Success by Failure

Each of us will take a direction in life depending on who we see ourselves as. For some people this leads to obscurity, for others it leads to great fame, but fame should not be mistaken for success just because it’s more visible. That’s just their job. People’s personal lives will all share the same sorts of ups and downs, so we shouldn’t either lament that we aren’t famous, nor should we be jealous or envious of those who are.

Just the other night my parents were watching America’s Got Talent, and a young singer noted that to pursue his dream of being a famous singer, he left home and moved to New York and for a few years he slept on couch that smelled like cat for $30 a week. Britney Spears has had jobs since she was about eight years old. Olympians rarely see their friends so they can work out instead. And there’s only so many of us who think the result is worth that effort, just like some people don’t think cooking a fancy meal is worth the effort when they could just fuel up. We’re all different.

1207 Relax and Succeed - Believe in yourselfI remember I’d been working in film and television for about 10 years before the first time I ever heard anyone say that they wanted to “be famous,” rather than note what they would want to be famous for–as in the case above, where what he really wants to be is a singer, not famous. In my experience, the ones that want to be famous never have that cat-sofa dedication and they eventually surrender that idea for something that actually suits them better. In that way their failure is a success.

A very talented film student I taught wanted to be an A-list cinematographer on big budget superhero blockbusters. But after close to 10 years climbing his way up and seeing Hollywood work, he concluded that the reality of the job wasn’t what he wanted and he surrendered that and went to do smaller, but much more meaningful documentaries. And he’s much happier doing it.

Cases like the one noted are often seen as a failure by the person approaching the decision. All they feel is the separation from their previous identity. It feels like they surrendered in a bad or weak way, when it’s actually the smart or strong way. Once that student crested the hump into his new identity, he got to work at his new career and it turned out he loved it the way he’d assumed he would have loved the Hollywood blockbuster job. It wasn’t a fail. It was a discovery. You’ll make them your entire life.

As I’ve noted before, if you want to know where you’re at, imagine your life as a big continuous sine wave that completes each wave about every 7-9 years. At each peak you have slowly rewired your brain to be fully efficient at being that version of you. But of course, once you’ve maximized why continue? Been there done that, as the saying goes. And so it’s not really disappointment that disrupts success, it’s the inklings of our next success.

The sooner we start to embrace that downslope the shorter it gets–although it can never be fully removed, otherwise you can’t have your peaks either. This is why a Buddhist monk on a train once lead me to conclude his encapsulation of life: everything changes. If it’s good, enjoy it–it’ll get worse. And if it’s bad, don’t lament–it’ll get better.

Find where you are on your wave and surf that. It’ll include the pain of those downslopes, but wherever you are, wishing you were an an upslope is the literally the definition of suffering. But if you surrender instead, it’s actually flows pretty nicely.

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.

Pressured by Indecision

We think it’s the situation. We feel the pressure comes from the deadlines, or the bosses, or the schedule, or maybe it’s the kids, family obligations, commitments or responsibilities. But we tend to experience it as an outside-in kind of pressure but that’s misleading because it’s really inside-out.

Pressure isn’t some force your boss sends through an email or that your kids write down in your schedule. It’s something we create within ourselves with our resistant thinking and yet it’s a useful signalling system. Feeling down is not the same as overwhelmed and if there’s one thing I see a lot of otherwise “successful” people doing, it is being overwhelmed.

We’re in the midst of one of worst recessions ever where I live and you can easily tell that a lot of the population is struggling with bills, juggling two part time jobs instead of one full time (if they’re lucky), and they can’t afford as much external support etc. etc. etc. Bosses know they can be more demanding in a tight job market, and the time and money challenges impact marriages, kids relationships with their parents, diets, and even health. As I often remind people, nowhere in the deal to be human does it say that life will only give you 50 marbles for your 50 marble jar.

Pressure starts on the 51st marble and increases from there. Eventually we can get to the point where no matter what we accomplish with busy-ness we’re still seeing marbles drop all over the place. By then we know we’ve waited a bit long to act and so the universe is starting to yell. You may think it’s outside-in pressure, but the universe understands it’s inside-out.

The so-called pressure is created by you wanting to hold onto all of those marbles and their relative importance, so you take on too much work to try to prevent losses. It is also created by watching marbles fall and wanting that to stop, so that also creates a painful sense of loss. And finally, it is also created by wanting to avoid the consequences if we let the marbles fall.  Since the first two are impossible, the reduction in resistance (aka pressure) will take place only when we cease imagining a future that can’t exist and we quiet our minds and accept our current situation and then make our sacrifice.

As an example, I have to make my own decisions about being overloaded with marbles. Not only do recessions tend to create a lot of marbles, but so does looking after two elderly parents and their many appointments, keeping up with two households and two yards, all while trying to maintain a high level of work and also accomplishing some critical administration tasks that modern life requires. Right now, my daily demands would literally take 28 hours per day to complete. Oh yeah, and I’d like to sleep and eat in there too somewhere.

For those reasons and many others, starting next week I’m cutting the blog down to one a week for the remainder of the summer. The timing is coincidental but good. A lot of my regular readers are less frequent in summer (understandably), but the real reason is I simply cannot afford the time.

The blog is important to me because I know it’s helped people I’ve never even met except by email or phone, and I know it’s also a touchstone for many of my former students and that they use it keep themselves on track. In both groups, I’m pleased to report that those that keep themselves the most balanced read the blog the most. So I know it has a lot of value to a lot of you but I must weigh that against my context. As important as each marble is, I simply cannot hold more than 50.

So how do I decide what to spill? That’s a personal judgment call every time, but if we resign ourselves to the fact that these decisions actually need to be made then we can just wake up from our pressured suffering and remember that we are still free. We prioritize things and then cut from the bottom. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes a while before we’re prepared to accept that, without changes, we’ll never catch up on our marbles. The time in between is called pressure, but it will always be created by delayed decisions and it will always be resolved by deciding which sacrifices to make.

We can be a bit like the proverbial frog in boiling water with pressure. The temperature can rise slowly and we can accommodate our expectations to a degree, but eventually we’re scalded with some harsh, painful truth. So it’s better to drop the excess marbles before someone tries to add so many that they smash the whole glass. And dropping them won’t even be too painful. You just have to remember to avoid focusing on the 20 that fall so you can focus on the 50 you saved instead.

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.

Downers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace. s

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

Wisdom in Action

People often ask, which students do best? I explain that the ones that don’t try –but that love the learning and listen well–are best. And who continues to do best? Easy: those most dedicated to their practice. This appears to be the most mundane and obvious part of being healthy, and yet it’s the number one place people lose touch with it.

It’s important to remember that you talk to egos all day long. They try and pull you into ego-world constantly, discussing problems or gossiping or commiserating. You need to defend yourself with meditations that get you back on course. People don’t learn this stuff and float away like Yoda. It’s called a practice for a reason.

Possibly the best student I’ve ever had for dedication to practice is a woman was always very successful at loving people but her anxieties had prevented her from fully realizing all of her personal and professional opportunities. I really liked the woman I met, and the one I know now pretty routinely brings great happiness to me because she’ll post things on social media that are great lessons for all of her friends.

Below are two sample messages from many she’s written like this over the last few years. I often wonder if the people who are always impressed with her resiliency ever notice that about half of her happy and positive social media posts are about things most people would view as “going wrong.” Here’s two great ways to take action in your own life so that others can contribute to your peace and happiness. But always remember, no one will take that action if they don’t see you taking it first:

So normally kindness comes easily to me, it’s second nature, but today it’s something I’m having to do very consciously, especially because although I’m comfortable letting myself be in a low emotional space today I am aware that it has nothing to do with the people I am interacting with.

So today I am finding it more difficult than usual to be my pleasant self with customers, but alas it is part of my job being in customer service to do my best to provide pleasant interactions. That being said I was being especially kind to someone today, in a very small way, but no one looking on would know I struggled with simply extending my kindness today.

A few minutes after this interaction another customer came to pay and commented to me how beautiful she thought it was what I did, which again was really a very simple kindness that we should extend to everyone but was difficult for me today. She told me how she really appreciated seeing me make someone’s day, at which point I very obviously broke into tears and thanked her for letting me know that, as today I was struggling and her simply pointing out that she had noticed had inadvertently made my day!

See how she let that other woman help her feel better? We need to be open to that. So many times people will offer us ways to be happier and we won’t take them. But of course, the more she does it the better she gets:

Talk about a morning full of ninja brain training! Was scurrying around trying to get out the door for work. As I’m locking the door I rest my big bin full of wire wrapping supplies on the deck railing. Mentally told myself to be careful. Locked the door, turn around to grab the bin and instead knock it off.

Bin takes a big fall smashes to pieces, craft stuff goes everywhere. I unlock the door to go inside and grab a bag to put everything into and quickly lock the door and shut it behind me so I can leave as soon as I collect all of my fallen stuff. Have everything collected and I’m ready to go. Wait. Wait. Where are my keys. Oh that’s right, I used them to unlock the door and then hurriedly locked and walked out without grabbing my keys.

Spend the next while breaking into my own house to the extreme amusement of my dogs as I climb through the window, close the window, grab my keys, and finally get on my way to work! Let myself have a few moments of frustration and anger and then because I’ve learnt how to use my thoughts for the better I let it go and decided, hey this was the perfect opportunity to work on my consciousness and my patience!

And somehow through all that I made it to work on time! However I am now offering FREE HUGS all day from 10-9 at Bonnie Doon while I’m at work because I know I could use a hug and maybe you could to!? So come get your free hug, I’ll even throw in a smile!

See that? She was in need, so what did she offer? Generosity. Now that’s wisdom in action. And these are all things we can all do. So let’s be like her and do them, shall we? After all, it is our life.

peace. s

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

Hiding From Life

You’re sitting there terrified. You’re a little ball, crushed down by your own cruel judgments. You peek out at life, brushing against it here and there and feeling electrified, knowing it’s so much better than the little space you live in. But you don’t have the courage to venture out. You just feel too weak and too unprepared and too broken. You think many thoughts.

You know what’s weird? Successful people can’t figure that out. They are completely baffled by that. They are as confused by you as you are. You see, you see you as you, but they don’t. Successful people see people as people.

If you’re presenting as a weak person you would assume Einstein was Einstein and you were you so you’d never even try to be him, and yet a successful person would just think Einstein had a brain and he used it to study a subject, which is why there’s tons of students today that know more than even Einstein did. He may have been first to that subject, but that just made it all easier for the rest of us. Now there’s teachers. He had to teach himself. So give him creativity, but his brain couldn’t do more than yours, it just did more than yours.

So why should you care? Well, first off, you’re in agony. I’ve yet to meet the person who wouldn’t like a bigger more exciting life, no matter how small or big their life was. The only challenge for people who think small is their extremely low tolerance for routine psychology. Almost anything is too much. So rather than learn to turn down the volume on their own TV, the insanely shy person just never watches anything and is neither entertained nor informed. They literally miss out on life itself.

Why’s this matter? Because nothing matters. You’re not going anywhere. No one’s judging you. Heaven is an inkpot, you are a splash in that inkpot, and hell is forgetting that you’re always on your way to returning to heaven and rejoining everything and everyone that ever was. This is seriously far more like one long crazy dream than you’ve ever thought. In fact, it’s almost more honest to see your dreaming self as the real you, and your waking self as the asleep one. That’s how ego works. It wakes up in a world made of thinking and spends its life trying to escape.

So life is kind of like an escape room. It’s not like you’re really trapped, you’re getting out for sure, eventually, even if you do nothing. But why have the arc of your inkdrop sit in a room terrified? Literally, what are you avoiding other than happiness and joy? You’ve got worry and pain and agony in there with you. Why not break out? You just end up in a new room anyway. Figure out how to be 30 years old and they’ll lock you into the 40’s room. But it’s fun getting out.

Look, we have this hospital in Edmonton called The Stollery Children’s Hospital. It’s pretty obvious it’s filled with both tragic and heroic stories. But one thing I can assure you, is that some mother sitting bedside with her ten year old, with a child that may only live for another week–that mother knows the value of you sitting still.

That mother would give anything for her little girl to have the years you’re getting. You couldn’t blame her for finding it painful that you’d waste them hiding and not living, and yet your inclination is to hear that and beat yourself up even more. Do you see how you do it to yourself and that you’re actually free? Do you see how you forgo life to think those thoughts?

Life’s the biggest opportunity anyone get, and you got it and sick kids didn’t. That would be like me asking everyone to push me around on a wheelchair when I’m fine. It’s disrespectful to ourselves, others, and to the universe itself. Feeling that sense of ongoing respect for life itself is good for us. Life is the most fortunate opportunity anyone gets.

Give up on hiding. You’re only inviting agony and your space shrinks over time. Besides, it’s fun out here. You don’t watch an entire afternoon of kids playing and then focus on one skinned knee. That will obviously lead to unhappiness.

Think about what you’d do this week if you knew by next week you’d be in some North Korean prison, locked up in solitary for the rest of your life. Suddenly the few days you have left would be all the time you’d have to go all of those important places and eat all of those foods and listen to all of that music and see all of those important people and say all those important things you want to say. So say them. Far from dangerous, your vulnerability is what will create the connection you’re seeking.

Call me or someone else if you need to. It’s okay. You’ll be fine. Lots of us love you. But you have to come out so they can find 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.

Why a Healthy Relationship is Like Swimming in Pee

I really didn’t create that title as clickbait. Things should stand on their merit, so I promise to pay this off. I was simply thinking about a relationship issue I wanted to blog about and was searching in my memory banks for a relevant set of facts to use as a metaphor. But I don’t think I’ve ever made myself laugh harder than when I found these particular facts, and this particular title occurred to me. And what it made it so funny was that it really is true.

When someone asks me if there’s a way to check how knowledgeable their guru is, the only thing I can think to say to them is, did you see improvement? Otherwise, the only test I could think of would be to choose some random strange thing and ask the person to instantly metaphorize the truth using that thing or idea. If they can do it easily and it makes sense using a shoelace, the sky and the concept of competition, and if they do that quickly and clearly, then that’s a really good sign.

If they spout nebulous platitudes that lack clarity, then that’s often camouflage for a genuine searcher who is posing in an effort to use the fake it until one makes it approach. Then again, if you’re wise enough, anyone’s a guru, so even with a faker you don’t always lose.

Okay, so to use my own crazy metaphor: why is a good relationship like swimming in pee? It’s really pretty simple. My home town recently conducted a study and, surprise surprise, they discovered that people pee a lot in public swimming pools. And it’s not the kind of thing that’s likely to stop, nor has it likely changed much in history.

If you’re not currently a pre-teen playing gross pranks; the fact that every one of us was a baby with a diaper, and  every one of us will hopefully eventually be the old person with poor bladder control, we’ll all eventually take a turn at the role of The Urinator. So the deal simply is: if you want to swim in public pools you’ll have to live with a fair bit of pee. And yet note, the pools are packed full of people.

Like we all have muscles that help us move and digestive systems that make us pee, we all have ways of being that are productive and other ways of interacting with the world that are us just dumping waste. These are our low points. We all have them when we’re tired and weak, and that’s when we’ll fall back on our childhood programming. That’s why parents often sound like their own parents when they finally lose it with their kids.

Like the pools, if you’re looking for a relationship to swim in without that person’s childhood being a factor, then you’re looking for a  magic pee-less pool. Sorry, you can’t swim in that. That’s like being single and out of the water. If you want to swim you have to live with the pee. There is no other way.

If you want a relationship you have to live with the fact that your partner will be at their worst when they’re tired, and they’ll act like their childhood programming for a short time. And you should know what that programming is. Then, when your partner’s the one who’s struggling, that is when it would be most helpful for you to be your most patient and tolerant. Certainly that’s when they need you most.

So see? I meant it. A healthy relationship is like swimming in pee. There’s some acceptance –some tolerance– built in there. And in that metaphor you still don’t like the pee, but you can largely ignore it as long as it’s not dangerous. This is what the Buddha means when he says, if you will accept suffering you can cease all suffering. By being accepting of people’s imperfections, you’re not only agreeing to the accept the ‘faults’ of your partner, you’re also giving yourself permission to have all of the fun that goes with sharing time with them in the ‘water.’

pees. 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 Value of Pain


It shows up at times where we’re thinking of others. That’s why we don’t notice its value. When we use our experiences with pain, it will be in some kind of compassionate act. To heal them is to heal ourselves when we feel that level of empathy. That is when we see another’s pain as our own. That is when we feel a sense of oneness with another person.

Let us immediately distinguish pain from suffering. Suffering is psychological and it leads to psychological pain, which is only just now becoming important for people to distinguish from physical pain. As I noted in yesterday’s post, relative to our cellular structure language is a very new creation. As a result, our body keeps reacting under the assumption that we’re in physical danger, when really we’re just worried about what someone will think of us on social media. Clearly those things should not been seen as equally important or meaningful.

While the same chemicals can get triggered, with physical pain it can take a long while to heal, whereas sincere efforts at understanding the structures of psychological suffering can quickly reduce it almost completely, and over time people can soon learn how to deeply love their own lives. But we gain access to loving it by trading away our psychological suffering in exchange for acceptance of the certainty that we will experience both physical and non-optional psychological pain.

Physical we’re already ready to accept, and to what degree we accept it is generally referred to as our pain threshold. But buying office supplies for our new job, signing our married name, imagining our life as someone different–these are all either hopeful or wildly hopeful fantasies. We’ll all do them sometimes, but that doesn’t make it wise. It just makes ego human.

There is no need nor benefit for us to spend a lot of time leaping into a made-up future to concoct expectations. We can just stay in the now, where we can actually take action to impact our future, and in doing so we become less likely to avoid causing ourselves future psychologically pain.

Non-optional psychological pain is when our circumstances have changed so suddenly and so drastically that we literally have brain wiring that just isn’t set up to manage it. It’s impossible to be someone and not take on a world view, but if you’re a soldier and you get your legs blown off, then you’re suddenly someone who needs a revised identity. Same for someone who goes broke, has a divorce, loses a job or through the death of a loved one.

The depth of our love with our loved ones relates to the level of pain we’ll experience when they die and our brain can no longer interact with them in the present. That’s why it still tries, often until death. I haven’t lost a parent yet, but I know a lot of people who still ask their deceased parents for advice all the time. They’re just wired into too much other stuff. Their beauty is that they’re literally hard to forget.

By living through very painful experiences, we become valuable to anyone else experiencing those things, and in a ways that could not be known by people who had never actually been in the same position. This is the basis of empathy: our own psychological and physical pain. And when we’ll feel its value is when we bestow our empathy on anyone whose pain we truly share. Having surrendered ourselves into a state of oneness, healing them is to heal ourselves. And that is the value of our pain.

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.