The Stranger’s House

The stranger’s request was immediately suspicious and William’s radar immediately went up. The stranger claimed he was giving William a very large budget to build the home of his choice–William’s–just as long as it could handle a family with three kids. William knew a little about what that was like because he was paying alimony and child support to a wife and three kids.

When William pulled up to the beautiful lot overlooking a park, he saw another contractor he knew parked next door. Amazingly, as it turned out, Ray had received the same call, only for the lot next door! Ray had three kids as well, so he and William assumed that had something to do with them getting the jobs.

William argued that the whole thing was just too good to be true and he warned Ray to watch out. Ray said he was happy for the work and that he was grateful for William’s concern, but that he would happily keep working right up until something actually went wrong. William was essentially just waiting for an inevitable bomb to drop, so conversely he kept a very close eye on everything as a result. He often lamented all the struggle he would experience once it did all blow up.

The first thing Ray built was a picnic table. “What’s that for?” William asked him.

“My family. They come for lunch with me each day and the kids help clean up the lot. I’m hoping it teaches them a healthy work ethic, plus I eat well and sometimes we even dance.”

“Dance? You should wolf down a burrito or something. Time is money my friend. If you stop to eat your per-hour rate drops. I’d tell my wife to stay at home.”

“I am so sorry William, I did not know you were married! We will have to have you and your wife to dinner one night.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s fine. Her and I… we’re not together anymore.”

“I see.” Ray kept his focus on William. “My friend, you are breaking your back. We’re not young men anymore. Why don’t you hire more help?”

“I’m tellin’ you William, this whole house deal is a sham. This guy has something up his sleeve and we’re gonna get stuck with the bill in the end.”

“But every invoice has been paid on time.”

“He’s just setting us up. The fact that it’s going good is all part of his plan.”

“I see,” said Ray, confused. “So… the good news is actually… bad news…?”

Now William doesn’t seem as sure either. “Uh, yeah. Basically.”

In the months that followed, Ray’s wife did come down every day and those kids did keep that lot looking a lot better than William’s, next door. Everyday Ray sang at work, and he laughed with his co-workers, and he let his kids draw funny little cartoon characters on the wood before he used it. He really enjoyed building the house out of such fine materials. He was grateful to the trees and the people that supplied them. It was going to be a beautiful house. Ray had thought out every detail to ensure it would be ideal for the stranger’s family.

For those same months, William complained a lot, which made sense because he worked much more slowly. He insisted on doing too much himself because he was always worried about costs. That left him exhausted, which left him grumpy, which only served to make him even more suspicious of the stranger. All day he tried to figure out what scam the stranger was playing. He would take breaks from work and do math on pieces of wood in his attempt to find the hidden theft.

Soon the houses we’re nearing completion. Ray takes a lot of pride in his work. He enjoys his days with his co-workers and he is very grateful for the income. That’s all reflected in the home. It’s warm and decorated and beautiful. Care and attention has been paid. Conversely, William’s house looks uninspiring, unfinished and cheap. It looks like someone who didn’t care much at all, and it’s true William didn’t care about the house. He was too busy caring about his fears.

It was therefore ironic when one day there was a knock on the nearly finished stranger’s door. William opened it with concern. Why was anyone visiting? The stranger introduced himself rather plainly, and he explained that he was there to give William the deed to the house he had just built. William was suspicious.

The stranger then explained that William’s life would always be like the house he built. If he was distracted by fear and suspicion and mistrust; if he failed to offer his talents and skills, then the result would be to miss out on creating the things in life that truly bring it value. As a result, William was welcome to live inside the physical space that his own negative thinking had wrought. Then the stranger invited William come with him to Ray’s, which he did.

At Ray’s door, announcement of who the stranger was instantly got him a big hug from Ray’s entire family. They were just about to sit down to dinner. There was always plenty. Would the stranger please stay? After all, he had contributed meaningfully to Ray’s income that year. They would like to celebrate. William could join them too.

The stranger agreed, as did William. As they sat down, the stranger offered Ray and his wife the deed to their home and property. They were equally confused. What was going on? That’s when the stranger turned to William.

“Do you see William? Ray cared. He was active in that care. He invited his wife. They ate, they laughed, they danced. He cared about his family, his employees, his suppliers, his customers, and his work. You William, were worried. And worry only breeds more worry. So if you’d like to live in a nicer, calmer space, I would suggest you do as Ray did. Consider focusing your thoughts on caring rather than worrying, because whichever you do, that is where you will ultimately live.”

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.

Your Life Story

There’s debates about who said it or who said it first, but somewhere sometime someone said that every writer has to write a million words of shit before they’ll write anything any good. The number itself is largely a metaphor for the fact that in everything in life, we get good by doing. And the more we do (either in intensity or duration or both), the more skilled we get at that thing.

Just as in life, every writer wants to be good because they know the tools. They know the alphabet, so they have their hammer; and they’ve read sentences–which is like watching a house being built–so that’s where they start. But it’s absurd to think they’ll be as good of a carpenter on that first job as they’ll be in 25 years.

That logic applies to anything. The conscious person who learns with intensity learns more than someone with less intensity, and someone conscious who puts in more time also learns more than someone who puts in less time or who uses less consciousness. This is is true of writing, cooking, raising kids, teaching, or–yes–living.

Living is a skill. So yeah, physically and mentally you eventually deteriorate, so maybe your life-work gets a bit sloppy near the end, but by then everyone’s forgiving you. But otherwise you just get better and better at living life every year you live it, and the more conscious you are the more your learn. That’s all well and good. The problem comes in when you want the wisdom before you’ve even had the experiences that teach it.

Your expectations of yourself and your life start off pretty wacky. Because you can edit your writing you think you can edit life. And because of that you’ll go through these periods where you’ll feel like you’re totally failing because you’ll be nowhere near your targets and you can’t fix your past. But it’s not your life that’s the problem, or your ability to edit; it’s your expectation that you would know things before you learned them. You do that all the time and yet it’s truly crazy.

Graceful living requires only one thing: live the moment you’re in fully and presently. That means being in it and aware of it, rather than thinking about what-ifs or regrets. Things going in challenging ways aren’t failures, that’s just the texture of the surface you’re climbing. And when you reach the summit of your own peak–your own death–you’ll have a better understanding that you weren’t supposed to climb the highest mountain or the hardest–you were just supposed to climb. Which mountain you started on never really mattered.

You will know more tomorrow than today, and today you know more than you knew yesterday. If you go back and rethink and rethink over and over, re-editing all of your life’s work, you’ll never get much writing done and you won’t get much living lived.

Trust that as the writer writes, the writer improves. Forget the early pages. They’re both written and read. Because that’s the other important thing; other people will only glance at your book just as you’ll only glance at theirs. You might read deeply into maybe half a dozen books in your life. Because it turns out these weren’t being written to be read, the were written for the writing’s sake.

Stop worrying about your mistakes and just write–just live. You were never supposed to be perfect. You were just supposed to be here. That in and of itself, is perfect.

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.

Spiritual Lessons From Sport

Even for non-sports fans, sports offers excellent examples of how people behave when they’re functioning from an enlightened perspective. The lesson I’ll present today surrounds my own city, Edmonton, Canada, and our hockey team, The Edmonton Oilers.

The context is that Edmonton got an NHL team at the end of the 70’s and within only five years that team began a run of 5 Stanley Cups. Frankly, it created very high expectations that have since proven quite painful. With one almost accidental exception, the team has floundered at the bottom of the entire league for twenty years.

The contrast between the two team histories had made Edmonton hockey fans a somber bunch. There wasn’t much to rally good thoughts around. Recently, into the vacuum created by seasons of finishing last, came a once-a-generation elite draft pick and a brilliant new coach and GM and the nicest arena in sports. Suddenly the team has gone from vastly underachieving to significantly overachieving.

An important part of the lesson is that normal is defined by whatever you’ve gotten used to. For a generation of Oilers fans losing was normal, so winning stood out like a sore thumb. It was sure easier to enjoy. If your team is dominant–as Edmonton was in the 80’s–then you couldn’t help but half-expect to win. And that is a recipe for disaster.

When you expect wins and they don’t come it’s painful. Likewise, expecting losses and getting wins feels especially good. Fortunately, that phenom player really is as good as they said he was, and so are the coach and GM, so in short order orange jerseys and t-shirts were selling like crazy to very, very happy fans who were suddenly forming more of an actual identity around the team, (now that the team finally had one).

Here’s another important part of the lesson: most people started off the year excited by the fact that we might make the playoffs for the first time in eleven years. And then boom. We beat the really good team we’re up against and we’re in the second round of the playoffs. It was Oilermania in Edmonton. Suddenly this previous source of anger and frustration and sadness has people feeling awesome, and how awesome depended entirely on all of that anger and frustration and sadness.

At public screenings of the game total strangers embraced after goals. They are now a family of fans. For good luck, there is now a First Nations drum circle done by Oiler fans prior to every game. I have witnessed people I know to have racist feelings about Natives, showing support for the Native drum circle. Stop and think about what’s happening in that person’s mind.

A guy has a very dim view of First Nations Canadians. This is innocently because of the part of the province he grew up in and some early programming from his parents, plus some unfortunate early experiences. So he’s always felt entirely justified. If he sees one of these guys as a Native then he’ll take a dim view of the very same person he will embrace if the guy’s beating a drum at an Oiler game! Think about that. The Native guy has multiple identities within the mind of the racist fan. And that racist opinion is so thin that it can be burst by an orange jersey. This is real bridge-building between cultures.

Even non-hockey fans got into these playoffs. They weren’t joining in the love of hockey. They were joining in on that wave of positive civic feelings. And why not? Why not make choices that help you feel connected and good? That’s how healthy, connected people do it. Once everyone was in a healthy state of mind, when the team finally lost something very interesting happened.

People think they’re not being successfully spiritual if they don’t dispel their expectations. It’s true, that’s a path to the path. But as I always say, you can’t have path without not-path, so that “wrong part” is actually equally important to your spirituality, hence yin and yang and the acceptance of suffering that the Eastern philosophies suggest. So yes, dispel your expectations, but don’t think you’re “outside” of spirituality if you have them. As long as you accept the teeter totter you’re on, you do get to trade your expectations for intense experiences.

In the end what happened was that everyone would have been happy if the team just made the playoffs at all, so this year everyone felt that the team had exceeded expectations. They were able to trade those exceeded expectations for very little pain when the team finally did lose in the third period of game seven of round two.

Yes, many fans were disappointed in that seventh game, many said so when interviewed. But to a person, they also said that it had been a wonderful year, they were proud of their team, proud to be a part of the fanbase, they’d made many friends and they lived in excited anticipation of next year. That is wonderful! They became voluntarily part of a family. They fell in love with the team and each other, and they’re hopeful. And for this year, they are literally happy about losing.

Of course, all of this will set up our expectations, so if we don’t make the playoffs next year people will be especially disappointed. I won’t have that expectation, just anticipation. So I’ll avoid the roller coaster. But I might join it for the playoffs, voluntarily. Why? Because it’s fun. And because, when it comes to true spirituality, even when you’re out you’re in. This is the yin and yang of life that we all must accept before we can live in peace. Here’s hoping this lesson helps you understand how that state of mind works. Have a great weekend everyone.

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.

The Late Post

Writing about concepts like delay and malfunction seems very appropriate when working around a technical glitch that translates to today’s planned post being unavailable. This is exactly the sort of time a lot of people would experience panic, worry, frustration and anger, so it’s worthwhile discussing my own real-time “management” of those challenges.

First off, people aren’t horribly lost if they do feel one of those unpleasant ways. There is no horribly lost or totally found any more than there is a little love or lot of love. There’s only two states made of one state. So even not-love is made from unconditional love, just as frustration depends on expectation, and just as the black words I am writing to you depend on the white background of this page to be seen. Without that duality creation could not perform its own existence.

Since there are only two states, then you are always only one switch away from the peace or health or confidence you seek. But if you’re seeking then you’re not finding, and those work just like every other duality. You can’t look for something and find it at the same time, either one or the other is happening. In fact, it’s often when we relax and stop looking so hard for answers that they actually occur to us spontaneously. So when you’re lost, you’re not looking for some big solution. You just need one little switch. And you’ll notice it, not figure it out.

At first people tend to get their egos to do this, so as a teacher I’ll cooperate with that. It’s the act the of dropping-away of illusions. You have to do a few at a time. So at the start you’ll calm yourself down by using your ego consciously, but getting it to say more positive things to you. It’s really a translation process where the fear hits, the anger starts to form, you feel it and then retranslate it into a slow breath in and out and a ego-based self-discussion about how anger won’t do you any good.

Eventually you get to the point where you’ve had so many of those diffusions and derailments that you’re bored of the process. You go to begin it and your brain sort of surrenders, knowing that the outcome always leads to the same result. It’s a natural reaction of your mind to want to take the proven shortcut and then just let go. There’s no act of conversion now because our unwillingness to participate in the illusion suddenly exposes the nuances of present reality to us.

Instead of our minds filled with our thoughts about some part of the world, our minds are filled with the whole world unjudged. It’s just there, and we simply are, and there is no shoulds, so no one can go wrong and no one can go right. You just go. Otherwise known as living. Unhealthy people talk themselves into an emotion, and healthy people go quiet and they dive into their feelings.

I could have played ping pong with my egos word-based thoughts today. But instead I just did what needed to be done and then I sat down at a blank page and I summoned the same feeling I use to write to you every time. There was no rushed thoughts or ideas that things had gone wrong, nor was there any storytelling about how that might secretly be better in some unexpected way. I just felt that feeling as my activity and this post emerged quite naturally as a result.

Living that way is all you’re looking for. It’s all people read this blog and take my classes for. They just want to stop all of that agonised waffling and just be what they’re gonna be instead. Your ego can ask questions about who you’re supposed to be, but you can only really be you in the present reality, so those questions about what you’re supposed to do are in fact the very action you are involved in that prevents you from realising the reality that is before you every moment.

Don’t let changes in direction throw your psychology around. Your mood is the result of the patterns you initiate and continue to energise through your internal language and analysis. What’s happening isn’t nearly as important as whether or not you’re willing to be okay with whatever that happening is. So don’t try to get healthy. Just try to be okay with how things are.

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.

MoK: Patience as Kindness

Thank you for bearing with my late posts while I traverse a few challenging days on the family health front. Fortunately, today’s act in the March of Kindness is one that suits your willingness to wait perfectly. Patience is all too often invisible when it should be seen as the loving act of kindness that it truly is.

From letting little passive aggressive statements go by unchallenged, to taking care of something that was someone else’s duty, we all express a lot of quiet patience each day. The problem is that we often only note our behaviour when it feels beneath us, meaning you’ll notice the few times you’re impatient far more than the times you are patient.

Even knowing that everyday life requires all kinds of patience, it is nevertheless a kind and generous act, and so adding one more act of conscious patience can do nothing but good for all involved.

Today your March of Kindness assignment is simple: Keep your awareness up, and find just one opportunity today where you feel an impulse to offer a suggestion or you feel you’re going to react in an impatient way, and then divert that impulse into non-action. Let your action be stillness.

Interestingly, the time we choose to show extra patience might coincide perfectly with when a person really needed something to go well or they’d snap. We all know how good it feels when someone shows us patience when we know we didn’t act in a way that encouraged it. We might as well create more opportunities for those things to happen.

Make your own displays of patience more conscious, and find a way to add just one more act of patient kindness to today and you will have made the world better with your presence. Thank you for that. And thank you for your patience in receiving these last few posts. Enjoy your day.

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.