Conscience as a Sign of Health

1288 Relax and Succeed - Photo - Someone feeling badly

If just before you started reading this you were using your thinking to criticize yourself, this your chance to stop.

Those thoughts don’t improve us even if we did screw up because it’s not the screw up that’s really the issue, it’s our thoughts about it. Those are after-the-fact thoughts about the past. If it’s in the past that can only be ego and egos are dangerous. You have to keep an eye on them.

The fact that we don’t feel good about whatever transpired is only because we already know we could have done better. That demonstrates that we are good people with good judgment because our judgment was able to detect something out of alignment with the range that we use to define our self.

If we let it, our negative reaction to exceeding those limits is what, over time, nudges us closer and closer to being able to live out our greatest potential. This is the process of getting wiser.

This is the point at which many people suggest that we need rules to be ‘good.’ But if they’re saying that they usually mean they want alignment with whatever they think everyone should do. But that’s impossible because we can’t all demand that. While rules can be useful, they aren’t needed to define ‘good.’

Everyone except psychopaths is familiar with the hounding a human conscience can give us. Many of us adults still feel badly about things we did as youngsters. But what is our conscience?

Think of it like an old fashioned thermometer. Humans are good from about +60C to -60C, (or -76F to 140F). Above or below that and we’re in enough trouble we’re likely to die. Our conscience is like a range of things that our real self –the self that creates our ego– has for our behaviour. That part of us is very wise –except for in psychopaths. They don’t have lines that are further out than ours, they don’t have any lines at all. The rest of us have healthy lines for a very logical reason.

1288 Relax and Succeed - Photo - Even huge mistakes

We as individuals are a part of a much larger flow created by our species. We’re all ultimately programmed to try to stay alive and see the next generation move on. Since we breed we obviously need others to do that, plus working in groups is safer than working alone, so our nature is to find ways to cooperate.

All of us can temporarily lose track of that connection when our thinking gets crazy, but our nature is to work to stay alive, not work to destroy what we need to stay alive; including others and their support.

Even huge mistakes are just ways of learning, growing, and maturing. Sometimes we inflict ours on others, sometimes they inflict theirs on us; sometimes we are teachers, sometimes we are students. Sometimes the universe benefits from regret, sometimes it benefits from tolerance.

Our ability to understand that flow of pain and regret in a non-personal way is the lesson we are all unwittingly teaching each other through the living our lives. And it’s also why many wise people have said, when you finally become a real guru you realize that everyone around us, has always been a guru.

peace. s

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.