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.

Type One and Type Two Fun

1260 Relax and Succeed - By seeking pleasureI heard an astronaut on the radio yesterday. When asked if it was fun to do a spacewalk, he responded that it was Type Two Fun, meaning it’s not the kind of fun that you really feel while you’re doing it. The two are very different, but it’s often easier to look at the day around the fun to help determine whether it’s Type One or Type Two Fun.

Type One Fun days are often a lot easier. That’s stuff like going to the beach, or having a party, or going to a good show. Type Two Fun comes from experiences where our own attention needs to be highly focused and the experience is more demanding, like on a spacewalk, or during a big dance number in a show, or when I race my brother’s race car. It’ll be a fun memory when I think about it later, but at the time I need to stay present to keep a very fast car from hitting a wall.

Type One is fun at the time. Two is rewarding later. Rather than suffer for our whole life by trying to avoid Type Two days, we’re all better to understand that inactivity and a lack of motion or creation will lead to our worst suffering. Meanwhile the pain endured to acquire strength or skill ends up as stored energy that releases Type Two Fun when our own personal genius makes itself known through action.

1260 Relax and Succeed - Dwell in possibilityType One Fun is easy. But yin and yang means that there is no getting around certain kinds of suffering in life. Let me write that again: there is no getting around suffering in life. Not for anyone. Young people die, you can’t fight City Hall, and around the world the weak suffer. What makes existence holy is when we accept this fact and we begin turning an idle sadness about life into an action that converts difficult times into rewarding Type Two Fun. Med school is hard. Saving lives feels awesome.

The only help people ever need with Type One Fun is if they start to dose it with thin pleasure, from things like drug addictions etc. But for the most part Type One Fun is easy to enjoy, just possibly harder to find. Opportunities for Type Two Fun abound. They are plentiful all around us. Every complaint points to a potential Type Two Fun solution. Like with being a doctor, refugee camps are hard places to work. Saving lives there feels awesome.

When we’re urged to do what scares us it’s not the fear that has the value, it’s the discovery. Doing things outside our comfort zone increases the size of our comfort zone, and as that circle expands, its growing perimeter encounters increasingly more opportunities to do the sort of things we tend to look back on with pride and self-satisfaction. That’s credit we know we’re truly due, and it never feels better than when we rightfully give it to ourselves.

1260 Relax and Succeed - For most people their spiritual teacherIf most of us look at our lives, our suffering is caused by our resistance to things that are “hard.” That fact is a demonstration of how we all live in illusory worlds, because if we stopped to meditate on our own lives for just a while, we would suddenly make the genuine connection between our suffering and our avoidance of challenges, versus our joys and our overcoming of them.

You will make choices regarding your path every day. Some will be motivated by fear, others by fun, but for greater clarity we require a greater level of consciousness about those choices. Rather than perpetually seeking Type One Fun and torturing ourselves in that act, we are better to fully grasp the value and profound rewards that go with taking on Type Two Challenges.

Don’t hide from what scares you. Use the yin in your life to make room for the challenges that you can then convert into a wave of Type One Fun. It’s in you to do. Enjoy your day.

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 Heartbreaking Cost of Finding True Love

1258 Relax and Succeed - We feel the love we giveWhen we’re young we think it’s anyone notable. Notably attractive, notably strong, notably wealthy, notably popular; and we’ll go after the best version of that we can find. If our standards are relatively low we can be happy for a long time, but if they’re very high we end up breaking up a lot.

By the time we’re a little more mature we’re looking for someone who’s more of a match for us. We want someone who’s naturally inclined to have similar interests and values regarding how the energy in life gets invested, so it becomes less how people are to others and more how they are to us. But we still are quite particular about what we’ll accept.

Once we’ve had some difficult life experiences with the limits of our tolerance we know that even someone compatible to our interests isn’t good enough and we begin to look for people that are simply easy to be with. Just someone to share life’s loads with. By that stage people have surrendered their big strict romantic ideals and they happily trade that for a daily partner who simply sees past our own faults and still makes us feel truly loved. (Although notably, precious few work on trying to be easier to get along with themselves.)

1258 Relax and Succeed - May you be held in compassionWe can be lucky and find profound connections like that right away, but even they aren’t often destined for life. Regardless, for most people who do ultimately find true love (which isn’t a large percentage), it often takes several relationships and a lot of meeting people before they finally find someone that defies everything they’ve learned, and everything they know about themselves. At that point we are left with a very inexplicable attraction that exists despite all complications, including those surrounding our own confusion and/or lack of trust.

In the other relationships we were certain, and then we beat up ourselves for not being able to figure out how to make the relationship feel worth it. Each time we thought we’d finally figured it all out and finally knew what was right for us, but then we realised that all we did was graduate from one level of misinterpretation to a more sophisticated version of misinterpretation. Yet, in the case of actually realising true love, we’re often so startled by it that we question even ourselves. Despite our brain being uncertain, we find ourselves with a strange dedication nevertheless.

We do think these are the most beautiful people in the world, but not in the way we’ve traditionally thought of that concept. We see them as having deep and wonderful connections to various aspects of our lives, and yet they may have less to do with our personal interests than any other person we’ve been with. They are easy to be with in a very special way. These are people you can be at your worst with and still feel safe.

1258 Relax and Succeed - True love can be foundIn unexpected ways, the ultimate people for us will have all of the qualities we’ve always sought, they just won’t deliver that package of qualities the way we might have originally imagined. But how they always stand out is that these are the people we’ll pay a price for. These are the people who we are devoted to despite our better judgment. They are the ones who somehow magically compel our hearts to make significant sacrifices that aren’t about us feeling unworthy ourselves; they’re about us seeing the other person unconditionally.

There is no explaining them, and there is no way in which to go about finding them, they simply occur. But when they do they’ll stay with you for life, whether they live or die. We’ll never know enough to understand all the wonders that take place in our consciousness, but true love is what it is nevertheless.

Some people frustrate us because they only represent a part of the universe we’re looking for. But when we finally find a person that is whole to us as they currently are–even with us aware of their faults and weaknesses–well, then, that person is someone who can open a universe to 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.

A Life Made of Moments

1257 Relax and Succeed - What makes a life awesomeYou’ll find cases who are big stars, or some will be your friends, family or maybe a mentor or lover. They don’t feel like failures to you because they don’t feel that way themselves. Even someone with a small life filled with disasters can really like how it all unfolded, because they know that even most awesome-looking lives are filled with reactions to failure. What makes a life awesome isn’t based in our results, it’s found in the quality our interactions in pursuing them.

A good example of the results not mattering was yesterday’s post, where we looked a gold medal athlete who might move into retirement feeling sorry that they passed on a must-win attitude that makes both themselves and their child their worst, most impatient, critical selves. A gold medal can’t fix the fact that the quality of their daily interactions will have suffered to get it and, in the end, which is worth more when the athlete’s 50? Love and companionship, or ostensibly a necklace too ostentatious to wear every day?

When we hear of people shifting in this direction or that, extremely few of them are following some muse or calling, because, even if they were that does not remove the fact that life doles out a lot of punishment on its way to giving us its rewards. (Warning: movie spoiler alert.) This is what makes the ending of the film Arrival so beautiful; even though she knows she’s signing up to watch her daughter slowly die, and to be deserted by a beloved husband, when given the chance to do it all again, she joyfully takes it.

1257 Relax and Succeed - Successful people aren't betterMost of the moves we see people make in life are because of the punishment life delivers. Part of this life-game is down at the bottom of Maslow’s Pyramid and we all need to eat, so some aspect of life is invested in providing for ourselves and/or others, and our comparative minds we tend to evaluate a large part of ourselves on the basis of how much ‘food’ we’re able to provide. Likewise, we judge others on much the same basis.

This means we can detect the possibility that a manager who moves into a lower position in a new company may have been fired by the previous company, but we don’t often realise that the creation of a new TV show was actually the product of someone having their previous show fail and be cancelled. We see the new show as a victory, not as a reaction to the failure of the old show.

Lawyers lose a lot of cases. Athletes lose a lot of games. Lovers have their heart broken, and a parent can move up or down in status in their pursuit to ensure they’re providing for their children. This means that lives that we may judge as failures are also filled with successes, just as the lives we view as successes are always also filled with rejections.

1257 Relax and Succeed - When your'e not concerned with succeedingWhat counts is: what did that person do in the face of rejection? Curl up and die? No, they move forward on whatever path is best, whether it appears to lead up or down? Because it’s not like we can tell where a path is going by how it looks at the start. No one begins thinking their wedding will lead to a legal nightmare, just like they won’t assume divorce is the greatest thing that will ever happen to their love life, and yet both things often happen just that way.

Our failures will come. Some we’ll see coming, some will be unexpected. The healthy reaction is to avoid turning that fact into a personally destructive internal narrative about failure. We must free ourselves by understanding that failure litters every life, and that the quality of your life will actually be dictated by how you react, and not by what happened.

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.

What’s Your Hidden Agenda?

1255 Relax and Succeed - The moment I saw youOur ego is sly. It’s been with us since we were little, so its voice is so ubiquitous that it just disappears into the background. But it has an agenda, and the problem for our soul is; that isn’t our agenda, it’s our ego’s.

Our ego doesn’t like challenge, or discomfort or pain. Avoiding those experiences means that our ego makes us pay for that resistance with anxiety, insecurity and suffering. It’s really not a very good trade; living in an ego state where you need things to be your way when your soul is fine with how things already are–including you.

A good example of this is when people are super upset. Presuming the experience isn’t common, people rarely see anyone extremely upset and it can be alarming at first because everyone’s family does that differently. Some people talk about suicide or destroying things, others go dark and silent for days, other attack those present with lashing words. Regardless of what it looks like, it’s when someone is in in an egocentric state and they are experiencing serious distress.

1255 Relax and Succeed - Never in the history of calmSo how does an ego react? Our ego isn’t really interested in the world, it’s focused on its own personal impression of the world, but our ego can’t even have a personal impression of anything because it is created by other people and experiences. It’s like a recording, or a Turing Machine, or set of levers. It’s not very flexible and it only has access to knowledge but no wisdom.

When someone is extremely upset our ego wants them to calm down quickly because it’s uncomfortable for our egos to be in challenging circumstances. Instead we generate anxiety as we struggle to figure out what to say to achieve our own agenda, yet when someone’s in distress, our agenda isn’t going to be relevant whether we want it to be or not.

Our soul has no agenda, so it needs nothing from the other person. It merely observes and responds by nature. This means rather than trying to think of the right thing to say, (which is like using our hand to smooth the ripples out of water), our soul can simply be present. It rightfully understands that it is present for the other person’s experience, but it’s not having the other person’s experience. That alone should generate some helpful gratitude.

1255 Relax and Succeed - To obtain satoriOnce we’ve taken away our personal resistance to the behaviour we’re witnessing we can then have our natural wisdom take over. When we’re in that state we seem to say just the right thing, even if it immediately might not feel like it to our ego. Rather than asking the person’s ego to find the soul that creates it, instead our soul invites their ego to surrender and be at peace in the chaos. Your ego wants them to feel better, your soul is prepared to join them in feeling badly.

It isn’t hard to see that if we’re prepared to feel badly then we get to avoid the anxiety, worry and second-guessing involved with trying to figure out the right thing to say. Sometimes there is no right thing. Sometimes the person just needs time while they feel loved and then the process can unfold. But no matter where anyone is in that state, no one is wrong, no one is lost, and no one is right and no one is found. We are all simply either being an ego or being ourselves and we will balance between the two as the act of living our lives.

Take time to be present with suffering even if it’s your own. Rather than fix it just observe it. Prove to yourself, that can be more comfortable being present than being happy, and in doing so, enjoy your day.

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.