A Diagnosis For Fear

1381 Relax and Succeed - Fear is born in speculation.jpg

Being different from most people I’m often surprised by common reactions, particularly negative ones. I have to stop and actually think about how people would look at those things if they believe their thoughts are reality. That’s why I was surprised when one of my doctors noted that their staff is often mistreated by patients.

I’m not sure whether it’s through good office management, a culture that started as a few positive employees and that evolved over time to include more people, or whether it’s just all just a fluke, but I have never been in such a positive office in my life.

The staff all act respectfully toward each other, they treat each other and the patients well, and they even announced our names with a cheerful tone. All that being case, the question then becomes; why would those people end up being mistreated by the patients? The answer is: fear.

Anger comes from fear, and people will generally be at their worst when they are the most afraid. And many of the people in that office were learning that they were either losing some, or all of their sight, and that their intervention would be somewhere between very uncomfortable and extremely painful.

Part of what was scaring people was the unknown, so they were speculating on how bad things were in the present. The second part was that they were using their imaginations to conjure a scary future. But both of those reactions are illusions. None of them necessarily accurate in that moment.

The only thing that could understandably explain any shortness, frustration or anger would be that people were in pain and had little consciousness left to consider other’s needs with. And that’s fair, and it’s why the rest of us also need to be tolerant to be wise.

The next question is: why was I generally calm and feeling fortunate? And the answer’s important, because the way I do it is how I would teach anyone else to do it too.

First off, I had read up on the eye, and the issue of the detached retina. That meant I understood more of what was happening and what people were saying. I also knew that in theory my future was more likely to be positive than negative. Knowing the truth is generally far better than believing a lot of our own self-constructed, negatively-conceived myths.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Knowing the truth is generally far better

So what did I know? I’m no doctor but, in basic terms, the white ball of our eye is called the Sclera. In the middle of our Iris (the pretty, coloured part) is a dark, flexible hole called the Pupil that shrinks and expands to control how much light enters our eyeball.

Directly behind the Pupil, where the light actually hits –and attached to the back of the Sclera– is an area called the Choroid, which supplies blood to our Retina. And the Retina is the part that actually collects the light from our Pupil and results in our sight.

The Retina itself is like the pages of a book, where each page plays a slightly different role in collecting and translating the light that enters the Pupil. Some of these layers are where our ‘cones’ and ‘rods’ for colour vision are located, if you remember your Junior High / Middle School health classes.

The Retina is centred by a low spot called the Fovea, which acts as the focal point of our vision. As we move our eye around, our focus will be in the centre of our vision –wherever the Fovea and Pupil are aligned.

In a normal detached retina, we get a tiny hole in the top page of our ‘retinal book.’ This hole allows in ocular fluid which then creates a sort of blister. If light hits the far side of that blister, we see dark patches in our vision. If it hits the near side, we see light scatter across the Fovea, which can create sparkles.

If we leave those symptoms unattended (please refer to my previous post for a list of all of the potential symptoms of a detached retina), the fluid in that blister will shake around and turn the hole into a tear, which can lead to the black speckles or curtain quality to our vision.

In my case, rather than a tiny hole on the top page of my retina, I had a large U-shaped tear through all of the layers right down to the Choroid. This allowed the centre of that U-shape to fold up under itself like a carpet might.

All that meant that rather than trying to fix a tiny hole in one layer, my doctors were forced to weld that entire U-shaped canal back into place, layer by layer. The fact that they can even attach each microscopic ‘page’ to the corresponding ‘page’ is a miracle of modern medicine and surgical talent.

My doctors had a suitably serious tone and they were very forthcoming about the facts. As I noted before, it is never a good thing to have an ‘interesting’ case at the doctor’s office. That’s code for ‘rare’ which is also often more difficult. But reality is reality. It’s what our minds do with those facts that matter.

While others with much better prognoses were much more afraid (and were therefore much less pleasant to deal with), I was better off because I accepted my reality and I chose to focus on other things that were equally real.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Reality is reality

I was in one of the leading facilities in the world with equipment that looked like it belonged on Star Trek. The staff was super-pleasant, and my doctors were considered some of the best anywhere. Even staff at the hospital for the surgery felt I was lucky to have such an excellent team on my side.

On top of all of that I was in Canada, where all of this care was going to cost me zero personal dollars. I could even be grateful for my own taxes and those paid by other Canadians who were now helping share the load of my care.

I suspect the work I had done and will have done will potentially be in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is genuinely a lot to be happy about, so there’s no delusion there. I was looking at what was real. It was the scared, uninformed people that were pondering illusions.

In life, we can choose to be our thinking and to have the course of our thoughts dictate the painful experiences that scare us and lead us to treat others badly. Or, we can be incited to have those thoughts, and yet not follow their course because we remain aware that they are only thoughts –while we are the thinker of them.

By seeing that reality, we can then take steps to stop the course of our mind and to redirect our thinking to other considerations that leave us feeling better. The choice is always ours, and that choice always happens in the moment we are in.

I realize I can make this sound easy here, but what people learn by working with me is that it truly is easy for everyone. People generally just get me to expose the folly of saying “But…” After that they’re just practicing the act of acceptance.

They still start off the training as all egos do. I will only take some credit for the fact that I suppose there is something about the way I answer them that allows me to be successful at what I do –but I can’t really see that, only they can. I’m just telling them the truth as I genuinely see it. Take away my accident and my subsequent meditations and I’d be just like everyone else.

If you are living in fear, I’m genuinely sorry you are. But even in the midst of that, keep in mind that there are ways to use our consciousness to make our lives better, even if we can’t materially solve every ‘problem.’

They key to all of that is acceptance, which is a good place to leave off. Because what followed next was an unlikely reaction and the most unbelievable pain I have ever experienced, and I was only kept sane by acceptance. But that is a different lesson than managing fear, and that is for the next instalment….

Until then, look closely at the people and things you love, because just being able to see them is a far bigger gift that we could ever imagine.

peace. s

Spin-Planning

1308 Relax and Succeed - Charting a course is worthwhile

We are not our plans for our future, we are the sum of what we do in the present moment. Our lives are not made of ideas, they are brought to life by the verb of living –through our daily action. Charting a course is worthwhile, but movement keeps an airplane aloft.

Many of us have worked long and hard in an attempt to awaken because we failed to note we had an attachment to certain changes within ourselves. We’re not looking for something pedestrian like, ‘you are already okay, just live your life and be increasingly aware while you do.’

That sounds too easy, and yet that very objective and state of mind can make even grocery shopping feel pretty awesome. But instead of something that ordinary, people are looking for lightening bolts and profound new genius. The elated feeling we get from optimistic pursuit is like that, but the source of the spark is created within us, not from without us.

Most people spend most of their lives wishing for, hoping for, or planning for a life they will never live simply because they are always planning it based on some wholesale change that will suddenly make the experience easier. We act as though our signal to ’go’ will be when we feel totally awesome.

In reality, in life it’s most important to ’go’ precisely when we are feeling down and out. Not out of duty or obligation or guilt –but because we are in active, conscious pursuit of the rewards of living. We can be legitimately excited about where we are going.

That’s why more optimistic people put the effort in; because they know the effort pays off in and of itself. By approaching it this way, even bad times have the feeling associated with chasing a valued goal. It’s a rewarding feeling, regardless of how it comes to our lives.

1308 Relax and Succeed - You are already okay

Planning is something that can be done in the present moment and it can be a wise investment of Now. But those sorts of plans have targets and goals and action that allow us to recognize we are in movement.

Unhealthy planning is little more than depressed rumination. We just keep talking about the great life we’ll have once we’re feeling better.

When we’re in the wrong state of mind it always seems too simplistic to tell people the truth: that we don’t change and feel better, but rather we feel better and then note the change after the fact. But that’s true because our health is a verb, not an idea. It even explains why so many people find new life after disasters or emergencies. Those events simply force us into motion.

There are many forms of unhealthy rumination, but some are tricky and disguise themselves as positive things like planning. But beware. The difference between real planning and hopeful planning is fairly obvious if we’re watching for it, and knowing one from the other can literally save a lifetime.

peace, s

Big Decisions

918 Relax and Succeed - The awakened sagesI will need a lot more deep meditation before I can distill everything I am learning about time, but one thing I can state is that I’m slowly starting to have a deeper understanding why so many of you struggle with the idea of having to make big decisions.

If you live on a timeline where you can move toward or away from events then that is fatalism. If you’re locked in and nothing you can do will change anything then you’re predestined for a certain life. But you’re not a fatalist because you’ll also place possibility on that timeline, which means looking backwards you’ll see a single line of where you have been, but looking forward you see an infinite number of potential lines and in some cases where they go is wildly different.

By wildly different I mean having a kid or not, living in this country or that one, marrying this person or that. I don’t mean that one direction is adventure and joy and the other is pain and suffering–the path won’t have as much impact on your feelings as your state of mind, and that’s kind of my point. When I say wildly different I mean what’s different is the narrative that unfolds during your life.

918 Relax and Succeed - If you are depressedSo a big decision is when your most preferred routes through a situation represent massively different outcomes to you, with the outcomes being defined as the labels you’re left with. So in one case you’re married to this person and in another you’re married to that person and as time moves forward you feel pressure increase to make a choice before time causes the choice to vanish (people getting too old to have kids, marrying someone before someone else does, etc.).

These decisions matter a lot to you because you see those label distinctions as being indicators of the right decision. And by right I mean that later in life you assess that the decision lead to lots of labels that you value at the time of your judgment regarding the decision’s “success.” So if you left a bad relationship just in time to have a kid with someone, then that kid being a source of joy will be seen as being the result of the decision to leave the previous relationship. So the child and parenthood will be seen as a positive outcome resulting from the decision to leave the old relationship. I get your logic in that. It makes sense. But only in an ego-world.

Imagine the exact same decision but the new love ends up injured, then addicted to painkillers and that leads to challenges raising the child who later becomes a drug addict and a whole helluva lot of trouble. That could totally happen. And then you’d be sitting there in your rented apartment with an eviction notice because your stoned kid damaged the place again. You would determine that the choice to leave the previous relationship many years ago was the wrong decision and that it was what lead you to where you are–even though you know if your partner never got that injury none of the other issues would have unfolded.

918 Relax and Succeed - Life is like a cameraSo was the decision really wrong because it lead to the troublesome kid? Or was it just a choice that lead to a zillion other choices which combined with the choices of a zillion other people and things that all lead you to where you are? Because otherwise you’re highlighting events in time rather arbitrarily, like someone randomly choosing stars from an infinite sky and then forming just those chosen ones into a constellation that they then call their life.

My point is, on a later date they could just as easily look up and choose different stars and get a different picture of their life. It would all depend on the mood of the astronomer at the moment they were asked to judge their life. So to me trying to sail toward some specific constellation is to try and choose castles in the sky to live in. It can’t really be done.

You cannot choose tomorrow’s happiness today. Life has no guarantees. No matter what you decide your life will depend far more on who you are in any given moment than it will on what choices you made in some past moment. Sure, you might have a kid or not have a kid and that can seem huge, but in the end even the wonder of a child is just like any other experience in life–it’ll still be variously enjoyable and challenging.

918 Relax and Succeed - You either get the benefit you were expectingWhether I’m finding life rewarding or challenging, those two states are determined by my agreement with or resistance to what is going on in the present moment. That being the case, I choose to focus more on my moment-to-moment reactions to what’s happening now than on any long term planning for success. Otherwise there’s just too many factors that I don’t control. This is what it is to surrender into existence.

Our desire to avoid suffering leads to a hopeless desire to plan our way around it. The acceptance that there is no clear and perfect path takes that pressure away. Time becomes less compressed and the labels lose their value. What you are left with is the beautiful simplicity of the present moment.

The question is, with the world looking as it is and with people’s lives feeling like they do, what convinced us that decisions made in the moment are somehow less likely to lead to rewards than when we plan? If people look closely at the people around them I think they might find the opposite is more likely to be true. The planner’s lives are filled with successes and failures and a great deal of dramatics. The in-the-moment people never have failures, they’re always either simply enjoying themselves or they’re growing. And if you’re okay with that, that can feel like winning either way.

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.