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.

The Most Precious Gift

1254 Relax and Succeed - Togetherness and connectionEveryone feels their time is rushed and that it is increasingly valuable. But time is made of moments, and moments happen in our consciousness–they are where the external fates of the world meet our focus; our attention. Our problem isn’t so much that the wrong things come to us or that we focus on the wrong things. There really are no wrong things when you’re seeing things clearly. Our challenge is that we don’t focus at all.

Thanks to things like smart phones and social media, people live inside a constant stream of distractions, as our minds our actively encouraged to flit from thing to thing, without ever giving anything enough attention for us to ever come to truly understand what we’re taking in. How many times have you walked into a room and forgotten why you went in there? We do this with food, tasks, people. But we must remember; we don’t want to just see or hear, more importantly we want to watch and listen.

The rewards are two-fold in the case of focus, because not only is it a calmer, more natural state than our busy-mindedness, but also the person, place or thing being focused-on starts to take on remarkable dimensions as it or they become a part of a rewarding connection to your soul. This is how people can become the very best kind of lichenologists, fashion designers and parents.

1254 Relax and Succeed - The most precious giftOur real life isn’t an app or notification, it’s the events, places and people that we interact with each moment. The way we get distracted in our minds is much like we do on our phone or computer. You’re doing this or that and then your phone or computer beeps and you’re off to look at whatever it told you to. In your mind you’re in a moment talking to your spouse, or child or a co-worker and then suddenly you start talking to yourself about what’s happening and that’s your mind wandering.

When you let your mind wander like that you literally stop recognising an important truth about the other person, be they a loved one or a stranger. The moment you do that you become an ego who will see the world as a set of labels that only exist in relation to you:

Your fussy child isn’t possibly sick or otherwise uncomfortable if they’re seen as simply preventing you from getting where you’re going. Or that other person appears more attractive if you compare your spouse as simply an ego-list of the things you don’t like. Similarly, that person at work has let you down, they aren’t struggling as they go through the experience of losing someone dear to them. These are all ways that we disconnect form others, the world around us and ultimately ourselves.

1254 Relax and Succeed - The bird in a forest can perchIf you’re talking to yourself you are dividing your attention between two egocentric you’s and they are the source of your problems and your suffering. The real you is the being thinking those other two you’s into existence. That you is already deep and wise and steady and open. Your ego you is selfish; smart in some ways, dumb in others; you’re rarely calm and centered because you have so many wants and desires; and you get offended and bothered by things easily, meaning you’re not really being open.

The wise you lets things be. While it can wander too, your healthy soul notices thoughts that disturb your personal Star Wars-like force. It can feel you creating resistance by having a value-based conversation with itself, and through those thoughts you create  conflicting wants and desires. The separation between your separate you and those separate things (relationships, cars, jobs, status etc.) is the gap through which all of your suffering seeps. If only you’d realise you don’t need anything so that you’d come home to yourself more often.

Wisdom isn’t hard, it isn’t out of reach. Nor is calm, or compassionate, or loving or connected. These are all natural states when we quiet our busy egos. When we’re there we are our best selves, without judgment, without desires, and profoundly satisfied with our lives as they are. Take today and focus. Write it on a bunch of post it notes you’ll bump into, or ask a friend to text you randomly. It’s worth practicing, because deep down you’re literally learning to be yourself by doing so.

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.

Old Laughs – Redux

219 Relax and Succeed - Always laugh when you can
I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of laughs in my lifetime. Thanks to my accident I’d realised by five that the only reason to be alive was to enjoy it. That made funny people very important to me and I sought them out at every turn. I thought my childhood best friend was funny. I thought the Icelandic friend I went to elementary school with was funny. The chubby guy I played floor hockey with was hilarious. The guy that lived upstairs from me at my old apartment is funny. My current favourite neighbour is funny. My dad is funny. Laughs are important.

What’s the point Scott?

(sorry.)

Okay, so despite a life with all those and many more funny friends, and despite great comedians and comedies, and despite every other funny thing that’s happened to me, one of the funniest moments of my life came from the strangest source—the person wasn’t even trying to be funny. Now don’t see this as some big setup. You won’t find it funny at all. You would have had to have heard it, and even then you would still have to note the subtle shift in the voices before you’d think it was funny.

My work often has me up very late and when I am,I often listen to CBC One’s overnight programming, which includes broadcasts from across Canada and around the world. They’re all excellent shows and I thoroughly enjoy them. One of the shows features a host I find particularly good. He’s funny, smart, widely studied, and dare I say even profoundly compassionate when the interview calls for it (he did one of the best I’ve ever heard). But the night in question was not his shining moment.

219 Relax and Succeed - If it doesn't make you happy
He was interviewing the first man to fly a solar aircraft a significant distance (maybe it was across America?). The host asked a lot of smart questions and then he seemed to pause as though he may have lost where he was in his notes. He threw out a rather abrupt question, “Is the aircraft a propeller kind, or a jet?” and I absolutely exploded with laughter.

I know to some people this may seem like a legitimate question because they have no idea how radio or jets work, but I know how they work, well enough that, to me , it was as though the host had said, “What fuel does your engine run on, forks or rabbits?” The fact that it was still after editing indicates he needed those question for the interview. We’ve all been trapped by our own mistakes like that. I cannot fully explain why, but this question would for some very cool reasons, be one of the top five funniest things I’d ever heard in my life. But here’s the thing….

The reason I’m writing this is that the same host is doing his show as I write this. And he happened to be interviewing someone who reminded me of that pilot. Think of that word: Re-minded. As in, “put back into my mind.” The moment I shot some ATP electricity through that particular circuit of my brain again, I loaded some charge into my memory of the previous experience. As soon as I thought of it, the absurdity (that’s what makes us laugh) of the statement hit me the very same way it did the first time, and I once again exploded in laughter just like I do every time I think of him saying that.

Do you get it? It’s just as funny as a memory. Or just as sad. Or just as scary. You’re where you’re thoughts are. Your mood is dictated by what you think. You were in a mood when you started reading this. But as you read it you thought about what I asked you, or encouraged you, or wrote you into thinking. So you felt what I lead you to feel. That’s the fundamental journey artists take their audiences on as their work: translations of experience.

219 Relax and Succeed - I am still determined
If your experience with my words was interrupted by your own thoughts, you would have felt other emotions that would depend on the nature of the interruption. Some might have made you excited and happy, and other interruptions can be irritating and troublesome. But the point is, the experience of your life will be the judgments you make, so you have to get serious about making those judgments conscious. You have to be responsible with your thinking.

Trust me, this is the best trade-off you’ll ever make. Just don’t be an Ego. Monitor your thinking. Choose the direction of your thoughts. Don’t live out of blind habit. Because you can laugh anytime you want. You just have to fully invest yourself in thinking about something funny.

This isn’t something you learn. It’s something you practice. Practice laughing by going to places where you are likely to laugh. Practice switching from other states of mind into a funny head-space whenever you can. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Eventually you’ll be able to turn former fights into exchanges of sarcastic wit layered with a dose of humility. But it will always be a genuinely spiritual practice.

Start now. Think of an enjoyable time. Fully get into it. Remember what each of your senses was focused on. Go into that Moment, feel it, and translate it to us into our current reality by feeling today what you felt then too—the two moments forever linked in time through a filament of joy.

Such is the nature of happiness.

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.

Remembrance Day

1252 Relax and Succeed - Remembrance DayIn Canada November 11th is Armistice Day; more commonly known as Remembrance Day. It’s focus is on the exact time the treaties following WWI took effect, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Both of my parents served in WWII, so this has always been an occasion that I was taught by example to respect, for I had family on Dunkirk Beach, and family in POW camps and family killed on the line.

I was never taught that Remembrance Day was a sad day. Somber maybe, but not sad. The point from them was always to take the lesson; war is hell for all involved. As my father described it, “It’s just farmers from one country shooting at farmers from another country and they’re all good men and all they’ll want to do is to get back to their farm.” No hatred, no greed, no desire to conquer, and no sense of revenge. In fact my Dad moved to Canada right after the war and when he started his own company he hired some Germans, which points to one of my favourite things about my Dad.

I tend to write about Remembrance Day most years precisely because it would be a more serious and focused day in our home than any birthday, Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s my parents sacred day, and it has become mine as well. Despite being so important, and despite my having written about it before, I find this year there is an adjustment in how I feel about it.

1252 Relax and Succeed - I wear a little poppyRather than being maudlin about it, I’ve always been taught to be grateful there is no war, and to be grateful to the people who gave their lives in the effort to maintain our freedom. Additionally I was taught that enjoying my life was the price I should look toward repaying if I wanted to honour that sacrifice. If they were going to give up their life to create the opportunity for me then it would be fitting that I would create something worthwhile. I was never made to feel guilty, but somehow they instilled in me that it was fitting to honour the dead with more life.

I still feel that this year, but there’s a new layer too. I love that about life. When you’re present and quiet-minded so many connections between things occur to you. This year it’s that Remembrance Day is not only a day of profound gratitude for me, it’s also a time of deep meditation. On suffering.

When I want to really comprehend the opportunity I’ve been given I get into the nitty gritty of the moment to moment life of those guys in the trenches. Eighteen years old (if they weren’t like my Dad and lied to get in at seventeen, or even sixteen some of them). Rain. Winter. Cold. Wind, trenches filled with water, dead people and rats. And all of your gear for the next few weeks. Oh yeah, and a bunch of people are intentionally shooting and lobbing shells at you, so you’re also terrified. You also have little to no idea why you’re there.

1252 Relax and Succeed - Courage It doesn't mean you aren't scaredIf you get deep into the moments of something like that, you start to have things dawn on you, like; a good friend could die and you would have literally not have even a single moment to fully grasp it at the time. Grieving would come later, as a blur of uncertainty about what really happened because it happened so fast. Or you could lose your squad, lay in injured while shells hit the sand all around you and you’d have no choice except to lay there in agony waiting for a medic to wander by. Even simple things like; what if you have to pee super bad during a battle? And then on your break you go back to the trench and the cold and the wool and the rats and corpses and you eat some three month old sardines from a tin. These were tough people.

Today is when I suddenly realised that that is when and how I set my year for gratitude up, because I always build new experiences every year. Soldiers in different places, doing different things, experiencing different things. Yet during the following year, when I want to generate patience or compassion or connection–or especially gratitude and appreciation–I suddenly realised I always call back to that year’s memory and I compare what’s happening to me to that.

It is remarkable how fast I go from upset to feeling truly silly. It’s funny; being humiliated by the comparison brings out the best in me. We’re all like that. Humans are better than they give themselves credit for either singularly or as a group. We do like it when the group likes us, but we like it even more when they respect us because they think we’re a good example in some way. So when we see things we respect, it inspires us.

Quote For Remembrance Day Remembrance Day Quotes Amp Sayings Remembrance Day Picture QuotesMy parents have been a great example, teaching me to honour the sacrifices made while not emotionally taking over the event for myself; they taught me to value life and liberty, and that’s lead me to take my citizenship and connection to others very seriously; and they taught me to be grateful for the life that was literally protected for me by total strangers. I’ll be wiser this year seeing my meditation on the 11th in this new way. I’ll see it as a touchstone; a talisman; or a spell. When I face adversity, I will use that meditation to generate the appreciation that will drive away any thoughts I have of excessive personal suffering.

Find your own examples of these prices. Maybe second generation immigrants can consider what their parents sacrificed to give their children greater freedom. If your parents have served during wartime, or suffered disease or loss, it is a worthwhile thing to consider that deeply.

Maybe you’ve recovered from a drug addiction and can think back to your own past. Look at your children and remember that places like children’s hospitals are filled with children and parents who were never so lucky. Feel the pain of that and know that some people carry that pain daily, and that it is love that carries them through. It will make you more empathetic toward everyone, because if you do the meditation thoroughly, you’ll realise that most of these identities are invisible when you walk past these people on the street.

Consider creating a yearly meditation. It can be a different subject every year, it can be like mine and stay the same with just the details changing, but find some touchstone of true suffering. Something you believe you can truly relate to. Then use that for the rest of the year. When you’re in a long line at the store, just think back to the kinds of things people have survived before you and you’ll soon find you’ll be feeling better, because there’s really nothing better you can do with a bad experience from the past.

Respectfully, 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.

Talking Ourselves Down

1251 Relax and Succeed - Toughness is no match for insecurityNEWSFLASH: It does not matter how strong you are, how smart you are, nor how educated you’ve become, nor how skilled. Those are all great thing, but all of them can quickly become worthless by being easily undone by a simple internal narrative of insecurity. Whether it’s a sport, an art, in business, or with others in our social lives, nothing will do more damage to us than our own egos and their neverending pursuit of whatever our current definition of perfection is.

We’ll go to the gym, we’ll invest energy in things we’re fascinated by, we’ll spend a lot of time learning about that subject either formally or informally, and we’ll practice it. The reason we’ll happily put in a huge effort in will be because we see value there. We don’t get clear-headed and generally peaceful by wanting to stop our suffering, we get clear-headed by valuing the peace we trust we can create.

There are kids who see practicing an instrument as torture while others see it as an escape. Our behaviours often point quite clearly to our real interests, and when we’re pursuing those our pure zeal leads to us to fill our consciousness with excitement about the thing instead of rolling it’s usually unconscious narratives. There is a great lesson in that fact.

1251 Relax and Succeed - It is easy to shield our bodiesThe voices in our heads are debates by for and with ourselves. It’s a strange thing to do when we get right down to it. It’s natural in that no one tells us not to fall into the trap of too much self-talk after we learn to talk, but by the time anyone’s forty they start to grasp that the unhealthy people overthink and the healthy ones seem inordinately calm.

Both groups will still have their big emotional highs and lows, but while one group is whipped around like a flag in the wind for however long the wind is blowing, the other group quickly shifts back to letting things flow around them, unimpeded by personal thoughts. It’s like our consciousness is actually a fast-moving river, and thinking about something too much is like dumping rocks into the water and making the water choppier and rougher. Just looking at a busy-minded person is like being able to see how busy the incessantly burbling thoughts are inside their head.

We must ask ourselves, when and why do we undertake this strange behaviour? What’s our own most common narrative of insecurity? Are we too short? Too weak? Do we need more money? More time? Do we use our narratives to hate others rather than advance ourselves? Do we see the world as against us? Do we tell yourself ourselves we’re unlucky, or doomed or stupid, or lazy or worthless?

1251 Relax and Succeed - Are you being nice to yourself

We can tell ourselves all of those things and they will act as actual barriers to our achieving all we can. Our other option is to actually learn to get conscious about what internal actions actually lead to our satisfaction.

If we do get conscious we’ll see that our pain comes from our thinking, and when we love our own life it’s because we’re too excited by it to take the time to build any self-limiting narratives. It doesn’t matter how much we go to the gym or read or practice something if our mind hasn’t found a way to embrace whatever it is we need to do. You must fall in love with wherever you are. This general caring about our life is what is often referred to as taking pride in our work, or being respectful or having the commitment to succeed.

We don’t have to work to reach this form of clarity. We don’t add to ourselves to find this peace. We take away our ego, our narratives, our insecurity, and we replace it with a peaceful mindfulness capable of drawing in information at a remarkable rate. Remember, we all learned to talk and walk before we were even three. That’s how smart we can be. But to be that brilliant we must consciously avoid using the words we’ve already learned, to undo the very confidence that enabled us to the learn all the words in the first place.

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.