Downers

A lot of our thinking stays within us and we’re the only ones that ever know our perspectives exist, but sometimes our thinking externalizes into actual spoken words. Since these words flow in the patterns that create our personalities, we can learn a lot about ourselves by listening carefully to ourselves with others.

As we start trying to catch ourselves we’ll need to do it with big things, and after the fact. Thinks like: what was the overall tone of my last conversation? What all did we talk about? Who started which subjects? What did I engage with and what did I ignore?

Eventually we start catching ourselves within a conversation and we suddenly become aware of where we are in that moment. If you don’t like where we’re at when we do, we suddenly prove how easy it is to change one’s thoughts because we’ll switch instantly and easily. We’ve all done this every time we’re having a big fight with our spouse and then someone from work calls and we answer the phone all cheery and positive. We’ll even flicker between the work identity and our married identity instantly as we cheerily say a sentence with a smile in it, and then as we listen we glare daggers at our partner.

When catching our conversations, first we’ll note a lot of them are sad, or dull, or whiny, or angry, or if we’re lucky maybe they’re relaxed, or fun or hilarious or lively. If we cultivate a lot of the first four we’ll reach for “relaxed” or “lively,” but generally people who are struggling have conversations that sound like people struggling. There’s lots of talk about how misunderstood they are, or what they can’t do, what their limits are, what resources are missing, or how hard, unfair or bad things are.

It will also help to monitor those we talk to. If we’re all having a great time, then we’re good. If one of us is always down and the other is always trying to pull the other up, then that’s strained and it’ll inevitably end. If both of us are always down then we’ve been down long enough that we’ve formed a group of people who like to meet because we’re all so good at negativity.

Once we get better at listening to ourselves while we’re in-conversation we start to spot patterns. We go to certain people for certain things. We have certain patterns attached to certain activities or times of day. Some people will lean on us, others we will lean on. But overall if our tone averages as enjoyable then we’re good, and if it averages as negative for too long then people will slowly disengage and we’ll only hold on to other people who actually worship and nurture sadness like we do.

None of us likes to think we’re negative. When we are negative we prefer to view it as misunderstood, wounded, or betrayed, or weak, or burdened with history. We discuss how no one understands us, or we talk about the hurts we have suffered, or how people have been unfair. We discuss our inabilities and justifications for those inabilities incessantly, and we also claim that things that happened five years ago prevent us from taking action today.

All of this negativity presents as forms of resistance to being, to creation. But every one of us has within us the capacity to alter our world. Even Stephen Hawking’s broke, diseased body took the one thing he had –an abundance of idle time– and he used it to develop his mind to the point where it has travelled farther our into the universe than anyone ever has. And it was all done from a wheelchair.

It will hurt to be inactive in the world. We were built to contribute. Even ants change the world. We certainly were built to build; families, businesses, friendships, community. So we can take our life energy and talk ourselves and those around us into a sad, small, depressing lives filled with suffering, or we can use that same life energy to go out and help others realise something great about themselves or the world. And regardless of our awareness of the fact, our life will be made of the moment by moment choices we make in that regard.

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.

MoK: Casual Kindness

There are many ways to spread kindness into life. Most people remember the direct ways, like doing things for people or offering them a compliment, but there are also the indirect ways. Since people are experiencing what they’re thinking about, changing how someone thinks is to change how they feel.

Parents do this with their kids all the time. You’ve seen it. The kid is screaming about something, and then the parent introduces something new to bait the consciousness of the kid. Hopefully it’s not a threat or a gift, because if that happens too often that person will end up unhealthy. But if it’s an experience then it can be expansive.

So there’s the screaming kid at the grocery store, and the parent says, Do you want ride your bike this weekend with the adults, on the adult trails? And the kid starts thinking about that and they switch from anger to excited in no time. So why don’t we do that as adults? Adults actually argue with you to hold on to the idea that’s painful to them. Don’t try to change the subject on me! (Even though all the discussion in the world wouldn’t fix anything.)

You don’t want these efforts to feel forceful. It’s not some wedge of distraction you hammer into a conversation, but if you’re truly listening the way we all should–very intently and with no other purpose than listening–then you will find yourself struck with opportunities to turn the conversation toward something more enjoyable. It’s your nature. The trick will be getting out of its way.

If humans were designed to tune to negativity we never would have made it out of our first cave. We’d have been too scared. But instead we’re tuned for possibility. We see opportunities. So if you give someone an opportunity for positivity, well, that’s like bait to a fish. Eventually they’ll bite. And if you’re a patient fisherperson who doesn’t try to force the hook in, then you might find that you can succeed on your first try.

Today in the March of Kindness you want to listen carefully to the overall tone of a conversation. If it’s angry or sad or defeatist, listen intently and a natural response will occur to you that would pull the conversation toward something more pleasant and more productive. If you do it well people shouldn’t even notice that you did it.

That’s all that happy people do. When someone shoots them a ball of negativity, they gracefully give them back an easy play on a winning shot. You abandon the subject of their conversation and you focus instead on the tone only. You don’t argue any point, you simply offer a route to something more enjoyable.

You might have to offer it three times if they’re really upset, but eventually everyone would rather pedal their bike on a downslope. Just don’t listen with an agenda. Patiently listen and what to say or do will occur to you. Trust it. Your doubts are only made of thinking.

This is a very subtle form of kindness, and yet once you’re good at this it will be the one you’ll get to use the most. The sheer subtlety of it means it faces less resistance and it gets better results. So join the rest of us today and find some silver linings and help some others notice them too. Because in the end, we’re all in this life thing together.

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.

Other Perspectives #33

486 Relax and Succeed Rebuttal - Sometimes having a conversation

This quote can be helpful or dangerous depending on how you take it. If by “having a conversation with yourself,” you mean that you want to ruminate, speculate, reconsider, wonder or re-live, then those things are actually quite unhealthy. But if you mean that you want to ask yourself questions like, what is the definition of me/I? or what is the source of my suffering? where you’re looking for that answer within yourself rather than blaming others, then that’s called meditation. That’s what Siddhartha did under the tree to become the Buddha, so in that case you’re making an excellent choice in terms of your psychological and spiritual development. So if you’re blaming anyone else or beating yourself up or re-living something unpleasant, then that’s unhealthy use of self-talk. If you’re using the self-talk to undue and deconstruct the self then that internal debate and those internal questions will absolutely lead to useful and rewarding answers. Happy meditating!

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.

Challenging Conversations

My husband is a great guy. He’s really smart and he’s very accomplished professionally but he’s also very hard to be around. It doesn’t matter if it’s me or our kids or neighbours or friends at a party, the only kind of conversation he will engage in is to challenge people. He doesn’t seem to understand that he could ask someone about themselves instead of challenging something they believe. Everyone says talking to him feels like work. You can’t ever relax because he acts like he’s always trying to keep you off balance. I’m tired of seeing people move away from us at parties. Is there any way I can help him to see how it feels for other people when they’re with him?

signed,
Losing Friends

Dear Losing,

If your husband grew up in a house where the conversation was naturally combative then to him that is a conversation. You define a conversation as an exchange between two people about personal events and things. He might see that as pointless and boring. If it never 368 Relax and Succeed - We tend to judge othershappened it would make no difference to the world. Instead he defines conversation as a growth opportunity where he wants to study and compare and challenge the belief systems of the participants.

His agenda might very well to be to make himself better by testing his ideas against others. Or it may be generous in that he may want others to see some sort of important factor to life or living. If he’s an environmentalist who pushes an environmentalist agenda, then he can easily see his pressure as being about purely good things. He’s certainly not sitting there consciously being problematic. People tend not to do that. But their views of the world—yours and mine included—all tend to be mutually exclusive to a large degree. So he hasn’t had your past and he can’t define conversation the way you have. This doesn’t mean there aren’t still social prices to pay, but my point is that from his perspective he’s not being disruptive or rude or demanding. He’s conversing.

Now it sounds like your idea of conversing is more light-hearted and event oriented. Maybe you want to talk about the new cabin someone built, or their new baby, or you might ask about their job. You husband may see those as frivolous subjects that don’t really matter in the sense that people don’t generally change from those sorts of conversation. They are informational rather than growth-oriented.They are static rather than rippling forward. They are enjoyable rather than useful.

So in his conversations the agenda is to grow and challenge and inspire growth in others. In your conversations the agenda is to exchange current personal events and to share experiences. Both of these actually have value—which one is “best” would depend on who you asked. I can enjoy a good debate but it’s true I don’t want to always feel like I have to hit a tennis ball back in a conversation. I don’t go to parties hoping to have to prove my point all night. But I’m also quite bored by small talk and egoic events. I don’t really want to hear people gossip or whine about their boss at a party because I know they’re using up their psychological energy to create experiences that aren’t enjoyable for either party. Idle gossip has no value. 368 Relax and Succeed - If it doesn't challenge youBut sharing has great value. It’s a form of caring. Those connections are what inform our responses to our friends when they’re in crisis, which means your husband probably doesn’t respond well to individuals, he’s probably more likely to attend a rally or to work on a political campaign.

My point is that your husband is being himself. He is being the person that attracted you in the first place. So when he used to get all upset about some political event you would have seen his good intentions, but now that you take those for granted you’re just noticing when other people and you don’t want to have those kinds of conversations. But wants are always at the heart of our suffering. So in essence you’re writing in asking me to change your husband into someone you want to take to a party but I can’t do that because your husband is your husband and he can only be who he is. Expecting him to have a whole new perspective on something like conversation is like asking him to instantly have a different past. It just doesn’t work that way. It would be like me asking you to be combative and challenging all the time. You can’t because it’s not you and it doesn’t feel appropriate. Same for him.

I’m not saying you don’t have to pay a price for his approach. Every ship creates a wake no matter which direction it travels. But since your ship is doing that too, and so is everyone else’s, maybe everyone should spend less time adjudicating the value of each person’s direction in life and instead they should just focus on sailing their own boat where it feels the most rewarding. Some will choose the hot sun and calm days, others will choose heavy winds and high speed. Some will have their destination as the important part and others will have the sailing itself be the point. None of these sailors are right or wrong, they are merely individuals. So our life was never about getting all of the boats going in the same direction, it’s really about learning to keep your footing as your boat gets jostled by someone else’s wake.

368 Relax and Succeed - Love is when you lookThere will be situations where your husband will shine. There will be situations where he’s a disaster. Same for you. So rather than trying to turn him into someone more socially acceptable it might be more worthwhile to train yourself to see the value in what he brings rather than the price.

Good luck with it. I feel for you. I know I used to be bad for the same thing your husband is and I’m sorry my ex-wife had to deal with that. But at the same time, thanks to the the challenges and the conflicts I experienced as a result, I have used those experiences to adjust my course through life and I do think I’m better at choosing the most productive conversations to have. But I needed those experiences to discover those lessons, and that happens at an organic pace. So go have the conversations you would like have and let him have the ones he would like to have. Live with some faith that he is, as you pointed out, a great guy who’s smart and accomplished, even if he is in the midst of a conversation that you would not have.

peace. s