Success by Failure

Each of us will take a direction in life depending on who we see ourselves as. For some people this leads to obscurity, for others it leads to great fame, but fame should not be mistaken for success just because it’s more visible. That’s just their job. People’s personal lives will all share the same sorts of ups and downs, so we shouldn’t either lament that we aren’t famous, nor should we be jealous or envious of those who are.

Just the other night my parents were watching America’s Got Talent, and a young singer noted that to pursue his dream of being a famous singer, he left home and moved to New York and for a few years he slept on couch that smelled like cat for $30 a week. Britney Spears has had jobs since she was about eight years old. Olympians rarely see their friends so they can work out instead. And there’s only so many of us who think the result is worth that effort, just like some people don’t think cooking a fancy meal is worth the effort when they could just fuel up. We’re all different.

1207 Relax and Succeed - Believe in yourselfI remember I’d been working in film and television for about 10 years before the first time I ever heard anyone say that they wanted to “be famous,” rather than note what they would want to be famous for–as in the case above, where what he really wants to be is a singer, not famous. In my experience, the ones that want to be famous never have that cat-sofa dedication and they eventually surrender that idea for something that actually suits them better. In that way their failure is a success.

A very talented film student I taught wanted to be an A-list cinematographer on big budget superhero blockbusters. But after close to 10 years climbing his way up and seeing Hollywood work, he concluded that the reality of the job wasn’t what he wanted and he surrendered that and went to do smaller, but much more meaningful documentaries. And he’s much happier doing it.

Cases like the one noted are often seen as a failure by the person approaching the decision. All they feel is the separation from their previous identity. It feels like they surrendered in a bad or weak way, when it’s actually the smart or strong way. Once that student crested the hump into his new identity, he got to work at his new career and it turned out he loved it the way he’d assumed he would have loved the Hollywood blockbuster job. It wasn’t a fail. It was a discovery. You’ll make them your entire life.

As I’ve noted before, if you want to know where you’re at, imagine your life as a big continuous sine wave that completes each wave about every 7-9 years. At each peak you have slowly rewired your brain to be fully efficient at being that version of you. But of course, once you’ve maximized why continue? Been there done that, as the saying goes. And so it’s not really disappointment that disrupts success, it’s the inklings of our next success.

The sooner we start to embrace that downslope the shorter it gets–although it can never be fully removed, otherwise you can’t have your peaks either. This is why a Buddhist monk on a train once lead me to conclude his encapsulation of life: everything changes. If it’s good, enjoy it–it’ll get worse. And if it’s bad, don’t lament–it’ll get better.

Find where you are on your wave and surf that. It’ll include the pain of those downslopes, but wherever you are, wishing you were an an upslope is the literally the definition of suffering. But if you surrender instead, it’s actually flows pretty nicely.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Happiness by Social Media

I know many of you access the blog daily to help you maintain your equanimity. I don’t want to leave you stranded, so please remember that you can continue to follow me on social media through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr where I will be posting plenty of happiness and peace-generating posts.

See you for a new blog on Wednesday.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Pressured by Indecision

We think it’s the situation. We feel the pressure comes from the deadlines, or the bosses, or the schedule, or maybe it’s the kids, family obligations, commitments or responsibilities. But we tend to experience it as an outside-in kind of pressure but that’s misleading because it’s really inside-out.

Pressure isn’t some force your boss sends through an email or that your kids write down in your schedule. It’s something we create within ourselves with our resistant thinking and yet it’s a useful signalling system. Feeling down is not the same as overwhelmed and if there’s one thing I see a lot of otherwise “successful” people doing, it is being overwhelmed.

We’re in the midst of one of worst recessions ever where I live and you can easily tell that a lot of the population is struggling with bills, juggling two part time jobs instead of one full time (if they’re lucky), and they can’t afford as much external support etc. etc. etc. Bosses know they can be more demanding in a tight job market, and the time and money challenges impact marriages, kids relationships with their parents, diets, and even health. As I often remind people, nowhere in the deal to be human does it say that life will only give you 50 marbles for your 50 marble jar.

Pressure starts on the 51st marble and increases from there. Eventually we can get to the point where no matter what we accomplish with busy-ness we’re still seeing marbles drop all over the place. By then we know we’ve waited a bit long to act and so the universe is starting to yell. You may think it’s outside-in pressure, but the universe understands it’s inside-out.

The so-called pressure is created by you wanting to hold onto all of those marbles and their relative importance, so you take on too much work to try to prevent losses. It is also created by watching marbles fall and wanting that to stop, so that also creates a painful sense of loss. And finally, it is also created by wanting to avoid the consequences if we let the marbles fall. ┬áSince the first two are impossible, the reduction in resistance (aka pressure) will take place only when we cease imagining a future that can’t exist and we quiet our minds and accept our current situation and then make our sacrifice.

As an example, I have to make my own decisions about being overloaded with marbles. Not only do recessions tend to create a lot of marbles, but so does looking after two elderly parents and their many appointments, keeping up with two households and two yards, all while trying to maintain a high level of work and also accomplishing some critical administration tasks that modern life requires. Right now, my daily demands would literally take 28 hours per day to complete. Oh yeah, and I’d like to sleep and eat in there too somewhere.

For those reasons and many others, starting next week I’m cutting the blog down to one a week for the remainder of the summer. The timing is coincidental but good. A lot of my regular readers are less frequent in summer (understandably), but the real reason is I simply cannot afford the time.

The blog is important to me because I know it’s helped people I’ve never even met except by email or phone, and I know it’s also a touchstone for many of my former students and that they use it keep themselves on track. In both groups, I’m pleased to report that those that keep themselves the most balanced read the blog the most. So I know it has a lot of value to a lot of you but I must weigh that against my context. As important as each marble is, I simply cannot hold more than 50.

So how do I decide what to spill? That’s a personal judgment call every time, but if we resign ourselves to the fact that these decisions actually need to be made then we can just wake up from our pressured suffering and remember that we are still free. We prioritize things and then cut from the bottom. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes a while before we’re prepared to accept that, without changes, we’ll never catch up on our marbles. The time in between is called pressure, but it will always be created by delayed decisions and it will always be resolved by deciding which sacrifices to make.

We can be a bit like the proverbial frog in boiling water with pressure. The temperature can rise slowly and we can accommodate our expectations to a degree, but eventually we’re scalded with some harsh, painful truth. So it’s better to drop the excess marbles before someone tries to add so many that they smash the whole glass. And dropping them won’t even be too painful. You just have to remember to avoid focusing on the 20 that fall so you can focus on the 50 you saved instead.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Victims of Fashion

Not so long ago at all, a bride in Northern Europe would have been chosen because she had a strong upper body for churning butter. Today women are far compelled to feel equally concerned with their bodies but they also must add what they dress them in. There are few things that torture a teenage girl more than her wardrobe or lack thereof.

In trying to understand the illusion we all live under it is helpful to look at the idea of fashion itself. What is it to be fashionable? In the photo above a model shows work designed by students at Central Saint Martins Art and Design College, which is connected to the University of the Arts in London. These are some of the top design students anywhere.

These students are learning to be at the forefront of fashion. People would pay a lot to see these pieces shown. And yet most of the people reading this will look at the photo and deem tucking one’s suit coat into one’s athletic shorts is simply silly. It feels like that thing we all do when we’re young artists and we try to make ourselves distinct by trying to out-weird our classmates. And we’re right about that. But we’re also wrong.

The point is, fashion is just what’s in a magazine right now. I’ll change with the certainty that capitalism gives it. They can’t sell you a new shirt if you’re still satisfied with your old one. And so when we’re young and peacocking, the fashion seems worth it. Later when we’re juggling kids it falls to the wayside as other priorities dominate.

Some people stay in fashion and that’s wonderful. It’s an artful expression and like any field, only the very best and most dedicated and those most willing to make other life sacrifices make it to the top. But most people simply stop thinking , believing or caring that it’s more important than your happiness. Because there are a lot of people unhappy over their clothing and that just shows how paper thin our understanding of true happiness is. A wrinkled blouse can destroy it.

The fact is, every person you walk by will think different things about your hair, your face, your body, your clothes and any other identifying mark on you. No two people will react identically. We’re all snowflakes looking at snowflakes. It’s only words and language that forces us to group people together. If we looked more closely, we’d split most of those people apart for being so different. It all depends on what level you focus at.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. It’s not unnatural. Even old-world people like the Wodaabe tribe have standards for beauty, although in their case they apply more to the men than women. They also don’t enact their most fashionable selves all the time and leave it instead for special occasions. The rest of the time you’re allowed to be human.

While enjoying fashion is fine, we also must remember that a six year old would be willing to give a speech with a giant soup stain on their shirt and there would be zero self-consciousness about it because they’d be focused on the microphone and their amplified voice and the podium and everyone watching them. They wouldn’t even consider the shirt. It wouldn’t enter their consciousness.

We should all try to be healthy like that. We should all hear any clothing judgments as being from one snowflake to another. It’s like one grain of wheat telling another grain of wheat how a grain of wheat should look. It’s silly we ever fall for it but that is a part of discovering ourselves. We start life trying to be like everyone else, and with any luck and some awareness, we leave it only wanting to be ourselves.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Interpretations

This blog is about taking the common quotes people see and then extrapolating them into useful practices that can affect your life today. To that end, today I leave you to do that very thing for yourself.

Your healthy realisation will come when you figure out how both of these quotes can be true at the same time. And you’ll know how dedicated you are to your spiritual development by how different you feel about finding your own meaning versus having me find some of it for you.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Downers

A lot of our thinking stays within us and we’re the only ones that ever know our perspectives exist, but sometimes our thinking externalizes into actual spoken words. Since these words flow in the patterns that create our personalities, we can learn a lot about ourselves by listening carefully to ourselves with others.

As we start trying to catch ourselves we’ll need to do it with big things, and after the fact. Thinks like: what was the overall tone of my last conversation? What all did we talk about? Who started which subjects? What did I engage with and what did I ignore?

Eventually we start catching ourselves within a conversation and we suddenly become aware of where we are in that moment. If you don’t like where we’re at when we do, we suddenly prove how easy it is to change one’s thoughts because we’ll switch instantly and easily. We’ve all done this every time we’re having a big fight with our spouse and then someone from work calls and we answer the phone all cheery and positive. We’ll even flicker between the work identity and our married identity instantly as we cheerily say a sentence with a smile in it, and then as we listen we glare daggers at our partner.

When catching our conversations, first we’ll note a lot of them are sad, or dull, or whiny, or angry, or if we’re lucky maybe they’re relaxed, or fun or hilarious or lively. If we cultivate a lot of the first four we’ll reach for “relaxed” or “lively,” but generally people who are struggling have conversations that sound like people struggling. There’s lots of talk about how misunderstood they are, or what they can’t do, what their limits are, what resources are missing, or how hard, unfair or bad things are.

It will also help to monitor those we talk to. If we’re all having a great time, then we’re good. If one of us is always down and the other is always trying to pull the other up, then that’s strained and it’ll inevitably end. If both of us are always down then we’ve been down long enough that we’ve formed a group of people who like to meet because we’re all so good at negativity.

Once we get better at listening to ourselves while we’re in-conversation we start to spot patterns. We go to certain people for certain things. We have certain patterns attached to certain activities or times of day. Some people will lean on us, others we will lean on. But overall if our tone averages as enjoyable then we’re good, and if it averages as negative for too long then people will slowly disengage and we’ll only hold on to other people who actually worship and nurture sadness like we do.

None of us likes to think we’re negative. When we are negative we prefer to view it as misunderstood, wounded, or betrayed, or weak, or burdened with history. We discuss how no one understands us, or we talk about the hurts we have suffered, or how people have been unfair. We discuss our inabilities and justifications for those inabilities incessantly, and we also claim that things that happened five years ago prevent us from taking action today.

All of this negativity presents as forms of resistance to being, to creation. But every one of us has within us the capacity to alter our world. Even Stephen Hawking’s broke, diseased body took the one thing he had –an abundance of idle time– and he used it to develop his mind to the point where it has travelled farther our into the universe than anyone ever has. And it was all done from a wheelchair.

It will hurt to be inactive in the world. We were built to contribute. Even ants change the world. We certainly were built to build; families, businesses, friendships, community. So we can take our life energy and talk ourselves and those around us into a sad, small, depressing lives filled with suffering, or we can use that same life energy to go out and help others realise something great about themselves or the world. And regardless of our awareness of the fact, our life will be made of the moment by moment choices we make in that regard.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Wisdom in Action

People often ask, which students do best? I explain that the ones that don’t try –but that love the learning and listen well–are best. And who continues to do best? Easy: those most dedicated to their practice. This appears to be the most mundane and obvious part of being healthy, and yet it’s the number one place people lose touch with it.

It’s important to remember that you talk to egos all day long. They try and pull you into ego-world constantly, discussing problems or gossiping or commiserating. You need to defend yourself with meditations that get you back on course. People don’t learn this stuff and float away like Yoda. It’s called a practice for a reason.

Possibly the best student I’ve ever had for dedication to practice is a woman was always very successful at loving people but her anxieties had prevented her from fully realizing all of her personal and professional opportunities. I really liked the woman I met, and the one I know now pretty routinely brings great happiness to me because she’ll post things on social media that are great lessons for all of her friends.

Below are two sample messages from many she’s written like this over the last few years. I often wonder if the people who are always impressed with her resiliency ever notice that about half of her happy and positive social media posts are about things most people would view as “going wrong.” Here’s two great ways to take action in your own life so that others can contribute to your peace and happiness. But always remember, no one will take that action if they don’t see you taking it first:

So normally kindness comes easily to me, it’s second nature, but today it’s something I’m having to do very consciously, especially because although I’m comfortable letting myself be in a low emotional space today I am aware that it has nothing to do with the people I am interacting with.

So today I am finding it more difficult than usual to be my pleasant self with customers, but alas it is part of my job being in customer service to do my best to provide pleasant interactions. That being said I was being especially kind to someone today, in a very small way, but no one looking on would know I struggled with simply extending my kindness today.

A few minutes after this interaction another customer came to pay and commented to me how beautiful she thought it was what I did, which again was really a very simple kindness that we should extend to everyone but was difficult for me today. She told me how she really appreciated seeing me make someone’s day, at which point I very obviously broke into tears and thanked her for letting me know that, as today I was struggling and her simply pointing out that she had noticed had inadvertently made my day!

See how she let that other woman help her feel better? We need to be open to that. So many times people will offer us ways to be happier and we won’t take them. But of course, the more she does it the better she gets:

Talk about a morning full of ninja brain training! Was scurrying around trying to get out the door for work. As I’m locking the door I rest my big bin full of wire wrapping supplies on the deck railing. Mentally told myself to be careful. Locked the door, turn around to grab the bin and instead knock it off.

Bin takes a big fall smashes to pieces, craft stuff goes everywhere. I unlock the door to go inside and grab a bag to put everything into and quickly lock the door and shut it behind me so I can leave as soon as I collect all of my fallen stuff. Have everything collected and I’m ready to go. Wait. Wait. Where are my keys. Oh that’s right, I used them to unlock the door and then hurriedly locked and walked out without grabbing my keys.

Spend the next while breaking into my own house to the extreme amusement of my dogs as I climb through the window, close the window, grab my keys, and finally get on my way to work! Let myself have a few moments of frustration and anger and then because I’ve learnt how to use my thoughts for the better I let it go and decided, hey this was the perfect opportunity to work on my consciousness and my patience!

And somehow through all that I made it to work on time! However I am now offering FREE HUGS all day from 10-9 at Bonnie Doon while I’m at work because I know I could use a hug and maybe you could to!? So come get your free hug, I’ll even throw in a smile!

See that? She was in need, so what did she offer? Generosity. Now that’s wisdom in action. And these are all things we can all do. So let’s be like her and do them, shall we? After all, it is our life.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.