Remembrance Day

1252 Relax and Succeed - Remembrance DayIn Canada November 11th is Armistice Day; more commonly known as Remembrance Day. It’s focus is on the exact time the treaties following WWI took effect, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Both of my parents served in WWII, so this has always been an occasion that I was taught by example to respect, for I had family on Dunkirk Beach, and family in POW camps and family killed on the line.

I was never taught that Remembrance Day was a sad day. Somber maybe, but not sad. The point from them was always to take the lesson; war is hell for all involved. As my father described it, “It’s just farmers from one country shooting at farmers from another country and they’re all good men and all they’ll want to do is to get back to their farm.” No hatred, no greed, no desire to conquer, and no sense of revenge. In fact my Dad moved to Canada right after the war and when he started his own company he hired some Germans, which points to one of my favourite things about my Dad.

I tend to write about Remembrance Day most years precisely because it would be a more serious and focused day in our home than any birthday, Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s my parents sacred day, and it has become mine as well. Despite being so important, and despite my having written about it before, I find this year there is an adjustment in how I feel about it.

1252 Relax and Succeed - I wear a little poppyRather than being maudlin about it, I’ve always been taught to be grateful there is no war, and to be grateful to the people who gave their lives in the effort to maintain our freedom. Additionally I was taught that enjoying my life was the price I should look toward repaying if I wanted to honour that sacrifice. If they were going to give up their life to create the opportunity for me then it would be fitting that I would create something worthwhile. I was never made to feel guilty, but somehow they instilled in me that it was fitting to honour the dead with more life.

I still feel that this year, but there’s a new layer too. I love that about life. When you’re present and quiet-minded so many connections between things occur to you. This year it’s that Remembrance Day is not only a day of profound gratitude for me, it’s also a time of deep meditation. On suffering.

When I want to really comprehend the opportunity I’ve been given I get into the nitty gritty of the moment to moment life of those guys in the trenches. Eighteen years old (if they weren’t like my Dad and lied to get in at seventeen, or even sixteen some of them). Rain. Winter. Cold. Wind, trenches filled with water, dead people and rats. And all of your gear for the next few weeks. Oh yeah, and a bunch of people are intentionally shooting and lobbing shells at you, so you’re also terrified. You also have little to no idea why you’re there.

1252 Relax and Succeed - Courage It doesn't mean you aren't scaredIf you get deep into the moments of something like that, you start to have things dawn on you, like; a good friend could die and you would have literally not have even a single moment to fully grasp it at the time. Grieving would come later, as a blur of uncertainty about what really happened because it happened so fast. Or you could lose your squad, lay in injured while shells hit the sand all around you and you’d have no choice except to lay there in agony waiting for a medic to wander by. Even simple things like; what if you have to pee super bad during a battle? And then on your break you go back to the trench and the cold and the wool and the rats and corpses and you eat some three month old sardines from a tin. These were tough people.

Today is when I suddenly realised that that is when and how I set my year for gratitude up, because I always build new experiences every year. Soldiers in different places, doing different things, experiencing different things. Yet during the following year, when I want to generate patience or compassion or connection–or especially gratitude and appreciation–I suddenly realised I always call back to that year’s memory and I compare what’s happening to me to that.

It is remarkable how fast I go from upset to feeling truly silly. It’s funny; being humiliated by the comparison brings out the best in me. We’re all like that. Humans are better than they give themselves credit for either singularly or as a group. We do like it when the group likes us, but we like it even more when they respect us because they think we’re a good example in some way. So when we see things we respect, it inspires us.

Quote For Remembrance Day Remembrance Day Quotes Amp Sayings Remembrance Day Picture QuotesMy parents have been a great example, teaching me to honour the sacrifices made while not emotionally taking over the event for myself; they taught me to value life and liberty, and that’s lead me to take my citizenship and connection to others very seriously; and they taught me to be grateful for the life that was literally protected for me by total strangers. I’ll be wiser this year seeing my meditation on the 11th in this new way. I’ll see it as a touchstone; a talisman; or a spell. When I face adversity, I will use that meditation to generate the appreciation that will drive away any thoughts I have of excessive personal suffering.

Find your own examples of these prices. Maybe second generation immigrants can consider what their parents sacrificed to give their children greater freedom. If your parents have served during wartime, or suffered disease or loss, it is a worthwhile thing to consider that deeply.

Maybe you’ve recovered from a drug addiction and can think back to your own past. Look at your children and remember that places like children’s hospitals are filled with children and parents who were never so lucky. Feel the pain of that and know that some people carry that pain daily, and that it is love that carries them through. It will make you more empathetic toward everyone, because if you do the meditation thoroughly, you’ll realise that most of these identities are invisible when you walk past these people on the street.

Consider creating a yearly meditation. It can be a different subject every year, it can be like mine and stay the same with just the details changing, but find some touchstone of true suffering. Something you believe you can truly relate to. Then use that for the rest of the year. When you’re in a long line at the store, just think back to the kinds of things people have survived before you and you’ll soon find you’ll be feeling better, because there’s really nothing better you can do with a bad experience from the past.

Respectfully, 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.

Parental Limitations

Our mind could have any habits or choose to recall any part of its past, but our very sense of identity means that we get up every morning and load the same software-us into the hardware-us. That brain could be bold instead of shy. It would just have to do one instead of the other. But we generally don’t. We generally surrender that freedom and instead we play out the role we’ve unconsciously written for ourselves. That’s what our ego’s for—it recites who we are to us. If we’re not constantly reminded about our limitations who knows what we might try?

677 Relax and Succeed - A teacher is never a giver of truthI was fortunate enough to have two parents that didn’t really set limits for me. They were stricter than most of my friends parents in most ways, but much more relaxed and open in the most important way. I was expected to live up to commitments and carry my own share of the family chores and pass in school etc. etc., and rather than an allowance I had to pay room and board, but I was not pushed toward any sports or any grades or any post-secondary or employment choices. My parents spent more time asking me who I was as opposed to telling me who to become. That’s huge. That, in my experience, was the biggest fundamental difference in how I was raised. Now, when I asked Mom about this tremendous wisdom, she simply said,“Oh we learned from your [much older] brothers that you can’t really tell a kid what to do.” So they focused on principles and let me find my own way and that has lead to a fantastic life that I’m very happy to have lived.

As with many parents mine each took on different roles. Mom was the one who taught me to follow rules and Dad taught me to question who made the rules and their value. Mom taught me to be polite, Dad taught me to respect others. Mom taught me to vote, my Dad taught me to care for others just as much as for myself or those I loved. Mom made sure I lived up to my commitments regardless of my personal resistance and Dad made sure that I understood that apologies helped people feel better. Mom wanted me to be responsible. Dad wanted me to have fun. Mom wanted me to be a good citizen and Dad wanted me to be a good friend.

677 Relax and Succeed - The rules for being amazingI routinely get all aspects of this wrong but I nevertheless know that I’m always genuinely pointed in a loving, caring direction and so I live without regrets or a sense of judgment. I respect others so much that they are welcome to not like me. If I’m going to be a specific way it only makes sense that I won’t mesh with some people. Meccano can’t be Lego. My parents acceptance of whatever I did as long as it was respectful means that I feel good as long as I am respecting other’s perspectives as much as my own. I may not always agree, but I’m free to have my views and I have no conflict with them having theirs. People are welcome to have their conflicts with me but I do not have any with them. It’s very peaceful.

People could easily look at my life and see that I could have used the skills from my accident in a different way. They can see that I could have done more of this or that, made more money, been more famous or had more status or whatever. But in this weird subtle way, the way I was raised didn’t lead to any of those desires. But it did create a real value around the idea of freedom, respect and openness. I like that I never hold grudges, never hate people, and that I find it easy to forgive. I can’t imagine what money or fame could get me that would equal the value of just thinking enough of others and of myself that I essentially have no real quarrel with anyone. It’s a nice, simple, clean way to live.

We can teach kids how to manage money and understand how loans work and we can teach them to change the flapper in their own toilet or the oil in their car. But if we don’t teach them to value their own life enough to enjoy it then we have spent all of our time paving perfect roads that ultimately lead nowhere. Life is not a destination. There is no particular perch from where it can be lived in total happiness. But at least if happiness is a priority then the child builds a life around what brings them joy rather than what brings them externals. A nice car is only there to bring joy anyway, so why not skip the expensive middle man and go straight to the joy? But that’s not even on the menu unless someone has separated the idea of the car and the joy. One is to get the other, it is not the other itself.

677 Relax and Succeed - My philosophy isIf you want the best way to teach a person to value joy, value it yourself. Laugh more, do more things that are frivolous but joy-filled. Stop teaching kids how to protect themselves from bad things without telling them how to go and get good things. You need both for a successful life. What you don’t need is a cookie-cutter pre-conceived idea of who your children are. Let them be known to you and support the life they choose for themselves just as you wish the people around you would have been fully supportive in whatever you chose. I had that in life. It feels fantastic to have that support. It breeds a lot of confidence and that’s also where a lot of happiness resides.

Don’t worry so much about loading your kid up with every possible skill. They’ll get hurt terribly just like you did. Everyone does. But that’s okay as long as they know what to do between disasters. As long as they wring some joy out of those in-between times they’ll be fine. That’s a lot of life. Most people die without ever having even started to live. So just love and respect your kids and teach them to value their own enjoyment of life and a lot of the rest will just sort itself out. The best thing you can possibly do is be the best version of yourself that you can. Enjoy your own life. The rest is osmosis.

peace. s

Unconditional Happiness

175 Relax and Succeed - We tend to forgetWe’re all so picky. It has to be just this or just that. We don’t want happiness. We want conditional happiness. We don’t want a wife who loves us, we want a beautiful wife that loves us. We don’t want a compassionate boyfriend, we want a compassionate boyfriend who loves to talk. We all do want to spiritually expand and feel psychologically better as a result, but the route to happiness isn’t such a twisting narrow one, filled with so many conditions. This is the programming of our culture, there’s no way around it, but it’s still good to be aware that our willingness to appreciate has been limited.

Let’s take this little test: if we had a better-than middle class income guaranteed throughout our life via an inheritance, and we were completely blind (and had no idea what “dressed well” was, or how opulent our surroundings might be), then who would we want date? If the impacts of money and looks were not part of the analysis, how would we describe the sort of person that would attract us? And is there someone like that already in our life and we’re just failing to appreciate them because of one of our thought-based conditions?

The same goes for liking where you live versus moving to somewhere more exotic. Once you’re in the new place for a while you’ll be homesick. By thinking about your past nostalgically you will want the very place that you didn’t want when you moved to where you are. And the very same process is happening again. Your nostalgic thoughts of the past are blinding you from applying your awareness to things that are enjoyable and expansive to your current experience in the new location. 175 Relax and Succeed - The trick is to enjoy life

Of all of the things we do in life, the one that matters most is whether or not our consciousness is invested in wanting, versus appreciating. One is rewarding and enriching, and the other urges us to stop doing things that are rewarding and enriching so that we can think up conditions for our happiness instead.

There are tons of things we leave totally unnoticed while we think. Just complimenting someone lights them up. It’s that easy. And look how we feel after helping someone feel good? Do we need more reason to do it besides the fact that it feels great? We should all appreciate life and its opportunities and we should all do it right now.

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.

Are You Alive or Do You Exist?

100 Relax and Succeed - Wherever your heart isPeople are constantly pointing out the fact that I’ve had an extremely interesting life, and it’s true. I’ve been to cool places, I’ve done fun and exciting things, and I’ve known some remarkable people. But this isn’t because I’m luckier or smarter than anyone else—it’s because I don’t spend much time creating fear.

What stops you from doing the things you want to do? Why won’t you go on an adventurous trip? Because you use your thoughts to discuss all of the things that could go wrong, or you speculate about the opportunities you might miss if you’re away, whereas I wonder what adventures I might have.

Why don’t you do some bold and exciting thing, like ask out a stranger in a strange situation, or date someone when it makes no obvious sense? Because you tell yourself stories about why the relationship potentially couldn’t work, whereas I moved to Europe after only two dates to actually find out. And it didn’t work as a long term relationship, but life still worked out. I threw her a very special birthday party, went on some beautiful trips, we both made fantastic friends, and of course I dated a remarkable woman, in a remarkable city. Win win win.

100 Relax and Succeed - Nothing will be attemptedWhy haven’t you met your heroes? Well, you’ve probably never really tried to meet them. When I wanted to be a screenwriter, I just started contacting famous, successful screenwriters and I ended up meeting and even becoming friends with lots of them. But I didn’t sit around listing all of the reasons that those meetings and friendships couldn’t happen—I focused on all of the ways that it might happen and some of those worked out just fine. Who cares about the ones that didn’t? Do I plant a garden and focus all of my attention on the seeds that didn’t sprout, or the ones that did?

Life is there for the taking, but people can choose the treadmill. They can go do the same thing every day and not enjoy much of life at all. Most people live that way; with jobs they find uninspiring, time with people based on obligation rather than joy, and duties rather than pursuits.

It’s like a straight jacket. Everyone’s performing for each other, trying to be a good citizen. Conforming, prepared, safe. Everyone’s so loaded with fears of what they’ll lose that they don’t even try to get anything anymore. They just collect stuff, but they’ve given up on collecting life. They’re buying things but you’re not saying yes to experiences.

100 Relax and Succeed - The only way that we can liveWhy would you be shy if an actor pulled you up on stage at a show? What would you have to lose? Do you see the two worlds? One person gets pulled up and they tell themselves a story about what they have to lose. They’ll think about their dignity, their reputation, their appearance. But those things only exist in your head. The exciting life happens when you just dive in and say yes to the experience.

When you see an opportunity to help out, or make people laugh, or to meaningfully connect, then take it. What difference would it make if it went “bad” or if everyone laughed? How would that hurt? Why would that be something to avoid?

Stop being halted by precipices in your mind. Stop thinking you can fall off heights that only exist in your head. You’re not supposed to mannequin your way through life in a way that looks good to the rest of us. You’re supposed to take this stage and perform something that excites you. There is no audience. There is just your stage, amidst all of the other stages. No one’s really watching you, they’re too busy doing what they’re doing to have the time to really watch what you’re doing.

This is a show by you and for you. Your life is not being graded. You can’t “win” at life by avoiding “failures.” Because there are no successes or failures, there are only experiences. So by trying to avoid failures, you steal experiences from yourself. You are forgoing your life out of concern that you may not spend it wisely; or, put another way, you’re so worried you’ll misspend it that you’re going to die with all of your life-money still in the bank.

Is life going perfectly? Do you love every minute of it? Then forget doing what’s safe or smart. Start doing what’s tempting or exciting. Because I’m constantly doing things that other people say are crazy or unwise or dangerous or pointless, and yet I’m also the person who’s constantly doing fascinating things with fascinating people, and I love my own life. And I don’t love it because you think it’s impressive that I’ve done all of these interesting things. I love it because I was fascinated while I did all of those interesting things.

Go grab life. You feel its pull all the time, but you use words to talk yourself out of living it. Go quiet inside instead, and just follow the pull. Because that sensation is the feeling of your life asking you to live it.

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.