What’s Your Hidden Agenda?

1255 Relax and Succeed - The moment I saw youOur ego is sly. It’s been with us since we were little, so its voice is so ubiquitous that it just disappears into the background. But it has an agenda, and the problem for our soul is; that isn’t our agenda, it’s our ego’s.

Our ego doesn’t like challenge, or discomfort or pain. Avoiding those experiences means that our ego makes us pay for that resistance with anxiety, insecurity and suffering. It’s really not a very good trade; living in an ego state where you need things to be your way when your soul is fine with how things already are–including you.

A good example of this is when people are super upset. Presuming the experience isn’t common, people rarely see anyone extremely upset and it can be alarming at first because everyone’s family does that differently. Some people talk about suicide or destroying things, others go dark and silent for days, other attack those present with lashing words. Regardless of what it looks like, it’s when someone is in in an egocentric state and they are experiencing serious distress.

1255 Relax and Succeed - Never in the history of calmSo how does an ego react? Our ego isn’t really interested in the world, it’s focused on its own personal impression of the world, but our ego can’t even have a personal impression of anything because it is created by other people and experiences. It’s like a recording, or a Turing Machine, or set of levers. It’s not very flexible and it only has access to knowledge but no wisdom.

When someone is extremely upset our ego wants them to calm down quickly because it’s uncomfortable for our egos to be in challenging circumstances. Instead we generate anxiety as we struggle to figure out what to say to achieve our own agenda, yet when someone’s in distress, our agenda isn’t going to be relevant whether we want it to be or not.

Our soul has no agenda, so it needs nothing from the other person. It merely observes and responds by nature. This means rather than trying to think of the right thing to say, (which is like using our hand to smooth the ripples out of water), our soul can simply be present. It rightfully understands that it is present for the other person’s experience, but it’s not having the other person’s experience. That alone should generate some helpful gratitude.

1255 Relax and Succeed - To obtain satoriOnce we’ve taken away our personal resistance to the behaviour we’re witnessing we can then have our natural wisdom take over. When we’re in that state we seem to say just the right thing, even if it immediately might not feel like it to our ego. Rather than asking the person’s ego to find the soul that creates it, instead our soul invites their ego to surrender and be at peace in the chaos. Your ego wants them to feel better, your soul is prepared to join them in feeling badly.

It isn’t hard to see that if we’re prepared to feel badly then we get to avoid the anxiety, worry and second-guessing involved with trying to figure out the right thing to say. Sometimes there is no right thing. Sometimes the person just needs time while they feel loved and then the process can unfold. But no matter where anyone is in that state, no one is wrong, no one is lost, and no one is right and no one is found. We are all simply either being an ego or being ourselves and we will balance between the two as the act of living our lives.

Take time to be present with suffering even if it’s your own. Rather than fix it just observe it. Prove to yourself, that can be more comfortable being present than being happy, and in doing so, 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 organizations locally and around the world.

Life Skills: Creating Space

1220 Relax and Succeed - Until you have real compassionAt work, or in our personal lives, we will sometimes be present when people get big news or experience extremely painful circumstances. People tend to respond in one of three ways when witnessing others in crisis. Some will avoid the situation, which leaves the other person emotionally isolated and the person doing the ignoring feels helpless and weak. Some move toward the situation with the intention of helping the person feel better and they’ll tend to hurry that process and create more resistance to the act of acceptance. And in the third instance, the witness is simply open and available.

Creating a safe space for someone requires a certain type of clarity or/or courage. You have to appreciate emotions as transient experiences, not problems to be solved. They are less like a lock to pick or a weight to lift and they more like weather. That means you should appropriately prepare. If you can’t be quietly comfortable with a crying person, you will lack the necessary strength to make a difference in a “big” situation.

Keep your eyes open today. Hopefully you won’t run into something huge, like a death or shocking betrayal of some type; but while most won’t see anything huge, we will all have our own versions of the most emotional thing we’ll witness all day. When you see it happen–when you watch someone transitioning through a level of understanding about something–don’t rush them through it. Let them set the pace. Simply be present. You’re more powerful than you think so that makes a bigger difference than you think.

1220 Relax and Succeed - Compassion in a crisesStart paying attention to the emotional weather others are experiencing and begin to open up to the idea of simply adjusting yourself to their weather, rather than pushing them towards your own expectations by forcing them in a direction that you’d find more comfortable. Simply put: you’re not who you should be worrying about if someone’s facing something big. Fortunately for you, there’s no way for you to suffer if you’re so busy taking care of someone else that you never even ask yourself what you’d want. By not setting any expectations, you become available to the present moment.

If you do this exercise today you will make a difference. Either way, you’ll stand a decent chance of getting an opportunity to practice this life skill again soon. Keep this in mind; that big moment isn’t about you, it’s about the other person. Your job is not to save them, it’s to be with them in hell while they find their own way out.

Rather than its relentless pursuit of perfection, our society will actually see significant gains when each of us simply develops our own personal skills and strategies for coping with the rigours that make life feel worthwhile and meaningful.

Today let us say that the change we want to see in the world is a greater level of compassion and connection. And now let us go forth into our day and watch for our opportunity to help make the world even just a little bit better.

Enjoy.

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.

A Celebrated Departure

I recently got a call from a student. She’s a very emotional person and she called shortly after she had just put down her beloved cat, the same one that took her through puberty and all of the major events of her 20’s, including her parent’s divorce, a family suicide, an addiction, a recovery, and eventually the woman’s own divorce.

Those are some of the most tumultuous years in life and the cat was connected to countless major memories. This is precisely the sort of thing that would have heavily derailed the woman previously, but this call wasn’t one about agony and it wasn’t a call for help, it was more a call of communion. This was a call about love.

The death would have been a completely devastating experience if viewed from an egocentric me-first perspective. She would have missed the cat terribly and missing something is a verb; it’s an action. That’s the act of wishing the cat would still there even though she’d know it wasn’t, but she wasn’t experiencing the pain of wanting. This woman has learned how to take the peaceful path through life and instead of the pain of wanting she felt the joy of love.

994-relax-and-succeed-keep-your-hands-openThe call I got was to share that love. She knew very few people would know how to respond. She didn’t want sympathy or commiseration–those are well-intentioned acts by others but they take the person back to thinking about the life in a wanting and painful way and what this woman wanted was a celebration of the cat’s life and she knew I would understand that. If anything, she felt a tiny flicker of guilt that it didn’t hurt more.

This isn’t to say the act itself wasn’t extremely sad–it very much was–but that pain didn’t last past the moment of transition because she was not attached to the cat with wanting thoughts, instead she was able to love the cat clearly enough to let it go. When she felt the cat’s body go limp she knew the spirit had left the animal to make its next move. Rather than agonise over its departure she was celebrating its existence. She was lucky to have had her.

In the little version of life there is a little dash of life between two great darknesses. In the big version of life it’s all light, it’s merely where in the universe is that light currently shining? She wasn’t upset because he cat was gone because to her it simply wasn’t–it was merely done its time with her. She understood that limitation as one of hers, not one of the cat’s.

994-relax-and-succeed-we-are-not-human-beingsTo illustrate what she did differently than most people consider your morning coffee. The sides of the cup represent an inside and an outside; an alive and a “dead.” We could say that those sides are created by our own sense of self. The woman accepts that her human existence is on a timeline and so is the cat’s, which means right from the outset there will be times where they do not overlap. On a spiritual level she knows they are one, but by she accepts that within human existence part of the deal is accepting the fact that both she and the cat are free. If the cat’s ready to move on she has to love it enough to let it go. She cannot be attached through her thinking, she must accept its will.

In this way the cat’s life is consumed by the woman. Like the coffee surrounded by the cup the life isn’t lost, it is absorbed. It is taken in. It becomes one with the woman. So can you see that it makes no sense for her to keep drinking when the coffee is gone? She cannot have the cat because the cat is already fully within her. And rather than agonise that the cat is gone she is grateful that she was able to drink it in while it was there. The cat’s life was not squandered, it was fully appreciated. From a spiritual perspective that is like living forever.

Death is profound and yet it is also very simple. It is our mental attachments that make it feel daunting and sad and personal to our egos, but if we live in a deeply spiritual way we can see death more as a release or completion–as though it is a song that has been sung. A song that must now move off into the universe to be heard by some lucky new listener.

Live openly. Listen to the universe for love. No matter what your circumstances, some is always there to be heard.

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.

Big Decisions: The Sequel

922 Relax and Succeed - Life is only a reflectionApparently a lot of you are facing some big decisions and you want the weight of them gone. Enough people have called or written to challenge the ideas presented by Alan Watts in the video from last week’s Friday Dose that I’ll use this week’s Dose day to offer a response. This will attempt to clarify why our decisions about how we live life aren’t as important as the decisions we make about how to look at the choices we’ve made or are making.

Every example I was given presented a very high-stakes dramatic version of a choice that would seem to define something as definitely good or bad. The differences in their chosen narratives pointed to the central fears each person would have. These hinged on either an “unjust” death or the removal of someone from people’s lives, or someone “betraying” someone else’s love in a central relationship like those between siblings, spouses, lovers, best friends or parents and children.

Simply because it’s easier to write about, I’ll use an example of someone dying because of a drunk driver. As many people posited: surely we could say that the killer made a bad decision to drive.

922 Relax and Succeed - We thought it wasIndeed it will feel appropriate to go through Kubler-Ross’s five stages of death immediately thereafter. There’s nothing “wrong” with that; that is merely the experience of a life. Like a roller coaster, its highs depend on its lows until eventually things start to level more as our momentum runs out. So that pain is enlightened pain. That’s why it’s so profound. You’re being with it in that moment fully. Those experiences are always bigger.

So on the day of the accident or shortly thereafter, if you felt compelled to label the decision to drink and drive you would say it was a bad one. But that compulsion is not a necessity. You didn’t have to label it and push against it. You could also accept it and be at peace because you understand the Buddhist concept of causality.

Zillions of things had to conspire for that accident to happen, so to blame it on the recent ones is an incomplete look at reality. If the Dad never beat the kid he would never have started drinking and the accident wouldn’t have happened. Otherwise it’s like saying the last goal in a one goal game is the “winning goal.” You needed all of them.

922 Relax and Succeed - Rather than spend eonsOnce everyone is dead there will be no one to remember the accident or maintain the “wrongness” about it. Will it still be wrong? This is what they mean when they say, “when a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Without being able to impact an individual’s expectations no conflict in life can exist. Like a wave is both trough and crest equally, “issues” exist for people wherever their expectations are impacted by reality.

So let us imagine that the brother of the victim was having a difficult life himself with alcohol. Racked with anger he used the death as motivation to change and he dedicates his life to curing alcoholics. But in that time he learned that drinkers aren’t drinkers, they’re someone with something in their past that they think too much about and they use the alcohol as a kind of sedative. It works temporarily until the depressive qualities kick in. He drank for the same reasons his brother did, and he ends up feeling sympathy for people like his brother’s killer.

And say the person who was killed had a family too. If we ask his wife, yes it hurt terribly at the time and she hated the driver of the car but, the truth is, after time passed she did meet another man and both she and her children had a better companion in their life. It was a horrible way to find one and thoughts about that make her feel guilty, but there’s no denying it improved her life overall. Maybe because of his accident they had to leave where they lived and emigrate for work and the kids have much safer, brighter futures now. Is the father’s death a bad thing then if his children miss him on special occasions or when they’re otherwise prompted to recall him in their memory?

922 Relax and Succeed - Do not let the behavior of othersDue to his drinking the victim’s parents feel the children are better off with his wife and new husband and since they are old and the children are their only legacy, they die happy that their lineage will go on. Plus, maybe even with enough life experience they come to realize how many times they personally were in a position to kill someone but didn’t more by fluke than plan–we all do this a lot as kids and almost everyone I know except me has driven drunk before. In that fact you can see the role of causality.

So the question becomes, if the person is missing but the total of happiness for all the people connected to him rose as a direct result, then is it a good or bad event? And when would you decide this judgment of good or bad and how long would it last? Because their life conditions could change again and the very same incident could lead to back to great bitterness. It’s up to the person doing the judgment of the event, which is Watt’s general point in the video below.

Our view of the past is constantly being rewritten based on what we believe on the day we recall it. If the person is in a good mood and grateful for their life, then they will be blackly grateful for the death. If they’re getting their car fixed because a drunk hit it, then they’ll be thinking that all drunks should just be shot. This is akin to the “sound of one hand clapping.” Without opposition to something there is no noise, no “emotional content.” Flow flows, conflict with flow claps.

922 Relax and Succeed - Let it beIt’s not that a decision can’t be called good or bad the moment it’s made, but that’s like taking a photo of a river and saying it’s a photo of the river rather than of one small section that this particular bit of water happened to be passing at this particular time. The water is you, the world around you is the shore. In short, life is made of facts and their context. Change the context and the fact gets changed too.

So this is what it is to flow: you endeavour to live in each moment without stopping to judge it. You move fluidly from experiencing this feeling to that feeling without every doubling back to reassess or reevaluate events. And if you do you realize the entire exercise is taking place not in the world but in your consciousness and that makes it both real and strangely harmless.

This is a very weird and persistent part of the illusion of reality. I hope this helped clarify more what Watt’s point was. 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.

Light Up Your Life

It is understandable when significant events have an impact on our lives. There is nothing wrong with feeling a sting of pain or jab of remorse or to be choked with sorrow. These are all legitimate ways to experience life. You just don’t want to stay spinning on those states of mind when you were meant to move on. In fact the pain is there to indicate to you that you 662 Relax and Succeed - I know now that we never get over great lossesare not supposed to ruminate on thoughts of that type and that it is time to move on to other things.

You have two choices after you’ve experienced hardship, pain or loss. You can allow those experiences to diminish you—to crush your spirit—and you can shroud yourself in dark thoughts about the past or damning ones about the future. Or you can accept those experiences as valuable and in doing so integrate them into your being. Previous experience is what creates empathy and that leads to compassion which is a form of love and connection. So pain and suffering are ultimately an invitation to have more love and connection in your life. But not if you hide away and shroud yourself in wishful thinking.

Everyone you meet has experienced great pain. And you can see how it’s affected them. For some they are hunched and tired and defeated, whereas others are bright and empathetic and aware. Some relive their pain regularly whereas others are only glad to have survived it. My father said there was only two ways to come back from WWII: sorry you went or glad you made it back. These aren’t two different wartime experiences, these are two different choices about how to process the fact of being in a war. So the person in pain will say that their experience is the source of their suffering just as the compassionate person will say that the very same experience is the source of their compassion.

662 Relax and Succeed - Sunlight I met a girl onceI’ve referred to kintsukoroi in a previous blog. It’s the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery with gold. The notion is that no one should be upset by a broken vase because it now has the opportunity to be even more beautiful. The same holds for people. As Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross points out, the cracks are where the light gets out. The uninjured are of little comfort to a grieving person. But someone who understands? That person is invaluable. That person can connect with you. That person can share your pain and thereby diminish its intensity. You are grateful for those people in your life.

I am not suggesting that you enjoy your next struggle. But do keep in mind that it is in a way a form of Life University, where are you being constantly re-trained in matters of the heart. Do not let your unpleasant experiences lead you to lock yourself away. This is like getting your angels wings and then not flying. After those events you are made more powerful, larger and more connected. In fact your own strength will increase with each additional person you help. And all the time you will be bound together by the gold of your relationship—the bond of shared pain.

Life is sometimes beautiful and rewarding. And other times it is harsh and cruel. But the way to beautiful and rewarding from harsh and cruel is often through someone who has enough experience with the latter that they can lead you to the former. And it’s important to remember that sometimes that person will be you.

peace. s

Energy Conversion

I have a dear friend who I respect a great deal. He’s a good man but he’s going through a tough time. He’s losing one of his closest friends to cancer. It’s going to happen quickly—which in some ways can be a blessing in disguise. But there is no way of getting around the fact that this will require a massive adjustment to a new reality for my friend.

568 Relax and Succeed - We are the loveIn situations like that people always search for meaning. Everything happens for a reason people will say. But of course the reason is created in our own minds. The reason is constructed by us for us. And so we would do well to carefully consider where we are going to place this substantial density of meaning.

No matter what we’ll go through Kubler-Ross’s stages of dying, all the time muttering to ourselves about whatever stage we’re in. But we can force our pain out through those activities in our consciousness, stage by stage, or we can convert the energy from that pain into something meaningful. This is one of the most powerful things a human being can do. We can take in one kind of energy and we can act to flip it into its inverse. We can turn that energy 180 degrees.

The way we do this is to fully feel our pain. Don’t back away from it, move toward it. Feel its texture. Feel what it’s made of. Feel the details of those agonizing thoughts. Study them like a scientist would study a chemical reaction or the behaviour of an animal. Just watch yourself closely and come to better understand your pain. And in doing so you will become aware of the preciousness of life itself. Of the temporaryness of it. Of its fragility. And yet, of its potential vitality.

568 Relax and Succeed - When you arise in the morningYou will realize that just as some friend’s family did not know they were losing their father only one hour before the news arrived, the same could unknowingly happen in your own family tomorrow. And so rather than turn that into some maudlin loss of purpose, turn it the exact opposite direction and see life for the exciting opportunity that it is. Opportunity for what? For love in all of its forms. Laughter, camaraderie, empathy, romance, friendship, joy. Convert the agony of loss into the unrestrained openness of unconditional love.

You have a choice you either consciously or subconsciously make every single moment. You choose how to analyze the Is-ness of the world. So yes, you can look at the death of a friend as a horrible injustice and no matter how healthy you are your mind will spend at least some time in the angry stage. But the sooner we can reach acceptance, the sooner we can begin to take our grief and convert it into love. Love for the person leaving us and love for those still with us.

That is the awareness that death brings with it. When juxtaposed to death we can suddenly appreciate that life itself is a verb. That before being healthy or happy we must simply be. And when something reminds us that nothing lasts forever and everything changes, we realize that everything includes us. That we and all of our loved ones are temporary spacemen on this little rock hurtling through the cosmos. We are but a blip on the timeline of the universe. Which is why it is all the more important that we love all we can for the short time we’re here.

It’s a wonderful opportunity, life is. Just ask anyone who’s losing theirs if you should waste yours and you’ll always get the same answer. Live. Live fully and deeply and bravely. Because things like failure or loss mean nothing. We all end up dead anyway. So don’t waste your life wishing for a different one. Live this one as fully as you can. Because to do that is a choice, and to not make that choice is to surrender the most valuable thing you have.

peace. s

Spirits, Ghosts and You

Because of the experience I had when I was little, many people ask me about my experiences with life after death, my belief in ghosts and spirits, and whether or not I believe in any kind of God. They are often surprised that my response feels as much scientific as it does spiritual or paranormal.

542 Relax and Succeed - We can think of the soulShelagh Rogers recently did an interview on CBC Radio’s show The Next Chapter, where she talked about a variety of subjects with author Karen Connelly. Among them were questions about the spiritual events surrounding Connelly’s sister’s recent death. In the interview Connelly talked about how, as her sister faded, she began using blunt terms for travel for her situation. It’s important to note that she wasn’t using them as metaphors—she would talk as though she was literally going somewhere with statements like, I’m not allowed to leave, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to leave, or where’s my passport I’m leaving soon. Connelly talked about how her research after the fact demonstrated that those are common terms of reference in palliative care. Moreover, as the patients got even closer to death, they would imagine spirits or angels or guides appearing to make things more helpful. Today’s post will endeavour to explain to you what those spirits are and where they come from.

I’ve previously written about how dreams are when you integrate with the rest of the universe and you loosen of your own personal interpretation of events as being events that happen to a singular you, and instead your reality warbles and you melt back into the universe where your experiences are merely experiences to be had in principle. The fact that you see them as having happened to a You is only because you weave that narrative with your own personal thinking. But that narrative is weaved from the energy of the universe and it plays out in the energy of the universe. So it’s like during the day you’re an icecube floating in water. You’re water, the water’s water, but you’re in different states. But during sleep—and near death—that hard sense of a separate reality starts to get narrow and it’s as though the icecube—recognizing that it truly is just water in another state—begins to melt back into its larger context: the universe.

542 Relax and Succeed - After your deathRather than truly individual brains, our personal human minds are more like a connect-the-dots that moves through the universe. All of the elements of life that we have been taught are then part of our quiver of metaphors that we can draw from. So in essence, when we die we are engaged with the act of melting back into a full realization that we always were made of the water that surrounds us. Our personal minds will naturally convert that experience into a metaphor relevant to our experience of the universe. So if that aspect is You then you will turn it into something that makes sense in your personal experience. So if you’re a physicist it’ll all be about energy, if you’re a neurologist it could be about your brain’s experiential wiring, and if you’re a lay-person it might be about ghosts, spirits or guides. Each group will literally experience the belief it holds. All are true and none are true.

So are ghosts, spirits and guides real? Are we really going somewhere when we die? These things are both real and not-real. It might make it clearer if I explain it this way: to me your daily waking life is just as real/unreal as dreaming or dying is. These performances all take place on the same stage. So to me whether you’re saying you’re alive or there are spirits and some place to go that could be anywhere other than here and now—that’s all irrelevant. It just feels like different terms for the same thing. So yes, there are spirits and ghosts. And you’re being one right now. When that statement doesn’t seem like a paradox, then you’ll fully understand what it is I’m trying to say here. I wish you every good-fortune on this meditation. It’s a good one and it’s really worth engaging in. Don’t forget to have fun. 😉

peace. s

The Wisdom of Mandy Patinkin

218 Relax and Succeed - Life can only be understoodWhat is your life? Your experience of life takes place in your consciousness. So if you’re somewhere pleasant but you’re thinking unpleasant thoughts, you will have an unpleasant experience that you will blame on the subject of your thoughts, rather than on the fact that you are choosing to think them.

Growth comes when we recognise our own culpability in our experiences. When we stop blaming others, or the world, or some event, and instead we accept that our life is like any other and it is not made better by having this or that thing or person or experience. It’s made better by what we choose to think about.

So what do you spend your day thinking? What battle are you forever locked in? Everyone has at least one: what’s yours? Do you feel forever scarred by a betrayal and you perpetually tell yourself what you would say to them if you had the chance? Are you a victim of some terrible event that you keep telling yourself shouldn’t have happened? Do you spend your time speculating about what you suspect are other people’s judgments about ? Or are you like Mandy Patinkin, and you live telling yourself a story about how you in particular were ripped off because your dad died when you were young?

Those stories take up a lot of time and energy. They are far more of your day and life than you realise and changing them will make a big difference. But as Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” So being lost isn’t a problem. That’s life. But having an insight—realising that you make more sense than you thought—is a profound moment, as is evidenced by Mr. Patinkin in this video. It’s not like his life still wouldn’t be grand without this knowledge, but there’s no doubt that being aware of that choice and choosing something different is a giant opportunity in life that you should seize as soon as you are able.

Figure out your central story. Listen to your thoughts and you will see strong patterns emerge, and those patterns will tell you who you are subconsciously being. Make the subconscious conscious and you are free. Pay as much attention to the quality of your thinking as you do to the quality of your clothing, cars and phones and you’ll have profoundly improved your life.

Enjoy.

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.