when I played an old (and some might say silly) song in the car with my kids. But you know what? I don’t necessarily just remember the big, momentous occasions with my parents. I remember the small ones. I remember riding around to soccer practice and piano lessons in my mom’s minivan. I remember listening to the news on public radio in my dad’s Ford. I remember making up silly games with my sister in the backseat. For this reason, I know a truth that is easy to overlook: joy doesn’t require hours to emerge and it doesn’t require life-changing events. Instead, joy can be made in moments, and it is those moments that actually change our lives.

The key to living a joyful life is to be open to these moments so we can appreciate as many of them as possible. Of course, we won’t catch every one. Of course, there will be times when we will be too tired, or too distracted or too busy. But this only makes the moments we appreciate, fully take in, and share with others more precious. This memory with my daughters was one of those times. In a few moments, it transformed an exhausting and frustrating day into a good memory. It turned a silly song into a meeting place for my four-year-old self and the four-year-old now riding in the backseat of my car. That night when I went to pick up my girls, I was lost at sea, but I heard that four-year-old’s voice and it carried me. It reminded me that joy, fleeting as it may be, is powerful. It can forge a connection in moments that lasts well after the emotion that sparked it has passed. Indeed, when we let ourselves remember it, heaven is a place on earth.

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