Old Books New Covers

1331 Relax and Succeed - Know your enemy

Our egos are active when we are sitting in judgment of ours or other’s thoughts and behaviours. To avoid this enervating activity it is often helpful to have an external focus for our attention. For this reason let’s begin the week with a meditation and exercise that might take moments, or days –but for however long it lasts we won’t be thinking about ourselves, and that’s a healthy thing.

We need to choose a person we generally avoid. Maybe someone we actively dislike, but it can even just be someone we wouldn’t normally ever choose to associate but we have no strong aversion to. It doesn’t have to be the way Steve Martin felt about John Candy at the start of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We just have to start from a place where we feel the impulse that this other person doesn’t ‘fit’ with us in some way.

The question is, do we feel that way because they don’t fit with us? Or because when we met them we unknowingly judged them based on our own random state of mind at that moment? Did our imagination place a mask over a person we actually don’t know?

Maybe we don’t like how they are in the world. Maybe they are clumsy, or too talkative, or too timid, or their beliefs clash with some of ours. Maybe we don’t like something they did or didn’t do, or maybe they just seem boring, or they remind us of someone who did something painful to us long ago and our reasons are essentially subliminal.

In the end, the reason we feel a disconnect with the person is less important than the following fact: the recognition of the inherent value of others is bestowed on others by us, it cannot be magically earned by the people we are judging.

1331 Relax and Succeed - The recognition of the inherent value of others

Once we’ve found this sibling, or co-worker or classmate or other person, let’s set about learning something new about them. We’re not prying into their lives, we re-looking at its public aspects like; who their friends are, or do they hold doors for little old ladies, do they make their own lunch? We can even just listen more closely to what they say and what it implies.

We may have to get to know them through various means in order to see them in a more three dimensional way, but if we have to do it in person without them realizing it, that can offer a lot of lessons to an aware person. A great deal can be learned by practicing the act of listening to someone super-closely.

We’ll all know we’ve completed the exercise when we find something that clashes with our belief about the person. We’ll feel that as a mild surprise. Maybe their favourite basketball player is ours. Maybe they love the same poem, or band, or idea. Maybe their sister is an alcoholic too. Or maybe they are one of the few people that understands how it feels to watch your mom die in Grade Four.

When we find this thing we’ll know it because we will –if we’re paying attention– quite notably feel the chemical shift in our bodies. As our minds change, our bodies will too.

Somehow we feel this shift in much the same way that most of use can feel the release of our white blood cells during an illness. In that case, we’ll will often say things like, “I think my cold is turning,” 15 minutes after the release. In this case, the realization about the other person will also release a form of tension within us.

That tension will have been created by us expending energy, thinking subconsciously limiting thoughts that served to restrict who that other person might be, even if all we were doing was not inviting them into our circle.

By relaxing our definition to fit our new information –by thinking different thoughts about them– we allow other people to more successfully be themselves near us, and that warms relations between us. This is what can make it such a useful exercise for society.

Remember: we find something we like about someone that we formerly ignored or didn’t like. Then we find a way to connect with them anyway until we sense that we really have changed our idea of who the person is (for the better).

The nice thing about this is, even if we fail at the exercise, even just trying it will have positive impacts as an exercise in compassion. Enjoy the process. This is us getting healthier.

peace. s

How Thoughts Become Things

1321 Relax and Succeed - Our thoughts can blind us

A woman complains to her husband that her haircuts are more expensive than his, even though they essentially have the same haircut. The husband is honest and agrees that he has always felt it a bit crazy that the female clients of salons were essentially subsidizing the fancy decor and products that the men also shared in.

She understandably thinks it’s unfair that women should be paying for the decor when men see the decor and use the products too, but he rightly points out that if it were up to the men it would often just be a chair and mirror and a barber with good conversation skills, so there would be no need for the extra expense.

And that all makes sense. No one is wrong or lying but they entirely disagree. It’s only because they are individuals –defined by valuing things differently– that they see a different version of what’s fair. They both have very respectable points. The problem with believing in a central reality is that people could pick either of their ‘sides’ and argue with facts but to no good end.

This is why a greater level of understanding other than just facts is needed, as is further demonstrated by taking the example further. Now imagine that the husband might later bring up the conversation with his wife while he’s at work, but he’s surprised when his co-worker agrees with the wife.

The co-worker might note that his daughter is a hairdresser, and that the nice surroundings and fancy hair-dos are more than just ego to him, because he watched his daughter, watch her mother lose her hair before dying of cancer. So making women feel important, and focused-on and beautiful means a great deal to his daughter the hairdresser. That adds a lot of value to a salon for her.

None of that makes any of the facts the husband said false, but we can see it greatly complicates our idea of what a hair salon can mean to different people. That’s because hair salons are made of thoughts, not of sinks and mirrors and paint.

1321 Relax and Succeed - Some people's disasters are other people's dreams
A father might only see his shop and hard work destroyed, but his son might be thrilled that his father’s chair survived so that he can give it a place of honour in his own salon.

Going even further, we could talk about the salon’s designer, and how this was her first job and it how won an award that launched her career and made her parents proud of her, and also helped her and her husband weather a job loss of his. Those are all huge things that will make that salon iconic to her.

Despite the tremendous value in the design to the designer and hairdresser and wife, the husband cannot appreciate any of their values by simply looking at the designer’s creation a year later. The only sign of her work is beauty and the invisible efficiency of the people using the space.

Do we really think the wife, the husband, the co-worker and hairdresser-daughter, and the designer all see the same salon? No. Absolutely not. They never did. They ‘see’ something similar, but their thoughts turn that reality into entirely separate ideas.

The problem is, good people could easily argue over those valid ideas, all while saying that they are representing the true value of that salon. But we can’t solve the problems of the world if we can’t appreciate the reality of separate realities.

Everyone looks at everything in life through their lens of their own experience, and they weigh what they see based on the values their life experiences left us with. If we understand that, we understand that everyone always did see a different salon.

Now that we know that, we can stop having arguments over hair salons (or anything else made from thought), unless the arguments themselves are enjoyable to have –because we also must remember that some people’s life experience means debating itself is a joy to them.

peace, s

Light The Darkness

1317 Relax and Succeed - Light the Darkness

The biggest challenge for society is also the biggest challenge for most individuals; to find a way to love our enemies. But this is not as hard a thing as one might imagine. What we need is not some new level of love, our natural love is plenty. What we need is, understanding.

Racists of all types are obviously sources of tremendous suffering to many. And people will say that hate doesn’t overcome hate, but just as quickly they will justify mean-spirited exchanges or even violence by talking about the need to ‘fight back’ against ugliness. The fighting back itself is a form of ugliness. That strategy has been tried for a long time. It’s simply not what works.

Irrational fears of other cultures are no different than irrational fears about water, or airplanes or germs. People aren’t evil for not understanding something. They’re not stupid just because they don’t have enough experience with something to understand it. Fear of the unfamiliar is built into us by nature. We all share that.

In cases of racism, let’s not turn it into actual people. It’s just some misinformation and an honest human survival mechanism triggering unnecessarily due to a lack of conditioning. Even what times we eat were established by conditioning, so we should all be able to relate to how ideas come alive within us feeling very much like our nature. That is why it doesn’t help to scream at a racist to change.

From a racist’s perspective they are simply being rational. What they are missing is more nuanced experience with their subject. So we have to kindly invite them to walk alongside us while we get them more familiar with some ideas that might at first seem very foreign and uncomfortable.

1317 Relax and Succeed - Make the world brighter

If anyone is going into foreign and uncomfortable territory, we’d all want someone friendly along. But we have to do the friend part first, but few of us want to go there. It takes spiritual courage.

If we attack people for attacking others we are only showing that we’ve lost sight of another person’s humanity when that is exactly what we must appeal to. But it must be their spirit that we speak to, not the framework of their ephemeral ideas.

We first must be trusted by their soul. Only then can we inform. With greater understanding, fear and anger naturally have no place and serve no purpose. The problem solves itself through understanding.

We don’t need to fight fire with fire. We don’t just want to strive toward justice in this world. We want to be forgiving, and even go so far as to extend compassion to those who oppose us. That is the emotional territory that truly leaves our ‘opponents’ off balance –it’s too rare a reaction.

If we’re looking for an advantage in life, then love is likely the answer. People see so little of it from those they disagree with, that it almost shocks them into a kind of spiritual submission.

Learning how to give love sincerely in difficult cases is a spiritual achievement in and of itself. So let us make forgiveness of those we disagree with our spiritual practice for the rest of this week. Let us see if we can find new ways of engaging with old challenges. Because when the world feels dark, the wise shine brighter.

peace, s

Trusting Love

 

1315 Relax and Succeed - Adults can choose where they goWhy do so many young women have a lack of faith in the love of their partners? There are many reasons for that, but almost all women do face at least one common enemy.

Due to many of the thought-shaping forces in society being quite blunt and broad, many of us end up impacted by the same social memes, advertising techniques, fashions, trends, tropes and clichés. We all share many constructs in society, and in fact society itself is a construct. But it would be good if it could be a helpful one.

Of course these forces all hit us slightly differently, but the ones that are designed as marketing and propaganda will have been built to capitalize on insecurities that many of us share. For this reason we can see patterns of behaviour in various marketing demographics, and one of the groups in which these effects are easiest to see, is in girls and young women aged 14-30.

Women overall take a beating in the marketing and advertising world. They are subjected to messages about being too fat, not curvy enough, their hair’s all wrong, their skin and breath are bad, they have a poor diet and they’re not sexy enough. Let’s see, what do we have there? A too, a not, a wrong, a bad, a poor, and a not enough. How’s a girl to survive?

The worst places an insecure self-view can take us is into unhealthy relationships where we are too focused on pleasing the other person and not enough on nurturing what’s healthy for us –which would hopefully include the behaviour of our romantic partners. That sort of inferior sense can cause people to stay in relationships they would be better to leave.

The worst places an insecure self-view can take us is into unhealthy relationships where we are too focused on pleasing the other person and not on nurturing what’s healthy for us —

Almost as bad, those same forces can mean that even people who find healthy relationships can have trouble accepting the idea that they truly deserve love. I have a former student who is a classic example of this.

She says she’s shy but really she’s just a little bit, and just when she meets someone. But then almost everyone is a little bit, they just hide it in different ways. She’s also very smart and she thinks thoughtfully about things, so she’s very interesting to talk to.

I can’t say if you’d think she was pretty or the ‘right’ weight, because those are subjective personal opinions. All I can say is that she seems pretty to me and her weight seems right in every way but one: she doesn’t like it.

If you saw her most people would find her thin, yet she’s noted she goes through phases of worrying about her weight. This absolutely breaks my heart. We are talking about an amazing person here. She could really go anywhere with her future, she’s trying to be as wise as a person can be about living.

She also has a mother that, like all mothers and daughters, she has struggles with sometimes. But that’s also the same mother that brought her to me a few years ago when she was worried about her, so clearly she cares, even if they have some trouble connecting at this stage in their lives. That is hardly uncommon.

In addition to the backstop of her own background and capability, she also has only praise for her boyfriend, and her descriptions of him are the sort that genuinely make me happy. He treats her well, and with respect.

She’s not a showpiece or a doormat. He admires her but he is confused by her insecurities. He doesn’t understand how she can be so smart and not calculate that she must be impressive just by looking at the evidence in her life. And he would have a point.

Obviously he’s dating her because he thinks out of all of the women he could pursue, she is the most amazing. Guys are not known for aiming for second best. We’ll either go for first or torture ourselves waiting for the courage to try. Bottom line, if he’s with her it’s because he wants to be.

1315 Relax and Succeed - Even if we find love will we accept

Now don’t get me wrong, even if she has some understandable insecurities, they still have a wonderful relationship. She’s stunningly helpful to him –I doubt he can know how fortunate he is having so little to compare to at his age.

If she’s extremely emotional and inclined to be unreasonable, she actually lets him know that she can’t discuss the issue until later because she knows she’ll be unreasonable. To many people, that’s a dream girl right there.

Of course, once she calms down, 90% of the time they have nothing to discuss, which might explain why the relationship is much more appreciation than drama. What I like most about it is they usually seem to either discuss interesting ideas or have fun. They are young and have much to learn like all of us, but it sounds like a really good match –if only she could accept that she deserves it.

So here we have a pretty, slim, smart, strong, wise young woman with support coming in different ways from both family and her boyfriend and circle of friends, plus she’s very mature about how she approaches both her career and her relationships, yet when she feels weak she feels all too, and not, and wrong, and bad, and poor, and lacking, and just not sexy enough.

She has every indication that she is incredible, leaving the only reason she feels that way is largely because of advertising and marketing campaigns that swirl around people’s heads and that get traded between young ladies like dark whirling Pig Pen-like tornadoes of thought. Their social media can be horrifying.

It was tiny little her against an army of highly paid psychologists and advertising specialists. It is that haze of external sales pitches that has brainwashed her to the point where it prevents her from seeing who I see, who her friends see, and who her boyfriend sees. A totally 100% acceptable person. Just like everyone reading this.

We did make a lot of headway in that she continues to be remarkably helpful to her relationship and she’s now found ways to finish school despite facing some bullying, and show now has at least part of her post-school life sorted out in a way that excites her.

Like everyone, she will still have life struggles, but by learning more about how she participates in her own creation of her reality she has already freed herself from constraints that many adults still strongly feel held back by.

All that said, her realizations won’t be complete until she reaches one key point. She currently cannot fully appreciate the reasons why her boyfriend loves her, or why her friends love her, or why I admire her as a person, and why her mother sees her as loaded with potential. There’s too many marketing ideas poisoning those facts.

It is a process, but one she has begun in earnest. If she didn’t, he would be forever trapped having to build her up when he would rather just enjoy his time with a woman that he already sees as complete.

Sure, finishing school, fostering a healthy relationship and finding a career path are no small things to accomplish. But it is important that she continue to watch for examples that help to prove to herself that she truly deserves the love she gets, and that her boyfriend really does think she’s perfect just the way she is.

It is a process, but one she has begun in earnest. If she didn’t, he would be forever trapped having to build her up when he would rather just enjoy his time with a woman that he already sees as complete. That would eventually wear him out, so she’s on the right path and so far it’s going well.

By the time we were officially done she actually already was where she wanted to be. She’s a great person who’s finished school, has a job she’s happy about, and she has a supportive and loving boyfriend. All she has to do now is make that final leap to believing that she’s really worthy of everyone’s love. That’s where everyone is waiting for her.

Of course, the same goes for everyone reading this. An amazing collection of natural forces needed to occur for each person to exist as an individual. The universe wanted us to be yet so many of us question our value.

We should waste no time questioning the universe. Instead, we should join my student in accepting ourselves so that we too can get on to the business of offering our courage, compassion and love to all those we share this world with.

Other people loving us does not have its full effect unless we feel worthy. Only thoughts keep us from that naturally receptive state. We do not need to build ourselves up to be good enough for the love we get, we simply must lower the thought barrier we have between us and our knowledge that we, along with everyone everywhere, is born  worthy of love we receive.

peace, s

 

Dominance in Relationships

1314 Relax and Succeed - Dominance in Relationships
People often want relationships to be equal, but they often work better when they are balanced. ‘Equal’ means that each person has half the responsibility for each thing. And doesn’t just include tasks, these are also approaches to life.

An example of the above would be a naturally unemotional parent is often urged to assume ultimately insincere, unnatural emotions towards their children, all in the name of good parenting equality. Yet many unemotional people, or people on the Autism spectrum, have made wonderful parents by being exactly the way they were. We need to learn to connect with those sorts of people too.

Contrary to ‘equal’ is ‘balanced.’ That means that the relationship is shared around the idea that each person gets to be who they naturally are, without being told to be someone else by their partner. That love is unconditional.

If that wasn’t a possible way to live and love, then people like Stephen Hawking couldn’t have fallen in love, because he certainly wasn’t helping around the house. Then again, because he was Stephen Hawking he was likely able to afford help, but it’s the marriage itself still demonstrates a passion to support another human being in a way that few people can relate to.

I have no doubt his marriages were sincere on both ends, but the fact that they did or could not include certain romantic relationship tropes points to the fact that clearly there are other forms of shared passion that both people find deep value in. What they give each other and the world is very different in the end, and it could be described as unequal, but what matters is if it worked for each of them.

Today we’ve begun to ignore when things aren’t working because our thoughts and ideas have become so predominant that we ignore how life feels. We want things done in the ‘right’ way, and by current standards of thought the ‘right’ way is things divided equally, even if the people involved don’t want it that way or if they don’t think that’s reasonable.

If people are equal then both people have to care which restaurant is chosen, and both have to care about how things are cooked at home etc. etc. But when two people both want to pick the restaurant that can lead to arguments, and the same thing can happen over how to cook in the kitchen.

1314 Relax and Succeed - It is a healthy thing to be ourselves

In an unequal but balanced relationship, a naturally more passive personality can be far more comfortable not deciding where to eat, and they may be far more interested in family happiness than the happiness they get from how a food is cooked. They may simply not care enough about this or that subject to argue over it.

Their passiveness is actually a form of letting-go that is a cooperative, helpful aspect of the relationship, not obsequiousness. Any demands that they be more assertive are stressful, unwelcome and unnatural for them. Can that go too far? Or course. But the approach itself is not an issue. Many couples walk that line to very long and happy marriages.

Just as some are more passive, others are more naturally comfortable leading. Who is who can change from subject to subject, but one person being active and another being passive is not necessarily a problem. That can very well be what is making things work really well.

The point in fairness is not equality, it is respect. It is not about dividing things 50/50. It’s dividing everything up in a way that demonstrates both respect and responsibility for and from each of us. No spouse who ever cared for their loved one with cancer or dementia was in a position where equal made any sense when it came to expressing love. People shouldn’t need a disease to be given that grace by the rest of us.

If some goth couple wants to move in next door, be awesome neighbours and swap traditional gender roles –or even have none at all– that’s great. They’re awesome neighbours. No one should feel the need to talk him out of letting her dominate.

Likewise, if some couple chooses super traditional male-female roles because that’s what they’re more comfortable with, they also shouldn’t be told to change to suit others because others deem that relationship unequal.

Further, if some transsexual or gender-less couple moves in across the street, that too is fine so long as it works for them. No one should pressure anyone to assume identities that don’t feel natural. Each of us knows ourselves better than even our closest friends. We know what works for us.

There is room enough in the world for everyone to be the versions of people they naturally are, including versions that we aren’t comfortable with. It’s not other people’s job to make us feel comfortable. Our discomfort lives between our ears.

Instead of talking to ourselves or others about our judgments about other’s lives, we should be pleased any time we see anyone find a partner (or a life without a partner), that supports them in being who they naturally are.

peace, s

Comparing Us and Them

 

1304 Relax and Succeed - Don't judge her or yourself

Excluding my experience teaching in prisons, every single student/client I have had would be deemed as ‘successful’ by most people who knew them casually. All of them looked –and more importantly were– the sort of people all of us would like to be in one way or another. And yet they all came with what they felt at the time were crippling problems.

In our heads, we tend to do negative comparisons with people we see. If we’re angry or disappointed in the world, then we tend to be insulting and judgmental about people. But if our negativity is turned inward, then we only notice the qualities they have that we feel are missing within ourselves (e.g. I wish I could wear clothes like that, or, that guy is smooth and polished and I’m a bumbling idiot.)

But inside those smooth and polished exteriors, people come to me largely at a moment of transition. Sometimes the transition is mistaken for a crises, but most are just ordinary people that have developed negative feelings about themselves or their lives for all kinds of very human and understandable reasons.

Some are struggling with grief, others with fear. Some have addictions, some are anxious, some lack confidence, some aren’t sure who to become next. There are senior business people that want to have a heart to heart without losing face, parents who want to admit they are failing (but generally aren’t), and cheating spouses.

There are people tired of hating, bosses who need easier but more effective ways to manage people, people who need to forgive someone –and some are even crippled by guilt by having done some truly awful things in their lives.

They all come as a way to move forward and create positivity; as a way to atone for their past. But each and every one would look like a successful person you might envy on the street or at work. Think about that the next time you’re using your uninformed beliefs about others to beat yourself up with.

In our heads, we tend to do negative comparisons with people we see.

Remember, we all might think harsh thoughts and have periods in our life that we regret, but the regret is the sign that we are good people otherwise we wouldn’t feel that. Instead, we are better to face that pain full on because it is ours. After that, we should see ourselves as human and forgive ourselves.

Instead of wallowing in negative emotions, we are better to enact our regrets via the expression of positivity within the world around us, through the living of our lives. So let’s all just forget all the self-doubt and comparisons and have a great day enacting positivity in our little parts of the world. Thanks for reading.

peace. s

Facing Threats With Wisdom

1299 Relax and Succeed - If we don't maintain our perspective

When we’re living in a future where things go wrong, then we worry. That is problematic, because the worrisome thoughts steal time and energy from us focusing on maintaining a healthy perspective and then developing a suitable plan.

For instance, in the Edmonton area two guys in cars have recently been engaging a few 10-20 year old pedestrians in conversation and then they rob them of their money and their phones. They don’t hurt them, just threaten them. And they only want older kids who have phones and money.

First, the perspective. Metro Edmonton has well over 1.3 million people (literally, less than one in a million chance), and it’s just short of 10,000 square kilometers (it’s 3,640 square miles) in size. The odds that anyone’s 10-20 year old kid runs into these kids are extremely low.

There’s a far higher chance they’d be hurt with a relative in the car, which is statistically the least safe place they ever are. But the odds are too low to worry about, as we all know. That’s why we all drive with kids in cars. So if we can casually do that with their biggest risk, imagine how low the odds must be for them to run into someone in 10,000 square kilometers.

Secondly, once we know the odds, an appropriate plan is wise. You can come up with whatever plan you want, but as an example:

If the child is old enough for a cell phone, they can facebook live any unusual approaches to them by anyone in a car. They can even explain that fact to the people right while they’re filming them as they approach.

They can politely say, “Sorry to ‘facebook live’ you, but I’m doing it to everyone for a while. There’s been robberies on the news so until they catch those guys I’m filming any stranger that wants my attention. That way there is always a public record of the people I interact with. Who’s gonna rob someone when they know the cops already have a photo of them? So what did you guys want?” (That was off the top of my head, you can likely do better.)

The last thing we want to do is cripple anyone’s spirit with unnecessary and unrealistic fear.

What the plan is doesn’t matter, it just has to be matter-of-fact and based on the kid using their observation skills. It has to empower them to feel like they can be in as much control as is humanly possible.

If our planning sounds terrified or panicked or based on irrational fear, then the kid will pick up on that and that will mislead them about their actual odds of being in danger, which are again, very low. The last thing we want to do is cripple anyone’s spirit with unnecessary and unrealistic fear.

1299 Relax and Succeed - Life is essentially an exercise

These can be good teaching moments to help children understand perspective and to learn to manage risk. Life will demand those skills when we’re older.

Don’t load your life with fear. Recognize, analyze and plan and then drop it. We really do have to remind ourselves that we can only do what we can only do.

We absolutely can drive all children everywhere for the next year. And that should draw no criticism –it’s one type of person’s answer. But it too will have a price, both in terms of the child’s mental and physical well being. So whatever route we choose, we should understand that all choices –even the safest ones– carry prices.

Life is essentially an exercise in weighing risk versus reward, and ‘being an individual’ is comprised of how much of each we are individually prepared to accept.

peace, s

Putting Bullies to Bed

1297 Relax and Succeed - Grandpa Mom's not right

“Grandpa.”

“What?”

She takes a moment. She feels like maybe it’s an idea too hard to sell. “Mom’s not right about everything….”

Grandpa chuckles. “Oh, I know honey. I remind her of that probably a bit too often for a guy that wants a healthy relationship with his daughter.”

“I told Mom that Sasha and Mercedes were picking on me. But she just said I should ignore them. But I can’t. They’re in my school!”

Grandpa frowns, with his hands on his hips. He’s clearly thinking about something seriously. Then: “I’ll get a bunch of the guys I play cards with and we’ll go over to the school and we’ll beat your bullies with dead snakes and then drive over them in our scooters. How’s that?”

The kid giggles. “Grandpa. I mean it.” She pleads, “They’re mean.”

“No snakes eh….” By the time people are grandpas they’ve often learned a lot about being a human and about how adults get formed by childhoods. He can tell this might be a big moment, so he drops down beside her and slows himself down.

He restarts by tucking her in tighter, which she always likes. “Well sweetie, you know your Mom and I disagree about all kinds of things because we’re different people who do things different ways. But we both love you, which is why I agree with your Mom on this one.”

“But you can’t just ignore people when they’re there grandpa!”

“I ignore you when you bug me for candy.”

The kid finds this defense exasperating. “That’s candy. This is people! It’s not the same!”

Grandpa rears up. “AHA. There’s our answer right there.”

“Where? What answer?”

“You think candy and insults are different.”

“Grandpa, everyone wants candy. Everyone. No one wants people being mean to them.”

“No, you want the candy, not me. I don’t want candy. To me you’re just some kid bugging me for candy while I’m trying to read my book. That’s kind of like those girls trying to bug you while you’re playing. It’s the same.”

It is, but it’s not. That’s frustrating for her because she wants her pain. “I’m not confused. They’re mean to me.”

I tightens his embrace around the cocoon of comforters wrapped around her. “Aww sweetie, I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt if that’s what we’re focused on. But I want to save you from that and we can’t make those girls go away.”

He just pets the child’s head for a bit before restarting. “Look, I don’t mind so much when you want candy. But it’s still not good for you to eat all that sugar, so as the grandpa your Mom deputized me in the candy police–

“The Candy Police???” Even a little kid thinks he’s getting a bit rich.

“–yes, because you’re too little to do what we adults call the ‘self-regulation of impulses.’”

“The what?”

“Nothing. Grandpa accidentally tossed a $20 dollar word into a $5 dollar conversation. My fault. What I meant was, adults know when it’s okay to do what we want, and when we shouldn’t. At least mostly. Except maybe your uncle Danny. Anyway, the deciding what to do and what not to do –that’s most important part of life.”

“So how do I make them decide to stop being mean?”

“You can’t. They’re free, just like you. You don’t want to be forced to do what they want you to do –do you?”

“NO.”

“Then you can’t tell them what to do either.”

“Grandpa, everyone wants candy. Everyone. No one wants people being mean to them.”

“But I don’t like it!”

“Well that makes sense, they’re being mean. No one likes that. But they don’t control what you focus on. That’s the thing you get to decide. Your Mom’s right. You can ignore them by deciding to focus on something else.”

The kid rolls her eyes. This grandpa has clearly never been to school. “Grandpa, you can’t just not listen. They’re right there.”

“No, I get that sweetie. There are times when you can hear the sound waves coming out of their mouths and those do hit your eardrums. When you’re there. But they’re not here now, right? They’re not in your bedroom on a weekend?”  Just in case, he checks under the bed.

Where’s he going with this? She’s so confused she can’t even figure out how to respond, so he just gets an exhasperated “Grandpa…!”

“No, I mean it. I’m serious. I swear, you’re confused about something. You don’t have to believe me. I’ll explain it.”

“I’m not confused.”

“Just about this one thing –you just haven’t had anyone explain this to you. I’ll make sure to give your Mom heck for not teaching it to you yet.”

This can be Mom’s fault? That makes the lesson much more palatable. She leans a little further into the idea her grandpa is pitching. He can see a common enemy has got them allied. That makes presenting an idea much more likely to succeed. “You like when we go fishing, right?”

“What’s this got to do with Sasha and Mercedes being mean to me?”

“That is a very good question and I promise to answer it. But first you have to tell me if you like fishing and if you do, tell me why?”

“You know why.”

“Why?”

She protests being forced. “Grandpa.”

“You like riding in Grandpa’s boat, right? You like when we stop the motor and just float, and you like how the shiny metal makes the bright lines on the water and the sound the waves make when they hit it.”

She restresses: “Sasha and Mercedes Grandpa, Sasha and Mercedes.”

“I’m getting there. I promise. In this story they drown –sort of.”

Now the kid’s more interested. “Really?”

Grandpa suddenly goes Zen and asks the obvious. “What’s a boat?”

“What? It’s a boat. Like your boat. The thing we go fishing in.”

“Yeah, but what is it. What does it do?”

1297 Relax and Succeed - Does a boat float on the water

“Boats don’t do anything. They just float.”

“Float where?”

Is he serious? “Grandpa. On the water.”

“On it, or in it?”

“Well…” she gives it super serious consideration. “…mostly on, but some of it is in –the parts where our feets go.”

“So then, a boat is kind of like a hole filled with air, down in the water?”

This is a crazy funny idea. “Grandpa, water can’t have holes!”

“Sure it can. They’re called ‘boats.’ If the sides of the boat weren’t there but the water still stayed back, wouldn’t there be a hole in the water where the boat was?”

“You mean if there was no boat?”

“Yeah, but the water stayed where it was.”

Okay wait, maybe he does have a point she’s starting to think now that she’s picturing it…. He’s getting an affirmative look so he continues.

“Okay. So a boat is a little like a hole in the water where we put our feet when we fish. But what makes the boat float is that the water can’t get in, right?”

“It would be a dumb boat if water got in Grandpa.”

Now it’s his turn to laugh. “They needed you on the Titanic.”

“What’s the Titan…”?”

“It was a big boat, but they forgot to keep the water on the outside.”

“That was dumb.”

“Suuuper dumb. But we gotta get back to Sashes and Mercedy there–“

She rolls her eyes and stresses, “Sasha. And. Mercedes….”

“Whatever; the ones that drown. So here’s what your Mom means by ‘ignore them.’ She means that your mind is like a boat you own. You can invite anyone you want into your boat, but the boat only floats –ours minds only stay healthy– if we keep the water out. And Sasha and whatshername are all wet.”

That gets him a giggle, but mostly she’s thinking, brow furrowed. “Sasha and Mercedes are made of water?”

“Well, not really them, it’s their thoughts that are the water.” He takes a moment to think of a way to describe it. “You know how you can’t run fast in the water when I chase you at the pool? That’s ’cause water slows us down. When you hear Sasha and Mercedes say mean things, that’s like hearing the water against the side of the boat. But when you put their water in your head it slows you down. But the water never gets into the boat unless we decide to think about the mean things that people like Sasha and… Merrrrr….–“ Oh oh.

“MERCEDES! MERCEDES! MERCEDES! MERCEDES!”

“–MERCEDEEEESSSS– say. Right? Get it? Them saying mean things at school is the water hitting the side of your mind –the side of your boat. But you thinking of them here in your bedroom, tonight, days later –that’s you pouring their water into your boat. Remember, boats float in water, not on it.

“So all our lives people will splash mean things in our direction, but none of that matters if we stay dry in our boat. So that’s what your Mom means. You sitting here in bed thinking about insults you got hours or days before now is you inviting those girls into the space in your boat when you could have been thinking about me….” Grandpa hangs his head, dejectedly.

She realizes he’s trying to steal her victim thunder. “Grandpa…”

“It’s true. You were thinking of them instead of us going fishing. Who do you feel better spending time with?”

“You. Of course.”

“So take me in your boat instead of them. I take you in mine. That’s why I miss you when we go to Arizona.”

1297 Relax and Succeed - You can invite anyone

She’s not sure she likes this. She’d like this to be Sasha and Mercedes issue to manage.

“Come on. Whose boat is it?”

She tries to wait him out, but he only raises his eyebrows until she reluctantly clucks out a quick, “Mine.”

“Exactly. Your boat is your mind and your job as the Captain is to keep the water out. Right Captain?”

“Can I get a hat?”

“A Captain’s hat?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll see what we can do. But do you think you can keep Sasha and–“

She warns him with a look–

“–Mercedes,” he adds carefully “from getting inside your boat?”

“I don’t want their dumb mean faces in my boat.”

“Perfect. Then just don’t think their thoughts. Their thoughts are the water. You only take a thought when you need a drink. They’re not for filling boats. Especially polluted water like theirs.”

“Yeah. Polluted.” She looks like maybe she feels better.

With kids he knows it often will take a while for an idea like this to stick so he reminds her one last time. “Okay, so where’s the boat we want to keep dry?” She taps her head. “Right. And who’s the lake?”

“MERCEDES, and Sasha.”

“Right. And what’s the water?”

“What they think.”

“Their opinions. Right. And so who’s the Captain that keeps water from getting into your boat?”

“ME!”

“RIGHT! See. They can bang water against the side of your boat all day. But you practice keeping that water out then your boat will not sink my dear. Every boat gets some water in it because storms make the waves big. But we can always bail out what got put in, so you just remember to keep the inside–“ he taps her on the noggin “of your boat as dry as you can, okay?”

“Dry as a bone grandpa.”

“I believe that. You bonehead.” He lightly raps his knucks on her noggin.

She giggles. “I’m not a bonehead.”

“Sure you are. Your a chip off your Mom’s bonehead.”

Now she loves when he does this. “Mom’s not a bonehead!”

“She was when she was a teenager, ask your grandma.”

“Did she put a lot of water in Grandma’s boat?”

Grandpa stops and refocuses, sensing an opportunity for some fun and a chance to be a good husband. “You know what? That is a very good question. It’s such a good question that; the next time your Mom and your Grandma are together –and it’s a time when your Mom is really mad at Grandma– that would be a really good time to ask your Mom about the water she splashed into Grandma’s boat when she was in high school. If she’s mad at Grandma that would be a good time for her to remember the times she got Grandma all wet, don’t you think?”

That gets a big few nods in the affirmative. He gives her a little nod of agreement. They are on the same page. He switches to an official tone. “Ready for sleep mode?”

She nods her agreement.

“Okay. five deep slow ones.” The little girl takes five very slow breaths in and out in time with her grandpa. It sounds like they’re already asleep. “Good. That helps slow the machine down. Now you just keep breathing like that, and soon you get to dream! Tomorrow morning you can tell me about all the things you did in your dreams, okay?”

“Thanks Grandpa.”

He kisses her on the head. “Boat dry sweetie, okay?”

She nods, he smiles, and out goes the light as the bedroom door closes.

From the darkness, a confident little whisper responds, “Aye aye, Captain.”

peace. s

Re-framing Right and Wrong

1294 Relax and Succeed - When we know how to listen

This weekend (and for as long as we can sustain it), we would all benefit by engaging with any form of media by challenging and questioning our immediate reactions to it.

Every time we feel compelled to agree with an idea as being ‘right,’ we should reconsider our internal language. We should view the consistency between our view and a person we’re listening to, as being ‘in alignment,’ rather than describing them as ‘being right.’

Likewise we should do the same thing with statements we hear that we disagree with. Rather than defining the speaker as ‘wrong,’ we should see them instead only as differing from our view. After all, when we’re truly wise we realize everyone is a guru. If our judgments mean we decide someone is foolish then we will make no attempt to learn from that teacher.

After all, when we’re truly wise we realize everyone is a guru. If our judgments mean we decide someone is foolish then we will make no attempt to learn from that teacher.

Rather than others being wrong based on our disagreement, we should skip the judgment and meditate instead on the simple question, what life experiences would lead someone to see things that way? In doing so we expand our empathy, our wisdom and our interconnectedness and those things all benefit us even more than others.

This is a very useful exercise, but it demands a lot of consciousness on our part. Even if we’re not that good at altering our narrative, we will all surely gain by paying more attention to what we’re doing with judgments made within our consciousness.

peace. s

Shifting Identities

1287 Relax and Succeed - Politeness is to human natureIf you don’t think you have different identities just try this: the next time you’re talking to someone you don’t like, imagine that someone you respect more than almost anyone is listening to the exchange.

If you do that earnestly you’ll find that you’ll choose more charitable and productive words and even friendlier body language with whoever you’re dealing with, even someone you don’t like.

But why would you be nicer? Or nice to someone you don’t like? Are you a brown-noser? A climber? A show off? Not really.

You would feel the urge to be nicer because, while you might possibly have been unusually nice to someone you don’t like anyway, what this thought experiment demonstrates is that we all subconsciously desire, more than anything, to belong.

This means that if someone we respected was watching us, we would naturally want to demonstrate our virtue to increase our value to them, and by extension their group. That doesn’t mean the virtue itself is entirely false. It simply means it was real virtue triggered by events.

Since a group of cooperating people will always out-compete a group of selfish people, we were built to be pack animals. This means that any action that ingratiates us to, or protects our status within, a group will be naturally appealing to a healthy human, even if only on a subconscious level. Sometimes it makes us feel good to help others and we do it for the joy we get, but it is also beneficial to be seen to be helping others, sincerely or otherwise. It builds community. Our impulse is natural.

But why would you be nicer? Or nice to someone you don’t like? Are you a brown-noser? A climber? A show off? Not really.

We have to keep in mind, chimps and bonobos are farther out on the evolutionary bush than we are, by millions of years. They are newer to evolution than we are. We are animals who are civilized, but still animals. We naturally feel safer in groups than alone, and that inclination in us explains everything from disenfranchised kids joining gangs, to why former team-sport athletes often struggle with depression after retirement. People need a tribe of some sort.

Having a place in a group is where we belong, and any feeling outside of that drives us toward belonging like thirst leads us to water. That’s why the world feels so harsh right now.

1287 Relax and Succeed - We shouldn’t build sharp tall fencesEveryone’s so judgmental that no one feels acceptable and that’s lead to insecurity that in turn leads to loneliness etc. etc. We shouldn’t use harsh judgments to build sharp, tall fences around ourselves when we are also stumbling through reality. We need each other, including each other’s forgiveness for our own inabilities.

There are two major ways to connect ourselves to others: the love we share that is comforting, and/or our value in terms of what we can contribute to their lives. Put another way, someone who protects us from dragons can get away with being grumpy; and being lovable is simply dragon-slaying love with a nicer role. But what binds us is a shared responsibility to each other. Denying that is painful, fulfilling it feels good, even if that involves fighting ‘dragons.’

Every role done well has value, and every tribe can carry a struggling member for a time. This is the value of community, and our ability to appreciate that value explains why we naturally become more aware of the value of kindness while we are in the presence of others.

Enjoy your days.

peace. s