All of Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace. s

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

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

A group of seniors were being interviewed on the radio about what kind of person they were when they were younger versus today. Without any of them intending to, or likely even noticing, all of them gave the same answer.

All the answers sounded different in that they involved different qualities and situations, but all of them essentially said: I have this one skill I’m known for, plus I had these particular experiences that helped changed me for the better in this particular way that I’m proud of, and I knew it would help me if I changed this one other thing about me but, oh well, I tried but it didn’t work out and I eventually I just gave up.

My favourite part was how comfortable they were with themselves. They were not only letting themselves own failure, they were even letting themselves have their victories. They were proud of what they could do, proud of what they learned, and they accepted what they couldn’t do.

They hadn’t built some perfect soul like you’re trying to. You’re trying to be mistake-free, with a perfect life. What you really want to know how to do is fall. If you’re really good at falling and getting back up, then you’re a champion. Those seniors experienced a lot of unwanted falls before they ran out of time to fix them, which lead them to realise there was no point in worrying about changing anyway. They always seemed to be too busy living. They would have just have to accept who they were.

Note: it wasn’t like they were unaware. They were always aware of how they were challenging for others as a person. But we are who we are and after a lifetime of trying, eventually they just decided those so-called faults weren’t worthy of any more attention. They said things like, I probably should have spoke up more, but that just wasn’t me; I know was too pushy a lot of the times but what are you gonna do–and I did get a lot done; I spent two decades drunk. I can’t get that back, so I’m just thankful for being sober today.

Rather than spend much time or emotional energy on the negative thing, they shifted pretty fast to an oh well perspective. What are you gonna do? several of them said. It was very casual and comfortable. That’s the sweet sound of surrender. That’s someone no longer striving because they’re too busy being.

Don’t wait until you’re 75 to give yourself permission to be multifaceted. On a diamond we see the table and its pedestal. But the reason the light fires back out of the table with such an intense sparkle is because of all the angles below the setting. They aren’t pretty in and of themselves, but those angles are just right for reflecting your light back out of your more polished sides. They are what allow the top of the diamond to shine. Yes, maybe you wish you’d had a better relationship with your Dad. But the fact that it wasn’t good was why you worked so hard to nurture the excellent relationships you have with your kids. It’s all connected.

It doesn’t help to look at the bottom of someone else’s diamond nor does it help to look at yours. Your brashness will create opportunities for you and others, your shyness will give chances to some that wouldn’t get one, your fears make you excellent at advice on bravery, and your outrageousness brought joy to many.

That’s what all of those people learned in their lifetime; you’ll change in ways you never planned to that are really meaningful, so just let those happen; and you won’t change in some ways even though there’s some benefits to it, but that’s just how it goes so you might as well just settle into being who you were born to be and enjoy it.

That’s good advice for all of us. Find out who you are–all of you–accept that person and then just live. Accept that you were never supposed to play any other part but yourself. That flawed, sometimes embarrassing person is who the world really wanted you to be. Thank you for playing your part. Without you, we’d be missing out on an important part of 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.

Wabi-Sabi Awareness

When people want to learn how to be they’ll often (and entirely without irony) ask me, what should I do? Well there’s the obstacle right there; you can’t do anything. You can’t enter a state of being by doing. Being shows up precisely when you stop doing.

The reason our egos are willing to perform and not enact our true selves is because we’re looking to a fill a want. We think something’s missing so we’re trying to make ourselves and our lives acceptable to those around us. We want some acknowledgement and applause for our performance. But in the real world we are love, living within love, interacting only with other love. So we don’t need anything. Our wants are merely egotistical ideas in our heads.

In looking after my parents there are many helpful things I can do for them. To them I’m doing something for them, but when I’m healthiest and it’s going best I’m simply being in love with them. If I act from a place of love then my actions are a part of my being, and only then can the products of my active love actually generate real value between us.

This is important when caring for people who need help. Often their interactions with us can be very limited so you truly have to be able to immerse yourself in the simplicity of your relationship. Parents of babies, those caring for the severely disabled, and those looking after very elderly but beloved parents are all examples of people that gain great value from unifying themselves with that connection.

The essential simplicity in that type of care is what exposes its value to the person performing it. Essentially hopeless, these people needs are demanding and they can often limit rewards; the child is very challenging and ungrateful, the disabled person will not improve with better care, and the beloved parent will get worse and die. There is nothing we can do about those things, and so understanding a child or person or parent’s imperfection and impermanence is what leads to acceptance and appreciation.

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term that’s difficult to turn into English, but it refers to a form of simple beauty that emerges in part from an acceptance of the ever-changing, disordered impermanence of life. So think of a kid on a farm with big dreams of hitting it big in the city. When then they come back home spiritually worn out from adulting, they actually feel the slow pace of life. And it is that new appreciation that allows them to experience their beloved but imperfect parents and siblings in a more profound way.

The feeling of Wabi-Sabi usually refers to those calm but imperfect gardens with the raked stones that you know from popular culture. For a farm person from the west, they get that feeling when they sit having a coffee looking out at the old barn where they used to have to do chores and where they hid as children from their parents.

With enough time and enough memories, as dilapidated and imperfect as it is, the barn gains a certain rustic beauty to it that it would not have were it not for the time needed for all of those memories to grow, and the fact that it may not even be there to contemplate by the next visit. Better to take it in. Better to be with it now.

If I do a bunch of things to help my parents stay alive then I am clinging. But if I am present and accepting of everyone’s imperfection and impermanence, then I can fully be with them. Babies will grow. The disabled will not improve. The aged will die. These are all things to grieve at times but, for the most part, if we can see them from the perspective of Wabi-Sabi then we are engaging with the most beautiful and essential aspects about them.

Do not lament imperfect things and do not cling to certainty. Because after all, it is the very bitter-sweetness at the basis of our feelings of Wabi-Sabi that are what makes the barn worthwhile, the garden beautiful, the baby precious, the disabled person valued, and the parent appreciated.

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 7-5-3 Code

Yesterday I gave you some basic strategies to avoid having your irritations and frustrations evolve into anger. Today I’ll tell you the more challenging part, which is how to recover once you’re upset. Before I set the context, fair warning: you might find parts of this story difficult.

In life in general I do attempt to set myself up to do well under challenging circumstances by basically following the same code a Samurai would use for health. I will admit it’s been tough getting enough sleep in these last few years that have included caring for my parents–but I eat pretty well, I have natural exercise built into my life, and I actively care about myself and the world around me.

As this blog is a testament, I always seek and greatly value having a calm, clear, alert awareness in order to achieve a healthy emotional balance and the highest levels of performance. But I can’t do that all the time and the day I’m going to tell you about was preceded by a week of bad food, too little sleep, and a loss of awareness.

Work was extremely busy and it was a very critical time on a long project. My parents had a stomach flu and didn’t want to eat, and what they wanted to eat came right back out one end of them or the other. At 91 they don’t move fast so I was cleaning up all over the place and yes, it was super gross.

I was doing a lot of extra cleaning and wiping and fluid checking (during which I was washing up incessantly to try to avoid catching it too because that would even be worse). Since I generally cook for them and I wasn’t joining them in their dry toast, I wasn’t eating either. I was always often finishing so late that it prevented me from getting enough important work done and that made me think too much. It was a recipe for disaster.

A while ago we had to shift Dad to an adult diaper. It’s just a minor one, mostly for the 10% of the time where he quits peeing just a moment after he puts himself back into his shorts. In those cases you can say, “Dad you should change,” and after he finally hears you he’ll do it fine on his own.

But this day included the flu. I’d just sat down after cleaning up vomit in three different parts of the house when he very notably jumped up off the sofa and then shuffled faster than I’d seen him go since his last stroke. Look, this is where I’m just going to be candid. Dad’s got a liquified stomach, 91 year old legs trying to get him to a toilet 40 feet away, and along the way his only defense is a 91 year old asshole. It’s just not as snug as it was when he was younger, and it’s okay if you laugh.

Sure enough he couldn’t keep it together and whatever happened before I got the door opened I’m not sure, but to put it bluntly there was a lot of poo–including on Dad, the wall, the bathtub, everywhere. It smelled worse than anything I’d ever encountered in my life. I worked to hide my gagging from him.

This is where I felt myself start a rise. My mistake was, I wasn’t fully aware of my father’s vulnerable state or it easily would have moved me to active compassion. No, I made the experience about me, and so rather than being present with him I started thinking about how long it was going to take me to clean everything up.

Dad had his diaper back up and so I gave him a bag to put it in and I asked him to put on a new one. I got to cleaning the bathroom all while thinking about the uncompleted important work sitting on my desk. The smell was brutal, and now my stomach was starting to rumble too.

About halfway through cleaning the bathroom (I’ll save you the horrible details), I stopped thinking about me for a moment and that helped me realise that Dad can’t balance, and so he sits when he changes his pants. I looked at the mess and thought to myself, Dad went in there to change a dirty diaper…!

I leapt up, raced to his bedroom and sure enough, he’d stood up to pull off the old one. It was overfull and didn’t keep it’s contents together, so his ass is still covered in poo. And just as I came in–just after he drops the dirty diaper half on the floor and half into the bag I gave him–he does what’s logical to his Dementia-influenced mind and yes, he sat down on the bed to put on a new diaper. I tried to stop him but it was too late. It was awful. I snapped at him. “Great Dad. Now I’ve got to wash the bedding too!” It did not feel good to say.

I ordered (ordered!?) him back into the bathroom because I had to get him cleaned up before I finished cleaning the bathroom, floor and bed. I had already calmed myself down quite a bit by the time I was helping him get cleaned off. It was an extremely intimate moment for both of us. This wasn’t a baby who doesn’t understand what you’re doing for them. We’re both adults and it was the first time he’d needed that level of help in the bathroom. I could see the shame in his eyes–something I never saw before in my life. My heart immediately broke.

As I stopped thinking about me and started getting present with him and his vulnerability, my rectitude flooded back and I used courage to move past my own shame. I placed my hand warmly on my Dad’s naked back. I looked him in the eyes, and with open honesty and sincerity I said, “I’m sorry for getting upset Dad. You’re more important than my schedule. You’re my Dad and I love you. That was my fault. I’m sorry. I’m learning how to do all this Dementia stuff too. I’ll do better next time.” He liked that.

That helped me shift my own emotional tone even further, and the kindness and respect that I attempt to always to cultivate returned. As I wiped him off and he relaxed into his new reality, I looked him in the eye and we connected in a way we never have in all my life. He was saying thank you with his eyes in a very tender and loving way, and as I rubbed his back I warmly and lovingly responded, “You’re doing great Dad. You’re just sick that’s all. We’ll get through this together. I’m with you through this no matter what. You’ve been a great Dad. I love you and I’m here for you.”

He’ll forget it all happened in twenty minutes. But our experience was real. He started to offer an apology but I told him that it wasn’t necessary. He was sick and I was caring for him and I had not done my duty. My parents had been there for all of my gross kid-parts, I was not going to shy away from them when it was their turn to need the same care. He could count on me. And boy, could I see the comfort that last part gave him.

I cannot tell you how much I respect healthy, professional care workers who do these same things, with the same levels of compassion,  all for people who are entirely unknown to them. I now know how they’re able to do those very tough jobs; it’s because, just like everything else in life, if you’re willing to push past some really challenging feelings, you’ll end up experiencing important and meaningful things that too many people miss out on.

As gross and as challenging as it was, I now wouldn’t trade that day for anything. I wouldn’t trade the moment that Dad and I shared for anything. And I was happy to wash those sheets. Yes, I would be late getting work done and people were going to be upset. But my Dad was okay, and I’d been the person I most like to be; comforting. When I finally laid my head down on my pillow I went to sleep feeling like it had been a really good day.

You too can turn your worst days into your best. But it requires an awareness of the present moment and the ability to change your emotional tone by adjusting the focus of your mind. Practice both now. No matter who you are you’ll need it. And when you do, you’ll understand even more why it’s so important. Because if people behave according to their deepest feelings, loving someone in the trenches bonds a relationship together like nothing else.

peace. s

PS And if you’re wondering–yes–just as they were getting better I did actually catch the flu myself. 🙂

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.

Protecting Others

No one needs help when life feels like it’s going great, and yet that’s a great time to study wisdom because you have a lot more to do with your good times than you realise. Understanding your responsibility for your emotions when you feel good about them is generally much easier than when you’re in pain.

People don’t want to assume the responsibility for their own bad days because when they first look at the idea they’re viewing it from ego, not from health. Your ego sees that responsibility as a status drop and it feels embarrassing. When you’re healthy you know that with the responsibility you get empowerment.

Accepting that your pain is generated by you and not your circumstances means you can then control your response. Maybe you don’t know how yet, but theoretical control over your personal experience of life is still better than the capricious nature of happenstance.

Leaving the quality of your day up to others is dangerous primarily because most of the other people you’ll meet will be in a state of ego, so they’ll be looking out for their ego and its status, not yours. In that state they’ll only care for you if they see some transactional gain. The only people you’d be safe around (most of the time) would be really healthy people. But if you are one of the healthy people then it’s like you’re inoculated.

The first thing you can do is try not to enter a situation with your gun already loaded. A trigger being pulled by circumstance is far less dangerous if you’re not walking around ready to go off. Any potential explosive reactions from your previous experience must be unloaded from your consciousness or it’s like going into a trigger-happy town with a fisst full of explosives. One shot from another person and you’ll blow big-time.

The second thing you can do is focus your attention on the importance of maintaining an empty chamber. If you can start with your emotional gun being empty and benign, and you add no bullets, that makes any triggers meaningless. But if you participate in the kind of resistant thinking that leads to you load up your weapon during an interaction, then even if you arrived empty you’re just making it more likely that someone’s going to get shot.

The third thing you can do is keep to actively unload your emotional gun then holster it in real time. This is the part people have more trouble with because they’re in a heightened state of emotion when they try. But the more you do it the better you get at it. In fact, how you behave when things are bad is much more important than how you behave when things are good.

When there are zero triggers you can be more relaxed about the state of your gun. But you can’t count on that, so you’re better to stay conscious. In fact, expanding and developing skills like awareness and de-escalation are what egos basically do in life, though they often do so unconsciously and unintentionally.

That’s what life is. We either learn to be more assertive about defending our true selves or we become less assertive about defending our ego selves. And we learn by trial and error. So life is one big long giant accidental emotional gunfight where it looks bad, but secretly everyone’s actually making an effort to be more peaceful, which makes forgiveness a very useful skill.

There’s no need to panic about the shots you fire because like everything else they only exist for a moment. At the same time, some shots can be fatal to a relationship, so we also don’t want to be overly casual about how important the management of our consciousness is. If we can get conscious enough, we can even turn the shots we take into opportunities for healing.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about a time where I pulled the trigger and shot angry words at one of the most important people in the world to me. Fortunately a high degree of awareness allowed me to immediately regret it and, even more fortunately, my immediate assumption of responsibility allowed the moment to not only be saved, but in the end we were better for the experience. In the world of peace it’s possible to convert negatives into positives.

For today, I’d just check in with yourself every 15 minutes or so and ask yourself about the status of your gun. Let’s see if we can all avoid shooting someone for the 24 hours it’ll take us between now and tomorrow’s post. Have a great day 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.

Duelling Realities

What does this quote mean? That’s how this blog got started. It was born when I realised that there were useful lessons contained in discussing what quotes mean from the state of mind you’re seeking.

In the case of the one above, the part we like is where it says, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end. That’s our motivation to want to understand the quote; because we’re in pain and we want to know how to stop it. So that part defines the problem. The rest defines the solution.

When you move amidst the world of sense. This defines what state of mind you’ll need to be in for your sorrows to end. The quote is simply stating that you want to be fully alive in the present rather than having a post-now ego identity that has opinions about what’s happening. The latter is thought-based, the former is sense-based.

So if we want to avoid our sorrows we must live in a world of sense and not thought. But how do we do that? The quote kindly tells us how when it defines the opposite of the world of sense: free from attachment and aversion alike. So the quote is telling you how you use your egotistical judgmental thoughts to create a barrier between you and the grandeur of reality, and you do this by having opinions that you feel personally about.

To feel personally about something is to have an ego. You think a thing has value or it is it has none. You want something or you don’t want it. You think this is meaningful and that is not. You you you. Look at all the ego in there. But what does the quote suggest we do?

And you live in the wisdom of the Self. It says if we avoid thinking about what we want or don’t want, or like or don’t like, or accept or don’t accept, then we are free to live by our senses alone, which is to live in the wisdom of the Self. Note: Self was capitalised. It’s because your little ego-self is what has opinions and judgments about things. Your big, capable, amazing Self isn’t personal.

Your identity vanishes when you ignore the judgmental thoughts that you use to divide the world up into symbols. Your ego-reality is made of your opinions. Without the barrier of separateness created by thought, you feel connected to everything. Everywhere is home. Every person is lovable.

So an ego deep in the throes of falling in romantic love can without shame post this Rumi quote because they feel so excited by their personal approval of what’s happening. That level of complete acceptance means it feels as though this new person has brought the entire world to their feet. Yet, in a spiritual sense, the Rumi quote means exactly the same thing as the one that starts this post. Both are telling us to be judicious with our attention; our focus; the contents of our consciousness. To focus on one love is to lose the rest.

We can’t think out of training or habit, we must be alive in the world. And to do that we need to ignore all of our personal thoughts about what we want and don’t want. We can still have those thoughts. We just should ignore them immediately after thinking them. That leaves us in the world of sense, where things simply are, rather than being judged as right or wrong or good or bad. And that is how end your sorrows and find your peace. You simply trade your dividing thoughts for the connectedness of silence.

peace. s

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

Stumbling Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace. s

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

The Enlightenment Misconception

My accident lead me to question reality in a very fundamental way at a very young age. Once I was old enough to embark on a serious spiritual journey, I sought out teachers who might be able to answer some of my deeper questions about reality. Unfortunately, I was inclined to do what you likely do, which is I looked for the wrong people.

With no intention of being ironic, I thought I should look for someone super peaceful, living some super peaceful and respected life. I thought I would recognise them as having achieved something grand and meaningful. But I misunderstood what grand and meaningful were, and so I rarely found them. Because most of them weren’t wearing saffron robes, they weren’t doing yoga and they their lives were surprisingly ordinary.

Part of the reason for this is that once you’ve understood what you’re trying to understand, you realise that no one can take this journey for you, and so no one needs your help. You realise that all you were supposed to do is live your life without the constant thought-based evaluation of how you’re doing in relation to some imaginary goal. Our lives would be instantly more enjoyable if only we would stop second guessing ourselves.

Rather poetically, the first time my life became truly difficult was the same time that, by most external perspectives, I would have appeared to have been failing. I surrendered a life of status and money and power–all in the highly coveted and ever-popular media world (I truly had an awesome job)–to pursue a much smaller, much more obscure life doing something that a lot of people I knew thought was crazy. (This.) But that’s the key isn’t it? They thought that.

Thanks to that accident, in the midst of what should have been a broken heart, a huge sense of betrayal and a financial disaster, I was left with the opposite question most people  would have. I couldn’t figure out why I was okay with the idea of life being so difficult. This isn’t to say I liked it; it was just more that I accepted it. Any second guessing I did in my consciousness was profoundly painful and the pain acted as a very meaningful teacher.

I could occasionally (or at times even frequently), get caught up in personal thoughts that resisted my experience. These felt like hell. I felt very singular, as though it was all happening to me in particular. The suffering helped me grasp that when I felt better, I felt less like this was my life and more like an actor in a much larger play.

When I wasn’t thinking the resistant thoughts, I was peaceful inside with the knowledge that, like all roles, once I was finished playing this character I would either assume yet another or I would die and return to my real self. I was peaceful in the knowledge that nothing in the play I was performing in would change that.

What I had before was wonderful and I am deeply grateful for the experience. Almost every role I played in this giant improv has been an enjoyable one. I got to go to amazing places and meet incredible people and work on enjoyable and meaningful work. But I realised that the reason I was doing it all was not because other people felt it was a great life, but because I did.

Just like with movies and TV, being a loving and supportive caregiver to my parents was simply what I truly felt compelled to do. The financial strains and time and energy challenges all happen in the external world, but internally more of my time than ever is spent being in and sharing love.

I love making art. I love teaching people to see their strengths and opportunities. But there is something deeply meaningful and profound in helping your beloved father as he struggles with new challenges in the bathroom. There are moments where we look into each others eyes and we feel badly for what we’re putting each other through, but we both move quickly past those to simply being grateful that we’re in it together. That vulnerability is what makes the moment so powerful and filled with love.

I fail more than I ever have before. When my expectations are too high I lose patience when it doesn’t help. When I think too much I feel tired and alone. But most of the time, when we’re just making our way through it without all the thoughts about how we wish it was, I realise that I have never loved my parents more or felt closer to them. And that is why, if you do whatever you do with a lot of inner peace, even failing is a form of success.

peace. s

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

MoK: The Songspinner

You took on a challenge. You volunteered for the March of Kindness. Rather than just wanting the world to be kinder you lead the way and you were kinder by example. Undoubtedly along the way you even encouraged someone who didn’t even know what the March of Kindness was and yet you would have influenced them to do something positive. You should feel good about that.

On the final day of the march we’re going to focus on the kindness that is you. You can do nice things, and you can take action you wouldn’t normally take, but if we really want to impact the world we must appreciate that our general disposition is like a chemical we add to the mix of daily reality. We can be caustic or inert, we can flow we can fizzle, but if we’re looking closely we can see that our frame of mind–our mood–helps set the tone for others around us. Today is about you recognising that power.

Yes, you are important. No matter who you thought you were, you are like a radio station that has the ability to play music people dance to or you can play music that brings tears to people’s eyes. Which songs you play are up to you. But just as others experience your frame of mind as a part of their landscape, it is also part of yours. Recognising the value of you being in a positive frame of mind is largely what motivates people to stay there. It’s simply a nicer place to be.

Today you want to choose a good mood. You want to see your frame of mind as coming from your intentions, not the fluke of the events in your day. The one thing you do have control over is your own mind. You may not be used to taking control, but there’s no one thinking those thoughts but you. You started them, you can stop them.

If we look with the wonder of a child we see that the world is filled with glorious beauty. And if we look at the world and see all that we don’t approve of, then the world appears ugly and our enthusiasm for life drops. Today is about you fully owning the fact that your little radio station does impact the listeners in your station’s range. The people who interact with you will be impacted, the only question is how.

Start to see that you are the DJ spinning the tunes. Remember that if you feel a sad ballad within you that’s because you played one. And if you feel something that makes you feel like dancing, then that too is you. Start owning that radio station and start impacting your world by being more conscious regarding your choice of songs. Don’t want things to be different, play different songs and make the world different.

Today your final steps in the March of Kindness are about recognising yourself as a constant source of reality. You can’t expect to always do it but, as often as possible, if you intentionally play happy, lively songs, then you can expect a life that is happier and has more life in it. Crying has it’s place. But we’re better to spend more of our life dancing.

Today, you be the music. And never forget, long after the March of Kindness is over, you will carry with you each and every day the ability to impact your world and the lives of the people around you. That’s not just a responsibility, that’s also empowerment. Wield your power wisely and enjoy your day and your life. Thank you for joining me for this year’s march.

peace. s

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

MoK: Acknowledgement

There are a lot of ways to take action in this world. Some people do it through clubs they belong to. Others do it casually, as circumstances arise, while still others become formal volunteers or contributors. Even if it’s in small ways, most people contribute to the world around them in a generous and thoughtful way.

People hold doors, do favours, offer money, or engage in labour all for the benefit of someone else. Today in the March of Kindness our job is simple: we want to watch life for these acts. We want to openly acknowledge the act as being generous and kind. It’s one thing to think inside your own head, Wow, it was nice of that lady to carry that older lady’s bags to her car, and something entirely different if you thank her on behalf of the world.

The impulse to be kind is already alive and well in the person, but we all know how it feels to get criticised. It makes us feel smaller and weaker. Using the same mechanism, getting acknowledgement for doing helpful positive things helps us feel stronger and more capable. But too-often the acknowledgements are silent. Why would we stay quiet about delivering such good news?

Today your job is to notice the little things people didn’t have to do and to acknowledge them. The gratitude feels good for us to experience, and every one of us would be motivated to do even more kind things if we were more consciously aware of how it helps us to feel like we belong. Being valuable to the group is a win-win for all involved.

It’s funny that we can be afraid to say nice things to people. Do we really think people are going to get angry and upset with us for bringing up their niceness? Most people light right up. It’s a nice connection between people and it’s worth developing. But for that sense of unity to exist in your community, people need to be able to sense their bonds. They can’t be silent and uncertain. We have to speak up and offer praise more than we offer criticisms.

Just yesterday I had a grocery store clerk help me load grocery bags into my arms, a tech support person was particularly helpful, I had a woman hold a door for me at an office building, I had a friend drop by to offer some expertise on an important family issue, and I got a welcome invitation to an event. And that’s just off the top of my head.

Today is about acknowledging those good things in life, whether we’re the benefactor or someone else is. The idea today is to focus our grateful attention on people who are taking action. Before the day is out try to offer at least three different acknowledgements. Turn your radar on to how kind the world is and you’ll see that it’s better than you might have thought.

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.