As children we are filled with wonder. Every new thing is so completely new that it fills our minds with experiences that are so profound that they leave us with no space or time for the generation of an ego. At that stage we are so thoroughly focused on taking the universe in that we simply have no thoughts about our selves.
Most of us drift away from that sense of wonder slowly, once we learn to talk and name things. Once we know the name of a kind of bird, we effectively stop seeing it. We never look to see what’s unique about that individual versus another individual, they all just become merely ‘sparrows,’ or ‘robins’ or ‘crows.’ The problem is that we also do that to people, and the other treasures in our lives.
Let us intentionally regain our sense of wonder for the universe this weekend. Let us go to a botanical garden with a magnifying glass. Look at the gemstones in our local museum. We can go to a science center and look though a microscope, or go for a walk in the wood and really look at the woods themselves. We need time to go slow. To sit still.
In the ravine near my house, if a sitter is patient, seeing a fox is not impossible but extremely exciting. As in much of life, patience pays dividends.
Here’s a man who’d seen his hobby become too ordinary. It took some creativity and boldness on his part, combined with the support of a friend and an open and friendly public, and not only did he remind himself about how great his hobby is, but he also re-introduced wonder to a lot of lucky strangers.
If you’re in Edmonton, where I am, you can arrange to look through some wonderful telescopes through RASC, which is linked to the Telus World of Science. Every city will have similar organizations. Consider attending. It will stretch more than just our knowledge. Experiences like these help place ourselves in the universe in a curiously spiritual way. These experiences manage to be both grand and humbling.
Our problems live in our heads. We often to do more to solve them by getting out of our heads. Let’s make the world less personal and more universal. It can help to put our challenges in a larger perspective.
When we’re living in a future where things go wrong, then we worry. That is problematic, because the worrisome thoughts steal time and energy from us focusing on maintaining a healthy perspective and then developing a suitable plan.
For instance, in the Edmonton area two guys in cars have recently been engaging a few 10-20 year old pedestrians in conversation and then they rob them of their money and their phones. They don’t hurt them, just threaten them. And they only want older kids who have phones and money.
First, the perspective. Metro Edmonton has well over 1.3 million people (literally, less than one in a million chance), and it’s just short of 10,000 square kilometers (it’s 3,640 square miles) in size. The odds that anyone’s 10-20 year old kid runs into these kids are extremely low.
There’s a far higher chance they’d be hurt with a relative in the car, which is statistically the least safe place they ever are. But the odds are too low to worry about, as we all know. That’s why we all drive with kids in cars. So if we can casually do that with their biggest risk, imagine how low the odds must be for them to run into someone in 10,000 square kilometers.
Secondly, once we know the odds, an appropriate plan is wise. You can come up with whatever plan you want, but as an example:
If the child is old enough for a cell phone, they can facebook live any unusual approaches to them by anyone in a car. They can even explain that fact to the people right while they’re filming them as they approach.
They can politely say, “Sorry to ‘facebook live’ you, but I’m doing it to everyone for a while. There’s been robberies on the news so until they catch those guys I’m filming any stranger that wants my attention. That way there is always a public record of the people I interact with. Who’s gonna rob someone when they know the cops already have a photo of them? So what did you guys want?” (That was off the top of my head, you can likely do better.)
The last thing we want to do is cripple anyone’s spirit with unnecessary and unrealistic fear.
What the plan is doesn’t matter, it just has to be matter-of-fact and based on the kid using their observation skills. It has to empower them to feel like they can be in as much control as is humanly possible.
If our planning sounds terrified or panicked or based on irrational fear, then the kid will pick up on that and that will mislead them about their actual odds of being in danger, which are again, very low. The last thing we want to do is cripple anyone’s spirit with unnecessary and unrealistic fear.
These can be good teaching moments to help children understand perspective and to learn to manage risk. Life will demand those skills when we’re older.
Don’t load your life with fear. Recognize, analyze and plan and then drop it. We really do have to remind ourselves that we can only do what we can only do.
We absolutely can drive all children everywhere for the next year. And that should draw no criticism –it’s one type of person’s answer. But it too will have a price, both in terms of the child’s mental and physical well being. So whatever route we choose, we should understand that all choices –even the safest ones– carry prices.
Life is essentially an exercise in weighing risk versus reward, and ‘being an individual’ is comprised of how much of each we are individually prepared to accept.
We all share the same budget of time at the beginning of every week. On our personal spreadsheet of life we invest that limited time in various amounts on various priorities. But the important question is, how often are we investing our budget of time on the things that help us enjoy life and grow? And how often are we simply on emotional autopilot having repetitive experiences?
For the human ego, these priorities are generally dictated by attempts to resolve a fundamental insecurity that grew naturally from some key event early in our lives. So it’s not really our list; chance makes those things our ego’s desire. The real you needs very little to be rewarded.
Excluding sleep, the ego’s list will include primarily boundary-inducing negative practices like rumination, speculation, boredom, second-guessing, angry wonder, blame, self-recrimination, being zoned-out, gossiping, working, eating, daydreaming, and in some happenstance cases it’ll result in fun, laughter and sexuality with very occasional bouts of peace.
That list above was created by a spiritually blind ego –one that is living out of unconscious habit rather than conscious choice. What is the purpose in weighing our days by the deficits we perceive in life? Why weigh ourselves by what didn’t get done and the list of things we don’t like about ourselves or others?
What is the purpose in weighing our days by the deficits we perceive in life?
As much as we can, we should practice dropping that unhealthy behaviour as soon as we notice it. And dropping something is much easier when we pick something else up, so rather than scan life for what disappoints us we should invest our consciousness in more constructive and inspiring moments –moments that allow our natural love of life to shine through.
Moments of love include us looking at flowers or listening to birds or by stopping to pet the neighbour’s cat for a moment of connection to the universe around us. We also exchange a healthy energy with the universe just by stopping to have a short conversation that makes a child or other adult feel valued. We can feel moments of grace when we are helpful to a stranger –or we can even feel good about our success in refraining from attacking ourselves.
We’ll still take that ego spreadsheet out and we’ll start filling it out out of habit. Many things about our lives signal us to got lost in that direction, so it’s up to us to remember that every soul’s lifetime only includes so many pages. So let’s start a new accounting system right away.
As soon as we sense that we’ve accidentally fallen into filling out a list of columns for our ego we should shift to filling out one based on our successes and good feelings.
Both our ego books and the experience of clarity will always exist. But like the old native story about feeding our light wolf over our dark wolf, we are best to invest our energies in filling up the columns that will ultimately add up to a truly worthwhile lifetime.
She takes a moment. She feels like maybe it’s an idea too hard to sell. “Mom’s not right about everything….”
Grandpa chuckles. “Oh, I know honey. I remind her of that probably a bit too often for a guy that wants a healthy relationship with his daughter.”
“I told Mom that Sasha and Mercedes were picking on me. But she just said I should ignore them. But I can’t. They’re in my school!”
Grandpa frowns, with his hands on his hips. He’s clearly thinking about something seriously. Then: “I’ll get a bunch of the guys I play cards with and we’ll go over to the school and we’ll beat your bullies with dead snakes and then drive over them in our scooters. How’s that?”
The kid giggles. “Grandpa. I mean it.” She pleads, “They’re mean.”
“No snakes eh….” By the time people are grandpas they’ve often learned a lot about being a human and about how adults get formed by childhoods. He can tell this might be a big moment, so he drops down beside her and slows himself down.
He restarts by tucking her in tighter, which she always likes. “Well sweetie, you know your Mom and I disagree about all kinds of things because we’re different people who do things different ways. But we both love you, which is why I agree with your Mom on this one.”
“But you can’t just ignore people when they’re there grandpa!”
“I ignore you when you bug me for candy.”
The kid finds this defense exasperating. “That’s candy. This is people! It’s not the same!”
Grandpa rears up. “AHA. There’s our answer right there.”
“Where? What answer?”
“You think candy and insults are different.”
“Grandpa, everyone wants candy. Everyone. No one wants people being mean to them.”
“No, you want the candy, not me. I don’t want candy. To me you’re just some kid bugging me for candy while I’m trying to read my book. That’s kind of like those girls trying to bug you while you’re playing. It’s the same.”
It is, but it’s not. That’s frustrating for her because she wants her pain. “I’m not confused. They’re mean to me.”
I tightens his embrace around the cocoon of comforters wrapped around her. “Aww sweetie, I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt if that’s what we’re focused on. But I want to save you from that and we can’t make those girls go away.”
He just pets the child’s head for a bit before restarting. “Look, I don’t mind so much when you want candy. But it’s still not good for you to eat all that sugar, so as the grandpa your Mom deputized me in the candy police–
“The Candy Police???” Even a little kid thinks he’s getting a bit rich.
“–yes, because you’re too little to do what we adults call the ‘self-regulation of impulses.’”
“Nothing. Grandpa accidentally tossed a $20 dollar word into a $5 dollar conversation. My fault. What I meant was, adults know when it’s okay to do what we want, and when we shouldn’t. At least mostly. Except maybe your uncle Danny. Anyway, the deciding what to do and what not to do –that’s most important part of life.”
“So how do I make them decide to stop being mean?”
“You can’t. They’re free, just like you. You don’t want to be forced to do what they want you to do –do you?”
“Then you can’t tell them what to do either.”
“Grandpa, everyone wants candy. Everyone. No one wants people being mean to them.”
“But I don’t like it!”
“Well that makes sense, they’re being mean. No one likes that. But they don’t control what you focus on. That’s the thing you get to decide. Your Mom’s right. You can ignore them by deciding to focus on something else.”
The kid rolls her eyes. This grandpa has clearly never been to school. “Grandpa, you can’t just not listen. They’re right there.”
“No, I get that sweetie. There are times when you can hear the sound waves coming out of their mouths and those do hit your eardrums. When you’re there. But they’re not here now, right? They’re not in your bedroom on a weekend?” Just in case, he checks under the bed.
Where’s he going with this? She’s so confused she can’t even figure out how to respond, so he just gets an exhasperated “Grandpa…!”
“No, I mean it. I’m serious. I swear, you’re confused about something. You don’t have to believe me. I’ll explain it.”
“I’m not confused.”
“Just about this one thing –you just haven’t had anyone explain this to you. I’ll make sure to give your Mom heck for not teaching it to you yet.”
This can be Mom’s fault? That makes the lesson much more palatable. She leans a little further into the idea her grandpa is pitching. He can see a common enemy has got them allied. That makes presenting an idea much more likely to succeed. “You like when we go fishing, right?”
“What’s this got to do with Sasha and Mercedes being mean to me?”
“That is a very good question and I promise to answer it. But first you have to tell me if you like fishing and if you do, tell me why?”
“You know why.”
She protests being forced. “Grandpa.”
“You like riding in Grandpa’s boat, right? You like when we stop the motor and just float, and you like how the shiny metal makes the bright lines on the water and the sound the waves make when they hit it.”
She restresses: “Sasha and Mercedes Grandpa, Sasha and Mercedes.”
“I’m getting there. I promise. In this story they drown –sort of.”
Now the kid’s more interested. “Really?”
Grandpa suddenly goes Zen and asks the obvious. “What’s a boat?”
“What? It’s a boat. Like your boat. The thing we go fishing in.”
“Yeah, but what is it. What does it do?”
“Boats don’t do anything. They just float.”
Is he serious? “Grandpa. On the water.”
“On it, or in it?”
“Well…” she gives it super serious consideration. “…mostly on, but some of it is in –the parts where our feets go.”
“So then, a boat is kind of like a hole filled with air, down in the water?”
This is a crazy funny idea. “Grandpa, water can’t have holes!”
“Sure it can. They’re called ‘boats.’ If the sides of the boat weren’t there but the water still stayed back, wouldn’t there be a hole in the water where the boat was?”
“You mean if there was no boat?”
“Yeah, but the water stayed where it was.”
Okay wait, maybe he does have a point she’s starting to think now that she’s picturing it…. He’s getting an affirmative look so he continues.
“Okay. So a boat is a little like a hole in the water where we put our feet when we fish. But what makes the boat float is that the water can’t get in, right?”
“It would be a dumb boat if water got in Grandpa.”
Now it’s his turn to laugh. “They needed you on the Titanic.”
“What’s the Titan…”?”
“It was a big boat, but they forgot to keep the water on the outside.”
“That was dumb.”
“Suuuper dumb. But we gotta get back to Sashes and Mercedy there–“
She rolls her eyes and stresses, “Sasha. And. Mercedes….”
“Whatever; the ones that drown. So here’s what your Mom means by ‘ignore them.’ She means that your mind is like a boat you own. You can invite anyone you want into your boat, but the boat only floats –ours minds only stay healthy– if we keep the water out. And Sasha and whatshername are all wet.”
That gets him a giggle, but mostly she’s thinking, brow furrowed. “Sasha and Mercedes are made of water?”
“Well, not really them, it’s their thoughts that are the water.” He takes a moment to think of a way to describe it. “You know how you can’t run fast in the water when I chase you at the pool? That’s ’cause water slows us down. When you hear Sasha and Mercedes say mean things, that’s like hearing the water against the side of the boat. But when you put their water in your head it slows you down. But the water never gets into the boat unless we decide to think about the mean things that people like Sasha and… Merrrrr….–“ Oh oh.
“MERCEDES! MERCEDES! MERCEDES! MERCEDES!”
“–MERCEDEEEESSSS– say. Right? Get it? Them saying mean things at school is the water hitting the side of your mind –the side of your boat. But you thinking of them here in your bedroom, tonight, days later –that’s you pouring their water into your boat. Remember, boats float in water, not on it.
“So all our lives people will splash mean things in our direction, but none of that matters if we stay dry in our boat. So that’s what your Mom means. You sitting here in bed thinking about insults you got hours or days before now is you inviting those girls into the space in your boat when you could have been thinking about me….” Grandpa hangs his head, dejectedly.
She realizes he’s trying to steal her victim thunder. “Grandpa…”
“It’s true. You were thinking of them instead of us going fishing. Who do you feel better spending time with?”
“You. Of course.”
“So take me in your boat instead of them. I take you in mine. That’s why I miss you when we go to Arizona.”
She’s not sure she likes this. She’d like this to be Sasha and Mercedes issue to manage.
“Come on. Whose boat is it?”
She tries to wait him out, but he only raises his eyebrows until she reluctantly clucks out a quick, “Mine.”
“Exactly. Your boat is your mind and your job as the Captain is to keep the water out. Right Captain?”
“Can I get a hat?”
“A Captain’s hat?”
“We’ll see what we can do. But do you think you can keep Sasha and–“
She warns him with a look–
“–Mercedes,” he adds carefully “from getting inside your boat?”
“I don’t want their dumb mean faces in my boat.”
“Perfect. Then just don’t think their thoughts. Their thoughts are the water. You only take a thought when you need a drink. They’re not for filling boats. Especially polluted water like theirs.”
“Yeah. Polluted.” She looks like maybe she feels better.
With kids he knows it often will take a while for an idea like this to stick so he reminds her one last time. “Okay, so where’s the boat we want to keep dry?” She taps her head. “Right. And who’s the lake?”
“MERCEDES, and Sasha.”
“Right. And what’s the water?”
“What they think.”
“Their opinions. Right. And so who’s the Captain that keeps water from getting into your boat?”
“RIGHT! See. They can bang water against the side of your boat all day. But you practice keeping that water out then your boat will not sink my dear. Every boat gets some water in it because storms make the waves big. But we can always bail out what got put in, so you just remember to keep the inside–“ he taps her on the noggin “of your boat as dry as you can, okay?”
“Dry as a bone grandpa.”
“I believe that. You bonehead.” He lightly raps his knucks on her noggin.
She giggles. “I’m not a bonehead.”
“Sure you are. Your a chip off your Mom’s bonehead.”
Now she loves when he does this. “Mom’s not a bonehead!”
“She was when she was a teenager, ask your grandma.”
“Did she put a lot of water in Grandma’s boat?”
Grandpa stops and refocuses, sensing an opportunity for some fun and a chance to be a good husband. “You know what? That is a very good question. It’s such a good question that; the next time your Mom and your Grandma are together –and it’s a time when your Mom is really mad at Grandma– that would be a really good time to ask your Mom about the water she splashed into Grandma’s boat when she was in high school. If she’s mad at Grandma that would be a good time for her to remember the times she got Grandma all wet, don’t you think?”
That gets a big few nods in the affirmative. He gives her a little nod of agreement. They are on the same page. He switches to an official tone. “Ready for sleep mode?”
She nods her agreement.
“Okay. five deep slow ones.” The little girl takes five very slow breaths in and out in time with her grandpa. It sounds like they’re already asleep. “Good. That helps slow the machine down. Now you just keep breathing like that, and soon you get to dream! Tomorrow morning you can tell me about all the things you did in your dreams, okay?”
He kisses her on the head. “Boat dry sweetie, okay?”
She nods, he smiles, and out goes the light as the bedroom door closes.
From the darkness, a confident little whisper responds, “Aye aye, Captain.”
Fame, money and popularity are just as likely to lead to a person’s self-destruction as they are to equal a good or meaningful life. Despite our common drive to have those big identities, in many cases the most successful lives are those that happen quietly, in the background. Ours are likely some of them.
The greatest lives are lived by those who see greatness in others and greatness in the world around them –including themselves. It literally means they spend their lives surrounded by greatness and generally feeling great. How can that not feel good?
It’s important to note that a great life isn’t more fun or less trouble than other people’s lives. Instead, ‘problems’ and ‘mistakes’ are accepted as a fundamental part of the deal. That leaves the wise to focus instead on the wonderfully satisfied feeling that comes with relentlessly and confidently being ourselves and allowing others to do likewise –all while comfortably accepting the prices associated with us being us and them being them.
Examples of the sorts of quiet but internally great lives –the sort that have opened up universes of beauty for others– can be found by tracing a theory I’ve long had. That theory suggests that if we tracked backwards from the world’s greatest minds, we will often find the same teachers, or coaches or inspirations that many great people would have in common as powerful influences.
If you stop to think of your own life, there’s usually entire groups of kids who define a particular teacher as being one of the best they’ve ever had. It’s because those teachers are overflowing with their ability to see the world’s beauty in some particular way, and in sharing it they give others lifelong gifts that matter more than any other kind. We remember the people that gave us those.
This article features one of those visionaries. George Berzsenyi is someone who saw potential in others and he offered himself selflessly to them simply because he took so much joy from sharing the beauty he saw.
Whether this article drew attention to him or not, George would still have opened many wonderful doors for many people. And all of that joy and awareness was created directly through his sharing. That is a beautiful legacy. And what a win-win for he and the students –that sharing and that appreciation was how they spent their lives!
I know if it was film or TV I’d sincerely rather see a student I’d had win an award than to get one myself. That would likely mean they had seen the beauty I was trying to show them. I’d love to think I helped them see it, but the only really important thing is that they got to see it at all.
I feel the same way about this work. Everyone seems beautiful to me and I absolutely love sharing what I see in them, with them. It feels good when they see how beautiful they are, and how beautiful the people unfairly judging us all are –after all, we are all each other. If we learn to let that be, people struggle less with the world and they let it –and more importantly themselves– flow more freely, which naturally releases joy.
That being the case, let us commit to sharing our passions. If we don’t know what we’d share, let’s start figuring out why we don’t already know what that is and then seek the answer within ourselves, even if that means taking on some searching. Bottom line, everyone has wonderful things to offer. And the generosity feels good to give. So give.
It certainly does the world no good for anyone to withhold their light. Don’t hide yours. Shine baby shine.
Once we gain the ability to see people unconditionally, it becomes painful experiencing someone turn in on themselves. Humility is attractive, but self-criticism based on insecurity is like watching someone slice their own soul open. If only people realized how incredible they are.
When we feel fantastic and when we feel awful, it is the same us generating both of those identities. We have to stop and really think about that.
We can’t let our sense of our selves or the quality of our days be left to chance. Yet, that’s what most people do without ever realizing they have an option. If we don’t become aware that we can conjure large parts of our lives with our intentions, we will view the world largely out of habit.
The danger in habitual thinking is that it means that if we are unhappy we will stay that way. People who think they’re going to have a bad day are going to be able to find one lurking within every day for sure because nothing is ever perfect. But the same goes for bad days. None are perfectly bad.
The variable quality of our lives is influenced, but how it feels will ultimately depend most on how hard we’re inclined look for evidence of things that inspire us, versus those that don’t.
This awareness of our ability to choose not only inoculates us against long term suffering, but it also promises the potential of an exalted life. Just like a sad or angry life, a wonder and love-filled life also exists in potential for almost everyone. But it is we who must consciously enact that life.
We should be wary if we feel the urge to hide from our own lives. We are not failures, we are human. And each of us is the only person out of billions assigned to live our particular life. Every role is part of the larger whole, so if we consider our successes and our failures as part of a larger duty to the universe, then even our mistakes become important, impersonal contributions to the universal flow of yin and yang.
The world transfers energy between positive and negative sources. We shouldn’t panic if we occasionally and accidentally find ourselves the agents of the universe’s need to also express negativity. If we don’t like a feeling there’s little need to add guilt. We’re already motivated to change by how bad it feels.
The point is to avoid creating negative space within our own consciousness by taking action or changing the course of our thinking. At the same time, we must do this while still accepting that negative feelings are an integral part of life. They too make life worth living. The wisdom comes through experience in managing the balance.
Real success is feeling good about being who we are, struggles included. When we can bestow that kind of unconditional love upon ourselves, we are given the capacity to perpetually heal. When we can bestow unconditional love on others, we develop the power to inspire those with whom we share our lives.
This weekend (and for as long as we can sustain it), we would all benefit by engaging with any form of media by challenging and questioning our immediate reactions to it.
Every time we feel compelled to agree with an idea as being ‘right,’ we should reconsider our internal language. We should view the consistency between our view and a person we’re listening to, as being ‘in alignment,’ rather than describing them as ‘being right.’
Likewise we should do the same thing with statements we hear that we disagree with. Rather than defining the speaker as ‘wrong,’ we should see them instead only as differing from our view. After all, when we’re truly wise we realize everyone is a guru. If our judgments mean we decide someone is foolish then we will make no attempt to learn from that teacher.
After all, when we’re truly wise we realize everyone is a guru. If our judgments mean we decide someone is foolish then we will make no attempt to learn from that teacher.
Rather than others being wrong based on our disagreement, we should skip the judgment and meditate instead on the simple question, what life experiences would lead someone to see things that way? In doing so we expand our empathy, our wisdom and our interconnectedness and those things all benefit us even more than others.
This is a very useful exercise, but it demands a lot of consciousness on our part. Even if we’re not that good at altering our narrative, we will all surely gain by paying more attention to what we’re doing with judgments made within our consciousness.
A record label recently ‘signed’ an algorithm to a recording contract. Should the idea of a computer writing some of our music bother us? It’s not hard for something like that to feel strange, or alien or even uncomfortable or unpleasant. But it might not be as weird as it initially seems. And this really does have something to do with how our minds work.
Firstly, this initial record deal is more for mathematical, Brian Eno-like soundscaping than what we’d think of as composed songs. But it’s only a matter of time. After all, notes are mathematical divisions of natural vibrations and instruments simply create their own unique vibrations. When those waves hit our ears it’s our minds that turn them into music.
We don’t have to feel threatened by this new idea. Even if computerized songs get as good as humans, that does not mean humans have to stop writing songs. Human music won’t be suppressed, it will be added to. But learning about this can help us.
Algorithmic music (it even sounds musical), will be just another form of music, much like dividing acoustic and electric performances, or bands from DJ’s, or how we recently added new genres like Blues, the various forms of Jazz, many forms of Rock, R&B, Disco, Grunge and, Hip Hop/Rap.
Each of those types represent groups of patterns that have a rough mathematical border that can overlap other borders for other types, hence country-punk, and jazz-funk etc. I’m hyper conscious of patterns, but the fact that you know the differences between those music types proves that you comprehend this math as well. It’s just that you perceive your results more as a feeling or a reaction or a definition (the name you give the genre).
Note: if an older person has never listened to newer music then their brain won’t have learned that math and they may misidentify two Rock forms –say, Metal and Grunge– as one group, much like a kid in elementary can know odd numbers from even numbers but they have no idea which ones are prime.
So what’s this got to do with our spirituality or psychology? The answer is that explains why we get bored with things after doing them for a long time. A common reaction to music for people in their mid 30’s to 40’s is that they find they suddenly become far less interested in new music. This isn’t to say they’ll never enjoy a new song or that they are not open, but they are representing what it is to be full.
By full I mean that our brains have heard enough songs and enough patterns that by those ages we know those patterns so well that little can sound new to us. Evidence of this is the way that, around those ages, we start thinking of these patterns (in music or movies or shows) as being, like this meets this, or that meets that with a bit of that in it. Rather than new sounding fresh, instead you can hear combinations of known patterns mixing.
Now that you can see you have this skill, consider that you also divide up humans very much like that. Stereotypes like optimists, pessimists, leaders, shy people, Scottish people, mothers, bankers and firefighters are all groups of patterns on top of other patterns, because our mothers are also sisters, and accountants and baby sitters etc..
Personality types are also a part of those patterns, and when families say things like, “Dad’s being Dad again,” or “Raj, why are you always late?” they are expressing what they perceive as that person’s unique pattern. This is why family caregivers carry so much information about loved ones without even realizing it. They simply sense that something is wrong yet they may not know why, even though they are being kind of mathematical about it.
Since these patterns impact personality types it makes sense that it also informs how we know how our friends or co-workers are likely to meet the various patterns in the world (like songs, or traffic etc.) For instance, at a rest without influence, some people think in patterns that create sadness. Others idly create happiness, and still others worry or plan or create. For every type of person there is a pattern to our thinking, and our current conditions will influence those patterns in real-time.
The problem comes in when people see another pattern and wish it was theirs. This is to misunderstand the nature of the universe’s orchestra. Yes, we can improv portions and any song can change its genre at any time, but it also important to note that none of us is wrong being as we are. We just need to enjoy and capitalize on being whoever that is. Some people will like that pattern of being and others won’t. But that’s not personal. It’s just how the patterns go, just like some people like jazz and some don’t.
People’s appreciation of us is a separate issue, but all lives are like beautiful songs. Indeed, some are sadder, some happier, some angrier, still others confused, or even profound. But just as music contains flats a sharps, there are no truly wrong notes for us to play in life, and we can always change our style if we feel it’s worth it.
Even if we feel off-key, or that our timing is off, rather than turn our thoughts against ourselves we are better to simply learn to stop that critic. Because no matter how weird we or others think we are, in the end, the only way for us to play our special song is for us to ignore all judgment and to simply be natural.
PS If you are not in Canada but would like to listen to the podcast linked, the international version if available here: CBC Q Podcast
It’s common for people to wish they’d learned to control their thinking when they were younger. What’s effortless to learn for largely egoless kids is a bit harder when we’re older, that’s fair. More importantly, for a kid, a lot of suffering can be avoided or abbreviated if we know how to manage our emotions earlier in life.
Phones and computers and automation give many of us a false sense of control. But when we are faced with situations that are overwhelming, increasingly people are finding they are incapable of managing that very normal aspect of life. Lessons on managing our feelings needs to start young –younger than we might think.
Every parent should at least consider waking their kid up in a way that helps them truly understand how the world and our minds merge to create our reality. Rather than just telling them to get up and being perfunctory about getting them physically ready, if possible, we should consider taking a moment to get them psychologically ready too.
Kids generally assume that whatever their parents are doing is what’s happening in every house. Normal is whatever our parents do routinely. So if they wake up and they witness us taking a moment to set an intention for a good day, and if we casually expect that they should do likewise, those things quickly instill that healthy ritual as a normal part of waking up.
A parent can present the idea like it’s a big moment –like when a kid doesn’t have to wear diapers anymore– or, if the kid’s older, it can be said much like you might tell them that they have to remember to grab their skates for hockey practice.
It’s either exciting or pedestrian, depending on how much child-like wonder your kid is still functioning with. I’ll use a young kid in the example. In my admittedly highly idealized example, it starts as easily as:
“Tomorrow when we get up we’ll get you started on setting your intentions,”
“What’s that?” the kid may say in some form or other.
“Well, without an intention people’s feelings are kind of like flags or balloons. They just float in the direction the wind is blowing. And you know how people have good moods and bad ones?” The kid nods. “Well, other people’s moods and our own thoughts are the ‘wind’ everyone has in their day.”
“Yeah, it’s like a wind of thinking. Sometimes it blows us along and makes things better, like when people cheer for us or when we’re thinking lucky thoughts. But sometimes it blows hard right at us, like when a lot of people are picking on us, or if we’re mad, or sad. Some days there’s no wind, but most days there’s at least a breeze. So it’s important to start the day with an intention to not get blown off course.”
“What happens when we’re blown off course?”
“Well, we’re just individuals. We’re very strong and we have lots of control, but sometimes we’re hungry, or over-tired, or sometimes we’re just surrounded by too much sadness or anger. But we don’t want to stay angry or sad –or even get angry or sad if we can avoid it, right?”
“I don’t want to be sad.”
“I don’t want you to be sad either, but we have sad feelings because sad is a part of life. Without sad we lose a lot of love songs, and love songs are beautiful. As we get older we start to understand what to do with sadness –because we can use it to find more happiness if we do it right. But some sadness is just built into life. The way to avoid being too sad for too long is to set an intention to have a good day. That way you avoid the avoidable sadness.”
“You mean we can not feel sad? How?”
“Sometimes you ‘can not feel sad.’ Other times it’s the right feeling for what’s happening, like when we were sad at when we had to take Pepper to the vet to go to sleep.”
“I miss Pepper.”
Cuddles the child. “I do too honey. Thinking about Pepper can be a nice kind of sad though, right? That’s the kind of sad it’s okay to feel. Missing Pepper is because we loved her.”
“There’s good sad and bad sad?”
“Yeah. Good sad is the sad we want to feel. But sometimes you don’t want to feel sad, or we’re tired of feeling the kind of sad we liked and now we want to feel better. When we feel that feeling we have to shift our attention to different things.”
“… what kind of things?”
“Well, if we don’t want to be sad then we can’t think our own sad thoughts because they’re sad. And we don’t want to think other people’s negative thoughts –stuff like insults– either, because that hurts too. Auntie Sara sometimes makes herself sad because she thinks she should look different. But we love Sara exactly the way she is, don’t we.”
“I love Sara… Why does Sara want to be different?”
“Well, wanting is made of thinking. So Sara is thinking about looking different than she does and she likes the person in her thoughts better.”
“So she doesn’t like her real self?!”
This genuinely dismays the child. “Why? Then why doesn’t she stop thinking that?”
“I guess she forgot to. Maybe because she didn’t have the habit of setting her intention for the day.”
“How do I do that?”
“It’s when we decide how we’re going to use our focus for a day. All day long we all each decide what we think about. Nobody else thinks for us. So if you’re thinking about Pepper and it’s making you sad but you like that kind of sad, you can keep focusing on your thoughts on Pepper. But if you’re too sad and you want to stop, instead of thinking about Pepper you have to think about something or someone that makes you happy, like the time we went horseback riding, or when you went on the airplane.”
“I can think about that?”
“You can think about anything you choose.”
“That will make me happier?”
“Yup –if you choose thoughts that make you happy.”
“Can it be a rabbit?”
Every parent knows this kind of stifled laugh when kids introduce an idea from nowhere. “Yeah, sure it can be a rabbit. It can be anything that makes you happy.”
“You and your ‘how’s.’ Okay. Well, when think about nicer or happier things our brain stops making chemicals that make us feel sad, and it starts making ones that feel better. Sad feelings, happy ones, when we’re mad, or laughing –all of our feelings come from inside us, from our thinking.”
“Inside of us?” The kid goes cross-eyed trying to get a look past their forehead to their brain.
“We kind of ask for our feelings. But when we’re young we only know how to do that when it’s easy, like when we get to do something fun. But when we’re old enough, it’s time to start learning the important part. That’s where we learn to to stop being too sad even when a sad wind is blowing.”
“How do I stop being sad when I don’t want to anymore?”
“Just the way I said –you just change to think about something nicer –that you feel better about.”
“Yup. It’s pretty easy. But the voices in our heads can get tricky. They try to tell us we don’t want to be happier when really we know we do, but our thoughts get confused by the chemicals.”
“The sad chemicals?”
“Any of them can confuse us. Wait until you’re older and fall in love. The first time doing that is really confusing. But like everything, we get better at things the more we do them. That’s why it’s important to start practicing when we’re young.”
“I don’t want to be sad like Sara. Sara’s beautiful.”
“Awww honey. Yeah, she is. I don’t want her to think that either. Or for you to think like that about yourself. But doing that is easier if we set an intention. So when we wake up, before we completely get up we have to remember to stop for a few moments. That’s when we do our little meditation.”
“A medit… a m… a what?”
“A meditation. That’s when we take some time to remind ourselves that our thoughts create how we feel each day. And then we remind ourselves that we want to feel good that day. That way, if we forget during the day –and everyone does sometimes– then the intention from the morning reminds us of what to do. If we don’t like our feelings we have to change our thinking. Do you think you’re ready to start trying that?”
If it’s a matter of ready, most kids will jump at the chance to prove more capability and freedom.
“Okay. I’m going to do mine out loud so you have an example, but you can make up your own. What’s important is that it reminds you of your power. No one can change our thoughts but us. Okay, are you ready?”
By now the kid is fascinated to hear what magic spell comes next. And it’s about as close to a real one as we need. Eyes closed, the intention begins.
“Today if I lose my way and I get lost in my thoughts, I will use this intention to remind me that I want to make the most of my day, and so I do not want to dwell on sad, or angry, or guilty, or mean thoughts about myself, my life or any other person or thing.
“Instead of choosing to feel badly I will choose to feel better as soon as my intention reminds me to focus on something better. I thank my intention for helping me keep my thinking in control and thank you for making this little monkey here,” snuggles the child, “so that I always have such a beautiful little monkey to think about to help me when I’m sad.”
“You think about me when you’re sad?”
“I do. When I think of you it makes me happy.”
“When I think of me that makes me happy too.”
“That’s a whole other conversation about identity and ego my little Confucius. Let’s save that talk for a few years.”
Sometimes favourite children exist unconsciously, sometimes they are known but unspoken, and sometimes parents come right out and admit that they have favourites. The latter choice can seem cruel when our culture isn’t used to it, but it might be worth our time to revisit some cherished ideas.
Parents are people before they are our parents. When they were young some school acquaintances were attractive as friends, others were left only schoolmates. The same with dating. People don’t want to ask out everyone they meet in the bar. Some stand out for reasons we can’t really explain. Chemistry, we call it.
So it goes with favourite children. The parent doesn’t love them more. They’re just the ones the parent finds enjoyable as a friendship as well.
Is it really so odd that a single human might, in a group of three or four other humans, have a preference for time spent with one in particular? Or is that more what we’d all expect –in any other circumstance except parenting? Again, we’re talking about time and attention, not love.
Of course, in most cases these feelings go both ways. Most kids like one parent more than the other. Does that mean we’re rejecting the other parent? No. It just means we’re human and have preferences. If every kid baked a different kind of cake we’re not bad people because we’ve happened to like chocolate all our lives. That’s not to say it will always happen, but when it does it’s a natural reaction.
Thoughts that these attractions are unnatural can lead to crippling guilt when it shouldn’t. Society implanted the thought of it being ‘wrong’ to like one family member over another but society is nothing but a set of external lessons we all unconsciously agree to and then apply through our thinking. There’s nothing guaranteeing the rules we develop are all correct, or true, or that they will or should stay that way. Each new generation sheds some.
If we took all the expectation of out it, ‘favouritism‘ is simply people being attracted to time with people that align well with them. If a child comprehends ‘favouritism’ in such a way that they see it as merely shared perspectives or interests –and that it’s simply a personal preference and not a value judgment– then it’s much easier for a child to accept it as normal when it happens.
It’s important that it feels normal to them because in life it will both happen to them, and they will ‘perpetrate’ that judgment on others. Kids also feel terrible guilt about having a favourite parent or sibling or friend, and they also often worry that they may not be other people’s favourite children, siblings or friends.
Put in the right context those preferences are presented as entirely normal, which is in a way, offering the child a form of future freedom to simply like what and who they like without feeling a need to feel guilty about their preferences. There are enough people and experiences to go around.
Since having a favourite is natural, hiding it is difficult. We have to ask ourselves, is it better for kids to have context for the behaviour than to witness evidence that may lead them to think they are unloved despite people’s words?
The subject feels pointy and awkward at the start, but over time we cannot help but notice that it comfortably explains a lot of what troubles many others. After all, none of us was ever built to satisfy everyone.