World Kindness Day

1379 Relax and Succeed - Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness

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.

1379 Relax and Succeed - The level of our success is limited only by our imagination

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.

peace. s

The Value of Pain


It shows up at times where we’re thinking of others. That’s why we don’t notice its value. When we use our experiences with pain, it will be in some kind of compassionate act. To heal them is to heal ourselves when we feel that level of empathy. That is when we see another’s pain as our own. That is when we feel a sense of oneness with another person.

Let us immediately distinguish pain from suffering. Suffering is psychological and it leads to psychological pain, which is only just now becoming important for people to distinguish from physical pain. As I noted in yesterday’s post, relative to our cellular structure language is a very new creation. As a result, our body keeps reacting under the assumption that we’re in physical danger, when really we’re just worried about what someone will think of us on social media. Clearly those things should not been seen as equally important or meaningful.

While the same chemicals can get triggered, with physical pain it can take a long while to heal, whereas sincere efforts at understanding the structures of psychological suffering can quickly reduce it almost completely, and over time people can soon learn how to deeply love their own lives. But we gain access to loving it by trading away our psychological suffering in exchange for acceptance of the certainty that we will experience both physical and non-optional psychological pain.

Physical we’re already ready to accept, and to what degree we accept it is generally referred to as our pain threshold. But buying office supplies for our new job, signing our married name, imagining our life as someone different–these are all either hopeful or wildly hopeful fantasies. We’ll all do them sometimes, but that doesn’t make it wise. It just makes ego human.

There is no need nor benefit for us to spend a lot of time leaping into a made-up future to concoct expectations. We can just stay in the now, where we can actually take action to impact our future, and in doing so we become less likely to avoid causing ourselves future psychologically pain.

Non-optional psychological pain is when our circumstances have changed so suddenly and so drastically that we literally have brain wiring that just isn’t set up to manage it. It’s impossible to be someone and not take on a world view, but if you’re a soldier and you get your legs blown off, then you’re suddenly someone who needs a revised identity. Same for someone who goes broke, has a divorce, loses a job or through the death of a loved one.

The depth of our love with our loved ones relates to the level of pain we’ll experience when they die and our brain can no longer interact with them in the present. That’s why it still tries, often until death. I haven’t lost a parent yet, but I know a lot of people who still ask their deceased parents for advice all the time. They’re just wired into too much other stuff. Their beauty is that they’re literally hard to forget.

By living through very painful experiences, we become valuable to anyone else experiencing those things, and in a ways that could not be known by people who had never actually been in the same position. This is the basis of empathy: our own psychological and physical pain. And when we’ll feel its value is when we bestow our empathy on anyone whose pain we truly share. Having surrendered ourselves into a state of oneness, healing them is to heal ourselves. And that is the value of our pain.

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.

Stumbling Together

Yesterday I talked about how no one can take your spiritual or psychological journey for you. That prompted a friend to quote me and ask the question, “If you can say, ‘once you’ve understood what you’re trying to understand, you realise that no one can take this journey for you, and so no one needs your help,’ then why do you teach this stuff?”

It was worth discussing. I had wondered the same thing myself. But in doing that wondering I realised that just as some people’s nature came forth as music, or woodworking, or dance, or raising children, or cars, or gymnastics, or math, mine comes from helping others see how remarkably beautiful the universe is in this very special way.

I don’t take the journey for them. Let’s not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon. I see a lot of beauty in this world. To not share it feels unnatural, as though we’ve driven past the most amazing waterfall ever and I never mentioned it to the rest of the people on my tour bus. That almost seems cruel to me. It’s like hogging all the majesty for myself. It’s too big for me. There’s room for all of us in there.

If people can’t see that beauty and they’re living a dead, repetitive life, they come across to me like people standing still, stabbing themselves in the eyes, ears, mouth and nose and then cutting their hands off. They’re literally using a kind of spiritual violence against themselves. By doing things like thinking they’re ugly or stupid or worthless, they’re cutting themselves off from the universe.

How could I walk past that and not act? That would be like a musician writing a beautiful or powerful or emotional song and then not sharing it with the rest of us. What good does it do for her to keep that music to herself?

Keep in mind that even categorising yourself as attractive, or smart or capable, you’re creating division between yourself and others. Those are all comparative terms, and as I explained to my friend; the very act of comparison means there must be at least two things to compare, and if we’re separate we’re lost.

My friend doubted I never felt lost and he was right. Of course I do. Why have feelings if you’re not going to feel them? I asked him why he felt it was necessary to avoid something like that? He claimed it was because it felt so painfully lonely, but I argued that were it not for that painful feeling, we wouldn’t place such a great value on togetherness. You can’t ride the downhills unless you peddle up the uphills.

All of our lonely suffering is like a thought bubble within the dream of something greater than us. If I fall down in life I land in the palm of the universe. Our feelings are just nature generously steering us toward the good life. Not the good life in the sense that if you’re good you’ll enjoy life, but more that if you enjoy life you’ll be what often gets called good.

What confuses us is that sometimes the world needs us to play villain, so we all take a turn. I’m sure we can all remember a lot of the truly crappy things we did to people thanks to some misunderstanding to be sorted out now or in the future, or because we ourselves were feeling low and we pulled them down because because we desire togetherness and yet we can’t figure out how to get where they are. That’s why if someone makes you angry, you instantly feel a little to a lot better once they get angry too. At least now you’re in the experience together.

We were given all of the tools we need. Our emotions weren’t the point, they were the pointer. They not there for us to rate and rank. They’re to be lived. And this is a giant improv. So no one knows your lines but you. No one knows who your character is but you. They’ll all have a guess about who you are out of habit, but that’s their reality, just like you have a view of them that is your reality. Those were never designed to be reconciled.

We’re not supposed to argue over whose reality is right, we’re just supposed to share what we see and then we let the universe unfold. Sometimes we take action, sometimes not. But that’s irrelevant because we’re not competing. Our only job is to be ourselves. And sharing that binding, central truth is what leads me to feel connected.

If it’s done right, all sharing is selfish. So to answer to my friend’s question about people’s individual journeys and my role in guiding them; I don’t help them find their way for their sake, it’s a selfish act. My connection to, empathy for, and experience with their lostness is what connects us. In that vulnerability our separate selves melt and together we become whole. That is what it is to be generous with your life. And that creates the greatest feelings I have ever known.

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.