The Controller

He had done it again. They had their work day planned out, but once again their boss had other plans for them to do something far less useful. Robyn was angry as she slammed the box down onto the pile. “Why does he do this every single day? He knows we have all of those filings that have to be ready for Monday. It’s like he wants us to fail. This stuff can wait.”

Bodhi set down her box neatly on the pile. “Do you have fun plans for the weekend?” she asked, smiling.

“Don’t change the subject. You’re always smiling, always happy. He does this to us every day! We would get twice as much done if we didn’t have a boss.” Bodhi just smiled in agreement. “Why do you just take this and never complain?”

Bodhi stopped and looked at Robyn inquisitively. “Would complaining change it?”

Her tone was so genuine it ruffled Robyn. “That’s the only power we have. Maybe if his life is miserable enough he’ll actually considering doing something the smart way.”

“Arent you just torturing yourself? And I also think his life is not short of misery.”

“Good.” Robyn moves another box, but she likes the idea of her boss suffering. “Wait–why?”

Bodhi catches her look and answers, “Have you seen his wife drop him off in the morning?”

“The hag that’s always yelling?”

“Yes, that’s the one.”

“Can you blame her? If he’s like this at home too it must drive her crazy.”

“I wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg?”

You can see the wheels turning in Robyn’s head as she tries to figure out what Bodhi meant. “You mean, did she get bitchy because he’s an idiot, or did he become an idiot because she’s bitchy?” Bodhi nods. “What difference does it make? We still have an idiot for a boss either way.”

“My father was very controlling of my mother. It caused a lot of battles between her and my brothers and sisters.”

“But let me guess; you took it just fine.”

“I noticed that after being controlled so badly, my mother needed to exercise some control. Almost to–I don’t know–get her equilibrium back.”

“So you’re saying after your Dad was a jerk your mother over-compensated and she was a jerk too?”

“I think that’s how my brothers and sisters saw it, but they saw me as spoiled because my mother was better with me.”

“Were you the baby?”

“No. But I was the only one who let her regain her balance.”

“What do you mean?”

Bodhi thought for a moment. “It’s like Mr. Dillon. He begins his day by feeling attacked and belittled but reacting will only make things worse. Once his wife is gone, Mr. Dillon is like my mother–he needs to regain his balance.”

“So he abuses us to feel more in control? Is that what you’re saying? Great. So we have a ten year old for a boss.” She slams down her box into the pile.

Bodhi stops, causing Robyn to pause as well. Bodhi points to a stress crease in the box Robyn just slammed down. “More human than child. Mr. Dillon treats you badly and you treat this box badly and it gets these lines; these bends in the corner that make the box less stable when we stack them.”

“So?”

“But you feel better when you slam them down…?” She doesn’t sound judgmental when she says it.

“It helps me work out my frustrations to pretend the box is his face.” They both laugh.

“Could we be Mr. Dillon’s boxes?”

Robyn pauses and gives that a serious think. “Wait. So you’re saying that the way he treats us after his wife is the way I treat these boxes after I deal with him?”  Bodhi nods, wondering. “Well if he is, then he’s definitely putting some wrinkles into my corners too.”

Bodhi laughs as Robyn slams down another box. “No offense Robyn, but I think you put those on yourself.”

“Yeah, well it made me feel better.”

“That’s why I never mind doing things like this.”

“You don’t mind that he distracts us from important work to do stupid grunt tasks?”

“My brothers and sisters thought I was sucking up to my mother by always making her tea after my father left.”

“Weren’t you?”

“I was helping her return to balance so that she and I could begin our day in peace. My brothers and sisters would fight with her for the rest of the day.”

Robyn throws the last one on top. She seems unconvinced. “So you’re saying that the reason stacking this crap doesn’t bother you is because to you it’s not stacking boxes, it’s returning Mr. Dillon to equilibrium?”

Bodhi smiles. “I must meet people where I find them.” They walk together to the coffee room and each pours a fresh cup.

“Is that why you have fewer wrinkles than me even though I’m half your age?”

“No. That’s just because I’m Asian.” They laugh together. Bodhi looks at the clock. “Only half an hour. And now we have the rest of the day to get important things done.”

“Fine. I’ll trade a dumb half hour to have peace the rest of the day. But I still want to sneak a dating app onto Dillon’s phone. Maybe if he had a nicer wife we’d have a nicer boss.”

Bodhi smiles, accusing, “Aren’t those apps where you get your dates Robyn…?”

“Uh, yeah, fat chance. That is one grenade I’m not willing to jump on for my coworkers.”

Bodhi laughs. “Enjoy the rest of your day Robyn.”

Robyn smiles. “Thanks Bodhi. You 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.

All of Us

You know those Russian nesting dolls? The ones that all look essentially the same but are painted a little differently as you progress down in size? Those are a great metaphor for what it’s like to get along with others. Back in the days of them always being hand made, each set had its own theme and each doll was not only a slightly different size, but each was also given its own unique take on the overall theme. These layers of identical dolls are like the many aspects of people, including ourselves.

Maybe you like music, you have a really close family, you like discussing things from a philosophical perspective and you think trust is a relationship’s foundation. That would take us four dolls down, but they go forever, with many more superficial interests at the surface and many deeper needs expressed in the smaller, hidden versions of you.

People you immediately like have outside shells that look a lot like yours, so you immediately feel comfortable around them. Good friends will match a lot of your layers, giving you lots of things and perspectives in common. Those are the friends you not only do things with, but you’ll talk politics or religion with them.

Deeper dolls are reserved for lovers and lifelong, best friends. These people seem to be able to match you as far down as you can go, and even then, by the time you find some that don’t, no one cares because it seems so insignificant compared to the tons of matches that you do share. These are the people you can bring your smallest, darkest selves out with.

Likewise, people you don’t like at first have a shell that you find unappealing in some way. It’s boring or threatening or depressing. People you develop a real dislike for are ones where you can go down several layers and not find a match. Neither of you feels comfortable. But it’s important to remember that it’s not anyone’s fault or failure when we run into cases where there are no apparent matches. They’re just non-matches. A pear isn’t letting an apple down by not being an apple.

Of course, eventually everyone has a match. We have been a lot of people. We all have a lot of layers. If we go down deep enough, we eventually find some kind of touchstone–some kind of thing that relates us. We were both beaten by our mothers, or we both found out our partners were gay when we got left in a divorce, or we both secretly want to be DJ’s.

Enemies are nothing more than people who gave up on you–or who you gave up on–before you found those matches. And I’m not saying you should look for them because there’s a lot of other people you can be out having fun with. Life isn’t a test. You don’t have to take the hard way through it. But it’s helpful to remember that; if life forces you into a situation, there are ways to develop a bond.

Even if you got down to your last doll and there was no match, you then realise that you do have something in common: you’re both made of layers and you both have some small dark ones very few have seen. There’s no reason to hate that. Thinking someone has no value means you are falling for an illusion. You’re causing yourself suffering by voluntarily putting your own psyche through the act of hating, or actively thinking badly about, another person. You’ll blame them for your feelings, but that’ll be you.

People you like aren’t better than people you don’t like. They just agree with you more. Remember that when you’re agreeing–and especially when you’re disagreeing–because maintaining an awareness of that fact will truly help the whole world to get along better, and that will bring the most out of all of 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.

Stumbling Together

Yesterday I talked about how no one can take your spiritual or psychological journey for you. That prompted a friend to quote me and ask the question, “If you can say, ‘once you’ve understood what you’re trying to understand, you realise that no one can take this journey for you, and so no one needs your help,’ then why do you teach this stuff?”

It was worth discussing. I had wondered the same thing myself. But in doing that wondering I realised that just as some people’s nature came forth as music, or woodworking, or dance, or raising children, or cars, or gymnastics, or math, mine comes from helping others see how remarkably beautiful the universe is in this very special way.

I don’t take the journey for them. Let’s not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon. I see a lot of beauty in this world. To not share it feels unnatural, as though we’ve driven past the most amazing waterfall ever and I never mentioned it to the rest of the people on my tour bus. That almost seems cruel to me. It’s like hogging all the majesty for myself. It’s too big for me. There’s room for all of us in there.

If people can’t see that beauty and they’re living a dead, repetitive life, they come across to me like people standing still, stabbing themselves in the eyes, ears, mouth and nose and then cutting their hands off. They’re literally using a kind of spiritual violence against themselves. By doing things like thinking they’re ugly or stupid or worthless, they’re cutting themselves off from the universe.

How could I walk past that and not act? That would be like a musician writing a beautiful or powerful or emotional song and then not sharing it with the rest of us. What good does it do for her to keep that music to herself?

Keep in mind that even categorising yourself as attractive, or smart or capable, you’re creating division between yourself and others. Those are all comparative terms, and as I explained to my friend; the very act of comparison means there must be at least two things to compare, and if we’re separate we’re lost.

My friend doubted I never felt lost and he was right. Of course I do. Why have feelings if you’re not going to feel them? I asked him why he felt it was necessary to avoid something like that? He claimed it was because it felt so painfully lonely, but I argued that were it not for that painful feeling, we wouldn’t place such a great value on togetherness. You can’t ride the downhills unless you peddle up the uphills.

All of our lonely suffering is like a thought bubble within the dream of something greater than us. If I fall down in life I land in the palm of the universe. Our feelings are just nature generously steering us toward the good life. Not the good life in the sense that if you’re good you’ll enjoy life, but more that if you enjoy life you’ll be what often gets called good.

What confuses us is that sometimes the world needs us to play villain, so we all take a turn. I’m sure we can all remember a lot of the truly crappy things we did to people thanks to some misunderstanding to be sorted out now or in the future, or because we ourselves were feeling low and we pulled them down because because we desire togetherness and yet we can’t figure out how to get where they are. That’s why if someone makes you angry, you instantly feel a little to a lot better once they get angry too. At least now you’re in the experience together.

We were given all of the tools we need. Our emotions weren’t the point, they were the pointer. They not there for us to rate and rank. They’re to be lived. And this is a giant improv. So no one knows your lines but you. No one knows who your character is but you. They’ll all have a guess about who you are out of habit, but that’s their reality, just like you have a view of them that is your reality. Those were never designed to be reconciled.

We’re not supposed to argue over whose reality is right, we’re just supposed to share what we see and then we let the universe unfold. Sometimes we take action, sometimes not. But that’s irrelevant because we’re not competing. Our only job is to be ourselves. And sharing that binding, central truth is what leads me to feel connected.

If it’s done right, all sharing is selfish. So to answer to my friend’s question about people’s individual journeys and my role in guiding them; I don’t help them find their way for their sake, it’s a selfish act. My connection to, empathy for, and experience with their lostness is what connects us. In that vulnerability our separate selves melt and together we become whole. That is what it is to be generous with your life. And that creates the greatest feelings I have ever known.

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.

MoK: Absorbing Shots

Today for the March of Kindness we’ll focus on negativity. Negativity itself is not a problem, it is a critical aspect of life. You truly cannot have up without down, nor happy without sad, so we don’t want negativity to completely disappear, but we also don’t want to entertain it for longer than is necessary.

Negative things are really nothing more than signals. Your freedom lies in how you respond to the negativity in others, and when doing this it might be best to think of something like tennis or ping pong as a metaphor.

If people express their negativity toward you it can be responded to in one of two ways. If you choose to meet the negativity in a hard, reflective way, that is like hitting a shot back. Someone insults you, so you insult them back. By meeting their shot with a shot of your own, you join them in the exchange of negativity. This will continue until one of the egos involved feels it has “won.”

If the person is responding to previous points they feel you (or people like you) have scored against them, they will keep hitting negative serves to you until they feel they’ve scored an equal the number of points. This is actually a healthy process that keeps relationships internally balanced so that resentments do not build.

The only way to shorten a game of negativity is to not hit a shot back. If you intentionally miss a shot fired at you, or if you strike it back weakly, this means the person has won their point and has less of a reason to continue throwing more negativity your direction. Again, once they feel they have won that game it will naturally end.

So how do we absorb a shot? It’s really quite easy: instead of responding with a hard argument back, we can instead offer the softness of kindness. But what does this look like in practice?

Say we’re in a class at school and someone tries to bring us down with a negative comment, we can simply respond with a compliment back. So rather than participating in the game of negativity exchange, you can toss the ball back with no intention of scoring a counterpoint. Eventually the person gets tired of you not playing and they stop serving to you.

In an office, if someone is being negative about something, you can choose to kindly find a way to agree with them rather than argue back. It can feel very counter-intuitive to not offer your best argument in return, but you can do that if you remember that real winning is when you dissolve the disagreement rather than beat another person.

Today in the March of Kindness our jobs are easy. We each make the world a lot better by finding at least three chances for us to offer kindness were you could easily offer disagreement. All you’re trying to do is find people who want to have a game of negativity but then you let them win. They challenge you for a seat on the bus and you offer it to them. They want that parking stall, it’s theirs. They want to dislike you or your friends, let them. Easy.

Do you see how generous that is? You’re offering to lose. That is so kind. That is what we do for very little kids. We understand they’re growing, so we let them beat us in games by intentionally avoiding our own best game. In those cases we’re more interested in the development of the person than we are in personally winning. We just forget that once we’re adults, but the effect is exactly the same.

Participate in the March of Kindness. Make someone else feel like a winner and you will have made the world a better place. Because there are no losers with kindness.

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.

The Ego’s Tools

1101-relax-and-succeed-ubuntu-is-very-difficult-to-renderThis is a particularly good exercise. If you’re reading this then it’s likely that you generally like people. Some socialised peopled can behave anti-socially on, ironically, social media, but most feel the tug to be tribal. We know deep down that being separate from the group is more dangerous and less enjoyable. This is why prisoners describe the lack of freedom as most painful, even when their conditions might otherwise seem good.

Jail is our modern equivalent to shunning. Before you got kicked out and had to find a way to survive by catching 100% of your own food, making 100% of your own clothes and 100% of your own fire-making and socialising. In prison you get your jump suit and your food that’s heated over a stove, but it can still be a dangerous place unless you become a high enough ranking person to have protection, but even that pits you against other similar-strength people. We’re all really better off getting along.

Of course living with others does require a compromising approach that seeks something that works well for everyone, and yet at the same time if we have to sacrifice too much of who we are then we’re better off finding a group that matches us better. That said, adaptations on our part also expand us, so learning to get along with those you don’t get along with is an actual life skill.

1101-relax-and-succeed-teach-your-childrenOver the last couple decades there has been an increasing amount of judgment in the First World. Fed, watered, sheltered, the lower portions of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is covered, meaning you’re looking for things to do. Those things used to largely be actions, not idleness.

Actions would be things like developing yourself, enhancing your environment, playing games or sports with others, being artistic through music or dance or carving or painting or weaving or whatever. Even at the turn of the last century it was an activity for a family to actively sit around a radio and listen. Yes, listening was an actual activity. It was something you completely did, not something that was on while you did other things.

Today there are a lot of people doing none of those things. A lot of people watch a lot of TV or spend a lot of time on the internet, and what’s there is what’s here–lots of words. I write professionally, but words are the ego’s tools, so that’s why when I’m healthiest I make the time to drag race, play drums, garden, or play some type of strategy game. These things are very involving and yet they involve little or no words. It’s why lots of kids have taken up knitting.1101-relax-and-succeed-we-are-just-an-advanced-breed

All of the judging people are doing is done in words. They think their judgments inside their own heads and then either say them or write them, or they don’t. But the judgment’s happened either way. That judgment is an ego-action inside our heads that separates us from our human tribe.

You might find it unpleasant imagining giving help to someone you don’t like, but imagine being able to get the help normally associated with a friend, from literally everyone. That’s what Star Trek imagined and that’s where we’re generally headed. A whole bunch of us want fewer borders and a greater emphasis on saving Earthlings, not just Earthlings like us. So that is where we’re going. The question is, what will you do to get yourself there?

Today’s meditation is easy, and yet it’s one of your most challenging yet: find gratitude in a place where you’d least expect it. Ask a few friends or people you see regularly: what sort of people do you complain about most? Maybe they’re rich, maybe they’re poor, maybe they’re intolerant of other cultures, maybe they’re from another culture, maybe they vote differently from you, maybe they’re in jail, maybe they have a temper or are boring–it doesn’t matter, it all works for the exercise.

1101-relax-and-succeed-god-created-our-skin-tonesThe idea is to stretch your own definition of what kind of person meets the definition of an acceptable person. As an example, personally, the biggest challenge I have is watching people with helpful power withhold it for personal reasons that have little to do with expanding the entire tribe.

I find it difficult watching an executive allow his staff to be abused; watching a wealthy person not take action to improve the world; watching someone be grotesquely self-centered, things like that. I’m mostly upset that they steal the joy of connection that goes with helping others. They’re stealing from themselves.

So to challenge my own judgments, I went out and found an example that proves my definition is one dimensional. You do the same. Take the type of person you don’t like, and then find a person who meets that description that you do like. Like I said, easy, and in a way quite the challenge. Find your type. Genuinely accept someone from that group into your group. That’s it. Because that will be a lot.

1101-relax-and-succeed-bill-gates-is-better-that-batman

http://www.frugaldad.com/

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.

Sanctuary

1077-relax-and-succeed-breatheYou have imagined sanctuaries but you likely have imagined something other than what your soul needs. You believe you need to get away from your life to some deserted island before you can get some peace and rest, but you can also do that by diving deeper into your own life.

You’ve been sending your consciousness out into the world over the last several meditations. Rather than spinning within yourself like a whirling ego storm you’ve worked to remember how to be a kid and open yourself up. Rather than swirling destructively within yourself you’re sending your consciousness outward, where it is more like a breeze from which valuable dreams can be snatched.

You’ll have put a lot of energy in your life and into improving yourself. Studying, practising, repeating, doing, going, enduring, strengthening, striving, reaching and working are all other names we put around the concept of improvement. But how much energy have you invested on slowing down? How much value have you placed on being quiet inside, or still, or empty?

1077-relax-and-succeed-all-of-us-need-time-to-be-boredIf you’re a parent, look at your kids: how much of your time is invested in helping them learn how to do things versus organising their life to also very consciously include opportunities to develop peace? Tranquility? Being alone? Listening skills? Or even the endurance required for boredom? How many opportunities for that did your parents give you?

If you were fully grown up before the internet showed up then you had a childhood where a lot of your time was your own. You would have found plenty of opportunities to relax and have Calvin and Hobbes-type conversations. If you’re still in the workforce today, have kids today, or if you are a kid who was born before 1970, then you have seen the steady devaluation of free time and peace of mind. Today’s it’s a badge of honour to be busy, when that’s a sign that things are going poorly, not well.

You can’t fit too much life in and live it deeply and fully. That’s like spending fifteen minutes at ten parties a night and then saying that you see your friends a lot. They’re not checkboxes, they’re people. You can’t download their history, their state of mind, or your own awareness and the natural sense of compassion that accompanies it. The only thing that’s useful with them or with yourself is presence. And yet….

1077-relax-and-succeed-the-most-wasted-of-all-daysYou’re an expert at not being present. You think you can multi-task. You can do. You consider doing so important that doing gets its own category: The To-Do List. But is there a not-to-do list? Is free time part of your schedule? Is it a priority? No, we live in a cult of efficiency. Today your worth is calculated based on what you’ve done, not who you’ve helped; especially if that’s yourself.

Today’s assignment is for you to create some actual peace. This is one of the most serious meditations so far: divide the day into your morning, your afternoon and your evening. Within the framework of each add an opportunity for peace. Each day provide an opportunity that is at least fifteen minutes long. One quarter of one hour out of each six, and then at least six to sleep (which is like another meditation). That’s only 1/24th of the three sections you’re awake for. Surely you can put that toward your mental health.

You can watch cat videos, look through old photo albums that lead to happy feelings, you can listen to peaceful music, go for a quiet walk, laugh, sit in the library and just watch people without judgment, concentrate on the people in your life that you love, or even peruse the Relax and Succeed page since that’s what it’s there for. All you’re seeking is a quiet mind with good feelings but no words.

1077-relax-and-succeed-people-will-do-anythingYou’ll feel resistance. You’ll feel the pull of your ego. It’ll taunt you saying things like you don’t have time for this, or how’s this going to help you? or whatever. Yak yak yak. It’s always there commenting. So what? You’re ego’s an idiot. It sees all kinds of limitations that aren’t really there, it talks you out of lots of great experiences and it runs you down regularly. Your ego is no friend to you so certainly don’t let it talk you out of dedicating yourself to something that is both so easy and so beneficial.

Set them. Get serious about them. Maintain them with the dedication you apply to the important things in your life like money or your phone. Set all of that aside and remember how to be. Because you’re not really sick or broken or lost, you’re just doing instead of being. So practice being. Start now.

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.

Mental Spin Class

1076-relax-and-succeed-suffering-is-not-holding-youIt was entirely normal that a lot of you struggled with yesterday’s meditation. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t productive. The reason it was hard is the same reason that most people are seeking more personal peace with others, ourselves and the world around us. We want to surrender into each other. But there’s these damned thoughts in the way.

When you say, “I can’t stand how Darlene makes it sound like her grandkids are smarter than everyone else’s,” what you mean is: when Darlene talks about her grandchildren I have internal conversations where my ego talks to my self and in doing so it leads me to experience unpleasant brain chemistry that I feel as the emotions I don’t enjoy.

Maybe your conversations surround how you feel insecure about how you raised your kids, and now you feel that your divorced, formerly addicted single mom daughter is something to be ashamed of. Maybe Darlene’s daughter is a chess master who is also an Olympic figure skater. That can lead your inferior-feeling self to want to bring Darlene down a few notches in your thoughts.

1076-relax-and-succeed-the-quieter-you-becomeMaybe you’re fine with whoever your kids and grandkids are but you’ve always had a thing about superiority. That family down the street used to make your mother cry with her comments about your family’s modest life. People like that are jerks. Anyone who displays any kind of superiority has been well thought-out a long time ago. As an adult you can just play that angry recording.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is. What matters is that resistance to someone else’s being feels terrible. It’s unproductive. Fortunately it’s also voluntary. In fact it takes effort. But yesterday, in one of your meditative attempts to be more peaceful, you ended up possibly even more irritated. And that’s okay. It’s instructional.

What often happens is that people do something like this: There’s Darlene, at it again. No. No. Don’t go there. Don’t think about Darlene, don’t think about Darlene, don’t think about Darlene…” I think you might already be getting my point. It’s like your ego and your self are arguing in your head like those two old guys in the balcony in The Muppets. One’s bitching about Darlene and the other’s bitching that he doesn’t want to discuss Darlene. That’s a lot of talking about Darlene.

When a figure skater is spinning really quickly they are keeping their own physical energy near them, away from the outside world. Like them, when you spin thought-loops in your head you keep all of that spinning energy bundled up inside of your consciousness when it should be open to the entire world.

When a figure skater wants to stop their spin they don’t win some kind of argument; they open up and release the energy to the world around them. As the forces are released the spinning stops. Until then the vision of the skater is blurred. Likewise with your psychology. Spin it around Darlene and you’ll get dizzy and upset. Release those thoughts and turn your attention to the surrounding world and you’re free.

Since so many of you struggled yesterday, let us repeat today: choose the same or a different person. Your objective is simple: As you listen, catch your ego starting to spin and then open and release. The idea is that you want to recognise  that you’re focused on your own spinning thoughts. You want to throw your attention outward and without expectation.

1076-relax-and-succeed-i-even-overthink-my-overthinkingWherever you are, a good way to practice this would be for you to try to release yourself by noting something you’ve never noticed before about your location or the people with you. Maybe it’s that someone’s wife is taller than them, or that their eyes are blue; maybe there’s a yellow thumbtack stuck in the ceiling, or there’s a cut in the floor. It doesn’t matter. It’s the act of refocus and release that counts.

Watch for irritation, see yourself spinning, release your consciousness. You already do this in your life. It’s time you started doing it consciously. Have a great day.

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.

Understanding Insomnia

It drives me absolutely crazy!!! Every night I have to listen to my husband’s deep breathing. He falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow and I’m left up for hours trying to sleep while he breathes like a sleeping elephant. Help!!!

signed,
Sleepy Spouse

Dear Sleepy Spouse,

I take it that “…breathes like an elephant,” wasn’t referring to snoring, but actual deep breathing. So what you’re essentially saying is that you are troubled when your husband can sleep when you can’t. I’m not sure envy or jealousy are effective routes to where you want to go, so rather than being upset about it maybe you can look to your husband for a lesson. Why exactly is it that he can so quickly fall asleep?

Let me begin by saying you’re in extremely good company. Based on my experience a very large percentage of at least first-world women find it very difficult to fall asleep and, based on my practice, a very large percentage of those also have husbands who can drop off to sleep quickly and easily the vast majority of the time. I have never had a man hire me to work on his insomnia but I have had lots and lots of women contact me about it. So what’s with this gender split?

Simply put, a lot of women talk or self-talk more than the average man. Like all things there are many exceptions, but there’s definitely a gender split when it comes to communication. It’s the women who generally wish their men would communicate more, not the other way around.

290 Relax and Succeed - Ego says Once everytyhing falls into placeWomen have their language centres engaged much more heavily in daily living. And I know pop psychology from the 60’s through the 80’s told you that it was healthy—but it really isn’t. There is less confusion in silence. Then actions speak louder than words. So you might criticize your spouse for not talking enough, but in fact all of that talking just leads to more and more complex issues, which then require even more talking to sort out. This is not a formula for peace of mind.

What this translates to is that women are often engaged more heavily in self-dialogue as a means of analyzing, understanding and reacting to events outside of themselves. On average women are much more interested and invested in their spirituality and their psychology, so they tend to be much better students when I’m imparting enlightened living. Men are generally less motivated to do that work, but that is in part because they are naturally a touch closer to enlightenment simply by virtue of having quieter minds.

Because men have historically been capable of affecting more actual change, they do not use their thoughts as much to battle the is-ness of things, which inadvertently creates a quieter, more peaceful mind. On average they simply do not spend anywhere near as much time “solving issues” in their own imaginations, they’ll say something out loud. Where this impacts sleep is by habit of thought.

Men are taught to perceive that it is okay to have a strong opinion so they are also okay with other competing opinions. When they run into someone who feels the opposite way, in a subtle way there was already an acceptance that opposing opinions would exist, and so those competing views are taken less personally and thought about less often. At least in today’s culture women often have their opinions disregarded, and so rather than a strong opinions they’ll be more inclined toward a stronger sense of right and wrong. There is a way things should be, and if they aren’t that way then a lot of women will give that subject a great deal of thought.

Come bed time men are more likely to lay down and, without stimuli, they feel no need to think about anything. (Insert your own jokes here.) In fact men will often find their wives insomnia inexplicable, and they’ll respond to it just by saying, “just go to sleep.” Of course that’s maddening to the people who don’t know what that means. They don’t understand the verb of it.

What is it to: just go to sleep? Well here’s your explanation: going to sleep is laying down when you’re tired and going quiet inside. After that, sleep will just show up naturally if you’re not constantly yakking to yourself. Otherwise it’s literally like laying there with a third person in bed who simply won’t shut up. If you’re busy thinking wake-time thoughts then don’t expect to sleep as well as the person who isn’t lying there dosing themselves with all kinds of wakeful chemistry generated by thinking awake-time thoughts.

290 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes the easiest wayYou don’t solve “problems” in your head, you create them. There really is no such thing as a problem and nothing is really right or wrong. As Shakespeare said, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” If you have fewer ideas of how other people should be then you obviously see fewer transgressions and you’re then also not inclined to discuss them as though they are problems versus, what is.

Can you see how this fits you? You think your husband is doing something wrong—something offensive to you by what—mocking you by sleeping? The deep breathing is called relaxation. It’s nice that he doesn’t snore don’t you think? And of course you’re going to be awake if you’re laying there trying to sort out your life or asking yourself why you’re not already asleep. Would you fall asleep if someone next to you was talking non-stop? So why’s it different when it’s you inside your own head?

The reason your husband’s asleep is because he climbs into bed with the very simplistic idea that he only has one thing to do: fall asleep. And doing that happens naturally when you’re tired if you just stop being awake. And again, the definition of being awake is to actively think about your day when it’s over. It’s dumping the chemistry for wake-time events into your brain when it should be being dosed with the chemistry for sleep.

290 Relax and Succeed - There is nothing good or badYou can’t lay in bed and think about tomorrow or earlier today and hope to go to sleep. Sleep happens in the now, so you have to quiet all of those other conversations so that you can listen for the quiet of present moment.

Don’t psyche yourself out. Don’t check in with the clock like a scoreboard. You only have one thing to do. Go quiet. You have tiredness going for you. You have the dark going for you. You have being horizontal going for you. You have all of these natural signals that will help you tip your biochemistry toward sleep. And it’s not like sleep is unnatural. There are few things more natural. You getting in the way of the sleep is what’s unnatural.

Do babies have trouble falling asleep when they’re tired? Nope. Why not? Because they don’ t know words yet so they can’t use them to build ideas about the past or future which contain fearful, worried, angry or even excited thoughts. They just get the chemistry that comes naturally with being tired, darkness, and horizontalness—sleep. You really don’t need to figure out how to fall asleep. You have to learn how to stop keeping yourself awake.

290 Relax and Succeed - Be still like a mountainIt’ll take time because you’re currently addicted to your thinking patterns. Changing rooms etc. might help you change thought patterns, but since you’ll eventually want to move back into your bedroom you might as well just stop over-thinking while you’re still there. At first it’ll drive you crazy to tell yourself to stop talking to yourself because that’s just more talking. You’ll start over and over and over and over and over. But if you just keep redirecting yourself back to a quiet mind that is empty, within a month or so you will have built the off-ramps in your brain and going quiet will be easier.

Eventually what will happen is that you’ll start associating your bed with sleep and not insomnia. Sleep is what will rush in to fill the space where you used to talk to yourself. So your husband isn’t special or crazy—he’s functioning entirely naturally. He just never started talking to himself in bed so he doesn’t have to stop it. You did, so you do.

Stop all of the thinking. Stop all of the judging and planning and self-flagellation. Just go quiet. Maybe even use his breathing as a rhythm to focus on. Most of the world group-sleeps and it helps to listen to others sleep if your mind isn’t battling the sounds rather than flowing with them. So rather than laying there making yourself angry or frustrated, instead be quiet and let yourself be peaceful and you too will find that sleep is just as natural for you as it is for any human being alive.

Have a great sleep!

peace, zzzzz

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.