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.”


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 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.”


“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.


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.

Alex’s Secret

Despite the fact that she rarely liked Alex’s answers, Michelle often found herself in her office when she was upset. It was a bumpy time. We’ve all had them. Demands become too high. We get unreasonable, impossible requests and, no matter what we do, a big price will be paid in one way or another.

Both of them knew there was no way such a large project could ever be properly built in the four weeks given to them. A good team could easily spend that much time in the planning stage, where most of the savings in time and money happen. Now everything would be compressed and patience would be commensurately short.

Michelle was freaking. Her mind raced with the impossibility of it all. Over and over she discussed those painful realities with herself and anyone else who would listen. One wondered how much she might have gotten done during all the worrying, but that was water under the bridge. Now she was sitting in Alex’s office crying.

“This is gonna be a disaster.”

“It may not be as good as it might have been, but even then–who knows? Maybe the rush exposes some advantage…?”

Michelle rolled her eyes. “Stop with the crazy optimism. Why does everything always have to be rosy, or good with you? Why can’t you just let this suck?”

Alex comes out from behind her desk and sits next to Michelle, orienting herself toward her. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t intend to let you stop you from feeling your own legitimate feelings. I did think this sucked.” Alex takes a moment and composes herself. “We knew when she gave us this assignment it was crazy. It put everyone under enormous pressure.”

“For no good reason.”

“Maybe. Her job is to capitalise on opportunity, not create the most ideal administration situation possible. We’ve all benefitted from projects she’s brought into the company with that attitude, so we can’t turn on her when that same quality isn’t convenient for us personally. That feels selfish to me. Like we’ll take but we won’t give. She has to work around our strength and weaknesses combinations too.”

“But how do you handle it?”

“You used the word ‘pressure.’ The most rigid people in life snap and break more often than anyone. They’re too incapable of responding to a lot of the unexpected twists and turns that are part of life. They suffer a lot. I’m more of a fluid person. I like to stay flexible. That’s why I said I did feel what you feel, not that I do feel it now. When we got this assignment I felt an earthquake.”

Michelle feels better with that connection. “So you truly thought it was bad too?”

“You’re not alone. I knew right away it would create an unpleasant effect. I meditated on what would happen and I realised that I could stay flexible for a time, but that eventually our compressed schedule would mean we would reach the point where the the pressure increased too much and it would have to turn to a gas–our beautiful whole would have to be split apart–atomized–into a divided whole.”

“And that’s what’s happening now?” asked Michelle.

“Yes. We still manage to occupy the same space, we’re still all 100% busy, but now we’re more diffused in our impact. I knew by now most of us would be bouncing from emergency to emergency. I guessed that would kick in about a week beforehand and so I reminded myself that I could stay calm in all of that, and then I did my work and waited.”

“That’s it?” Michelle’s disappointed. “Before, you knew you could concentrate and get things done, and then you knew you’d be spread too thin and that shit wouldn’t get done, and so you just waited for the shit to hit the fan? That’s your secret?”

“Kind of, yeah.” Alex was sorry she couldn’t give it to her in a way where it seemed more valuable. “I’m bouncing just like you, so I’ve been eating and sleeping really carefully so my health holds up. And if I start to feel anxious I just check in and remind myself that I knew it would be like this, and to just drop the smallest stuff and handle the emergencies.”

“So you’re telling me you just accept failure?”

Alex seems half offended by the idea. “No. I accept that, considering the limitations we’re under, this is the very best job that could be done. I never do work I’m not proud to do.”

“What if it bombs though?”

“I never do work I’m not proud to do.”

Michelle just sits with that for a long while. “So then, according to you I should just go back to my office and get as much of the most important stuff done as is reasonably possible?”

Alex is very sincere when she says it. “What else could you do?”

Michelle realises she has a point. As she rises to leave, we can see she’s lost in meditation about her own understanding.

“Have a great day Michelle.”

“Yeah, thanks Alex. I’ll think about what you said and maybe I’ll try it.”

“I think you already have.”  Michelle looks at her confused. Alex continues, “Only I did it back when the assignment got handed out and you’re doing it now. I just selfishly prefer to do my freaking out and meditating when it’s calm. Try it next time. Maybe you’ll like it too.”

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.

Basic Choices

749 Relax and Succeed - We were all humans

This one day, I look out my back window and I see a guy I’ve never seen before and he’s hurling my neighbour’s blue bag contents all over the alley. This is somewhat ironic considering that the blue bag is where we’re supposed put things that are designed to be recycled because they can very easily be re-purposed.

I walked out and said a friendly hello but the guy was immediately concerned. Many homeowners will immediately assume a person has no morals because they have no home. I don’t think that, plus—even if he is a total jerk—I’m at least smart enough to make friends with any potential troublemakers in my neighbourhood.

Many people live on the street because of a mental illness or a lack of self control manifested as hostility. They get cared for up until eighteen and then —boom— now they live on our streets, with us. This guy isn’t mentally ill but I do know he has a bad temper problem from previous experience, so I’m not surprised that he blows up when I nicely ask him to just put the stuff back in the bag when he’s done.

“What are you going to do, make me do it?”

“Make you do it? What? You mean physically force you? You think I would fight you over recycling? Dude. You do bad math. It would be infinitely easier for me to just re-load the bag myself than it would be to fight you, even if I beat you the first punch…. then police and jail and losing work. And that’s if I win the fight. That blows me away. You don’t look like you’re jonesing and I know you well enough from the diner that I know you aren’t mentally ill. Is that quick temper the only reason you’re out here?”

“Fuck you.”749 Relax and Succeed - For every minute you are angry“Yeah, that the anger I meant. What’s that for? I’m trying to be nice.” I’m still really calm. I start putting the stuff back in the bag. I’m acting almost offended because that will be unexpected and it’ll force him to rethink things to try to figure it out. I continue.

“You whip that anger out at strange times buddy. I get that it can be useful to protect ourselves sometimes, but I’m a pretty nice and helpful guy. Your angry approach makes you treat me like an enemy. What, is all that just out of habit? Is this what frustration or a lack of trust looks like for you?” I point to the bag as a reference. “Anyone who loses track of their choices is going to lose track of their life.”

“I’m not angry, people are fucking dumb.”

“That is what most angry people assume, yes. We all think that sometimes. And it’s true. I myself am an excellent representative of being fucking dumb sometimes.” I can tell he’s got a lot of us-and-them going on. He sees me as above him so I take the opportunity to mimic his language and concede some weakness. “I am fucking dumb so much more regularly than I’d like. But hey, we all have our thing right? That’s my thing. That’s my version of your anger. That’s my dumb choice.”

He starts to help with the bag. “I don’t choose being angry.” He says it angrily, but there we go. Now at least we’re rolling.749 Relax and Succeed - Remember thisI slowly look over at him like he’s crazy. “Uhh, duhhh. If it’s not you choosing it who is?” I can see he doesn’t have a good answer. “Dude, everyone’s got a personality and a personality is nothing more than a collection of how we respond to life. Tortured people try to make challenges go away. Being healthy just means accepting that crap and finding the best way available. I agree. It sucks a lot of times, but that’s how it works. I’ve never met the person who thinks their life went all-good. But your responses are in your control. You can still accomplish a lot with that. You can be less angry.”

He challenged me. “And you think my problem’s anger…?” It took me a second to realize he meant it as a question hidden by pride.

“I just don’t get why you would chemically torture your own mind by thinking such angry thoughts when there’s a zillion other things you could have thought of instead. I mean it’s not like the angry thoughts or words ever changed anything right? Or if they do they were most likely to change me from coming out to be nice to me feeling threatened, which doesn’t do you any good. Angry thoughts just get the angry brain chemistry flowing. We all do it, but you can’t blame people for thinking it’s a little strange that you would pick that response so often. Sure, occasionally. But not all the time. Not out of habit.”

“It’s not my fault, people are fucking assholes.”749 Relax and Succeed - Today was the absolute worst day“Duh. Do you think? I just told you I’m one pretty routinely. You are too.” I motion to the alley around us where the stuff was scattered. “But what? You figure you’re the only person who has to deal with that? No offense buddy but it’s time to put on your big-boy pants. You’re not talking about avoiding assholes, you’re talking about avoiding life.

“I’m on the road every day with assholes who aren’t even looking at the road. Sometimes I even have to pick up recycling that some asshole has hurled around my alley for no good reason.” He’s quiet until we’re done. He just stands there as I re-tie the bag and put it back.

He very obviously has a question but isn’t sure how to ask it so I kill a ton of time tying. Finally he speaks. “I can’t help it if I’m angry.”

“Look buddy I’m seriously sympathetic. I am. I’m sure some ugly experiences lead you to use that for protection and I’m sorry whatever that shit was ever happened. But again: you pick how you feel. Don’t be less angry for other people. Be that way for you. The world won’t need to punish you for it. The being angry part is the punishment.”

Almost as an afterthought I add, “You need to get more aware of how you’re choosing to feel.” I say this like it’s some key everyone got that he somehow missed out on. And this works because I know he genuinely feels that the rest of us have some special thing inside us that he doesn’t –so many homeless have told me that.

If he’s like them, he’ll want to know the thing that keeps us off the street. The thing that he’s missing. The thing that keeps him down. So for maybe the first time I feel he’s really listening, like it’s now just a plain old conversation between equals. He finally says, “Pick how I feel..?”

“Yeah, you know –using your emotions. That’s what they’re for.” I’m casual as hell because I’m lying. What I’m telling him is actual what enlightened people do, which is currently a tiny percentage of the population. But hey, why make him just functional when we can make him healthy? So I tell him this is what “people” do.

749 Relax and Succeed - If you listen to your body“Getting angry feels crappy, right? The crappy part is what’s telling you to stop thinking the crappy thoughts. That’s why I’m confused. It’s a pretty simple system and you almost function as though someone never explained that part to you before. If it feels painful, stop doing it/thinking it/saying it. Even if we’re just talking to ourselves. If the thoughts hurt we should stop thinking them. Suffering = stop thinking. If you try it and practice it, it’s pretty easy. I’m sure you can do it.”

By this point I’ve made my point and he needs to keep his pride, so I can’t leave him to exit the conversation or he’ll have to rise back up again somehow to prove he’s stronger and that’s what I’m trying to avoid, so I end it. “Hey, look, uh… I’d like to keep talking but I’ve got a friend who’s gonna show up right away. Thanks for the help with the bag. Have a good one buddy.” I shake his hand which really surprises him. As I head back to the house he waves and says a nice goodbye.

Every time I’ve seen him since he’s looked a bit less angry and at the very least he’s always nice to me. And I’m sympathetic because we’re all variations of him. We all have some simple choice we could make that would massively change our lives. The question is, what is it and do we feel it’s really worth it for us to change it?

Figure that out and if it’s really worth it, then whenever we can we should just make that choice instead of what we were choosing and we should practice that until its our new habit. Voila. And yes, it really is that easy. It’s staying conscious of the choosing that’s the trick because emotions can blind us to our wisdom.

So, knowing that, let’s all go have an awesome day as much as we’re able, let’s try not to hurl our emotions towards others for no good reason. When we can, let us lead by example. And let’s all appreciate the roofs over our heads. Many in this world are not so fortunate.

peace. s

A Million Monkeys

249 Relax and Succeed - Always know that you are
You get along with some people and you cannot get along with others. As we age and get to know more and more people, the structures of our society mean it is impossible to avoid the people we don’t like. Our bosses hire them to work with us. Our friends marry them, some change into them, and some even have them as children. But somehow the more enlightened among us don’t seem to care too much. They prefer positive experiences, but they seem fine either way—they can enjoy a person’s company or not enjoy it, and somehow those things are equal. This is how they do that:

Do you know the Infinite Monkey Theorem? It’s essentially this: if a monkey randomly hits keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time he will eventually—albeit inadvertently—type Shakespeare’s greatest works. Your innate knowledge that this is true is why you’re willing to buy lottery tickets. There are literally billions of possible combinations that can be created from only 50 lottery numbers, but you are willing to pay for a ticket because you believe in the idea that your single combination—your Hamlet of numbers—can and will be formed from those billions of possibilities. So billions of stories can be written with only 26 letters, and billions of individuals can be created from only a few different kinds of experiences.

Okay, so let’s say God or Nature is our Monkey. And let’s say the keys of the typewriter are types of experiences. Every moment is a key experience. Your ego is formed by you combining those experiences into your story. Your alphabet of experience includes: things you expect versus things that you realize in-the-moment; things you think are right or things you think are wrong; things you either accept or reject, and you judge things to be either beneficial or detrimental to your being.

249 Relax and Succeed - Your past is just a story
With each letter being an individual experience, words are then combinations of experiences, and those combinations get strung together in our consciousness to form the narratives that lead to the various chapters of our lives. Eventually all of those experiences can be lined up in our consciousness to form our life story. So when people ask you about your life, you list those experiences. Makes sense so far?

So if we say people are unfolding stories, then they are each made up of combinations of experiences just like every book is made up of different combinations of the same group of letters. Understanding that, it’s not so hard to appreciate that the order and nature of those experiences would lead to different results just as the order and nature of the words create a different story.

If you repeatedly experienced surprises that were not only detrimental, but on top of that you felt were wrong because you didn’t deserve them, then you could see some bitterness being written into your story. Likewise, if you experienced long random strings of beneficial surprises that matched your judgment of what you felt you deserved, then you might feel grateful, or lucky, or blessed. So what everyone describes as their lifeis really just a collection of the judgments of their experiences. It’s almost like math. If you could see how they got there, everyone would add up. They would all be pysche-logical.

249 Relax and Succeed - What you meet in another
Okay, so if God or Nature is infinite… that means the monkey is not only going to type Hamlet, it means he’ll eventually type everything. So it is with the experiences of life and the creation of individuals. There’s only a few fundamental things that can happen to you: you can expect or realize, you can accept or reject, you can judge an experience good or bad, and you can find it beneficial or detrimental to your being. But every moment will be comprised of a combination of those things, and those individual judgments can happen in any order or combination to form a lifetime.

That leaves us with 10’s of billions of possibilities. Some of these people-stories you really enjoy. Some are funny, or romantic, or insightful. But some are boring and predictable, or stupid, or difficult, or ignorant and maddening. And yet every ego was typed from the same alphabet. They all emerged from the same eight keys, and they were hit in an order that only the monkey will ever understand.

So how does this help enlightened people have more equanimity around challenging people? It’s not that they come to understand the Monkey. They come to understand themselves. They understand their judgments exist only in their consciousness and so they take them less seriously. They argue less with what is. Remember, the monkey’s going to type every combination. A healthy soul accepts that fact and simply meets all of them as equal aspects of the universe as a whole.

249 Relax and Succeed - The soul always knows
Your ego wants to organize the world so that it can judge things as beneficial or deserving. It wants what it expects. That’s what egos do. Egos are verbs. They are the act of judging moments. So what do the wise do? Whenever possible, they remove judgment from their experiences. There is no right or wrong, so there is no deserve or not-deserve. The wise ones know that there are beautiful warm people with wonderful families and yet they’re in a children’s hospital. That’s not because the world gives us what we want or expect. It’s because the world unfolds as it does and we either accept that idea or we waste our lives wishing it would unfold the way we want it to.

The judgment of your life happens within the confines of your own consciousness. That’s why little children learn so fast and are so wise about what to do next. No one ever has to lay out the order they should learn things in. They just learn them in their own order. And that emerges naturally because little children don’t know words so they can’t think the Buddhist Veil of Illusion into existence. They cannot use words to judge experiences because they haven’t begun to believe that they either can do that, nor have they been taught that it would be wise to do so. And in the absence of judgment, anyone has the potential to be your friend. And that’s why the wise can make themselves comfortable anywhere, with anyone.

Be like a child. Have a quiet mind. Get back in touch with the instincts you have as a natural aspect of the universe. You don’t need to think so much. Pea vines can emerge from the ground and find where both the sun is and where something to climb is. They’re smart and they don’t even have a brain to make any judgments with. If a pea vine can be that smart, then you can find your way too. So take a lesson from the peas: forget all of the thinking, go quiet with all of the judgments, and instead just wake up each day and head for the light. It really is that easy.

peas. 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.

Panic Attacks and Addictions

You might wonder why I would relate two such seemingly disparate afflictions. From an ego perspective they don’t seem to have much to do with each other. But from a consciousness perspective, they function very similarly. The trouble begins with a trigger.

The anxiety of addiction (to a drug or person), and the rising panic of facing a phobia, are both just flurries of thought and, in being so, they are truly both addictions. They are the user dosing themselves with anxious chemistry by replaying common repetitive narratives that justify the release of the chemicals.

The reason the person wants the chemical is because they are used to it. If the circumstances of existence genuinely generated it for a long period of time early in life, then a person can get addicted to that neurochemistry and when it is missing they will seek it out. They will seek out circumstances in life which will create opportunities to get the chemicals that they sense as missing.

Ideas and concepts in your mind are held by association. So say you got beaten very badly by a parent when you were young. Unfortunately, a lot of you had to live out that terrible story in real life. And so the combination of all of your fight-or-flight chemistry, plus your efforts to comprehend the reasoning behind the attacks, all lead to strong, consistent doses of powerful chemicals.


204 Relax and Succeed - Living up to an image

But then life got more peaceful, which should seem like it’s good, except you’re left with this strange wanting feeling. Something’s missing. And then you subconsciously go out into the world with this tilt toward finding a situation that will incite your narrative so you can get your chemical. So if you had the crazy dad you had to be afraid of, then you’ll choose a wife or close friend with an intense temper that includes threats of some sort. Get it?

Now remember up at the start there I mentioned triggers? Well those are what start the process so it’s good to figure out what they are. So say we have two people—and I’ll use the most common phobias and addictions I deal with in my practice. One is afraid to cross bridges, the other is addicted to cocaine. Each one will have a subconscious schedule for when they want their drug.

So maybe the bridge person wants to feel their panic chemistry at least twice a week, whereas the crack addict wants to binge every weekend. The bridge person has their accountant, lawyer and favourite restaurant all on the other side of bridges. They have done this subconsciously, but that was a part of why they chose those particular businesses. For the addict, they tell themselves they have a very passionate sexual marriage, when really it is two people in a relationship leaning on a shared narrative to justify their actions. So they’re having sex, but they just happen to subconsciously and automatically add drugs to their experience every time.

204 Relax and Succeed - When you no longer believe

The preparation to go the lawyers or restaurant will begin hours or even days in advance. Thoughts will kick in about how the person needs to get this or that piece of business done, or that they’re craving the restaurant’s curried chicken—but along with that will be a but. But if they do that, then they will have to cross the bridge!

This type of anxiousness addict will create a want on the other side of the bridge so they can think about crossing the bridge, because it’s those thoughts that are giving them what they want. Meanwhile the addict will be getting horny. They’ll be starting to think about sex with the subconscious knowledge that they can successfully justify the purchase and use of drugs for such an event.

These narratives will build and begin dosing the thinker. As they expand and dominate more and more of the person’s day, the doses get stronger and longer and they take the person away from more pressing matters in the present moment. This means decisions about tomorrow are going unattended, which means the people are less likely to go in the most rewarding directions. This is how these addictions restrict our lives and the expansion of ourselves.

So the bridge-crosser starts to talk to themselves about the existence of the bridge,. They tell themselves stories about how they can’t possibly cross it (although they’ll drop logic from their reasoning as to why, and they’ll generally build themselves into a hyper-ventilating, over-wrought wreck. And every time they’ll tell themselves they have to get help for it, but very few will ever really go. Because if they do that, they might get better and then they would be left without their chemical.

The addict tells themselves that this is something they just need to do one more time, and then they’ll be done. That this is their celebration. Their exit party. They’ll have this fun and then move on to the next part of their life. The more serious part where they move ahead more and pay less attention to their party life. But for both the bridge crosser and the sex and drugs couple, life just won’t move forward because too much time is invested in thinking about obtaining the chemistry of their addiction, whether it’s an external one that mimics an internal one, or whether it’s an actual natural internal chemical.

The good news is, whatever your panic attacks or addictions are based on, you will feel the pull of your narrative as a feeling. You will feel the gentle tug of your story starting. And you will feel it build. This is your opportunity. You must step in at that point and ask yourself, what am I thinking about right now? And you will already have been brilliant, because your egoic you was telling itself a story designed to go get the chemistry, and now your true self is taking control of your consciousness and it’s enquiring as to what the ego is doing. This is already the beginning of changing your thoughts. You simply think about something else. Even the same subject but in a different way.

204 Relax and Succeed - She knew this transition

At the start you can reason your way back out of the build-up. You can tell yourself competing narrative stories that undoes the previous logic. And you will most certainly bunny hop in your success. But every time you don’t panic, delay, or don’t do the drug, you have helped reinforce the pathways in your mind that you are not an addict or someone prone to panic attacks. You will have consciously re-wired your brain with a new identity that does not include panic attacks or drugs.

It was a process to become who you are, and it’s a processes to change who that is. But every small success builds that larger more capable identity that is the real you. You are using your understanding to shed your limiting thoughts and you are uncovering your true magnificence. You are motivated by the feeling of immenseness and beauty that emanates from living with a peaceful heart.

When you feel at one with everything, then you have nothing to fear, or worry about, or need. You are ultimately content to leave panicked thoughts and drugs behind in favour of the richness of a life filled with open, loving awareness. That’s actually an addiction of sorts too. But that one’s as healthy as it gets. And fortunately, it’s contagious.

Catch your thoughts. Remember they are yours. Focus your consciousness on something else. Feel the power when you steal the narrative. Feel the loss of apparent momentum the idea has. You are freer and more capable than you give yourself credit for. You are Neo in The Matrix. So skip the drugs and bridges, and go practice some Kung Fu. 😉

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.

Stairway to Heaven

203 Relax and Succeed - When you're happyThis Friday’s video will be pretty easy to enjoy. It’s a musical performance from The Kennedy Center Honors, where Anne and Nancy Wilson (from the band Heart) perform the Led Zeppelin hit Stairway to Heaven. With missing member John Bonham’s son on drums, they perform before many distinguished guests, including the President and Mrs. Obama, as well as the three surviving members of the band, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant.

In a Vancouver Sun article, the writer suggested that Plant cried “tears of joy.” I do hope they were right about that. It’s an awesome song and he did a fantastic job doing the original interpretation. And I do think there’s a greater likelihood that they were correct, but to illustrate a point, I want you to consider the following:

We have no idea of the backstory behind this concert. Plant may be a very humble man and was moved by the honour. Further, he may be like many brilliant artists in that he has trouble owning his own talent. Maybe he feels lucky. Fortunate. And so when he thinks of who is in the room and what the honour means, we see tears form. Or…

203 Relax and Succeed - When you look at a personMaybe he was close to Bonham in a very special way. Maybe he and Bonham’s son shared a common struggle, like an addiction, or growing up without a dad around. And so when Plant sees him performing in front of the President, he may be thinking about how the performance will cement Bonham’s father’s place as good man and worthwhile father and he knows the special meaning of that. Or…

Maybe when they got the honour they asked Led Zeppelin to perform for the President. But maybe Plant can’t hit those particular notes certainly enough for him to risk it at such an event. And so while he loves the version and is honoured, maybe he’s crying because he knows he’ll never sing it that way again.

Stories. We make them up for ourselves and for everyone else. And everyone else makes them up for us and everyone they see. It’s a giant maze of guesses and judgments. Thank God there’s music.

Enjoy. And see if you can figure out what you think he’s thinking. 😉

And if you’re interested in delving deeper into the idea of aging , I would highly recommend checking out this poignant comedy piece by Jonathan Goldman, from the CBC Radio One program, Wiretap.

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.