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.

00 Relax and Succeed - Friday Dose Footer

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