Jane Elliot: Brown Eyes Blue Eyes

This famous experiment is famous for exposing the nature of isms. Racism, sexism, ageism, etc. etc. It’s also fascinating as a demonstration of how much the world has changed. As brilliant as the teacher is—even she is rather casual regarding a case of child abuse. But nevertheless this remains a powerful study into human identity.

148 Relax and Succeed - You're not here to learnWhen it comes to the people in the video—rather than discuss racism or how they saw others, I am more interested in how they saw themselves. How quick they were to believe they we’re better… If you believe you’re not vulnerable to those sort of influences, then I would submit that you would be one of the cases that was in the deepest. Words create separation. There are no black people or white people, because where exactly would the line be? Is it this guy, or her? Is it by colour, or lineage, or year, or…? The truth is, everyone will have their own line in their own head. Realities are separate. One person can love someone, and yet another person may hate them. Better to erase the barriers between us than to try to overcome the hate.

This was a clever exercise, and she went on to do it at the corporate level for years. Pay particular attention to how easily their definition impacted their thoughts and therefore their feelings. Some think it’s not fair, and they get angry. Some think they deserve it, and they feel sad and disappointed. Some kids are scared because they’re having trouble trying to figure out what to think. But what’s really important is that with just a few suggestions from someone in authority, people realized completely different aspects of themselves.



peace. s

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

The Nature of Trust

147 Relax and Succeed - One does not become enlightenedAn unconscious life is an innocent one. An ego is so subtly formed that each individual will have no idea it’s even there. Essentially we live as a programmed robot, largely reacting to things for reasons we’ve neither assessed nor understood. And we’ll never change that unless we become conscious of our own patterns of thinking.

An ego is a pattern-recognition system that plays back whichever behaviour it believes is suitable, and our programs are constantly being rewritten by experience. So if under stress your mom drank and your dad yelled, then you will either yell, drink, or absolutely not-yell, or absolutely not-drink, but either way it will have been those primary relationships that generated that result. You will literally have been formed by your experience. This process continues throughout life.

If you’ve never had a person cheat on you and no one important to you betrayed someone else while you were watching, then you will be a naturally trusting person because trust is a natural state. That’s why little kids make friends so easily. But if you have been cheated on, or if you watched cheating really hurt someone you care for, then that possibility will now exist within your imagination. The real question is, how often do you access that imagination?

147 Relax and Succeed - I am not what happened to meIf you’re concerned about the commitment of your partner, then remember that agreements, rules, and promises are merely ideas. No one can guarantee their future behaviour, so in reality everyone could potentially cheat. But living under that constant fear isn’t living at all. So a simple decision must be made: either we leave a situation to remove the risk, or we accept the risk as an aspect of any relationship. The real questions becomes, what is the definition of accepting?

To accept something is to cease to think about it. Our histories are our histories, so we can expect that life will deliver us these old menus regularly. We can look over the dishes that life offers to serve us, and we can see that some of these dishes involve the suffering or jealousy or fear, but while we cannot stop the menus from being handed to us, we can consciously choose to avoid ordering painful experiences into our lives.

You worrying about someone cheating won’t stop them from cheating. But you worrying about it will make you anxious, upset and short-tempered and those things will affect a relationship. While you will always be the person your life created, you still want to be a conscious version of yourself. You don’t want unproductive thoughts to take up too much of your life. Like everyone you will have your moments of doubt. But to live in a state of doubt is to surrender your entire life to fear.

147 Relax and Succeed - Your history is not made ofYour fears in life are hard-won. You suffered for them and it makes sense that you would make serious efforts to avoid experiencing them again. But there are no guarantees in life and we cannot live based on what we don’t want to happen; we have to live our lives by creating the things that we do want to happen.

So be grateful for your emotions. Because when you feel the pang of fear or jealousy, you can use that feeling as a signal that your thinking has entered dangerous territory. And by being conscious of your thinking, you can appreciate both its validity and it’s pointlessness. This allows you to be yourself without having your past dictate your future.

Do not feel victim to your pain. Your thinking is intimately connected to your suffering, and whether you realise it or not, you always have control over your thinking. Don’t undermine your life with fears. Expand it with love. It doesn’t guarantee you will never suffer. But it does ensure that your life will be open and free, and in the end that’s both glorious and it’s as good as it gets.

Watch your thoughts. They’re yours, but they don’t control you–you control them. Now go use that power to enjoy your day, regardless of your history.

peace. s

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

The Yin and Yang of Chairs

146 Relax and Succeed - Had I not made the mistakes

If you’ve read my previous blog or enough of this one then you know that my mother was not looking to have another child when I came along. I have no judgments about that, so we can give any name we want to her reaction, but the important point is that it was difficult for her to be warm under the circumstances.

The natural reaction in me was to seek that closeness by being good at things—I tried to impress her. When that didn’t work, I began to shift my attention to winning my father’s favour, which was challenging because he owned his own business and he worked long hours. He’d been given a recliner when he left his old job, and I remember waiting at his feet while he read the newspaper in it. That chair ended up playing an important role in our family.

Because Mom had her experience of disappointment over her intended pregnancy, I wanted to be close to Dad and that translated to me wanting to sit in his recliner while we ate lunch. And by we I mean the two sisters and brother that my family took as foster children. It’s important to note that I didn’t see them as foster siblings. Within a month they were as much my brother and sisters as my much-older biological brothers were. But it never occurred to me until adulthood that’s likely not how they saw it.

146 Relax and Succeed - Life can only be understood

Every day we kids would come home from school for lunch and there would be a race to see who got the good seats for watching Gilligan’s Island. Every day I would claim dad’s recliner, simply because I wanted to be close to Dad. For a couple years I never realized that my sisters and brother were conceding it every day because they felt like I was the real son. Eventually I began to think that maybe they wanted it too, but I realized they probably didn’t feel they should take it.

My point in relaying this story is to communicate this idea: realities are separate. So since we can never agree on what is going on, we also can’t agree on an appropriate response. This means the ideas of right and wrong and good and bad go out the window. Instead there are only the intended consequences, and the unintended consequences.

My Yin was to be closer to my dad. It was motivated by love. But I also loved my brother and sisters, yet unbeknownst to me I was generating a Yang in them because I inadvertently gave them signals of being more important when my objective was to become more important–to Dad.

This is why you must surrender your ideas of an idyllic world. Yes we can avoid a lot of large scale agonies by being more empathetic and generous, but don’t think we’re working toward a world of no suffering. There will always be suffering and it can and will be created by the same sorts of loving, meaningful acts that I made in wanting to sit in that chair. So even with the best of intentions, in my wake I will leave darker details like the lowered self esteem of siblings that I’ve always loved.

Even taking great care, you will inadvertently hurt all kinds of people in your life. You cannot try to guide yourself around their pain. You must instead guide yourself with what feels right for you. And in the healthiest situations, what will feel right for you will be generosity, compassion, and love. But it is always important to remember that even those things will have unintended consequences. Such is the Yin and Yang of life.

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.

Interview With a Buddha

Yesterday I wrote about the Buddha I met. Many people asked me how this Buddha came to be a Buddha, but the truth is she never stopped being one. Because we’re all born Buddhas. But then we develop language so we can talk to others, but we also inadvertently talk to ourselves and that creates the Ego. I would have been just like you and I would have stayed lost had I not had my accident and started asking some strange questions as a result.

145 Relax and Succeed - Don't grow upWhen you were really young you couldn’t understand language, so you couldn’t be either praised or insulted. There was no right or wrong in your world. You simply allowed your nature to focus on whatever it focused on, and that lead to remarkable achievements. Learning how to walk requires fine motor control of muscles, using tendons and ligaments and calculating gravity and momentum etc. etc.  It’s very complex.

You also learned to speak one or maybe two, or even three or four languages, and you weren’t consciously trying to learn them and no one was really thinking they could teach it to you in the classical sense. And yet you mastered the complex rules of grammar and memorized a fantastic collection of words that could be used in a variety of ways. These are major achievements. And then you got an ego….

So what’s it like to live without someone constantly judging your actions? What’s it like not to second-guess yourself? What’s it like to live rather than commentate a life not lived?

Because our conversation was so in-depth and because I was asking questions with a real focus, I am now able to create a sort of interview. It’s formed from the answers she gave me on the day I learned that the source of her great happiness was in fact her great understanding. So here, for your elucidation, is a quasi-interview with the Buddha I met:

145 Relax and Succeed - It is no measureBUDDHA: Scott, you work a lot with mind stuff. Am I crazy? Am I a sociopath?

SCOTT: A sociopath?!  You’re a very kind, compassionate, generous person. Why would you think you’re a sociopath?

BUDDHA: Because I don’t feel guilty. Everyone else feels guilty about things, but if I decide to do something I figure, why be guilty about it? I picked it! Maybe people don’t like it afterwards, or maybe I realize something about it sucks later, but at the time it’s really what I wanted to do!

SCOTT: So you’re worried that your lack of guilt makes you crazy? Most people come to see me to get rid of guilt.

BUDDHA: It’s not just that. I just don’t get why people think about things so much? It’s not like the thinking fixes anything. I might be sorry someone got hurt, but it’s not like I was trying to hurt them. I was just living and that’s what happened. I didn’t do it to them, so why would I think about it afterwards?

145 Relax and Succeed - When guilt runs your lifeSCOTT: I share your feeling that continuing to think about that sort of thing is pointless. Guilt or shame or worry or fear never changed anything. They just steal our energy.

BUDDHA: I know, eh! That’s the other thing. Thinking about all of that is so draining. It feels terrible. That’s mostly why I don’t do it. Why sit there and feel terrible about what happened when I can be having fun now!

SCOTT: You’re very good at leaving the past in the past. That’s what people want when they say they want to Live in the Moment.

BUDDHA: Well it’s not really the past anyway. It’s not like I can fix anything there. I’m just using up Now to re-live Then. But if Then sucked, why would I want to drag it into Now?

SCOTT: I don’t personally see a reason to dwell in the past either, so I can’t really answer that question other than to say that most people have trouble living like you do, so they feel a strange obligation to re-live dramatic past events.

145-relax and succeed - Because your heart is so beautifulBUDDHA: But why?! It’s not going to do anything to make your life better. It feels terrible. I hate thinking thoughts like that. It’s like why I can’t hate people. I know [our mutual friend] Simon hates me, and I get that. I cheated on my boyfriend. It’s a shitty thing to do and it hurt him and I get that Simon’s a nice guy and that he hates me for disrespecting my boyfriend. But it’s not like I did it to hurt my boyfriend. But at the same time, if I really wanted to be with my boyfriend that bad, then I don’t think I would have cheated. So it just got us to where we were anyways, right?

SCOTT: Why doesn’t it bother you that Simon judges you?

BUDDHA: Because those are his thoughts not mine. How he wants to feel is up to him. I don’t hate him back because it sucks to hate people. I don’t like how it feels. I don’t know. It’s crazy I know. But I just don’t want to dwell on that stuff. I always like to look at what I like about someone and I know Simon’s a really good guy. He loves his girlfriend and she’s super nice so that’s good. And I really like how he treats his co-workers and customers. And he’s super funny. And even when he’s not, everyone has a rough day. He’s entitled to have them too.

SCOTT: I applaud your generosity. I don’t think it’s possible for you to comprehend how rare that ability is.

145 Relax and Succeed - Peace comes from withinBUDDHA: I just don’t think thoughts I don’t like because they feel bad. It’s not like it’s complicated. If they hurt just don’t think them.

SCOTT: [laughing] I agree. I would suggest that is why they hurt—because they’re essentially telling us not to think them.

BUDDHA: So why do people think them anyway and then blame the person they’re thinking about?

SCOTT: I don’t think they have the connection between their Thoughts and their Reality as clearly understood as you do.

BUDDHA: So do you think I’m crazy?

SCOTT: [laughing] No. No I think you’re far too kind and generous and fun to be crazy. But I understand why you might think you are. When everyone else is crazy, crazy can look sane and sane can look crazy.

145 Relax and Succeed - It is very simple to be happyBUDDHA: All I know is if something hurts, I stop thinking about it.

SCOTT: Everyone else turns that into a much more complicated process than it really is.

BUDDHA: What’s to complicate? I have to think about something. If I don’t like thinking about this, then why not just change to that?

SCOTT: That would be the part that people find hard. That’s what most of my work with students focuses on—teaching them to let go.

BUDDHA: But it’s so simple!

SCOTT: It is. But the simplicity is the most challenging aspect for them to comprehend.

BUDDHA: All I know is; if I focus on stuff I like then I feel good. After that, whatever….

SCOTT: [smiling] Nicely put.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Buddhas Among Us

I met a Buddha the other day. While I was delighted by this knowledge, it did not come as a complete surprise. But where I found this Buddha will probably surprise you

144 Relax and Succeed - Happiness is not somethingVirtually all of us were brought up to translate vestments and beads into spirituality. We look for our guru’s in churches, or ashram’s, or temples, or in New Age settings. We look for sacred texts, or candles, or certain kinds of music. We seek quiet, somber people who speak in parables and riddles. We will often look outside of our own culture and toward the world’s oldest cultures in Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and other ancient cultures including Native North and South Americans. Many people travel all over the world—literally or virtually—in search of answers. And yet there are Buddhas among us to learn from.

I’ve met this woman many times. She always comes across as very friendly, but I feel confident in saying that virtually no one would sense the powerful depth that is alive within her. When you get to know her better you realize that she truly is thoroughly positive. She compliments others often, she’s very compassionate regarding other people’s suffering, and most importantly she realizes in a profound way that there is no value in focusing her thoughts on narratives that don’t feel good.

My talk with her was thoroughly entertaining in that I was doing exactly the opposite of what I normally do. Because she is surrounded by the controlling egos of unenlightened people, she naturally feels out of step with a lot of what she sees going on around her. So rather ironically, the discussion where I came to realize she was a Buddha was one wherein she was earnestly enquiring into the idea that she may be a sociopath.

144 Relax and Succeed - The happiest peopleNow a Sociopath is someone who lacks a sense of social conscience or moral responsibility, which is why the most notorious versions of them are able to seriously hurt people when others would have a sense of empathy preventing them from doing so. But we’re not talking about someone who puts their needs above others to the point where they would seriously hurt someone. We’re talking about someone who’s free. Truly free. But because freedom is so rare in our culture, her freedom strikes people as unfair. In short, people don’t like that she gets to follow her heart and not feel bad about it.

Guilt, regret, and fears about our status with others are not fences that guide us toward healthy lives. These are cages built by our egos that keep us from living our natural lives. These barriers exist only in our minds—they are not an aspect of the actual world. So if most people feel compelled to leave a relationship, they worry about hurting the other person, they worry about how their friends will react, and they worry if they’re making the right decision. Free people just go toward whatever they are more attracted to and they give it no further thought (except maybe to occasionally wonder why they don’t give it more thought when most people seem to think about these things for years).

144 Relax and Succeed - In the end these things matteredOther people’s feelings are their concern just as yours are your concern. If this Buddha was dumped herself, she would simply accept that by not giving it further thought. That would free her up to start looking at her life for the most appealing direction to go. This is what living in the moment is: you move toward whatever makes sense to your spirit regardless of what happened in the past. People who live in ego move toward what they think they should move toward, and they will routinely offer excuses to themselves about why they’re not moving toward what they truly feel excited about. Moreover, they will tend to really dislike people who don’t have those limiting thoughts.

The Buddha and I have a mutual friend who I know much better than the Buddha. What’s fascinating is that the friend is on a very sincere and earnest journey of conscious self-discovery. I’ve always been impressed by his desire to grow and change in these important ways. He reads about the subject, enjoys films and television programs about spiritually healthy living, and he does his best to live a humanitarian lifestyle. I admire everything about him except his contempt for The Buddha. And even there, it is easy for me to see why he wouldn’t be able to recognize her Budda-nature.

Can you see his misunderstanding? He wonders how she can end a relationship and not feel guilt or remorse. And by expecting and looking for that, he fails to notice that she gets to skip out on feelings of guilt and remorse and instead she gets to feel the excitement of looking for her new future. She quite rightly can’t see how thinking those thoughts would have any affect on her life and so she wisely chooses not to think them. So she can do what he aspires to do, and yet in his thoughts she is the furthest thing from what he imagines his target to be. Such is the strange paradox of enlightenment.

144 Relax and Succeed - And those who were seen dancingIf you’re seeking the truth you may find it in a religious setting. You may find it in a New Age setting. You may even find it in a quasi-political setting, as is the case with the Dalai Lama. But where you will always find it is wherever true happiness is.

Everyone spends some time in an enlightened state. But it is worth paying attention to the happiest, most carefree people in our cultures. Because dissatisfaction in life comes from running into the fences that most egos build with their narratives. So the people to follow are the ones with no fences. Like the character Bartholomew in Christopher Moore’s hilarious book Lamb, truly enlightened people rarely have a bad word to say about anyone else, they don’t care what anyone else thinks about how they live, and they laugh and smile a lot. Who knows? Like my friend does, maybe you have a Buddha in your life right now and neither of you are even aware of it.

Being enlightened isn’t made of being good. Being enlightened is made of being free. So stop stopping yourself with words and go be free.

peace, s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.