Good For You

Good for you. Have you ever stopped to really think about that phrase? Think about when you say it; it’s always when someone’s had something good happen in their life. And the more they had to do with their success the more enthusiastic we are. We’re happy for lottery winners, but we deeply admire those with the talent to create success, and our admiration increases in proportion to how hard they needed to work for it.

Good for you. It’s a double entendre. On one hand it means that whatever has happened is good news for you and that you are to be congratulated. On the other hand it can also note a well-earned victory means that notable successes are drawn from notable efforts. All of that hard work is good for you, so the earned victory not only impresses us, it inspires us.

It is in these moments in which we can feel our interconnectedness. Our happiness for the other person is an experience we have within our consciousness. The other person doesn’t even experience that. They see someone in the act of loving and that in turn inspires them to essentially love our love for them. It’s like a feedback loop of love.

And who is unpopular? An ego. An ego considers only itself, just as an insecure person doesn’t consider themselves enough. You want to balance on humility, where you get to selfishly be you, but you’re developed enough as a soul that you understand that nothing is better for you than what is good for others.

How then should this impact our days? If we know an open channel can generate opportunities for valuable connections, and we know closing ourselves off selfishly creates a feeling of separation and emptiness, then why not watch for the former and ignore the latter?

Most people spend most of their day in their head, talking to themselves. And when I say, “talking to,” what I really mean is attacking, reminding, debasing, criticizing, and fearfully undermining their own sense of self.

Why fill your head with all of those busy negative words when you can treat your consciousness more like a Star Trek tractor-beam? You just lock onto something you know you want and you pull it closer. And closer doesn’t mean in a possessive way, it means in a oneness way. It means you start to feel the same happiness they’re feeling but it’s about something that happened to them, not you. That’s connection. We live for that.

So today, like everyday, you’ll go through life switching between the creation of personal narrative that confirm your egocentric impression of the world, or you’ll engage in a very active silence that seeks to pull in the universe in an act of loving awareness. It’s why on a “good day” almost everything seems sweet or beautiful or wonderful or kind, and on a “bad day” it seems like the world’s filled with jerks.

Don’t try to stop your thinking. Switch the energy you use for thinking into being. Reading is thinking another person’s thoughts. A picture isn’t that different from reading, and an actual face isn’t so different from a photo of a face, so it isn’t a huge leap to move from you thinking your personal painful thoughts, to thinking an author’s thoughts, to studying a portrait, and then on to looking at an actual face. That’s all reality, not your opinion about reality.

Thoughts can get so busy they can lead to us feeling like we’re drowning. Reasons to feel good are laying all over the place and they buoy us up. Your day is filled with moments. Take as many as possible, and fill them with the fruits of your observations rather than waste them on yet another stream of unpleasant, unproductive thoughts.

You only have so much time on this Earth, so stop trying to impress everyone else and start living as though your life is actually yours. Because nothing will impress people more than how loving you’ll be once your egocentric, wanting thoughts are quieted in favour of you engaging in loving appreciation.

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 Space To Be You

You know what you need? Nothing. That’s what you need. You need gaps, you need space. You need room to simply be. But you can’t do that because you’re either too busy being busy, or you’re busy being something other than yourself. You’re either too busy thinking other people’s thoughts or you’re too busy thinking about yourself. You’re anxious or worried or angry or depressed, and yet your nature is not. There are zero depressed babies.

The worst thing you can do to a baby is take it away from human contact. That’s why being depressed hurts so much when we’re older too. It cuts us off from the natural camaraderie that is part of a healthy human life. If you’re spending a lot of time alone and you’re hurt or angry, then keep in mind that it’s pretty normal for any human to feel that way if you’re in any way deprived of human engagement.

Temporarily wanting to be alone after taking an emotional hit is fine, but the reason that being isolated eventually always hurts is because the pain is signalling us that our time alone is over and we’re now being prodded by our healthy self to end the source of the suffering: the isolation.

The problem is, people will often mistake the pain of the isolation for the pain for the original experience. Fortunately, that’s just a small mistake our mind makes. Once we’ve trained it to watch for those things it can handle telling the two apart quite easily. But you can’t do that if you think all of your suffering comes from the outside world. The pain, okay. But the suffering you need to accept as your responsibility before you can be free of its agonies.

Let’s say you got cut off from your social group in some harsh and thorough way. Because we’re creatures that do better in the company of other creatures, it makes sense that you would find that experience painful. So go be alone for a while. But then when the aloneness doesn’t feel better–when it doesn’t feel like solitude and space and quiet–then you’ll start to suffer in that aloneness, and that’s your sign.

If you’re suffering you’ll have started to overthink and, if you’re not careful, soon you’ll mistake the emotional results of your thinking for the emotional pain of the inciting event from the past. You’ll blame the outside world for something you’re doing to yourself. You’ll develop all kinds of rationalisation stories that explain why your pain is someone else’s fault. But it won’t be. It will be you. And your freedom is hidden in that fact.

If you put yourself there you can get yourself out. If something painful’s happened, take some time and collect yourself but then rejoin life. But if you’re just wallowing in suffering every day then I’m sorry, but that’s you. You can tell yourself all the stories you like, with all of the sad events and evil characters you can think of, but it will not change the fact that you are powerful. You are free to think what you choose, and you’re free to end your suffering the moment you decide to focus of your consciousness on things that inspire you.

Being alone isn’t lonely if that’s where you feel you should be. Being with people isn’t busy or complicated if you’re quiet inside. No place or activity is right or wrong, it is simply either in or out of harmony with who you are being in any given moment. Allow yourself some sadness. But don’t regard your own thinking as though you have problems when you’re only problem is all of that thinking. After all, learning to tell our thinking from a direct experience is a key part of being healthy.

Save yourself. Whether you’re alone or in a crowd, create more space. Create more openness in each day, and more acceptance of yourself and your life. You are expansive and capable. Listen to your own guidance and then trust 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 Confrontation

She let him have it. How dare he speak to her that way? They were friends, she was hurting and he attacked her. He went right for the jugular, refusing to respect what was happening and what it all meant. Her heart was broken.

“I can’t believe you said that to me.”

“I can’t believe you asked me to believe something so ridiculous.”

“I never asked you to believe anything! I was hurt. I came to you for help and you acted like my problems are nothing!”

“What problems?”

She’s incredulous. He was right there. He did it! And now he’s claiming he doesn’t know what’s going on?! She was livid. “I just finished telling you about how my boss has been treating me and you acted like it didn’t matter!”

“Okay, first off, can we at least try to calm down enough so that we’re not yelling back and forth?” He took a breath and steadied himself. His voice was warmer when he spoke. “Look Syd, we’ve known each other a while now. If you haven’t figured out that I care then pay more attention because it should be obvious for a variety of reasons. Who rescued you when blew your rent on that crazy gift for your Mom?”

“She was worried she was going to die!”

“I remember. That’s why I gave you money I really didn’t have. Of course I thought your Mom was important. Who took her special meals up every time you couldn’t? Who sat and played her dice game with her? Don’t act like I haven’t shown I care.”

She shuffles in her place, uncomfortable. He puts his arm around her. “When that guy dumped you I’m the one that invited you over for dinner, and it was me that was sitting beside you and it was me that put the mirror on the chair across from you because it was me who told you I wanted to make sure you had dinner looking across the table at someone beautiful.”

She jags a cry. She’s emotional, and he’s mixing a bunch of sweet and awful moments together really fast. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“That’s us Syd. That’s what we do. A girl dumps me, I come see you and you tell me I have a nice ass or that girls are dumb anyway and you help. Even if I’ve been a dick. You show you care. And I do too. So that’s who we are so you can’t take today and rewrite all of that. You can if you want, but to me you’re the same person, which is why I don’t want to hear this shit anymore.”

She’s incredulous that he’d attack her after they just calmed it down. “What shit?”

“This shit about you being weak. This shit about you going into a depression because of your boss. I know you. So it’s insane to ask me to believe that you’re too weak for this. It’s offensive to you, and you asking me to pretend you’re weak is offensive to me. I know who I know, I know who I see every day.” It’s weird. He’s complimenting her and giving her shit at the same time. She gets up, back to him, crosses her arms and paces nearby. It doesn’t seem to bother him.

His tone shifts down a bit. “And who I see is a strong woman who made it through her Mom’s cancer and her parent’s divorce, and her breakups and mine–and she survived Grady Marsh in high school and yes, she was knocked around for sure.” He leans in to stress his point. “But the weeble wobbled and it didn’t fall down Syd. You were fine then you’ll be fine now, so all of this dramatization is exactly that.”

“Don’t reduce my life to some lame plea. And so I’m just supposed to go everyday and get treated like shit? Is that it? I should just be fine with how she treats me?”

“Of course not. She’s a classic over-compensator. She feels like a fraud who doesn’t really deserve her job and so she feels uncomfortable around any capable person and she over-compensates. It’s classic. It’s hardly personal. She’ll do it like a robot to everyone who she perceives has the ability, intelligence or beauty that she doesn’t have. And don’t act like you’re helpless.”

“Oh what, I confront her and wait for her to get angry and undermine me and then just surrender my job? That’s what she’d do.”

“Maybe. Depends on how you approach it. But regardless, either fix it, leave it or stop bitching about it. She’s always been like that; you should either go in and accept that as the landscape of the job, or make a formal complaint and wait to get fired, or just leave. But stop talking like you’re weak with no options when you’re really only scared. You’re an adult.”

“This is a painful thing, why can’t you see that?”

“I can. But no one said there’d be no pain. You live around enormous numbers of people in horrible pain. My point is it won’t last so it doesn’t need us to engage with it so much.”

“I’ve put in five years there. Why should I have to leave!?

“Why not leave? Why are you assuming where you go would be worse? Maybe it would be better. Maybe you’d meet your new boyfriend who becomes your husband there. Syd, stop acting like these mental attachments matter.”

He urges her to sit back down next to him and she does. “Let me clear it up Syd: the world isn’t fair. Go to a children’s hospital and see people with real challenges. Even your own sister. She’s a single mom of a sick kid, she has to work two jobs, and your once-had-cancer mom helps but you don’t. Your life looks pretty good you know. I know it’s no princess-life but come on. We gotta remember, 25% of the people walking past us will get cancer and a bunch of the rest of them are those people’s families. Maybe that’s still us, so maybe this isn’t so bad really.”

“I don’t think you understand what being depressed is.”

He’s not angry, but he is firm. “Now you’re being disrespectful to me. Please don’t pretend you’ve got some feeling I don’t. Don’t pretend that everyone you know hasn’t suffered horribly in their life. All of us feel like just throwing in the towel sometimes. I know that hurts and so does everyone else over about ten years old, so don’t put a spotlight on your problems like they’re the only ones that count because the rest of us have some challenges too you know. When was the last time you asked about Brian?”

Her eyes widened and she hid a gasp. “I’m so sorry. I was so caught up in what’s been happening that I didn’t even think to ask. I’m so sorry.” She takes a step toward him but she can see he needs some space.

“Thanks. Mom says he’s good. We’ll wait and see how the chemo did.”

“I’m so sorry. We should go see him.”

The whole thing between them is a bit weird for her now. He seems comfortable, just stung. “Yeah. He’d like that.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Syd, just stop okay? Just stop with all of the whining. You’re not depressed, it’s just when small shit goes wrong somehow your dad taught you this habit of spinning it around in your head for forever and for what? What’s all that thinking do but dump a bunch of awful-feeling chemicals into your brain? How does that help you solve your issues with your boss, or Palestine and Israel, or climate change, or women’s rights, or any other thing you’ll get all down about? It’s just a stupid waste of time and a bad habit and you always defend it. It steals energy from our friendship that could be used more wisely.”

He turns toward her, almost intimately. “It’s why you forgot to ask about Brian. You’re always too wrapped up with thoughts about yourself that you never stop to ask what you’re missing and yet you’re famous for not noticing major things in people’s lives.”

“I am not!”

He just looks back at her. She can tell that it’s true. She has a moment where she caves in a bit. She hates the thought that among her friends she’s known as the one who hogs the pain limelight. But to her credit, that reputation doesn’t feel comfortable, so she takes a good breath, sits up straight and she turns to him. “Okay… okay… so you’re saying I’m strong and so you’re not mad at me and you’re mad at me for acting like I’m weak.”

“Yes. You I love. I know you. It’s the behaviour. It’s beneath you. It’s like watching an alcoholic hurt themselves. I won’t blame the alcoholic for drinking themselves, but I won’t buy them a bottle either.”

She sits with that for a bit. If her parents made it to Canada, through all of that hell back home, then how could the child of those strong people act like a shitty boss would be enough to knock her entire life off track. The longer she considered it the more the stronger feeling built until finally she turned to him. “Okay. Okay then tell me what your brother loves and then lets go get a lot of whatever that is.”

He turns to her. He’s crying. She touches his shoulder. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

“I’m not crying about that.”

“What’s wrong then?”

“Nothing. You’re just so beautiful when you love people.”

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.

Balancing With Wisdom

We tend to think of wisdom as something that will save us, but we fail to notice that if it saves us then we must have been in trouble in the first place. That’s fine, because experiencing challenges expands our capacity, but it’s important to actually remember, in the moment, that you want them: wisdom has no use unless you have problems, and problems both teach and are overcome by wisdom. It’s a win-win.

People who are not yet familiar with their wisdom often see the wise as balanced, when they should be seen as good at balancing. There we have a word that needs inspection; balance isn’t a static state. You weren’t supposed to become the perfect fossil. Your life is an active, in-motion expression of the balance and tension between your so-called problems and your so-called wisdom.

When you start off in life you run around on the teeter-totter of being like a little kid. And like little kids, you sometimes make miscalculations about where to put your weight. When we’re young or when we’re not paying enough attention (which is like being young), that’s when we tend to make the mistakes that see us crashing down painfully.

When you’re a kid just not getting your way can cause your teeter-totter to crash down. Later, you understand more grown-up concepts, so you’re more accepting of daily life, but you still struggle with your relationships. But as you struggle through those, you get better at that but then you have to learn to use an aging body. The learning never stops, so the trick is to love the learning rather than resist it.

Life is doing what it’s doing and it’ll drop unexpected and expected weights on teeter-totters all the time. Sometimes you’ll perceive that action personally, as though life’s been hard on you specifically, rather than you seeing it for what it is: that you just happened to be balancing in the path of some otherwise impersonal destruction.

Some scientists wanted to test experienced meditators regarding what levels of acceptance can be achieved through mindfulness. They took the best monk they knew (Lama Oser), and they tested him. Keep in mind, this fellow spent his entire life getting good at being peaceful. And what did that attract to him? The people looking to attack him so they could study the sources of peace.

It wasn’t personal when they got him to meditate. They just wanted to see what mindfulness could do when it came to managing something the scientists thought was guaranteed to create startled reaction. So the reward for all of his meditation practice was that they scared him intentionally, with a really really loud noise. They just wanted to see if he would react. Even police snipers have a startle reaction to the sound of a gun. Lama Oser didn’t. Can you see? Life literally delivers the lessons that suit us best if only we’d be open to them. And that went for the scientists as much as for Lama Oser.

When you started off as a kid you were flopping all over the place and your teeter-totter rocked violently sometimes. But as you age, and much more so as you become aware, you’ll find ways to detect that you’re heading off course and you’ll develop skills to react to those situations. Over time and practice you’ll refine those until eventually someone says that’s how you are.

The wise person you want to be–the people you admire–they’re still balancing. It’s just they’ve learned enough from being off balance that they now can make such subtle adjustments to stay on balance that you can’t even detect them from your perspective. But they’re still there, make no mistake. So if someone can settle themselves in a way you can’t, don’t argue with them that they should be upset with you. Instead, ask them more about how they manage to not be upset.

Life doesn’t finish. Awareness is a practice, not an achievement. Life will always require you to balance it. But if you don’t pay attention, years alone won’t do it. You have to actually pay attention to balancing if you want to learn to balance. It won’t happen mindlessly, only mindfully. Stop fighting and resisting your battles. Learn from them instead. Because everyone, including you, has the capacity within them to develop balance. Go find yours.

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 Stream of Time

What does Henry David Thoreau mean? Is this silly? Opaque? Meaningless? Profound? It’s actually all of those things, and you’ll turn it into whatever it becomes. Clearly people post it as a quote because it means something, so it’s not silly or meaningless, but it can also be so obscure that its nature can conceal its profundity.

Anyone who looks at it and thinks about it long enough knows that you are only ever alive now. You lived 10 years ago, but you’re not alive there now, you’re here, in the present. So any thoughts about your past or about your future are all thoughts, and they are all thought now, about then or later. You can think about other times as a present-time activity. So you can use now to revisit then if you like. The problem is that you do it a lot when you don’t like it, but that can stop.

Sometimes you’re just casting. You’re not after anything, you’re just reminiscing. That’s the best kind of fishing. The kind where it’s just as good even if there’s no fish, or no keepers. And if you’re that casual about your life, then if you pull in something that you think is ugly or unwanted, you can just catch and release–you can just let that collection of thoughts go.

Other times you’re casting looking for pretty specific fish. These are the old hollows you return to in your mind, over and over, in a bid to finally land that big fish and end your fishing. But you fail to notice the irony of fishing to end fishing. You don’t erase unpleasant experiences from your psyche, you just don’t load them into active memory. You don’t fish for what you don’t want to catch.

Understand, your body is alive in the present, but you’re usually not with it in the present, you’re time travelling forward or backward using your thoughts. So your experiences of fear or anxiety or sadness or loss, these are all thoughts about other times, and yet because they are emotionally imprinted, you see them as your life.

You have to take where you go and what you fish for more seriously. Far too many people just fish for whatever their parents fished for, without much thought of whether or not that’s actually the best route to an enjoyable fishing trip. We should use our feelings to grade our thoughts, and if they’re leading us to feel lower or worse, then we should stop thinking them.

You have no big huge miraculous thing to do. You already live within an enlightened state, you just want to be more conscious of it. To do that you only need to stop yourself from fishing in your yesterdays or tomorrows, and instead focus on being on the river now, today. Because that is where you life is lived and that is where your balance is kept. The present literally is a gift. Come alive within 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 Teacher

She taught Education. She had been asked a reasonable question: what should they do when confronted with a racist student? How should they protect the student under attack? What was the best discipline for the student doing the attacking? She understood their impulse. Her own reaction as a young teacher back in the 90’s was to come down hard. But then she told her students about him.

He was a handsome boy; bright, very engaged. He sat right near the front. It had been a week since he’d been to class. The parents said they would ensure he came, but still no Cameron. She was on her way home when she finally spotted him.

He was sitting at a coffee shop table with a fruit drink, reading a comic book. He didn’t know what to do when she just sat down across from him with her coffee and a big friendly smile on her face. “Hi Cameron!” He froze like a deer in the headlights, caught off guard by her friendly approach. “Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. I know what the problem is. Everything is going to be fine now. You’re safe.” He was baffled.

“Safe from who?”

“From whoever is bullying you.” His eyes rolled a bit. He seemed less nervous. It was like he was mocking her efforts. “It’s okay Cameron. You’re not weak for needing help. We have to stand up to racism together. Just tell me who the student is and I promise, they’ll be disciplined harshly. I’m pretty sure I already know who it is anyway.”

“Oh yeah? And who’s that?” he finally said.

“It’s Nathan, isn’t it.” He just laughed her off like a fool. “It’s not funny Cameron. This this is a serious issue. If it’s bad enough he’ll be kicked out of school.”

“Well then I guess you’ve already done your job then, haven’t you?” he offered. Now she was confused and he now felt more confident.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about me. I’ve already left. You don’t need to kick me out.” She stared back at him, truly lost and confused and he knew it. He let her stew while he built up his courage. He loved her as a teacher, but it was time. Finally, he stepped forward to offer his coup de grâce. “I’m the racist Ms. Simms. I’m the bad guy in this story.”

“Cameron I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“At least you got that part right.” She looked at him imploringly. He was a good student. She wanted to be a good teacher. But he almost seemed angered by her compassion. “I’m from South Africa Ms. Simms.” He paused. “I’m white.” She was still lost.

He spun the comic around and pointed to a character. “I’m the villain. I’m the bad guy.” She looked at him confused. “I had dogs back home that were trained to attack black people Ms. Simms. The person you want to kick out of school isn’t Nathan, it’s me.”

It was like someone flipped her world upside down. She started a hundred thoughts and finished none. He was South African. He was white. And South Africa was under sanctions for Apartheid. “But…” all of her preconceptions were smashing into what he’d said, and what she knew. “Cameron how could that be? Just because you lived in South Africa, that doesn’t automatically make you a racist.”

“Yes it does Ms. Simms. It does. Because I was. I was a racist. Do you understand? My friends and I beat black people.” She reacted as though he struck her. She flinched, and it made him feel more confident. “That’s right. I sicked my dogs on black people. They bit them. Badly. And I felt nothing. They were animals. I cared more about my dogs.”

She sat there feeling like someone had punched her in the stomach. She had no way to process what he was saying and he knew it, so he doubled down. “You’re from here, Canada. You talk to black students the same way you talk to white students, and Chinese students, and Native students. You’re a Canadian. You were taught to respect these people. I was taught to have dogs. Dogs that were trained to attack black people. And I was happy to use them.”

“But you’re not that person now…” she was almost begging him to confirm it. She couldn’t reconcile the nice kid she knew and the stories he was telling her.

“When you grow up and everyone around you thinks a certain way, you don’t even notice it. I was in Canada for months before I saw a white person treat a black person with respect. I’d never seen it before in my life. I thought he was crazy, or weak. My father thought he was both.”

“Do you still feel that way? Do you still want to attack black people?” Now he was uncomfortable. He didn’t. Canada had rubbed off on him in a year. He wasn’t friends with any coloured people, but he knew people he liked that were. He was going through his own conflicts. He couldn’t tell her how he felt because he didn’t know either. “How could you believe such a thing?” she asked.

“You thought I was a nice kid, right? You believed that. You took the little bit you knew and you told yourself a story about me and you believed it. So that’s who I was. I was who you thought I was. Well, the same for me. Everyone around me believed black people were animals, so I thought so too. I didn’t even know there was an option until I moved here.”

“But you’re so compassionate Cameron. I’ve seen you be kind. It’s why I like you.”

“It’s just guilt. I’ve done some very bad things.” That seemed to upset him.

“But you didn’t know better.”

“That’s no excuse. You said it yourself.”

She had. She now knew that had been a mistake. It had never occurred to her that she might not be able to recognise the racists. Her judgment felt too easy now, too casual. Now she felt like the bully. “I’ve made a mistake Cameron. I’m sorry. You’re making me realise that now. I’d never thought of the racist as a victim too.”

“A victim of who? We had all of the power.”

“I don’t mean the power. I mean the… awareness. The understanding. You had no way of knowing that you were participating in racism. I see that now. If everyone around you does it, then it’s normal. You’re making me realise now that I grew up in a family that had some pretty harsh ideas about Indians–about Natives–and I’m… maybe I’m not as good a teacher as I thought.”

“You’re fine Ms. Simms. You’re one of the most popular teachers in the school. The problem isn’t you. It’s me.”

Now she was feeling stronger. “No, it isn’t. The problem is that I didn’t have a discussion about racism, I just called one side good and the other side bad and that was it. I didn’t leave you any room. I didn’t leave a space for you and that’s my fault. That’s my failing. I not only let you down as a teacher, I let that whole class down and I see that now. I need your help Cameron.”

“My help…?” He was lost. He was young enough that he thought in absolutes. But she was changing her mind. And it was opening up new possibilities.

“I want you to teach us Cameron.” He seemed shocked. “I mean it. You’re right. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just like you I’ve never even questioned my biases until now. I’m no better than you and you’re no worse than me. The problem here isn’t you. The problem is a lack of understanding. You can help us with that. Racism is subtle here in Canada. We like to think we have none, and yet I displayed some to you. I was intolerant of you. We have to fix that. This class can be better and it will be better if you explain it to us. We need to know why you had those dogs. We need to find our own versions of those dogs. Will you help me? Will you help us?”

She seemed serious. He liked her. And he liked school. He really wanted to be more comfortable with his black classmates but he had no idea where to start. Maybe this was his chance.

“Please Cameron. I mean it. I really need your help with this.” He looked at her a long time. He wanted so badly to believe he was a good person. He so badly wanted her forgiveness. He wanted all black people’s forgiveness. He started to cry. I mean cry. It started as tears but soon he was sobbing. She went around the table and put her arm around while he sobbed.

After a while someone appeared next to them. It was Robert. He was a sensitive boy. He’d been a refugee from Somalia. He was black. “Are you okay Cameron?” he asked. Cameron looked up and started to cry even harder when he saw who it was. Robert sat down across from him and took his hands his own. “It’s okay.”

Cameron looked at him through his tears. He felt so incredibly bad that he started a new jag of tears. He squeezed Robert’s hands. “Robert will you help me?”

“Of course I will.” He pulled Cameron up, into an embrace. He held him closely as Cameron bawled on his shoulder. People started watching them but they didn’t care. This was the beginning of it getting better.

When she looked up at her university class she was crying. They were too. Even the harshest, toughest boys. She took a moment to gather herself before speaking. “If I teach you anything in this class I’d like it to be this: you will learn more from your students than you can ever hope to teach them. So remember that when you’re at the front of your classes. Remember to never, ever, stop being a student too. Because in all of my years of teaching, no one ever made me a better teacher than Cameron and Robert did. Your job isn’t to police what’s good or bad or right or wrong. Your job is to build understanding. Do that, and you’ll have done the most important kind of teaching there is.”

And with that the bell rang.

peace. s

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

Wabi-Sabi Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace. s

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

MoK: Sad Kindnesses

1108-relax-and-succeed-it-is-not-enough-to-be-compassionateToday in the March of Kindness we’re dealing with sadness, which for the purposes of this discussion we’ll divide into two categories. The first is unwelcome sadness within ourselves, and unwelcome sadness in others, and the second is a welcome sadness in ourselves and/or welcome sadness in others.

Unwelcome sadness will have destructively overstayed itself. It could be anything from chronic to simply overdue for a change. In the case of longer term sadness, part of the challenge is that we will often have already overtaxed others ability to provide compassion, meaning our act of kindness can be to relieve that pressure from those around us.

This isn’t to say our pain isn’t necessarily valid, but we all must remember that everyone has their own visible and invisible challenges as well, so focusing too much on our own sadness can lead to a form of selfish disrespect for those around us. We’re unlikely to be the only people from whom the extension of compassion would be appropriate, and no one’s supply of energy for such things is limitless.

1108-relax-and-succeed-mok-be-kindChronic sadness can be a challenge for those around us because it becomes invisible through its consistency. Essentially, sadness becomes a personality trait rather than an emotional state. We and others can eventually accept a sad identity and we won’t attempt to change it out of respect.

If we’re one of the people who’s been locked into some form of long-running destructive sadness, we can add kindness to the world by consciously choosing to rescue those around us from having to talk, act and work around our personal own personal suffering for today. Rather than asking for energy we can emit it.

If someone is currently experiencing welcome sadness–that is, meaningful sadness related to a death or other very profound life event–then we can extend our kindness by avoiding the desire to rush the person out of their healthy state of grief. Sadness can accomplish important things of us, and often just assessing which is which in ourselves and others can be a very valuable awareness exercise.

1108-relax-and-succeed-mok-if-you-love-someoneToday, either enact your kindness by consciously removing your long term sadness from the lives of others, or practice kindness by exercising compassion regarding someone else’s temporary but meaningful sadness. What’s important is that this action is intentional and obvious. If you’re lucky enough to have no sad people in your life at the moment, feel free to use someone from the News.

The former can be the announcement of a commitment to choose positivity for the day, and the latter can come in the form of a simple expression of empathy that you’re aware that sometimes these experiences are necessary, and yet you want the person to clearly know that you do care despite the fact that you’re providing “space” for their experience.

These are both kind and simple acts that are not particularly socially awkward so this act in the March of Kindness will likely be easier for you than yesterdays. Don’t forget to stay conscious. This can be a very healthy form of connection.

Now go be kind, and then have a wonderful weekend. We’ll start again on Monday. But don’t think you can’t continue to exercise these first few forms of kindness over the weekend. Take care.

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.

Accounting For Taste

1094-relax-and-succeed-nothing-happens-just-because-we-are-awarePart of why people think too much is that they’re too idle. You can be, or think about being, but you can’t do both. Whereas healthy people invest themselves in the actions, others use more thinking to try to stop their thinking but, you don’t stop thinking; you replace it with activity. The activity of being alive.

The problem is that most people don’t even know what life activity even looks like. Even the idea of basic listening, or patience, or openness is too-often seen as unproductive; as though all of the value is in how much someone does, not how well they do it. But if we’re only doing then that means those tasks are for other people, but even if they’re for other people we should still be alive while we do them.

You can repeat an action and still be alive while doing it. You can still do something generous and do it for you. But to do so you must slow down your thinking and deepen your focus. Once you do this, you’ll see the world slow down and it will make more sense because you will be taking in more information.

1094-relax-and-succeed-life-is-a-seriesA good way to do this is through your senses. We’ll start today with your sense of taste. You’ll have to stay aware to remember to do it when you eat or drink, but otherwise your job in today’s meditation is wonderfully simple: simply taste anything you consume.

Seems weird doesn’t it? Lots of people can think, I already taste everything I eat, but that’s actually pretty unlikely. Most people are so busy using their mind to create internal dramas that they rarely just focus on the taste experience.

This meditation is two-fold in that it helps you maintain a level of awareness throughout the day so that you can catch yourself eating or drinking, and then once that experience starts you can work on adjusting your focus down to that one sense. The idea is that your brain is doing nothing but tasting the food. No commenting, no desires, no words, just taste whatever it is and be fully aware of all aspects of that flavour.

1094-relax-and-succeed-rather-than-being-your-thoughtsIt seems easy but it does require a constant low-level awareness on what you’re doing so that you’ll be more alert. But the real gold is if you can really find yourself noticing a substantial difference in eating or drinking. It shouldn’t feel like fuel even if it is. It’s not just something you do on the way to something else, it’s literally an action that keeps you alive. Invest more in it. Besides, a lot of the food you eat is presumably really good.

Pay attention to everything you eat or drink until bedtime. Tomorrow, either make a mental note in the morning of the day-before’s favourite taste experience, or share your top moments of awareness with your meditation partner. It’s a nice meditation to do. You not only gain in awareness, but it makes lunch taste a lot better. Enjoy.

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.