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.

Inspiring Freedom

253 Relax and Succeed - Life begins at the end
Once people learn to quell their own fearful thoughts they suddenly become aware of everyone else’s. You suddenly realise that people are constantly arguing for their limitations. They love music, they sing in the shower every morning, and yet when you go to karaoke they don’t want to sing. Sorry. Bullshit. They do want to sing, it’s just they didn’t realise that if they had stopped thinking that fearful narrative into existence, they might have picked a song and sang it instead.

People: it’s the new millennium. Seriously, it’s time to drop all of this unnaturalness. I’m not saying put anyone in serious physically danger. But if it’s just a matter that someone doesn’t like what you do or say; well that is their issue not yours. The dissatisfaction with your choices exists in their consciousness and only they have control over that, just as only you have control over your thoughts.

When I suggest that people should be free, fearful people often respond by saying, if you take the rules away what’s to stop people from taking all kinds of advantage? Okay, first off you have to recognise the presumed negativity of that statement. The assumption is that you need to stop them because they will surely try to take advantage. And yet there are far more studies that show the opposite. In most cases, most people are quite just and fair, (with accommodation made for cultural differences). Why would we anticipate the behaviour of 3% of the population in the other 97%? That’s a lot of wasted life on worrying over pretty low odds. How about we just do like the Buddha said and accept that there will be suffering? Then we can move on to the not-suffering.

253 Relax and Succeed - Doubt kills more dreams
The sorts of people that my family or neighbours used to call crazy or eccentric or weird seemed very strange to me when I was younger. But when I realised that thoughts were personal ideas, I re-examined these same people and I realised they were the only ones I could find that were just being who they were. They just didn’t care what other people thought of their clothes, or job, or actions. They were comfortable being themselves, and that seemed pretty healthy to me. They certainly seemed less bothered than the tense, judgmental egos that were defining them.

This week’s video blog is a lot of fun. This kind of freedom is infectious, as you’ll see. These people let more than a few people out of jail for a few minutes. Just try not to move your face or your body as you watch this first one. It’s really hard. He’s really evocative. And it’s because he’s unrestrained. There’s no holding back. He’s pouring everything he knows into it. And look at the people around him. They revel in it.

They’ll brag later at the bar that they were the ones sitting right near him. Because he’ll be the one that makes the news. And that’s because he’s so insanely rare. He’s free. So why aren’t you doing stuff like this? I’m not kidding. You won’t even tell people they have food on their face or that their fly’s undone—how are you gonna be free?!

Seriously. Watch this guy. Be inspired. I promise you, what he’s doing is way easier than what you’re trying to do. Life is too short to wear some mental corset. You’re a good person. Relax. You won’t rape and pillage. You’re far more likely to be even more generous than when you lived in a state of ego. So don’t worry. Be free.

Seriously. This guy is awesome. He just gets better and better:

And along the same vein, here’s another one. This actually reminds me a lot of me dancing at my dear friends Christina and Aaron’s wedding. And yes, I really was dancing a lot like that. I’m sure she still has many incredulous relatives that can act as witnesses. So seriously, relax. Forget what other people think. Be free. If I can do this at a wedding you can at least do it in your living room alone. Come on. You can do it. Turn up some music. Dance.

dance. 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.