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1331 Relax and Succeed - Know your enemy

Our egos are active when we are sitting in judgment of ours or other’s thoughts and behaviours. To avoid this enervating activity it is often helpful to have an external focus for our attention. For this reason let’s begin the week with a meditation and exercise that might take moments, or days –but for however long it lasts we won’t be thinking about ourselves, and that’s a healthy thing.

We need to choose a person we generally avoid. Maybe someone we actively dislike, but it can even just be someone we wouldn’t normally ever choose to associate but we have no strong aversion to. It doesn’t have to be the way Steve Martin felt about John Candy at the start of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We just have to start from a place where we feel the impulse that this other person doesn’t ‘fit’ with us in some way.

The question is, do we feel that way because they don’t fit with us? Or because when we met them we unknowingly judged them based on our own random state of mind at that moment? Did our imagination place a mask over a person we actually don’t know?

Maybe we don’t like how they are in the world. Maybe they are clumsy, or too talkative, or too timid, or their beliefs clash with some of ours. Maybe we don’t like something they did or didn’t do, or maybe they just seem boring, or they remind us of someone who did something painful to us long ago and our reasons are essentially subliminal.

In the end, the reason we feel a disconnect with the person is less important than the following fact: the recognition of the inherent value of others is bestowed on others by us, it cannot be magically earned by the people we are judging.

1331 Relax and Succeed - The recognition of the inherent value of others

Once we’ve found this sibling, or co-worker or classmate or other person, let’s set about learning something new about them. We’re not prying into their lives, we re-looking at its public aspects like; who their friends are, or do they hold doors for little old ladies, do they make their own lunch? We can even just listen more closely to what they say and what it implies.

We may have to get to know them through various means in order to see them in a more three dimensional way, but if we have to do it in person without them realizing it, that can offer a lot of lessons to an aware person. A great deal can be learned by practicing the act of listening to someone super-closely.

We’ll all know we’ve completed the exercise when we find something that clashes with our belief about the person. We’ll feel that as a mild surprise. Maybe their favourite basketball player is ours. Maybe they love the same poem, or band, or idea. Maybe their sister is an alcoholic too. Or maybe they are one of the few people that understands how it feels to watch your mom die in Grade Four.

When we find this thing we’ll know it because we will –if we’re paying attention– quite notably feel the chemical shift in our bodies. As our minds change, our bodies will too.

Somehow we feel this shift in much the same way that most of use can feel the release of our white blood cells during an illness. In that case, we’ll will often say things like, “I think my cold is turning,” 15 minutes after the release. In this case, the realization about the other person will also release a form of tension within us.

That tension will have been created by us expending energy, thinking subconsciously limiting thoughts that served to restrict who that other person might be, even if all we were doing was not inviting them into our circle.

By relaxing our definition to fit our new information –by thinking different thoughts about them– we allow other people to more successfully be themselves near us, and that warms relations between us. This is what can make it such a useful exercise for society.

Remember: we find something we like about someone that we formerly ignored or didn’t like. Then we find a way to connect with them anyway until we sense that we really have changed our idea of who the person is (for the better).

The nice thing about this is, even if we fail at the exercise, even just trying it will have positive impacts as an exercise in compassion. Enjoy the process. This is us getting healthier.

peace. s

Oprah’s Example

1325 Relax and Succeed - Oprah The Path Made Clear

I’m working on a project that lead me to be at the Oprah talk last night in Edmonton. It was me, a producer friend, 11 other guys and about 20,000 women. I can assure other men that no gym muscles or hot cars will ever get a man the sort of credit you get for just being a guy at Oprah. We were congratulated several times just for coming, which felt odd.

I’m sorry, I never remember to take photos at these things, I’m always too much in the now to think to interrupt the moment in order to try capturing the moment, and I don’t use a smartphone.

It was in general a very happy, cooperative, friendly crowd and it felt good to be there. The talk itself felt a bit more like a highlight reel featuring mixed metaphors than a one long whip cracking.

Rather than a raconteur spinning out a theme and ending it with a swell and a snap –where there’s a beginning, middle and end with a climax– this was more a collection of vignettes of poignant scenes done more like an anthology of distinct stories. It was a bit like the difference between a band performing an entire concept album, versus just their greatest hits.

Her ‘greatest hits’ included video clips that featured Gary Zukov, and she had Wild author Cheryl Nyland on stage for a very authentic-feeling section that seemed to really focus the audience’s attention. In the end, everyone we asked really enjoyed the event.

I was there for a very particular reason, but it was still very easy to notice how invested people are in their health and in caring about others. That entire show was about a generous, caring, open and accepting way to see life, and there were 20,000 disciples all saying, ‘yes, we’re on board.’

How can we see the world as ugly when that many people show up just to share space and love?

What struck me most about her talk was a particularly vulnerable section regarding her early life. For those unaware, Oprah had a half-sister given up for adoption, and she herself was not seen as a gift to either her mother or her grandmother. In short, she was almost entirely unloved throughout her childhood, and you could feel that she still carries the pain of that even today.

She spoke of forgiving her mother before her death, although I got the sense that is still unfinished business with her. She did say something beautiful and true, which is that it was the neglect of attention that Oprah suffered early in life that lead her to a life on TV, and then as a talk show host, and ultimately she became the loving person she is precisely because she had those unloving forces in her life.

1325 Relax and Succeed - How are we weaving our pain into love

Maybe what made last night work was that Oprah wasn’t some deity administering her balm to the audience’s wounds, she was there more as an equal. While the talk used phrasing about how grateful she was for the wisdom she had gained from so many wise people, it felt less like a talk from an expert, and more like another human connecting and saying, “Life is hard at times, but worth it. This is what I’ve found and it works pretty good. I’m glad we’re in it together.”

Any kid who doesn’t get love will either get super cold or they will become an expert on love, and Oprah both demonstrates love and she clearly also basks in it. It’s always a nice thing to see people who need love, openly enjoying getting it.

Considering what she’s given people, it feels appropriate that her mother’s missing, stable, narrow mile-deep love is being replaced by her audience. Maybe they can’t give her the sort of love that knows her as well and goes as deep, but regardless, it can extend across her horizons in every direction. After a tough childhood, it’s wonderful that she would have used her pain to build such a beautiful view.

I share with Oprah her sheer joy in sharing love with others, and I too cannot help but be grateful for even her grandmother and mother’s cold feelings, for without those the way would not have been paved for one of modern society’s most potent outlets of positivity. On a universal pain-to-benefit ratio, Oprah is a clear win for love.

Every person struggling with their parents will have benefits grow out of that struggle. The question isn’t so much; why didn’t Oprah’s mother openly love her, because we’d have to be her mother to fully grasp that. That means the real question is; what did Oprah do with that sad fact?

What Oprah did with that fact was to beam love through the airwaves into TVs and books across North America, and that lead to massive amounts of love flowing toward her. And that is a pretty good outcome out of two uncaring caregivers. Such is the yin and yang of life.

The final question is, how are we weaving our pain into love?

peace. s

Shifting Identities

1287 Relax and Succeed - Politeness is to human natureIf you don’t think you have different identities just try this: the next time you’re talking to someone you don’t like, imagine that someone you respect more than almost anyone is listening to the exchange.

If you do that earnestly you’ll find that you’ll choose more charitable and productive words and even friendlier body language with whoever you’re dealing with, even someone you don’t like.

But why would you be nicer? Or nice to someone you don’t like? Are you a brown-noser? A climber? A show off? Not really.

You would feel the urge to be nicer because, while you might possibly have been unusually nice to someone you don’t like anyway, what this thought experiment demonstrates is that we all subconsciously desire, more than anything, to belong.

This means that if someone we respected was watching us, we would naturally want to demonstrate our virtue to increase our value to them, and by extension their group. That doesn’t mean the virtue itself is entirely false. It simply means it was real virtue triggered by events.

Since a group of cooperating people will always out-compete a group of selfish people, we were built to be pack animals. This means that any action that ingratiates us to, or protects our status within, a group will be naturally appealing to a healthy human, even if only on a subconscious level. Sometimes it makes us feel good to help others and we do it for the joy we get, but it is also beneficial to be seen to be helping others, sincerely or otherwise. It builds community. Our impulse is natural.

But why would you be nicer? Or nice to someone you don’t like? Are you a brown-noser? A climber? A show off? Not really.

We have to keep in mind, chimps and bonobos are farther out on the evolutionary bush than we are, by millions of years. They are newer to evolution than we are. We are animals who are civilized, but still animals. We naturally feel safer in groups than alone, and that inclination in us explains everything from disenfranchised kids joining gangs, to why former team-sport athletes often struggle with depression after retirement. People need a tribe of some sort.

Having a place in a group is where we belong, and any feeling outside of that drives us toward belonging like thirst leads us to water. That’s why the world feels so harsh right now.

1287 Relax and Succeed - We shouldn’t build sharp tall fencesEveryone’s so judgmental that no one feels acceptable and that’s lead to insecurity that in turn leads to loneliness etc. etc. We shouldn’t use harsh judgments to build sharp, tall fences around ourselves when we are also stumbling through reality. We need each other, including each other’s forgiveness for our own inabilities.

There are two major ways to connect ourselves to others: the love we share that is comforting, and/or our value in terms of what we can contribute to their lives. Put another way, someone who protects us from dragons can get away with being grumpy; and being lovable is simply dragon-slaying love with a nicer role. But what binds us is a shared responsibility to each other. Denying that is painful, fulfilling it feels good, even if that involves fighting ‘dragons.’

Every role done well has value, and every tribe can carry a struggling member for a time. This is the value of community, and our ability to appreciate that value explains why we naturally become more aware of the value of kindness while we are in the presence of others.

Enjoy your days.

peace. s