The 7-5-3 Code

Yesterday I gave you some basic strategies to avoid having your irritations and frustrations evolve into anger. Today I’ll tell you the more challenging part, which is how to recover once you’re upset. Before I set the context, fair warning: you might find parts of this story difficult.

In life in general I do attempt to set myself up to do well under challenging circumstances by basically following the same code a Samurai would use for health. I will admit it’s been tough getting enough sleep in these last few years that have included caring for my parents–but I eat pretty well, I have natural exercise built into my life, and I actively care about myself and the world around me.

As this blog is a testament, I always seek and greatly value having a calm, clear, alert awareness in order to achieve a healthy emotional balance and the highest levels of performance. But I can’t do that all the time and the day I’m going to tell you about was preceded by a week of bad food, too little sleep, and a loss of awareness.

Work was extremely busy and it was a very critical time on a long project. My parents had a stomach flu and didn’t want to eat, and what they wanted to eat came right back out one end of them or the other. At 91 they don’t move fast so I was cleaning up all over the place and yes, it was super gross.

I was doing a lot of extra cleaning and wiping and fluid checking (during which I was washing up incessantly to try to avoid catching it too because that would even be worse). Since I generally cook for them and I wasn’t joining them in their dry toast, I wasn’t eating either. I was always often finishing so late that it prevented me from getting enough important work done and that made me think too much. It was a recipe for disaster.

A while ago we had to shift Dad to an adult diaper. It’s just a minor one, mostly for the 10% of the time where he quits peeing just a moment after he puts himself back into his shorts. In those cases you can say, “Dad you should change,” and after he finally hears you he’ll do it fine on his own.

But this day included the flu. I’d just sat down after cleaning up vomit in three different parts of the house when he very notably jumped up off the sofa and then shuffled faster than I’d seen him go since his last stroke. Look, this is where I’m just going to be candid. Dad’s got a liquified stomach, 91 year old legs trying to get him to a toilet 40 feet away, and along the way his only defense is a 91 year old asshole. It’s just not as snug as it was when he was younger, and it’s okay if you laugh.

Sure enough he couldn’t keep it together and whatever happened before I got the door opened I’m not sure, but to put it bluntly there was a lot of poo–including on Dad, the wall, the bathtub, everywhere. It smelled worse than anything I’d ever encountered in my life. I worked to hide my gagging from him.

This is where I felt myself start a rise. My mistake was, I wasn’t fully aware of my father’s vulnerable state or it easily would have moved me to active compassion. No, I made the experience about me, and so rather than being present with him I started thinking about how long it was going to take me to clean everything up.

Dad had his diaper back up and so I gave him a bag to put it in and I asked him to put on a new one. I got to cleaning the bathroom all while thinking about the uncompleted important work sitting on my desk. The smell was brutal, and now my stomach was starting to rumble too.

About halfway through cleaning the bathroom (I’ll save you the horrible details), I stopped thinking about me for a moment and that helped me realise that Dad can’t balance, and so he sits when he changes his pants. I looked at the mess and thought to myself, Dad went in there to change a dirty diaper…!

I leapt up, raced to his bedroom and sure enough, he’d stood up to pull off the old one. It was overfull and didn’t keep it’s contents together, so his ass is still covered in poo. And just as I came in–just after he drops the dirty diaper half on the floor and half into the bag I gave him–he does what’s logical to his Dementia-influenced mind and yes, he sat down on the bed to put on a new diaper. I tried to stop him but it was too late. It was awful. I snapped at him. “Great Dad. Now I’ve got to wash the bedding too!” It did not feel good to say.

I ordered (ordered!?) him back into the bathroom because I had to get him cleaned up before I finished cleaning the bathroom, floor and bed. I had already calmed myself down quite a bit by the time I was helping him get cleaned off. It was an extremely intimate moment for both of us. This wasn’t a baby who doesn’t understand what you’re doing for them. We’re both adults and it was the first time he’d needed that level of help in the bathroom. I could see the shame in his eyes–something I never saw before in my life. My heart immediately broke.

As I stopped thinking about me and started getting present with him and his vulnerability, my rectitude flooded back and I used courage to move past my own shame. I placed my hand warmly on my Dad’s naked back. I looked him in the eyes, and with open honesty and sincerity I said, “I’m sorry for getting upset Dad. You’re more important than my schedule. You’re my Dad and I love you. That was my fault. I’m sorry. I’m learning how to do all this Dementia stuff too. I’ll do better next time.” He liked that.

That helped me shift my own emotional tone even further, and the kindness and respect that I attempt to always to cultivate returned. As I wiped him off and he relaxed into his new reality, I looked him in the eye and we connected in a way we never have in all my life. He was saying thank you with his eyes in a very tender and loving way, and as I rubbed his back I warmly and lovingly responded, “You’re doing great Dad. You’re just sick that’s all. We’ll get through this together. I’m with you through this no matter what. You’ve been a great Dad. I love you and I’m here for you.”

He’ll forget it all happened in twenty minutes. But our experience was real. He started to offer an apology but I told him that it wasn’t necessary. He was sick and I was caring for him and I had not done my duty. My parents had been there for all of my gross kid-parts, I was not going to shy away from them when it was their turn to need the same care. He could count on me. And boy, could I see the comfort that last part gave him.

I cannot tell you how much I respect healthy, professional care workers who do these same things, with the same levels of compassion,  all for people who are entirely unknown to them. I now know how they’re able to do those very tough jobs; it’s because, just like everything else in life, if you’re willing to push past some really challenging feelings, you’ll end up experiencing important and meaningful things that too many people miss out on.

As gross and as challenging as it was, I now wouldn’t trade that day for anything. I wouldn’t trade the moment that Dad and I shared for anything. And I was happy to wash those sheets. Yes, I would be late getting work done and people were going to be upset. But my Dad was okay, and I’d been the person I most like to be; comforting. When I finally laid my head down on my pillow I went to sleep feeling like it had been a really good day.

You too can turn your worst days into your best. But it requires an awareness of the present moment and the ability to change your emotional tone by adjusting the focus of your mind. Practice both now. No matter who you are you’ll need it. And when you do, you’ll understand even more why it’s so important. Because if people behave according to their deepest feelings, loving someone in the trenches bonds a relationship together like nothing else.

peace. s

PS And if you’re wondering–yes–just as they were getting better I did actually catch the flu myself. 🙂

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 Good Dad

Whether it’s from single parents or couples or combos of people, almost everyone responsible for raising a child struggles with the notion of how to be a good parent. And by struggle I mean they’re certain they’re transferring their worst faults to their kid and that freaks them out. Fortunately it doesn’t have to. You can relax.

936 Relax and Succeed - The greatness of a manMy Dad is an absolutely brilliant parent and it was easy. He only went to grade eight. You would call him clever but not notably smart. He owned a little company and did okay but he was no brilliant businessman nor did he get rich. Considering how much time every kid spends with their parents I recall very little of our total time spent together, but what I do remember very clearly is his leadership through life. I remember how he lived.

Since shoe-tying Dad never really teaches me anything directly. He didn’t sign me up for classes or have here’s how it is talks, he’s just lived and let me watch things and he answered questions when I asked. And it turns out that’s really what matters most when it comes to succeeding as a parent. It’s why I still want to be like him today, although now more consciously.

My Dad is truly remarkable in that he’s 90 and I’ve literally never seen him angry or sad in my life. I’ve seen him be strong in the face of adversity or even challenge danger, but not with anger. I’ve seen him deeply concerned for the welfare of others but never sad. I’ve never heard him put down anyone. I’ve never even really heard him complain. Kids copy what their parents do. Good living therefore equals good parenting.

936 Relax and Succeed - It is very simpleThe other thing I got from Dad is a sense of spirit about life. He’d survived Scarlet Fever, The Depression, a terrible and violent father, and he was just about to be transferred from Europe to Asia in WWII when they dropped The Bomb, so he knew well what war was like and everyone then lost friends and family. All of that made being alive that much more important to him and he instilled that in me: it is important to enjoy your life.

The ways Dad creates his own joy is mostly through assisting others. He just really loves to help and because it brings a lot of joy to people I also saw him as a constant source of positivity to others. The reason he realised someone was facing a challenge he could help with was because Dad never thinks about himself much, which is why he’s never angry or sad. Dad thinks about others.

Being invested in other people is a lost art. Everyone’s connected and no one’s connecting. Dad never listened to be polite. He truly always wants to know what’s going on for other people. He loves hearing about other exciting things in their lives and he’s extremely good at being happy for them. He doesn’t dwell on sadness nor commiseration but he’s as with-you as someone can be.

936 Relax and Succeed - Listen earnestly to anything your childrenWhen I get asked why my Dad is so great I’ll mention his emotional stability and decency but that’s not the main reasons I think he’s so good. That’s because he’s invested. He’s always been interested. He cared. And he’s always been supportive. I’ve had a crazy life pursuing crazy dreams and so many of them have come true and so many times he was the only person who didn’t think I was crazy to pursue them.

I love my life despite the usual calamities. It’s no coincidence that I also had a parent who simply loved their kid through their earnest interest in that kid’s life. If your child’s life is unfolding as though what is happening to them is a part of the greatest story you’ve ever read then you will have done an enormous service to your child.

Too many adults think they have to be amazing or it doesn’t matter. That can change if our culture starts valuing a parent’s interest in a child as being far more important than what they provide the child materially. There is no greater way to inoculate a human being against long term failure than to instill in them the idea that, regardless of what’s going on, they always truly matter.

Be a good person, show your kid you love them unconditionally and the rest is up to them. Don’t worry. Do that and they’ll almost always do great.

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.

Father’s Day

This past Father’s Day felt different for me. Anyone who reads me knows my Dad’s been my hero since my first trip to Australia. My Aunt and Uncle had such positive views of my parents, and I respected my Aunt and Uncle so much that I began to reconsider who my parents might be—not as my parents—but as individual people living their own lives.

712 Relax and Succeed - Life is too ironicI’ll be forever thankful to particularly my Aunt Ev who did such a great job of helping me to learn to recognize those qualities in all adults. She also did a great job of explaining some of the challenges of adulthood that too-often kids assume are things about them rather than about adulthood. That was the beginning of my father becoming my hero.

As I’ve written in these pages, Dad had a massive brain injury of his own when I was young and he was not expected to live the night. Two weeks later he was out of a coma, slowly regained his memory and his brain became a subject of debate between me and a very talented neuroscientist.

Because it was well-before the 2000’s the prevailing wisdom was that, because brain cells didn’t replace themselves in the same way they do in the rest of the body, this lead everyone to conclude that the brain didn’t change. It does grow new cells, but there was no recognition of other changes. I knew the brain had what is now called neuroplasticity and that it can and did change all the time. Her beliefs lead her to the conclusion that my father would get worse. I was young then and I couldn’t explain very well at the time how I knew for sure, but I assured her that my father would improve and that the brain does grow and change, and those two things are now known to both be true.

712 Relax and Succeed - It is not joy that makes us gratefulThe funny thing is, even though the doctors that night told Mom and I that Dad wouldn’t make it, and even though his head was this weird shiny smooth pumpkin of bruises and tubes, and there was nothing recognizable about his head, I was still entirely sure he would be fine. I literally had zero worry for him—I was more concerned about how my Mom was. But this year—after his last fall, that actually frightened me. That brought time into focus. I try not to think about time, but for Mom and Dad I’ll do anything.

I may get 20 more Father’s Day with my Dad. But I also know that he’s way past the national average for age and so this year’s could also be our last. An acute sense of that had Dad glowing in the dark this year. My parents have always been so precious to me but I have modelled myself after my father. And the idea of living without him terrifies me. But I happily go toward that terror because I know by facing my fears I will be making him even more precious and that will make us even closer.

My Dad has this one particular skill. He can be fully invested in you. This means that if you are in front of him and you’re angry about how you can’t stand Mark, and that Mark is the reason for all of your pain and suffering, my Dad would not join you in attacking Mark. But he would support you completely as you attacked Mark. He would be genuinely sorry you were in pain and he wouldn’t argue with you about Mark. You would get full empathy from him.712 Relax and Succeed - I never had a policy

Now, if my Dad went to see Mark and Mark told the opposite story—the one where you’re the jerk—then again—my Dad would not join in on any bashing of you. But he would fully support Mark. He would be sorry Mark was in pain. But Dad knows only support. He has no attack. He can just be with you in whatever moment you’re both in, and he doesn’t need any opinions of his own when he’s there. He’s there for you.

If you think you have unlimited Father’s Days, or Summers, or Christimas’s or Tuesdays, then you’re fine. But eventually you figure out you don’t, and then each of those things becomes stunningly special. Far from wanting just one more Father’s Day, you’ll want one more weekend, one more day, one more hour.

I’m not a vampire and neither is my father. We have hearts and our souls will eventually leave them. That temporary nature is the very quality that gives life its richness. It is what the vampire can only taste in small doses but humans can activate throughout their lives.

712 Relax and Succeed - When you plant a seed of love

I have my father’s sense of humour. I remember distinctly the day I learned courage from him. I remember distinctly when I learned compassion from him. And he taught me what it was like to be with a human being who was sincerely and completely invested in connecting with me. Experiencing that connection always felt so incredibly good and it gave me so much strength that still today I do my utmost to have as many of my exchanges be like that as possible. Dad has always left people better than he found them.

I’m grateful that my Aunt woke part of me up while I was still young enough to have a very deep and wonderful relationship with my parents. I will miss my Dad if he leaves this Earth before me. But in the meantime I won’t let my fears eat up my insides. Not when I can use them to push me even closer to Dad.

Reconsider the people around you. Do not take them for granted. That would be stealing from yourself.

Have an awesome day.

peace. s

Born Again

If you look at it from the right angle, being told you were dead is a big plus in life because it gets you to really appreciate that being alive is actually quite a privilege. So first my dad almost lost me due to my massive brain injury when I was five, and then I almost lost him in 1983 when he ended his roofing career by doing a 3 meter head-first dive into concrete. He’s had cancer, he experiences strokes, and the other day my parent’s neighbour found him 669 Relax and Succeed - Every experience no matter how bad it seemsunconscious and bleeding on her front sidewalk.

I have been keenly aware since I was five that just as I almost did, people can vanish and often without warning. One minute we can talk to them and the next minute we can’t. When Mom and I got to to the hospital physical Dad was there but mental Dad wasn’t. He didn’t know who we were or what had happened. It’s the first time I remember seeing my mother look scared, and Dad looked lost. It must be a terrible sensation to not be able to reel in your own identity. And at the same time it shows that our identity is little more than a collection of our memories and habits.

As I sat in the Emergency Room waiting area I couldn’t help but notice the worried expressions on nearly every face. Everyone was living in the future or the past. They were wishing someone hadn’t tried that trick on their bike, or they wish their diet had been better the last 20 years. Or if they were living in the future they were speculating about what might happen. That’s when I was reminded of how most people see things.

Because I knew very profoundly that I really could lose my father at any second, I did not waste a moment of our time together by wondering about times other than the moment we were in. In that moment I could see that he was scared and that he didn’t even know what would bring him comfort, and so I just held his hand and told him I loved him and that worked pretty well. With no offence to the others intended, if you were watching them closely you 669 Relax and Succeed - You have to embrace getting oldercould see they were so busy worrying about what they might lose that they weren’t very present at all with the people they were there with—including the patient.

Despite my awareness during the emergency I was aware that night that I had undergone a fundamental shift in my self-identity. I was born again as I realized that my time as a part of the next generation was approaching and it allowed me to come to realize that I’m unnerved by the idea of living without my father. I didn’t know it until this last accident happened, but I know of no safer place than in the presence of my entirely non-judgmental, fully supportive father. He’s always displayed courage, decency, kindness, generosity, compassion and intense interest.

My dad has been genuinely excited by everything that’s excited me. He loves it when I love my life and I do not like the idea of living without my hero and that knowledge has changed me. But rather than lament where I am in life I accept that these transitions are a natural part of my love for him and our movement though life. If I don’t resist them with wanting thoughts I will be able to fully immerse myself in the moment, and that’s better because that’s where I’ll find my Dad.

My parents are both way past the national average for lifespan. Mom teaches exercise three times a week and Dad volunteers all over the place plus he walks every neighbour’s dog. That’s what he was doing when he fell. But at their age things can change in an instant and so I’m fully 669 Relax and Succeed - Learn to appreciate what you haveaware that I could have another two decades of goodbyes or that the next one might be the last one. That can feel terrifying if I think about it from a what do I lose? perspective. But if I think about it as a simple reality, it suddenly makes my already beloved parents even more precious.

My Dad is my hero and I love my Mom thoroughly. If my life has been this great clearly they got a whole bunch of stuff right. If it works out that I get another 20 years I will be grateful for every single day. But if it ends sooner I will still be living in a state of mind where I am routinely, unbelievably grateful that these two amazing people are my parents. And loving that fact is about the best thing I can think to do with however much time we have left with each other.

Thanks Mom and Dad. If you were wondering if you succeeded—I can’t imagine a greater success than helping a kid to live a life that he’s absolutely loved. I love you both more than you can imagine.

hugs and kisses, s

PS Oh yeah, and as for Dad’s fall—his brain bleed is healing and he’s thankfully back on his anti-stroke medication. We’re going to watch some playoff hockey games together this week. 🙂

Life Lessons

If you read me regularly you know I often point out that an enjoyable life comes from the simple act of appreciation, and yet so few people ever bother to really turn that into a daily verb. They’ll say they want a better life and that they want to be more spiritual, but then they’ll promptly use all their free time to compare themselves with people they perceive as even more fortunate, but they won’t do it with the many billions more who are less fortunate. Why pursue wanting thoughts instead of appreciative thoughts when the former hurt and the 628 Relax and Succeed - The more I understand the mindlatter feel wonderful? That’s a question you really should be asking yourself.

I live in Alberta. This is a place that, for the time being, a nineteen year old kid can make $120,000 a year as a welder and he’ll still complain about it. And because everyone knows so many people like that, people where I live don’t realize that they are among the richest people on Earth. When I recently asked several locals how much they thought you needed to earn to be in the top 1% of global earners, I got guesses like 20 million and low guesses were about 2 million. The real answer (on that day) was $56,400. Most of the people I talked to were double that number and you could see their minds try to adjust their place in the world to this sliver of people at the top. Suddenly they realized that what they thought the world was—that was just the top 1%. They thought they were struggling and so they imagined themselves at somewhere in the bottom half of worldwide earners. They thought they were in the bottom half when they were actually in the top 1%. Do you see how your thinking can steal your joy?

I want you to take a moment to actually appreciate where you really are. It’s my hero’s birthday today (the day I’m writing this). My Dad already had grey hair when I was born, so we have a fascinating spread between us. He was born before the Great Depression on a rural farm in Scotland. He was the youngest of eight children and he was born before the 628 Relax and Succeed - No we don't always get what we wantavailability of antibiotics so he was lucky to have survived Scarlet Fever as a kid. He’s a clever guy but he only had the chance to go to grade eight, and by seventeen years old he was lying about his age so that he could follow his brothers and sisters into service in World War II.

Before the war Dad was pushing a plow behind a horse, and then he helped to cut the wheat with a scythe and they stacked it by pitch fork. Eight kids starts to make sense doesn’t it? Had I been a farmer in my era, I would do all of that “work” with one machine, in my sleep, while a movie was on in the cab of my self-driving GPS-controlled combine. To say life is easier doesn’t even get close to capturing the level of difference. And that’s my Dad and I’m right on the Gen X border. That’s one generation to me. Just a bit ahead of him and there’s no cars, electricity or even running water.

Take a moment to think about that. What my Dad would take a day of super hard work to do I could probably do quite casually in under 10 seconds. I worked alongside my Dad for a long time. My dad could work hard. And he might have only had grade eight but give him two thimbles, some twine and a fish hook and he’ll build you a part that will get your car to the next town for the real repairs. My friends and I couldn’t build a house, fix a car, repair an electrical motor, hunt an animal, clean a fish, do enough math and bookkeeping—by hand—to run a small business, and we certainly couldn’t deliver a baby cow. Our dads were either in the war or they lost their dad in the war—whether that father came home or not. No vaccines, 628 Relax and Succeed - Some people feel the rainpenicillin was barely invented, they all lost siblings to bombs and bullets and various diseases that we no longer fear. That was normal.

Parents expected to lose a kid along the way. Just think about that. Today that would be headline news and possibly cause the parent to stop living their life. Back then it would have been seen as unfortunate but it couldn’t stop you. You still had another seven or more kids to look after back when a washing machine looked like a single piece of corrugated metal. Can you imagine having today’s attitudes about housework when washing clothes meant grinding eight kids clothes against a rough surface for several hours in water that was heated in a kettle hung over a wood stove that you cut the wood for? Think about that next time you spin the dial for an extra rinse. I do and I still appreciate my washing machine every single time I use it.

It was just through proximity not wisdom that I knew how tough our parents were. The first white person to climb Mount Everest only died in 2008 and he did that climb in leather and wool. Life got much easier during my lifetime and it’s no younger person’s fault that they 628 Relax and Succeed - Life is a series of thousandsdon’t immediately consider how challenging something might have been even shortly before they were born. People had higher levels of acceptance and appreciation because it was easy to see how much tougher it had recently been.

There were no homes for older people so a lot of families had grandparents living with them so you heard stories. And people still visited farms where you went back in time a bit. You’d see outhouses and kerosene lamps still being used every day. But now I know tons of young people whose grandparents are in a special home they visit for an hour every few months. They have never been to a farm and their parents both have desk jobs on computers and so to them their parents life doesn’t look a lot different than theirs. Not very many kids today get to see what I did when I looked at my Dad. By 17 my Dad was in WWII, and both my parents families lost members in the war and to the war. What an insult it would have been to say to my dad that my safe, easy car-riding life was too hard.

People squander their own happiness. They use their ability to think to want—to compare themselves to others even more fortunate. So the 1%er ends up spending half their day using their thoughts to envy someone in the .0001%??? Does that sound wise to you? Or could all the suffering you’re complaining about be coming from that?

628 Relax and Succeed - Gratitude changes everythingMeditation is consideration. Siddhartha sat under a tree asking himself where suffering comes from and 49 days later he’s the first Buddha. You can do likewise, but instead of using your thinking to negatively compare yourself, instead use it to appreciate how fortune you are. Because if I’m having trouble completely quieting my thinking for whatever reason, I’ll just shift to leading my thoughts toward considering what my day would have looked like for my parents, or even more extremely, for my grandmother. Hitching a horse, riding to town, blah blah. But one minute in I realize my “bad, slow day” is actually accomplishing more in a half hour than my grandmother could have even hoped to do all day, and I would have been safer, warmer, and far more comfortable. And that awareness makes me grateful, and if you’re feeling grateful then you’re okay. It’s as easy as that.

You have a lot to be grateful for. So go create yourself a great day by investing your consciousness in things that are easy to appreciate. Trust me. They’re always there.

peace. s