As promised, I am working on some pieces about my experience, the fear, and dealing with intense pain. Due to the depth required for those subjects I will need more time to fully assemble those ideas. You are better served if I can find ways to make my experience useful to you in the most material ways possible.
In the meantime, I am grateful that it happens to be World Kindness Day. That fact allows me to take the time to write and finalize those pieces, as well as celebrate this day by discussing how we can extend our sentiments beyond this single day, so they may imbue our lives throughout our year.
We can often see our kindnesses or our gratitude as things we give to others, but this is only because we tend to see our reality as being ‘out there,’ in some external sense. With a deeper understanding, we realize that all of our ‘experiences’ happen within our consciousness, which means genuine expressions of gratitude or kindness are even more our experiences than they are those of the people we may be helping or showing kindness toward.
Today, and going forward, I would strongly encourage everyone to join me in the daily meditation of seeing life not as something happening to us, but rather an experience we are co-creating with the universe, moment by moment. Like the cells of a single organism, our state does impact the state of those around us, just as those parts of reality also affect us, so control is not our answer.
Just as we will sometimes not be at our best, so too will other cells in the organism that is our larger society. There is no hope of us fully grasping or controlling that reality, but we can learn to accept it in ways that are profound, and that permit us to understand what people mean when they say things like, “Before I was enlightened I suffered. After I was enlightened I suffered.”
Acceptance adds a form of grace to the latter portion of that statement. By living in that way, we build no residual resentments, attachments or expectations, although we may experience them fleetingly. Likewise, we all regularly experience enlightened moments. What everyone seeks is a somewhat efficient route from their suffering, and to their moments of grace.
While we are never free of what the Buddhist’s call the cycle of samsara, we can learn to move within it with greater awareness and psycho-spiritual skill.
How this takes shape in real time can be demonstrated with my recent pain, and the fears around potentially losing my sight. As with anyone, the pain was agonizing, and the fears were based in very real potential outcomes. We can come to see that external reality as ‘our environment,’ much like the banks of a river are not the river, but they do form –and are formed by– the flow of our lives.
What gives us grace is our ability to remember that, like the river, periods of tumultuous rapids and frightening waterfalls are only parts of our overall flow through the moments of our life. All rivers change as they move through the geography of our reality, so all states are temporary. This is why I often refer to a wise Buddhist monk who once told me that the secret to living is that “everything changes.”
As we experience intense pain, we can become aware that our state is temporary. This turns our agony into a waiting-game of positive anticipation. We don’t know when or how we might feel better, but we know that the river of our lives continues to flow even though our pain can leave us inactive.
The above describes why suicidal thoughts can be natural, and yet ultimately foolhardy, because they operate on the presumption that nothing is changing if we are still. But whether rapids on a river last for 10 miles or one, our surrounding geography will eventually change our flow whether we act or not. In this way our own patience is a form of meditation or prayer.
If we can see this clearly, it allows us to simply let our suffering ‘be.’ That wisdom is reflected in Paul McCartney’s advice to John Lennon’s son in the song, “Hey Jude,” wherein he reminds the boy that despite our periods of personal darkness, it is worthwhile to maintain our conscious anticipation and movement toward better experiences to come.
Again, while our suffering in life is often unavoidable, what allows us to flow forward is our deep knowing that all of our states of mind are always temporary. This also means that, when we see others in states of suffering, we should not see our acts of kindness as merely gestures –in fact these actions are what shape the banks of other’s rivers.
In many cases, our own ‘rapids’ will dissolve thanks to the efforts of others, both seen and unseen. That being the case, in closing, I would like to thank the many people who very recently and greatly contributed to the gradual easing of my own suffering.
Without these people I would surely have struggled far more, and while my gratitude is my own to feel, I do hope they each saw their own kind acts as their own meditations on gratitude, empathy and compassion. In this way, my own pain can act as an opportunity for grace for those around me.
In terms of specifics, I would like to take this opportunity to single out those who have, and continue to, allow this struggle through the rapids of my life to move from near intolerable, to places where I can now feel deeply grateful to no longer be in the worst parts of the experience.
To this end I offer deep and special thanks to Doctors Baker and Sia, as well as the entire remarkable staff at the Alberta Retina Consultants. In addition to them, I would also like to thank the support and surgical staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, as well as the family and friends that supported me throughout this process.
These people include Don, Anita, Henry, James, Nick, Mike, Kirsten, Christina, Brian, Jarrid, Christian, Sausan, Sue, and for the compassion shown by Tracy, Beth, Rob, Dwayne and Charlotte (and any others my addled state may have forgotten).
As I also live in a nation with nationalized health care, I would also like to thank my fellow Canadians for your contributions toward making such a system work in my time of need.
In closing, today, as you move about your own World Kindness Day, remember that you are not only lifting weight from the specific people you help but, in total, you are also adding to a much larger force that, along with others, is easing suffering throughout the universe itself.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.