Living With Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace. s

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

Senior Isolation

I had a horrifying realization the other day. It’s one of those things that you should spot right away because it’s right in front of you, but somehow even with all those clues I was maintaining an old and dangerous idea.

778 Relax and Succeed - It's the oldest story in the worldIf you were to ask me how my essentially never-unhappy father could possibly be depressed, I would answer that the only thing I could imagine doing that would be prolonged isolation. He just loves people too much. He loves to talk, he’s a great joker and he’s just a generally super-helpful person. And then it struck me.

There had been a bit of a pattern forming around Dad. I can always feel when one of those realizations is coming–it’s quite distinctive. A few times while I was over doing my daily visit I noticed that Dad wasn’t participating like he usually does. He hadn’t added many jokes lately. Just something was… off.  At first I attributed it to his stroke and then I realized that he looked sad for the first time in my life.

Sadness was so odd–so strange, so baffling–that it really stood out. And then I realized that through body language he’s told us what’s happening. He used to try to participate, but with his hearing aids that’s hard. We can use our brains and ears to hone in on individual speakers in a busy room but people with hearing aids generally can’t.

778 Relax and Succeed - The quietest roomThey aid delivers a different sound pattern to their brain than their ear did, and so they can’t do the filtering with their old wiring. And so my Dad–and I’m sure many others–eventually gave up. So now that he’s not making the effort we didn’t know we needed to change what we were doing. We have left him essentially alone in every room even if he’s with people. And I said, the only thing I can ever imagine making my Dad sad is if he can’t engage with the human beings he’s always loved so much.

The moment I realized that I was driving to my parents to play cards with my Dad. It’s one on one, he can hear me no problem, and he loves beating me at crib–which he often does. Two deals in and there’s my smiling Dad back, making jokes, teasing me, teasing my Mom and seeming younger and less like a stroke victim every hand. My only regret was that I couldn’t plan for it and I only had time for one game. But I’ll be playing against him again tomorrow.

I now know at family gatherings, my Dad hasn’t lost interest. It’s just too difficult. So from now on I’m his crowd-Sherpa. I’m going to lead him through those events so that he knows what’s going on. Even if it’s mostly just him and I–at least we can still have the same fun we always had.

778 Relax and Succeed - Remember that everyone you meetI don’t think older people would decline anywhere near as much if they were engaged with often. Too many institutional seniors homes look like warehouses and not enough like activity centers. We should stick playschools and kennels in the same facility as seniors and get all the love-sharers and fun-havers in one place.

When you see older people on the street remember: there is a lifetime of wisdom there. They’ve felt all the highs you’ve felt and all the lows too. As we age I think we like to think that things get easier but life is pretty consistently steep throughout all ages. A great attitude helps, but you might still have to carry your urine–or your lungs–in a container with you. Getting old is not for the weak. It’s some heavy lifting.

I’ve always been sensitive to seniors, but this situation with my Dad has really raised my awareness. So from this point forward I hope you will join me in trying to acknowledge and engage with more people who are not only younger than me, but older than me too.

We all have a lot to offer each day just by being ourselves. We should take more opportunities to do that. And we should make sure that wheelchairs, distorted voices or even hearing aids never get in the way of us being connected, generous and caring.

Have a wonderful day connected with everyone around you today.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Scott’s Top Other Perspectives 2014 #1

721 OPY Relax and Succeed - Be happy now

Because of the number of weeks involved I only have two top picks for favourite Other Perspectives or Friday Dose’s, and that was tricky because I really felt that last week’s winner (#41), and this week’s (#37) were no more deserving than #40, so I’ll include that link to it here in case you’d like to check it out too. In the end I chose #37 simply because it reflects one of the most common things I’m contacted about by 30 and 40 year old people—loneliness.

CLICK BELOW TO READ:

Winner: Scott’s Top
Other Perspectives of 2014 #1

peace. s

The Relationship Trap

Two things are happening simultaneously. We’re all getting more needy about individual relationships while we’re also feeling increasingly isolated and alone. This is largely because we live in a culture of “I” and that culture isn’t about creating a rewarding life, it was formed by capitalism to create wealth.

526 Relax and Succeed - Go have a good dayYou have taken in a fantastic amount of advertising in your lifetime and all of it has centered on you. It’s told you that your car is important, that your clothing and your phone are important, and that your life choices are important, including your romantic partner. Everything connected to you is important and advertising made a lot of promises about how great your life was going to be by honouring yourself with these worthy purchases. It would be the car and the phone and the beer and vacation choices that would lead you to your perfect mate. Right?

First off, that’s putting way too much pressure on the mate. You will never be anyone’s everything and they won’t ever be yours. That’s for posters for 14 year old girls walls. Relationships aren’t cosmic glue. Healthy ones are more like two fish choosing to swim alongside each other. In the real world we’re all just individual personalities cooperating to form a groups. Sometimes those groups are very large, and sometimes they are only two people. We named those two-person groups marriages, and because they have that name we expected them to last forever when in fact that may not be the healthiest choice for either individual. This is one of the many ways that we trap our humanity with words. Marriage becomes a corral that can variably be a safe haven or a hell hole depending on what’s happening.

526 Relax and Succeed - Dear heart fall in loveBecause we’re so individualistic, less and less do we see our groups as defining us. Cultures fade and change as people move around the globe and intermarriages happen. Instead we are defined by our partner. For many men it will be the woman’s beauty, and for many women it will be the man’s wealth or power or even beauty. So having no partner is a complete failure, and the better the partner is in advertising terms, the better you think your whole life will look. We can see this illustrated by the fact that people will say about a friend that they “could have done better.”

By what margin do we think we can judge a thing by just looking at it? What percentage of that relationship is visible? And so the value the individual sees in their own partner is seen as less important than the value their partner expresses to other people. So you’re not supposed to pick someone that brings happiness into your life, you’re supposed to pick someone that your friends will anoint as a “good catch.” It’s not about being happy. It’s about being seen to be successful.

Relationships do not define us. You can still have an important social life, sexual life and even be a parent and still not necessarily be in a relationship. Too many people have been convinced that there is a hole in their life that must be filled and that hole is singledom. There is nothing wrong with being single. You are not incomplete without a relationship but it will feel that way if you think that way. Whether it’s finances or housework or raising kids, if every time you do something you tell yourself how much easier it would be if you were with someone else, then that’s not an expression of a missing romantic relationship, it’s an expression that we’re tribal creatures that our lives that are too isolated from one another. You don’t need a person but you do need people.

526 Relax and Succeed - It does not do to dwellYour joy comes from inside of you. A relationship doesn’t turn on some faucet of happiness. If you weren’t happy without a relationship then the odds are overwhelming that you won’t be happy in one either. Because that’s where the pressure comes from; we think the happiness comes from the circumstances and not our attitude about those circumstances. So we change the external details and then we blame others when we don’t get magical results.

Stop thinking that your joy is a job away, a city away, relationship away. Happiness is an inside job and as long as you think that there is something missing there will always be a sense that something is missing. Fortunately, the same goes for feeling complete. So why don’t we all just do that instead? Because it’s the exact same motion we’re already doing, just in the opposite direction.

If you’re sad the great news is that you had a ton to do with you being sad. So all you have to do is understand how you did that, and then use the same skill to make yourself happy instead. And you definitely don’t need a relationship to accomplish that.

Now go have yourself an awesome day.

peace. s

When Good People Do Bad Things

Don’t you get tired of it? That constant blah blah blah about whatever it was? You know what I mean. That conversation you have. The one you have over and over and over and over and over. Maybe yours is about someone who betrayed you and what you would say to them if you could. Or maybe yours is you telling someone about the 29 Relax and Succeed - Your heart was designedpain you felt regarding something they didn’t do. Or maybe yours is what you would say in court, or to the other person’s friends, or to your children, or parents. Or worse, maybe it’s what you wish you would or wouldn’t have said or done yourself.

It doesn’t matter what it’s about or who you plan to say it to, if it’s a conversation in your head it is your ego at work. Your spirit doesn’t need words. Only your ego needs to communicate by talking. Once you understand that fact you no longer use your words like legs to voluntarily walk to somewhere unpleasant. Just knowing you can walk is all you need. From there you naturally choose nicer environments.

Why is this important? Because you become your thoughts. So if you keep dwelling on negativity it will eat you from the inside. The Buddha said it twice: Anger is like throwing a hot stone. It is you who gets burned, and; Resentment is like drinking poison and thinking your enemy will die. If you engage in ugly thinking you will become an ugly person.

29 Relax and Succeed - Everyone you meetA woman contacted me about working together. She insisted it be by telephone because of what it regarded. She had done the worst thing in her life and the victim was someone she cared about deeply. She was so ashamed, so guilty, so confused by her actions that she was suicidal. I told her I had a lot of students who worked with me over the phone so that wasn’t a problem. We started her first session immediately and it was clear she was deeply distraught.

Imagine the middle-aged woman most women dream of being physically, intellectually and financially. She appears to have everything. Yet one of the most painful aspects of her life is that people respect and praise her constantly. She has enormous numbers of things to be very proud of but she feels thoroughly undeserving. She hates it when people call her lucky because she’s wealthy and has the attention of many handsome, wealthy men. She is lonely and she would trade her life in a moment. And now it had reached a new low.

She was sitting in a chair. A chair that had become a habit. Her success at work came at a price: she lost her husband to someone who actively cared for him. She didn’t mean to leave him out in the cold. She hadn’t even really noticed, even though in hindsight he had pretty much said as much on several occasions. She loved him, was hurt by his leaving and she could not believe how blind she had been. As he went on to be happier and happier, she attributed that to the fact that she had held him back. The problem was who she was. She 29 Relax and Succeed - When another person makes you suffercouldn’t keep a good man. She remembered every criticism her mother had ever given her. And as she looked in the mirror at an aging reflection she told herself she would never get any man ever again. And these conversations cycled and combined and built into a torturous habit, along with that chair and a couple glasses of scotch. Then it got really bad.

One day she was doing what she’d done a hundred other nights, but the narratives were building upon one another. As she sat there with her beloved cat of 12 years on her lap, her internal conversation got so ugly, it was so mean and cruel and vicious that she sincerely believed no one would ever love her ever again. She felt a million miles away from anything. And that’s when the cat wanted down. But she was so lost. She just wanted it to sit there a bit longer. It tried to get off again. But she needed it. It was like the cat was the only thing holding her to her sanity. But the more she wanted it there, the more it wanted to go until finally the cat—who’d been with her for 12 years and had never, ever clawed her owner before—took a good swipe.

When she grabbed it and began to strangle it she wasn’t the least bit bothered by the cuts on her hand. She didn’t even notice they were there until much later. It wasn’t the cat’s defensive attack that bothered her. As she choked it she just kept crying and muttering, “why can’t you just love me?!” When it got to the point where the cat was in obvious visible distress, that fact stuck a stick in the spokes of her thoughts. Everything suddenly changed as she came to her senses and released the cat, which I’m happy to report is completely fine and still in love with its owner.

29 Relax and Succeed - Forgiveness is the most powerful thingThis is obviously a horrible story and it’s easy to see why she would feel suicidal. It would be easy to question your sanity if you hurt a helpless animal you had loved for years. But what proved her sanity was fine was that she called me the very next day because she was so upset. We can hardly say someone’s a bad person when they feel so terrible about their actions that feel they should die for them.

The simple fact is, it was a horrible act carried out by a desperate person. There’s nothing wrong with the person, but all of that cyclical negative thinking took her brain chemistry to a very dark, agonized and ultimately dangerous place. Do not practice going to dark places so much that you end up changing your entire personality. Because your personality is made of the thoughts you think most often.

I’m glad the woman didn’t kill herself. I’m glad her cat still loves and trusts her. And I love that she now knows that anyone is capable of horrible things if they think horrible thoughts. After what happened she now has the perfect motivation to think almost exclusively happy, grateful and generous thoughts. She never wants to go there again. And there is the value in the experience.

Just as her life got worse, yours can get better. You can make yourself ugly enough to hurt those you love dearly or you can make yourself so beautiful that you can impact everyone you meet in no time at all. The only question is, which person’s thoughts will you think?

peace. s