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.

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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.