Old Laughs – Redux

219 Relax and Succeed - Always laugh when you can
I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of laughs in my lifetime. Thanks to my accident I’d realised by five that the only reason to be alive was to enjoy it. That made funny people very important to me and I sought them out at every turn. I thought my childhood best friend was funny. I thought the Icelandic friend I went to elementary school with was funny. The chubby guy I played floor hockey with was hilarious. The guy that lived upstairs from me at my old apartment is funny. My current favourite neighbour is funny. My dad is funny. Laughs are important.

What’s the point Scott?

(sorry.)

Okay, so despite a life with all those and many more funny friends, and despite great comedians and comedies, and despite every other funny thing that’s happened to me, one of the funniest moments of my life came from the strangest source—the person wasn’t even trying to be funny. Now don’t see this as some big setup. You won’t find it funny at all. You would have had to have heard it, and even then you would still have to note the subtle shift in the voices before you’d think it was funny.

My work often has me up very late and when I am,I often listen to CBC One’s overnight programming, which includes broadcasts from across Canada and around the world. They’re all excellent shows and I thoroughly enjoy them. One of the shows features a host I find particularly good. He’s funny, smart, widely studied, and dare I say even profoundly compassionate when the interview calls for it (he did one of the best I’ve ever heard). But the night in question was not his shining moment.

219 Relax and Succeed - If it doesn't make you happy
He was interviewing the first man to fly a solar aircraft a significant distance (maybe it was across America?). The host asked a lot of smart questions and then he seemed to pause as though he may have lost where he was in his notes. He threw out a rather abrupt question, “Is the aircraft a propeller kind, or a jet?” and I absolutely exploded with laughter.

I know to some people this may seem like a legitimate question because they have no idea how radio or jets work, but I know how they work, well enough that, to me , it was as though the host had said, “What fuel does your engine run on, forks or rabbits?” The fact that it was still after editing indicates he needed those question for the interview. We’ve all been trapped by our own mistakes like that. I cannot fully explain why, but this question would for some very cool reasons, be one of the top five funniest things I’d ever heard in my life. But here’s the thing….

The reason I’m writing this is that the same host is doing his show as I write this. And he happened to be interviewing someone who reminded me of that pilot. Think of that word: Re-minded. As in, “put back into my mind.” The moment I shot some ATP electricity through that particular circuit of my brain again, I loaded some charge into my memory of the previous experience. As soon as I thought of it, the absurdity (that’s what makes us laugh) of the statement hit me the very same way it did the first time, and I once again exploded in laughter just like I do every time I think of him saying that.

Do you get it? It’s just as funny as a memory. Or just as sad. Or just as scary. You’re where you’re thoughts are. Your mood is dictated by what you think. You were in a mood when you started reading this. But as you read it you thought about what I asked you, or encouraged you, or wrote you into thinking. So you felt what I lead you to feel. That’s the fundamental journey artists take their audiences on as their work: translations of experience.

219 Relax and Succeed - I am still determined
If your experience with my words was interrupted by your own thoughts, you would have felt other emotions that would depend on the nature of the interruption. Some might have made you excited and happy, and other interruptions can be irritating and troublesome. But the point is, the experience of your life will be the judgments you make, so you have to get serious about making those judgments conscious. You have to be responsible with your thinking.

Trust me, this is the best trade-off you’ll ever make. Just don’t be an Ego. Monitor your thinking. Choose the direction of your thoughts. Don’t live out of blind habit. Because you can laugh anytime you want. You just have to fully invest yourself in thinking about something funny.

This isn’t something you learn. It’s something you practice. Practice laughing by going to places where you are likely to laugh. Practice switching from other states of mind into a funny head-space whenever you can. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Eventually you’ll be able to turn former fights into exchanges of sarcastic wit layered with a dose of humility. But it will always be a genuinely spiritual practice.

Start now. Think of an enjoyable time. Fully get into it. Remember what each of your senses was focused on. Go into that Moment, feel it, and translate it to us into our current reality by feeling today what you felt then too—the two moments forever linked in time through a filament of joy.

Such is the nature of happiness.

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.

Meet Your Brain

1228 Relax and Succeed - Rowboat and whaleThere’s a lot going on under the surface. You imagine your physical life. They anesthetize your brain, not the part of your body they’re operating on. Your pain, your loves, the very idea of your self are all concepts that exist within the confines of your consciousness. They exist as energy–as information moving through your mind and the way you do it is like no one else. No other human being will have your perspective. Ever.

Stop trying to manage the details of your external life. Study how your thoughts translate to your day. Rather than ruminating, spinning and literally being your own thinking, take a step back and meditate instead. Ask who you actually are, and ask where does your pain take place? What is that pain made of, and how can an anesthetist make it go away so easily?

Even when you think you’re failing, that failure is only happening within your personal consciousness. Others won’t even notice, they’ll be too busy building their own ideas of failure for themselves inside their own consciousness. So just relax. You are a wonder. Get to know yourself. Meet your brain.

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 Friday Dose #138: Dan Gilbert

A lot of people think that it was the swing smashing a hole in my head and a near-death experience that lead to the understanding that I share with students. While that may be true, and while my memory from age five isn’t vivid, I personally believe the reason has far more to do with what that accident made me aware of; namely thinking.

When I first meet a student I do a little talk not unlike this one, wherein I explain the fundamentals of how a brain works. I’ll usually use things from people’s lives rather than experiments (because Dan’s a psychologist and I’m just someone who for 45 years has watched what people said and did super-closely). But essentially the point is the same: reality is flexible, happiness is negotiable.

My “course” is 12 hours long. If you can’t see me, but you’re interested in that what the first hour conveys, I’d suggest giving this talk a listen and it’ll give you a taste of how you’re like everyone else. The rest of the course would then be about how these general truths impact your specific life. What’s most important to take away from this is that, if you aren’t enjoying life, you can learn to.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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 Friday Dose #119: The New Brain

963 FD Relax and Succeed - A beautiful lifeIn general people inside and outside of the sciences will tend to overestimate what is known versus what it is still unknown. It makes sense that brain researchers would feel they were studying a relatively well-known organ and yet earlier this year an entirely new, large and significant brain structure was discovered. Earlier this month they found out what it’s for.

Obviously if you’re social you will be in contact with more germs. So if you’re going to be near a lot of bacteria and viruses then it’s logical that your body would want you to have greater protection. It’s just that previously no one knew about the relationship between how you feel and how your immune system will work.

If you’re alone all the time there is little reason for you to need a robust immune system, much like someone who never lifts anything will have little reason to build up a robust set of muscles. Likewise, if you’re near people and you’re immune system is depressed, then it makes sense that your brain would encourage emotions that would make you less social. I’ve noted it in previous blogs, but until the last decade or so almost no one realised that being sad would lead to being sick. Now we know those observations were well-founded: being sad usually means being isolated and it’s likely the isolation that will lead to the health issues.

There is still much to be learned. Are your moods dictated more by your health or is your health dictated more by your moods? What we do know is they’re interconnected, so in the meantime the best thing you can go by is your own direct experience in life. Unless you’re somehow prevented from participating in your society, it’s a good sign if you’re mixing with others a lot, because now we know with even greater certainty that you will literally build the body that suits the life you live.

Decide who you want to be and the universe will do its best to cooperate with that. It all starts with you. Have a great weekend everyone.

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.

Being Aware of Yourself

You are two things at once. You are your spiritual self, which is free and brilliant and unlimited, and that self travels around within your biological self, which is also free and potentially brilliant but it does have some limitations, including the fact that your brain is built as a pattern-matching, repetitive system that essentially uses cues to tell itself a story about what is happening around it.

793 Relax and Succeed - If you carry the bricks from your pastWithout mindfulness that pattern-matching behaviour will lead to an unconscious life. You won’t be choosing your existence so much as your existence will be directing you–like someone who was bit by a dog when they were young can end up being afraid of dogs for the rest of their life. Imagine how important that becomes when you start applying it to personal intimate romantic relationships.

One incident hardly condemns all dogs or people, but if a person isn’t careful and there are no intervening, countervailing experiences, they will use those unpleasant experiences to cage their spirit even more than the limitations of their body. Your body could be around a dog–or a beautiful brunette–it’s your worried thoughts that can’t.

The trick is to notice these extremely subtle patterns in life. Yes there’s the obvious stuff like; if you leave the house every day with your wallet and one day you leave without it your brain does signal you that something is off-pattern. That’s what you’re feeling when you say, I’ve got this feeling I forgot something. You’re exactly right.

793 Relax and Succeed - Do not give your pastThe harder patterns are ones like–how often you look at your phone? And what’s the pattern behind what you’re doing immediately before that, that reminds you to check it? Is it a notification that allows you to escape from harder work, or do you hit a timer in your head and you need a fix?

Do you only phone your friends when you’re sad or angry? Does your stomach tense up when you’re stressing? Do you automatically get up in a bad mood if it’s windy? Or on the way to your parents? Do you say things to your children out of habit rather than reacting to them originally, in the present moment? Do you always choose one or two genres of music, or does the same street always make you think of the same person?

The contexts that surround these patterns act as our cues. We should know our cues. You should intimately be aware of what upsets you and those closest to you. Even better, you should know what relaxes you and makes you happy. We need that pattern-match part of our brain to survive, but we don’t want it fencing us off from experience when it serves no useful purpose.

Get to know yourself much more intimately. Dedicate an entire hour to looking very, very closely at your own face. You know how you can write down or look at a word for so long that the letters start to lose their meaning? You’ve burned out the part of your brain that patterns those letters into that word, so as that energy flares out it hits all the jumbled angles on those letters.

793 Relax and Succeed - face it you are lovelyWell the same effect happens with your face. You know it as you. But when you stare at it long enough, there’s this sudden moment when you see not what you see–but what a stranger might see. The nice part about it is that it will happen for sure, and that you will realize you’re more interesting and beautiful than you thought.

Get to know your thinking. Do you have thought habits in the morning? When you drive home? Every workday do you literally go to the window to see if your neighbour parked in that way he always does that makes you mad? The crazy unaware person isn’t the neighbour who parks strangely, it’s the guy who chooses to consistently piss himself off as one of his daily rituals. Free yourself with awareness of who you really are.

What are your patterns? The more you find the more you will find because your brain is good at patterns, remember? It’ll get easier and easier to spot them. Trust me, they are all over the place and layered much much thicker than you can imagine. You’ll find times in the week where you are absolutely guaranteed to be upset between 7:12 and 7:32pm every Wednesday. If it’s that predictable surely there’s a work-around. But you have to be aware.

Awareness is key. You don’t need to be smarter or better, you just need more awareness. That will open up the doors to everything you are searching for. Don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it. Now go get to know this person you call yourself. And you will know all that you need to know to make the most of your life. Enjoy.

peace. s

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

The Friday Dose #79

Today we’ll focus on existence and our various ways of appreciating it. We’ll start with the physical, advance to the social/personal and we’ll end on the spiritual. Starting us off is former neuroscientist Greg Dunn who left medicine to paint the neurons he was seeing in the microscope every day. They demonstrate how truly beautiful you are inside.

Greg Dunn Paints Your Brain

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Next we’ll leap to a podcast from the CBC One radio program, Tapestry where subjects like meaning and spirituality are discussed. This interview with New York Times columnist and author David Brooks features ideas discussed in his new book, The Road to Character.

Tapestry with author David Brooks

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And finally we’ll close with the first Western guru of Eastern ideas, the inimitable Alan Watts as he discusses the notion of existence:

Next time you’re in a line up or otherwise “wasting time,” think about putting some energy into contemplating the very basis for your existence. As weird as it sounds it really does pay off. Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

peace. s

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

00 Relax and Succeed - Friday Dose Footer

Other Perspectives #69

691 OP Relax and Succeed - Sometimes your heart

We need to understand and dismiss our increasingly thought-based sentimental, immature, self-centred and dramatic reactions to regular life. We have to accept challenges as an aspect of our journey and we need to exchange our fears of going the wrong way with an intense passion of fully being awake and alive with other people, especially those closest to us. Then even an ordinary day feels fantastic and you fall in love with everyone around you over and over. It’s wonderful. But to feel that you have to be quiet inside. That means no talking to yourself. You tell yourself that’s your heart and your head debating, but both of those voices are you. That’s you telling yourself a big long narrative all to justify the way you feel, which is a natural mixture of feelings. But you take those very human feelings and your do as you were taught by your culture: you habitually turn those feelings into language, and then you use that language as though there is an actual debate going on when really that’s just the normal way to feel when you’re transitioning in any area of life. Whether that’s the act of getting closer to someone or leaving a long term job or moving cities, those transitions will have naturally mixed feelings. We’re just so brainwashed to dislike certain feelings and to convert absolutely everything into language. So you feel compelled to tell yourself big stories about a set of sensations that would have happened whether you told yourself the story or not. So instead of feeling them once, by turning them into words you’ve found a way to turn them into stories that you can re-tell yourself ad nauseam. So now you can be bothered by today, ten years from now. But that is a choice. So if you take control of the stories you take control of the feelings. So stop talking to yourself. It’s just an excuse not to act because you’re afraid of doing something wrong. Forget that fear. Just live. Live all of your emotions. Rather than avoid half of them make friends with them. If you do that it turns out that even the ones that you’ve historically called bad are actually pretty enjoyable in their own special way. So just relax and feel all of life. That openness isn’t a guarantee of a great day but it’s as close to a guarantee as the universe will let you have. Be open, be quiet. That’s it.

peace. s

Other Perspectives #58

Far from your memory being separate from you, it more or less is you. You collect data on the world as you grow up and other people inform how you interpret that data. And the details surrounding that subtle act of translation is what makes up your identity. So if you were happy and you chose to think of a sad event, then it was not the event that made you sad it was your current sad thoughts about that past event. You could just as easily shift back to the current happy event and think about that, and then you would feel happy instead. So your memory is not some separate creature that roams through your brain like it has a mind of its own. It’s your mind and you’re doing the wandering by choice. Sure, go through a period of mourning the death of a relationship. But only do that as long as it feels good to do it. Once it starts to feel bad that’s the signal that you’re supposed to shift your thinking. That’s why it feels bad. So don’t spend much life living in past sadness wondering what if? People can drag that thinking out for decades. It’s terrible. Meanwhile life slips by. There’s no need. Sure it’s harsh sometimes. Accept that and move on. Not one of us has the market cornered on suffering. A decent percentage of the people we meet every day are going through huge challenges, be it serious medical treatments, a child or parent with serious disabilities, learning a new language, a violent spouse, the threat of unfair deportation, they’re in line to lose their job, or they have an addiction. Everyone has struggles. So life will already give us enough hills to climb. We don’t have to make it even harder for ourselves by adding in unnecessary barriers, like choosing to recall a past relationship rather than enjoy today by doing whatever feels right for the you you are today. Do not live in the past. For every moment you are doing it you are letting your present slip by. And the present is the only time you have available in which you can act. So live now. Appreciate what’s working, accept what isn’t and march on. But don’t use your ability to think to go retrieve painful memories. That’s simply a misuse of your consciousness. It’s innocent and easily fixable, but it can only be done by you. So please do choose yourself a beautiful day. Thanks! 😉

peace. s

Note: Everyone who posts or shares a quote does so with the very best of intentions. That said, I have created the series of Other Perspectives blog posts in an effort to prevent some of these ideas from entering into people’s consciousness unchallenged. These quotes range from silly to dangerous and—while I intend no offense to their creators—I do use these rebuttals to help define and delineate the larger message I’m attempting to convey in my own work. I do hope you find them helpful in your pursuit of both psychological and spiritual health.

Leaving the Past Behind

We all know them. You might be one of them. A lot of people are. People who have either experienced difficulty most of their lives, or they faced one big event that included very high levels of betrayal or pain or fear. I’m talking about the people who aren’t happy today because of something in their past, be it as sharp as a violent parent, or as diffused as a marriage lost to “drifting apart.”

613 Relax and Succeed - When your past calls don't answerThe good news is that we are under no obligation to re-live those painful, scary or sad events. We call them big and therefore we claim to ourselves that they are somehow especially compelling; that you have to think them.

When I say stop you’ll say I can’t help it. But that’s hilarious because you don’t need to help it as though it takes some kind of effort. You need to take effort away by stopping yourself from assembling the narratives in the first place. You can’t make a narrative go away by replacing it with a second narrative that tries to justify the first. Remember, you put work into these narratives. I’m saying be peaceful instead. It’s much easier.

The only reason you believe you have to think certain things is because you do think those things a lot, and your brain gets good at anything you ask it to do a lot. So it’s like like the biggest valley in your head, caused by the largest amount of flowing water. That’s the route most of your thinking travels. If your attention is skipping across your brain it’s more likely to settle in the widest, deepest valley, which is created by the greatest amount of thought. But that doesn’t make it inevitable. Hardly. They’re still your thoughts. Who else would be thinking them?

613 Relax and Succeed - NowThis isn’t like you being chased through your own consciousness by some past event. It’s more like you going into your consciousness, way down into the basement where you keep all the painful stuff, and then you dig through years and layers of different thoughts—any of which you could choose to think—and instead you grab these same sheets of paper you often do, and you re-read them again, all the time complaining about how bad the story is that’s written on them.

I remind you that life remains filled with other filing cabinets also filled with other thoughts and, even more importantly, our actions in this moment are creating brand new pages in the story of our lives. If you’re choosing to think back and select a painful event, how is that the fault of the world or the people who were involved in the thought? Why does something that happened ten years ago need to be thought of today?

Time exists only in your head. You are always alive now. You are never alive any other time other than the moment you are in. But you can take that current moment and you can think about when you lived. You can take your aliveness and you can invest it in remembering and therefore in re-living past events, but why would you do that when those events are painful? You only do it because you think you must head to those deep valleys in your brain. But your brain changes as you use it. The less time and energy you spend on recreating the past in your imagination, the more time and energy you have to move your life forward today.

613 Relax and Succeed - Do you want to be happyStop worrying about days gone by. The real question is: if you had just been someone else, and you just died and got reincarnated into your who you are right now, you wouldn’t care what your body had done 10 years ago. You would assess its capabilities in the now and you would use those to move yourself forward.

There’s no reason you can’t do that yourself right now. Just do not invest energy going to collect and replay old memories of unpleasant events. That is not the fault of the people in those stories nor is it proof that there’s anything wrong with you. But the pain you’re feeling today is 100% your responsibility because no one chooses what you think about other than you. That’s why the thoughts are painful. They’re telling you not to think them.

Forget about worrying about the future or regretting the past. Be alive today. Because it’s what you choose to do today that will create where you get to start from tomorrow. Your past is over. It’s your future that’s open to change. Start living like you know that’s true.

Have yourself an awesome 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.

The Friday Dose #51

600 Relax and Succeed - Life is a song

Wow, neat stuff in the Dose today. Let’s start off talking about teens. While the brain is always changeable, it’s important to remember that the brain hasn’t even finished building its physical structures until you’re in your mid to late 20’s. And those structures get built by the very experimentation that works fine in a jungle with a tribe, but it can create havoc in a modern teen as they try to accomplish those social experiments within rigid, quasi-Victorian social structures like schools and clocks etc. The very next day another scientist purported to disagree with this, but then he actually spent his entire interview presenting the very same ideas, just in his own way. I’ll admit I’m phrasing this introduction this way because I want to tease any teens that might read it, but hey parents; when you’re talking to a teenager or judging their behaviour, you really do have to remember that you’re literally speaking with someone who’s only got half a brain. 😉 :

The Current on The Teenage Brain

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I’ve spent my life studying how people store information and ideas in the brain because it’s combinations of those patterns that determine our behaviour and personality. One of the key concerns I’ve had about things like dating sites etc. is that they create a new idea within the framework of dating. There’s always been the saying there’s always more fish in the sea, but that was said if a relationship went bad and the person was single. Now people jump on Match.com or Plenty of Fish like it’s a Kijiji for dating. Don’t like this one, trade it in for that one. And because everyone’s watched edited shows all their life there is this belief that a perfect life is possible. And so people waffle around trying to find the perfect life and in doing so they throw away what are otherwise perfectly good lives. This combines nicely with the posting entitled, Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice, which features an enlightening TED Talk. But before you look at that give this a read and think about sharing it to anyone you know under 30.

This Is How We Date Now

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I’m not sure how I stumbled onto it, but a while back Lifehack put up a great list of eight things happy people do. If you read my blog nothing on the list will surprise you, but I’m not super big on lists so if you like things presented as concise encapsulations of larger concepts this is a good example. And I’m actually all for it because the shorter something is the more it has to focus on the essence of the subject and that’s the most important part. It’s why poetry is considered writings highest art. Everything is winnowed away but essence. So without further ado, I give you the essence of happiness:

8 Things Happy People Do

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And let’s close off with some big fun. If you live anywhere north you know the days are short and the weather’s normally cold so let’s brighten winter up with a little fun. I love it when someone comes up with an idea to meld one thing with another in such a way that both things end up better. This is a fantastic idea for a video and I’m glad so many people got to have such a ridiculously good time making it. If you want to cheer yourself up just focus closely on these people’s faces when they figure out what’s going on. It’s just plain fun. Enjoy:

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You have yourself an awesome weekend. And be kind to you.

peace. s

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The Friday Dose is a collection of cool, interesting and surprising things that are chosen for their potential to distract you away from any painful thought loops that may currently be disrupting your sense of perspective. Save these for when you’re feeling low and you want to change your perspective. They’ll help. Enjoy.