Painful Subjects

1158 Relax and Succeed - If there is no struggleShe tried to act like there was nothing wrong, but her mother could tell she had been crying. She found her in her room, sitting on her bed. She sat next to her and put her arm around her shoulder. They were quiet for a while.

“Why are they so mean to me?”

Her mother kissed her head. She took a while to speak, composing herself first. “Some people just like teasing. But most people just want to feel secure. They want to feel like they belong. It’s human nature. But if there’s an inside, then there has to be an outside.”

“And I’m on the outside.”

Her mom smiles at her misunderstanding and pulls her closer. “Oh no, dear. There is no actual inside or outside, it’s all in people’s heads. They just think they belong or don’t belong or others do or don’t. They want to be in so they needed an out and people pick on difference. But everyone’s lines in everyone’s heads–they’re all different and they change everyday anyway.”

“They hate me because I’m fat.”

Her mother furrows her brow. What’s going on? She moves to face her daughter. They look at each other a long moment. “How did you make the leap that they hate you? Dani, them creating an inside and outside–that’s not emotional. It has nothing to do with how they feel about you. They’re trying to fix an alone feeling they have. When they tease you, that’s about them, not you.”

“But they called me fat and they were all pointing at me and laughing.”

“It just felt to them like they were succeeding in being more in the in group because if you’re crying then you looked ever further out. You looked ‘more different.'”

Her daughter looks at her mother witheringly. “Mother. ‘More different?’ What are you a Valley Girl or something?”

“Ha!”

“Ha what?”

“See? You just did it. You created an outside.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“A) You made fun of my mistake, which could be viewed as mean. And B) You attributed it to a definable group: Valley Girls. See? You do it too. And you don’t hate anyone. Outsides and insides. I was outsides the rules of grammar and so now you felt you had permission to tease me.”

“Mother. I really don’t think there’s an organisation out there protecting Valley Girls.”

Her mother smiles. The energy in her daugher is changing. “Fair enough, but you still made my point. Did you mean anything against Valley Girls; or where you truly against me when you corrected me?”

Her eyes roll. “Of course not.”

“But you still did it. And if I was feeling insecure it might have hurt me. Maybe I’d talk less because I’d be worrieder–“

“YOU DID THAT ON PURPOSE!”

“Okay. I did. Maybe I’d talk less because I would worry more about being judged.”

“And what’s the advantage to doing it your way? Why shouldn’t I care?”

Her mother laughs. “Uhh…. you’re not in pain? You accept that what’s going on in someone else’s consciousness doesn’t impact yours? That you just go enjoy your life anyway, just like you hope the Valley Girls do? If you responded super positively, maybe you’d start teaching English, or start an organisation to protect Valley Girls.”

“I bet the little camouflage bikini uniform would look great on me.”

“I think they give you a sexy little hat too.” Her mother laughs and hugs her. “Honey, I want you to remember one thing: you left school and kept thinking about this. Painful subjects are called ‘painful subjects’ because they hurt. So you have to watch, because when we’re sad or depressed our brain will sometimes tilt toward them. So you have to be really conscious about being happy sweetheart. There’s a lot of great things about this world. You’ll experience plenty. But you have to watch for them. So don’t let what’s happening in someone else’s brain distract you from that. Fair?”

She’s obviously right, but what kid wants to take advice? “I’ll think about it.”

“Okay fine. You meditate then. I’m sure you’ll see the wisdom in it too, just like the Buddha. I love you. I’ll leave you to your meditation oh Great One. OOOHHHHHMMM” Her mother bows.

Her daughter waves her off like Cleopatra. “Be off with you then.”

Her mother closes her daughter’s door. Her daughter’s stronger thanks to an unpleasant experience. That’s as good as it goes. Mission accomplished. Her mother smiles and heads back to her 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.

Real Peace Is Not What You Think

1022-relax-and-succeed-i-am-not-what-you-think-i-amYesterday we discussed Decision Fatigue and how it is wearing a lot of people out today, but a lot of people are misunderstanding what their peace has to look like. Making lots of decisions about your life is stressful, yet responding to needs of those we love often has a strange, compelling effortlessness which is representative of the psychological and spiritual peace you’re looking for.

One of the best examples of this is infant parenting. People can find parts of it nerve-wracking as they try to figure out what the right thing to do, but even that is just us dithering between ego choices rather than quieting our mind and calmly trusting our instincts like we’re forced to do in an emergency. It’s also why people working in refugee camps are often calmer and enjoying life more than successful people with nice office jobs. What to do is often so clear, important and obvious that there is no need for but-if thinking.

This is why stay-at-home moms will often have a strange transition as their kids reach more independent ages. Even by 2 or 3 years old they have enough ability to communicate that we begin treating them more like adults and we start heaping expectations on them, which of course they can either satisfy or not satisfy, but that’s where the over-thinking of the mother starts because it theoretically could go differently….

1022 Relax and Succeed - Forget trying to find your path

Strange huh? When the responsibility is shared with the child because they can communicate now things can go well or go poorly because blame is possible. The child can have listened or not have listened, so in a way they can now misbehave for the first time ever. They now have enough control over themselves that the mother can regain her sense of expectation, which in turn spawns a sense of depression.

What happens to all of us in these cases is that we mis-ascribe the source of the pain. The mother will think she’s just lost two years of her life and never thought much about herself. A fireman will wish there weren’t so many candles at Christmas that start fires, or the surgeon will imagine how the surgery might have gone if they’d only known about…. It is the revisiting of these choices that is stressful not the choices themselves, because at the time of making them they often weren’t choices they were simple reactions to life-threatening events. No time to over-think.

So the Mom ends up feeling depressed that she didn’t to have a bath or read a book in the last two years and yet she will often look back on those very years as some of the best of her life. Why? Because she was largely selfless during them. And what is it to have no ego? It is to be selfless; it’s literally to avoid using the mind to create a self than can then think wanting-for-itself thoughts. She didn’t mind not having a life of her own because she had no time to stop and think about it.

1022-relax-and-succeed-there-is-tremendous-happinessSo don’t think you need a quiet hardwood room with tatami mats on the floor, don’t think you need a book or a glass of wine, don’t think you need to be bent into some particular shape; peace can be wherever you go and in whatever you do, but the secret is to make friends with the present moment. It’s not to second-guess what happened, it is a time to be and not to do.

You don’t need emergencies to winnow down your thoughts, you can stop yourself from building them in the first place. Work on focusing your mind rather than creating wanting thoughts and you will find yourself in the same peaceful state of mind shared by a meditating Monk, an athlete in the midst of their best performance, an artist at the height of their creativity, and a parent who is fully mindful of the needs of their child rather than on wants of their own.

Remove your personal thoughts that would compare, judge or want and you are instantly free. The only question is, will you look at your life and actually see that you were at your best when you were forced to trust yourself rather than think, and then having confirmed that; will you be vigilant and practice your mindfulness today?

peace. s

PS This is a companion piece to the post Decision Fatigue.

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.

Model Parenting

981-relax-and-succeed-what-dads-seeA fearful parent isn’t parenting when they’re preventing danger, they’re parenting when they’re being afraid. An angry parent isn’t parenting when they’re disciplining, they’re parenting when they’re scaring people. And a sad parent isn’t parenting when they’re warning their child about all of the potential pitfalls in life, they’re parenting when they see themselves as weak and incapable. And the narcissists… well they aren’t parenting at all.

Of course each of the examples is in a small way a form of narcissism in that any of us in an egocentric state would be focusing on a personal wants rather than the needs of the child. The fearful parent wants a safer world, the angry one wants a more predictable world and the sad one wants a more loving world. An ego just talks to itself about how scary the world is, how dumb people are, or how much life sucks.

You can live or you can ruminate. Rumination is static life. Nothing’s actually happening, you’re just thinking about things and going through the motions of a very limited existence. That’s like being in the Matrix. It’s repetitive and uninspiring and unproductive. A life of action however is filled with inspiration, cooperation, creativity and productivity. You can’t want to give blood or want to get a new job or want to invent something–you have to actually turn that thought into an action and you will meet other like-minded souls.

981-relax-and-succeed-your-kids-dont-want-a-perfect-momParenting while ruminating is to be an absentee parent. You can sit with your kid and be on your phone or doing work or thinking about your own problems but then you’re not really with them at all and they feel it. I know countless kids who live in gorgeous showhomes and they ride around in the finest cars and yet their lives are hollow and cold. More than anything kids want genuine connection and our own wants can get in the way of that happening. It can’t be ego to ego, it has to soul to soul. It’s better for all involved.

Put the phone down, stop working, don’t have a time limit. Just be with them. Notice when you speak and when you don’t. Are you corrective? Warning? Upset? From what perspective do you parent? There’s no wrong perspectives as long as you manage yourself–and your kids will be very forgiving–but it’s up to you to model the self-control they’ll need when they’re older. If you just listen completely you’ll be surprised at how helpful you can be.

Your fears are yours. Have them. Feel them. But don’t transplant them into your children. In other words don’t limit them with your fears. Don’t let your anger make them afraid to express themselves or you’ll cripple every romantic relationship they have. And don’t drag them down to commiserate with you in your sadness. You’d both be better off going to a good comedy together. The bottom line is, kids should courageously find out who they are and not be frightened into being someone smaller.

981-relax-and-succeed-i-am-ready-to-accept-youWe’ve been raising kids for millions of years. Lately some are becoming remarkably capable while at the same time others are functioning as mere shadows of their true selves. Insecure and depressed kids aren’t lacking in potential at all, but many have been crushed by the hopes and fears of their parents. To the contrary, the capable kids weren’t parented into being amazing, they were amazing simply because they had the room to grow. Let your kids grow.

Life comes with some bumps and bruises to the body and the heart. Don’t let that stop you from living. Lead by example. A deep and meaningful life is waiting. Your children only need to see you pursuing your dreams for them to understand that they should chase theirs too.

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.

Videogames and Parenting

974 Relax and Succeed - And those who were seenI’ve wrote about this before but it keeps coming up. One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that their children–particularly the boys–play video games too much, and yet when I ask the parents which games their children play I have yet to have a single parent that knows. That’s a remarkable demonstration of how a busy life lowers our awareness.

If it’s worth complaining about it’s worth knowing at least something about it, but instead every game is thrown into one pile as though they are all equal when some are mindless addictions and others require great thought. There’s strategy games, puzzle games, war-based games, society-based games, team games, solo games, and each will have its own moral angle and points system, so how can all of those be seen as one thing?

Not knowing anything about the games is like saying a kid reading a textbook is the same as a kid reading People Magazine. (Note I didn’t use comics because in my experience the smartest adults I know were often comic readers.) There are millions of games. There is a reason that their fans love them.

974 Relax and Succeed - Play is the highest form of researchAs I’ve noted before, it should come as little surprise that the very first location that took off in Second Life was a dance bar called Wheelies and it created a meeting place for users in wheelchairs. In a virtual world someone in a wheelchair is just as mobile and capable as someone out of it so you can see why they would value it. A lonely kid can value team games, a leader can like them too. An independent person can love first-person shooters that allows them to team up when they choose, or they may prefer a game that requires great patience and planning.

Video games today can encourage good behaviour. They get you to love characters before they die in real storylines, creating more empathy. Whereas they used to give you awful choices like raping prostitutes, those same game designers now have daughters of their own and now the same game makes you calmly do yoga or you can’t continue to the next level. I watched this have a real impact on a friend of mine who learned to moderate his quick temper thanks to it.

If parents added up how many hours they look at the screens on their TV’s, their computers and their phones they would realise they are screen-watching a huge amount of the day so it’s no surprise kids are comfortable sitting and looking at screen just as the children of joggers are often joggers and just as the children of big eaters are often big eaters. That’s the real parenting, not what you say; it’s what you do.

974 Relax and Succeed - Children don't need more thingsTry to get your kid to teach you some games. If you’re lucky you might even like the same type. But at least at the start they’ll get to beat you a lot and that’s good for a kid as long as they don’t try to turn it into a habit and thereby become a poor loser. Each parent has to make decisions about their situation and their kid, but it’s important to note that many children of divorce talk about how valuable it was to be able to bury their head in a game while they watched their parent’s marriage descend into bickering.

Nothing is good or bad only thinking makes it so. If everyone from military leaders to 747 pilots to astronauts can advance themselves using virtual training then there’s no reason to think that your child isn’t also developing themselves. Certainly they could just be hiding from life, but if you don’t even know the games they’re playing then you can’t hope to guess if that’s where they’re at.

Slow down. Pay attention. Trust yourself. From there the love for your child will tell you all you need to know. Kids are future adults. Whether we like it or not they will be shaped by the forces around them. Rather than try to push against them, start working with them. You might find you have more allies than you’ve realised.

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.

Man School

Let’s imagine Man School. This is where a boy goes to learn to be a man. Input comes through a screen and some speakers. All the parts of the brain and body are present and ready to learn. The Brain at the front of the class narrates for the other body parts.

T940 Relax and Succeed - I have reached the stagehis boy does not have a great role model but he does pretty well because he does something quite rare; he trusts his own internal guidance more than what he’s told and shown. Keep in mind that this is also how both of his parents learned to be a Mom and a Dad:

Brain: Okay everyone, ready? Remember, we’ll be spending most of our time and we’ll get most of our guidance from The Mother, but since we’re a Boy let’s keep a close eye on what The Dad does, okay? Okay Eyelids, open up, it’s morning.

Brain: Okay okay she’s taken us into the kitchen for what is called breakfast. Tongue, we know you love the part called bacon. Stomach, see if you can remind me with some gurgling to slow down on the coffee so we don’t have to get all the Nerves jangling later?

Stomach: Consider it done. This’ll be good, a bunch of the muscles have been complaining about wanting more protein.

Brain: This is what we eat on what’s called a Weekend. Okay hold on: she has a list for him. Okay our part is the reaction; we’re the boy…. Okay, we apparently do not like lists. Face, please practice frowning while I access Memory for some excuses for the mouth and vocal chords.

Face: No problem. I practice that one a lot.

BRelax and Succeed - When you speak to your spouserain: Nice work Face. Nice work. Okay, let’s see. Apparently if we disagree it appears the other person will become more insistent. See that Face? She’s giving us an angry and disappointed look.

Self (silently): I enjoy my connection to others and prefer that those connections continue.

Brain: Okay they’re both upset about not getting what they want. Watch the man: no, he doesn’t like that. Now he’s mad so he’s yelling. So if you want something and you don’t get it and it’s a weekend and a meal then we yell. Got that diaphragm and vocal chords?

Diaphragm: We’ll need an extra push from the stomach.

Stomach: You can count on me. I’m like steel down here.

Brain: Okay, Legs see that? If I don’t tell you otherwise, you walk toward her fast like that. And arm do you see how he’s got his Hand cocked back in that fist?

Eyes: She looks terrified. I think that’s because of his Hand.

Hand: Why would I do that?

Self (silently): I enjoy my connection to others and prefer that those connections continue.

940 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes I open my mouthBrain: I’m not sure. Maybe we find out as we grow up. For these first few years we just copy what we see. If it needs to change we can learn that later when we learn things in a non-experiential way. It’s not an easy or effective way to learn but it can happen.

Memory: Should I get Ears to jot down all those names he’s calling her? They seem mean. I don’t really want them.

Brain: Sorry memory, everything gets stored, but if it hurts I’ll do my best not to access those files very often okay? But in general whether it’s words or actions; if you see it a lot, do it a lot. If you only see it every now and then; just throw one in once in awhile.

Hand: By the way, I’m not in a fist anymore. Now I’m grabbing her hair and shaking her. I don’t like how this feels.

Self (silently): I enjoy my connection to others and prefer that those connections continue.

Eyes: It looks bad too. Are you sure this is how this is supposed to go?

Gut: Yeah, this feels off to me.

Heart: Yeah I like that lady more than anyone.

940 Relax and Succeed - Experience is not what happensBrain: Hey guys, I feel the same way but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. You know they made me brain because I’ll faithfully copy down what I see. I’ll do my best later to improve on this but this is how we’re built, I’m sorry. The best we can hope for is for the parents to behave in a healthy way.

Gut: Okay fine, but I’ve got an idea. It’s actually pretty clever, I’ll bet not many people think of it but; if we have to wire this behaviour in then let’s wire in a reverse switch too. None of us likes it. So let’s take all of those signals and let’s use them for the opposite of all of this stuff.

Hands: You mean like holding and stroking hair and cuddling instead of grabbing and shaking her?

Gut: Yeah. If we like her and she’s upset then let’s hold her instead, okay?

Eyes: So if I see her crying we don’t yell we hug?

Gut: Yeah.

Arms: I like that.

Chest: Me too.

Brain: Does everyone agree?

Mouth: That’s a lot of programming to reroute. Can I blow any extra energy off as yelling?

940 Relax and Succeed - The only person you are destined to becomeEars: It’s not ideal, could you work on it?

Mouth: Absolutely. I thought it would just help dispel some of the energy if I could transfer to something less destructive.

Brain: All of us find yelling quite loud so I know none of us are big fans so if you need to because of this programming then we get it. But let’s agree no shaking and no hitting and we don’t like mean names–and we only yell if we absolutely have to. We’re still allowed to experience pain but it would still be better to go for a walk.

Legs: I’d do that.

Mouth: What should we yell at?

Brain: How about our inability to not yell?

Mouth: Then I’ll feel dumb.

Brain: Good. I’m hoping if you do that enough times that maybe it’ll just stop.

Ears: Sounds good.

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.

The Good Dad

Whether it’s from single parents or couples or combos of people, almost everyone responsible for raising a child struggles with the notion of how to be a good parent. And by struggle I mean they’re certain they’re transferring their worst faults to their kid and that freaks them out. Fortunately it doesn’t have to. You can relax.

936 Relax and Succeed - The greatness of a manMy Dad is an absolutely brilliant parent and it was easy. He only went to grade eight. You would call him clever but not notably smart. He owned a little company and did okay but he was no brilliant businessman nor did he get rich. Considering how much time every kid spends with their parents I recall very little of our total time spent together, but what I do remember very clearly is his leadership through life. I remember how he lived.

Since shoe-tying Dad never really teaches me anything directly. He didn’t sign me up for classes or have here’s how it is talks, he’s just lived and let me watch things and he answered questions when I asked. And it turns out that’s really what matters most when it comes to succeeding as a parent. It’s why I still want to be like him today, although now more consciously.

My Dad is truly remarkable in that he’s 90 and I’ve literally never seen him angry or sad in my life. I’ve seen him be strong in the face of adversity or even challenge danger, but not with anger. I’ve seen him deeply concerned for the welfare of others but never sad. I’ve never heard him put down anyone. I’ve never even really heard him complain. Kids copy what their parents do. Good living therefore equals good parenting.

936 Relax and Succeed - It is very simpleThe other thing I got from Dad is a sense of spirit about life. He’d survived Scarlet Fever, The Depression, a terrible and violent father, and he was just about to be transferred from Europe to Asia in WWII when they dropped The Bomb, so he knew well what war was like and everyone then lost friends and family. All of that made being alive that much more important to him and he instilled that in me: it is important to enjoy your life.

The ways Dad creates his own joy is mostly through assisting others. He just really loves to help and because it brings a lot of joy to people I also saw him as a constant source of positivity to others. The reason he realised someone was facing a challenge he could help with was because Dad never thinks about himself much, which is why he’s never angry or sad. Dad thinks about others.

Being invested in other people is a lost art. Everyone’s connected and no one’s connecting. Dad never listened to be polite. He truly always wants to know what’s going on for other people. He loves hearing about other exciting things in their lives and he’s extremely good at being happy for them. He doesn’t dwell on sadness nor commiseration but he’s as with-you as someone can be.

936 Relax and Succeed - Listen earnestly to anything your childrenWhen I get asked why my Dad is so great I’ll mention his emotional stability and decency but that’s not the main reasons I think he’s so good. That’s because he’s invested. He’s always been interested. He cared. And he’s always been supportive. I’ve had a crazy life pursuing crazy dreams and so many of them have come true and so many times he was the only person who didn’t think I was crazy to pursue them.

I love my life despite the usual calamities. It’s no coincidence that I also had a parent who simply loved their kid through their earnest interest in that kid’s life. If your child’s life is unfolding as though what is happening to them is a part of the greatest story you’ve ever read then you will have done an enormous service to your child.

Too many adults think they have to be amazing or it doesn’t matter. That can change if our culture starts valuing a parent’s interest in a child as being far more important than what they provide the child materially. There is no greater way to inoculate a human being against long term failure than to instill in them the idea that, regardless of what’s going on, they always truly matter.

Be a good person, show your kid you love them unconditionally and the rest is up to them. Don’t worry. Do that and they’ll almost always do great.

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.

Lessons in Empathy

Did the people that raised you teach you to be empathetic toward winners or toward losers? Because that one simple shift in focus will have a great deal to do with where you life goes, what challenges you encounter, and what changes you’ll have to make to realize your truest and best self.

912 Relax and Succeed - It is vitalWhen people “parent” they think of the stuff they do consciously, like when they tell you to respect others or carry your own weight or whatever their advice is. But advice is advice and leadership is always by example, so what you say isn’t as important as what you do. So a major bit of parenting is how people react to winning and losing. Not in the obvious playing a game sense, but in the much more subtle but much more important life perspective sense.

When I was a kid and I was watching hockey with my Dad and our team won in the playoffs and ousted another team, my father would always notice the losing players and he would acknowledge that both teams worked very hard but only one can win. Super subtly he instilled in me that it was the hard work that had the value, and he also taught me that for their to be winners there had to be losers and he implied that they too deserved my awareness and respect. It was important that I understood that they are needed and required by anyone to experience winning.

I know other kids who were taught that losers are losers and that’s because winners are better. To them winning isn’t a temporary state created by an event, it’s what they are. They weren’t fortunate in terms of equipment, time, training or luck, they thought they were just plain better humans. My Dad expected me to do my best. That meant that I had to invest everything I had available, but if that wasn’t enough he never lead me to feel I had anything to be ashamed of. But if you had a parent where losers are losers, then winning and losing aren’t experiences your can grow from either way, they are either celebrations or suffering.

912 Relax and Succeed - Success is not finalEven if you worked hard and earned every penny you’ve made, if you’ve done that in the modern world then you’re still standing on the backs of a lot of skeletons. Every industry, business, scientific theory, societal system was all built on someone losing. Seatbelts come from accidents, food safety comes from disease, medical breakthroughs are responses to deaths. Even your phone was derived through trial and error.

“Losing” is an integral part of any person or society moving forward. It should not be seen as a failure, but merely a result. There have been a ridiculous amount of super talented people in every field of endeavour who never got to the top of the top. So there are no real winners and losers. There is only character–the effort–or a lack of it. Taking pleasure from other people’s losses is to misunderstand our intricate relationships with others.

Egos see this as us and them, I and they, subject and judgment. The real you sees the world much more completely, and like a musician who creates great songs by finding music and not seeking money, other great performances in life from acting to parenting are all achieved by people who focused on themselves and their abilities in action and not on the comparative differences between us and others.

912 Relax and Succeed - The only personSure, use a field of play to determine a winner and loser in what James Carse calls a “finite game,” but the infinite game requires you to maintain a non-judgmental connection to another person, and to do that you need to be able to appreciate both their joys and their pains. Only when we experience the unity of non-judgmental connection do we bridge the gaps between ourselves and our happiness in life.

Ask yourself what you learned growing up, empathy or ego? And spend some time meditating. Ask yourself how your lessons about winning and losing have impacted your life and the lives of those closest to you. A greater awareness of the health of your motivations can allow you to make sharper decisions about where you will find the rewards in life you’re looking for.

Surrender your judgmental hierarchies. These differences only exist in thought. Seek what unifies you with others and your life will improve. Because even if you do make it to the very top, in real terms that just means you’re all alone and you have farther to fall.

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.