Everyday Spirituality

Actually working to understand why ancient quotes can still be useful today is what this blog is all about. It’s not like drive-thru religion where you get a quick dose of spirituality without all the rules, and its not like traditional religion where following all the rules automatically leads to salvation regardless of the other deeds in your life–this is about those other deeds being your church. This is about you being dedicated to being human.

Reading quotes, finding one that vaguely applies to your situation and posting it on social media does not mean you’re pursuing your spirituality, it means your ego likes being seen as being spiritual. You can’t just dress the part, go to yoga and post the quotes; you have to ask yourself challenging questions. Questions like, what does the quote I posted really mean; or how can I take yoga from stretching and flexing into actual personal development?

The answer is meditation, but not the Ohmm meditation that monks do. You want to be like Siddhartha, sitting under the tree pondering why suffering exists. You want to ask yourself questions that don’t appear to have answers. You want to know how one wise guide can tell you to be peaceful by rejecting victory and loss, and yet another tells you that you can’t be balanced until you agree to lose.

The key is to understand desire. Desire requires a result. You’re after something. You have a specific outcome in mind and your life is oriented toward achieving that outcome. The problem with the outcome is that is that it’s theoretical. This is why even the slowest fifty year old is wiser than a someone in their early 20’s thinks they’ve found their answer.

You can’t have the answer because that will change as you become different people through your experiences. We tend to think we’ve found the answer when we find a route to the future that finally makes sense to us, but then we think we’re lost when our old answer doesn’t suit our new selves and we feel trapped or directionless. It’s not the answer that changed, it’s the person asking it.

It’s a constant rejuvenation process. That’s why they call it spiritual practice. But aging is like a church where you’re constantly delivered new real-life parables that need explaining. Why did that person try so hard to date you and then leave you? Why did you think this was your dream job and now you hate it? Why can’t you lose weight the way you want to? What is the definition of the word friend?

Over time we ask countless questions but we look for the answers outside of ourselves. We conclude either we are good and the ex is wrong, or we are faulty and they’re right; the dream job either has the wrong boss, or maybe you do really suck; you’re either mad at your mother for teaching you bad eating habits or you self-hate; and you conclude either that your ex friends are bad people or you conclude you’ve not been good enough. Winning and losing, winning and losing.

Even when you win, now you have to stay on top. That takes effort and you’ll be a different person sometime within the next eight or so years, so maybe that effort won’t seem wise. That’s because winning and losing are funny terms. They almost shouldn’t exist as static ideas. They only mean something in the moment you’re in.

If you listen to interviews with people over 50 years old, almost invariably you’ll hear them discuss their challenges more than their successes. They almost seem bored or uncomfortable with success because by then they’ve realised it’s largely chance. They also know that when you get there it doesn’t look like it did when you embarked on that journey.

After enough disappointing “wins” we start questioning the meaning of winning. If half of North American marriages end in divorce, then those marriages weren’t a dream come true; they devolved into a nightmare. But if you knew that at the time you wouldn’t have chosen it as your path. And yet as you age you realise that your marriage wasn’t wrong, it just didn’t work out long term. You still walk away with a better idea of what kind of person you’re really looking for in the future.

Victory and loss are tied together. If we live without the desire for a victory we cannot lose. We don’t need goals so much as targets. The getting there isn’t the point, it’s about being sanguine for as much as the journey as possible.

Victories and losses are judgments laid over top of events. Remove that static idea and the meaning of those moments can always change, meaning any defeat could become a victory, and any victory a defeat. Everything lives in potential. There’s no need to win now when we know can we live in a way that seeks value from all our interactions, even the ones we attempt to avoid.

peace. s

Reactions to Failure

Staying conscious is being mindful. If your head isn’t full of self-conversation then much more of the world can get inside you. You notice more and that’s helpful. So when a friend and I were recently disagreeing about an important issue we were working on I noted quite clearly that in the middle of the discussion of the good friend said, “have you eaten?”

972 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes when things are falling apartMe being upset lead to a friend asking if I’d eaten, meaning she had related my mood to my food. I trust her so we ate and I did feel better as my body chemistry regulated. It turned out I just needed some sugar. You could leave it at that but if you’re going to think don’t ruminate, meditate. So I spent the next two days meditating on how that happened.

In that meditation I recalled another similar experience where I had snapped at a different friend for very little reason. At the time my reaction had been so strangely immediate that it registered with me. I remember meditating then on the fact that I loved the friend so it didn’t make sense, plus I hadn’t been thinking any relevant negative thoughts. So what was the cause? My disappointment over how I treated my friend was what motivated my meditations.

After more consideration I realised both situations reminded me of when I got upset really easily for about eight months when I was in my late teens. I was going through a growth spurt and my off-balance chemistry gave me a different personality for a short time. And now here was a friend responding to me being unreasonable by asking me if I’d eaten. Food relates to body chemistry. Can you see if you’re more aware that the truth becomes obvious? The question was, how did it happen?

972 Relax and Succeed - Never regret anythingSometimes the big challenges in life are so obvious and huge in our lives that they cause us to miss some of the smaller implications. A few years ago I underwent my life’s most difficult period where rather than an 8 hour day and a 40 hour week I needed a 40 hour day and a 280 hour work week just to avoid disasters, but that in turn lead to a series of sub-decisions that were far less conscious. Life can deliver us more than we can handle. That happens.

There is no good way to prioritise the very serious and absolute demands presented by very elderly and sick parents, a book deadline, your life’s work, the needs of clients and the business that pays your equally important mortgage, or even your basic life obligations like the fact that you need to eat, drink, sleep, grocery shop, and personally groom, plus you’ll have needs relating to everything from house and yard work to necessary car repairs or maintenance and of course there’s the never-ending administration that life requires.

I knew during that time that I would be letting friends down and I accepted there would be a price. I worked with my doctor on a plan for so little sleep and so much work and I developed a special diet, but even then I accepted there would be both a price and a limit. I worked off an insanely inhuman schedule that I still can’t believe I maintained.

972 Relax and Succeed - A friend is someone who understandsDespite all that effort I was still constantly letting everyone down, including myself. I never had enough sleep and I had quietly developed terrible eating habits over time. I was still eating healthy, but I would often go to bed at 2am realising I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 5am the previous day. And there in my mediation was my answer: In my busy-ness I had accidentally learned not to eat.

Because historically we can be chased by wild animals the desires to eat and to pee can be deferred to later. Pain stays, the desire to eat comes and goes. I got so used to dealing with not being able to eat that it became an unconscious habit to just immediately dismiss the desire. I needed to get conscious about food again.

For the next several weeks I watched myself closely. Sure enough, once I was watching I caught myself tons of times deferring the desire to eat. As often as possible I would remember to respond to it and I’m currently about half way to re-teaching myself to eat when I’m hungry. That’s how busy-minded we can get: we can forget something as basic as eating.

972 Relax and Succeed - Don't deny what's occurringSo can you see that I’m now glad the friends reactions were pain because I care about them? And I’m glad one defended herself by asking me if I’d eaten? Without those signs that I was off the path how could I have rediscovered the path? I needed those ditches to help me find the road. Of course we always want to treat loved ones well, but part of love is that they can help us make it through tough times like that and then we can do the same for them. That’s how love serves.

So now I’m grateful that the universe has taught me to appropriately value food and that my friends were patient and now that I do have the time to eat I’m getting conscious enough to actually do it. So this can help you too if you remember that if you have a problem don’t focus on the problem itself, ask yourself what its source is.

Believe you are a good person that is lost not a bad person that needs changing because that is the greater truth. If you approach your mistakes that way you can see your innocence and then make the change without guilt. Speaking of not feeling guilty, another great truth is that I’m hungry right now so, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to get something to eat. In the meantime, you have yourself a stellar day. Bon appetite.

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 Agony of Expectations

Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year #3

Ouch. Yeesh. I recently overheard a woman complain that her daughter’s plane was delayed because they were worried about airport workers being hit by lightning. She said her day was ruined by it and she couldn’t believe they would stop her daughter’s flight for such a trivial reason.

728 Relax and Succeed - It is what it isTrivial? It’s lightening. They’re living people surrounded by lightning rods and fuel tanks. I’ve got an idea of what would help even more than a flawless airport: some empathy. And it’s way cheaper and easier to get too. This is how people ruin their own lives. Their egos think the world is about them.

Can you see how she does what all of us do? We make every event relate to our personal identity. That storm happened to her daughter and the airport impeded her plans and her day was ruined by these other people and things. With expectation goes disappointment and then the cycle shifts to blame and then the re-setting of another silly expectation. Because it is presumed the world happens out there, not in here.

I’m talking about all of us. The vast majority of people living in the modern world do this all day long with almost every aspect of their lives. If you really want your day to improve the great news is it isn’t hard. You just have to find your attachments like expectation or time and replace them with more flexible ideas like anticipation and experience.

728 Relax and Succeed - Each of us has a responsibilityKeep your mind open. Think of others rather than yourself. It really is better for you. If the woman I overheard had done that she would have undoubtedly been in a much better mood and been much better company to her beloved daughter.

Stay conscious. Make your days great because you have silenced all of the self-creating narratives that filter the world with your me’s and I’s. Instead be open and truly aware and awake to the world around you. That is the easy, fun and beautiful route to salvation. And you don’t even need a plane, a ticket, or to be struck by lightening to get there.

Now go create an awesome day. Love you.

peace. s

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

Scott’s Favourite Questions of 2014 #2

718 SFQ14 Relax and Succeed - The first 40 years

This blog got on my top 3 list for the very simple reason that several dear friends of mine in their 30’s found it profoundly informative when it came to contextualizing the challenges they were facing in life. Relationships, careers, our families—these are all things that our growing maturity views in completely new ways. Thanks to that new perspective we come to need drastically new ideas about how to live. I certainly hope many of you find it as liberating as many others have. It’s a holiday here, so I would like to close by wishing my fellow Canadians a warm and happy Canada Day! Enjoy everyone!

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Scott’s Top
Questions of 2014 #2

peace. s

Other Perspectives #72

706 OP Relax and Succeed - You can't change someone

This is a tricky one in that it’s almost an exact split between helpful and misleading. The general thrust of it is valuable but it’s aim is off in that it presumes a person can change someone else and that simply isn’t true. But to the quote’s point, even we will only change ourselves when we see more value in going a new direction than in the old one. So remember: you don’t succeed in life by getting people to change their actions through coercion, manipulation or force because as soon as those forces lift things start to go back to their nature. This applies to parenting, dating and employing people. Real and ongoing change only happens because the person themselves sees and values the world around them differently. Because of that shift in perspective they will initiate change themselves—not as a way of stopping one activity, but as a way of starting a new one. And sometimes they need to suffer a lot more than you before they’ll choose a new path and even then they might not pick the one you were hoping for. So don’t blame people for living their lives. Just live yours and then align yourself with those in your natural tribe of behaviour. That is your real family and for as long as you are a part of it you won’t be asked to change. But remember: everyone and everything inevitably changes, so it’ll only be your family for about seven to nine years and then you’ll have to find a new one or your life will get static. And when you do that you won’t do it because you perceived something wrong about your current life, it’ll be because you see something promising off in a new direction. So to stay healthy throughout your life it’s really as easy as staying vigilant for promising things.

peace. s

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2014’s Blog of the Year #6

581 Relax and Succeed - You do not need to struggle*

Life goes in phases whether we want it to or not. Most people spend most of their life trying to smooth those phases into a uniform height but that is wasted effort. The world is the world. Our job is not to shape the world, it’s to shape ourselves to make the most of it.

Your outside circumstances absolutely do not have to dictate your enjoyment of your life. I can easily find you wealthy people with easy lives with nice families and those people will still be suicidal. And I’ll show you a little girl who was molested when she was young, lived in poverty, absentee parents and yet she’ll climb out and become a successful and happy lawyer, mother and wife. The tribulations you have to traverse in life are not what shapes it. Your thinking is what shapes your life, so it’s about time you started accepting more of your journey and paying more attention to your judgments of it.

This Blog-of-the-Year helped a lot of people having rough days feel better. If that’s you right now, I hope it does the same for you. Either way, people tell me there’s some useful wisdom here. Click the link and enjoy:

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2014’s Blog of the Year #6

peace. s

The Pebble in Your Shoe

Winner: 2013’s Blog of the Year #7

The journey through your life is comprised of individual steps. These Moments are each distinct and unique aspects of the universe, but you will use your consciousness to string those individual steps together into what you call the journey of your life. So to be unforgiving is like walking with a pebble in your shoe. Each step of your journey you re-remind yourself that you are in pain. And rather than stopping and removing the pebble from the shoe of your conscious identity, you instead continue on, getting angrier and angrier at the pebble.

129 Relax and Succeed - A lof of the pain that we areSo it also goes with love. If you look for your former lover’s face in every passing stranger, then that is the pebble in your shoe. If you constantly think about how you were wronged in the past by someone or some institution, then that is the pebble in your shoe. If you watch the world for the next impending disaster, then that is the pebble in your shoe. If you hate someone for teasing or abusing you, then that is the pebble in your shoe. If you focus on your spouse’s key faults rather than their key strengths, then those faults will be pebbles in your shoe.

Don’t be upset by the pebbles themselves. They will have gotten into your shoe by nature. There’s no way to avoid them. Just the act of walking will kick some up, and every now and then one will make it inside the shoe of your conscious identity and eventually it will find its way to somewhere painful. So it getting there is inevitable. But you continuing to walk on it is choice.

People will be self-critical and they’ll blame the pain on who they have become—on what shoes they chose to wear—and yet everyone walking the Earth will necessarily have shoes, and there’s no way getting around the fact that all of them kick up pebbles to be walked on.

129 Relax and Succeed - In every walk with naturePeople will sometimes be upset with the pebble itself, and yet it got there through natural means. It’s not like the pebble was looking for a foot to irritate. It was just laying there on the path of life and it happened to be one of the ones that ended up in your shoe. If it wasn’t this one it would be another one. So there’s no getting around the fact that we will end up with the pebbles. There’s no way to avoid that. So the real question is, what do we do when we become aware we have one?

That’s where the advantage of the pain comes in. The whole reason it hurts is because that is the universe communicating to you that you have a pebble of thought in the shoe of your identity, and that thought is rubbing your identity the wrong way. If we’re wise that notification will be used as an opportunity for you to stop what you’re doing, pause, and then consciously choose to take off your shoe and dump out the pebble. That is the purpose of the pain. It’s a notification system regarding your thoughts.

We all had to pick a style of shoe. Maybe we’re aggressive like an athletic shoe. Or maybe we’re open and free like a sandal. Maybe we’re pointed and sharp, like a business shoe. Or maybe we’re a casual shoe—something we can’t run in, but at least they’re easy and comfortable. But no matter what shoe-identity we’ve put on, they’re all susceptible to different kinds of pebbles. So don’t be surprised when the pebble ends up back in your shoe. But the process is still the same. You simply notice the pain, stop walking and you remove the pebble. Notice your emotional pain, stop thinking about that subject and replace those painful thoughts with something nicer. It’s that easy.

129 Relax and Succeed - What you allowEventually we learn to walk in ways that discourage a few of larger pebbles from getting into our lives. But don’t lament their existence. They are an integral part of the path you are walking on. They comprise the surface of the path of your life. Most times they carry your weight. But when they do get under your foot and generate an irritation—don’t start thinking you’re on the wrong path. Because a wise person doesn’t change paths. A wise person just gets really good at pausing and removing pebbles.

Don’t complain about emotional pain. Recognize it as your own thinking and get conscious and change it. Because if you can get good at letting thoughts go, then you will have minimized the amount of suffering you will do on your journey. And that makes for a beautiful walk through life.

Enjoy.

peace. s

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