My accident lead me to question reality in a very fundamental way at a very young age. Once I was old enough to embark on a serious spiritual journey, I sought out teachers who might be able to answer some of my deeper questions about reality. Unfortunately, I was inclined to do what you likely do, which is I looked for the wrong people.
With no intention of being ironic, I thought I should look for someone super peaceful, living some super peaceful and respected life. I thought I would recognise them as having achieved something grand and meaningful. But I misunderstood what grand and meaningful were, and so I rarely found them. Because most of them weren’t wearing saffron robes, they weren’t doing yoga and they their lives were surprisingly ordinary.
Part of the reason for this is that once you’ve understood what you’re trying to understand, you realise that no one can take this journey for you, and so no one needs your help. You realise that all you were supposed to do is live your life without the constant thought-based evaluation of how you’re doing in relation to some imaginary goal. Our lives would be instantly more enjoyable if only we would stop second guessing ourselves.
Rather poetically, the first time my life became truly difficult was the same time that, by most external perspectives, I would have appeared to have been failing. I surrendered a life of status and money and power–all in the highly coveted and ever-popular media world (I truly had an awesome job)–to pursue a much smaller, much more obscure life doing something that a lot of people I knew thought was crazy. (This.) But that’s the key isn’t it? They thought that.
Thanks to that accident, in the midst of what should have been a broken heart, a huge sense of betrayal and a financial disaster, I was left with the opposite question most people would have. I couldn’t figure out why I was okay with the idea of life being so difficult. This isn’t to say I liked it; it was just more that I accepted it. Any second guessing I did in my consciousness was profoundly painful and the pain acted as a very meaningful teacher.
I could occasionally (or at times even frequently), get caught up in personal thoughts that resisted my experience. These felt like hell. I felt very singular, as though it was all happening to me in particular. The suffering helped me grasp that when I felt better, I felt less like this was my life and more like an actor in a much larger play.
When I wasn’t thinking the resistant thoughts, I was peaceful inside with the knowledge that, like all roles, once I was finished playing this character I would either assume yet another or I would die and return to my real self. I was peaceful in the knowledge that nothing in the play I was performing in would change that.
What I had before was wonderful and I am deeply grateful for the experience. Almost every role I played in this giant improv has been an enjoyable one. I got to go to amazing places and meet incredible people and work on enjoyable and meaningful work. But I realised that the reason I was doing it all was not because other people felt it was a great life, but because I did.
Just like with movies and TV, being a loving and supportive caregiver to my parents was simply what I truly felt compelled to do. The financial strains and time and energy challenges all happen in the external world, but internally more of my time than ever is spent being in and sharing love.
I love making art. I love teaching people to see their strengths and opportunities. But there is something deeply meaningful and profound in helping your beloved father as he struggles with new challenges in the bathroom. There are moments where we look into each others eyes and we feel badly for what we’re putting each other through, but we both move quickly past those to simply being grateful that we’re in it together. That vulnerability is what makes the moment so powerful and filled with love.
I fail more than I ever have before. When my expectations are too high I lose patience when it doesn’t help. When I think too much I feel tired and alone. But most of the time, when we’re just making our way through it without all the thoughts about how we wish it was, I realise that I have never loved my parents more or felt closer to them. And that is why, if you do whatever you do with a lot of inner peace, even failing is a form of success.
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.