Emotional Control in the Face of Frustration

 

1301 Relax and Succeed - Emotional Control in the Face of Frustration 2

Here’s a reasonable question that hit me last month: why did I get up extra early to get my work completed so I could drive in -34C (-29F) to pick up my father on a day where he did not need a ride?

Finding out that I was actually a day early can be the kind of thing that can lead us to revisit the extra early wake-up and the cold drive and feel angry about losing sleep, not to mention for freezing for no good reason. Very cold weather makes angry thoughts easy to produce.

Doing those disappointment and frustration-based calculations makes sense to almost everyone. But wisdom suggests we stop and ask ourselves if our initial reaction is truly helpful in the situation we’re in. So that’s our assignment this week: to mitigate our common negative reactions with deeper understanding

Take each day and the most frustrating part about it, and then track back to why it that thing bothered us more than other things. We will find that we held some expectation that was not being met.

The question is, what was our unreasonable expectation? Collect enough awareness regarding our expectations and we become able to recognize them in operation and then work around them.

If we’re not blaming others we can use the energy we would have expended on blame to instead fuel more productive action.

Understand that the issue can still bother us, we can even have a burst of blame before we settle. But by understanding that our feelings are logical and sensible means they are less painful to own and we’re less likely to blame –or hold on to blame placed on– the other people involved in our frustration. It simply makes no sense to do that to them because we know we’re reacting out of the logic of who we are and what we are facing.

If we’re not blaming others we can use the energy we would have expended on blame to instead fuel more productive action.

Logically it shouldn’t surprise us that people who hate being afraid will be particularly bad when things are scary, or that shy people will be uncomfortable in crowds. That’s not something going wrong, that’s something making sense.

Likewise, if we have an expectation that we will never behave as though it is the wrong day of the week, or that winter in Edmonton won’t be cold at times, then we would be defying common experiences many have already had. But if we accept that those are mistakes people commonly make, then when it happens to us, we can be half-ready.

1301 Relax and Succeed - The more we do anything

In my case, upon arrival I was fairly quickly informed that I had the wrong day. This is where a flash of frustrated anger sparked my conscious attention. I could feel the pang of that frustration in my gut and I did a check-in. What was I thinking about? Two phrases: So I froze for nothing, and; I’m an idiot who really could have used that sleep.

Okay, so now I can add to my problem by continuing to think about comparing my morning to a warmer one where I remembered what day it was, or I can accept I made this weird decision and ask why.

Once we get good at it, it doesn’t take long to track why, which is why a week’s worth of examples will be helpful. The more we do anything the better we get at doing it.

In my case, I had a big day on that Thursday with some big meetings and a rare visit with a friend, so I spent most of Tuesday organizing life so I could make that Thursday work. So since that Tuesday, I’d primarily thought about and dealt with, Thursday.

Knowing how the brain works, I knew I had essentially ‘primed’ the idea of Thursday in my mind so it would be the most prominent day in my imagination. I even dreamed about Thursday on Tuesday night, which is partly why I woke up under the presumption that it was Thursday.

Do you see how those events took me out of now? I was so focused on future thoughts about how Thursday might play out that I wasn’t actually listening to the radio or noticing the many clues that it was Wednesday that day. Having an expectation and rushing my thoughts into Thursday meant I was blind and deaf on Wednesday.

Seeing the logical sense in what I did, I accepted that that is what a brain will do, and the entire issue was left to die in the past and I lost any sense of frustration. I just had some toast with Dad and headed back to start writing this.

See? In the end, it was even a gift, because I needed an example exercise for this blog. Funny how the world works out.

Go from now and until next Monday try to find your way out of frustration by truly understanding and accepting how easily you got there. You’ll know if you’ve truly understood the innocence of your sources because then the acceptance part is easy. We can hardly blame ourselves for making sense.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your day!

peace. s

Accepting Reality

1285 Relax and Succeed - We can make any experience our teacher

I used to run the precusor to what a website now is. It was linked up three other writer’s BBS’s. One of those guys took his time off during the writer’s strike to create a TV series that did very well. It was built around a character named Garfield that a guy he knew was trying to sell as a cartoon to newspapers. At the time I think Mark was writing on Cheers. He essentially described sitcoms this way: Act One a guy gets a date, Act Two he steps in dog poo, and Act Three was when the poo got from his shoe to his hat.

If viewed the right way, re-starting the blog right before a pile of unforeseen complications is a bit like being in a sitcom. Either I laugh at the unlikely nature of each additional complication or I perform a narrative docu-drama in my head about a sick person with a heavy workload. Which one sounds like a good investment of my consciousness to you?

Maybe I flick past that sad brain-channel a couple times to test it. But the fact that it feels bad is my signal to change channels to something that expands me (which, granted, sometimes can be the sad thing). We can make any experience our teacher, so I’m better to face adversity in a way that allows me to practice the act of learning from the experiences.

By staying conscious instead of thinking about the past or the future too much, I was aware that some unusual surprises to my schedule had me unusually run down. So it wasn’t surprising when a simple head cold took me out. That was win number one: when I got sick I didn’t feel disappointed. I looked at the facts and being sick made a lot of sense. So I slid into acceptance of the fact that life was just doing what it often predictably does. I had no motivation to feel my illness was ‘unfair’ in any way.

I did quickly and necessarily calculate the illnesses negative impacts to my schedule and life, but that process didn’t take long because before I was even done adding things up I realized that there was no way I was getting it all done, so it wasn’t like the volume was the issue, it was the priority.

I could have had a meaningless debate in my head about how important my entire list was, but that’s obvious because the things were on my schedule in the first place. But equally obvious was the fact that clearly it all wasn’t possible to get done while being sick, so the question was only: what should be sacrificed? Any thoughts about what ifs or I wish it were’s would only be consciousness-time invested in meaningless thinking.

…but why not feel guilty later about the stuff that is late?

Did you see that?

Pretty subtle wasn’t it? I just bent reality back there. I torqued time. (We all do things like that routinely, but try and tell someone to do it voluntarily and suddenly we’re all full of excuses about why we can’t.)

If I got sick because I was harried then clearly my schedule was over-full. No one is really motivated to keep their schedule over-full except the few people who are using that schedule to avoid something that maybe should be on their schedule. But for the rest of us our schedules are as they are because it’s just a part of life that reality will often give us more marbles than jar.

If you asked me the day before I got sick, all of those things were must-dos by a certain dates. Yet by getting sick, I managed to push the future back to a later date, allowing me to prioritize the important things and then pepper the rest into the following weeks until I’m caught up. Some of the dates on those musts didn’t appear flexible until they needed to be. Such is the triage required for adult life.

Yet still it’s easy to imagine you asking, but why not feel guilty later about the stuff that is late? The answer is acceptance. I don’t believe I should feel guilty when what’s happened is reasonable, and getting sick is a part of life.

The day before I got ill was the end of a period of working past a reasonable limit and that eventually caught up with me. Since I was aware that I was gambling the gains of the extra work against the risk of making myself ill, when I got sick my brain immediately went into acceptance mode because the extra work had been done consciously, with the knowledge that there was a risk and reward trade-off in action.

1285 Relax and Succeed - If we've only thought of one

This is the big advantage of living in the Now. Decisions are conscious; where we think about what we’re truly choosing and all the ways it could potentially go. If we’ve only thought of one expected and desired consequence of any decision or choice, then we haven’t really thought about that choice at all.

By living in the now, I make my later easier because rather than wonder why I got sick, I can instead accept that the gamble that I took means that I sometimes do not win. Again, there is little to no war of words in my head about how it should be the other way when it simply isn’t. I can’t change the deal I made with the world after the fact, I can only ensure that when I make it I am conscious. That one small thing could save many from a lot of suffering.

To whatever degree we can, we benefit by avoiding the act of filling our heads with self-talk about how we wish things were, or how bad the price will be, or even blaming the person we believe lead to our problem or made us ill. Having these initial thoughts is natural and none of us should criticize ourselves for having immediate reactions. But entertaining them without serious consideration can steal our lives away if we don’t remain vigilant about our thinking.

Enjoy your days.

peace. s

PS Because my parent-care schedule makes this challenging, if you guys spot any typos or formatting errors in a blog, feel free to message me through the facebook page or here.

The Aftermath of an Accident

1273 Relax and Succeed - Dad there's been an accidentHe came in the door quite tentative, as though he was afraid of even being in the room. It was a kitchen, and his father was busy making a sandwich and was slightly distracted. “Hey Dad,” he softly interjected into the moment.

“Hey! How was the day?” His Dad spun his back to his son, opened the fridge, and started balancing a big collection of ingredients in his arms.

“You know, it was a day. Not perfect by any means. It had some parts that really sucked.”

His Dad smiled as he closed the fridge with his hip and turned back to making his sandwich. “Well, you know how life is. We don’t always get what we want,–[starts to sing it like Mick Jagger] but if we try sometimes…”

“Dad.”

[singing] “…we get what we need!”

“There’s been an accident–I was, I was in, an accident.”

The sandwich froze in suspended animation. Totally still, looking straight down at his bread, the father very evenly asked, “You’re okay. You’re not hurt? No one else is hurt?”

“No! No. No, I’m okay, everyone’s okay, the airbags worked and the ambulance guys said we’d all be okay.”

His father slowly looked up in a very slow, very scary horror movie villain-ish kind of way. “And you said something about… my car…?”

1273 Relax and Succeed - You get more apologies

His son gulped. “The car… the car is–I was in an accident. A lady, she was coming at me, and she was speeding and so I thought I had time to make the turn but….”

His father is listening in a very clinical way, and he responds likewise. His voice is unnervingly even. “Okay, well… if no one is hurt, and you’re not at a fault, then the other driver’s insurance will cover everything.” The son’s eyes bulge, and one might conclude that the official report may not align with his own. “The important thing is that everyone’s alright.”

“What if she lies though? It’ll be my word against her word, so…”

His father doesn’t take long to realise the son is delivering the truth in less painful portions. “Mmhmm. If the police can’t verify the stories they’re being told then who knows, right?” The ‘right’ part is goes with it’s own accusingly arched eyebrow. The father is barely containing an explosion of anger.

The son’s still too naive to notice his father is being facetious. “Yes! It makes me so mad that she might get away with that!”

“I can totally understand son.” The Dad slaps a piece of meat on the bread so hard it splatters his mustard, but he doesn’t even blink. “I can totally understand your anger. Your intense, burning, rage. It’s just so… intense, isn’t it? Isn’t it intense?”

The son’s starting to catch on and he realises he’s hiking pretty close to a bear. “Maybe I should just go and, and, think about this.” He gets an idea that he likes and runs with it. “Yeah! Dad, if it’s okay with you, it’d probably be good for me to meditate on how this happened to, you know, make sure I don’t do it again. I’m really sorry about the car.”

1273 Relax and Succeed - How much more grievous

The dad clears his throat, struggling through his pain. “Thank you. Ah, yeah. That sounds like a good idea. You go. And we’ll talk about this later when we’re both not so… emotional.”

The son eats it. He blew it and he knows it. Resigned, he looks his father in the eye. “Are we okay Dad? You and me? Is this too big?” The son looks genuinely scared.

The Dad sees his son’s character underneath his mistake. He’s still seething, he doesn’t deny that reality. But he can see that his son feels genuinely bad. The only explanation for that is that his son cares and shares his wish that it never happened. “Nothing is ever too big. Ever. Do not make me confirm that by having to visit you in prison. But even there–yes–I love you. But you’re right. This one is big. I am currently seething and I am barely not screaming at you.”

“If you have to I understand.”

“I would also be the first one to call the cops if you did anything serious.” The son puts his hands up. “How bad is it?”

The son grimaces. “I don’t want to tell you.”

“AH!” His father cries out in anguish and buries his face in his hands. Eventually, he slowly emerges by turning the act into a facial massage and a chance at attitude renewal. “Okay. Okay. Yes. Okay. Clearly Bad. Bad. It. Is. Okay. But you’re okay, everyone’s okay. That is the important thing. That is what’s important. It is.” He’s really trying to convince himself it is.

“Everyone is safe. All the people are good. It was just the things Dad. Only things, no people.”

The Dad sees his son’s attempt to paint it all as favourably as possible and that makes him madder. “Yes. Just the… just my… car.” He just wants the kid to take it! And he’d demand that if he was half good at doing it himself, but at twice his son’s age even he still sucked at just eating obvious responsibility. The whole reason was because people did care when they made mistakes. That made it hard to stay mad.

Suddenly the son turns and says very authentically, “I’m really sorry Dad. It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention. I’m so sorry about your car. I know you really loved that old thing.”

“A lot of my life happened in that car.” His son just looks at the floor, understanding that it was more than a car that was wrecked. It was a talisman that helped his Dad find his way back to some cherished memories. The father clears his throat. “Okay. I am mad, you feel bad, that seems… appropriate. I would definitely like some time away from you though.”

1273 Relax and Succeed - Control your emotionsThe son puts up his hands again, guilty. “For sure.”

“Okay, good. Thank you. That will help. Please don’t ah… don’t try to make me feel better. I’ve just gotta–this is really painful, and I’ve just gotta feel that. If I don’t I’ll end up resenting you, and I love you, so that makes no sense. I can’t feel that love at the moment, but I know it’s there, so I’m going to trust the love I have for you and spend some time focusing on other things and eventually we’ll be able to sit in the same room without me picking at your smaller mistakes untiI I finally create an excuse to yell at you a bit. If and–no, when–that happens, please think of it kind of like a pressure valve. It’s better than a full explosion.”

The hands go back up again. “Totally understand. Perfectly reasonable price for such a big and horrible mistake.”

He’s still biting back a lot of fury, but he also proud of himself. “I like to think so.”

“No no–you’re doing good.”

“Really? Because honestly, I just want to kill you right now.”

The son grimaces. “I get it. I kind of want to be dead right now.”

Now the Dad grimaces a smile. “That helps.” He nods, with tense approval. “That helps; knowing you want to die.”

The son is entirely okay with that. “Good. Good. Yes. A slow and painful death. I deserve that pain.”

“You’re my son, I don’t know if I need the pain, but the death… the desire to die does make me feel a bit better. Thank you.”

“No problem. Thank you. This is…” The son motions to the space between them. “This is very reasonable.”

The Dad mock smiles. “Good. Good. Well, I think I should eat something–keep my blood sugars in alignment, you know. So, uh, you have a good day and we’ll, uh, talk.”

The son pauses. He looks at his Dad again. “Thanks Dad. I’m sorry.”

They have a moment where there eyes meet and they both know they’ll be okay. “Go.” The son half-smiles as he heads back out the way he came in.

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 Star Trek Problem

1266 Relax and Succeed - Star Trek Star Trek was an attemptAlex was just trying to watch Star Trek but he had trouble focusing because he was very upset about what was happening at work. The owner of the company had set up a test to see who should get a promotion. Alex and a co-worker had both worked hard at that test and not only did the co-worker stab him in the back at the last moment, but later he learned that his competition had a secret deal with the boss! It was infuriating. It had been bothering Alex for weeks and tonight he was particularly upset.

“You know, sometimes you don’t act like you care when I’m telling you this stuff.”

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to give you that impression. I just don’t want to engage in conversation about it because every time it comes up you end up really upset, and I care about you so I figured you’d rather watch Star Trek and get your mind off it than to be upset. I didn’t mean for you to feel unsupported.”

“Well I’d like a little more empathy over here. Going through all of that really hurt.”

“I’m sorry Alex. I know you’re hurt. It’s why I came over even though I had plans tonight. When we have an expectation of how things are going to go, it’s a very painful thing when we find out we’ve been working under false pretenses. I know you’re hurt, it’s why I didn’t go to the game tonight and came over instead. But if I care about you I have to do it the way I do it because I don’t know any other way.”

“Well it’s not helpful and I’d prefer if you’d at least consider doing it my way. And how can this crap not upset you? You believe things should be fair, right?”

“Okay, first off, we’re watching Star Trek, so this feels a little Borg-y.”

“Borgy?”

“Sorry. Aren’t they they race that needs you to assimilate to their perspective because they can’t tolerate individuality?”

1266 Relax and Succeed - Star Trek Picard“I’m not asking you to give up your individuality I just want some support for this crap that happened at work! I am not Borging you dude.”

“Okay, I’m sorry. I care about you, and it sucks that you got hurt. I don’t like any part of that. But I don’t look at the world the way you do so it’s hard for me to do what you want.”

“What’s so hard about giving me support?”

“But that’s not what it feels like to me. To me it feels like I’m engaging in co-dependency.”

“Co-dependency? I’m not addicted to getting screwed over at work dude.”

“Are you sure you’re not maybe a little addicted?”

“How do you figure I’m addicted to pain because I got ripped off and lied to at work–all so some idiots could rip me off based on a bunch of lies?”

“I don’t mean you’re some crazy addict, but look; here’s how I see this stuff: You’re upset because you thought for sure you had the inside track on the project that was going to win over your boss . Then you found out that the goof you work with had lied to you about what the boss wanted. So you were mislead and it hurts. That part I totally get because that is super crappy. But you love Star Trek. To me, what the guy did at work isn’t so much a problem; it’s just a Kardashian being a Kardashian.”

“They’re Carda–ss–ians, not celebrities with big butts. And what, you mean he’s just a greedy scummy liar who’s trying to get power for himself?”

“Pretty much, yeah. And you’re half-Klingon, so now you’re all revenge-y because to you, your word means something.”

“How’s that help me?”

1266 Relax and Succeed - Star Trek Cardassian“But if he’s one of the girls with the big butts, isn’t scummy part of the deal? Isn’t that the difference between the crew and the captains on these shows? The crew gets caught up wanting the character to be who they want them to be, and the captains always take them as they are and they manage that instead? So I was just saying, be like a captain. Don’t take what he did personally. He would have done it to whoever he was up against. He’s a… Carda-ssss-ian.”

That did make Alex feel a little better. The guy at work had always been pretty consistent, so it was helpful seeing him as a Cardassian and not as the jerk he was personally. “Yeah, but that still doesn’t explain my boss being a prick.”

“Doesn’t it? To me that makes sense too. Your boss just does what greed does. He’s 100% greedy Ferengi. The Cardassian offered not to ever go after the Ferengi’s job if he got the promotion. He’s lying and you know it, but the Ferengi would happily support the Cardassian being promoted if he felt like it would keep him in charge of the rest of you.”

Alex did have to concede that his boss was pretty Ferengi. “So, what…? You’re saying rather than being personally pissed off about this I should just see it as my Klingon honour being offended by a Cardassian political move that was supported by a greedy Ferengi?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

Strangely, Alex had to admit; that made it all seem more sensible, and he liked the idea that he got to assume the role of Captain in the deal. “So this is how you deal with stuff like this?”

“I’m half Vulcan half human. I use logic for stuff like your work thing, but I’m still human enough to care that my buddy got hurt.”

“Why did you say I was only half-Klingon?”

“This stuff all happened a few weeks ago. I got that it offended the Klingon part of you, but the fact that you’re still thinking about it now makes me think that maybe your Klingon Dad slept with a Trill, because I think you’re holding onto this memory for longer than it’s worth.”

Alex gave that a think and conceded that it was reasonable. “At least Trills are hot.”

“You do still have that going for you.”

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.

Switch Day

1240 Relax and Succeed - Feelings are just visitors

Don’t make the mistake of assuming the externalities of your life improve if you come to greater awareness. They often will, but that’s a byproduct and it’s missing the point. The point is that living with greater awareness about how you function means that you can be okay in any situation, not that you can turn any bad situation into a good one. This isn’t about changing the world, it’s about changing you to better suit the world.

One of the weird downsides to your own health is that the more people live in ego, the sicker you’ll appear. Egos adjust to society, but society is a construct. A healthy person moves through the world moved by their internal motivations, not by external rules. They’re not good or decent or compassionate because it’s legal or the right thing to do, they’re those things because they see innocence in everyone because they know they used to be that person too; someone often lost in thought. And so compassion feels like it’s in order.

This means you’ll defy convention, you won’t feel motivated to accept invitations you don’t want, you’ll say ‘no’ more often, you’ll spend your time with the world rather than talking about the world in unaccepting ways, and you won’t engage with people in the often hurtful gossip that egos can build whole ‘friendships’ around. But maybe the weirdest thing you do will be to make an emotional switch that others presume is impossible.

1240 Relax and Succeed - Your mind is an attention-pointing deviceA good example is an argument. Even in the heat of the moment, we can maintain our sense that we are not our thoughts. This third-person observer-view provides us an escape route, but it doesn’t mean the other person will take it with us. I have angrily said to people, I know I love you so I know something is off because I’m yelling! But I cannot get to that love right now, so I just want to stop! Their reaction is generally to look at you like you’re nuts. That is not a change they’re likely to have witnessed before.

Calming down and engaging in a normal conversation then makes that worse. Because a healthy person lives in the moment, so they don’t worry about the past because they cannot act to change it. Healthy people focus on where they can make a difference, which is why they rarely if ever complain about weather. So they let it go and just want to reconnect.

Meanwhile, the other person is still engaged in ego, talking to themselves about you instead of talking to you. To them you must still be angry too so now your positive change seems suspicious or even unhealthy. Funny isn’t it; that we can get so sick that having someone calm themselves and treat us better leads to us thinking something’s wrong?

1240 Relax and Succeed - A mood isn't weatherBottom line, the switch is the healthiest version of being responsible. It is a move from a fearful and painful emotion to a centered and loving feeling. But to be able to do it in a situation like intense anger, you need to practice it on smaller emotions. So today find one. Find just one situation where you’re in the midst of feeling strongly and negatively, and then make your own switch. Acknowledge where you are, accept that the move you’re making is challenging, and then stumble through it as best you can. Do that enough times and you can get really good at it, just like you learned to walk by falling.

Do it today. Find your example of feeling betrayed, or sad, or frustrated, or angry, or depressed, or fearful, and note that those sensations are created by your brain chemistry which in turn is incited by your thinking. Remember that the feelings aren’t you, that they are what you are doing, and then do something else more likely to generate better feelings. Use the video in yesterday’s blog post if you need to.

Prove to yourself you can make this change and then practice it. Because if everyone can do it, then calming down suddenly will look normal, rather than strange. And prolonged anger will look less healthy, and that in turn will motivate people to avoid it. In this way, individual by individual, society will shift to healthier behaviours. You absolutely can do it. But to do it you must choose to do so. Start making that choice today.

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.

Real Feelings

1218 Relax and Succeed - Real feelings don't go awayThere are two ways to react to feelings that are so meaningful in our lives that they return repeatedly. These include the shocks associated with PTSD, or the sadness that accompanies grief, the pain of a broken heart, or the sting of a deep betrayal. These are generated by some of life’s biggest experiences; experiences we can all expect to have in our life at some time.

May I suggest you think of it much as you would if there was a bee in your house. As much as you may fear it, or as aggressive as the feeling-bee might be, the more we attempt to make those feelings go away the more we are inviting encounters with the feeling-bee. Those encounters are also likely to incite the activity of the bee itself. In short, the more we deal with the bee the more we will have to deal with the bee.

Our other option is surrender. This is not to say that you won’t get bees in your home. Certain feelings permeate life, and avoiding them is to avoid life. To never worry about a bee in your home is to never feel at home. So bees must be accepted along with homes. But trying to rush the bee out of a home is to disrespect the life of the bee itself. It is not an unnatural or incorrect experience. It is appropriate to its own season.

1218 Relax and Succeed - Allow natural feelingsIt is important to remember that no bee stays in your home forever. It either escapes, or it dies. There is no need to panic. You simply want to keep an open mind just like you want an open window. You want to stay open to new ideas and areas of focus; you want do other things and to let the bee escape when it naturally finds its way out. So always remember to always leave room within yourself for new and less threatening experiences.

Learn to be comfortable with your feeling-bees because they will always arrive in their appropriate season. But do not close your windows and chase the bee until you’re emotionally exhausted. Accept the bee, open your windows, and allow the bee to leave when nature has found its way to that moment.

Look at your own life. See which bees you chase most often. Find the ideas you repeatedly seek and find and attempt to swat out of your life. Recognise those as voluntary, unaccepting acts. Instead, accept them as battles that you yourself are engaging within yourself.

You can stop at any point and simply open your heart-windows up to new experiences. By allowing fresher feelings to enter, you give yourself a better chance of escaping the fear and potential pain. So allow your bees. Open your windows rather than resist. The rest is to invite being stung.

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.

Getting Along in the Kitchen

1213 Relax and Succeed - At some point you just have to let goWhat’s the saying? “Too many cooks spoil the broth?” Families cook best together for one simple reason: they generally all had the same teachers. But all you have to do is go to your first love’s parent’s place for dinner and suddenly you’re encountering things that your brain reads as wrong. By the time you’re married this can result in big fights in the kitchen that are largely over illusions.

I’m born and raised on the prairies, so I’ll stick to the foods I know. Maybe your Mom made gravy thick and they make it thin. Maybe they like raisins in the stuffing and you don’t. Maybe you like dryer meat and they like it super juicy. Maybe they think their list of spices is the right one and yours is the wrong one. It doesn’t really matter what the argument is over, if it’s not about creating poisons to eat then it’s largely a discussion about nothing.

There is no right way to cook food. There’s how you cook it and how much the people eating it like it. That’s it. Yes, some might be more popular, but that’s not the same as better. It’s just different. And it’s amazing what our minds can do to our bodies when our mind doesn’t like something. Literally, we can end up temporarily not liking a food out of habit, despite the fact that we’d get over it and like it just as quickly as we got addicted to what we’d previously eaten, which was in almost no time.

1213 Relax and Succeed - We are often more frightened than hurtThe point isn’t really the food though–it’s the argument. Arguing over cooking is a great example of two people presuming there is a common reality. We are all one, but the closest thing we have to truth in the ego world of thought is science, which is why the poisoning is important. But other than that everything is subject to opinion and even the science will often change and evolve over time. So there’s no hallowed ground for anyone to stand on and point fingers.

We simply have to accept that it makes sense that other people would have differences in their physical makeup and their thought processes and that those things would result in foods tasting differently. It’s literally one of the definitions of being an individual: you perceive through your own senses.

Frankly, no one can even prove we’re not inside a simulation, so for all you know your excellent steak is the same as the one in the film The Matrix.

Our senses are interpreted by us, for us. We have no idea how accurate they are. We know there are famous synesthetic composers who literally see music, so that shows how flexible our senses are. Even drug use proves that our mind can create amazing experiences which feel thoroughly real. So the question is, if you can’t tell reality from what you believe reality is, then why would you argue with your beloved about the reality of how a food should be cooked?

If you want to get along with others better in the kitchen, understand that your ideas about cooking are the same as theirs. Even if your training is superior, that doesn’t guarantee you’re right, it just means the other person might be wise to listen more. So don’t make being right about the food your aim in a good relationship or you’ll end up ending it.

Rather than argue about the peas, make peace. Make that your focus next time you’re having an argument in the kitchen and you just might find that someone surprises you with something–and someone–you end up loving.

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 Rise of Anger

It comes in two ways. The first is swift and sharp. If you’re quick you’re on edge. You’ve been chemically rattled. Maybe it’s too much emotion for too long, or maybe too little, or maybe not enough sleep, or hanger (hunger-based anger). These are all common major contributors to quick swipes of meanness between either loved ones or strangers. Treat those more like signals and figure out how you need to get comfortable, and then either sleep or eat.

The nice thing about quick anger is it usually passes fast. Even we’re a little alarmed by our reaction. It came out of nowhere (nature) for us too. So once it settles, learn to go apologize right away. It helps if people understand the difference between simmering anger and a flash. That way next time they might lovingly suggest you eat or rest. But even if they don’t; it’s good to get good at giving apologies to those who are bad at accepting them.

There are also those times where your anger still rises quite quickly on some particular news or event, but it’s not a sudden irrational chemical reaction. These are things you’re rationally upset about. These are things you can explain to the person you’re mad at. You know, those how could you do that!? what took you so long?! what were you thinking!? things.

This latter type of anger can very nearly be avoided altogether. Quick anger is a type of pain. It’s unavoidable given a set of circumstances. Anyone feeling your chemistry wouldn’t like it. But suffering is when we choose to do it–when it’s optional. That’s anger other people might not have in the same situation. That’s because they’d have a different narrative.

Suffering is an ego-action and that takes a narrative. The narrative needs us to populate it with language. Language is something we learned, so it is post-now. It’s us describing a moment ago, not living that moment now. So the fact that we can explain our anger is a sign that it’s egocentric.

The suffering is a narrative which would would include elements like an expectation or two, an attachment or three, and maybe a few beliefs about propriety bouncing around in there too. Well just like it takes me energy to write these words it takes us energy to think a narrative to ourselves. So we’re actually investing energy in our own suffering.

The trick with this sort of suffering is that we get caught up in the whirlwind of our own thoughts. We start being the thoughts instead of remembering we’re the thinker. But if we’re the bike and not the rider, then how do we stick anything in spokes to stop the wheels from spinning? Usually there’s a crash before we remember that we’re a rider on a bike and not the bike itself. We have to learn to feel when we’re peddling.

It’s an expenditure of energy. That energy can create the narrative that’s pissing us off, or it can absorb the world in a way where all of our senses blend together into one giant, wonderful awareness. How we invest it is up to us. But we’re not failing when we put our energy into a narrative. Narratives exist. Without an out there is no in. Just don’t keep yourself there by building yet another narrative about having created a narrative that took you there in the first place. Just let it all go and dive into awareness instead. That’s how you find your way back. Quiet.

We all need to be more tolerant about people’s sharp moments. They need our patience and care. And when we’re wound up ourselves, we have to watch for opportunities to divert or steal energy from our angry, ultimately fearful, narratives, because otherwise that’s when we’ll do damage to our lives.

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.

Mood Orbs

The ego world is made up of physical objects and narratives about people, places and things, including concepts like time or obligation or fairness. The ego world looks like a physical place, with it’s focus on a clock and an expectation list. There are places and time, and people who love us should arrive at a place on time–for instance.

Alternatively, the real world is made of experiences that are generally either happy, sad, fearful or angry. These fundamental ways of being include every type of experience related to them, so happy also means loving, connected, laughing, even horny. And it’s opposite, sad, can range from bored to lonely, to depressed etc.

In the real world, rather than a place and a clock and a checklist for happiness, there is only a container, and some orbs of experience. Rather than a clock counting time, the container holds experiences. So “time” isn’t some numbers, that’s what an ego calls the act of us simply grabbing whatever experience we feel like choosing and putting it in our experience clocktainerSo how’s this all work practically? Let’s say we’re in a hot car and our ego is waiting for our spouse for a long time. Our ego will use that time to spin a narrative and hidden in that narrative will be orbs of experience. If the narrative is negative, so too will be the orbs. If we emotionally feel disappointed, or frustrated or disrespected, then we used our time to tell ourselves narrative stories where our ego-characters justify emotions like disappointment, frustration or disrespect.

Telling that story is what our spirit is doing rather than living. It’s enacting an ego by using self-talk to consult the clock and the memorized checklist, and to then blame our spouse for our ‘time being wasted.’ When they get back to the car we’re likely to argue about their disrespect towards us. So the thinking leads to a fight.

Of course it’s possible for physical meat-me to transcend all of that ego. Instead of filling time up with narratives I can do the opposite of resistant thinking and I can accept instead. This means we stop looking for what we expect–which is our spouse to come out of the house on time even though we know full well they never do. Instead we can anticipate a positive outcome of some sort, and then immediately look for our opportunities to fill our clocktainers of life with something pleasant.

This means each of us has heaven and hell within us. In hell we are trapped by thought patterns we’ve been taught to think in (we mimic one of our major caregivers), and that leaves us emotionally helpless, like a flag on the pole of our history, waving in the winds of other people’s choices. In heaven we have freedom. We are not stuck in the ground, and rather than blowing in the winds of other’s choices we can make my own choices about how to view things, and in doing so we can create the sort of stability that gets us through tough times.

That’s our choice in life. We can wait in a car for a time and we can experience the negative orbs of emotions that we find on our unmet checklist, or we can turn on the car stereo and we can experience the beautiful orbs of joy that are contained within the music. One is a story filled with sad and angry experiences to load into our clocktainer, and the other are songs we love that are filled with whichever experiences fill us with life.

Think of it: our ego can’t handle someone being a bit late, and yet our spirit can love even the saddest song. Do you see our invincibility if we live in spirit and not ego? Even sad things become treasured, whereas in ego even your spouse’s arrival isn’t good news.

Don’t live in ego with time and events and places and people and things. Live in spirit, where there is freedom and a fullness that makes even the worst parts of life very much worth living.

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 Value of Anger

Eckhart Tolle on Anger

Nature isn’t stupid. It didn’t give you a collection of useless emotions. It gave you love to bond you to your community, it gave you fear to keep you safe. You have your bell and your thunderbolt, as the Buddhists might say. A little love and you have appeal, a lot and you have a romance. Have a bit of fear and you’re excited, have too much and you bare your teeth in anger.

There’s a lot of folks today that figure that once we’re advanced enough that we’ll drop that last one (as though we’re being graded by someone other than our own egos). We will see a less angry world for sure, but going so far as to think that anger is beneath love is to live in a dualistic world of ego. Things simply are. You may have noticed that the world functions the way it will regardless of your opinions about it.

Of course, it’s not like we’re helpless in this life. Maybe we don’t control the ocean, but we can learn to be a pretty skillful sailor. That said, even skillful sailors have to face storms. Big human emotions are like storms. But even facing those can be exhilarating and expanding if done with an open attitude.  A grandmother’s patience was won by raising her own terrible two-year olds. If you take the problem away, you also take away the sense of achievement that goes with overcoming it.

What you do want to avoid is egocentric anger. This is a fabricated, thought-based anger that is based on something like your hopes or expectations. Don’t go blaming anger for that though. You were living in ego having those hopes or expectations. Those are thoughts, those aren’t the world. Pain will create the feeling of anger. But angry thought-based emotional suffering is all ego.

You getting mad about not getting something you want is not the same thing as you getting mad at an attacker and fighting for your life. Yes, they’re the same emotion, but when you were built, nature didn’t figure you were going to invent language and then sit around all day and tell yourself scary or frustrated stories that then called for a chemical that your body wanted for much more serious circumstances. It’s you telling you the stories. You can’t blame nature for needing aggressive emotions to exist.

A lot of you won’t like that idea. You want a holy that looks like yoga and sounds like Eckhart Tolle. All quiet and calm. Hey, Eckhart does know what he’s talking about. For sure that is someone presenting the truth. But in all honesty, as awesome as he is, would you really want an entire world filled with Eckharts? He’s pretty low key….

What Eckhart is saying is critically important and people should listen when that’s what they’re ready for. But Eckhart’s not who you think to call when you want to go to Burning Man with your kids, or white water rafting with your summer, beer-drinking friends. He’s not who you’d think of racing to if you were super excited about something. His calmness would absorb the excitement. Like all of us, he’s right for some situations and not for others.

The world needs variety. There’s a lot of ways to be enlightened. Don’t fall for the idea that it looks like nervous people want it to. Those are egos. Listen to Eckhart. That’s one form of enlightenment. But so was Mozart, and you might be familiar with the fact that his personality was almost the exact opposite of Eckhart’s. Meaning Mozart’s crazy life, and Symphony No. 40 and the first movement of ‘Allegro,” are also the sound of enlightenment.

Your job as an enlightened being isn’t to stop all of the world’s tumult. Your job is only to move through that tumult as yourself. The scenic flats of the river and the raging rapids are all legitimate aspects of your river. Sometimes you’re a teacher like Eckhart, sometimes you’re a teacher like a raging two year old. You can learn a lot from Eckhart. And you can learn a lot from the two year old. Because in the end, the differences won’t be in them, they will be in you.

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.