The Enlightenment Misconception

My accident lead me to question reality in a very fundamental way at a very young age. Once I was old enough to embark on a serious spiritual journey, I sought out teachers who might be able to answer some of my deeper questions about reality. Unfortunately, I was inclined to do what you likely do, which is I looked for the wrong people.

With no intention of being ironic, I thought I should look for someone super peaceful, living some super peaceful and respected life. I thought I would recognise them as having achieved something grand and meaningful. But I misunderstood what grand and meaningful were, and so I rarely found them. Because most of them weren’t wearing saffron robes, they weren’t doing yoga and they their lives were surprisingly ordinary.

Part of the reason for this is that once you’ve understood what you’re trying to understand, you realise that no one can take this journey for you, and so no one needs your help. You realise that all you were supposed to do is live your life without the constant thought-based evaluation of how you’re doing in relation to some imaginary goal. Our lives would be instantly more enjoyable if only we would stop second guessing ourselves.

Rather poetically, the first time my life became truly difficult was the same time that, by most external perspectives, I would have appeared to have been failing. I surrendered a life of status and money and power–all in the highly coveted and ever-popular media world (I truly had an awesome job)–to pursue a much smaller, much more obscure life doing something that a lot of people I knew thought was crazy. (This.) But that’s the key isn’t it? They thought that.

Thanks to that accident, in the midst of what should have been a broken heart, a huge sense of betrayal and a financial disaster, I was left with the opposite question most people  would have. I couldn’t figure out why I was okay with the idea of life being so difficult. This isn’t to say I liked it; it was just more that I accepted it. Any second guessing I did in my consciousness was profoundly painful and the pain acted as a very meaningful teacher.

I could occasionally (or at times even frequently), get caught up in personal thoughts that resisted my experience. These felt like hell. I felt very singular, as though it was all happening to me in particular. The suffering helped me grasp that when I felt better, I felt less like this was my life and more like an actor in a much larger play.

When I wasn’t thinking the resistant thoughts, I was peaceful inside with the knowledge that, like all roles, once I was finished playing this character I would either assume yet another or I would die and return to my real self. I was peaceful in the knowledge that nothing in the play I was performing in would change that.

What I had before was wonderful and I am deeply grateful for the experience. Almost every role I played in this giant improv has been an enjoyable one. I got to go to amazing places and meet incredible people and work on enjoyable and meaningful work. But I realised that the reason I was doing it all was not because other people felt it was a great life, but because I did.

Just like with movies and TV, being a loving and supportive caregiver to my parents was simply what I truly felt compelled to do. The financial strains and time and energy challenges all happen in the external world, but internally more of my time than ever is spent being in and sharing love.

I love making art. I love teaching people to see their strengths and opportunities. But there is something deeply meaningful and profound in helping your beloved father as he struggles with new challenges in the bathroom. There are moments where we look into each others eyes and we feel badly for what we’re putting each other through, but we both move quickly past those to simply being grateful that we’re in it together. That vulnerability is what makes the moment so powerful and filled with love.

I fail more than I ever have before. When my expectations are too high I lose patience when it doesn’t help. When I think too much I feel tired and alone. But most of the time, when we’re just making our way through it without all the thoughts about how we wish it was, I realise that I have never loved my parents more or felt closer to them. And that is why, if you do whatever you do with a lot of inner peace, even failing is a form of success.

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 Eightfold Path

1016-relax-and-succeed-all-beings-trembleYesterday we discussed two common descriptions of the Four Noble Truths. In the other common expression of those Truths the final stanza is different from those discussed yesterday in that it tells you that the path to the cessation of suffering is The Eightfold Noble Path, which relates to the Truth’s daily manifestations. In short, you must live in daily alignment with your spirituality lest your spirituality be a hollow theory rather than enacted enlightenment.

Right View merely means that you must perceive things as they truly are, which are manifestations of your thoughts about reality. Your ego must not colour reality and then react to itself rather than to the world. Your opinions about people are not those people.

Right Intention relates to the respect contained within your intention. This is why some people can use what gets called a racist word in a non-racist way; people are confident of their intention and so the word’s meaning can be altered. Likewise, people can use all of the right words but still fail on The Eightfold Path because they maintain status-based intentions, even if that’s just who’s right and who’s wrong.

1016-relax-and-succeed-the-eightfold-noble-pathRight Speech means that your words must heal and not harm. This gets trickier when it comes to telling people painful truths like talking to them about an addiction but, even in those situations, if we calm ourselves we will know those times when the only thing preventing us from speaking up is that our ego wants to be liked more than our spirit (which is the same in all of us) wants to be respected. Use your words to heal and not harm.

Right Action is to take the same positive attitude with behaviour that you take with communication, so if your friend is going to leave a party drunk and drive home then you have to not only say something, you have to take the keys too. You cannot worry about your ego being liked the next day; you have to do the right thing in the moments you’re in and not wish you did them later. Most guilt comes from non-action.

Right Livelihood is one of the trickiest ones for people because we can get good at justifying things when they reflect well on our ego and make our material life better. When it comes to relating Right Speech and Right Intention and Right Action, to our work, it’s suddenly easy to understand why Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it.” There’s a lot of people who pray regularly who will still comfortably prey on a fellow human being. Those would be useless and hollow prayers.

Right Effort means that you want to move in increasingly more loving, nonjudgmental and cooperative ways so that Right Action and Right Words flow more naturally from the direction your life is always pointed.

1016-relax-and-succeed-four-nobel-truthsRight Mindfulness relates to your internal thoughts. Are you an ego talking to itself in words, or are you your spiritual self; a wordless observer who acts wholly based on the steps above? Without proper mindfulness it would be impossible to maintain the other aspects of the path. Your mind must be quiet and your understanding of The Four Noble Truths must be solid.

Right Concentration means that your mind needs to practice the underlying focus for all of the other steps in the Path. If you cannot maintain a relatively steady and active understanding of The Four Noble Truths then you cannot see those steps manifested in your path even though they may be right in front of you.

Look at your life. See where it does not align with these behaviours. You will feel a resistance within yourself wherever your behaviour requires justification. You might be able to explain it to yourself using ego-based words about what’s good for you, but in the end we all know we can feel when we’ve done something wrong. So in the end, when he said “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad. That is my religion,” even Abraham Lincoln proved he was living by The Eightfold Path even though he wouldn’t have ever heard of it.

The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path are not difficult concepts to understand. They are challenging to live on a daily basis if we function from a place of ego, so make sure you quiet that frightened, judgmental voice within you and your path will appear before you. From there it’s really just a matter of you deciding to be as absolute as possible about sticking to your path, and even that’s not hard when you get to see the kind of people walking that path alongside you.

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 #84

780 FD Relax and Succeed - Alexandr MilovToday we’ll focus on relationships. We’ll start with a discussion of art and the wisdom of children, then shift to a detailed conversation on how to communicate without judgment, and we’ll end with some profound relationship advice from a child.

First off is a discussion at Collective Evolution about one of this year’s most popular Burning Man art pieces, by Ukrainian artist Alexandr Milov. Seen above, the piece manages to say so much with so little. I have tremendous respect for such artists. Here’s a link to more information on Alexandr:

Collective Evolution: Alexandr Milov


Next we’ll look into improving your relationships through mindful, nonjudgmental Buddhist communication thanks to Cynthia Kane at The Washington Post. It’s a good article and quite clear, so without further ado:

Cynthia Kane’s: How to Communicate like a Buddhist


And finally we’ll end on some very clear wisdom on how lowering the intensity of our emotions can result in a much more peaceful and loving life:

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

peace. s

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

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2014’s Blog of the Year #8

579 Relax and Succeed - It's easier than you think*

Of course in hindsight my accident is likely the most valuable thing that has ever happened to me. It still took me over 30 years to realize that not everyone had invested their life in thinking about thinking. Now that I know that it’s so much easier to be helpful. Simply put, people overcomplicate life. As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.” Whether you’re being your mother self or daughter self or sister self or employee self or boss self, or worried self or angry self, that’s all you. Those are your many masks and you like everyone else is doing nothing more than marching toward your inevitable death. Since that’s the case, you might as well live something profound in between. This blog was noted by numerous people for having successfully paired a lesson on how to quit worrying and start living deeply, with a very inspirational video by the wonderful philosopher, Alan Watts. So what are you waiting here for? Click the link and go get inspired 😉


2014’s Blog of the Year #8

peace. s

Lost in Thought

All of the stuff I’m reading tells me if I change my perspective I’ll change my life but I still don’t understand how someone changes their perspective. What is “my perspective?” Is that “me?” Or do you mean I should change my opinion or my personality? The more I try to understand words like “perspective,” “opinion,” or “personality” the more I get confused. Help.

Lost in Thought

Dear Lost,

I have good news for you: you’re closer to your objective than you think. You literally are, “lost in thought.” But you can’t be found until first you’re lost so you’re still fine. These are precisely the meditations that I encourage people to do. To question the meanings of these words is to take apart what the Buddhist’s call The Illusion.

370 Relax and Succeed - Peace in my heartThis can feel confusing or disorienting at times because you start to take apart your psychological anchors. Of course that’s also like saying that you are increasing your freedom, so as strange as it feels at the start, as Baba Ram Das says, “the game is not about becoming somebody; it’s about becoming nobody.” You’re not trying to figure out how to be wise or advanced or enlightened. Those are ego-objectives. It’s when you’re no longer striving for any particular status or title that you are free. It’s when life is allowed to flow without thought-barriers that it becomes profoundly meaningful. In that state of mind even the simplest of things is a miracle and that is a beautiful state of mind to exist within.

You don’t really want to change your perspective, you just want to take it less seriously. Do you see that you had to be someone? Can you see that your perspective is the result of your experiences, and that each experience further refines that perspective? You aren’t so much a “person” as you are an ever-changing filter that ignores large aspects of existence in favour of focusing on particular bits of existence.

If we’re not careful each experience can build upon the previous experiences and we can end up boxed in by our own narrow ideas. This happens to marriages all the time. People start looking for what they don’t like and in doing so they find it, and then they blame who they’re looking at rather than noticing that they only look that way because of our perspective. They aren’t a particular way, it’s more we see them a particular way. So who anyone “is” is really an equation between the person being and the person judging the being.

370 Relax and Succeed - Remember the entrance to the sanctuarySo we all look different to everyone, including ourselves. It’s like some people are MRI’s and some are X-Rays. They’re all telling a form of the truth, but none on their own can completely represent reality. Your opinion of someone else or their opinion of you is more like a reflection off of your surface, but it isn’t the surface itself. Reality is too big for us. Reality is the sum total of all of these perspectives. We’re better to surrender on that one. We’re better to do like the religious and give this question away, for it is not only unanswerable by our limited minds, but it’s also much more exciting to live in a state of mystery rather than a state of expectation.

You’ve written to me because you feel lost and yet I see your question as one of the wiser ones I have received. People are always wrestling with the details of being rather than on the being itself. They want to know what they should do after they’re who they are. You’re asking who you actually are. That’s a great question and if you’re trying to grow then I would say you’re right on track. But your frustrations are personal. They’re “yours.” That’s because at the centre of all of this is an ego that wants to stop suffering. It has a want. The big breakthrough comes when we no longer want anything different from what is. The big breakthrough is when we stop using our psychology to argue with what is—when we stop trying to get the world to line up with our beliefs. When we let the world and ourselves simply Be, then we’re fine. We have nothing to achieve, no where to go and no one to impress. We simple are.

For some—from where they’re at in their development—this blog post will seem entirely opaque and confusing. But I also know that sometimes it’s the most innocuous sentence I write that finally drives a key point home. So I don’t write with the objective to help you change. That would be great and I would rejoice if you popped through the curtain of the illusion to join “me” in freedom, but I have no goal or objective when I answer your question. I am merely giving you the answer I have. What else could I truly do?

370 Relax and Succeed - I would rather have a mind openedThe Truth of this is in where it comes from not in what it says. So you don’t become enlightened, you realize that you always were—you just couldn’t see that because of all of the personal thinking you had in the way. Your goals, your objectives, your desires, your wants—any way in which you would define yourself or your life is what stands in the way of living freely. It’s because you have been taught to become someone specific that you lose the freedom and beauty of simply being.

Quiet your mind. Forget striving and abandon your attempts to understand. Trust that without words or learning or achieving, that you can still find yourself right where you have always been, which is in whatever state of mind you have chosen. The only thing you seek to do from there is to maintain an awareness of that choice.

Good luck with it. It’s big but it’s also exciting. And it’s nice that you’re only job is to have a quiet mind and enjoy your life. That’s why they say it’s a journey and not a destination. Your enlightenment isn’t an achievement, it’s a principle played out as a verb. It is you, being you, without your own judgments about any of that. Enjoy!

peace. s

Day to Day Spirituality

As I’m ageing I’m more interested in using things like Buddhism to help calm my busy days down but I’m so busy I never get time to meditate or anything. Do you have
any tips for finding time to be spiritual?

Timeless Seeker

Dear Timeless Seeker,

Can you see how you assumed that your regular life was separate from your spiritual life? Have you ever travelled to Asia? If so, unlike in North America or Europe, did you notice how people’s spirituality is sprinkled throughout their day? In places like Thailand or Cambodia etc. there will be little shrines everywhere with offerings of Coke and Twinkies and chips etc. You see monks all over the streets and in general a much larger percentage of the population is 291 Relax and Succeed - Can I call you backsomewhat engaged with their spirituality on a daily basis. Only in the West did we fit spirituality into a single day with only the most devout doing any work the rest of the week. In fact, far too often people are praying for the weak on one day and preying on the weak every other day.

If you’re alive you’re being spiritual. The only question then is, how conscious are you? Do you realize that your business dealings have a spiritual nature? The way you raise children and interact with friends is spiritual in nature. Even the way you drive is spiritual, which I referenced last year in my past blog, Inevitables. In fact a lot of the issues people are struggling with are precisely because they keep seeing their spirituality as separate from their life rather than than seeing their life as a manifestation of their spirituality or lack thereof.

So the fact is, you have ample time to be spiritual, you just have to understand spirituality differently. It is a prayer to show patience. It is a spiritual offering to be generous. In bed, rather than re-hashing your day or planning tomorrow, you can be developing a quiet mind, or during a stressful time you can meditate on gratitude. Kindness, friendship, compassion, appreciation, laughter, joy, creative work and especially love are all very spiritual acts. Rather than thinking about these things while you do them, instead invest yourself completely in the act and forget about judging it. The only self-talk debates you should be having would be to self-debate/meditate yourself out of a state of ego. So if you want to use your thoughts to put yourself back on track that’s fine, or to use self-talk to help to understand a spiritual concept—those are all meditations. But the rest is simply your ego judging and wanting and complaining about what is.

291 Relax and Succeed - If the only prayer you saidDo not cove your spirituality into parts of your day, have your day emerge from your spirituality. Yes, it will feel odd at first to prioritize things like patience or assistance or generosity. You’ve been sold your entire life on the ideas of selfishness, separation and accomplishment. Rather than joining others as an equal and falling in love, you’re encouraged to win. And what you win is ego-status or materialism. You get stuff or you get things that only exist in other people’s consciousness like a good reputation or status or wealth. These are not things that exist on a spiritual plane. There are no coffins with storage spaces for your reputation, title or money. Instead invest in the real you. The eternal you. Because that’s who you really are, and that’s who you’re always Being whether you’re choosing to be conscious of it or not.

I wish you every good fortune in your exercises. Make it a game to find more and more ways and times to be consciously involved in your spirituality. Let rushed people into line-ups, work on being kinder and develop healthier relationships with co-workers, spend your lunch being quiet-minded rather than on social media.

The upside is that this blog is spiritual in nature, so at least the time you spent doing this was a complete success on the being spiritual front—good for you! Now go do that with the rest of the day. Turn your phone off at lunch and just experience the world itself with your five senses. Shut your yakking monkey-mind up and just Be. You’ll be surprised how just that one small change will alter your life.


peace. s

Scott’s Favourite Blogs of 2013: #3

265 Relax and Succeed - Change your thoughtsAs the year winds down I wanted to take some time to recognize some of the blog entries that have really stood out for a variety of reasons. I will be making some edits and changes to each, but most of my readers pop in two or three times a week so regardless many of these are likely to be completely unknown to you. At the same time, the nature of this teaching is such that even I learned something by re-reading my own words. The text might be the same but the reader is always changing, so even if it is one you’re familiar with I would urge you to consider reading it again. It just takes a few moments and you might just be surprised at how different a reader you have already become….

I’ll break them down into three sections: one for my personal three favourites of the year, another for my three favourites from external sources, and then I’ll end with a countdown of the 10 most popular Blogs-of-the-Year. Today I will begin with my #3 pick for my favourite Blog-of-the-Year:

Making Magic Tea

Imagine an ocean of consciousness. Take a small portion of it and fill an individual teapot. That teapot is you. That is your consciousness. The scooping of that water is your birth. And when you are born your water is clear. But you do observe very closely what types of tea are regularly made in your vicinity. So if your family gets angry a lot you’ll either be motivated to drink that tea too because it’s familiar, or you’ll avoid it because you witness its ill-effects, but either way your family will have largely dictated 265 Relax and Succeed - Each morning we are bornwhich teas you prepare most often. The point with spiritual growth is to take conscious control over the preparation of your own tea.

Your consciousness is an opportunity. The convection of your very Being will allow you to make any tea you choose. But to enjoy the tea of life as much as possible we must take ownership of the brewing process. We must consciously choose to make the tea we wish to experience.

The biggest challenge to that is that we often losing track of our sense of choice. But that is where our taste comes in. Because if we throw in teabags without really considering their affect—or if we just throw in whatever our Dad or Mom did in this or that situation—then we’re not really actively alive at all. We’re not choosing our life at that point, we’re just following a script. We’re drinking whatever we were told to drink whether we like it or not. This can be as minor as crying at weddings to as serious as domestic abuse. But even if you like crying at weddings—it would be much better that it was you choosing that, and not your history dictating it.

If you don’t like how your tea tastes then that is not your tea. That is what individuality is: personal taste. Other people can tell you chamomile is amazing, but if you don’t like it then it’s not for you. The fact that it tastes bad to you is what’s supposed to prompt you to stop drinking it and stop making it. It’s a signal to change teabags. It’s a signal to change the contents of your thinking. It’s a change to what is contained within your consciousness. So don’t blame others when you’re drinking something you don’t like. Take responsibility for that because that also means you’re assuming control. Control over your choice of teabags. Control over your life experience.

You make tea all day long. You just go from this moment/sip to that moment/sip. But you are always having some tea. So stop complaining about it as though someone handed it to you. This stops being a restaurant when you’re about two years old. Once you can talk you slowly 179 Relax and Succeed - What sort of experienceand clumsily start making your own tea. Maybe you’ll get lucky and you’ll mostly make pretty nice teas. Or maybe you’ll start off making teas you really don’t like. But either way you have to experiment to figure out both what your favourite tea experiences are, and also how to change bags quickly and easily. When it comes to the latter, it’s really only a matter of practice. The more you change teabags the better you get at changing teabags. After you have that skill, knowing what you like to drink is easy.

Get conscious of the process of being alive. This is your short-lived opportunity to be a tea-maker. So go ahead and make some terrible teas when you’re younger. Drinking those will be what teaches you that the tea is ultimately your responsibility. Then go through a phase where you practice changing teabags and you experiment with other people’s tea choices. Eventually you figure out which teas are truly your favourites. From there you simply brew those every opportunity you get.

Before you know it you will remember that the pot of consciousness that is you will be poured back into the ocean of consciousness from which it came. And that will be the end of tea held in the shape of You. Free to flow and mix without judgment, the former You will melt and become an integral part of the vast and infinite ocean of consciousness that will eventually be scooped up to be reincarnated as other individuals opportunities to choose teas and lives of their very own.

peace. s

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