The Pleasantville Problem

 

1375 Relax and Succeed - It is not possible

When it comes to storytelling, there are only so many ways in which characters and plot directions can mix. This means we often see the same essential story types in many unique and different forms.

Despite the existence of those forms, every now and again someone creates something classic. Something with themes so universal that the art can travel smoothly and easily through time. In this case I’m referring to a film that quite literally travels smoothly through time.

Pleasantville was made in pre-9/11 1998. Back then it was a more innocent story about women and their roles in society, the acceptance of people of colour, and it cast a bad light on oppression of all forms. It is an anti-conformity, pro-novelty and independence story.

Today everyone would think the story was about immigration or trans-gendered issues or race relations, which demonstrates how a Classic works in action. Even though it’s external context has changed, it remains just as relevant as when it was discussing the different issues that were being analyzed when the film was released. That ability to stay relevant by focusing on universal principles is what will allow this film to move through time as a Classic.

Even from just the film trailer, it’s easy to comprehend the fundamental plot about a brother and sister who end up trapped in a 1950’s TV show. Within that reality, no one knows any thought or feeling that doesn’t already exist within the scripts that they live out as literal and figurative black and white truths.

When the brother and sister introduce novelty and choice –and especially the variation in feelings those things cause– it’s shocking to everyone. But as other characters also engage in novelty –and the variable feelings that go with it– people begin to feel increasingly more alive. On screen, colour starts seeping into their previous black and white lives.

That premise is a great metaphor for how we will live out our identities. Most of us go to jobs we dislike, dress or behave in ways we don’t like, to please people we don’t like. We play a role in our families, and with our friends, and for our jobs. When things get difficult the range or motion for our identity can slowly be narrowed to the point of feeling more like a psychological straight-jacket.

This turns us into ego-based robots within our own lives, where we do everything unconsciously and we live by rote. We don’t want to function like slot cars or train sets. We are not fixed on some track, where we must only enact the same choices and over, all while we have internalized thought-wars in our heads about how we want change.

Like the people of Pleasantville, we must shake ourselves awake and recognize our flexibility. In watching the film again I felt like Toby Maguire. My course and this blog is nothing more than me shaking people awake. It is us that strangles the colour out of our lives. We are the ones that choose to repeat the same tones until our mind takes their existence for granted.

(Don’t watch this if you want to watch the movie, it contains a fairly small spoiler.)

For anyone who has never done it before, it is worth it to make efforts to break free of our habits –to make decisions that reflect our essence. Rather than cling to the security of what we know, we are better to leave our wombs of consistency.

We are better to escape by using our presence. Our resulting awareness will expose to us that it has always been us that was building our repetitive realities. We do that by continuing to think of the world and ourselves in the same consistent ways. But with that very same power, we can become conscious and choose instead to build ourselves entirely new realities.

Whether it is someone suddenly realizing they need to leave their job, or that they can live without someone and are getting divorced, or that they can move past their grief, or overcome a negative self-image –when we change our thoughts about who we are and what can happen, the world around us changes.

Consistency has a kind of inertia that compels us not to disrupt its predictability. But without free will, there is no actual life being lived. Yes, living in the moment without knowing what is next is a larger and more mysterious feeling than the narrow path of predictability can incite within us. But that is the point.

Yes, a more colourful life also means we experience greater intensities of fear and sadness and anger. But it also means we feel more awe, more joy and more love. This is why I most often hear from people, when they are literally so sick of their patterns that they will even consider novelty as a way out.

As scary as some new and larger reality may seem, I have yet to have anyone ask to go back to a life with less freedom or colour. That’s worth thinking about the next time any of us feels compelled to hide from life.

peace. s

Personal Reality

Ha! Last week’s blog was about being over-tired and I accidentally posted an early draft instead of the finished blog. It’s fixed now, but that’s how life goes sometimes. The lesson is that it’s possible to still be okay even with a total screw-up. I’m wise enough to know that mistakes are inevitable so…. found one!

Okay. To my knowledge, the piece below is the one I mean to post today. I guess time will tell….

If you don’t think reality is personal or flexible consider this: It was my Dad’s 93rd on Sunday. I had had a productive but scattered week and ended it by shifting many Saturday tasks to Friday to give me time to prep a big birthday dinner. Those events got stored in my brain in a variety of ways, including linking to my sense of accomplishment (I was energized by my productivity), and my sense of time and scheduling.

Everything inter-wires in our minds. Anything related connects to anything related through our neural network. It’s why it’s often easier to remember things you hand write in your unique script vs. things you typed, where your hand doesn’t move down the line with the words. Wiring in those motions is another cross-wired memory with our physical sense of the world.

What my productivity meant was that I woke up with the knowledge that much of my Saturday work was done, so my brain turned Saturday morning into Sunday. See how powerful we all are? I bent reality without even meaning to. I worked for two-thirds of the day before I realized that, to a lot of the rest of the world, it was Saturday.

Of course, to someone on the other side of the Date Line it could be a day later, or to remote islanders untouched by civilization it was no day of the week at all. It was simply daytime, and a season for the foods they eat, because that’s what shapes their reality, not a calendar that their mind adopted from some ancient Romans. As it stands, it’s curious that we use that.

Look at the months for example. Augustus Caesar was mad that Julius Caesar had more days, so Augustus stole two from February so he got 31 days too. Is jealousy any basis for a calendar?

Our life is what we feel and experience. And within my personal reality –which is the only one that is ‘real’ to us– I enjoyed the same feeling you would get if someone told you they were adding an 8th day to your week. I felt as though I had been given a day because, to me, I had been. That’s how reality works. People can say we’re ‘wrong’ but that idea is irrelevant to us until we believe we’re wrong. And even then, if they’re wrong too, they could have convinced us of  the wrong thing again!

Once, when my ex wife and I couldn’t remember the word shuttlecock her mind came up with the invented term, birdmonton baddy. We worked on accepting that until our pre-internet brains stumbled into remembering that it was actually badminton birdy. It’s still funny today and I’m glad it happened. It was even useful here. See? Wrong thing converted by time into a right thing.

This is an aspect of comprehending reality that many struggle with. They’ll say to me, “But it’s not Sunday, it’s Saturday. You were wrong!” But by whose measure? I live in my reality, not yours or some abstraction. And when we say it’s ‘wrong’ are we saying the person on the other side of the Date Line, or the remote islander who has it being forever today is wrong? Why is a bizarre ancient Roman system better than that tribe’s?

At least the tribe’s is called today and that is, after all, the only day we are able to do anything at all. We can’t act yesterday nor tomorrow, so today is the only real day we’re alive. Meanwhile, our day names are rather arbitrary, created by the whims of the various people that formed them. Look at the months for example. Augustus Caesar was mad that Julius Caesar had more days, so Augustus stole two from February so he got 31 days too. Is jealousy any basis for a calendar?

Whichever of the umpteen calendars we choose to use, their only purpose is to coordinate activity between realities. It’s like the number two again. There’s no where where anyone can go show a child a number two (well, okay, maybe a number two, but you know what I mean.) Arabic numbers are representations of facts, they are not things in and of themselves. I can’t bring two twos to your house. Months are likewise, as is time.

Of course, we’re doing this all the time. We live like many things that aren’t real are real. So let’s take the rest of our day and consider some common language we use. Ask ourselves if those are actually things, or just ideas. Because we can’t get wet from the word water, so it’s important to draw the distinction between the two. (Just don’t step in a number two while walking your dog. That smell will not be an abstraction.)

People want to get healthy. They want to heal. They want to stop thinking. But all you really need to do is look at reality closely. Because the more you inspect it, the less substantial it will be. And if you can reach past your own mind, you begin to enter the realm of flexibility that Jill Bolte Taylor accidentally fell through while having a stroke. While that’s a weird way to have it, just visiting there for a few moments left her permanently changed. Which proves that we don’t really have to fix reality. We just have to understand it.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s

Restarting With Intention

1214 Relax and Succeed - I myself am made entirely of flawsI hope your summer’s were rewarding in many ways. As we come back together to grow and share, I’ve decided to experiment with a new mix of elements for the blog. There still will be my traditional essays, but I’ll also be adding some new approaches and revisiting some old ones in the hopes that they can help facilitate some very practical benefits in all of our lives.

Today we’ll start off by talking about starting off. The whole point of taking control of your life involves being intentional about how you live. So don’t start each day in some hazy, unfocused, directionless way. Many people will begin by speculating about their day based on opinions they’ve formed on previous days. Then, whether they day wanted to surprise them or not, they’ll unconsciously steer their day like every other, blind to any opportunities for change.

The other way to wake up is to know that your mood is in your own control. You can have a calm Captain in both light and heavy seas. So don’t wake up and let chance decide the direction of the day. Remind yourself that your conscious choices will shape your day. You need to remember to be present for those choices.

Relax and Succeed - Try less to be with someoneThe first choice you can make is to actually provide yourself the sort of stimuli that makes it easy for you to feel good. For many, the handiest and surest way to accomplish this is the same way movies do it–with music. So you can find your own song, or you can use the one I’ve posted below. For my part, I chose something with a beat and a sound that I thought could work for readers around the globe, of any age, and leave them feeling just a little pumped up.

The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that to be spiritually responsible and psychologically healthy, we have to have those as conscious objectives and we must always be scanning the world around us for opportunities to move toward the sorts of influences and challenges that create joy and/or help us grow. To do that we need to feel vital and energetic.

I actually had a different song slated for this spot, but on Sunday I heard a singer I’d never heard before and I felt her song was a perfect fit to match my description of what I was looking for. I didn’t want to overdo it, but I wanted a beat and sound that could charge you up in a very mature and sophisticated way.

Her name is Erin Costelo, she’s from Nova Scotia, and this song is rather ironically called Low. It’s pretty groovy. Use it or whatever song helps you feel balanced, capable and enthusiastic about your own life. Learn to start your day like this every day. Make that a habit and you’ll have really helped yourself become more conscious all day long. Have a great week everyone.

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 Friday Dose #138: Dan Gilbert

A lot of people think that it was the swing smashing a hole in my head and a near-death experience that lead to the understanding that I share with students. While that may be true, and while my memory from age five isn’t vivid, I personally believe the reason has far more to do with what that accident made me aware of; namely thinking.

When I first meet a student I do a little talk not unlike this one, wherein I explain the fundamentals of how a brain works. I’ll usually use things from people’s lives rather than experiments (because Dan’s a psychologist and I’m just someone who for 45 years has watched what people said and did super-closely). But essentially the point is the same: reality is flexible, happiness is negotiable.

My “course” is 12 hours long. If you can’t see me, but you’re interested in that what the first hour conveys, I’d suggest giving this talk a listen and it’ll give you a taste of how you’re like everyone else. The rest of the course would then be about how these general truths impact your specific life. What’s most important to take away from this is that, if you aren’t enjoying life, you can learn to.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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.

The Freedom to be Beautiful

What kind of beauty are you interested in? Through movies and music videos and other kinds of  marketing for societal and cultural ideas, there’s a superficial, ego-centered view on beauty that involves comparing ourselves to advertised standards. But in that case superficial is really just another term for thin-skinned, so people who subscribe to that belief definitely worry and suffer a lot.

The other kind of beauty involves confidence and soul. It risks vulnerability to share connection. It risks judgment to realize potential. And nothing as wispy as the opinions of others has any hope of stopping it. Beth Ditto is a great example of how the size and scale of modern media is making more room for ideas that aren’t dictated by advertising objectives of the makeup or clothing industries.

You do not need to look like her, or her, or her. You don’t need to look like him or him or even him. That is mimicry. That isn’t even close to being. It’s literally the other side of the coin from being. You either perform being someone or you be yourself, but if you’re using comparison or fear to dictate your choices then you are not as courageous as Beth and you won’t find your own version of her beautiful voice.

The pressures on young men cause them to keep their real attractions secret. In the locker room immature males seeking approval will suggest that anyone who doesn’t like the hottest possible girl has their masculinity in question. This isn’t actually an anti-gay perspective even though they might even use that term. This isn’t being against gays, it’s about being cock of the roost. It’s about wanted to be the most masculine, not fear of being the least feminine. Half the time the guy is touting a girl whose type he’s not even sincerely interested in.

Of course, in the girl’s locker room the girls who do align with an immature boy’s attractions will then try to create even more separation from them and their competition by trying to draw attention to how others don’t align with what is actually a rather bizarre external reference. No healthy person wants the look or body of another person, they want to be themselves.

Young women are particularly bombarded with these ideas via the media and it starts so young it’s difficult for a woman to protect herself when even her own mother is probably also a victim of these false beliefs. We all have to have a real dedication to ourselves and to the individuality of others so that our culture begins to adopt a healthier set of standards that involves people feeling fulfilled instead of feeling coveted.

Make room for yourself. Make room in your opinions of others. Be the change you want to see by stopping your own judgments. Question others judgments. And pay more attention to who is really living big. Because those are the people who can teach you to do it too.

Have a fantastic week everyone. Start it off by giving yourself permission to be you. Accept yourself. That won’t mean everyone responds to you positively, but it will mean they’ll be prompted to deal with you more honestly. And if you get to be you, that’s all you really need.

peace. s

PS You might also want to check out Beth’s song Oo La La, which I also love.

The Generous Husband

When considering the greatest acts of love imaginable this is not likely to be on your list. You might think of someone escaping a war-torn country to be with his love, or some woman defying her entire culture to share her life with the man she truly loves, or maybe you’d think of some couple who meets during a disaster and goes on to have a wonderful family. But you won’t think of this.

We think of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as diseases that impact much older people but by her late 40’s Karen was already showing signs that something was wrong, and soon she couldn’t even set a proper dinner table let alone run her life safely and effectively. By 50 they were making plans to get her into a home where she would be safe and well looked after.

Maybe the doctors and nurses were more prepared for it due to their experience. These brain diseases can attack various regions and often they’ll attack the ones involving our social comprehension. So people will become rude without meaning to, or they’ll say inappropriate things, or sometimes they’ll even do them. And sometimes, they’ll behave in ways that are far more complicated.

The home called. They had caught Bob’s wife in bed with another man. It was clearly sexual. A meeting was called. They trick is, the people involved were young enough that it was difficult to control their every move. More of these instances seemed inevitable. What did Bob and his daughter want to do?

What a thing to be asked. Do? What would someone do in such a situation? Both Bob and his daughter wanted some professional guidance but there is no guidance for a wife becoming extremely uninhibited and sexualised. No one else could consent on her behalf, and yet obviously no one knew if she was capable of consent if she needed it. And worst of all for Bob, his wife didn’t remember Bob or his daughter, and instead she thought she was married to the man she was sleeping with. Who imagines dealing with that at 50? Or is it worse for Bob’s daughter at half his age?

This can seem like an impossible situation unless you’re Bob and you’re in it. But Bob found a way through it. I’m sure it’s not easy, but it’s a route he can have faith in. Because Bob’s basically been told that this love and sexuality is an aspect of his wife’s disease. Even if they move her to another home, it isn’t likely to change. So Bob asked the only intelligent, loving question left. “Is she happy when she’s with him?”

I’m confident it was a very difficult answer to give him because it was overwhelmingly affirmative. Yes, she and the stranger she met in hospital appear to love each other very much and both seem happiest and healthiest when they’re together. Bob’s wife is happier and more alive if she is allowed to experience her love with another man.

Can you imagine the position Bob is in? Can you imagine that you’ve planned your retirement and just as you’re getting close to the point where you hit what you thought would be the easiest period of your lives together, instead you’re not only entirely forgotten about, but moreover you must actually approve of, and even in strange ways pay for, your spouse to have a powerful romantic and sexual relationship with someone else? Wow.

This is the height of love because what has Bob done? He’s put his wife’s needs before his own. He volunteers to suffer so that his wife may have peace and happiness. That’s as generous a love as we can have. Bob wants his wife to be happy, even if that means she’s happiest with someone else.

If Bob can do all this, then I’m sure the rest of us can do better than we’re doing. So let’s all take Bob as an example and, for the rest of this week, do your best to put the needs of your partner ahead of yourself. And while I do feel for Bob, I’m also happy that his spiritual courage has lead him to experience the greatest form of love that anyone can partake in. Because as daunting as it may be, we should all be more like Bob.

peace. s

PS You can follow the link above to hear Bob tell his own story.

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

The Friday Dose #133: Biocentrism

1038-fd-relax-and-succeed-i-have-the-same-religion-as-this-treeI haven’t changed my view of how the universe works since I was five. It all makes sense, but it makes sense as dreams within dreams. You can discuss parts of logically, but the whole is too expansive and complex to ever be captured by anything smaller than the universe itself. So while you can grow to the point where you can quite clearly see facets of creation, that perspective also exposes how infinite the universe is, and in accepting that fact there is a beautiful calm that comes over one when you no longer need answers.

Science has grown increasingly close to my understanding over the years, with there being major steps; as when science began to contemplate and then finally accept the idea of neuroplasticity. As time goes on these ideas seem less crazy and more possible and I continue to be on the hunt for bold scientists who are going in the same direction I am.

1038-fd-relax-and-succeed-biocentrismI don’t agree with every single statement that was made when I heard this interview in October, but I did immediately note this discussion as–by far–the closest description I’ve ever heard a scientist give to the reality I know.

I’m not sure what percentage of my readers are prepared to entertain ideas this big and complex, but if you are that type, I really do feel you have a good chance of illuminating some dark areas of your understanding if you do listen to this description of the dance that is done between what you see as you and what you see as the universe.

Ideas: Dr. Robert Lanza on Biocentrism

Have a great weekend everyone.

peace. s

The Friday Dose #131: Even When It’s Hard

1023-fd1-relax-and-succeed-comforting-lies-unpleasant-truthsI have a dear friend who was robbed, conned and sued for something she isn’t actually responsible for and all of that happened in a span of two weeks. When that happens it’s pretty easy to ask yourself why the world’s being so tough on you. That inclination is fine; we have a lot of programming in our lives that suggests to us that good things happen to good people. But so do bad things.

As Shakespeare suggested, what makes things good or bad is our thinking–our personal thinking. That thief wasn’t robbing their house, he was robbing a house. The con man didn’t pick her, he picked her job title. And the lawsuit is a deflection of responsibility by someone who made simple mistake and they just happen to be the only people to deflect that toward.

1023-fd2-relax-and-succeed-teaching-your-child-goodThe same holds true even for something as serious as cancer. We’re 10% us-cells and 90% other cells. Almost 70% of your body weight is other microscopic creatures that live on, in and off you, or rather we live off them. You are one big symbiotic system. You’re more like the Earth and they’re all the plants and animals.

We think cancer is a disease, but to cancer it’s just cancer. It’s cells don’t intend to kill or hurt us, they simply are being cancer cells and so they’re not cooperating in with the cells around them. It’s okay to go through some powerful emotions as you think about that, but just remember the pain is caused by cancer but the suffering is caused by the resistant thinking. Starting there is normal. The level of our health depends on how rapidly we can shift ourselves away from that resistance.

Scott Hamilton is now facing his third bout with cancer and here he discusses how he wants his family to face that idea. Of course it’s not good news and clearly he’s in pain; but it’s not unfair, it just is. He takes the pain but won’t add the suffering and he wants his children to know how to do that too. It’s one of life’s most valuable skills. In this way the cancer becomes a teacher, making Hamilton and his family mentally stronger and healthier themselves. Life is mostly opportunity. But it has its harsh bits. Such is the nature of yin and yang. I wish him the very best.

Scott Hamilton Approaches Brain Cancer With a Clear Mind

Be grateful. Things change fast. What you want isn’t as important as what you have. Enjoy it.

peace and a hug, 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 Friday Dose #120: Your Nature

968 FD Relax and Succeed - We are natureThe only problem with this is: if you make something this cheap and easy then no one wants to believe it could be the solution to a big problem. But it is.

You are an aspect of nature. Yesterday I discussed the value of you communing with other aspects of nature; other people, animals, plants, earth, water, air. This isn’t some unpleasant assignment or painful procedure, this is freeing your body, seeing interesting things, breathing more deeply and slowing down.

Below I’ve included something funny yet meaningful to start us off and we’ll follow that with two fascinating videos. Immediately after you watch this first one seriously consider booking something to do this weekend with a friend or friends that involves you in actual nature, experiencing nature. And no, golf doesn’t count. 😉

Next we’ll take a peek into an excerpt from a TED Talk given by Suzanne Simard (the entire talk is available here.) She exposes some fascinating facts but pay particular attention to how similar we are to the world around us. Remember, your DNA is not that far off a banana and grasping and respecting that reality is worth a lot to you. Plus it’s just amazing:

And finally I leave you with a documentary I have literally searched for since my days living in Budapest. It’s called, Dream Window: Reflections on the Japanese Garden, and if you’d like to see an HD version apparently the Smithsonian has one. This film discusses the beautifully elegant and spiritually sophisticated relationships between the gardens, the gardeners and the people who visit with intention. It’s a great way to expand yourself on a rainy afternoon. It may be the most peaceful documentary you’ve ever seen. Enjoy.

You want your life to be happier and you want to be healthier. Go outside this weekend. Just don’t get lost in thought. Forget goals. Be with nature.

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 Friday Dose #119: The New Brain

963 FD Relax and Succeed - A beautiful lifeIn general people inside and outside of the sciences will tend to overestimate what is known versus what it is still unknown. It makes sense that brain researchers would feel they were studying a relatively well-known organ and yet earlier this year an entirely new, large and significant brain structure was discovered. Earlier this month they found out what it’s for.

Obviously if you’re social you will be in contact with more germs. So if you’re going to be near a lot of bacteria and viruses then it’s logical that your body would want you to have greater protection. It’s just that previously no one knew about the relationship between how you feel and how your immune system will work.

If you’re alone all the time there is little reason for you to need a robust immune system, much like someone who never lifts anything will have little reason to build up a robust set of muscles. Likewise, if you’re near people and you’re immune system is depressed, then it makes sense that your brain would encourage emotions that would make you less social. I’ve noted it in previous blogs, but until the last decade or so almost no one realised that being sad would lead to being sick. Now we know those observations were well-founded: being sad usually means being isolated and it’s likely the isolation that will lead to the health issues.

There is still much to be learned. Are your moods dictated more by your health or is your health dictated more by your moods? What we do know is they’re interconnected, so in the meantime the best thing you can go by is your own direct experience in life. Unless you’re somehow prevented from participating in your society, it’s a good sign if you’re mixing with others a lot, because now we know with even greater certainty that you will literally build the body that suits the life you live.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ym9Ub6cIa0M]

Decide who you want to be and the universe will do its best to cooperate with that. It all starts with you. Have a great weekend everyone.

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.