Love in Disguise

1320 Relax and Succeed - Love is often a discovery

There were exceptions of course, but life not that long ago was more about survival than prosperity or the pursuit of our ideals. Due to that, psychological management was not even considered; raising children was largely seen as an exercise in teaching them to survive by the time they no longer had a parent.

As I’ve noted in pieces I’ve written before, up until the 1960’s it was common for parents to be taught that open love or coddling would result in weakness, and that a parent’s job was to prepare children for the harsh realities that go with dealing with a society filled with humans, all learning how to be better people as they go.

If someone survived and improved the world rather than made it worse, a parent was seen to have succeeded. This didn’t mean people were cold or uncaring, but they were often more practical than emotionally supportive. If painful things happened, most kids were just told quite matter-of-factly that life included pain because that’s the truth.

On top of the generational zeitgeist that focused more on the practical than the emotional, my own father had a father who was apparently quite abusive and threatening. My Dad’s response was to want to be the opposite of his father –and he is.

But despite him being so awesome, he still was not raised with a language for love.  His love is expressed by giving others his full attention, which feels wonderful to experience. But turning his feelings into words is as weird for him as it would be for us to try to find words to describe the colour red to a person who had been blind all their life. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t found a way to communicate.

When I say “I love you” to my fantastic Dad, he answers “Good.” It took me a while before I realized that he had found a better exchange than I had intended.

I was assuming we were trading ‘I love you’s,’ but he answers ‘good’ because –if I love him– then that means he’s not like his Dad and his greatest fear was being like his own father. I got to be the one to tell him he wasn’t. I get to confirm that his most important goal in life was achieved. How lucky is that?

He might be 93, have dementia and be super challenging in various ways, but we still find numerous times a day where our love for each other is softly and beautiful displayed in ways that make a hard job still feel entirely worth it. Every time I get worn and let him down it makes me a better person, and spending the majority of my time making this great man feel safer in his most vulnerable years is a powerful privilege that I am honoured to fulfill.

Remember, no matter how things appear, there is always room in life for more love.

peace, s

Facing Threats With Wisdom

1299 Relax and Succeed - If we don't maintain our perspective

When we’re living in a future where things go wrong, then we worry. That is problematic, because the worrisome thoughts steal time and energy from us focusing on maintaining a healthy perspective and then developing a suitable plan.

For instance, in the Edmonton area two guys in cars have recently been engaging a few 10-20 year old pedestrians in conversation and then they rob them of their money and their phones. They don’t hurt them, just threaten them. And they only want older kids who have phones and money.

First, the perspective. Metro Edmonton has well over 1.3 million people (literally, less than one in a million chance), and it’s just short of 10,000 square kilometers (it’s 3,640 square miles) in size. The odds that anyone’s 10-20 year old kid runs into these kids are extremely low.

There’s a far higher chance they’d be hurt with a relative in the car, which is statistically the least safe place they ever are. But the odds are too low to worry about, as we all know. That’s why we all drive with kids in cars. So if we can casually do that with their biggest risk, imagine how low the odds must be for them to run into someone in 10,000 square kilometers.

Secondly, once we know the odds, an appropriate plan is wise. You can come up with whatever plan you want, but as an example:

If the child is old enough for a cell phone, they can facebook live any unusual approaches to them by anyone in a car. They can even explain that fact to the people right while they’re filming them as they approach.

They can politely say, “Sorry to ‘facebook live’ you, but I’m doing it to everyone for a while. There’s been robberies on the news so until they catch those guys I’m filming any stranger that wants my attention. That way there is always a public record of the people I interact with. Who’s gonna rob someone when they know the cops already have a photo of them? So what did you guys want?” (That was off the top of my head, you can likely do better.)

The last thing we want to do is cripple anyone’s spirit with unnecessary and unrealistic fear.

What the plan is doesn’t matter, it just has to be matter-of-fact and based on the kid using their observation skills. It has to empower them to feel like they can be in as much control as is humanly possible.

If our planning sounds terrified or panicked or based on irrational fear, then the kid will pick up on that and that will mislead them about their actual odds of being in danger, which are again, very low. The last thing we want to do is cripple anyone’s spirit with unnecessary and unrealistic fear.

1299 Relax and Succeed - Life is essentially an exercise

These can be good teaching moments to help children understand perspective and to learn to manage risk. Life will demand those skills when we’re older.

Don’t load your life with fear. Recognize, analyze and plan and then drop it. We really do have to remind ourselves that we can only do what we can only do.

We absolutely can drive all children everywhere for the next year. And that should draw no criticism –it’s one type of person’s answer. But it too will have a price, both in terms of the child’s mental and physical well being. So whatever route we choose, we should understand that all choices –even the safest ones– carry prices.

Life is essentially an exercise in weighing risk versus reward, and ‘being an individual’ is comprised of how much of each we are individually prepared to accept.

peace, s

Putting Bullies to Bed

1297 Relax and Succeed - Grandpa Mom's not right

“Grandpa.”

“What?”

She takes a moment. She feels like maybe it’s an idea too hard to sell. “Mom’s not right about everything….”

Grandpa chuckles. “Oh, I know honey. I remind her of that probably a bit too often for a guy that wants a healthy relationship with his daughter.”

“I told Mom that Sasha and Mercedes were picking on me. But she just said I should ignore them. But I can’t. They’re in my school!”

Grandpa frowns, with his hands on his hips. He’s clearly thinking about something seriously. Then: “I’ll get a bunch of the guys I play cards with and we’ll go over to the school and we’ll beat your bullies with dead snakes and then drive over them in our scooters. How’s that?”

The kid giggles. “Grandpa. I mean it.” She pleads, “They’re mean.”

“No snakes eh….” By the time people are grandpas they’ve often learned a lot about being a human and about how adults get formed by childhoods. He can tell this might be a big moment, so he drops down beside her and slows himself down.

He restarts by tucking her in tighter, which she always likes. “Well sweetie, you know your Mom and I disagree about all kinds of things because we’re different people who do things different ways. But we both love you, which is why I agree with your Mom on this one.”

“But you can’t just ignore people when they’re there grandpa!”

“I ignore you when you bug me for candy.”

The kid finds this defense exasperating. “That’s candy. This is people! It’s not the same!”

Grandpa rears up. “AHA. There’s our answer right there.”

“Where? What answer?”

“You think candy and insults are different.”

“Grandpa, everyone wants candy. Everyone. No one wants people being mean to them.”

“No, you want the candy, not me. I don’t want candy. To me you’re just some kid bugging me for candy while I’m trying to read my book. That’s kind of like those girls trying to bug you while you’re playing. It’s the same.”

It is, but it’s not. That’s frustrating for her because she wants her pain. “I’m not confused. They’re mean to me.”

I tightens his embrace around the cocoon of comforters wrapped around her. “Aww sweetie, I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt if that’s what we’re focused on. But I want to save you from that and we can’t make those girls go away.”

He just pets the child’s head for a bit before restarting. “Look, I don’t mind so much when you want candy. But it’s still not good for you to eat all that sugar, so as the grandpa your Mom deputized me in the candy police–

“The Candy Police???” Even a little kid thinks he’s getting a bit rich.

“–yes, because you’re too little to do what we adults call the ‘self-regulation of impulses.’”

“The what?”

“Nothing. Grandpa accidentally tossed a $20 dollar word into a $5 dollar conversation. My fault. What I meant was, adults know when it’s okay to do what we want, and when we shouldn’t. At least mostly. Except maybe your uncle Danny. Anyway, the deciding what to do and what not to do –that’s most important part of life.”

“So how do I make them decide to stop being mean?”

“You can’t. They’re free, just like you. You don’t want to be forced to do what they want you to do –do you?”

“NO.”

“Then you can’t tell them what to do either.”

“Grandpa, everyone wants candy. Everyone. No one wants people being mean to them.”

“But I don’t like it!”

“Well that makes sense, they’re being mean. No one likes that. But they don’t control what you focus on. That’s the thing you get to decide. Your Mom’s right. You can ignore them by deciding to focus on something else.”

The kid rolls her eyes. This grandpa has clearly never been to school. “Grandpa, you can’t just not listen. They’re right there.”

“No, I get that sweetie. There are times when you can hear the sound waves coming out of their mouths and those do hit your eardrums. When you’re there. But they’re not here now, right? They’re not in your bedroom on a weekend?”  Just in case, he checks under the bed.

Where’s he going with this? She’s so confused she can’t even figure out how to respond, so he just gets an exhasperated “Grandpa…!”

“No, I mean it. I’m serious. I swear, you’re confused about something. You don’t have to believe me. I’ll explain it.”

“I’m not confused.”

“Just about this one thing –you just haven’t had anyone explain this to you. I’ll make sure to give your Mom heck for not teaching it to you yet.”

This can be Mom’s fault? That makes the lesson much more palatable. She leans a little further into the idea her grandpa is pitching. He can see a common enemy has got them allied. That makes presenting an idea much more likely to succeed. “You like when we go fishing, right?”

“What’s this got to do with Sasha and Mercedes being mean to me?”

“That is a very good question and I promise to answer it. But first you have to tell me if you like fishing and if you do, tell me why?”

“You know why.”

“Why?”

She protests being forced. “Grandpa.”

“You like riding in Grandpa’s boat, right? You like when we stop the motor and just float, and you like how the shiny metal makes the bright lines on the water and the sound the waves make when they hit it.”

She restresses: “Sasha and Mercedes Grandpa, Sasha and Mercedes.”

“I’m getting there. I promise. In this story they drown –sort of.”

Now the kid’s more interested. “Really?”

Grandpa suddenly goes Zen and asks the obvious. “What’s a boat?”

“What? It’s a boat. Like your boat. The thing we go fishing in.”

“Yeah, but what is it. What does it do?”

1297 Relax and Succeed - Does a boat float on the water

“Boats don’t do anything. They just float.”

“Float where?”

Is he serious? “Grandpa. On the water.”

“On it, or in it?”

“Well…” she gives it super serious consideration. “…mostly on, but some of it is in –the parts where our feets go.”

“So then, a boat is kind of like a hole filled with air, down in the water?”

This is a crazy funny idea. “Grandpa, water can’t have holes!”

“Sure it can. They’re called ‘boats.’ If the sides of the boat weren’t there but the water still stayed back, wouldn’t there be a hole in the water where the boat was?”

“You mean if there was no boat?”

“Yeah, but the water stayed where it was.”

Okay wait, maybe he does have a point she’s starting to think now that she’s picturing it…. He’s getting an affirmative look so he continues.

“Okay. So a boat is a little like a hole in the water where we put our feet when we fish. But what makes the boat float is that the water can’t get in, right?”

“It would be a dumb boat if water got in Grandpa.”

Now it’s his turn to laugh. “They needed you on the Titanic.”

“What’s the Titan…”?”

“It was a big boat, but they forgot to keep the water on the outside.”

“That was dumb.”

“Suuuper dumb. But we gotta get back to Sashes and Mercedy there–“

She rolls her eyes and stresses, “Sasha. And. Mercedes….”

“Whatever; the ones that drown. So here’s what your Mom means by ‘ignore them.’ She means that your mind is like a boat you own. You can invite anyone you want into your boat, but the boat only floats –ours minds only stay healthy– if we keep the water out. And Sasha and whatshername are all wet.”

That gets him a giggle, but mostly she’s thinking, brow furrowed. “Sasha and Mercedes are made of water?”

“Well, not really them, it’s their thoughts that are the water.” He takes a moment to think of a way to describe it. “You know how you can’t run fast in the water when I chase you at the pool? That’s ’cause water slows us down. When you hear Sasha and Mercedes say mean things, that’s like hearing the water against the side of the boat. But when you put their water in your head it slows you down. But the water never gets into the boat unless we decide to think about the mean things that people like Sasha and… Merrrrr….–“ Oh oh.

“MERCEDES! MERCEDES! MERCEDES! MERCEDES!”

“–MERCEDEEEESSSS– say. Right? Get it? Them saying mean things at school is the water hitting the side of your mind –the side of your boat. But you thinking of them here in your bedroom, tonight, days later –that’s you pouring their water into your boat. Remember, boats float in water, not on it.

“So all our lives people will splash mean things in our direction, but none of that matters if we stay dry in our boat. So that’s what your Mom means. You sitting here in bed thinking about insults you got hours or days before now is you inviting those girls into the space in your boat when you could have been thinking about me….” Grandpa hangs his head, dejectedly.

She realizes he’s trying to steal her victim thunder. “Grandpa…”

“It’s true. You were thinking of them instead of us going fishing. Who do you feel better spending time with?”

“You. Of course.”

“So take me in your boat instead of them. I take you in mine. That’s why I miss you when we go to Arizona.”

1297 Relax and Succeed - You can invite anyone

She’s not sure she likes this. She’d like this to be Sasha and Mercedes issue to manage.

“Come on. Whose boat is it?”

She tries to wait him out, but he only raises his eyebrows until she reluctantly clucks out a quick, “Mine.”

“Exactly. Your boat is your mind and your job as the Captain is to keep the water out. Right Captain?”

“Can I get a hat?”

“A Captain’s hat?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll see what we can do. But do you think you can keep Sasha and–“

She warns him with a look–

“–Mercedes,” he adds carefully “from getting inside your boat?”

“I don’t want their dumb mean faces in my boat.”

“Perfect. Then just don’t think their thoughts. Their thoughts are the water. You only take a thought when you need a drink. They’re not for filling boats. Especially polluted water like theirs.”

“Yeah. Polluted.” She looks like maybe she feels better.

With kids he knows it often will take a while for an idea like this to stick so he reminds her one last time. “Okay, so where’s the boat we want to keep dry?” She taps her head. “Right. And who’s the lake?”

“MERCEDES, and Sasha.”

“Right. And what’s the water?”

“What they think.”

“Their opinions. Right. And so who’s the Captain that keeps water from getting into your boat?”

“ME!”

“RIGHT! See. They can bang water against the side of your boat all day. But you practice keeping that water out then your boat will not sink my dear. Every boat gets some water in it because storms make the waves big. But we can always bail out what got put in, so you just remember to keep the inside–“ he taps her on the noggin “of your boat as dry as you can, okay?”

“Dry as a bone grandpa.”

“I believe that. You bonehead.” He lightly raps his knucks on her noggin.

She giggles. “I’m not a bonehead.”

“Sure you are. Your a chip off your Mom’s bonehead.”

Now she loves when he does this. “Mom’s not a bonehead!”

“She was when she was a teenager, ask your grandma.”

“Did she put a lot of water in Grandma’s boat?”

Grandpa stops and refocuses, sensing an opportunity for some fun and a chance to be a good husband. “You know what? That is a very good question. It’s such a good question that; the next time your Mom and your Grandma are together –and it’s a time when your Mom is really mad at Grandma– that would be a really good time to ask your Mom about the water she splashed into Grandma’s boat when she was in high school. If she’s mad at Grandma that would be a good time for her to remember the times she got Grandma all wet, don’t you think?”

That gets a big few nods in the affirmative. He gives her a little nod of agreement. They are on the same page. He switches to an official tone. “Ready for sleep mode?”

She nods her agreement.

“Okay. five deep slow ones.” The little girl takes five very slow breaths in and out in time with her grandpa. It sounds like they’re already asleep. “Good. That helps slow the machine down. Now you just keep breathing like that, and soon you get to dream! Tomorrow morning you can tell me about all the things you did in your dreams, okay?”

“Thanks Grandpa.”

He kisses her on the head. “Boat dry sweetie, okay?”

She nods, he smiles, and out goes the light as the bedroom door closes.

From the darkness, a confident little whisper responds, “Aye aye, Captain.”

peace. s

Waking Up Our Kids

1292 Relax and Succeed - Over-thinking steals livesIt’s common for people to wish they’d learned to control their thinking when they were younger. What’s effortless to learn for largely egoless kids is a bit harder when we’re older, that’s fair. More importantly, for a kid, a lot of suffering can be avoided or abbreviated if we know how to manage our emotions earlier in life.

Phones and computers and automation give many of us a false sense of control. But when we are faced with situations that are overwhelming, increasingly people are finding they are incapable of managing that very normal aspect of life. Lessons on managing our feelings needs to start young –younger than we might think.

Every parent should at least consider waking their kid up in a way that helps them truly understand how the world and our minds merge to create our reality. Rather than just telling them to get up and being perfunctory about getting them physically ready, if possible, we should consider taking a moment to get them psychologically ready too.

Kids generally assume that whatever their parents are doing is what’s happening in every house. Normal is whatever our parents do routinely. So if they wake up and they witness us taking a moment to set an intention for a good day, and if we casually expect that they should do likewise, those things quickly instill that healthy ritual as a normal part of waking up.

A parent can present the idea like it’s a big moment –like when a kid doesn’t have to wear diapers anymore– or, if the kid’s older, it can be said much like you might tell them that they have to remember to grab their skates for hockey practice.

It’s either exciting or pedestrian, depending on how much child-like wonder your kid is still functioning with. I’ll use a young kid in the example. In my admittedly highly idealized example, it starts as easily as:

“Tomorrow when we get up we’ll get you started on setting your intentions,”

“What’s that?” the kid may say in some form or other.

“Well, without an intention people’s feelings are kind of like flags or balloons. They just float in the direction the wind is blowing. And you know how people have good moods and bad ones?” The kid nods. “Well, other people’s moods and our own thoughts are the ‘wind’ everyone has in their day.”

“The wind?”

“Yeah, it’s like a wind of thinking. Sometimes it blows us along and makes things better, like when people cheer for us or when we’re thinking lucky thoughts. But sometimes it blows hard right at us, like when a lot of people are picking on us, or if we’re mad, or sad. Some days there’s no wind, but most days there’s at least a breeze. So it’s important to start the day with an intention to not get blown off course.”

“What happens when we’re blown off course?”

“Well, we’re just individuals. We’re very strong and we have lots of control, but sometimes we’re hungry, or over-tired, or sometimes we’re just surrounded by too much sadness or anger. But we don’t want to stay angry or sad –or even get angry or sad if we can avoid it, right?”

“I don’t want to be sad.”

“I don’t want you to be sad either, but we have sad feelings because sad is a part of life. Without sad we lose a lot of love songs, and love songs are beautiful. As we get older we start to understand what to do with sadness –because we can use it to find more happiness if we do it right. But some sadness is just built into life. The way to avoid being too sad for too long is to set an intention to have a good day. That way you avoid the avoidable sadness.”

“You mean we can not feel sad? How?”

1292 Relax and Succeed - Stop thinking and end your problems

“Sometimes you ‘can not feel sad.’ Other times it’s the right feeling for what’s happening, like when we were sad at when we had to take Pepper to the vet to go to sleep.”

“I miss Pepper.”

Cuddles the child. “I do too honey. Thinking about Pepper can be a nice kind of sad though, right? That’s the kind of sad it’s okay to feel. Missing Pepper is because we loved her.”

“There’s good sad and bad sad?”

“Yeah. Good sad is the sad we want to feel. But sometimes you don’t want to feel sad, or we’re tired of feeling the kind of sad we liked and now we want to feel better. When we feel that feeling we have to shift our attention to different things.”

“… what kind of things?”

“Well, if we don’t want to be sad then we can’t think our own sad thoughts because they’re sad. And we don’t want to think other people’s negative thoughts –stuff like insults– either, because that hurts too. Auntie Sara sometimes makes herself sad because she thinks she should look different. But we love Sara exactly the way she is, don’t we.”

“I love Sara… Why does Sara want to be different?”

“Well, wanting is made of thinking. So Sara is thinking about looking different than she does and she likes the person in her thoughts better.”

“So she doesn’t like her real self?!”

“Sometimes. Yeah.”

This genuinely dismays the child. “Why? Then why doesn’t she stop thinking that?”

“I guess she forgot to. Maybe because she didn’t have the habit of setting her intention for the day.”

“How do I do that?”

“It’s when we decide how we’re going to use our focus for a day. All day long we all each decide what we think about. Nobody else thinks for us. So if you’re thinking about Pepper and it’s making you sad but you like that kind of sad, you can keep focusing on your thoughts on Pepper. But if you’re too sad and you want to stop, instead of thinking about Pepper you have to think about something or someone that makes you happy, like the time we went horseback riding, or when you went on the airplane.”

“I can think about that?”

“You can think about anything you choose.”

“That will make me happier?”

“Yup –if you choose thoughts that make you happy.”

“Can it be a rabbit?”

Every parent knows this kind of stifled laugh when kids introduce an idea from nowhere. “Yeah, sure it can be a rabbit. It can be anything that makes you happy.”

1292 Relax and Succeed - If we don't like something

“How?”

“You and your ‘how’s.’ Okay. Well, when think about nicer or happier things our brain stops making chemicals that make us feel sad, and it starts making ones that feel better. Sad feelings, happy ones, when we’re mad, or laughing –all of our feelings come from inside us, from our thinking.”

“Inside of us?” The kid goes cross-eyed trying to get a look past their forehead to their brain.

“We kind of ask for our feelings. But when we’re young we only know how to do that when it’s easy, like when we get to do something fun. But when we’re old enough, it’s time to start learning the important part. That’s where we learn to to stop being too sad even when a sad wind is blowing.”

“How do I stop being sad when I don’t want to anymore?”

“Just the way I said –you just change to think about something nicer –that you feel better about.”

“That’s all?”

“Yup. It’s pretty easy. But the voices in our heads can get tricky. They try to tell us we don’t want to be happier when really we know we do, but our thoughts get confused by the chemicals.”

“The sad chemicals?”

“Any of them can confuse us. Wait until you’re older and fall in love. The first time doing that is really confusing. But like everything, we get better at things the more we do them. That’s why it’s important to start practicing when we’re young.”

“I don’t want to be sad like Sara. Sara’s beautiful.”

“Awww honey. Yeah, she is. I don’t want her to think that either. Or for you to think like that about yourself. But doing that is easier if we set an intention. So when we wake up, before we completely get up we have to remember to stop for a few moments. That’s when we do our little meditation.”

“A medit… a m… a what?”

“A meditation. That’s when we take some time to remind ourselves that our thoughts create how we feel each day. And then we remind ourselves that we want to feel good that day. That way, if we forget during the day –and everyone does sometimes– then the intention from the morning reminds us of what to do. If we don’t like our feelings we have to change our thinking. Do you think you’re ready to start trying that?”

If it’s a matter of ready, most kids will jump at the chance to prove more capability and freedom.

“Okay. I’m going to do mine out loud so you have an example, but you can make up your own. What’s important is that it reminds you of your power. No one can change our thoughts but us. Okay, are you ready?”

By now the kid is fascinated to hear what magic spell comes next. And it’s about as close to a real one as we need. Eyes closed, the intention begins.

“Today if I lose my way and I get lost in my thoughts, I will use this intention to remind me that I want to make the most of my day, and so I do not want to dwell on sad, or angry, or guilty, or mean thoughts about myself, my life or any other person or thing.

“Instead of choosing to feel badly I will choose to feel better as soon as my intention reminds me to focus on something better. I thank my intention for helping me keep my thinking in control and thank you for making this little monkey here,” snuggles the child, “so that I always have such a beautiful little monkey to think about to help me when I’m sad.”

“You think about me when you’re sad?”

“I do. When I think of you it makes me happy.”

“When I think of me that makes me happy too.”

“That’s a whole other conversation about identity and ego my little Confucius. Let’s save that talk for a few years.”

“Okay. Can we get a rabbit?”

peace. s

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.

Create More Unity in Your Community

1247 Relax and Succeed - If you want others to be happyWe evaluate, we name, we label, we judge, we value. Totally lost in ego, we use words like truth to represent what is really only our personal view. Reacting more to our own thoughts about things than the things themselves, we seek to remove all of our opportunities for personal growth by removing any and all offending ideas from our daily experience.

Is it any wonder that the world feels fractured when most individuals are walking through it with the constant urge to subdivide it down into groups rather than behaviours? How does it help to either subdivide or be angry at the perpetrator of domestic violence for instance? To be angry is to add even more negativity. It’s fine as an initial response, but once that washes over us our job isn’t to have a personal emotional reaction, it’s to do something constructive for our community.

Unity is created in a community when people from all walks of life can feel safe that they will be met with compassion and understanding when they’re struggling. That means the wealthy elderly lady walking her dog is equal to the strapping young man with the sort of childhood that leads him to be violent. People find it easy to be sympathetic to the little old lady even though (like every human being), she’s certain to have done some truly terrible things in her life. But our personal speculation about her will often be quite generous.

1247 Relax and Succeed - There are too many of usMeanwhile we have difficulty expressing compassion for a fearful or angry young man with equal challenges and his own set of mistakes. Our job isn’t to look at his clothing and terms of speech and his behaviour and then evaluate him, label him as an offender and his wife as a victim, and then dole out our compassion according to those judgments. Our job is to care about each of them in conjunction with their relationship.

To help we need to understand what in his life would lead him to be violent, and what in her life would lead her to stay for that violence. Our initial judgments are uninformed and useless. They happen inside our head. Even if they do externalize, they’re often just as ugly as what they’re judging.

The world does not benefit from our thoughts, it benefits from our actions. And that action should not be to judge and divide people into good or bad groups, our role is to support anyone struggling, whatever that struggle may look like. Right now, people are inclined to hate the very people that they should be loving the most.

1247 Relax and Succeed - Look out for each other

When we’re unhealthy and locked in ego we’re going to talk about how bad things are and who needs to change. We’ll start filling our social media with angry recriminations of this or that group, or we level this or that judgment about this or that social media post; or we comment on the news, on the behaviour of athletes, and politicians, and celebrities, and on and on and on. Meanwhile children watch us make those judgments, and we pass on to them a world more ever more steeped in the useless egocentric personal views that populate most people’s social media.

Those children deserve to see us offer them examples of where we find our own way past a negative judgment to find some positive sort of action, but instead we offer them endless examples of our judgments of how the world should be, or how it’s supposed to be. Even most television shows now involve someone actively judging someone else in a way that actually determines that person’s fate. It’s all built to appeal to our egos, not the unifying best that is at the heart of who and what we are.

We all have to drop that arrogance. It’s not our job, nor does any one of us know enough to be able to singularly know what the right answer is in any situation. We all need to stop casting judgments and making suggestions, and we all need to start getting to know our enemies better. We have to move toward the people we dislike the most, because the conflict is happening within us, not in the larger external world.

1247 Relax and Succeed - Compassion is a verbIt is we who must lower our sense of right and wrong and instead ask how we can help situations traverse the distance from tense and unpleasant to calm and rewarding. Remember, every time you either consistently negatively judge, or universally accept another person, you are engaged in the very deepest and most destructive state of ego. That’s like failing to throw a life preserver so you can instead scream at a drowning person about how they should have learned to swim many years ago. It’s cruel and it does not serve the larger community.

As Roger Waters said, (it doesn’t just apply to formal schooling), “We don’t need your education, we don’t need your thought control.” Indeed. Stop putting bricks of judgment between you and others. If you want to prove you’re developing spiritually, try tearing down your own wall, be vulnerable, and connect. Because while your judgments only serve to make the world worse, you compassion is the glue that can hold a society together through it’s most difficult times.

Trade in your judgments. Be a positive, constructive spiritual citizen in your community. If everyone learns how to do that, then when it’s us that’s struggling, we too will benefit from the compassion of those around us. Let’s all take immediate action to improve ourselves and the world in this way. I do hope you’ll join me.

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.

Adult Parents Adult Children: It’s not always easy

1241 Relax and Succeed - Everyone grows at different ratesNow that Baby Boomers are the age they are, many are having to manage challenges relating to unsatisfactory relationships with their adult children, including complete estrangement. Things like the opioid crisis, shrinking job opportunities, and even anger over the parent’s past divorce or the child’s current one can all create rifts as the child–however old–works through their own personal issues.

The reason the Baby Boomers were less likely to hold their parents responsible for their struggles was simply because, at least the western world, the idea was that your accomplishments were always your responsibility, and so therefore they were also your own. Some families were naturally supportive and others offered little incentive or inspiration at all, but regardless the notion didn’t exist that a parent could or could not set their child up for success. Success was generally seen as a post-parenting adult pursuit. They were just supposed to keep you alive and make you into a responsible citizen.

Once psychology went from something philosophers studied to something that was used on laypeople, it took some time before people like Dr. Joyce Brothers popularized it on TV and then people like Benjamin Spock suggested there were better and worse ways to raise a child and suddenly a family was something to be analysed and graded and altered if it wasn’t thoroughly efficient at creating wealth and status and happiness. For the first time, a child’s adult problems could now be the parent’s fault. There was now a list of things that they ‘should’ have done.

1241 Relax and Succeed - If you've never been hatedWithin a few generations the unconscious families of the 60’s and 70’s gave way to the highly conscious–some might say overly self-conscious–parenting that is so concerned with micromanaging success that a new term was required: helicopter parent, which spawned the resulting term: adulting, to describe that period where the child becomes aware that they cannot be insulated from the responsibilities of life forever. Yet still today if a kid isn’t a Baby Einstein half the parents are worried they’ve destroyed their entire future already and so they try even harder.

Meanwhile the younger Boomers consider their parents in The Greatest Generation, and Millennials consider their Boomer parents, and both are either coming home or not coming home out of a sense of anger and disappointment. Now all of their personal struggles have been attached to all these new ideas about parenting that didn’t even exist when they were young. A parent can’t use 2017 techniques in 1970, and yet they will be judged by today’s standards, not those of the years during which the parenting happened.

1241 Relax and Succeed - Yes we are adults
The fact that this exists says a great deal.

In the 60’s western doctors were still teaching that it was unhealthy to show love to your children because it would steal their strength. Like today, those parents were following what they were being taught, but what they learned was from the infancy of the psychological movement and many mistakes were made. It’s no easy task. As we now know, what replaced it was possibly even worse, and efforts at improvement have instead lead to a record number of people who struggle psychologically.

In none of this has the parent really done as much wrong as the child’s perspective might lead them to imagine, which is why there is so much estrangement today. The kids who feel they’ve failed and are ashamed to come home, choose to hide. The ones who’ve been taught to feel that they were owed more either stay defiantly away in an attempt to exact some pain in revenge for the perceived mistake, or they come back angry wanting to know what deficit in their parent lead to such a huge mistake? That child will often get particularly emotional because if the issues aren’t with the parenting, then the fault will fall to the child, and that can be a terrifying responsibility to face.

1241 Relax and Succeed - One cannot be taught the valueA parent in 1960 couldn’t prepare their child for an internet, world any more than a parent today can prepare their kid for the world in Blade Runner 2049, or the one in GATTACA, because a kid born today is roughly the age of the lead characters in those films. Think about a world of robots and gene editing and uploaded consciousness and who knows what kinds of business and political structures; and then ask yourself if the parents of Boomers could prepare for a post-WWII world filled with divorce, women’s liberation, intercultural marriages, a health craze, and working online?

Given how old they are when they do it and what circumstances at that time are, and how much the world is changing around them, plus how uncertain the future has always been, no one can ever really know what a parent should do to prepare for a future that’s so unknown most of us can’t even begin to imagine it. Children will never understand the challenges of parenting until they are a parent themselves, and they will not understand what it’s like to be a senior parent dealing with adult children until they themselves have adult children. Experience is something that we have to wait to happen.

That’s why I like the Kierkegaard quote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” And so, as tragic as some cases are, in every case a parent will have passed from this Earth before the child is even capable of fully processing what their relationship was. This creates poignant and sad events for people, but they are genuine events nevertheless. But they still are not signs of either a parent’s or a child’s failure. It’s simply how life is destined to go when parenting is seen as a subject-object concept that we should analyse rather than simply experience.

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 Bucket List

1238 Relax and Succeed - It is pleasant to have been to a placeMuch like the film The Princess Bride, I’ve haven’t yet ran into any people who disliked The Bucket List after seeing it. As with anything I’m sure they’re out there, but most people of all ages find that it has a stellar cast, a excellent script that is both funny and touching, and the final production all comes together quite tightly. It’s a very moving but highly enjoyable experience if you haven’t experienced its rewards yet.

While studios vy for our attention with giant, effects-filled extravaganzas, it’s always been humorous to me that these simple stories, generated by boring, elderly people, are the ones that sneak up on us and become beloved. It is fitting that The Bucket List is deceptive about its value, because it’s a great lesson regarding a common human mistake.

The film features Morgan Freeman as a very plain but dedicated family man who works as a mechanic, but who reads about the world with the hope of one day seeing its wonders. In contrast, his hospital roommate is played by Jack Nicholson, the extremely wealthy man who owns the hospital they’re in, and who can go anywhere and do anything, but his life is otherwise empty. Where one man’s life has depth, the other’s is shallow.

1238 Relax and Succeed - We must let go of the life we have plannedJack Nicholson is living the life we all believe we want. He has wealth, power, and the beautiful companions he surrounds himself with are easy to come by. But he’s dealing with a potentially fatal disease regardless, and all of his control of the hospital cannot help. Meanwhile Freeman feels like he’s dying with his dreams left inside of him, unlived. Nicholson has money, Freeman has dreams, and so despite the laments of Freeman’s wife and family, the two men set off together to tick off the items on their respective bucket lists.

Freeman’s wife is shocked he would leave his family considering his condition and potentially short time, but Freeman cannot escape the fact that he feels unfulfilled; that his life has been too small. In contrast, Nicholson appears totally fulfilled, but as the film progresses and the two men are away from home longer and longer, Nicholson begins to question the value of his life, as does Freeman. Where the rich man sees little, the poor man begins to recognise his wealth.

This is the nature of getting lost. It’s necessary in order to be found. People haven’t ruined their lives when they feel incomplete at 35 years old. They are on their way, first away from the relative peace and security of innocence, and eventually to boomerang our way back to what matters. We appreciate life when we are young and very old, but in the middle we’ll often get caught thinking too much and trying to achieve. The film lets us play out our dreams to their logical end, whereas we usually stop at the objects of our desires.

1238 Relax and Succeed - Fall in loveMoney, travel, achievement nor power can hope to bring us the peace, connection and value that comes from our relationships with those around us. As the old saying goes, they don’t put luggage racks on hearses. We all only have so much time. Sure, there’s things we want. But how many of us would trade the value already in our lives to get it?

Take some time today to really check in with your values. If you had six months to live and someone offered you the chance to jet off with no complications, no worries, and no financial strain, to experience all of your material greatest dreams, would you trade what you already have? Would you sacrifice that precious time by being away? For anything at all?

Too often we do as the Morgan Freeman character does; we live rich and full lives wishing for a rich and full life. Take the time. Look for what matters. And if we find it, we should be grateful that we began to realise that value long before our final departure.

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 Parent Trap

1224 Relax and Succeed - We must accomodateYou’re a parent and obviously you want to do a great job of raising your kid. Or maybe you know a parent who’s trying to do that. Either way, people have no idea what the future will look like so it’s essentially impossible to raise a kid for success. About all anyone can do is raise their children to be flexible enough that they can thrive in any future.

My grandmother lived on the prairies before steam powered machines hit the farms. One bad growing season and people in her generation literally starved to death in the middle of Canada. My parents both served in and obviously survived, WWII. Not all their siblings did as well. For my parent’s generation and all the generations before them, being a good parent was pretty straightforward: keep the kids alive, and try to teach them some basics about staying alive and getting along with others.

That was it. No books, no manuals, no classes. There weren’t different philosophies or theories to follow or adhere to. There were no real major rules to be broken as a parent as long as your kid wasn’t a criminal. And most people turned out pretty healthy and certainly happier than people test as today. Today it’s much different. Today there’s a lot of choice available regarding parenting styles.

1224 Relax and Succeed - A bad moment and bad dayStyles. Before, when two parents met for lunch, one parent could see the other parent’s kids were alive and they’d talk as two adults about things unrelated to their kids. Today people meet and fretfully discuss the latest article they read that either promises the path to certain success or that explains what is certain to lead to disaster. It’s all very binary, as though parenting is either good or bad when really it’s neither.

As much as we like to dress it all up in psychological terminology, “parenting” a child is really them just the kid mimicking or reverse-mimicking whatever the caregiver does. Parents are simply the child’s most common examples of human behaviour. So if someone truly wants to be a great parent, other than loving their child, they should simply let the child be and focus instead on being the best person–and best example–they can be.

Oh, and as you’re trying to be that great example, don’t forget that when you do set a bad example, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it because that sets another bad example. Instead we should accept our responsibility and know it felt bad because it was out of alignment with who we really are. And if we have that feeling, then the child will be parented just fine. Accept mistakes as lessons and move on. Because even if that was the only skill you taught your child, they would have learned a lot.

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.

Developing Human Excellence

1219 Relax and Succeed - Who we are and how much we engageWe all bring different skills to our community. Some of us are more aggressive, some are more passive. Maybe some are driven and intellectually brilliant, while others are patient and compassionate. Maybe some lead, maybe some follow. Each are strengths in different situations.

There is room for us all if we consider the strength of the group to be more important than our own personal strength. No matter what our position or attitude about life is, we will all face infirmity, pain and, if we’re fortunate, the aging process. In each of these situations we will have no choice but to depend on the kindness and generosity of those around us, so it is worthwhile for us to ask ourselves what sort of kindness and generosity we have nurtured in our lifetime.

Children’s lives have become increasingly competitive. Many parents seek to raise excellent students, or above-average athletes, or popular personalities. In general, a child will be taught to have the qualities their parents feel are key for success, but all too often the ability to maintain, contribute to, and inspire those around us is a foregone presumption rather than being something that is specifically developed.

1219 Relax and Succeed - We need to care lessThis week, as you interact with children, ask yourself what goal you are pushing them toward. Promoting too much personal excellence without enough paying enough attention to their contributions to their community can leave parents with future fellow citizens and caregivers who lack a substantive capacity to balance their personal goals with their overall sense of compassion.

To raise a child well isn’t to raise a child that reflects well on you when you’re thirty-five, it’s to raise the child you want caring for you at eighty-five. Whether you have children or not, take this week to genuinely consider what type of personal impact you have on those around you. Because collectively, it is our own words or actions merge to form the society we live in, and so any complaint about that society can only truly be addressed by each of us.

Literally: Choose a specific way you’d like to see the world change and then spend the rest of today genuinely trying to maintain some consciousness about realising that change within your own life. Because there is absolutely no rule that says a smart, athletic kid can’t also be the one to show the greatest levels of compassion, and there absolutely no rule that says that we all can’t be that kid.

Make a difference. That’s how they’re made. Thank you for your participation.

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.