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.

MoK: The Rarest Kindness

By this point we will all have contributed a lot of positivity to the world through our actions in the March of Kindness. Congratulations. Collectively we’ve done a lot. Now it’s time we remembered to include ourselves in that process.

Just as everyone around us benefits equally from kindness, we do too, and in this often fast-paced world too many of us are either so focused on what we’re doing, or we’re too focused on caring for others, to have the time or energy left to care for ourselves.

The greatest kindness anyone can pay to anyone is simply to be present. These are those times when the person feels seen or heard or understood or that a strong connection exists. But most of us have a much better sense of when that’s happening with other people than with ourselves.

When we sense conflict with others we feel an automatic impulse to repair it because in the end, the deepest part of us knows we need each other. This brings the other person or people into focus our awareness and our impulse is to act. Unfortunately, when we have conflict within ourselves we attempt to resolve the conflict by trying to “improve” rather than by making a stronger connection.

You know that improvement feeling. That’s those times where you talk to yourself critically and talk about what you should have done or should do. You spend a painfully large percentage of your life doing that and it’s all for naught. You don’t get better by “improving” yourself, you expand by being present with the world and acting on your nature. When you help others is a great example of that. So today it’s time to shine that same light upon ourselves.

Your act today in the March of Kindness is very simple. Immediately after reading this (or as soon as you have at least 10 full minutes to focus on it), take about five to ten deep breaths. Fill your lungs. Oxygenate your mind and body. Give it part of the fuel that will power your perception.

First, look at your life. Not in that critical, judgmental way you usually do, but look at yourself like you would view a friend or relative you love a great deal. Now imagine someone loving you the same way you love that friend. Imagine that friend just got back from a year away and they’d been in a monastery or something–you couldn’t talk.

Now imagine that they’ve just heard about what’s been going–and I mean literally do this, not brush your way through it quickly like it’s silly. Caring for yourself is not silly. Remember, this friend just heard about your life and they love you. This person that loves you comes back from the monastery all peaceful and caring. They don’t have a lot of money available and they understand you have some real responsibilities, but they know and love you. What act of kindness do they suggest?

Maybe it’s simple–they take you out for your favourite meal. Maybe it’s that they convince you to skip the gym to see a beloved childhood movie. Maybe it’s extra sleep. Maybe they take you for a walk and they discuss with you all of your good times, all of your achievements, all the times you felt proud of yourself. Wouldn’t that be different from all of that self-criticism!

Or here’s a a couple rare ones: Say no to someone when you usually wouldn’t. Or here’s the most challenging one of all. They help you with something. But you’re thinking, Scott, there’s no actual friend. This is me and me. I get it. What I mean is that you find something you need help with and you actually ask for the help you never ask for. Now there’s a rare one.

That’s it. Easy. Be a present open, aware and loving friend to you. But you have to take this seriously. Do you get it? This one’s very important. You can’t shortcut it, cheat it, downplay it or dismiss it–this friend loves you and they’re wise. Take what they suggest you do and then do it. You’re worth that. I’m absolutely certain of it. Do it. I love you.

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.

Touching Awareness

1096-relax-and-succeed-getting-in-touch-with-your-true-selfYour meditations this week have surrounded different senses, yet each exercise is developing your general sense of awareness. As you leave the busy thoughts in your head behind, life slows down and experiences become deeper. Today we shift that from being limited to your nose our mouth; today we’ll get your whole body involved.

It is easy to forget how complex the world is until we begin to spend time in it instead of our thinking. Not only do things have a texture to our fingers, but they also have a hardness or softness, a smoothness or a roughness, there are angles and temperature and weight. There is the weight of our body on our legs and hips as we press into the floor or our chair. These are all examples of your daily body experiencing feelings that you aren’t actively processing into your personal experience (because you’re too busy talking to yourself).

People find it difficult to block out their own talking head unless they replace that activity with something else. If your brain isn’t busy doing something specific it will wander and create dramas. It is important that your actions are specific and active or, in other words, your actions in life–even including sitting still–should be done so with intention.

1096-relax-and-succeed-touch-has-a-memoryToday you won’t just get another coffee; today you’re going to go through a list of as many adjectives to describe the cup as possible; it’s cold, smooth, heavy, it lists to one side, and it’s heavier than the one you use at home. You feel its weight change as you fill it. You feel the heat transferring around the cup. You feel the subtle strain it places on your upper arm.

If you’re working with a partner, choose some object that you’ll both have access to in your own lives, then compare your touch-based analysis of that object. Maybe you use coffee cups, maybe you use your left shoe, or a product or a tool. Even rolling a plain office chair on a carpet will create all kinds of vibrations etc.

The point again isn’t what you find, it’s that you find it. It’s that you’re telling your mind that tuning itself to the outside world will be helpful. It’s often as helpful as it is to a mountain or rock climber, but when you take away immediate danger people tend to think there’s no danger at all. That’s how people get fired or dumped.

1096-relax-and-succeed-the-body-remembersIf you’re in a relationship, when was the last time you extensively touched your partner in a way that wasn’t sexual? A husband stunned by his divorce once told me that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d said I love you to his wife (hearing), he couldn’t remember the last time he took her out for dinner (tasting), he couldn’t remember the last time he’d bought her flowers (smell) and he remembered he used to massage her shoulders after work but he had no idea when he stopped (touch). I explained to him that because he didn’t know those things then we also had no idea of when he actually discarded his wife from his sensual life. He got the point.

You can not care about doing these meditations. No one is making you do these exercises. This is actual spiritual psychology school. If you don’t even want to participate that’s entirely allowed. But to not participate is also to generally not participate in life; to live without awareness. And that generally goes about as well as anything you do randomly. Add some intention however….

Notice I don’t note a correction. That’s because there’s nothing wrong with you. Once your awareness is up then you have the ability to move to whoever you’re capable of being next. But until then you are trapped by not even knowing fully who or what you are right now.

Today’s meditation is simple. Just feel the world. As much of it as possible, with as many parts of yourself as possible. Because if you want to stop all of those voices there’s no other way except to leave your head and get back into the actual world. That’s where you started life and that’s where you’ll end it. You may as well get familiar with it.

peace. s

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

The Sillage of Life Itself

1095-relax-and-succeed-you-are-the-templeHow was your focus on yesterday’s meditation on taste? Hopefully some of your discoveries surprised you. That would indicate you’ve seen something in a deeper way than previously. Today we’ll be doing the same thing with scents, although in this case it’s important to remember that your sense of smell is closely linked to your memory.

We evolved as humans, so your most valuable asset when eating would be determining the safety of your food. Remember, to early life and mankind; which smells were safe and which were dangerous were as important as a pilot today remembering how to fly an airplane. Get it wrong and people die. You come from a long line of successful smellers.

With few exceptions most of you won’t track things anymore by scent. We have food inspectors for that. You watch TV and have a phone and a computer. You watch screens. In the last few decades you have shifted a great deal. Now your sight is what takes up the vast majority of your mind’s focus.

1095-relax-and-succeed-the-mind-is-like-an-icebergYour job today is to turn the world into a scentscape. Rather than focus on visual directions, follow the flow of a current of air on which a scent of cinnamon buns travels. Trace perfumes and colognes. Who is wearing what? Maybe you even get a chance to smell some flowers or chocolate or perfume or cologne today….

Use your mind to define the scents. Can you pin down what it is before you can see it? What can you learn from a scent? Treat it as though it has secret information hidden in it because it does. It is possible to smell carefully.

What you’re searching for is a memory link as your awareness focuses on scent all day. Without sniffing anything dangerous, start smelling packs of paper at work, smell the food wafting by from nearby tables at lunch, smell people, don’t just see them. Smell flowers, and plants and the air around you.

Assign everything a scent quality other than nothing. You have to find at least one word for each situation you’re awake in. Oh and by the way, you’ll be terrible at this at the start. That’s how little you do it. But it’s not like the scents aren’t there. They just haven’t gotten your attention in a very long time.

1095-relax-and-succeed-sillage-the-scent-that-lingersMove through your day with this one added awareness operating and you will have literally exercised the size of your consciousness. It feels weird and clumsy and inefficient at first, but like weightlifting or studying, you get better at the things you practice. Just do it and your mind will develop. With few exceptions; you can tell a peppery wine from a fruity one with only your nose.

You’ll still execute your day. You’ll still get your jobs done. But make sure to set up timely reminders to yourself to stay aware. Maybe stick a post-it note to your coffee cup or computer screen. But do it. What you smell isn’t as important as that you smell. Becoming conscious of the world takes practice. Most people have only been focusing on their internal egocentric conversations for many years. We all miss a huge percentage of what’s going on.

In today’s meditation you smell your way through your day, counting how many times your memory is spontaneously triggered to remember some unrelated event. If you’re working with a partner then compare your numbers. Who noticed more things? To care about who wins is to still be in ego. What counts is the awareness. There are no losers in this meditation.

Enjoy your day. Add dimension to it. Do the meditation. Expand yourself.

peace. s

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

Who Defines You?

108f-relax-and-succeed-you-cannot-be-lonelyI’m getting smart, sophisticated questions from those of you who have been doing these meditation exercises. I suspect by now you can figure out for yourself that I’ve been vague in my answers to each of you because the real value is that you’re asking the deep psychological and spiritual questions you are. You’re the ultimate teacher. I’m just the guide that helps you find and then hear your true self.

Let’s start this week with the simple question: why do you want to change? When your friends and family already love you, why do you want to become someone else? What if you change into someone the people who love you have more difficulty with? Why isn’t that a concern to you? Some of these relationships are extremely valuable to you.

You want to change because you feel like your identity is a potentially beautiful home to live within, but it needs a lot of repairs and renovations. You have trouble relaxing in your space because of two things: 1) You have some changes you have to make to better-suit the work you’re currently doing, or 2) You want changes because you don’t want someone to drop over mid-renovation and think that’s really how you live, even if it’s accurate.

1084-relax-and-succeed-if-you-dont-valueIf you want to renovate yourself, you’re misunderstanding. A suicide is like bulldozing the house, but even anxiousness is like constantly moving around the house making minor adjustments while you watch out the windows to make sure no one sees you naked.

The question is, who are these people showing up to judge you? And why are you worried about a door to door salesman’s view almost as much as a good friend’s? Doesn’t that seem curious? Unless it was your new boss or in-laws, why over-worry about what a stranger first thought of you?

Today’s meditation needs you to really slow down and give this some deeper thought. Choose three people you’ve met/know. Make one someone who doesn’t really know you well, another who knows you maybe only through work or school, and then there’s the really close people who already approve of you. What is the actual difference in how you feel about each of these groups? Could it be tolerance?

1084-relax-and-succeed-nothing-destroys-self-worthAsk yourself this: who is this new person that you need them to like you? Don’t stop the meditation until you have an answer that’s deeper than because it’s nice to be liked. This is about you, not people in general. Then ask who the “co-worker” is and answer the same question; who is that person to you? And finally, who are your loved ones? What is it that separates them from the other two groups, even though you might spend a lot of time with them too?

This isn’t a distraction from your day. This is us studying what your day even is. If you’re not going to do this, then pretty much everything else you’re going to do is just going to lead you back to a lesson like this. You only have one thing to do in life, and it isn’t to become perfect. It’s to accept yourself, and right now that probably seems more unattainable than perfection!

Do the exercises. Find your three people. If after some meditation your answers seem unfocused or uncertain that’s fine. The answers aren’t where the value is, it’s in sincerity of the questioning. These aren’t check-boxes. This answer isn’t for me, it’s for you. These are sacred answers. None of them on their own are useful. But collectively, as many of you are starting to sense, they somehow add up in a strange and mysterious way. The good news is, that strange way is really the path back to your true self.

These are getting deeper and more important. Collectively they’re even bigger than the sum of their parts. These are tiny amounts of your life. But they’re definitely worth it. And you’re definitely worth it. Have a great day.

peace. s

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

Hyperlink Thinking

907 Relax and Succeed - Mom what is normalYour brain is structured to do every activity you do. Whatever you ask it to do is what it will get good at. But when people think of all their capabilities, they only think of the surface stuff their brain does like remembering directions, or calculating numbers or knowing how to read or write. And without further meditation those all seem like they’re just manipulations of the data. So what they believe they know is the directions, the numbers and the communications, but what they also need to have is the remembering, the calculating and the creation.

This is why I use a flip phone. Most of you have already noticed the drop in functionality of your memory due to smartphones. People used to routinely remember all 30 of their friend’s phone numbers, all of their bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc. etc. We had to remember a lot and those of us who haven’t surrendered the skill can still do it. But like a muscle, if I don’t do the work the ability will deteriorate.

Mental Disorders are not tangible. You can’t cut someone open and find depression or ADHD, but you can find tumours creating pressure, or damaged structures from drug use or strokes, or actual observable issues with various aspects of the brain’s function. This is because physical damage is not the same as confusion about usage. A car can crash because a part breaks, or it can crash because the person driving it wasn’t properly trained. Mental Disorders are just innocent driver errors due to poor or missing driving instructions.

907 Relax and Succeed - Let me remind youI know a lot of you really have a strong aversion to me saying this because you feel it makes you or someone you love somehow more responsible, but if you think that you’re misunderstanding. That’s like saying people who’s kids were injured in a car crash in 1950 should feel responsible for the seat belt not being invented yet. You can’t even start working on something until you know it needs the work. So no one is guilty here, but some things are happening and I help people precisely because I deal with what’s happening and I do not subscribe to little boxes that do not exist except in the imagination of the person believing in them.

If you ramp up the amount kids watch TV, movies and games at the same time that you perpetually shorten the length of each edit then this is like repeatedly hitting the novelty switch in your brain. Not that long ago you were a lot less safe and a lot more hungry, so your brain was wired up to notice new things because they might be either food or a predator. So you were built to notice new things. Edits, to your brain, are new things.

Ask the brain to get good at switching but not at holding and guess what? It gets good at switching and not at holding and ADHD is born, and the nations with less media report less incidence. Even Europe records less than half the cases of North America where media addictions are worse.

907 Relax and Succeed - Notice is hereby givenThe other brain function impacting this involves the nature of the internet. Hyperlinks are literally opportunities to distract yourself from what you’re doing. Yes, Hyperlinks are related to what we’re doing so we can justify using them, but we are nevertheless creating our own edit now, but in a text document not a video one. Many times these are useful for finding the article or information you were really looking for, but often times you’re being far less directed than that.

Over time this has lead to us all doing Hyperlink Thinking in our daily lives. Now I always liked how Europeans didn’t need conversation to be linear and goal-oriented like North Americans, but that’s not the willingness to go with the flow that I mean. Two humans actually connecting involves that connection, so the flow should serve that. But in the document it often only serves as a distraction and it explains why so few people feel they are getting enough or as much done.

If you can’t read a book for more than 30 minutes without getting up and doing something else, then already your brain has been trained to think it is supposed to flit from here to there, and so your very concentration is seen as an enemy by a brain trained for switching. This is why you so often lose focus, get distracted and are unproductive even on work you care about.

907 Relax and Succeed - Take a walkI only noticed this because I slipped into it too. I limit my screen time intentionally, but even then I could feel myself losing focus far sooner than I was accustomed to. Noticing that, I immediately raised my awareness and quickly I noticed my impulse to follow part of a thought in a new direction and there I had my culprit. My brain had gotten good at chasing down other angles and I was getting increasingly willing to wander off of my original intention. 

I’m currently putting this to a stop and you can too but it requires awareness, targeted non-action and diligence. It takes a while to learn not to wander so much but I got good at wandering by wandering so I’ll get good at focusing by focusing too. Now I regularly check back in with my original intention to ensure I’m still on it.

Don’t let Hyperlink Thinking invade your day and steal both your productivity and your mind’s ability to focus on an issue at a level that makes you more successful. Your capabilities are not a fixed asset, you are a flexible being, capable of altering yourself to suit your needs. But you must do it consciously. I’d maybe help more with a hyperlink to another relevant post right here but… you know… .  😉

peace (of mind) 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 Movie We’re Making

In film your shooting ratio is how much footage you shoot relative to how much of it you end up using in your finished production. Back when we shot on film and had to worry about hairs etc. getting into things during film-loading, and there was no way to see what you had just shot, we still shot a small fraction of what people currently do. What does this have to do with your mental health? I’m getting to that.

829 Relax and Succeed - Have much and be confused

Today a 25 year old can literally have a 30 to 1 or even 150 to 1 ratio, while people in their 50’s will often have ratios closer to 1.4 to 1 or 2.8 to 1 etc.. An actor’s director like Clint Eastwood doesn’t like to wear out his cast, so now that he can see what he just shot he’ll often only shoot a single take and he’ll do that for 30 to 40 percent of the film.

This is a good metaphor for minds today. Bombarded with much shorter edits in the media their minds get trained on, add many more distractions and responsibilities, not to mention and overall busier lives everyone’s leading, with many more schedule activities, texts etc. etc, many young people today are understandably taught to hyperthink, leaving them to be tortured by their own whirling thoughts. There’s so many decisions in a day now; so many things outside of us and our control that demand our attention, that it’s as though the Editor that works in our memory is overloaded with footage and it’s getting hard to tell the useful stuff from the stuff we’re better to leave on the editing room floor.

So how do we feel better? We slow things down. We don’t give our Memory Editor a deluge of stuff–especially if it’s negative–because it wears us out. Even funny scenes get tiring if you have too many of them. So in the real world of mental health we’re not so much looking for fun scenes as much as we are looking for absorbing ones. As long as you’re thoroughly involved you won’t even notice the time passing regardless of the scene content. You just need to be present and in the Now.

829 Relax and Succeed - Reasons my wife is cryingAnother way to help out is to take control over your Director of Photography regarding what you’re going to commit to film. For the filmmaker the film isn’t so much in the showing of the film as it is the making of it. So your day is what you shoot. And the lens is like your attention. Where you focus it will tell you what kind of shot you’re going to get. If you shoot sad scenes expect a sad experience. Likewise for happy ones etc. etc. etc.

In daily life everyone around you is performing improv so life is less like a movie and more like “Reality” TV. The reality TV that currently gets watched focuses its lens on tension, conflict and challenge. That’s what appeals to the most common part of all of us. But again, you have been the viewer but this is about breaking the wall and inviting you behind the screen, where you can Direct.

If you focus on conflict-laden scenes then that’s what your day will be made up of and that’s what you’ll have to review in the editing room at night. But if you focus your attention on what you’re grateful for, then that’s what you get to spend your night with. And if you want those nights to be peaceful then don’t overshoot footage during the day. Don’t comment on things that don’t benefit from your opinion. Don’t judge yourself or others. Have a quiet mind. Have a low shooting percentage.

Remember, Clint Eastwood can have a seemingly risky though Zen-like shooting ratio and yet the proof is in his record: he’s Directed five different actors to Academy Award wins and he himself has been nominated for a dozen and won five. And he’s known for liking his Set quiet…

829 Relax and Succeed - The bird in a forestClint will still film both joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, gain and loss. Again, the profound living is less so in the content and more so in the depth of our appreciation of that content. Even in the sad scenes we can authentically feel that Clint loves his work, he loves the people he works with and he loves his stories–and it all shows in his incredible track record. Your life can be the same.

Don’t shoot too much, shoot a high percentage of footage that is enjoyable to experience whether that’s someone jumping out of a plane, getting a new puppy or enjoying a great conversation. And if you’ve gone out and shot a bunch of depressing footage then don’t be surprised if you and your editor end up depressed. And that’s not good because it makes shooting the next day harder, and you’re going to be more likely to develop a habit of shooting the crap instead of the beauty.

Start today. Focus your attention on the film you want to make, not on the one you’re afraid you might make. And the healthiest choice after shooting is to do like a lot of big cinematographers and never see the finished film. That’s the healthiest of all because then you know for sure that you didn’t make your film for anyone else but yourself, and that was entirely the point. Because replaying our own films is just memory-based ego. But the making of our films is our lives. So it is worthwhile to be mindful of the movie we are always making.

peace. s

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