The Emotional Wobbles

1209 Relax and Succeed - Happy piggy desk wobblerBoing. Maybe you even have one of these wobblers on your desk or dashboard. They remind me of people. When we’re younger we have an idea of our lives that is unperturbed. It’s starts as a straight line. We have a general direction and lots of energy and we see no reason why our crisp clean dreams won’t line up.

But dreams are a form of expectation, and when we’re young we tend to overvalue the happiness that will be derived from the achieving the expectation, which leads to unhealthy attachments. Simultaneously we undervalue our own internal peace. Many of us can remember some early, less mature relationships that we took to be true love, when really those were just some of our first encounters with non-familial love, so they felt a bit intense due to a lack of contrast. We overreact because we don’t have that spectrum of experience to balance things with yet.

Our love is true then in the sense that we see none of the person’s undesirable traits when we look at them, but when we have limited experience it’ll be highly conditional love based on the person meeting our expectations, which were based on our dreams. But they can’t act out our dreams. They have a dream of their own that they expect us to be a part of. And when we both first feel that impact to our egocentric, thought-based dreams, it sends us reeling. Our pendulum naturally swings hard to one side, which in turn generates a near-equal and immediate response and we all fly back in the opposite direction.

1209 Relax and Succeed - Things that matterBecause your dreams of your future depend on this person loving you, you are prepared to reach too far to bend yourself into your dream. But the more you demand, the more the person insists on being themselves and the more they move away from you, and the push and pull between your ego and spirit have you penduluming back and forth for a while before you calm down. (As an example, think of how teens and parents push against each other’s wills.)

What you really want in your life is love, but if you mistake the person for the love then you can end up wobbling strongly off your center in your attempt to connect to them, when in fact you’re actually reaching for a finger instead of noticing that it’s pointing at the moon. You eventually surrender your dream as you realise you’ve miscast it. As you wobble your way out of those thoughts your emotional swings are consistently less dramatic until life gets almost too still and too boring.

Over time we get sanguine about the impacts. As each hit comes and does the same thing, and as we see ourselves react, it’s not like our life is rocked less; it’s more that we accept the extreme motion as a natural result of the intensity of the original event. Rather than making it worse by hurrying to calm it, we learn to just ride it more like a seasoned circus performer whose act is to gracefully balance. They can do that because they stop focusing on the external motion and they focus instead on maintaining their internal center of balance.

1209 Relax and Succeed - Focus on the goal not the obstacles

With any event, the less you focus on the impact and the faster you focus on the way out, the better. But this means letting go of our attachments and even after we’ve grown in wisdom, that’s not a painless process. But then again, we need some sources of sorrow too, don’t we? Otherwise we’d lose all of the beautiful relevant art as well as all of the empathetic experiences we share and connect through.

Allow yourself to swing from side to side when you’ve taken a hit. But don’t make that emotional sway your identity. You’re still the thinker of those thoughts, you’re not the thoughts themselves. You still get to choose your thoughts and your attitude about life. They’ll just get interrupted by emotional extremes while your wobbles are extreme. But once you feel them, use that as a signal to reset and calm your internal voices.

Over time, and by nature, the swings always reduce in intensity as you learn to let your internal arguments go. And by the time you’re life is too still, a part of you will be secretly conspiring to get some drama back. Because deep down our spirit likes that drama. You can tell because, when you stop to think about it, most of our wobbles actually originate with us.

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 912

Life will deliver disaster, it’s simply a byproduct of existence. Since it cannot be avoided, and since every happy person you know has faced some, what’s really important is our ability to respond to life’s big tragedies. At those times we need to pull together. We need a new rallying point. We need to share a common idea that we can all participate in as citizens of the world.

9/11 now represents a disaster that literally altered the course of humanity. Recently I heard a woman talking about Gander, Newfoundland, and the stories that are the basis for the Broadway hit and Tony Winner, Come From Away. This was the small maritime town in Canada that had an airport big enough for all of those US-destined planes to land when US airspace was closed.

Her point in noting it was that it was a grand example of the natural spirit of humanity. As the best was drawn out of people by the needs of others, we saw an example of how the vast majority of human beings feel about each other: we’re naturally connected. For this reason she called the Gander experience a 912 moment.

I like that. I like that she not only noticed that heroism follows disaster, but that she flipped the names of the days to make her point, because that’s really what all of us need to do. Disasters are inevitable. Our reaction to them is flexible. It would do all of us good to move through our own 9/11 moments watching for the inevitability of the 912 reaction.

The faster we spot that reaction the faster we’ll feel better and be able to amplify it. Sympathy is people joining us in pain. Empathy is them remembering their own pain. Assistance requires sacrifice. Dedication requires love. These are all 912’s. Let us all make this a part of our personal list of experiences.

The Buddhists talk about there being no single sided coins. So if we call up tails and lose a toss in life, the 912 moment shall be hereby described as the moment in which we begin to see or recognize the horizon–it’s that moment when we can see that there is another side, that part of tragedy itself is the response of love in whatever form. It is in recognizing and accepting that relationship that we find internal peace.

Accept that you will have your alarming and painful days. But just as readily accept that there will be a response, both within you and without you. You will find strengths that would not have emerged without the tragedy, and people will demonstrate love in ways you could not otherwise have known. Do not live in hope and fear. Instead, accept the duality of life by not only accepting its 911’s, but in doing so you also guarantee yourself the reality of the 912.

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.

Success by Failure

Each of us will take a direction in life depending on who we see ourselves as. For some people this leads to obscurity, for others it leads to great fame, but fame should not be mistaken for success just because it’s more visible. That’s just their job. People’s personal lives will all share the same sorts of ups and downs, so we shouldn’t either lament that we aren’t famous, nor should we be jealous or envious of those who are.

Just the other night my parents were watching America’s Got Talent, and a young singer noted that to pursue his dream of being a famous singer, he left home and moved to New York and for a few years he slept on couch that smelled like cat for $30 a week. Britney Spears has had jobs since she was about eight years old. Olympians rarely see their friends so they can work out instead. And there’s only so many of us who think the result is worth that effort, just like some people don’t think cooking a fancy meal is worth the effort when they could just fuel up. We’re all different.

1207 Relax and Succeed - Believe in yourselfI remember I’d been working in film and television for about 10 years before the first time I ever heard anyone say that they wanted to “be famous,” rather than note what they would want to be famous for–as in the case above, where what he really wants to be is a singer, not famous. In my experience, the ones that want to be famous never have that cat-sofa dedication and they eventually surrender that idea for something that actually suits them better. In that way their failure is a success.

A very talented film student I taught wanted to be an A-list cinematographer on big budget superhero blockbusters. But after close to 10 years climbing his way up and seeing Hollywood work, he concluded that the reality of the job wasn’t what he wanted and he surrendered that and went to do smaller, but much more meaningful documentaries. And he’s much happier doing it.

Cases like the one noted are often seen as a failure by the person approaching the decision. All they feel is the separation from their previous identity. It feels like they surrendered in a bad or weak way, when it’s actually the smart or strong way. Once that student crested the hump into his new identity, he got to work at his new career and it turned out he loved it the way he’d assumed he would have loved the Hollywood blockbuster job. It wasn’t a fail. It was a discovery. You’ll make them your entire life.

As I’ve noted before, if you want to know where you’re at, imagine your life as a big continuous sine wave that completes each wave about every 7-9 years. At each peak you have slowly rewired your brain to be fully efficient at being that version of you. But of course, once you’ve maximized why continue? Been there done that, as the saying goes. And so it’s not really disappointment that disrupts success, it’s the inklings of our next success.

The sooner we start to embrace that downslope the shorter it gets–although it can never be fully removed, otherwise you can’t have your peaks either. This is why a Buddhist monk on a train once lead me to conclude his encapsulation of life: everything changes. If it’s good, enjoy it–it’ll get worse. And if it’s bad, don’t lament–it’ll get better.

Find where you are on your wave and surf that. It’ll include the pain of those downslopes, but wherever you are, wishing you were an an upslope is the literally the definition of suffering. But if you surrender instead, it’s actually flows pretty nicely.

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.

Pressured by Indecision

We think it’s the situation. We feel the pressure comes from the deadlines, or the bosses, or the schedule, or maybe it’s the kids, family obligations, commitments or responsibilities. But we tend to experience it as an outside-in kind of pressure but that’s misleading because it’s really inside-out.

Pressure isn’t some force your boss sends through an email or that your kids write down in your schedule. It’s something we create within ourselves with our resistant thinking and yet it’s a useful signalling system. Feeling down is not the same as overwhelmed and if there’s one thing I see a lot of otherwise “successful” people doing, it is being overwhelmed.

We’re in the midst of one of worst recessions ever where I live and you can easily tell that a lot of the population is struggling with bills, juggling two part time jobs instead of one full time (if they’re lucky), and they can’t afford as much external support etc. etc. etc. Bosses know they can be more demanding in a tight job market, and the time and money challenges impact marriages, kids relationships with their parents, diets, and even health. As I often remind people, nowhere in the deal to be human does it say that life will only give you 50 marbles for your 50 marble jar.

Pressure starts on the 51st marble and increases from there. Eventually we can get to the point where no matter what we accomplish with busy-ness we’re still seeing marbles drop all over the place. By then we know we’ve waited a bit long to act and so the universe is starting to yell. You may think it’s outside-in pressure, but the universe understands it’s inside-out.

The so-called pressure is created by you wanting to hold onto all of those marbles and their relative importance, so you take on too much work to try to prevent losses. It is also created by watching marbles fall and wanting that to stop, so that also creates a painful sense of loss. And finally, it is also created by wanting to avoid the consequences if we let the marbles fall.  Since the first two are impossible, the reduction in resistance (aka pressure) will take place only when we cease imagining a future that can’t exist and we quiet our minds and accept our current situation and then make our sacrifice.

As an example, I have to make my own decisions about being overloaded with marbles. Not only do recessions tend to create a lot of marbles, but so does looking after two elderly parents and their many appointments, keeping up with two households and two yards, all while trying to maintain a high level of work and also accomplishing some critical administration tasks that modern life requires. Right now, my daily demands would literally take 28 hours per day to complete. Oh yeah, and I’d like to sleep and eat in there too somewhere.

For those reasons and many others, starting next week I’m cutting the blog down to one a week for the remainder of the summer. The timing is coincidental but good. A lot of my regular readers are less frequent in summer (understandably), but the real reason is I simply cannot afford the time.

The blog is important to me because I know it’s helped people I’ve never even met except by email or phone, and I know it’s also a touchstone for many of my former students and that they use it keep themselves on track. In both groups, I’m pleased to report that those that keep themselves the most balanced read the blog the most. So I know it has a lot of value to a lot of you but I must weigh that against my context. As important as each marble is, I simply cannot hold more than 50.

So how do I decide what to spill? That’s a personal judgment call every time, but if we resign ourselves to the fact that these decisions actually need to be made then we can just wake up from our pressured suffering and remember that we are still free. We prioritize things and then cut from the bottom. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes a while before we’re prepared to accept that, without changes, we’ll never catch up on our marbles. The time in between is called pressure, but it will always be created by delayed decisions and it will always be resolved by deciding which sacrifices to make.

We can be a bit like the proverbial frog in boiling water with pressure. The temperature can rise slowly and we can accommodate our expectations to a degree, but eventually we’re scalded with some harsh, painful truth. So it’s better to drop the excess marbles before someone tries to add so many that they smash the whole glass. And dropping them won’t even be too painful. You just have to remember to avoid focusing on the 20 that fall so you can focus on the 50 you saved instead.

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.

Victims of Fashion

Not so long ago at all, a bride in Northern Europe would have been chosen because she had a strong upper body for churning butter. Today women are far compelled to feel equally concerned with their bodies but they also must add what they dress them in. There are few things that torture a teenage girl more than her wardrobe or lack thereof.

In trying to understand the illusion we all live under it is helpful to look at the idea of fashion itself. What is it to be fashionable? In the photo above a model shows work designed by students at Central Saint Martins Art and Design College, which is connected to the University of the Arts in London. These are some of the top design students anywhere.

These students are learning to be at the forefront of fashion. People would pay a lot to see these pieces shown. And yet most of the people reading this will look at the photo and deem tucking one’s suit coat into one’s athletic shorts is simply silly. It feels like that thing we all do when we’re young artists and we try to make ourselves distinct by trying to out-weird our classmates. And we’re right about that. But we’re also wrong.

The point is, fashion is just what’s in a magazine right now. I’ll change with the certainty that capitalism gives it. They can’t sell you a new shirt if you’re still satisfied with your old one. And so when we’re young and peacocking, the fashion seems worth it. Later when we’re juggling kids it falls to the wayside as other priorities dominate.

Some people stay in fashion and that’s wonderful. It’s an artful expression and like any field, only the very best and most dedicated and those most willing to make other life sacrifices make it to the top. But most people simply stop thinking , believing or caring that it’s more important than your happiness. Because there are a lot of people unhappy over their clothing and that just shows how paper thin our understanding of true happiness is. A wrinkled blouse can destroy it.

The fact is, every person you walk by will think different things about your hair, your face, your body, your clothes and any other identifying mark on you. No two people will react identically. We’re all snowflakes looking at snowflakes. It’s only words and language that forces us to group people together. If we looked more closely, we’d split most of those people apart for being so different. It all depends on what level you focus at.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. It’s not unnatural. Even old-world people like the Wodaabe tribe have standards for beauty, although in their case they apply more to the men than women. They also don’t enact their most fashionable selves all the time and leave it instead for special occasions. The rest of the time you’re allowed to be human.

While enjoying fashion is fine, we also must remember that a six year old would be willing to give a speech with a giant soup stain on their shirt and there would be zero self-consciousness about it because they’d be focused on the microphone and their amplified voice and the podium and everyone watching them. They wouldn’t even consider the shirt. It wouldn’t enter their consciousness.

We should all try to be healthy like that. We should all hear any clothing judgments as being from one snowflake to another. It’s like one grain of wheat telling another grain of wheat how a grain of wheat should look. It’s silly we ever fall for it but that is a part of discovering ourselves. We start life trying to be like everyone else, and with any luck and some awareness, we leave it only wanting to be ourselves.

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.

Interpretations

This blog is about taking the common quotes people see and then extrapolating them into useful practices that can affect your life today. To that end, today I leave you to do that very thing for yourself.

Your healthy realisation will come when you figure out how both of these quotes can be true at the same time. And you’ll know how dedicated you are to your spiritual development by how different you feel about finding your own meaning versus having me find some of it 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.

The Voice of the Soul

Hey, you guys wake up. You see this?

What?

She’s just sitting there again.

Like before? Just sitting there thinking about all the things that she doesn’t like about her life? Why does she do that? It’s like putting us in prison. Doesn’t she feel how much it hurts us?

Oh she feels our hurtin’ bad kid, she just doesn’t understand.

Doesn’t understand what?

See, unlike animals, humans have language so they develop this framework they call ‘psychology.’

Psy…cholo…gy…?

Yeah. See, they can use their mind to talk to themselves, and they mistake their own talking for us.

Why would they mistake their own talking for their soul?

Well, see, they’re kind of loving their pain more than they’re loving us. That’s where they’re focus is. They don’t get that we’re a collection of experiences to be lived. When they’re lost they think that a soul is like this perfect shining thing, and so they keep sitting still and then they use their thoughts to compare themselves to their other thoughts about whatever their personal idea of perfection is.

Perfection?! And they each have their own ideas of perfection???

Yeah. Some wanna be skinny, some wanna be smarter or more popular or richer.

And they think if they get that they’ll get closer to us?

They think those things are us. Like I said, they think we’re a thing.

I’m still confused. What do you mean a “thing?”

Like, uh… an entity. They think we’re like a blob of glowing perfection or something.

A glob of…?

I know. But you gotta understand, they’re innocents. They all start like that. The boss figures if we lose them early, then they have their early life to learn to relax when they’re lost. When they do that they’re immediately home. It actually works pretty good. They call it, surrendering.

So if they go quiet they surrender then we start getting lived, but instead they’re trying to find the peace of surrendering by thinking about some blob of perfection?

They’re ‘better self,’ yeah. And, usually they won’t use the blob, they’ll use some other person –which is even crazier I know –but look– I’m not explaining it good. See, they think we’re like this thing that stays forever. They don’t get that we’re a collection of experiences that leaves oneness and returns to oneness. They don’t get that they have to spend us. They think they have to expose us, or be like us, or be pure, or extra nice or something. They think we’re a thing they get or achieve and not an activity they do.

So why don’t you just tell her!? Otherwise she’ll cry all night again for no reason and then we never get lived!

I know. It’s painful. But that’s all we can do is make it hurt. That’s us yelling as loud as we can. She’s the one that has to get up and walk us toward some unhurt. It can be anything. Peace, relaxation, kindness, generosity, fun, laughing, togetherness, love. She could use the legs and move toward any of those things, but we can’t just whisper in the ear. Her thought-words would drown us out. We talk in feelings.

I dunno why she wouldn’t listen. Otherwise she’s just letting us die inside her for no good reason.

I told you, it’s not like I can turn our feelings into words and then whisper them in her ear.

Then let’s signal someone else and get them to tell her.

Sure. Right. Now how the hell do you propose we do that?

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.