Balancing With Wisdom

We tend to think of wisdom as something that will save us, but we fail to notice that if it saves us then we must have been in trouble in the first place. That’s fine, because experiencing challenges expands our capacity, but it’s important to actually remember, in the moment, that you want them: wisdom has no use unless you have problems, and problems both teach and are overcome by wisdom. It’s a win-win.

People who are not yet familiar with their wisdom often see the wise as balanced, when they should be seen as good at balancing. There we have a word that needs inspection; balance isn’t a static state. You weren’t supposed to become the perfect fossil. Your life is an active, in-motion expression of the balance and tension between your so-called problems and your so-called wisdom.

When you start off in life you run around on the teeter-totter of being like a little kid. And like little kids, you sometimes make miscalculations about where to put your weight. When we’re young or when we’re not paying enough attention (which is like being young), that’s when we tend to make the mistakes that see us crashing down painfully.

When you’re a kid just not getting your way can cause your teeter-totter to crash down. Later, you understand more grown-up concepts, so you’re more accepting of daily life, but you still struggle with your relationships. But as you struggle through those, you get better at that but then you have to learn to use an aging body. The learning never stops, so the trick is to love the learning rather than resist it.

Life is doing what it’s doing and it’ll drop unexpected and expected weights on teeter-totters all the time. Sometimes you’ll perceive that action personally, as though life’s been hard on you specifically, rather than you seeing it for what it is: that you just happened to be balancing in the path of some otherwise impersonal destruction.

Some scientists wanted to test experienced meditators regarding what levels of acceptance can be achieved through mindfulness. They took the best monk they knew (Lama Oser), and they tested him. Keep in mind, this fellow spent his entire life getting good at being peaceful. And what did that attract to him? The people looking to attack him so they could study the sources of peace.

It wasn’t personal when they got him to meditate. They just wanted to see what mindfulness could do when it came to managing something the scientists thought was guaranteed to create startled reaction. So the reward for all of his meditation practice was that they scared him intentionally, with a really really loud noise. They just wanted to see if he would react. Even police snipers have a startle reaction to the sound of a gun. Lama Oser didn’t. Can you see? Life literally delivers the lessons that suit us best if only we’d be open to them. And that went for the scientists as much as for Lama Oser.

When you started off as a kid you were flopping all over the place and your teeter-totter rocked violently sometimes. But as you age, and much more so as you become aware, you’ll find ways to detect that you’re heading off course and you’ll develop skills to react to those situations. Over time and practice you’ll refine those until eventually someone says that’s how you are.

The wise person you want to be–the people you admire–they’re still balancing. It’s just they’ve learned enough from being off balance that they now can make such subtle adjustments to stay on balance that you can’t even detect them from your perspective. But they’re still there, make no mistake. So if someone can settle themselves in a way you can’t, don’t argue with them that they should be upset with you. Instead, ask them more about how they manage to not be upset.

Life doesn’t finish. Awareness is a practice, not an achievement. Life will always require you to balance it. But if you don’t pay attention, years alone won’t do it. You have to actually pay attention to balancing if you want to learn to balance. It won’t happen mindlessly, only mindfully. Stop fighting and resisting your battles. Learn from them instead. Because everyone, including you, has the capacity within them to develop balance. Go find yours.

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.

Spiritual Lessons From Sport

Even for non-sports fans, sports offers excellent examples of how people behave when they’re functioning from an enlightened perspective. The lesson I’ll present today surrounds my own city, Edmonton, Canada, and our hockey team, The Edmonton Oilers.

The context is that Edmonton got an NHL team at the end of the 70’s and within only five years that team began a run of 5 Stanley Cups. Frankly, it created very high expectations that have since proven quite painful. With one almost accidental exception, the team has floundered at the bottom of the entire league for twenty years.

The contrast between the two team histories had made Edmonton hockey fans a somber bunch. There wasn’t much to rally good thoughts around. Recently, into the vacuum created by seasons of finishing last, came a once-a-generation elite draft pick and a brilliant new coach and GM and the nicest arena in sports. Suddenly the team has gone from vastly underachieving to significantly overachieving.

An important part of the lesson is that normal is defined by whatever you’ve gotten used to. For a generation of Oilers fans losing was normal, so winning stood out like a sore thumb. It was sure easier to enjoy. If your team is dominant–as Edmonton was in the 80’s–then you couldn’t help but half-expect to win. And that is a recipe for disaster.

When you expect wins and they don’t come it’s painful. Likewise, expecting losses and getting wins feels especially good. Fortunately, that phenom player really is as good as they said he was, and so are the coach and GM, so in short order orange jerseys and t-shirts were selling like crazy to very, very happy fans who were suddenly forming more of an actual identity around the team, (now that the team finally had one).

Here’s another important part of the lesson: most people started off the year excited by the fact that we might make the playoffs for the first time in eleven years. And then boom. We beat the really good team we’re up against and we’re in the second round of the playoffs. It was Oilermania in Edmonton. Suddenly this previous source of anger and frustration and sadness has people feeling awesome, and how awesome depended entirely on all of that anger and frustration and sadness.

At public screenings of the game total strangers embraced after goals. They are now a family of fans. For good luck, there is now a First Nations drum circle done by Oiler fans prior to every game. I have witnessed people I know to have racist feelings about Natives, showing support for the Native drum circle. Stop and think about what’s happening in that person’s mind.

A guy has a very dim view of First Nations Canadians. This is innocently because of the part of the province he grew up in and some early programming from his parents, plus some unfortunate early experiences. So he’s always felt entirely justified. If he sees one of these guys as a Native then he’ll take a dim view of the very same person he will embrace if the guy’s beating a drum at an Oiler game! Think about that. The Native guy has multiple identities within the mind of the racist fan. And that racist opinion is so thin that it can be burst by an orange jersey. This is real bridge-building between cultures.

Even non-hockey fans got into these playoffs. They weren’t joining in the love of hockey. They were joining in on that wave of positive civic feelings. And why not? Why not make choices that help you feel connected and good? That’s how healthy, connected people do it. Once everyone was in a healthy state of mind, when the team finally lost something very interesting happened.

People think they’re not being successfully spiritual if they don’t dispel their expectations. It’s true, that’s a path to the path. But as I always say, you can’t have path without not-path, so that “wrong part” is actually equally important to your spirituality, hence yin and yang and the acceptance of suffering that the Eastern philosophies suggest. So yes, dispel your expectations, but don’t think you’re “outside” of spirituality if you have them. As long as you accept the teeter totter you’re on, you do get to trade your expectations for intense experiences.

In the end what happened was that everyone would have been happy if the team just made the playoffs at all, so this year everyone felt that the team had exceeded expectations. They were able to trade those exceeded expectations for very little pain when the team finally did lose in the third period of game seven of round two.

Yes, many fans were disappointed in that seventh game, many said so when interviewed. But to a person, they also said that it had been a wonderful year, they were proud of their team, proud to be a part of the fanbase, they’d made many friends and they lived in excited anticipation of next year. That is wonderful! They became voluntarily part of a family. They fell in love with the team and each other, and they’re hopeful. And for this year, they are literally happy about losing.

Of course, all of this will set up our expectations, so if we don’t make the playoffs next year people will be especially disappointed. I won’t have that expectation, just anticipation. So I’ll avoid the roller coaster. But I might join it for the playoffs, voluntarily. Why? Because it’s fun. And because, when it comes to true spirituality, even when you’re out you’re in. This is the yin and yang of life that we all must accept before we can live in peace. Here’s hoping this lesson helps you understand how that state of mind works. Have a great weekend everyone.

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.

Cooperative Opposition

The reason you worry about you and your life and I don’t, is because you think you’re a Jennifer or a Sam or a Julie, and I see the you that you are before your parents named you. You were still a being then. You were awake and aware. But you had no identity. You hadn’t been taught to be anyone yet, so you were simply present. So I’ll talk to Sara about Sara’s life, and I’ll engage in its dramas, but it’ll all feel a lit like TV to me. Like even if we get it wrong it’s only on a stage.

After the real you was born into your body, slowly people told you who you were. You were Kelsey, or a girl, or smart, or finicky. And you believed them, so you started watching the world less generally and more specifically. You weren’t going to be satisfied with any path now. Now you wanted your path.

Meanwhile, who’s learning all this? Who learned to be you? Where did the being go that was there before the name and definitions went on? Are you your name? The sum of your thoughts? Are you your brain; an accident of biology? A byproduct of electrical signals moving through cells? Or is that just more story you told yourself?

How would you know one way or the other anyway? Who would you ask? And how can you be sure they’re not misleading you or that they’re even real? You can’t. So what’s left? What do you do? It’s a reasonable question, but you’re asking the wrong person. I don’t mean by asking me, I mean the person that needs to exist before you could do something.

Doing is ego. Being is reality. As egos do, they are someone, somewhere and they accomplish or fail to accomplish something. All those some’s are definitions. Beings happen. They aren’t limited by definitions. They just are, so their being and their doing are unified. The thinker and the thoughts are unified. This is what it is to be in flow.

How this works in practice is that if you’re talking to someone there’s two reasons ways in which you can disagree with them. The first is when your ego feels uncomfortable being isolated from the other person. Your being knows you’re still linked, but your ego feels you need to reunify you, so you try to get them to agree with you, or it’s like they’re questioning your very existence. The problem is, their ego feels the same way. Hence arguments that can escalate and if not faced with clarity, will devolve into grudges. You can’t be clear-headed and have a grudge.

The other way is to not be opposed to them, but to be doing something entirely independently from them that includes them. So what your being is doing is that it’s exploring the universe and this other being is cooperating with you like two tentacles on one octopus, as I like to say.

When you hold a soup bowl in front of you, your hands work in opposition to accomplish a joint task that benefits both of you. So it is with debating spirits. They’re not against each other, they’re leveraging each other for the sake of mutual exploring. This is how both science and co-writing music should work.

You’re not attached to your idea, so the argument doesn’t get into personal ego-based personality, but you do act as a representative of a perspective. The other person represents another idea. And together you give each other a leg up until you both find a mutual way out of the cave they’re trapped in together. Viewed from a healthy perspective, a conflict done well can help expose more of the universe to us. Every time you were proven wrong your ego might have shrank, but your world got bigger.

Your mind isn’t in some location. It looks through your eyes and hears through your ears and touches with your fingers, but you are just a visitor in your body. You’re an avatar that is slowly realising that it is not itself, but rather the product of another unknown being that you act on behalf of.

The point isn’t to know who that other being is because that is unknowable. The point is to be grateful for being and then be. Your avatar can trip and fall, but the real you is always safe at home. So there’s no point in fighting with, or feeling uncomfortable around what are apparently opposing avatars. Just always remember that the being inside your avatar is the same one that’s in everyone else’s avatar, and that being is simply treating all of us like the arms of itself, as it works together to create a unified expansion of all of 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.

Everyday Spirituality

Actually working to understand why ancient quotes can still be useful today is what this blog is all about. It’s not like drive-thru religion where you get a quick dose of spirituality without all the rules, and its not like traditional religion where following all the rules automatically leads to salvation regardless of the other deeds in your life–this is about those other deeds being your church. This is about you being dedicated to being human.

Reading quotes, finding one that vaguely applies to your situation and posting it on social media does not mean you’re pursuing your spirituality, it means your ego likes being seen as being spiritual. You can’t just dress the part, go to yoga and post the quotes; you have to ask yourself challenging questions. Questions like, what does the quote I posted really mean; or how can I take yoga from stretching and flexing into actual personal development?

The answer is meditation, but not the Ohmm meditation that monks do. You want to be like Siddhartha, sitting under the tree pondering why suffering exists. You want to ask yourself questions that don’t appear to have answers. You want to know how one wise guide can tell you to be peaceful by rejecting victory and loss, and yet another tells you that you can’t be balanced until you agree to lose.

The key is to understand desire. Desire requires a result. You’re after something. You have a specific outcome in mind and your life is oriented toward achieving that outcome. The problem with the outcome is that is that it’s theoretical. This is why even the slowest fifty year old is wiser than a someone in their early 20’s thinks they’ve found their answer.

You can’t have the answer because that will change as you become different people through your experiences. We tend to think we’ve found the answer when we find a route to the future that finally makes sense to us, but then we think we’re lost when our old answer doesn’t suit our new selves and we feel trapped or directionless. It’s not the answer that changed, it’s the person asking it.

It’s a constant rejuvenation process. That’s why they call it spiritual practice. But aging is like a church where you’re constantly delivered new real-life parables that need explaining. Why did that person try so hard to date you and then leave you? Why did you think this was your dream job and now you hate it? Why can’t you lose weight the way you want to? What is the definition of the word friend?

Over time we ask countless questions but we look for the answers outside of ourselves. We conclude either we are good and the ex is wrong, or we are faulty and they’re right; the dream job either has the wrong boss, or maybe you do really suck; you’re either mad at your mother for teaching you bad eating habits or you self-hate; and you conclude either that your ex friends are bad people or you conclude you’ve not been good enough. Winning and losing, winning and losing.

Even when you win, now you have to stay on top. That takes effort and you’ll be a different person sometime within the next eight or so years, so maybe that effort won’t seem wise. That’s because winning and losing are funny terms. They almost shouldn’t exist as static ideas. They only mean something in the moment you’re in.

If you listen to interviews with people over 50 years old, almost invariably you’ll hear them discuss their challenges more than their successes. They almost seem bored or uncomfortable with success because by then they’ve realised it’s largely chance. They also know that when you get there it doesn’t look like it did when you embarked on that journey.

After enough disappointing “wins” we start questioning the meaning of winning. If half of North American marriages end in divorce, then those marriages weren’t a dream come true; they devolved into a nightmare. But if you knew that at the time you wouldn’t have chosen it as your path. And yet as you age you realise that your marriage wasn’t wrong, it just didn’t work out long term. You still walk away with a better idea of what kind of person you’re really looking for in the future.

Victory and loss are tied together. If we live without the desire for a victory we cannot lose. We don’t need goals so much as targets. The getting there isn’t the point, it’s about being sanguine for as much as the journey as possible.

Victories and losses are judgments laid over top of events. Remove that static idea and the meaning of those moments can always change, meaning any defeat could become a victory, and any victory a defeat. Everything lives in potential. There’s no need to win now when we know can we live in a way that seeks value from all our interactions, even the ones we attempt to avoid.

peace. s

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

A group of seniors were being interviewed on the radio about what kind of person they were when they were younger versus today. Without any of them intending to, or likely even noticing, all of them gave the same answer.

All the answers sounded different in that they involved different qualities and situations, but all of them essentially said: I have this one skill I’m known for, plus I had these particular experiences that helped changed me for the better in this particular way that I’m proud of, and I knew it would help me if I changed this one other thing about me but, oh well, I tried but it didn’t work out and I eventually I just gave up.

My favourite part was how comfortable they were with themselves. They were not only letting themselves own failure, they were even letting themselves have their victories. They were proud of what they could do, proud of what they learned, and they accepted what they couldn’t do.

They hadn’t built some perfect soul like you’re trying to. You’re trying to be mistake-free, with a perfect life. What you really want to know how to do is fall. If you’re really good at falling and getting back up, then you’re a champion. Those seniors experienced a lot of unwanted falls before they ran out of time to fix them, which lead them to realise there was no point in worrying about changing anyway. They always seemed to be too busy living. They would have just have to accept who they were.

Note: it wasn’t like they were unaware. They were always aware of how they were challenging for others as a person. But we are who we are and after a lifetime of trying, eventually they just decided those so-called faults weren’t worthy of any more attention. They said things like, I probably should have spoke up more, but that just wasn’t me; I know was too pushy a lot of the times but what are you gonna do–and I did get a lot done; I spent two decades drunk. I can’t get that back, so I’m just thankful for being sober today.

Rather than spend much time or emotional energy on the negative thing, they shifted pretty fast to an oh well perspective. What are you gonna do? several of them said. It was very casual and comfortable. That’s the sweet sound of surrender. That’s someone no longer striving because they’re too busy being.

Don’t wait until you’re 75 to give yourself permission to be multifaceted. On a diamond we see the table and its pedestal. But the reason the light fires back out of the table with such an intense sparkle is because of all the angles below the setting. They aren’t pretty in and of themselves, but those angles are just right for reflecting your light back out of your more polished sides. They are what allow the top of the diamond to shine. Yes, maybe you wish you’d had a better relationship with your Dad. But the fact that it wasn’t good was why you worked so hard to nurture the excellent relationships you have with your kids. It’s all connected.

It doesn’t help to look at the bottom of someone else’s diamond nor does it help to look at yours. Your brashness will create opportunities for you and others, your shyness will give chances to some that wouldn’t get one, your fears make you excellent at advice on bravery, and your outrageousness brought joy to many.

That’s what all of those people learned in their lifetime; you’ll change in ways you never planned to that are really meaningful, so just let those happen; and you won’t change in some ways even though there’s some benefits to it, but that’s just how it goes so you might as well just settle into being who you were born to be and enjoy it.

That’s good advice for all of us. Find out who you are–all of you–accept that person and then just live. Accept that you were never supposed to play any other part but yourself. That flawed, sometimes embarrassing person is who the world really wanted you to be. Thank you for playing your part. Without you, we’d be missing out on an important part of life.

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.

Wabi-Sabi Awareness

When people want to learn how to be they’ll often (and entirely without irony) ask me, what should I do? Well there’s the obstacle right there; you can’t do anything. You can’t enter a state of being by doing. Being shows up precisely when you stop doing.

The reason our egos are willing to perform and not enact our true selves is because we’re looking to a fill a want. We think something’s missing so we’re trying to make ourselves and our lives acceptable to those around us. We want some acknowledgement and applause for our performance. But in the real world we are love, living within love, interacting only with other love. So we don’t need anything. Our wants are merely egotistical ideas in our heads.

In looking after my parents there are many helpful things I can do for them. To them I’m doing something for them, but when I’m healthiest and it’s going best I’m simply being in love with them. If I act from a place of love then my actions are a part of my being, and only then can the products of my active love actually generate real value between us.

This is important when caring for people who need help. Often their interactions with us can be very limited so you truly have to be able to immerse yourself in the simplicity of your relationship. Parents of babies, those caring for the severely disabled, and those looking after very elderly but beloved parents are all examples of people that gain great value from unifying themselves with that connection.

The essential simplicity in that type of care is what exposes its value to the person performing it. Essentially hopeless, these people needs are demanding and they can often limit rewards; the child is very challenging and ungrateful, the disabled person will not improve with better care, and the beloved parent will get worse and die. There is nothing we can do about those things, and so understanding a child or person or parent’s imperfection and impermanence is what leads to acceptance and appreciation.

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term that’s difficult to turn into English, but it refers to a form of simple beauty that emerges in part from an acceptance of the ever-changing, disordered impermanence of life. So think of a kid on a farm with big dreams of hitting it big in the city. When then they come back home spiritually worn out from adulting, they actually feel the slow pace of life. And it is that new appreciation that allows them to experience their beloved but imperfect parents and siblings in a more profound way.

The feeling of Wabi-Sabi usually refers to those calm but imperfect gardens with the raked stones that you know from popular culture. For a farm person from the west, they get that feeling when they sit having a coffee looking out at the old barn where they used to have to do chores and where they hid as children from their parents.

With enough time and enough memories, as dilapidated and imperfect as it is, the barn gains a certain rustic beauty to it that it would not have were it not for the time needed for all of those memories to grow, and the fact that it may not even be there to contemplate by the next visit. Better to take it in. Better to be with it now.

If I do a bunch of things to help my parents stay alive then I am clinging. But if I am present and accepting of everyone’s imperfection and impermanence, then I can fully be with them. Babies will grow. The disabled will not improve. The aged will die. These are all things to grieve at times but, for the most part, if we can see them from the perspective of Wabi-Sabi then we are engaging with the most beautiful and essential aspects about them.

Do not lament imperfect things and do not cling to certainty. Because after all, it is the very bitter-sweetness at the basis of our feelings of Wabi-Sabi that are what makes the barn worthwhile, the garden beautiful, the baby precious, the disabled person valued, and the parent appreciated.

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.

Stumbling Together

Yesterday I talked about how no one can take your spiritual or psychological journey for you. That prompted a friend to quote me and ask the question, “If you can say, ‘once you’ve understood what you’re trying to understand, you realise that no one can take this journey for you, and so no one needs your help,’ then why do you teach this stuff?”

It was worth discussing. I had wondered the same thing myself. But in doing that wondering I realised that just as some people’s nature came forth as music, or woodworking, or dance, or raising children, or cars, or gymnastics, or math, mine comes from helping others see how remarkably beautiful the universe is in this very special way.

I don’t take the journey for them. Let’s not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon. I see a lot of beauty in this world. To not share it feels unnatural, as though we’ve driven past the most amazing waterfall ever and I never mentioned it to the rest of the people on my tour bus. That almost seems cruel to me. It’s like hogging all the majesty for myself. It’s too big for me. There’s room for all of us in there.

If people can’t see that beauty and they’re living a dead, repetitive life, they come across to me like people standing still, stabbing themselves in the eyes, ears, mouth and nose and then cutting their hands off. They’re literally using a kind of spiritual violence against themselves. By doing things like thinking they’re ugly or stupid or worthless, they’re cutting themselves off from the universe.

How could I walk past that and not act? That would be like a musician writing a beautiful or powerful or emotional song and then not sharing it with the rest of us. What good does it do for her to keep that music to herself?

Keep in mind that even categorising yourself as attractive, or smart or capable, you’re creating division between yourself and others. Those are all comparative terms, and as I explained to my friend; the very act of comparison means there must be at least two things to compare, and if we’re separate we’re lost.

My friend doubted I never felt lost and he was right. Of course I do. Why have feelings if you’re not going to feel them? I asked him why he felt it was necessary to avoid something like that? He claimed it was because it felt so painfully lonely, but I argued that were it not for that painful feeling, we wouldn’t place such a great value on togetherness. You can’t ride the downhills unless you peddle up the uphills.

All of our lonely suffering is like a thought bubble within the dream of something greater than us. If I fall down in life I land in the palm of the universe. Our feelings are just nature generously steering us toward the good life. Not the good life in the sense that if you’re good you’ll enjoy life, but more that if you enjoy life you’ll be what often gets called good.

What confuses us is that sometimes the world needs us to play villain, so we all take a turn. I’m sure we can all remember a lot of the truly crappy things we did to people thanks to some misunderstanding to be sorted out now or in the future, or because we ourselves were feeling low and we pulled them down because because we desire togetherness and yet we can’t figure out how to get where they are. That’s why if someone makes you angry, you instantly feel a little to a lot better once they get angry too. At least now you’re in the experience together.

We were given all of the tools we need. Our emotions weren’t the point, they were the pointer. They not there for us to rate and rank. They’re to be lived. And this is a giant improv. So no one knows your lines but you. No one knows who your character is but you. They’ll all have a guess about who you are out of habit, but that’s their reality, just like you have a view of them that is your reality. Those were never designed to be reconciled.

We’re not supposed to argue over whose reality is right, we’re just supposed to share what we see and then we let the universe unfold. Sometimes we take action, sometimes not. But that’s irrelevant because we’re not competing. Our only job is to be ourselves. And sharing that binding, central truth is what leads me to feel connected.

If it’s done right, all sharing is selfish. So to answer to my friend’s question about people’s individual journeys and my role in guiding them; I don’t help them find their way for their sake, it’s a selfish act. My connection to, empathy for, and experience with their lostness is what connects us. In that vulnerability our separate selves melt and together we become whole. That is what it is to be generous with your life. And that creates the greatest feelings I have ever known.

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 Enlightenment Misconception

My accident lead me to question reality in a very fundamental way at a very young age. Once I was old enough to embark on a serious spiritual journey, I sought out teachers who might be able to answer some of my deeper questions about reality. Unfortunately, I was inclined to do what you likely do, which is I looked for the wrong people.

With no intention of being ironic, I thought I should look for someone super peaceful, living some super peaceful and respected life. I thought I would recognise them as having achieved something grand and meaningful. But I misunderstood what grand and meaningful were, and so I rarely found them. Because most of them weren’t wearing saffron robes, they weren’t doing yoga and they their lives were surprisingly ordinary.

Part of the reason for this is that once you’ve understood what you’re trying to understand, you realise that no one can take this journey for you, and so no one needs your help. You realise that all you were supposed to do is live your life without the constant thought-based evaluation of how you’re doing in relation to some imaginary goal. Our lives would be instantly more enjoyable if only we would stop second guessing ourselves.

Rather poetically, the first time my life became truly difficult was the same time that, by most external perspectives, I would have appeared to have been failing. I surrendered a life of status and money and power–all in the highly coveted and ever-popular media world (I truly had an awesome job)–to pursue a much smaller, much more obscure life doing something that a lot of people I knew thought was crazy. (This.) But that’s the key isn’t it? They thought that.

Thanks to that accident, in the midst of what should have been a broken heart, a huge sense of betrayal and a financial disaster, I was left with the opposite question most people  would have. I couldn’t figure out why I was okay with the idea of life being so difficult. This isn’t to say I liked it; it was just more that I accepted it. Any second guessing I did in my consciousness was profoundly painful and the pain acted as a very meaningful teacher.

I could occasionally (or at times even frequently), get caught up in personal thoughts that resisted my experience. These felt like hell. I felt very singular, as though it was all happening to me in particular. The suffering helped me grasp that when I felt better, I felt less like this was my life and more like an actor in a much larger play.

When I wasn’t thinking the resistant thoughts, I was peaceful inside with the knowledge that, like all roles, once I was finished playing this character I would either assume yet another or I would die and return to my real self. I was peaceful in the knowledge that nothing in the play I was performing in would change that.

What I had before was wonderful and I am deeply grateful for the experience. Almost every role I played in this giant improv has been an enjoyable one. I got to go to amazing places and meet incredible people and work on enjoyable and meaningful work. But I realised that the reason I was doing it all was not because other people felt it was a great life, but because I did.

Just like with movies and TV, being a loving and supportive caregiver to my parents was simply what I truly felt compelled to do. The financial strains and time and energy challenges all happen in the external world, but internally more of my time than ever is spent being in and sharing love.

I love making art. I love teaching people to see their strengths and opportunities. But there is something deeply meaningful and profound in helping your beloved father as he struggles with new challenges in the bathroom. There are moments where we look into each others eyes and we feel badly for what we’re putting each other through, but we both move quickly past those to simply being grateful that we’re in it together. That vulnerability is what makes the moment so powerful and filled with love.

I fail more than I ever have before. When my expectations are too high I lose patience when it doesn’t help. When I think too much I feel tired and alone. But most of the time, when we’re just making our way through it without all the thoughts about how we wish it was, I realise that I have never loved my parents more or felt closer to them. And that is why, if you do whatever you do with a lot of inner peace, even failing is a form of success.

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.

MoK: Acknowledgement

There are a lot of ways to take action in this world. Some people do it through clubs they belong to. Others do it casually, as circumstances arise, while still others become formal volunteers or contributors. Even if it’s in small ways, most people contribute to the world around them in a generous and thoughtful way.

People hold doors, do favours, offer money, or engage in labour all for the benefit of someone else. Today in the March of Kindness our job is simple: we want to watch life for these acts. We want to openly acknowledge the act as being generous and kind. It’s one thing to think inside your own head, Wow, it was nice of that lady to carry that older lady’s bags to her car, and something entirely different if you thank her on behalf of the world.

The impulse to be kind is already alive and well in the person, but we all know how it feels to get criticised. It makes us feel smaller and weaker. Using the same mechanism, getting acknowledgement for doing helpful positive things helps us feel stronger and more capable. But too-often the acknowledgements are silent. Why would we stay quiet about delivering such good news?

Today your job is to notice the little things people didn’t have to do and to acknowledge them. The gratitude feels good for us to experience, and every one of us would be motivated to do even more kind things if we were more consciously aware of how it helps us to feel like we belong. Being valuable to the group is a win-win for all involved.

It’s funny that we can be afraid to say nice things to people. Do we really think people are going to get angry and upset with us for bringing up their niceness? Most people light right up. It’s a nice connection between people and it’s worth developing. But for that sense of unity to exist in your community, people need to be able to sense their bonds. They can’t be silent and uncertain. We have to speak up and offer praise more than we offer criticisms.

Just yesterday I had a grocery store clerk help me load grocery bags into my arms, a tech support person was particularly helpful, I had a woman hold a door for me at an office building, I had a friend drop by to offer some expertise on an important family issue, and I got a welcome invitation to an event. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Today is about acknowledging those good things in life, whether we’re the benefactor or someone else is. The idea today is to focus our grateful attention on people who are taking action. Before the day is out try to offer at least three different acknowledgements. Turn your radar on to how kind the world is and you’ll see that it’s better than you might have thought.

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.

MoK: Sharing Kindness

There are a lot of ways for a person to communicate their connection to us. We’ve used things like patience and tolerance and compassion and appreciation, and today we’ll take on sharing.

It’s easy to forget that sharing is a form of connection. It often happens spontaneously, making it a good example of how effective our intuitions can be at guiding our lives. If no one’s using guilt as coercion, most people will share because it would feel strange not to. That wrong feeling inside of us is a divining rod for your spiritual future. It literally tells you who you are.

This is not to say we would all be sparked to share at the same time, for the same reasons, but each of us would feel that impulse at some point. Ignoring it will be disruptive to our relationship with the other person, and denying it would not feel good to us. This is where guilt can be a unifying, healthy force. If we don’t act on those feelings when they come to us organically, (as a result of the situation and not a demand), then we have sacrificed our sense of self. That never feels good.

Likewise, sharing out of contrived guilt also does not feel good. It feels like a connection being strained, not one being strengthened. Sharing must be sincere for it to be constructive, just as denying a sincere impulse to share will be destructive. I’m sure you could think back right now and find a couple examples of each situation in your memory.

Maybe you share their workload, maybe it’s your lunch. Maybe you take some blame on their behalf, maybe you sit with them to help share their pain. Maybe you just share some kind words with a stranger, or some time with a lonely senior. What you share isn’t as important as the sharing itself.

When sharing is done in that spontaneous way, you are in a way respecting your own internal motivations and those literally define the real you. Whether you tolerate them or test them, your limits are things you experience, they are not fences made of words. You feel it when you violate what you believe is right.

Today you want to live with open awareness. You want to simply open up to the world and let it happen around you, but your personal radar will be watching for a certain reading–you’re looking for a particular type of connection. You’ll feel it as a spiritual impulse. But normally, and by habit, you would normally strain the impulse through your personal psychology, and this is where ego can infect our spirit.

If the act of sharing requires a certain boldness, but you see yourself as shy, you’ll be tempted to stop yourself–but don’t. That’s exactly the kind of internal barrier we want to ignore. That form of egocentric self-protection is what keeps you from experiencing the glory of your personal relationships.

You are expansive. You don’t need protection, you have much to offer. Today is about offering it. Go find your opportunity. Have your connection to others be at the forefront of your mind. The impulses that arise from that state of confidence and connection can be trusted to be the very best parts of ourselves. It’s time to exercise them.

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.