Victims of Fashion

Not so long ago at all, a bride in Northern Europe would have been chosen because she had a strong upper body for churning butter. Today women are far compelled to feel equally concerned with their bodies but they also must add what they dress them in. There are few things that torture a teenage girl more than her wardrobe or lack thereof.

In trying to understand the illusion we all live under it is helpful to look at the idea of fashion itself. What is it to be fashionable? In the photo above a model shows work designed by students at Central Saint Martins Art and Design College, which is connected to the University of the Arts in London. These are some of the top design students anywhere.

These students are learning to be at the forefront of fashion. People would pay a lot to see these pieces shown. And yet most of the people reading this will look at the photo and deem tucking one’s suit coat into one’s athletic shorts is simply silly. It feels like that thing we all do when we’re young artists and we try to make ourselves distinct by trying to out-weird our classmates. And we’re right about that. But we’re also wrong.

The point is, fashion is just what’s in a magazine right now. I’ll change with the certainty that capitalism gives it. They can’t sell you a new shirt if you’re still satisfied with your old one. And so when we’re young and peacocking, the fashion seems worth it. Later when we’re juggling kids it falls to the wayside as other priorities dominate.

Some people stay in fashion and that’s wonderful. It’s an artful expression and like any field, only the very best and most dedicated and those most willing to make other life sacrifices make it to the top. But most people simply stop thinking , believing or caring that it’s more important than your happiness. Because there are a lot of people unhappy over their clothing and that just shows how paper thin our understanding of true happiness is. A wrinkled blouse can destroy it.

The fact is, every person you walk by will think different things about your hair, your face, your body, your clothes and any other identifying mark on you. No two people will react identically. We’re all snowflakes looking at snowflakes. It’s only words and language that forces us to group people together. If we looked more closely, we’d split most of those people apart for being so different. It all depends on what level you focus at.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. It’s not unnatural. Even old-world people like the Wodaabe tribe have standards for beauty, although in their case they apply more to the men than women. They also don’t enact their most fashionable selves all the time and leave it instead for special occasions. The rest of the time you’re allowed to be human.

While enjoying fashion is fine, we also must remember that a six year old would be willing to give a speech with a giant soup stain on their shirt and there would be zero self-consciousness about it because they’d be focused on the microphone and their amplified voice and the podium and everyone watching them. They wouldn’t even consider the shirt. It wouldn’t enter their consciousness.

We should all try to be healthy like that. We should all hear any clothing judgments as being from one snowflake to another. It’s like one grain of wheat telling another grain of wheat how a grain of wheat should look. It’s silly we ever fall for it but that is a part of discovering ourselves. We start life trying to be like everyone else, and with any luck and some awareness, we leave it only wanting to be ourselves.

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.

Chore Procrastination

Most of us know the feeling. Your housework has been there for two weeks but you have been a master procrastinator. But if someone’s coming over, suddenly the procrastination is gone and your housework becomes the most important thing in your world. This shift in your values points to an important piece of information.

You started off fine that your house wasn’t picture perfect. Then suddenly someone else was going to see it, and now your place suddenly didn’t look good enough. For this person you will leap to cleaning your space, but for yourself… nah. So what’s going on there? What’s your brain doing? Because half the time the person coming over can be a stranger you’ll see once in your life, like a repairman.

You’re worried about being judged. Maybe about how clean you are, how organised, how much money you have, whatever. There’s something that you know about yourself that you’re trying to hide from others. That shame isn’t good for you. My mother used to wash walls every other week. Then she hit menopause. Boom, we had a freezing house and Mom was no longer interested in sheet-ironing. And as her kids we thought it was great. It seemed like her priorities had improved.

Sometimes you just want your externals to reflect how you feel inside. It makes a very clear kind of sense that when you’re trying to get your life in order, you’ll start with getting your space in order. Those natural impulses are all fine. But the fearful egocentric ones–the ones where you’re worried about belonging–those are unnecessary. You live inside belonging. What some individual human feels about you is relatively nothing. You are loved by the universe.

That can sound corny right? I don’t need to clean my house because the universe loves me? But it’s true. I don’t mean there’s some persona called the universe that loves specifically you, I mean that the universe is a very loving and supportive place if you go to the right places within it. But it’s our job to go where the oasis is. It’s easy to find. It feels like love.

There are people who know you well enough that they’ve seen your house in disarray. They’re still your friends, and you still manage to stay relaxed while they’re over and the place is a disaster. Okay, that’s more like an unconditional relationship. They’ve seen your messy, they’ve seen your neat, and both are fine by them. That’s someone who loves you as a verb. Anyone who judges your space is merely speaking innocently from their ego.

Relax. Be yourself. All of you. Sure, people will judge the real you. But they’re already judging this performance-you anyway, so what’s the difference? You may as well pay to be you as pay to be someone else.

The universe has some suffering built into the deal, but there’s no reason we have to invite more by worrying about other’s judgments. If people aren’t prepared to accept the real us then they’re not interested in an authentic relationship. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them, they’re just finding their way like we all are. But if we are being judged, we’re wiser to invest ourselves in the parts of the universe that love us back.

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 Bully at School

Rebecca had always been a fairly confident, happy girl. She had a good relationship with her parents. They were involved but not pushy. She always tried to learn from her mistakes so they trusted and respected her. They were open to whatever she wanted to do with her life as long as she gave something to the world, just as they both tried to do with their own lives.

Life had been really good but Junior High had changed that. Harmless Elementary School teasing had become cruel attacks in her new school. Grade was 7 okay, but Grade 8 was awful–or rather one girl in it was: Tina. Tina called Rebecca some awful version of fat every single time she saw her. And because Tina’s parents had money and bought her the most expensive clothes, she always had a gaggle of jealous girls with her to cackle at her insults.

Becca’s friends would always offer counter-compliments designed to disarm Tina’s attacks, which they often had levelled at themselves too, so they knew how it felt. And it wasn’t like they were saying things she couldn’t believe, but humans are built with a longing to belong, so consciously focusing on the insults and the laughter was a painful experience.

Becca hated herself even more when she would catch herself trying to hide her weight with loose clothes. It was like Tina was inside her house too. And of course social media was a total hell, with her body photoshopped onto everything from walrus’s to gigantic people eating ice cream. In her nightmares Becca would look down at her clothes in school only to see the body of an elephant. She hated Tina and her perfect, skinny beauty.

Tina was cruel. She had a lot of cruel poured into her. Whereas Becca had supportive caring parents that had held Becca responsible, where they’d never called her names or undermined her confidence; Tina had a beauty queen Mom who was at the stage where some wrinkles were showing up just as her I – married – a – beauty – queen father’s eyes started wandering to wrinkleless young ladies.

Tina’s mother felt belittled by her husband’s actions and that lead to more drinking, which often lead to flurries of insults or even blows. If Tina was even nearby when they were fighting her pure wrinkleless youth would infuriate her jealous mother. She would insult Tina viciously in a way that Becca would find very familiar, almost as though she’d heard a recording of them; which in a way she did.

Tina’s sister had thoroughly aligned herself with her mother in the parental war. And why not? Her mother was the one who dealt with guilt via her credit cards. By agreeing with her mother Tina’s sister had become the favoured child, and she lorded her status over her younger sister like an ogre. She too constantly insulted Tina, talking about her skinny boyish frame and her total lack of a chest. Tina took that insult to heart. She had no idea that her sister picked that quality only because it was the biggest difference between them.

Many years later, when she ran into the only junior high friend she’d ever run into, she was reminded of how she used to tease Becca. The woman thought Tina actually didn’t like Rebecca even after all these years. In hindsight, Tina recalled Becca as a nice, smart girl. She had teased her terribly during that time, that was true. That was the most painful period of her life; when her parents were in the process of breaking up. But she hoped the girl hadn’t let that bother her too much. It literally had nothing to do with her.

Tina made the mistake of thinking that her thoughts about things were the actual things, so for a while she felt she really was fat and she worked hard on trying to change that, but the fact was she had a bigger, softer, more bosomy figure than that. It was like trying to change the basis of her being. It never worked. So it would have been good to know that she was just confusing her thoughts about herself as being facts that were first presented by Tina.

The fact was Tina didn’t think Rebecca was fat. But she did know she was one of the first girls in class to get breasts, and that reminded Tina of her sister. So Tina didn’t hate Becca. She didn’t even hate Becca’s chest, or her own sister. Becca was only called fat because Tina was jealous because she had no defense against her mother’s cruel attacks.

Now that she was older and she’d been through a divorce herself, Tina felt more on her feet than she ever had. Now that she had some self-confidence of her own, Tina certainly didn’t try to elevate herself by putting others down. She knew that was the sure mark of an unhealthy personality.

For her part Becca did think for too many years about Tina’s insults, but in the end the beliefs her parents instilled in her won out and she regained her natural confidence. It was a far less painful and growth-laden experience for her than it was for Tina, but it left both women ended up in a place where they basically liked themselves.

Whatever routes they took, both of their older selves knew that junior high was a tiny blip in their life, and that any differences anyone had there were the sort of immature differences that would not survive the struggles of adulthood. In the end, as with all challenges in life, neither one of them would trade them away. Because in their maturity they both knew, those experiences are the essences of our people’s growth and maturity. The route there just happens to be called Junior High.

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.

Duelling Realities

What does this quote mean? That’s how this blog got started. It was born when I realised that there were useful lessons contained in discussing what quotes mean from the state of mind you’re seeking.

In the case of the one above, the part we like is where it says, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end. That’s our motivation to want to understand the quote; because we’re in pain and we want to know how to stop it. So that part defines the problem. The rest defines the solution.

When you move amidst the world of sense. This defines what state of mind you’ll need to be in for your sorrows to end. The quote is simply stating that you want to be fully alive in the present rather than having a post-now ego identity that has opinions about what’s happening. The latter is thought-based, the former is sense-based.

So if we want to avoid our sorrows we must live in a world of sense and not thought. But how do we do that? The quote kindly tells us how when it defines the opposite of the world of sense: free from attachment and aversion alike. So the quote is telling you how you use your egotistical judgmental thoughts to create a barrier between you and the grandeur of reality, and you do this by having opinions that you feel personally about.

To feel personally about something is to have an ego. You think a thing has value or it is it has none. You want something or you don’t want it. You think this is meaningful and that is not. You you you. Look at all the ego in there. But what does the quote suggest we do?

And you live in the wisdom of the Self. It says if we avoid thinking about what we want or don’t want, or like or don’t like, or accept or don’t accept, then we are free to live by our senses alone, which is to live in the wisdom of the Self. Note: Self was capitalised. It’s because your little ego-self is what has opinions and judgments about things. Your big, capable, amazing Self isn’t personal.

Your identity vanishes when you ignore the judgmental thoughts that you use to divide the world up into symbols. Your ego-reality is made of your opinions. Without the barrier of separateness created by thought, you feel connected to everything. Everywhere is home. Every person is lovable.

So an ego deep in the throes of falling in romantic love can without shame post this Rumi quote because they feel so excited by their personal approval of what’s happening. That level of complete acceptance means it feels as though this new person has brought the entire world to their feet. Yet, in a spiritual sense, the Rumi quote means exactly the same thing as the one that starts this post. Both are telling us to be judicious with our attention; our focus; the contents of our consciousness. To focus on one love is to lose the rest.

We can’t think out of training or habit, we must be alive in the world. And to do that we need to ignore all of our personal thoughts about what we want and don’t want. We can still have those thoughts. We just should ignore them immediately after thinking them. That leaves us in the world of sense, where things simply are, rather than being judged as right or wrong or good or bad. And that is how end your sorrows and find your peace. You simply trade your dividing thoughts for the connectedness of silence.

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: Redirecting Negativity

The March of Kindness is about making the world a kinder, safer, more loving space in which to thrive as a human being. We can do this by adding goodness to the world, but we can also accomplish this goal be removing negativity and replacing it with something more constructive.

We’re all too often willing to participate in gossip when we personally agree with it or view it as just idle conversation with friends or co-workers, but it’s far from idle. What people say about each other becomes their identity to a listener. And that can have extremely serious consequences.

If someone didn’t like someone else in high school and they end up getting a job at their company, the new person can be destroyed before they’ve even started because everyone’s been cued to only watch for pattern-matches to what they were previously told. We all say the odd dumb thing, but if people are on the lookout for that then suddenly the odd silly statement can turn into a person becoming dumb rather than just the statement, when in fact the person might be perfect for their job.

We’ve all been victims of it and it’s not like it improves as we age. Who hasn’t had a bitter ex spread lies about them? And the workplace can be just as vicious as the schoolyard. The way to identify gossip isn’t by whether you agree with it, it’s whether or not it’s negative.

If someone is commenting on or judging someone in any negative way then it’s gossip. Period. Unless you’re the person’s manager or teacher your personal opinion has no relevance to anyone but you, and even in the cases of managers and professors, the reasoning should be based on their alignment with the work, not with your personal feelings. A student or worker can be someone you’d never be friends with but that shouldn’t impact how you evaluate their work.

As the saying goes, loose lips sink ships. It’s not like gossip is a minor force in the world. It literally changes lives. It ruins companies and institutions, undermines science, and it can easily destroy lives. People have committed murder, suicide, vandalism and other horrible acts all based on gossip.

Talking is thinking out loud. Taking negatively about someone else is not healthy for the person doing the talking. It’s a sign of being locked into an ego-based, judgmental and superior perspective. The world is the world. It looks different to everyone. You’re not supposed to be going around poisoning other people’s views with yours. Your view is yours. Our personal opinions were never meant to be applied to the broader world. At our healthiest we should function from a position of principle, not opinion.

Today’s act in our March of Kindness is simply to spend the day actively listening for gossip. At work, at school, even at home and out. If someone offers a negative assessment of someone else, then our job is remind the people listening that there are other views. If they identify something they don’t like about the person, identify something you respect about them.

If someone says, Mindy’s always telling people what to do, you could add: We’re all different, and I don’t share her style of doing things, but I have noticed that what she wants people to do isn’t about her or anything selfish, her comments are usually focused on more or better work getting done. At minimum her heart’s in the right place.

Or if someone says, Did you hear that Jennifer’s dating Chris? What an idiot. You could respond, Well, we all like different kinds of people. Do we really want everyone judging who we love? I’m just glad they’re both happy. The idea is to take a negative and insert a positive. Double value if you normally would have agreed and joined in!

Don’t help sink someone else’s ship. Get your oar in the water and let’s make the world better by sharing more about what’s good about the world and less about what we don’t like about it. After all, mental health is really little more than having a rationally optimistic view of the world and the people in it. So let’s make gossip the enemy rather than people.

Have a great day 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.

MoK: Marching For Peace

Yesterday’s act of kindness was an important one. I’d like to think all of you participated in being kind to yourselves even though that often feels difficult and unnatural. It’s a shame we’ve constructed society in such a way that we find something that healthy to feel that unnatural. Similarly, it’s a shame we find making amends with others difficult to the point where, if it happens, it’s usually only half-intentional. Today is about becoming fully intentional.

As the old saying goes, except for a few cases in life, you’re better to be happy than be right. Being right implies that the other person must be wrong. This reinforces that subject-object division between you and the rest of the world with which you are otherwise naturally unified.

The separation between you is strictly made of thought–it’s made of your beliefs about what is right and wrong, and about your perceptions of what really happened. In addition, let’s face it, we all have those examples where, deep down, we actually know that we’re at minimum complicit in the confusion, if not entirely at fault.

In some cases we even feel guilty, even though we still come across as defensive about the issue. What hurts is that we are good people, and so when that happens we know our words and actions lacked respect or integrity. We feel that lack of responsibility as the pain that leads to our defensiveness.

Our job on todays assignment for The March of Kindness is for us to find one of these examples and to let it go. Even better if we can actually settle the disagreement formally, and the ultimate goal would be to apologise–even if it’s for something small. The point is, if it requires real effort and challenge then we’re overcoming something and we’re benefitting along with the person we’re apologising to or forgiving.

Find your example, examine your reactions and your behaviour and really come to a better understanding about how your personal, ego-based motivations overrode your natural integrity and personal nature. Reinforce your own goodness in this way. Maybe you say something, maybe you don’t. Maybe you write something, or send a card or email or even a text. Maybe you just stop being passive-aggressive towards them.

Even if your apology or forgiveness or act of letting go is silent, or even if it’s done with full knowledge that the other person really was in the “wrong,” make this an active and meaningful act of kindness. This isn’t just about you, it’s about the world. It’s about the other person and about creating more peace within one or both of you.

By accepting our responsibilities to create peace we also gain empowerment over our actions. By being able to forgive or apologise, we become more expansive and capable, and by letting go of our disagreements and grudges, we not only free ourselves, but we all make an important contribution to there being less discord and more harmony in the world. And after all, that is the entire point of The March of Kindness.

Thanks for your participation. Much love.

peace. s

MoK: Tolerance as Kindness

Thank you all very much for your patience while I’ve been ill. It turns out that your patience is quite fitting, because today our March of Kindness assignment will involve determining the subtle difference between patience and tolerance.

We feel patience with someone when we perceive that they generate some degree of value in our lives that we do not want to lose. Maybe that value is that they’re the clerk at the store and we need their help to purchase something that has value to us, or maybe it’s a co-worker whose advice you value and so you offer to look after their dog while they’re away, or maybe it’s a very sick spouse that has such tremendous value that their partner can serve them for many years, despite receiving no reciprocation. It all depends on how much one person perceives the other’s value.

Because we start from a position of goodwill, we tend to use the word patience for situations we deem as reasonable. We begin to use the word tolerance once we feel we’re extending past what is reasonable or, in other words, past the point where the other person’s value has run out in proportion to the request being made. But what about those people that start with no value in our emotional bank?

When meeting most strangers very few of us will presume the worst, and many of us will presume something so positive that we’ll offer our own positivity in advance. But there are some people that we immediately assume we’ll be out of alignment with. The reasons don’t matter much; maybe we have unpleasant history between us, or maybe they’re just in a group we’ve defined as undeserving of our patience, but when people have no deposits in our patience bank then they are immediately borrowing from our tolerance account. This form of kindness is more dangerous to us, like an unsecured loan; where we’re unsure–even suspicious–about ever being paid back.

When we use tolerance we’re no longer investing in value we will receive ourselves, tolerance is an investment in the Bank of Karma. That’s when–instead of believing in an individual manifestation of a person–we believe that the fundamental oneness of the universe is expansive, or “good.” We believe on some elemental level that if we put positivity in, some positivity will result for someone, somewhere. Today we want to use tolerance as a way of sending some of that good karma out.

Today’s act in our March of Kindness will be to actually seek out people or ideas that we traditionally have no tolerance for. Maybe all we do is comment on a politician we see in the media, or maybe we’re aggressive with street people, or a we’re a contrarian on social media, or maybe some stranger’s just asking you for directions and you don’t want to be disturbed; the idea is that the kindness you show today has no value to you personally–in fact, your expression of it may exact a small price.

As I stated previously, we don’t improve the world unless we convert some darkness into light, so today’s act is particularly important. All you have to do is find one example of where you would offer negativity–a comment, a judgment, a challenge, a rebuke–and instead offer tolerance.

There’s a lot of us, so if we each just take one bit of negativity and, instead of offering it to the world, we hold it back out of a sense of kindness and tolerance, then we will absolutely have made the world a better place. That’s where we all want to live, and the March of Kindness is about helping us get there. Thank you for participating in our collective journey.

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.