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.

The Emotional Wobbles

1209 Relax and Succeed - Happy piggy desk wobblerBoing. Maybe you even have one of these wobblers on your desk or dashboard. They remind me of people. When we’re younger we have an idea of our lives that is unperturbed. It’s starts as a straight line. We have a general direction and lots of energy and we see no reason why our crisp clean dreams won’t line up.

But dreams are a form of expectation, and when we’re young we tend to overvalue the happiness that will be derived from the achieving the expectation, which leads to unhealthy attachments. Simultaneously we undervalue our own internal peace. Many of us can remember some early, less mature relationships that we took to be true love, when really those were just some of our first encounters with non-familial love, so they felt a bit intense due to a lack of contrast. We overreact because we don’t have that spectrum of experience to balance things with yet.

Our love is true then in the sense that we see none of the person’s undesirable traits when we look at them, but when we have limited experience it’ll be highly conditional love based on the person meeting our expectations, which were based on our dreams. But they can’t act out our dreams. They have a dream of their own that they expect us to be a part of. And when we both first feel that impact to our egocentric, thought-based dreams, it sends us reeling. Our pendulum naturally swings hard to one side, which in turn generates a near-equal and immediate response and we all fly back in the opposite direction.

1209 Relax and Succeed - Things that matterBecause your dreams of your future depend on this person loving you, you are prepared to reach too far to bend yourself into your dream. But the more you demand, the more the person insists on being themselves and the more they move away from you, and the push and pull between your ego and spirit have you penduluming back and forth for a while before you calm down. (As an example, think of how teens and parents push against each other’s wills.)

What you really want in your life is love, but if you mistake the person for the love then you can end up wobbling strongly off your center in your attempt to connect to them, when in fact you’re actually reaching for a finger instead of noticing that it’s pointing at the moon. You eventually surrender your dream as you realise you’ve miscast it. As you wobble your way out of those thoughts your emotional swings are consistently less dramatic until life gets almost too still and too boring.

Over time we get sanguine about the impacts. As each hit comes and does the same thing, and as we see ourselves react, it’s not like our life is rocked less; it’s more that we accept the extreme motion as a natural result of the intensity of the original event. Rather than making it worse by hurrying to calm it, we learn to just ride it more like a seasoned circus performer whose act is to gracefully balance. They can do that because they stop focusing on the external motion and they focus instead on maintaining their internal center of balance.

1209 Relax and Succeed - Focus on the goal not the obstacles

With any event, the less you focus on the impact and the faster you focus on the way out, the better. But this means letting go of our attachments and even after we’ve grown in wisdom, that’s not a painless process. But then again, we need some sources of sorrow too, don’t we? Otherwise we’d lose all of the beautiful relevant art as well as all of the empathetic experiences we share and connect through.

Allow yourself to swing from side to side when you’ve taken a hit. But don’t make that emotional sway your identity. You’re still the thinker of those thoughts, you’re not the thoughts themselves. You still get to choose your thoughts and your attitude about life. They’ll just get interrupted by emotional extremes while your wobbles are extreme. But once you feel them, use that as a signal to reset and calm your internal voices.

Over time, and by nature, the swings always reduce in intensity as you learn to let your internal arguments go. And by the time you’re life is too still, a part of you will be secretly conspiring to get some drama back. Because deep down our spirit likes that drama. You can tell because, when you stop to think about it, most of our wobbles actually originate with 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.

Scarred Childhoods and Adult Relationships

If we learn not to overthink we can often do it with smaller, less important stuff, but we struggle with what we call the big stuff. Of course little and big stuff just refers to stuff your life trained you to think of a little versus the stuff your life taught you to think a lot.

In reality we’re all really works of art, so let us say that God or the universe created your base stone and now your parents are walking along a gorgeous cliff of fantastic marble. They see a piece they love and so they have a big chunk cut out of it, and they load it onto a land barge.

They brace it with timbers and they slowly drag it down the mountain to where you will become you. In this metaphor the chipping of your stone is like birth and infancy. You won’t remember it, but it’ll leave marks on your stone nevertheless and your mother will sure remember dragging you down that hill.

Next you’re in Michelangelo’s studio, where the raw potential of your stone begins to be shaped into the vision your parents imagined. They’re the ones that shape the early you, and in doing so they offer you fantastic opportunities while simultaneously camouflaging other potential versions of you. These include genetic memories that create physical issues from birth are like cracks that emerged during travel from the cliffs to the studio. They will impact what the stone can become, but not how much it can be valued.

Regardless of who we are, over time the Michelangelos of life will use friction to shape us, at first knocking off big chunks defined as male or female or black or white or athletic or brainy, and later as more refined choices, like electrical engineer or watercolour painter or pediatric nurse, or eventually as you’re known for being challenging, or soft, or wise.

As we age we begin to realize that the Michelangelo’s in our lives not only carve and shape us intentionally, but they also grind into our stone unconsciously as a side effect of their personal working style. Some areas will be rubbed so long and hard that over time they score the base stone so deeply that it cannot be hidden. This of course isn’t a fault in the stone, it’s a just a byproduct of being shaped by just a few artists near the start of life. Plus those artists will usually have been trained in the same family of artists, so they’ll all tend to grind the same spots out of the same habit.

As you age so too do the Michelangelos around you. They go from using hammers and chisels to just the chisels, and eventually they reduce to scraping, before later moving onto sanding and finally polishing. Each stage will refine us, and as we grow wiser we get wiser about only giving access to better artists,. Every stone has scars, but the wisest artists know how to make the most of them.

Everyone had parents. Everyone had someone–or a lack of someone–raise them, and those forces were the strongest in your life and they left the most indelible marks. Sometimes those lead to beautiful arcs in our life, and others just disrupted areas that would have otherwise gone smoothly. But there is no point in lamenting those scars any more than we lament the base that the sculpture must sit on. Far from being problems, these are just the essential elements of having been in the studio at all. No sculpture is created without them.

When we’re in a relationship and something really bothers us, it is literally caught in our groove. And it’s not our essential stone that’s reacting to it, it’s how we were impacted by childhood. So you can work your whole life searching for the best artists and yet like a bad tattoo, they can only do so much because they have no choice but to work with the unconscious choices that the early, less experienced artists left behind.

Your job in life is not to try to orient your sculpture so that no one sees your scars, nor are you supposed to wear yourself out trying to remove or hide the marks that others have left on them. Instead you are simply supposed to realise that every sculpture has them as a natural part of their creation.

Keep in mind, you can’t blame those early artists for screwing up, because later in life you suddenly realise that you too have been an artist, and through your blind ignorance to the fact that your actions were shaping others, you too will have accidentally scored some people’s stone. And it is understanding that –that inevitable chaining causal reality– that when understood, allows us to shift from being psychologically better, to finally achieving a sense we could call peace. That way it all makes more sense.

The world isn’t broken. People don’t need fixing. People simply need to stop believing that the world’s job is to create perfect sculptures. Instead we must accept that life is a verb. It’s not a statue, it’s the sculpting. And since we all need and are sculptors, and since we all will improve throughout life, suddenly what were failures become more like beautiful attempts at loving and artful creation, much the way childhood fingerpainting may not be good even though it’s gorgeous.

Thanks to our early life, if we look carefully we’ll find we often attract people that seem to have deep scars in their marble precisely where we’ve been trained to look for them. If your Dad yelled a lot, then you stand a good chance of marrying someone familiar like that (or the exact opposite). At that point you have two choices.

You can forever lament that they ended up with the same damage one of your sculptors had, or can note that they are looking right at your scars too. A lack of acceptance can mean you’re the worst possible people for each other, but an act of acceptance can make them the best possible person for you. Because one way you’re just staring at each other’s damage but ,at the same time, if you both focused on getting good at it, who’d possibly be better at overlooking at a fault than someone who spent their life around it?

Don’t lament that art needs sculptors, nor that sculptors get better by creating art. Simply focus your energy on not scarring anyone else more than than is necessary and then ignore what scars you can. Because every time we grind unproductively into into another person’s pain, we only serve to make the scar fresher and deeper.

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.

You’re Gay and No One Knows

Hi.

Welcome. I appreciate you checking in. You’re in the midst of one of the bigger moments in life and I don’t want you to feel alone. You’re safe here. You can be whatever you want, including being confused about what you want. I just want to give you a better sense of the context you’re in so you can use that awareness to help you make decisions about your life.

First off, you started off unsure if you were gay or not. That was hard enough in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when gay people were just starting to be public, but at least then you were only choosing between straight and gay. Today you’re in the new millennium and you’re dealing with the erasure of all the lines, so now it’s harder to tell if you’re gay or maybe bi or is that a trans feeling…?

The truth is, it doesn’t really matter which one you are, they’re all okay. In reality we’re on a spectrum, we’re not all divided up into neatly named pie slices, so the words don’t matter. But if you’re anything other than straight, you’ll still have to figure out how to manage people that feel threatened by you.

By threatened, all I mean is that they were taught that the world is divided into pie slices and they believe that sexuality is just one big pie. There are no other slices as far as they’re concerned. And yet there you are, proving you exist. That’s pretty challenging for someone who has no storage place for you in their brain. It’s literally just as hard for them to imagine homosexuality as it is for you to imagine heterosexuality, (or possibly monosexuality).

Your family might respond lovingly and supportively. But if they don’t that doesn’t mean they don’t approve. Parents love their kids, so if the parent knows some other parents who won’t approve of their kid, then that scares them. They don’t want you to get hurt. And yes, they’ll worry about what people think of them just like you worry about what people will think of you.

They’re right to be afraid. Some people can be very ugly when they’re scared. If your parents or relatives were taught to be very religious, depending on how the religion manifests, you might find them the most frightened. They’ll not only be worried about you being physically attacked, they’ll worry for your soul in eternity. It’s a generous and kind motivation–to save your soul–it’s just misguided by some beliefs that many people don’t share. Focus on their intentions, not their reactions and it’ll be easier to see their true motivations.

Keep in mind, any time we’re in any kind of minority it can inadvertently lead to us believe that maybe we’re wrong. In a way it’s nice that we trust our fellow citizens so much, and yet generational changes mean that we can easily get confused about what’s acceptable to those around us. Trust yourself. If you only want to be yourself and you have zero desire to victimize anyone else, then you’re very likely on the right track.

Remember, these times are some of the most emotionally tumultuous that you will ever experience in your lifetime. These are likely your first huge emotions, so this will have some really roller-coaster parts to it. But don’t think when it’s intense and scary that it’s wrong. Life’s like that sometimes, especially during the big stuff.

Just like everyone else before you, you too will get your sexuality sorted out in good time. We all just naturally feel a little wobblier when we’re entering new territory, so it’s important to have faith in your very best guild: your self.

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.

Coaching Spirit

Here’s one that’s likely to hit you in the feels. While the media can be really focused on money and status and achievement, in the end we all know that what really makes something impressive is empathy, connection and love. People pulling together is always more meaningful than a solitary achievement. The story about the sacrificing parent is always more poignant than the tale of actual victory.

For too many young children today sports is looked at like career training, when its most valuable contribution to society is that it teaches teamwork. It clearly demonstrates the value of chaining human capacity together to accomplish something bigger than any individual could achieve. In this way it is a beautiful metaphor for living.

The truth is, you don’t want enlightenment as much as you think you do. It’s pretty boring. It’s hard to feel something when you feel everything. And you can’t even share an experience because you are both the experience and the experiencer. You’re you and everyone else. In oneness there’s no one to hang out with. So we use our infinite power to create duality and opposition and drama and bingo! We’re interested in this drama called life. Nowhere is this opportunity exemplified more than in most sports.

You begin each season with the odds stacked against you. Maybe 30+ teams are vying for one championship. You are essentially signing up for pain. With pro sports you are volunteering to participate in a giant public drama where your agony may end up on full public display. And you do all of that for the slim chance that maybe you’ll do it this year.

Despite being disappointed for 50 straight years, Toronto hockey fans still line up to buy tickets filled with excitement. What else would enlightenment look like other than a group of people being thrilled to participate in something they can almost be guaranteed will be an agonising drama? Every league in the world is filled with people happy to sign up for likely failure. So if we can do that with a sport, why’s it so hard with our life?

The truth is, you just want a little bit of enlightenment. Just enough to take the pain away–you think. But then someone explains that to get rid of the pain you must accept the pain. You must become one with your pain. At that point it’s not an obstacle, it’s an experience and we can survive those, easy. It’s what every losing sports fan has to do every time they lose.

As Sam Houston State coach Matt Deggs so nicely puts it, rather than full enlightenment, you want the drama. Because in the heat of that, what you really enjoy is the joy of coming together. You naturally enjoy connection and communion more than the tearing apart and division, and this is how even a losing team can generate a winning experience. Because you can’t really enact enlightenment alone. It needs the whole universe.

Sports fields, workplaces, and within our own families, this sort of deep connection and appreciation can exist. All it needs is a few open people who are prepared to open up, be vulnerable, and love regardless of the setting. The question now is, are you one of those people? And if so, where will you share love today?

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.