Intentional Courage

1248 Relax and Succeed - Bethany Hamilton professional surferThis is Bethany Hamilton. You might recognise her. She was thirteen years old when a fourteen foot tiger shark took her left arm while she was surfing with her best friend in Kauai. Beautiful place, best friend, a favourite activity…it was all a dream come true. Even after the shark attack, Bethany used her sense of intention to adjust her dreams and then she made those true.

Bethany was an active young woman who loved surfing and spending time in nature. Today Bethany is an active young championship surfer who loves to spend time in nature with her husband and two children. Note that losing her arm did not change who Bethany is. She was always determined to live deeply and fully and the shark only intensified that drive.

Within two months of losing her arm she was back in the water and not long after that she was competing. The arm didn’t stop her from meeting a man, the fact that it was missing attracted a particularly strong and loving man. She’s written a book, had a film made about her, she’s started a charity, works with many others, and she’s been on countless television programs for her charity work promoting positive mental attitudes, faith and a general outlook of abundance.

1248 Relax and Succeed - Just because today is a terrible dayMany people fall asleep within their own lives and they sleep most of the way through living them. Generally only illness or divorce or the loss of a job or some other tragedy will temporarily wake the person up, but they’ll rarely account for the fact that they feel more alive when they’re struggling to survive than when they are stultified into not even noticing their life is ticking by.

Bethany loses an important limb to a shark and shortly thereafter she’s back in the water, competing on a surfboard, married and pregnant. That’s a lot of belief in a bright future and note it kicked in almost immediately after the injury. In fact, she faced the injury with the same positive attitude she faced the rest of life with.

You can argue for your weariness. We all do it for periods and you can bet she did too. But it’s how much time we spend in which mental states that decide how much control we can maintain throughout our lives. If we see the world as fatalistic and ourselves as unlucky then we have doomed ourselves with a literal intention to have a bad life. But we can use that same force of intention to create a full life like Bethany’s.

1248 Relax and Succeed - ForwardBetween toiling in oblivion and struggling for equality, most people focus on sadness over who they were rather than seizing the opportunities that emerge from who they now are. Bethany’s positivity route is actually the easier and more enjoyable to live, but to get it you must be positive even when the indications urge you to feed a darker aspect of yourself. This is where Bethany takes control and makes her life happen, rather than idly watching it happen and then commenting to herself in her ego, after the fact. A good life is created by action. A bad one by inaction.

Don’t use Bethany’s example to beat yourself up for perceived shortcomings because that is not what Bethany would do. She would not account for what is missing, she would account for what is there. She could have been just another anonymous woman with a missing arm who lead a sad life because of a tragic accident. Or, she could become who she’s been; a rare person who’s both been attacked by a shark and who has survived. Add her positivity on top of that and now she’s so rare that you can see why she can make a living on TV and by doing public speaking on the value of faith and a belief that the universe is working with you and not against you.

Every day you choose a path. Sometimes the choice is conscious, sometimes not. But for our lives to improve, those choices must not only be made more conscious, they must be made with the sort of courage that allows us to step outside of a common narrative so that we can instead continue to be ourselves even in the wake of whatever tragedies we face. None of us are the results of what has happens to us. All of us are the result of how we chose to face what happens to us. Get active. Live consciously. It’s the only way to find your actual 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.

Real Feelings

1218 Relax and Succeed - Real feelings don't go awayThere are two ways to react to feelings that are so meaningful in our lives that they return repeatedly. These include the shocks associated with PTSD, or the sadness that accompanies grief, the pain of a broken heart, or the sting of a deep betrayal. These are generated by some of life’s biggest experiences; experiences we can all expect to have in our life at some time.

May I suggest you think of it much as you would if there was a bee in your house. As much as you may fear it, or as aggressive as the feeling-bee might be, the more we attempt to make those feelings go away the more we are inviting encounters with the feeling-bee. Those encounters are also likely to incite the activity of the bee itself. In short, the more we deal with the bee the more we will have to deal with the bee.

Our other option is surrender. This is not to say that you won’t get bees in your home. Certain feelings permeate life, and avoiding them is to avoid life. To never worry about a bee in your home is to never feel at home. So bees must be accepted along with homes. But trying to rush the bee out of a home is to disrespect the life of the bee itself. It is not an unnatural or incorrect experience. It is appropriate to its own season.

1218 Relax and Succeed - Allow natural feelingsIt is important to remember that no bee stays in your home forever. It either escapes, or it dies. There is no need to panic. You simply want to keep an open mind just like you want an open window. You want to stay open to new ideas and areas of focus; you want do other things and to let the bee escape when it naturally finds its way out. So always remember to always leave room within yourself for new and less threatening experiences.

Learn to be comfortable with your feeling-bees because they will always arrive in their appropriate season. But do not close your windows and chase the bee until you’re emotionally exhausted. Accept the bee, open your windows, and allow the bee to leave when nature has found its way to that moment.

Look at your own life. See which bees you chase most often. Find the ideas you repeatedly seek and find and attempt to swat out of your life. Recognise those as voluntary, unaccepting acts. Instead, accept them as battles that you yourself are engaging within yourself.

You can stop at any point and simply open your heart-windows up to new experiences. By allowing fresher feelings to enter, you give yourself a better chance of escaping the fear and potential pain. So allow your bees. Open your windows rather than resist. The rest is to invite being stung.

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.

Wrestling With Life

He had been that way since the 1970’s but I had no idea he was hugely famous until I moved to Australia. I was just horsing around with a buddy at my uncle’s and when I grabbed him in a mock headlock I said, “Bret Hart throws him in a sleeper,” and the two kids in the room just exploded in excitement at the idea of an adult that would voluntarily mention Bret Hart. Likewise, I couldn’t believe two Australian kids would even know who he was.

Now I’m not into wrestling at all, but I come from Alberta, and if you’re from here it was almost impossible not to know about the huge clan of Hart children and their father, Stu. They ran the Stampede Wrestling League out of Calgary, the birthplace of modern technical wrestling. And then Bret took over worldwide wrestling for a few decades. So why should you care?

There’s a great lesson in Bret’s life. Here we have a guy famous for being very polite and kind (when not playing part of his character’s role). He’s intelligent, he comes from a big, hard-working family with a great work ethic, plus he’s a respectful, likeable person. He became a huge star and made a ton of money. It seems like a dream life if you’re okay with the wrestling part.

Bret has respect, admiration, good parents, physical prowess, intelligence, business sense, financial success and he’s well liked. None of that protected him from a two divorces, a bicycling accident that lead to a debilitating stroke, and very recently he was diagnosed with cancer. And while all that’s going on, I heard him mention in an interview that his body is pretty badly banged up from all of those years in the ring and he’s in a lot of pain. So again, he sounds like a nice guy but what’s this got to do with your psychological health?

I would submit to you that the reason Bret has been so successful is that he has a great attitude. I don’t mean every second of every day, I mean overall. We can’t judge people by when their stone skips off a surface when that’s a tiny portion of how far they go.  That’s just the price Bret was willing to pay for his success. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as he accepts it, and he seems to do that with the same grace he did all his training with. He just digs in and does it.

But look at what got him to where he is. Note how double-edged every decision is. Bret’s great work ethic lead to a broken body. Maybe his success contributed some to his divorce. Maybe his money made it harder for his kids to trust that their friends were real. There’s all kinds of negative spinoffs out of everyone’s life choices.

Even a good work ethic and dedication to one’s career had downsides, so do you see how life works? You’re not supposed to avoid the downsides. Those are inevitable. That’s not what failing is.

Failing is not living; Bret Hart has really lived. Pain is mandatory in life, so rather than whine about it, just ask yourself if you’re in a situation where the pain seems appropriate both for its reasons and its duration. And then if it is: just feel it. It’ll hurt, but it won’t last as long as the agony of resisting.

Don’t avoid life because you don’t want to get hurt. You will get hurt. But it’ll hurt a lot worse if you die with your life left unlived. Go.

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.

Living With Death

His death had rocked her hard. They had just started to talk about what retirement might look like in 10 more years–and then he was gone. I had just started working with her on her self esteem when she asked me to go to the funeral with her that day. She just wanted to feel a bit more solid. She faintly trusted me when I told her that even feelings this bad would eventually pass, like they all do.

His life had been pleasant if not exciting, so there it was at least a funeral where the sentiments expressed at the podium all felt sincere. Her part was made harder by the fact that none of her small family were able to make it over from Europe. She also hadn’t been here long enough to establish the deep sort of friendships that help one through things like this. His friends were great, but in truth she felt largely alone, with me being a strange exception.

When it came time to speak she stood there at the podium and she met her commitments, but she found the whole experience wracked and painful. She was grateful she wasn’t overly religious–the entire process had not taken long. She asked if we could walk. I too felt like being under a big sky. The whole day felt like a hug you never wanted. The feelings were too big for words for a long time, so we drive to the river valley and parked and headed down a trail.

We walked down by a little lake. Finally, she asked what she could do to stop the hurting. I looked at her genuinely confused. I explained that the hurt was the other side of the love. They were inextricable. If she took the pain away then she would have needed a history where she didn’t love her husband. It is possible to be relieved when someone dies, but this was not one of those cases.

I asked why she didn’t want the pain. She thought it was a bizarre question, which I realised from her perspective it would be. She’s just started with me, so she thinks she wants to increase her happiness and decrease her sadness, when what she’s really looking for doesn’t do that. It makes you feel the same way about your happiness as you do about your sadness. Rather than liking the good parts, you value it all.

I explained that she chose an identity of a woman who’d lost her husband and it hurt. I felt that was suitable. If the universe gave you the capacity to experience emotional pain like that, I suggested that the death of a beloved loved one was maybe the most suitable time possible to get that feeling out of your quiver of feelings.

I was sorry the pain was stabbing, but that’s how that feeling operates. Far from living wrong, I thought the pain was a sign of her health. She seemed to be right where one would feel it was appropriate or natural for her to be. When she asked what she was supposed to do with the pain, I told her to feel it; to know it. I told her that the more she understood it, the more valuable she would be to people in similar situations in the future.

I explained that knowing the pain didn’t make it worse, it made her wiser. Crying at the death of a loved one is wise. So is being stoic if that’s how you naturally unfold. The point is, of course there would be a reaction of some kind. Accept that. And know that it won’t last. That it’s just the suitable feelings for the context, just as a raincoat suits rain.

She told me that simply knowing there was no answer had actually taken a layer of suffering away. I explained that what she had removed was the illusory layer of suffering that her mind layered over top of the pain. Now that she had gotten rid of the voluntary stuff, it made it easier to handle the mandatory pain. Plus she felt stronger, which was a nice feeling.

It’s going to take some time for her to go through this. She’ll do it in stages as everyone does. She would need build a new mindset to be a single woman with new challenges. And then one day someone will really need her, and she’ll know just the right thing to say to them and they’ll be so relieved, or maybe grateful. And then she’ll realise that this experience is what taught her the wisdom she shared. Our cracks truly are where our brightest light escapes.

Don’t offer resistance to painful experiences. They pass more quickly with less resistance, and you can learn a great deal by travelling through them. Some are simply awful, and if you’re experiencing one right now I am so sorry and I love you. But you too will get through it, and you too will live to laugh again. But in the meantime, you’re going to be collecting some of the most hard-fought wisdom a person gets in their lifetime. Big hug.

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.

Psychological Storms

If we want a healthier society each individual must develop an understanding that responsibility is empowerment. Rather than blaming other people or our parents or the past or one of life’s many supposed “disorders,” we must recognise that reality is an internal subjective experience not an external objective one. Things aren’t happening to you, you are happening to them.

This isn’t to say there isn’t real pain in the world; of course there is. But people would be fine with pain if they didn’t have all of the suffering. Accepting pain requires that we experience the relevant pain from a place of understanding of how the universe works. And by understanding how the universe works we thereby avoid unnecessary suffering as a choice.

Physical pain can be seen as “real” (although even that deserves its own discussion), and even some psychological pain is natural. That happens when we experience what ends up being known as post-traumatic stress; meaning you have brain wiring that isn’t helpful to a new situation you’re left in. This would include things like the death of a parent, the loss of a limb or key ability, or even a sudden or drastic shift in your living circumstances due to disaster, war or even divorce or immigration to a foreign culture. That’s a lot of brain parts now having to deal with a lot of new things all at the same time. That taxes our brain and that’s what gets called painful stress.

1014-relax-and-succeed-when-there-is-no-enemy-withinLater you can be in the new circumstances, but now that your brain has caught up you’re less stressed and less in pain–which is when the suffering can start. This is when you know how things work but you don’t like it. Meaning; you don’t approve of the universe. But the universe is the universe and you are you, so your approval is tiny against that force. You cannot direct it, you can only flow with it or push against it. Resistant thoughts generate suffering.

Your psychological resistance comes in various forms. You take some aspect of the universe and you create stress and pressure by leaning your psychology up against reality. These actions are known by names like: complaints; worry; anger; jealousy; envy; resentment; and yes, even disorders and depression. These are all forms of resistance and that is why they’re painful.

Sometimes we resist nature, like when we have complaints about the weather or time or other people’s behaviour. Just because there was a forecast or a plan or a definition of right and wrong doesn’t mean that’s how the world will go, it’s just a loose agreement on a theoretical future. Any resistance to it not happening the way we expected will generate suffering for the person doing the resisting.

1014-relax-and-succeed-if-you-imagine-a-worst-case-scenarioIn a jealous couple one party is resisting the freedom their partner invariably has, while the other is resisting their own freedom. One person thinks about their lack of control of the universe, leading the other to then think of their resulting lack of control of themselves. Someone who complains a lot will have a lot of expectations. They’ll have an invisible personal script for the world and they’ll be upset any time others–or even nature–won’t read or act off of that scripted idea. So then it doesn’t rain, it rains on your wedding.

People who envy use their thoughts to wish they had things they don’t, or to wish others who have them, didn’t. People trapped in grief refuse to accept their new circumstances and so they wander around endlessly within a world of suffering narratives built from their hopes or wishes. S.A.D. people want summer instead of winter so they convert that into thoughts about hating winter and then they blame the weather outside their head for the self-imposed weather inside their head.

People who want the world and themselves to be very different than they are will think so long and so hard about so many things they want to be different that the’ll end up in a horrible pit of depression. Meanwhile their capable self will still be there waiting to live rather than think.

1014-relax-and-succeed-do-not-use-your-imaginationWe all cling to our excuses to live small. The world can feel like a vast ocean we’re sure to drown in if we let go of whatever tiny ego-preserver we’re clinging to as we bob up and down. But we must remember, we’re not foreign to the universe. We are a part of it. So rather than being like a land-based human struggling on the surface of a deep dark sea, remember your origins; your home and your nature began in the water. Rather than resisting it and clinging to its egotistical surface, you can remember that your soul never loses the ability to swim gracefully in its depths.

From the air the water can look really scary and mysterious and foreboding. It can appear it’s too much to handle. There’s horizons when you’re on the surface and they can seem like they’re a long ways away. But if you stop all of the surface thoughts and instead just let the world go quiet as you dunk your head into reality, you’ll see the horizons disappear and they convert instead into a never-ending, always-changing ocean of three-dimensional opportunity that’s in front of you no matter which direction you go.

Rather than being trapped on one plane of reality (yours), swim in all of reality and you will suddenly be free. On the surface storms may still rage, but beneath all of that you will feel them more as gentle undulations, because from a deeper perspective all of that windy, rainy, and even thunderous thinking doesn’t really have all that much to do with you.

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.

A Celebrated Departure

I recently got a call from a student. She’s a very emotional person and she called shortly after she had just put down her beloved cat, the same one that took her through puberty and all of the major events of her 20’s, including her parent’s divorce, a family suicide, an addiction, a recovery, and eventually the woman’s own divorce.

Those are some of the most tumultuous years in life and the cat was connected to countless major memories. This is precisely the sort of thing that would have heavily derailed the woman previously, but this call wasn’t one about agony and it wasn’t a call for help, it was more a call of communion. This was a call about love.

The death would have been a completely devastating experience if viewed from an egocentric me-first perspective. She would have missed the cat terribly and missing something is a verb; it’s an action. That’s the act of wishing the cat would still there even though she’d know it wasn’t, but she wasn’t experiencing the pain of wanting. This woman has learned how to take the peaceful path through life and instead of the pain of wanting she felt the joy of love.

994-relax-and-succeed-keep-your-hands-openThe call I got was to share that love. She knew very few people would know how to respond. She didn’t want sympathy or commiseration–those are well-intentioned acts by others but they take the person back to thinking about the life in a wanting and painful way and what this woman wanted was a celebration of the cat’s life and she knew I would understand that. If anything, she felt a tiny flicker of guilt that it didn’t hurt more.

This isn’t to say the act itself wasn’t extremely sad–it very much was–but that pain didn’t last past the moment of transition because she was not attached to the cat with wanting thoughts, instead she was able to love the cat clearly enough to let it go. When she felt the cat’s body go limp she knew the spirit had left the animal to make its next move. Rather than agonise over its departure she was celebrating its existence. She was lucky to have had her.

In the little version of life there is a little dash of life between two great darknesses. In the big version of life it’s all light, it’s merely where in the universe is that light currently shining? She wasn’t upset because he cat was gone because to her it simply wasn’t–it was merely done its time with her. She understood that limitation as one of hers, not one of the cat’s.

994-relax-and-succeed-we-are-not-human-beingsTo illustrate what she did differently than most people consider your morning coffee. The sides of the cup represent an inside and an outside; an alive and a “dead.” We could say that those sides are created by our own sense of self. The woman accepts that her human existence is on a timeline and so is the cat’s, which means right from the outset there will be times where they do not overlap. On a spiritual level she knows they are one, but by she accepts that within human existence part of the deal is accepting the fact that both she and the cat are free. If the cat’s ready to move on she has to love it enough to let it go. She cannot be attached through her thinking, she must accept its will.

In this way the cat’s life is consumed by the woman. Like the coffee surrounded by the cup the life isn’t lost, it is absorbed. It is taken in. It becomes one with the woman. So can you see that it makes no sense for her to keep drinking when the coffee is gone? She cannot have the cat because the cat is already fully within her. And rather than agonise that the cat is gone she is grateful that she was able to drink it in while it was there. The cat’s life was not squandered, it was fully appreciated. From a spiritual perspective that is like living forever.

Death is profound and yet it is also very simple. It is our mental attachments that make it feel daunting and sad and personal to our egos, but if we live in a deeply spiritual way we can see death more as a release or completion–as though it is a song that has been sung. A song that must now move off into the universe to be heard by some lucky new listener.

Live openly. Listen to the universe for love. No matter what your circumstances, some is always there to be heard.

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 Value of Caring

What is the value of death? Of funerals? Is there a way to experience these tragic events and draw strength, resiliency, connection, love?

951 Relax and Succeed - Stop and take a momentI was at the funeral of an out-law family member this week. He learned as a relatively young man that he had been dealt a difficult hand which would prevent him from leading a full and involved life. This reduction in his capacity for involvement was always a very painful experience for his family. Everyone always wished more for his future.

Deaths like this can be tricky. I’m sure many came to the funeral concerned about how it might feel. There were certainly people that could have tilted the entire experience toward something really depressing–something that circled and focused on all that was missed. But that wasn’t what happened. In fact, the exact opposite happened. It was one of the most inspiring funerals I had ever attended.

Eulogies are difficult to write at the best of times and this was to be a celebration of a life unlived. The difficult job, given to the eldest, was taken with grace. When many would have hidden behind quotes and scriptures and platitudes, instead she dove into the heart of it and there she found her gold. It was her words that opened everyone’s eyes and hearts.

951 Relax and Succeed - Do small things with great loveThe value of a funeral is in what the life can teach the rest of us. That’s how their spirit is passed on; when we inform our lives by the lessons provided by theirs. In that way we literally make them a part of ourselves. And yet some lives do such a bad job of lining up with society that the presumption is that they are failures and that they have nothing to offer. All the check-boxes are ticked off and no one gives it any real thought. It’s just a shame.

But then a sister takes a deep hard loving look and she’s surprised by what she sees. She’s further surprised that she’s surprised because as she sits with the knowledge she realises that some part of her always knew it–just like everyone in that room subconsciously knew it: the deceased was never seen to be suffering. Yes he experienced pain but he never dwelled there. The person everyone perceived as having a sad life had actually always been happy.

It’s a strange thing for everyone to miss isn’t it? No one actually missed it, but no one at the time every gave it the value it deserved; we were all too focused on what was missing. Everyone else was focused on what was missing his life. He didn’t mind because he never noticed; he was too focused on caring about all of our lives.

951 Relax and Succeed - For everything you have missedI remember going to the funeral of an extremely wealthy man who I had grown very close to and the saddest part about it was that I didn’t hear anyone talking about him the way he told me he wished they would. He wanted to be seen as being a person who people liked because he personally left them feeling better than he found them. Put another way, the billionaire wished he could have given people the feeling that the man with the “sad” life got to give. So in the end whose life was rich?

The billionaire was a good man and his life meant a lot to me due to the many poignant conversations we had about life, but even he said that the lesson of his life was to avoid the choices he made because they were external and hollow. He wanted people to remember him as someone nice. He wanted himself remembered the way we’ll all remember Ray: as a guy who was always smiling and was always genuinely interested in how you were. And when you stop to really think about it, it’s just amazing what that’s worth.

Rest in Peace Ray.

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.