Nothing is Something

1269 Relax and Succeed - They are the chosen onesThey were sitting in a coffee shop. The decidedly unsettled woman twitched a statement his direction. “I can’t paint.”

“You painted all of those beautiful paintings in your house, and quite a few hanging in other people’s houses too, like mine.”

“There’s no point.”

“You enjoy it.”

“Not like this.”

“This isn’t painting, this talking about painting.”

She was already done her coffee. She leaned over toward the garbage and ditched it. “This is a kind of torture, being stuck like this. Constant procrastination, no work. No achievement, no sense of self-respect. But how could I think I was gonna get that from something so fated? So pointless?”

“I like the paintings I own of yours. I take pleasure from seeing them. Don’t you enjoy people liking what you’ve offered?”

“Praise is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s too rare. Feels weird. And my problem is bigger than procrastination–although that’s huge–my problem is metaphysical. It’s… philosophical. It’s spiritual. It’s so huge it’s not even my problem it’s the problem. With everything”

“Oh oh. Then it’s a problem for me too. What is this problem we have again?”

“Everything comes from somewhere.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“It’s just a giant universe of pool balls, clicking and clacking away. We live inside a math formula.”

“What?”

She caught the eye of the bearded guy behind the counter then looked at her companion. “You want another one?” He signalled he still had 90% of his existing drink. She held up one finger and the barista nodded in understanding. “This whole thing. Everything in the world was predetermined by every other thing. It’s all just billiard balls.”

“I’m going to need a bit more detail.”

“Just think about it: why are we speaking English?”

“…Because we’re in Canada? Because our parents speak English?”

“Exactly! See! We had no choice. English came to us, we didn’t pick it off a list of German and Japanese and Italian and Swahili. Our lifestyles. Why do our Dad’s both own businesses–because their Dad’s did.”

“We’ve got friends who own businesses whose parents worked at jobs.”

“Yeah, but those people didn’t want to be like their parents, so in a weird way the parent still dictated what they did. It was all inevitable. All billiard balls. Every song, based on the notes developed by others, using the timing systems developed by others, and played on instruments invented by others. Everything is so derivative. There’s no point.”

1269 Relax and Succeed - Millions long for immortalityThat last statement shot the eyebrows of her companion up. He was thoughtful while she fidgeted even more, checking her phone. He broke her attention away from it when he spoke. “What if it’s not balls?”

“What?”

“What if it’s not balls? What if the reason it feels like there’s no point is that we’re not all individual balls in search of individual achievements. What if we’re all just one big flowing mass? Then aren’t your actions both kind of predetermined and also awake and alive? Isn’t it possible to be fully occupied with fulfilling our ‘own’ aspects of that flow? Doesn’t an ocean crash on anew on every shore? Isn’t that both ours and the–and part of the ocean of everything?”

She seemed genuinely impressed that it hung together in the end, but it didn’t line up with what she already believed, so her initial reaction was rejection. “That’s too easy. It ignores the nihilism of it all. I cannot paint with any kind of meaning. All anyone is ever going to get is just another reflection of every force I ever encountered as life unfolded me like a predetermined plan.”

“Can’t all of that be true and still leave you space to feel like you’re a part of a great oneness? Isn’t that what a muse is? The hand of God needs fingers right?”

Eyebrow. “Hand of God?”

“I was shooting for poetic.”

“Ah… no.” In the background the barista was foaming her latte.

“You’re the one going on about metaphysics and nihilism. I’m not even sure either one of us knows what those words mean exactly.”

“I just want my life to have meaning. Is that so much to ask from the universe?”

“How would I know? What’s meaning? Meaning changes as we mature anyway. I don’t see the crap we did at 10 years old the same way now that I did then. I can only assume that since everything else in my life is like that, now will be like that too. So what’s meaning? Meaning’s some floating idea we temporarily layer over an experience or a memory. But what’s so great about that? People have different opinions about the same book. Why can’t that be wonderful? Why do they have to agree on a meaning?”

“What’s the point?”

“That’s like asking for a meaning. Can’t life be the point? Can experience itself be the point? What do people who find out they’re dying want? They want more experiences. They might have had a lifetime of crappy ones and they’ll still want more when you tell them it’s over. There has to be something to that. Picasso was billiard balls too. I remember you getting pretty excited about Picasso. Wasn’t that joy real? Wasn’t that a thing? Isn’t that a point? To just…–live that? Doesn’t the universe need witnesses?”

This catches her attention. “Witness?”

“What if we’re not here to do anything? What if we’re just here to be? To see it. What if we’re just all witness-actors in the universe? What if this whole wondrous thing only happens because each part does its part, for every other part?”

1269 Relax and Succeed - A life worth living“Can’t be. I’m sitting here. I’m not doing anything. I’ve stopped the flow of the balls.”

“Ooo. Look at you. The grand ball stopper. The whole universe? Come on. But: what if this procrastination is just you misunderstanding that this is not when you’re supposed to create? What if you’re living this, but you don’t even understand why yet, like the Kierkegaard quote? But what if this is all part of that big flow? What if you being stuck is perfect? I don’t know art, but I’d bet another coffee that Picasso got stuck too.”

She’s thinking. This logical explanation has thrown a wrench into her nihilistic negativity. Despite herself, she’s finding some gleeful exuberance bubbling down low. “I dunno. Seems too easy. And where’s it leave us anyway?”

“Under that explanation there is no ‘us’ and no ‘where’ anyway, so it’s a nonsense question.”

The barista drops down her coffee and quickly swipes her cash card. While he’s going through the motions she continues her conversation. “Right. Oneness. Flow. That was good”

It’s as though he’s realising it more than stating it. “If everywhere is the same place then your lostness is inside foundness. Right?”

She’s confused herself. “Now you’re getting too deep for me.”

“You wanna get out of here?”

“Actually if it’s cool with you, I think I might head home. This actually makes me want to paint.”

“What’s the point though?”

She tosses a sugar wrapper at him. “My own joy of the doing.”

“That sounds worth it to me.”

“I’ll hate you during the hard parts.”

“What are the hard parts?”

“The parts on which there is no paint.”

“Ah. I get hated right to the end then.”

“I get a painting out of it though.”

“A nihilistic painting?”

“I dunno. I’m going to experiment with flow.”

“I guess I’ll wait to see it.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Star Trek Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Borgy?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s that help me?”

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

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

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

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

“Pretty much, yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

“You do still have that going for you.”

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Silently Floating

You’re born floating in the middle of a beautiful river. You don’t even know there is a shore. You know only the floating of the water. As you age you learn you can affect your movement around the water and you attempt to do so, but you often become frustrated when the river is itself and does not meet your expectations.

Maybe it is the currents pulling you in challenging, stressful directions. Maybe it’s too shallow where you are and you are skimming along, irritated. Maybe it is rocky, and you’re bouncing along in frustration and a bit of fear. Maybe you’re actually hitting some really big rocks pretty hard and it’s so frightening that you’re angry at the world for scaring you so much. Or maybe you’re marooned with damage, depressed and unmoving on the shore. But if you’re reading this you haven’t done the equivalent of suicide and gotten out of your boat. Which is good. Because there’s something you’ve misunderstood.

Yes, you do control yourself. But you do not control the river. The banks are set by fate, by your parents, your times, your culture, your individual experiences. The difference will be in their banks, not in the flow of the water. That’s the point. The flow is guaranteed like gravity. You are destined to return home to the sea. The only question is, how much will you allow yourself to flow?

What is it not to flow? It is to imagine things as being wrong. It’s to image the river being a faulty river. Rivers can only do as rivers do. They are guided by principles. Your thoughts about the river are not the river itself. Your opinions exist only in your consciousness; the river is indifferent. But then why think resistant thoughts at all?

We often mistake our own flow for a mistake, and in attempting to correct it we fight our flow. It is this misunderstanding that misleads us. It’s not a mistake that the water is shallower and rougher near the shore. Nor that there are sharp rocks, or waterfalls or dangerous eddies. These are all normal things for any river, and all parts of the river will experience them to some degree. That isn’t the world or the water being wrong, that’s layering thought over top of flow to create resistance.

The narratives about your unfulfilled desires, your worries, your fears, your complaints against yourself and those around you–those are like psychological attempts to damn your river. You’re trying to force a direction change with pure thought, but you don’t stand a chance in the face of the river of life. Your must surrender and float.

Stop your judgments. Flow past your irritations, frustrations, and bouts of temper or depression. Replace them with a silent appreciation that, even with these challenges, to flow is to live and to live is exalted. It is easily the most underrated thing in society today; to merely be alive to experience existence. So many die without having ever truly opening their eyes.

Don’t argue with your white water. Don’t try to back away from a waterfall. Don’t try to muscle your way out of an eddy or escape from the rocks. Flow. Stop your paddling, wanting, resisting thoughts and flow.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Downers

A lot of our thinking stays within us and we’re the only ones that ever know our perspectives exist, but sometimes our thinking externalizes into actual spoken words. Since these words flow in the patterns that create our personalities, we can learn a lot about ourselves by listening carefully to ourselves with others.

As we start trying to catch ourselves we’ll need to do it with big things, and after the fact. Thinks like: what was the overall tone of my last conversation? What all did we talk about? Who started which subjects? What did I engage with and what did I ignore?

Eventually we start catching ourselves within a conversation and we suddenly become aware of where we are in that moment. If you don’t like where we’re at when we do, we suddenly prove how easy it is to change one’s thoughts because we’ll switch instantly and easily. We’ve all done this every time we’re having a big fight with our spouse and then someone from work calls and we answer the phone all cheery and positive. We’ll even flicker between the work identity and our married identity instantly as we cheerily say a sentence with a smile in it, and then as we listen we glare daggers at our partner.

When catching our conversations, first we’ll note a lot of them are sad, or dull, or whiny, or angry, or if we’re lucky maybe they’re relaxed, or fun or hilarious or lively. If we cultivate a lot of the first four we’ll reach for “relaxed” or “lively,” but generally people who are struggling have conversations that sound like people struggling. There’s lots of talk about how misunderstood they are, or what they can’t do, what their limits are, what resources are missing, or how hard, unfair or bad things are.

It will also help to monitor those we talk to. If we’re all having a great time, then we’re good. If one of us is always down and the other is always trying to pull the other up, then that’s strained and it’ll inevitably end. If both of us are always down then we’ve been down long enough that we’ve formed a group of people who like to meet because we’re all so good at negativity.

Once we get better at listening to ourselves while we’re in-conversation we start to spot patterns. We go to certain people for certain things. We have certain patterns attached to certain activities or times of day. Some people will lean on us, others we will lean on. But overall if our tone averages as enjoyable then we’re good, and if it averages as negative for too long then people will slowly disengage and we’ll only hold on to other people who actually worship and nurture sadness like we do.

None of us likes to think we’re negative. When we are negative we prefer to view it as misunderstood, wounded, or betrayed, or weak, or burdened with history. We discuss how no one understands us, or we talk about the hurts we have suffered, or how people have been unfair. We discuss our inabilities and justifications for those inabilities incessantly, and we also claim that things that happened five years ago prevent us from taking action today.

All of this negativity presents as forms of resistance to being, to creation. But every one of us has within us the capacity to alter our world. Even Stephen Hawking’s broke, diseased body took the one thing he had –an abundance of idle time– and he used it to develop his mind to the point where it has travelled farther our into the universe than anyone ever has. And it was all done from a wheelchair.

It will hurt to be inactive in the world. We were built to contribute. Even ants change the world. We certainly were built to build; families, businesses, friendships, community. So we can take our life energy and talk ourselves and those around us into a sad, small, depressing lives filled with suffering, or we can use that same life energy to go out and help others realise something great about themselves or the world. And regardless of our awareness of the fact, our life will be made of the moment by moment choices we make in that regard.

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.

Michelle’s Understanding

This is the second part of a post started yesterday.
Michelle was already busy working when Alex got into the office. Knowing she was having a freakout the day before, Alex had dropped by to see how she was today. “You’re in early!”

“As you know, there is too much to do.”

“I cancelled my yoga tonight. Thank goodness this only happens once in awhile.”

“Oh, hey, I tried your trick yesterday but it drove me crazy.”

“What drove you crazy?”

“Thinking about how this cohesive whole–this potentially amazing project–got reduced to little pieces by someone’s impatience.”

“Not impatience, aggressiveness. We don’t call an early bird impatient. He just wants the worm more.”

“Yes. She was a worm and she dug us right into the ground.”

Eee. Alex isn’t sure if clarification is a good idea. “Uh… in that analogy our boss is the bird, not the worm.”

“What. Ever. Can’t I just hate her?”

“Sure. I’ll save you some time. I’ll just put some poison in a bottle with her name on it.”

Michelle eyerolls. “It did not work. My thoughts were bouncing all over the place.”

“Okay, first off that’s not what I said I did. FedEx does not load a truck to go to the West End and then the North Side and then the South Side, and then back to the North Side and then back to the South SIde”

“Okay I get it.”

“Half their day is spent between where they really need to be. I didn’t mean spend all of your time between everything. Our fluid department was compressed by time and responsibility into a gas where all the molecules now have space between them. You just find the most important molecule and handle it. Then find the next most important and handle it. But yeah, bouncing between them and never actually settling in? That feels awful when I do it.”

“Well it felt awful yesterday.”

“At least that should keep you from doing it again today.” Michelle looks at her lamely. “Sorry.”

Michelle sits back in her chair and regards her friend. It’s a statement, not a question: “So instead of bouncing between all of these worries I pick the most important one and just deal with it.”

“That’s what I do, yes.”

“And that’ll make me feel better?”

“Why wouldn’t you  feel okay if you did that?”

“Because all of that stuff still needs to be done.”

“That’s just you drifting between different responsibilities with your thoughts. That’s the thing you said you wouldn’t do.”

“That’s it?”

Alex almost feels bad. As though she’s really let Michelle down. “Yeah.”

“So these responsibilities are just… ideas, and me thinking about one, then the other, then another–that is what I’m doing that you’re not? You’re just not drifting between the gaps? You’re just staying on your molecule? And then you go molecule to molecule. None of the worrying…” Michelle started to seem buoyed by the idea. “Hmmm.”

Alex looked like she’s about to say something, but when she looked at Michelle something subtle had changed. There was now a certainty to her, as though Michelle’s posture itself is some kind of highly balanced yoga movement. Her voice sounds less uncertain and more confident the longer her realisation lasted. It seemed that she has gotten what she wanted the day before. So Alex just stepped back and grabbed her briefcase. “Have a great day Michelle.”

Michelle looked up, looking entirely unperturbed. “Thanks Alex. You too. Why don’t you come over for dinner on next week, when this haze has all blown past?”

“That sounds good Michelle. That sounds really good.”

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.