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

Friends and Enemies

952 Relax and Succeed - Appreciate your rudeYes, appreciate your rude/blunt friend for being real. And appreciate your shy self-deprecating friend for preferring to hurt themselves rather than hurt you. And appreciate your angry aggressive friend for wanting to rush to your aid. And appreciate your quiet friend for not wanting to give you the wrong advice. And appreciate your oblivious friend because they have something else to focus is on and if that’s a good thing it’s motivation for you, and if it’s something bad then it reminds you you’re not alone in your pain.

Of course you can see the blunt friend as rude, the wounded one as a self-centred victim, the angry one as negative, the quiet one as being unhelpful, and you can even be mad at the oblivious friend because their life is going so great in comparison. These choices regarding how you view people happen with everyone you meet. The ones you choose to see like the first paragraph are your friends. The ones you choose to see like this second paragraph are your enemies. That’s also why some of your friends are other people’s enemies and vice versa etc. etc.

952 Relax and Succeed - When you judge anotherPeople have names but they’re not consistent. Everyone ebbs and flows between strength and weakness, awareness and ego, peace and suffering. Nirvana is not when you reach a place where everything is always easy and beautiful, it is a place where you have attained the wisdom necessary for you to know in your heart that the world will be as you choose to see it, and in so being it always has the potential to be beautiful.

You cannot live within this beauty because beauty must have a definition and a definition cannot exist without things outside of that definition. Without ugliness you cannot have beauty. Light and dark, hot and cold, happy and sad, friend and enemy. Without not-path you cannot have a path.

Your job is not to become a spiritual person that somehow learns to float above the thorns at the side of the path and your job is not to religiously suggest it’s possible to remove all of the thorns from the entire world so there are no sharp things to step on. Your job is to walk consciously through the world within a universe of paths and thorns.

952 Relax and Succeed - We can never judge the livesYou need not panic about perfection. Some paths are just too narrow and you will definitely get scratches, there are wash-outs, thickets, bogs, and all kinds of other ways for you to wear yourself out or even get hurt. But the alternative is to sit and go nowhere and that is a fate much worse than death. To just sit would be spiritual stagnation. It would be to not live at all. There is no path or thorn that painful.

Negative views are the thorns and the positive views are the paths. Step this way with your judgments and you step on something sharp. Step that way and your path is clear. Each moment–each step–we get to reassess our direction, so you can blame the path or your shoes or the thorns, but no one’s listening. The universe has done it’s job giving you the opportunity for happiness and the free will to pursue it. From there it’s your choice where you step.

You can appreciate things or want them to be different. The choice is yours. They’re your feet. Which direction will you walk in today?

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.

Quiet Awareness

733 Relax and Succeed - Try to learn to breatheImagine that you are spiritual creature constantly in motion. You are like a magical snake that moves through the universe based on hot and cold. You recoil and move away from things that are cold and you move toward things that are warm and your journey wanders rather randomly as you cycle through the universe, being repelled and attracted.

As you can easily see, if I change the above example to being about you and I change hot and cold to things you enjoy and things you don’t enjoy, I’m describing how you are not leading your life but you are reacting to it. The world is dictating where you are going. You have things you want and things you do not want and like a robot you move through life in that binary fashion.

If the hot and the cold of it guide every move are you truly free? No, that is ego life. But you are only one small tiny step away from a conscious life. You are only one thought away from ignoring placing any kind of hot or cold value on anything and instead you can value your own direction and you can see the events along the way as just that—events without a value judgment. They are not good or bad, they simply are. I’ve quoted it many times, as Shakespeare said, nothing is good or bad only thinking makes it so.

733 Relax and Succeed - Rather than spend eons

This is not such a difficult thing to do. Simply stop telling yourself narrative stories that feature words for you or other people, and stop placing value judgments on anyone or anything. Nouns aren’t good or bad, trouble or helpful, easy or hard, so just stop those crazy illusory valuations that only exist in your personal consciousness. The quieter you get the wiser you’ll be. Because knowledge is actually a strange kind of blindfold. In the real world, nothing experiences as much as simple, open awareness.

You can do this. It’s who you were as a kid, it’s who you are when you orgasm and laugh and lose track of time. It’s also why old people feel freer than young ones, because they’ve given up trying to live by what they want and don’t-want and instead they want their life itself, and therefore accept whatever it delivers without judgment. Do that and be free. It feels remarkably light and wonderful and it really is that easy.

Go make a great day.

peace. s

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!

CLICK BELOW TO READ:

Scott’s Top
Questions of 2014 #2

peace. s

Changing Direction

Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year #4

A lot of people come to me in their 30’s with the simple question, what the hell is going on with my life? Needless to say it isn’t turning out the way they planned. But rather paradoxically the challenges they are facing stem directly from those plans. You must be very careful when making plans.

689 Relax and Succeed - My entire life can be describedYour life is lived in Nows. You add those together and call that your history, but it’s really just some stuff that happened. And when your life intersected with that stuff your previous life experiences caused you to react to them in the way you did. Then using your memory you take all of that unrelated stuff and you stitch all of those individual experiences together.

You’ll call that tapestry your life, but when it comes to impacting today or your future it’s about as meaningful as the contrails off a plane’s wing. That line in the sky is just what your plane did. At the moment of living your wing met the cold, wet air of the world and an event took place. That event trails off behind you as nothing more than white vapour. But it’s just vapour. Even if you’ve flown in the same direction ever since you took off, at any point a Captain can become conscious and he or she can turn their plane in any direction.

All of these directions are equal. Same with the altitudes. The Dalai Lama’s life is not better than yours because he flies in a different level of understanding. His life is just like yours otherwise—it is made up of his day to day sensations. So there is no specific way to fly across the sky. There’s just where you go. But that’s not what you’re taught.

689 Relax and Succeed - We all have bad daysYou are taught to fly to one of the airports of beauty or one of the airports of education or the airport of a happy family or an airport of fame or financial success. Everyone around you is doing it so you do too. You don’t even see it as an option. Right off the bat the Captain is confused because all of these other planes are just coming off the end of the runway and they’re all headed the same basic directions. And so without ever knowing it your Captain inadvertently surrenders his or her Captaincy and instead becomes a dutiful autopilot follower. Then you’re just doing what you were programmed to. So that’s problem one. You’re not actually setting your own direction.

The next problem is that after you set it you never question it. You just fly along to where you think you’re supposed to be going and so you interpret any storm (a job loss, a divorce, financial ruin) as a problem or something in the way of you reaching your goal. But remember: you were just accidentally convinced by the other planes. There is no goal. You can fly anywhere you like. But instead you’ll get locked onto these targets and you’ll get so angry and, so sad and so insecure about being knocked off what you perceive as your course, that you’ll end up hating the trip. That’s the part where the 30 year-olds call me.

But calling me turns out to not be the failure you might imagine. You imagine that there is something wrong with your plane and that you need to be rescued. But I don’t fly out and repair your plane in the sky. I just talk to you. I ask you where you got your map? Why are you following these directions? And you say, I’m not supposed to follow these? And I tell you, no, that’s what people use when they sell themselves to society–those are just put in there for show. That’s what mass media is. It’s like the fake photos you get when you buy picture frames. You’re just supposed to throw all that out.

689 Relax and Succeed - Regret is longingAfter you’ve called you’ll still debate against me for a few weeks. Because everyone else has also mistaken society’s maps for actual maps you won’t believe me. At least not until you realize that you cannot answer my questions about the meaning behind your previous directions. This surprises and even disturbs you, but you eventually surrender that it really is true—that those charts weren’t the way to go just a way to go and you were always free to go any direction you chose.

So the next question they ask me is, where can I go? That’s the great part. You’ll still carry a lot of momentum from your previous directions and that will influence you for a while, but slowly over time you start to realize that your airplane is 100% flexible. You can point that baby in any direction you like. But then you’ll ask me, which is my direction? And I’ll tell you that you don’t have one; that your problem was that you thought your life was the plane going from here to there on a voyage, when really it’s not about the places we’re going, it’s about the pilot and the pure joy of flying.

So you were never really going anywhere—you just fly this thing until it runs out of fuel—then you’re free to walk the tarmac and find yourself another plane. Don’t panic about the transition. Death for 80% of you means gliding to a gentle stop and just never departing again. If you’re old enough to have learned a bit, even in a dramatic accident you will calmly think to yourself, no way, this is how I go? Weird. Well: here we go. You actually won’t be focused on the plane you’re exiting. You’ll be more excited about boarding the next one.

689 Relax and Succeed - Stay positiveDo you see if you remove an objective that you were previously attached to then things can’t go wrong? Then the air pockets are just low pressure and crosswinds are just winds at an angle to you and lightning is just the weather. But it’s not your weather. And none of it can hurt you by pushing you off course anyway—not if you’re always completely willing to have your course changed. After all, there’s no shortage of great flying to do in any direction.

Understand: you can take your present moment and use it to chart your current course. But keep it current. It’s not some permanent setting. That defeats the purpose of having a whole sky. So set your course and then just focus on the flying. And when you need to change direction because of conditions or when you just want to change it out of some desire you can’t even explain, then go for it. There’s no penalty. No price. No sadness, anger or frustration unless you go think that into your life.

The weather and the winds will have you feeling various things. But if you actively choose to feel them in the moment then they just come and go like any other contrail of experience. It’s when you let them interfere with some course you’re locked onto—that’s when you’re lost. Then you have to sort them out. Then you have to solve them or find a way to get back on course. The other way you simply accept the perfection of wherever your plane it is at any given moment.

689 Relax and Succeed - Nothing is permanentWhere your plane is makes perfect sense. If you added up the uncontrollable forces like the weather and add them to the choices made by you the pilot, we could literally plot a course right to you. That airflow over that rudder in this weather would lead you here. Wherever you are at any given moment always makes perfect sense and yet you always have the ability to change direction.

Your life isn’t falling apart because you’re breaking up or because you got pregnant or didn’t get into university. Those are just the weather and/or your course changing your direction. Don’t sit in the cockpit yelling at the instruments. Get focused on flying. Be quiet and use your thoughts to guide your plane, choice by choice. Better times are always easiest to find when the sky is the darkest. That’s when the light’s the brightest. Just head toward that. Seriously.

You stop failing when you realize there is no failure in life. There is only living and your judgments before and after the fact. But those are history and imagination. Your real life is right here, right now, where the air meets the wing. And that does not happen in any time other than the present. So Be present. Forget striving. Forget destinations. Stop looking at your charts. You’re right where you need to be. There’s nowhere you need to go other than to realize it’s always been you in the cockpit.

Happy flying. 😉

peace. s

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

Go With The Flow

86 Relax and Succeed - Go with the flowGo with the flow. It’s catchy. You might have even said it to people when you saw them struggling. But what exactly did you mean when you said it? What is going with the flow? If you had to put that into other words what would you say? That’s where a lot of people get stuck. How does one go with a flow anyway?

Let us analogise your life into a river. Way up in the high peaks you melt into a little baby trickle. You burble along to the point of becoming a toddler/brook. You don’t impact the world around you much, but you are continually growing to the point where eventually you’re a creek and you have a real flow/personality of your own. Now you can start to have a hand in shaping your own shores.

Along the way you intersect with occasional tributaries. These are the people that help you become who you become. Through them, your creek will grow and grow to the point where you’re a full-on raging teenaged river.

As a river you will continue to grow you will move through a lot of different terrain (social situations, work situations, ages, eras in time etc.). You will pass through stunningly beautiful terrain, and hostile difficult terrain. Sometimes you’ll be at your kid’s weddings. Other times you’ll be taking your spouse to cancer treatments.

You will sometimes move wide and slow, like when you’re either lazily relaxing, or other times when the bottom’s so shallow you’re not sure which way to flow. Sometimes you will crash through canyons so narrow that your sheer force of being will carve solid rock, just as you may have left a very serious scar on the person you once hurt. Sometimes you’ll move so slowly you’re silent. Other times you’ll thunder with the crush of a waterfall. All of these ways of Being are very different and yet all of this is you.

But none of that really matters because eventually you spill back out into the ocean where you are reunited with All—you become indistinguishable from your surroundings as you diffuse and ultimately evaporate—the infinite parts of you rising into the sky like some ephemeral angel to be reincarnated into new snowfall that will melt into new trickles that will form new brooks, creeks and rivers. This is the cycle of life. But what’s that got to do with defining the phrase go with the flow?

86a Relax and Succeed - Here's how it works100% of that river’s journey is your life. From trickle to ocean, that’s all you. Sometimes you’re lazy and slow. Other times you’re falling so fast you can’t hold on. Sometimes the world tells you where to go and other times you make your mark on it. But whether it’s rapids or flats, the river is the river. Going with the flow just means that you’re okay with whatever part of the river you’re on/being. The point is: don’t stand on the flat parts wishing for more excitement and danger, and don’t stand in the rapids worrying because things are so exciting or dangerous.

Every river has its own flow—and yes, some are more dramatic than others. But they all have to get from the mountain to the ocean, and they’re all going to see a variety of terrain, so don’t get caught up in using your thoughts to want different terrain. Just acknowledge where you are on your river and then go with the proverbial flow. Don’t add to your challenges by talking to yourself about how you wish this part of the river was like another part of another river. Because that’s a nonsense conversation and your attention would be better placed in the Now.

All lives have rapids and slow spots. All move through beautiful backdrops and ugly wastelands. But since there is no getting around those facts why not just stop the internal discussion about what should, could or would be better? Why not just stay quiet?

86-relax-and-succeed-dont-try-to-understandThis is what the Buddhists mean when they talk about acceptance. You stop arguing with what is. It’s not that you become enlightened and you have no more challenges and everything goes your way. Becoming enlightened means to come to an acceptance that there will always be such challenges. The point isn’t to prevent them from happening. The point is to be able to comfortably have them happen.

If things are tough, let them be tough. If they’re going really well—enjoy it fully. But don’t fight gravity by arguing with yourself about which way the river should have gone. It will always go the way it goes, just as you will. The point is that you shouldn’t judge your flow. You should just follow your nature and go with whatever your life presents you.

If your life is currently quiet, then you should be good with quiet. But if it’s rapids, then you should be just as good with the rapids as you are with the quiet parts. Or in other words, you should be just as good with vexation as you are with peace. That’s what it is to live the good life. That’s what people should mean when they say, just go with the flow.

Have an awesome day, regardless of where your water is flowing. 😉

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.