Symbolic Living

1261 Relax and Succeed - Today is a great dayPresence isn’t a difficult or complex thing to achieve and yet most of us live entirely symbolic lives. We’re not with the world, we just pass symbols about the world back and forth. We say and do things like think and talk about how terrible a news story is, and yet we don’t really stop to think about how terrible the news story really is for the individual human beings involved.

This isn’t to say we’re bad people, we’re simply unaware. We know inside we’re fundamentally good, which is why our ‘bad’ behaviour bothers us and our good behaviour is a source of pride. But today life is so busy–so filled with symbolic work–that we’ve lost touch with a deeper, richer reality. Our mind glances off things, or skims over them, but we don’t slow down to stop except in the most extreme circumstances.

Today is Thanksgiving in the US. The name is pretty self-explanatory and yet every year on Canadian Thanksgiving it’s easy to hear people passing platitudes around about being grateful, and yet the fact that they even are platitudes is a demonstration that they are other people’s analytical expressions of meaning and not our own. We generally don’t even think about most things deeply enough to even come up with our own expressions to describe them.

If you want to know how to live an unaware, emotionally wrought life of tortuous ups and downs then know that’s what it looks like; when people wish each other Happy Thanksgiving, talk about being grateful, say their platitudes, and then mindlessly go right back to their usual awareness level/personality where it’s easy to watch those very same people spending the entire day enacting their their normal, unconscious, ungrateful personality.

1261 Relax and Succeed - Thank youNo matter where you live, don’t make gratitude a symbolic word, make it a call to action. Instead of riding to work thinking about that person you’re mad at, or that thing you feel guilty over, or that thing you regret and or are worried about, and replace those with some easy meditation; what in our lives are we each taking for granted? What fruit is laying around our lives bruised and uneaten simply because we never gave it its proper exalted place on the table, in our personal cornucopia?

We must prevent ourselves from long bouts of self-centered rumination about ‘our lives’ and we should instead meditate from the perspective of a guest–a witness–to our own lives. In doing so, by taking life less personally, it’s easier to comprehend our impact within a greater whole and to see our causal relationships with others. From there it’s easier to appreciate who has brought what into our lives.

Pay more attention to your thoughts. Watch yourself and how you jostle symbols in egocentric self-conversations about how you want things. See that as the noise that it is, and invest your energy in digging more deeply into where the riches in your life are really coming from. Do that and you’ll be grateful for even the worst parents in the world, because even if they are terrible, just conception and birth are the two biggest gifts we will ever get–it is through those that we get any chance at all to have any kind of life, and life itself is the grandest of adventures.

Wake up. Stay aware. Be grateful. It’s that easy. Here’s to all of us.

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.

Type One and Type Two Fun

1260 Relax and Succeed - By seeking pleasureI heard an astronaut on the radio yesterday. When asked if it was fun to do a spacewalk, he responded that it was Type Two Fun, meaning it’s not the kind of fun that you really feel while you’re doing it. The two are very different, but it’s often easier to look at the day around the fun to help determine whether it’s Type One or Type Two Fun.

Type One Fun days are often a lot easier. That’s stuff like going to the beach, or having a party, or going to a good show. Type Two Fun comes from experiences where our own attention needs to be highly focused and the experience is more demanding, like on a spacewalk, or during a big dance number in a show, or when I race my brother’s race car. It’ll be a fun memory when I think about it later, but at the time I need to stay present to keep a very fast car from hitting a wall.

Type One is fun at the time. Two is rewarding later. Rather than suffer for our whole life by trying to avoid Type Two days, we’re all better to understand that inactivity and a lack of motion or creation will lead to our worst suffering. Meanwhile the pain endured to acquire strength or skill ends up as stored energy that releases Type Two Fun when our own personal genius makes itself known through action.

1260 Relax and Succeed - Dwell in possibilityType One Fun is easy. But yin and yang means that there is no getting around certain kinds of suffering in life. Let me write that again: there is no getting around suffering in life. Not for anyone. Young people die, you can’t fight City Hall, and around the world the weak suffer. What makes existence holy is when we accept this fact and we begin turning an idle sadness about life into an action that converts difficult times into rewarding Type Two Fun. Med school is hard. Saving lives feels awesome.

The only help people ever need with Type One Fun is if they start to dose it with thin pleasure, from things like drug addictions etc. But for the most part Type One Fun is easy to enjoy, just possibly harder to find. Opportunities for Type Two Fun abound. They are plentiful all around us. Every complaint points to a potential Type Two Fun solution. Like with being a doctor, refugee camps are hard places to work. Saving lives there feels awesome.

When we’re urged to do what scares us it’s not the fear that has the value, it’s the discovery. Doing things outside our comfort zone increases the size of our comfort zone, and as that circle expands, its growing perimeter encounters increasingly more opportunities to do the sort of things we tend to look back on with pride and self-satisfaction. That’s credit we know we’re truly due, and it never feels better than when we rightfully give it to ourselves.

1260 Relax and Succeed - For most people their spiritual teacherIf most of us look at our lives, our suffering is caused by our resistance to things that are “hard.” That fact is a demonstration of how we all live in illusory worlds, because if we stopped to meditate on our own lives for just a while, we would suddenly make the genuine connection between our suffering and our avoidance of challenges, versus our joys and our overcoming of them.

You will make choices regarding your path every day. Some will be motivated by fear, others by fun, but for greater clarity we require a greater level of consciousness about those choices. Rather than perpetually seeking Type One Fun and torturing ourselves in that act, we are better to fully grasp the value and profound rewards that go with taking on Type Two Challenges.

Don’t hide from what scares you. Use the yin in your life to make room for the challenges that you can then convert into a wave of Type One Fun. It’s in you to do. Enjoy your day.

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.

Dwelling in the Past

1259 Relax and Succeed - Maintain a quiet mindHabits. Your mind is built around recognizing patterns. Done with awareness, it’s a great tool for efficiency. Done blindly, it digs the rut that leads to an early grave. Often we’ll work on our behaviour habits without realizing that without changing the underlying thinking, there is no hope of lasting change; no hope of new awarenesses forming.

Real change happens when we study something closely enough that we can have truly profound realizations about that thing. To most of us, our own families are simply patterns and we’ve stopped interacting with each other with any authenticity long ago, and that reality usually isn’t faced until there’s a death or serious illness. This is what it is to be asleep, spiritually.

When we’re open we’re free. Our minds hover, unattached, unattracted, and quiet. When we’re lost in ego we’re attached to our desires and our minds are busy. They bounce around familiar conversations like they’re the walls that form our own mental prison. We get in the car and every day we yell at fellow drivers, never seeing our own upset as being the habit that is generating our suffering, but using our thinking to instead blame others the suffering we have chosen through a lack of awareness.

1259 Relax and Succeed - Watch your thoughts

We walk into rooms and begin old and familiar self-conversations about arguments from the past; or we talk to ghosts from our history about days we wish never would have happened, or we see things in symbolic ways rather than open ones. These are all common, understandable events to begin, but to stay healthy we must catch ourselves in these states of mind and we must consciously shift out.

The value isn’t so much in the switching, because any pain we feel is confined to our thinking anyway, so the important part is the awareness. Once we understand it in a┬álarger context, any suffering we do is less meaningful. By placing it in a larger context it takes on a contrasting value that is difficult to recognize when we only see it as something dark that we want gone. Like a big, mean dog that we’re trapped in our homes with, if we can’t wish it away, then we’re all better to make friends with the part of us that has the potential to tear us apart from the inside.

Don’t move through your life with blind habits of thought. That’s to live the life of a spiritual zombie. Awaken. It’s not some big mysterious paint your face in the jungle thing, and it’s not something profound and holy and out of reach–true spirituality is with you when you do the mundane mindfully. It is not what you are doing, it is how mindfully you are doing whatever it is.

There are walls in your life that restrict you. From how you wake up, to what you listen to, to your route to work, to your reactions on the way and when you’re there; these things are all too-often decided before you even start your day. If we live unconsciously we will bounce between barriers formed by nothing more than our own limiting thoughts, and we will live repetitive, unimaginative existences. We have to get out of our common thoughts and develop our awareness like a muscle.

1259 Relax and Succeed - We do not heal the past

Here’s a little brain test: I’d consider slotting it into at least one day of your week as purely worthwhile exercise. Maybe it’s the radio in your car, maybe it’s a podcast instead of a music playlist, or a streaming audio book–it doesn’t really matter–your job is strictly to listen. Do whatever you’re doing safely and with the appropriate attention, but to prevent your mind from otherwise wandering to familiar self-talk narratives, stay listening instead.

If you miss even one sentence, double back and listen again. Do that; frustrate yourself until you can maintain your focus well enough to simply listen to whomever you choose, for what is really a relatively short period of time. If you can’t hold your focus for that long, or you can’t even keep dedicated to that single achievement, then you know you haven’t suffered enough yet to truly want your health.

If the awareness doesn’t motivate you then that’s fine–but it does definitely mean you are actively choosing suffering, because once we have that shift in understanding,all of this gets easy . We’re suddenly aware that our day is built by us, and so for the day to improve we have to improve at building it, not at finding some secret hidden in our past.

What kind of day will you build today? Will it be made from an unconscious collection of learned habits from your past, or will you awaken to your own originality and create your day anew, from freshly minted and silent moments of now? You make the choice every day. The only< question is: are those choices conscious or not?

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.

The Heartbreaking Cost of Finding True Love

1258 Relax and Succeed - We feel the love we giveWhen we’re young we think it’s anyone notable. Notably attractive, notably strong, notably wealthy, notably popular; and we’ll go after the best version of that we can find. If our standards are relatively low we can be happy for a long time, but if they’re very high we end up breaking up a lot.

By the time we’re a little more mature we’re looking for someone who’s more of a match for us. We want someone who’s naturally inclined to have similar interests and values regarding how the energy in life gets invested, so it becomes less how people are to others and more how they are to us. But we still are quite particular about what we’ll accept.

Once we’ve had some difficult life experiences with the limits of our tolerance we know that even someone compatible to our interests isn’t good enough and we begin to look for people that are simply easy to be with. Just someone to share life’s loads with. By that stage people have surrendered their big strict romantic ideals and they happily trade that for a daily partner who simply sees past our own faults and still makes us feel truly loved. (Although notably, precious few work on trying to be easier to get along with themselves.)

1258 Relax and Succeed - May you be held in compassionWe can be lucky and find profound connections like that right away, but even they aren’t often destined for life. Regardless, for most people who do ultimately find true love (which isn’t a large percentage), it often takes several relationships and a lot of meeting people before they finally find someone that defies everything they’ve learned, and everything they know about themselves. At that point we are left with a very inexplicable attraction that exists despite all complications, including those surrounding our own confusion and/or lack of trust.

In the other relationships we were certain, and then we beat up ourselves for not being able to figure out how to make the relationship feel worth it. Each time we thought we’d finally figured it all out and finally knew what was right for us, but then we realised that all we did was graduate from one level of misinterpretation to a more sophisticated version of misinterpretation. Yet, in the case of actually realising true love, we’re often so startled by it that we question even ourselves. Despite our brain being uncertain, we find ourselves with a strange dedication nevertheless.

We do think these are the most beautiful people in the world, but not in the way we’ve traditionally thought of that concept. We see them as having deep and wonderful connections to various aspects of our lives, and yet they may have less to do with our personal interests than any other person we’ve been with. They are easy to be with in a very special way. These are people you can be at your worst with and still feel safe.

1258 Relax and Succeed - True love can be foundIn unexpected ways, the ultimate people for us will have all of the qualities we’ve always sought, they just won’t deliver that package of qualities the way we might have originally imagined. But how they always stand out is that these are the people we’ll pay a price for. These are the people who we are devoted to despite our better judgment. They are the ones who somehow magically compel our hearts to make significant sacrifices that aren’t about us feeling unworthy ourselves; they’re about us seeing the other person unconditionally.

There is no explaining them, and there is no way in which to go about finding them, they simply occur. But when they do they’ll stay with you for life, whether they live or die. We’ll never know enough to understand all the wonders that take place in our consciousness, but true love is what it is nevertheless.

Some people frustrate us because they only represent a part of the universe we’re looking for. But when we finally find a person that is whole to us as they currently are–even with us aware of their faults and weaknesses–well, then, that person is someone who can open a universe to us.

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.

A Life Made of Moments

1257 Relax and Succeed - What makes a life awesomeYou’ll find cases who are big stars, or some will be your friends, family or maybe a mentor or lover. They don’t feel like failures to you because they don’t feel that way themselves. Even someone with a small life filled with disasters can really like how it all unfolded, because they know that even most awesome-looking lives are filled with reactions to failure. What makes a life awesome isn’t based in our results, it’s found in the quality our interactions in pursuing them.

A good example of the results not mattering was yesterday’s post, where we looked a gold medal athlete who might move into retirement feeling sorry that they passed on a must-win attitude that makes both themselves and their child their worst, most impatient, critical selves. A gold medal can’t fix the fact that the quality of their daily interactions will have suffered to get it and, in the end, which is worth more when the athlete’s 50? Love and companionship, or ostensibly a necklace too ostentatious to wear every day?

When we hear of people shifting in this direction or that, extremely few of them are following some muse or calling, because, even if they were that does not remove the fact that life doles out a lot of punishment on its way to giving us its rewards. (Warning: movie spoiler alert.) This is what makes the ending of the film Arrival so beautiful; even though she knows she’s signing up to watch her daughter slowly die, and to be deserted by a beloved husband, when given the chance to do it all again, she joyfully takes it.

1257 Relax and Succeed - Successful people aren't betterMost of the moves we see people make in life are because of the punishment life delivers. Part of this life-game is down at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid and we all need to eat, so some aspect of life is invested in providing for ourselves and/or others, and our comparative minds we tend to evaluate a large part of ourselves on the basis of how much ‘food’ we’re able to provide. Likewise, we judge others on much the same basis.

This means we can detect the possibility that a manager who moves into a lower position in a new company may have been fired by the previous company, but we don’t often realise that the creation of a new TV show was actually the product of someone having their previous show fail and be cancelled. We see the new show as a victory, not as a reaction to the failure of the old show.

Lawyers lose a lot of cases. Athletes lose a lot of games. Lovers have their heart broken, and a parent can move up or down in status in their pursuit to ensure they’re providing for their children. This means that lives that we may judge as failures are also filled with successes, just as the lives we view as successes are always also filled with rejections.

1257 Relax and Succeed - When your'e not concerned with succeedingWhat counts is: what did that person do in the face of rejection? Curl up and die? No, they move forward on whatever path is best, whether it appears to lead up or down? Because it’s not like we can tell where a path is going by how it looks at the start. No one begins thinking their wedding will lead to a legal nightmare, just like they won’t assume divorce is the greatest thing that will ever happen to their love life, and yet both things often happen just that way.

Our failures will come. Some we’ll see coming, some will be unexpected. The healthy reaction is to avoid turning that fact into a personally destructive internal narrative about failure. We must free ourselves by understanding that failure litters every life, and that the quality of your life will actually be dictated by how you react, and not by what happened.

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.

The Conscious Unconscious

1256 Relax and Succeed - Until you make the unconscious consciousOur aim should be to have a rewarding life. Any external goal will takes us away from that and everything and everyone becomes about that goal. We like people who help us get what we want and we don’t like people who impede what we want; but only in hindsight do we recognize that some very unhealthy people or choices came from pursuing an external goal, and that the real value laid hidden; weaved into the smallest moments in our lives.

What does this look like in practice? It’s the athlete who pursues a gold medal with such fierce determination that they can yell at those around them for not supporting them enough. Whether they win the gold or not is irrelevant, but later they can look back at their own child, or someone else they influenced with their success, and they can recognise that they were often modelling terrible human behaviour in their blind pursuit of their goal.

A gold prospector can leave home to seek riches, but whether they strike it rich or not, they may primarily find discord, greed and mistrust. What was supposed to add wealth to their lives could easily add suffering and pain and loss. Yet later, whether they lay in a shed or a mansion, they will pine for the lost friendships that were developed through hard-fought experience, all while they recall the the incredible views from their mountaintop campsites that were all too soon ignored in favour of angry discussions about the progress toward “the gold.”

1256 Relax and Succeed - The alchemists in their search for goldJohn Lennon reminded us that “Life’s what happens when you’re busying making other plans.” Most people’s dreams don’t come true, and yet many people who’ve had theirs come true didn’t achieve their objective, they altered their perspective. Usually when they’re about to lose an important part of their lives, rather than focusing on their original external goal, people begin to notice the accidental value they have acquired through simply being alive.

Do that for yourself today. Ask yourself, what occupies your thoughts? What exactly are you trying to make happen in your life , including doing things to ensure nothing happens? Where do you currently see the value in that activity? What other value does it have other than how it relates to your larger goal? No one has a big family, people have individual kids that add up to a big family. The value isn’t in the size, it’s in the each kid, so that is where our focus should be.

We all need a place to start and an external goal is as good as any. We just need to induce ourselves into motion. Once we are active, if we’re paying attention, we’ll realise that the big smashes and hits at the start do break off large pieces of our largest self–the one with the most potential. But what they leave is an increasingly refined shape until, over time, we do not see those “losses” as losses. We come to realise that each experience shapes us, and if we allow life to do it, it naturally exposes who we truly are.

You’re somewhere along your journey. I starts out with zeal and confusion and steadily marches towards contentment and clarity. In the end your goals in life will have been largely irrelevant to your living of it, so figure out what they are and look at the prices you pay, and ask yourself how you’re likely to feel about your life after you’ve achieved or surrendered your goal. Will it have seemed worth it? If not, make it worth it now, rather than pine than you didn’t then. This is what it means to be present.

Have a wonderful day everyone.

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.

What’s Your Hidden Agenda?

1255 Relax and Succeed - The moment I saw youOur ego is sly. It’s been with us since we were little, so its voice is so ubiquitous that it just disappears into the background. But it has an agenda, and the problem for our soul is; that isn’t our agenda, it’s our ego’s.

Our ego doesn’t like challenge, or discomfort or pain. Avoiding those experiences means that our ego makes us pay for that resistance with anxiety, insecurity and suffering. It’s really not a very good trade; living in an ego state where you need things to be your way when your soul is fine with how things already are–including you.

A good example of this is when people are super upset. Presuming the experience isn’t common, people rarely see anyone extremely upset and it can be alarming at first because everyone’s family does that differently. Some people talk about suicide or destroying things, others go dark and silent for days, other attack those present with lashing words. Regardless of what it looks like, it’s when someone is in in an egocentric state and they are experiencing serious distress.

1255 Relax and Succeed - Never in the history of calmSo how does an ego react? Our ego isn’t really interested in the world, it’s focused on its own personal impression of the world, but our ego can’t even have a personal impression of anything because it is created by other people and experiences. It’s like a recording, or a Turing Machine, or set of levers. It’s not very flexible and it only has access to knowledge but no wisdom.

When someone is extremely upset our ego wants them to calm down quickly because it’s uncomfortable for our egos to be in challenging circumstances. Instead we generate anxiety as we struggle to figure out what to say to achieve our own agenda, yet when someone’s in distress, our agenda isn’t going to be relevant whether we want it to be or not.

Our soul has no agenda, so it needs nothing from the other person. It merely observes and responds by nature. This means rather than trying to think of the right thing to say, (which is like using our hand to smooth the ripples out of water), our soul can simply be present. It rightfully understands that it is present for the other person’s experience, but it’s not having the other person’s experience. That alone should generate some helpful gratitude.

1255 Relax and Succeed - To obtain satoriOnce we’ve taken away our personal resistance to the behaviour we’re witnessing we can then have our natural wisdom take over. When we’re in that state we seem to say just the right thing, even if it immediately might not feel like it to our ego. Rather than asking the person’s ego to find the soul that creates it, instead our soul invites their ego to surrender and be at peace in the chaos. Your ego wants them to feel better, your soul is prepared to join them in feeling badly.

It isn’t hard to see that if we’re prepared to feel badly then we get to avoid the anxiety, worry and second-guessing involved with trying to figure out the right thing to say. Sometimes there is no right thing. Sometimes the person just needs time while they feel loved and then the process can unfold. But no matter where anyone is in that state, no one is wrong, no one is lost, and no one is right and no one is found. We are all simply either being an ego or being ourselves and we will balance between the two as the act of living our lives.

Take time to be present with suffering even if it’s your own. Rather than fix it just observe it. Prove to yourself, that can be more comfortable being present than being happy, and in doing so, enjoy your day.

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.