Spiritual Recitals

1355 Relax and Succeed - Don't Perform Let your soul sing

Recitals. Every year, we invite our relatives and friends to help celebrate our development as a musician. The feelings that go with these events are good reflections of how we feel about our lives too. It’s like the song we play is our year played out in quick time.

Despite the fact that in the first recital we are clunky and awkward, no one cares because our mistakes are so cute. Later, it’s our enthusiasm others are attracted to. Over time, we improve and others are impressed with our development. By the end of our studies we are so good as to amaze.

Despite others impressions of their development, often times on the inside the musicians themselves feel a lot like they did as that clunky little ham-fisted kid. As their standards raise their playing appears to recede.

This happens because at each step were are attempting to master a group of brand new skills involved in playing music. This reflects how we perpetually face new situations in life and how we are always stumbling, yet we all grow wiser and more capable through the year whether our experience is good or bad.

At the start of life we are emotionally clumsy but authentic, near the end we become smoother but struggle to find the unselfconsciousness that used to come so naturally. The difference is our impedance. We hold ourselves back be worrying too much about the performance part of our playing.

Music teachers will often tell students to play as though the audience isn’t there. This is like the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ phrase‘ that gets used about people’s emotional lives. The song simply won’t become the most beautiful version of itself if it is merely a performance. The song is not for the recital audience, it exists in its own right. People are just allowed to watch it be.

1355 Relax and Succeed - Each unique lives their own song

Likewise, our lives are ours to live. Life is not a recital or performance, it is more like a song itself, and it can only be made better by us singing it more fully –by breathing more life into it. And the way we open up that opportunity is by forgetting the audience. We sing for our sake. For the joy of it.

This doesn’t mean we stop loving everyone in our audience. Quite the opposite: we start. We free them from our expectations as we free ourselves from theirs. That’s the unconditional part of unconditional love.

If we love people then they are allowed to be them. And if they deserve love so do we, so that means we can also be ourselves. What the other egos think will depend too much on how their day went anyway. We all know when we’ve played well and when we haven’t, whether we get praise or blame. We should trust that. That’s us.

Don’t perform your life. We can work well with others and find joy in many strange places with a great attitude, but we don’t need to stifle our being. Sometimes endurance is required in life, but whenever possible, it is up to us to consciously shift our lives toward ever-less stifling circumstances so that we can find the beautiful music that lives within us.

If we play unselfconsciously often enough, it will soon meld with a form of creativity that allows us to go beyond the composition and into improvisation. We become the song in every sense. This is the height of skill both in music and in life. When we are that free, we stand on a constant precipice of the unknown, and the beauty there is a marvel to behold.

Don’t perform. Sing. The songs might sound similar to a listener, but a performance versus soul singing can be so different for the singer that, in the latter case, the people listening can see the singer glow.

peace. s

Fostering Self-Respect

1350 Relax and Succeed - Fostering Self-Respect

People keep thinking the world’s a terrible place and yet people who are psychologically healthy see only challenges and fundamentally good people at various states of life who impact those challenges in a variety of ways that make sense. The Buddhists call this ‘causality.’

We have all done things we wouldn’t do today, so when people move in what we might call the ‘wrong’ direction that is really just humans being human. If they can’t avoid that then we can’t either, so the real problem is our thinking –our judgment.

The media makes a lot of money off our strongest emotions –fear, anger and sexuality– and they do not tell us really what is happening, they tell us whatever is happening that is likely to incite those emotions because that’s what keeps our eyeballs tuned into their product and their job is to sell ads or themselves.

But those financial incentives should be seen as just that: only an incentive. We can choose to see all of the countless great things that happen every day.

The reason this matters is because it is brain-training. If we constantly judge others for being ways we’re not, and if we constantly look for what’s wrong, scary or disrespectful, we aren’t defining who the ‘bad’ people are, we are teaching ourselves to be be judgmental and disrespectful to ourselves. Our brains get good at actions. Which directions they are aimed at is irrelevant.

How many people watch for kind or generous acts conducted by drivers or pedestrians? Who watches for people helping others with their kids, or small kindnesses offered in a grocery store lineup? Who sees the book recommendation from a co-worker as an act of love? They had a wonderful experience and want to share it with us. That is a beautiful thing.

1350 Relax and Succeed - Our ways of interrelating with each other

As someone who does this all the time, I see evidence of how the world is amazing every single day, from scientists making life-saving discoveries to new parents losing all of their sleep to care for a newborn, to signs designed to help us find where we’re going, or a boss correcting our work so that we don’t lose our jobs. Even something as simple as walking by a park shows that, at some point, some people cared enough about others to want them to have some green-space.

By seeing the best in the world around us we help ourselves to see those qualities within ourselves too. We benefit from exercising that muscle. We benefit from the practice. When we feel strong, and when we feel like we have many allies, we are powerful beings.

The problem is less our differences and more about how we choose to live with them. Because the problem with two people disagreeing over an issue is not that they differ, it’s when they will employ hatred and a lack of respect and then claim the other person deserves it for merely disagreeing with our beliefs —no matter what those beliefs are.

If we want to know how spiritual we truly are, we find out in our exchanges with those with whom we do not agree. That will tell us how we treat ourselves during challenging times, because that is when we also question our own wisdom and question our own worth.

Criticism takes us nowhere, but compassion and humility will get us where we want to be. And that can not only change us, it can change the world, because young minds will use us as the guides for their own behaviour.

peace. s

 

Discovering Mindfulness

1336 Relax and Succeed - Discovering Mindfulness

Not learning; discovering. Mindfulness is not something we come to know, it’s something we come to do. Allow me to illustrate.

Imagine two days. If anyone asks us, we say that the first day was wonderful. If they ask why, we explain that we spent the first day typing letters to people who had won awards for doing wonderful life-changing things for strangers.

If they ask about day two, we all say it was horrible. One of our worst days at work, ever. If they ask why, we’ll explain that we had to transcribe sessions of brutal torture, and write letters to inform innocent people of the untimely and violent deaths of their innocent loved ones.

Let us review the facts. We are at the same desk, using the same computer and software, working for the same bosses, being paid the same amount, writing in a room the same temperature, with the same soundscape.

If all else is equal, then the only difference between a wonderful day at work and a horrible one is what is inside our heads while we’re there. Considering how ephemeral thought is, that is a wide pendulum swing –from wonderful to horrible– all using the same bits of reality, with the only difference being our thoughts. That’s worth meditating on.

1336 Relax and Succeed - When we're healthy we're all achieving

As important as they clearly are, for a beginner, trying to entirely stop our thinking is often a frustrating route that ends up taking much longer than taking steps.

First we must understand our thinking in new ways. From that level of awareness we can begin to see how it can become easier to be less affected by it. Rather than stopping our thinking, we learn to make it less relevant. After all, we do need it sometimes. We can’t have a path without a not-path.

Clearly what’s in our heads matters. I won’t pretend that shifting our understanding is ‘easy,’ but it’s also not hard. I’ve said it before –it’s like learning to multiply numbers. It seems really obscure until you suddenly ‘get it.’ Then we wonder what’s actually different between when we couldn’t and when we can?

I had an insight myself today, where I realized that what I actually do with students is just describe things from the perspective they’re seeking. Because it’s very natural for me, I can analogize it. That means I can remove their ego from their deliberations regarding the sense of what I’m saying. It depersonalizes the principles involved. Then I take them back to their life with the principle established, which they often quickly realize also applies to their situation.

This isn’t a traditional top-down intellectual offering, learning this is more getting onto the same level to share the flame from a common candle that illuminates a shared path. I’m no different from you, I’m just more experienced doing this because I had the good fortune to have an accident. But when we’re healthy, we’re all achieving that health in essentially the same way. And that makes that a way worth knowing.

peace, s

The Daily Struggle

1289 Relax and Succeed - We don't need a solution we need understanding

I recently did a post on the facebook page that read, “We should be in our bodies, not our minds. We should profoundly feel reality around us. We should note how our thoughts can make our bodies appear lighter or heavier. We should note how much less we spill or drop when we focus on the present rather than thinking a layer of before or later over top of a semi-automated present. Our consciousness needs to be filled with something. Fill it with the present rather than with thought.”

Following that post, a long time reader responded that she found staying conscious a “constant struggle,” which in turn has lead to this post, as I also know many of you who go through the classes experience this stage so it makes sense that others reading the blog will as well.

Your consciousness can do two things. It can be focused on the present, or it can think a reality into being for your ego to experience. Each action in the present or thought-triggered reality from the ego will incite various biological reactions that we experience as the chemistry of the brain and the feeling of our emotions.

When we notice our ego most is when it generates pain, but the pain itself often causes us to delve into the past and wonder why we allowed the negative feels to be conjured rather than staying focused on own role in the present regarding how we feel. That means we then add to the problem by chastising ourselves for having gone the route of ego, which just creates more thought-based suffering when what we needed was less.

We don’t need a solution, we need understanding.

The path we seek is defined by where the path is not. What defines the path is its not-path borders. So the ‘struggle’ we feel in bouncing into the underbrush isn’t us failing, it is simply us allowing our consciousness to drift through a lack of active awareness. In turn, our painful emotional reactions to events in turn signal us to return to the awareness and that leads us back onto the path. Without that there would be no path at all.

That “struggle” is not a failure, it is really just the normal oscillation of a soul from spirit to ego and back again. But again; without not-path there is no path, so that is why spirituality is a practice and not a degree. That’s the point behind yin and yang. We can’t have just one. They work together to create reality. That’s why the Buddha said that the end of suffering is the acceptance of suffering, and it’s also why Rumi said, the road home is home.

peace. s

Be-ing

1263 Relax and Succeed - Simply be it's a mindful activityMake no mistake, as inactive as it it might seem, it is an entirely serious psychological and spiritual practice to simply be. Today the lesson is no lesson. Today we practice the idea of understanding. You always were perfect and always have been. Try actually living like that’s true just for the day, even if there’s a part of you that has trouble believing it. Just for the exercise, try it.

Today your job is to be clear. Allow all you encounter to pass through you, only offering your own input when it is absolutely necessary, but avoid the tug and pull of unconscious habit. Do not think, avoid opinions, keep your mind silent. Today, only respond to what is necessary to respond to, and spend as much as your day as possible in a pure state of being.

It isn’t easy at first, but it is natural, so practicing is easily worth it. Free yourself. Put all of your attention on it. Be.

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 Most Precious Gift

1254 Relax and Succeed - Togetherness and connectionEveryone feels their time is rushed and that it is increasingly valuable. But time is made of moments, and moments happen in our consciousness–they are where the external fates of the world meet our focus; our attention. Our problem isn’t so much that the wrong things come to us or that we focus on the wrong things. There really are no wrong things when you’re seeing things clearly. Our challenge is that we don’t focus at all.

Thanks to things like smart phones and social media, people live inside a constant stream of distractions, as our minds our actively encouraged to flit from thing to thing, without ever giving anything enough attention for us to ever come to truly understand what we’re taking in. How many times have you walked into a room and forgotten why you went in there? We do this with food, tasks, people. But we must remember; we don’t want to just see or hear, more importantly we want to watch and listen.

The rewards are two-fold in the case of focus, because not only is it a calmer, more natural state than our busy-mindedness, but also the person, place or thing being focused-on starts to take on remarkable dimensions as it or they become a part of a rewarding connection to your soul. This is how people can become the very best kind of lichenologists, fashion designers and parents.

1254 Relax and Succeed - The most precious giftOur real life isn’t an app or notification, it’s the events, places and people that we interact with each moment. The way we get distracted in our minds is much like we do on our phone or computer. You’re doing this or that and then your phone or computer beeps and you’re off to look at whatever it told you to. In your mind you’re in a moment talking to your spouse, or child or a co-worker and then suddenly you start talking to yourself about what’s happening and that’s your mind wandering.

When you let your mind wander like that you literally stop recognising an important truth about the other person, be they a loved one or a stranger. The moment you do that you become an ego who will see the world as a set of labels that only exist in relation to you:

Your fussy child isn’t possibly sick or otherwise uncomfortable if they’re seen as simply preventing you from getting where you’re going. Or that other person appears more attractive if you compare your spouse as simply an ego-list of the things you don’t like. Similarly, that person at work has let you down, they aren’t struggling as they go through the experience of losing someone dear to them. These are all ways that we disconnect form others, the world around us and ultimately ourselves.

1254 Relax and Succeed - The bird in a forest can perchIf you’re talking to yourself you are dividing your attention between two egocentric you’s and they are the source of your problems and your suffering. The real you is the being thinking those other two you’s into existence. That you is already deep and wise and steady and open. Your ego you is selfish; smart in some ways, dumb in others; you’re rarely calm and centered because you have so many wants and desires; and you get offended and bothered by things easily, meaning you’re not really being open.

The wise you lets things be. While it can wander too, your healthy soul notices thoughts that disturb your personal Star Wars-like force. It can feel you creating resistance by having a value-based conversation with itself, and through those thoughts you create  conflicting wants and desires. The separation between your separate you and those separate things (relationships, cars, jobs, status etc.) is the gap through which all of your suffering seeps. If only you’d realise you don’t need anything so that you’d come home to yourself more often.

Wisdom isn’t hard, it isn’t out of reach. Nor is calm, or compassionate, or loving or connected. These are all natural states when we quiet our busy egos. When we’re there we are our best selves, without judgment, without desires, and profoundly satisfied with our lives as they are. Take today and focus. Write it on a bunch of post it notes you’ll bump into, or ask a friend to text you randomly. It’s worth practicing, because deep down you’re literally learning to be yourself by doing so.

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.

To Know Oneself

1249 Relax and Succeed - To know oneselfBruce Lee (and I’m sure many others) said that we should study ourselves in action with others in order to better-know ourselves. Many people will hear this and do a cursory glance at their lives, literally looking for examples of them being polite or generous and that will be it. They’ll have self-passed themselves when really what they did was forgo an opportunity for valuable self-reflection.

To study ourselves in action, it is the action within our consciousness that counts. It’s possible to be extremely polite to someone while intentionally manipulating them into something they wouldn’t do had they not been intentionally mislead. What counts is in our internal intentions. When we listen to people, do we truly listen without expectation, or are we in a constant dialogue with ourselves, criticising them at every phrase?

How casual have we all become about our subtle mental criticisms of others? We live within our consciousness. Whether we’re constantly bitching about them, or wanting to be someone other than ourselves, both have us in equally unpleasant landscapes of thought. It’s like going on vacation to a place we’re sure to despise.

1249 Relax and Succeed - The money does not see his own backsideWe have to learn to not accept these mental headspaces. We have to learn to pay attention to that suffering more. Yes, I’m suggesting that we focus on when we’re taking a crap between our own ears. Because that’s what we’re doing when we think uncharitable thoughts about ourselves or others. Other people don’t feel our brain chemistry, we do. Seriously: if we know these thoughts are painful, then voluntarily thinking them is like choosing to open spoiled food so we can smell it better.

We all need to pay more attention to what our brain is doing because, if you’re like most of us, half the time our mind is on autopilot, flying whatever routes our childhood caregivers taught us to fly even if that makes no sense for our own destinations in life. Then when we do become conscious, our unconscious life will feel strangely robotic, as we come to realise that we have no idea why we personally are doing what we’re doing.

Whatever it is–your drinking, your job, your temper, your sadness, your lack of trust–these are all things that were taught to you. They are not the natural you, they are the squashed by your packaging version of you. It is you, but you’re distorted and out of shape. And you can see that shape in how you internally react to others.

1249 Relax and Succeed - You cannot have a positive lifeIf you watch yourself closely, you’ll soon realise that you’re likely to do the same thing one of your parents did (or in rarer cases, the exact opposite). That’s your ego following programming. To be free you have to make that programming conscious. It’s usually painful, so that helps you spot it when it shows up so that you can change direction and end that suffering.

Today, every time you catch yourself criticising either you or someone else, take a moment of meditation and prayer and follow your criticism with a compliment. If you make the latter in person and out loud, you’d be amazed at how fast you can start remembering not to think ill of others.

It’s a good saying, really; “Think ill of others.” To do so is the act of poisoning ourselves with negative thoughts. Clearly that is something we should avoid doing. Let’s take steps in that direction today. By the way, I think you’re awesome.

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.

Lowering Your Standards

1229 Relax and Succeed - The difficulties of lifeTeams talk about demanding the best from their athletes. Companies talk about excellence and enthusiasm from their employees. Spouses want the partnership they agreed to in their wedding vows. Parents want the sort of children that don’t get into trouble. All of those things are achievable. Just not all the time.

First off, the world is three quarters of the way to its 10 billion person maximum, so the rest of us would wonder why any one person would think that it should be their standards we’re all living up to. Of course that person will argue that it’s not their standard, it’s society’s, and they’ll use their friends as examples. Except their friends are their friends because they share similar standards. It’s what everyone knows is right…? Right…?

Two things: What gets defined as the right thing to do will depend on a lot of things, most certainly where a person’s from and how they reacted to their upbringing. Secondly, how anyone behaves will always depend on how they feel at that moment.

1229 Relax and Succeed - Try being nice to the next personEveryone has their worst days. 365 days a year, a 75 year life, that’s 27,375 days. At least 30 of those are going to be horribly agonizing, and about another 1,000 will be pretty awful too. That’s not bad in a full lifetime. Despite some long stretches of sad, that’s still way way more happiness than sadness.

The problem starts when things are out of balance–when we’re doing either really badly or we’re doing overly well. Those states lead us to start over-thinking the reasons for each, which means our ego is given almost constant existence. As a result of us thinking too much, our own standards get rigidly imposed on the world. But expecting others to operate at our tightest standards during their toughest times–that’s simply unrealistic. Get two people in that same self-righteous state at the same time and that’s where the worst conflicts happen.

It makes no sense to expect the best from people if we know we all have really bad times where our behaviour is definitely not good. We should fully anticipate that way may meet people during our day that are in the midst of one of their 1,000 worst days. That isn’t a day to add our standards to their list of things to think about. That’s our day to improve the world with our grace; to create the sort of emotional space for that person that we wish existed when we’re in that vulnerable state.

1229 Relax and Succeed - The world would quickly improve ifPeople will be amazing beautiful generous beings without us needing to punish or entice them towards that. We don’t have to worry about making people better, but we can make it easy for them to be at their best. So today, let’s all take the most difficult person we meet, let’s set it as our goal to improve that person’s life at least a little through our behaviour.

Even if they fail to see it, let’s let our actions help enact the very greatest parts of ourselves. That way we most certainly benefit, and whether the person we helped or offered patience to notices or not, they will have too. So think about having a friend or co-worker join you in this endeavour, because these are the simple daily changes that, done en masse, change the world.

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.

Changing Your Life

1225 Relax and Succeed - If you're not going anywhereWe’re all guilty of it. We want our lives to improve and we have these things that we know would help, but we just can’t get others to cooperate with our plans to improve our situation. Eventually though, we reach a maturity where we realise that they are thinking precisely the same thing about us.

This isn’t to say that our lives couldn’t be improved if others made the changes we’re suggesting, but the fact remains that you have a massive amount of control over yourself and you have little to no control over others, so you are far better to invest your energies in improving your life through things that you control, that can happen for sure versus things you don’t control and only might happen.

We all know that every single one of us has some habits that may be difficult for those around us. You have to have a personality, so we don’t want to remove any quality because on the other side of it will be something useful; like you’re pushy, but when leading is a crappy job the pushy person will still take it and save everyone else. But the point is to mature so that we can apply that ability when it is most useful and not the most damaging.

1225 Relax and Succeed -  To improve our livesPick your issue. It can be small, that’s fine. Maybe you tap your fingers too much, or you’re not polite, or you rush, or you won’t make decisions, or you’re a bully in meetings. Just stay conscious of that one thing for today and try to influence how often or how meaningful the impacts to others might be. And maybe if you do end up doing that thing you do, consider apologising.

Just this one bit of simple mindfulness will make a big difference to not only the other people around you, but more importantly it will also strengthen your mindfulness overall. You will also end the day feeling good about your successes in altering your behaviour. So ignore when your old self emerges and be happy when you adjust. This isn’t about where you are on some scale, it’s about taking you wherever you are and expanding your capacities.

Pick your issue, maybe leave a note or two to yourself or in your daily calendar, and then stay conscious of yourself. That awareness alone will pay additional dividends throughout your day, and who knows, someone might even notice. Enjoy!

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.

A Focus on Awakening

1223 Relax and Succeed - FocusIf all that you did this week was read all five blogs and do the small exercises in each one, you most certainly moved yourself closer to the most important goal we all face; understanding. The journey is taken in small steps. Becoming conscious isn’t difficult, but it does require us to very intentionally focus our attention on that development.

The video below is 5 minutes and 16 seconds long, with the spoken sections being something less than 5 minutes long. The video itself is of Alan Watts and it regards the fear of death and the idea of mortality. It’s a useful talk in that people fear death so much that they end up avoiding life, rather than diving deeply into life because one has fully pondered upon and accepted death.

Just as important as the subject of the talk is your ability to actually focus your attention for a mere 5 minutes. When you click “play” simply try to hear each and every word said by Watts. If your mind wanders, snap it back as quickly as possible. If your focus is good, you’ll have no trouble hearing every syllable. But if your mind wanders frequently, then working on that single skill will do more for your enjoyment of life than almost anything else. Because a truly rewarding life is always intentional on the part of the person living it.

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.