A Vision for a Better World

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These are times in which many people feel harried and overwhelmed. We are in a world torqued by division and judgment, where so many so often feel weak, or sad, or angry, or helpless. It’s almost a tragedy that our distracted attention and impatience mean that many times we cannot engage with some of the most meaningful experiences in life.

While it may seem to be totally unlikely for most readers, Esquire’s brilliant 2017 piece on Mr. Rogers invites us to have such an experience. At a time when life feels short, and fast, and harsh, and superficial, Tom Junod introduces us to the depth of a man who is impossibly patient, kind, loving and strong.

In almost every way Fred McFeely Rogers and I could not be more different people. Where he is a minister, with a wife and family, in a cardigan, on a kid’s show; I am single man whose passions have played out by racing cars, playing in blues or jazz bands, and by intellectualizing or philosophizing about science, business and the modern world.

I cannot help but look at Mr. Rogers with awe and humility. If he is a caress, I am a straight-razor.

Despite those differences, there is one key way in which I feel that Mr. Rogers and I are essentially identical: our vision. There is, after all, a central, fundamental truth to all human beings. While we may all have our differences and our unique qualities, in a way far too beautiful for me to capture in words, it is as though everyone and everything on Earth shares a single soul.

It is as though a single source of glorious light is coming from every direction. And in that light a truth exists; a kind of knowledge that is at the source of everything. In Fred Rogers words, or in his reactions to any person, he is always responding to that central truth.

Mr. Rogers does not look at a troubled toddler threateningly waving a sword as being an angry, unapproachable person –he sees a child; worried and afraid; a soul who seeks to return to love and who requires comforting. This is the gift of vision; to see the truth behind the ego’s facade.

All of us know the wonderful feeling we get when are able to do something of value for someone we care a great deal about. Now imagine doing something like that for a person who is a hero to you –someone you love and respect more than any other person in the world. Then imagine that everyone you meet feels like that person.

People doubt or wonder how I can say that I can love everyone the moment I meet them. And I realize that can seem strange or unlikely until you consider this: what’s strange isn’t my reaction, it’s people’s inability to see how incredible and worthy of love they truly are. It’s not my or Mr. Roger’s vision or sense of others that is special –it’s all of you.

I do not think as others think, so I cannot maintain the shroud of thought that others so commonly use to darken their spirits. While others question why the comforting light of our shared soul has passed them over, I see only beauty, strength, genius and grace.

If you would like to see this fractured world as this single, beautiful, glowing reality, may I recommend an exercise? Today I would like you to do me a personal favour:

I want you to choose someone today who you deeply admire –someone who inspires you to show them the sort of appreciation and patience that can only be made present by love. I would like you to show them kindness. Express your deep affection and respect, and be profoundly generous with the faith you place in them. And as one final, additional favour to me, I would like that person to be you.

I may be nothing like Mr. Rogers. You may be nothing like me. But this I know: we are all born from the same source. The light we see in others is the same light that shines within us. So as you would look upon the person most beloved to you, cast that vision upon yourself, unclouded by a veil of thought. It is only then, in that sacred silence, that will you get a glimpse of what Fred Rogers and I see when we behold the glory that is you.

peace. s

Intending Our Future

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It helps to motivate us if we have a sense of urgency. And we all like to think of our futures as brighter than today, right? Well then, we had better get as conscious as we can, as fast as we can.

We shouldn’t see the act of becoming more conscious as something daunting or difficult. Whether people do it alone or with someone like me, I’ve never seen anyone with a true guide who took longer than 10 hours before they started to see reality in a truly new way.

That said, we should not expect perfection. Mastering our view of reality takes a lifetime and more. After all, there can’t be a path without a not-path.

If we have trouble appreciating the value of such a change, we need only look back at how we responded or behaved in the past. Our previous actions and reactions were a reflection of our thinking at that time, and we can often find times where more clarity would have helped.

Equally so, our futures will be dictated by the thoughts we choose to think today. That fact immediately adds importance to the thoughts we’re having now.

How does a future happen? It flows forward. And which direction does it flow? It flows in the direction it intends to. And how is that direction determined? For a river it is through gravity, but for human beings it is our through our thinking. That is the principle all of our psychologies share.

If we are thinking negatively today, we greatly increase the odds of a negative day tomorrow. But if we choose to think the thoughts of someone who is strong, who is taking steps in some direction, then that is who we will become. The rest is just steps.

Along our way we must be on guard to avoid our thoughts from being diverted by fear or anger or desire. As compelling as each thing can be, rarely should they retain our focus.

By remaining centered on the present moment for our Self, and by not expecting perfection, we ensure that we are in as much control as the shores of reality will allow.

peace. s

Thanksgiving Day Spirituality

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Today is the Thanksgiving Long Weekend in Canada, so today I’m featuring a re-blog that may prove valuable as normally independent people find themselves spending concentrated time together.

May you too have a productive day at finding reasons to be grateful for the graces of the universe. Enjoy:

 

Day to Day Spirituality

Let Your Soul Breathe

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Today we will do. Every day we all do. We have many identities, and there are things that each of them do. We are more Humans Doing rather than Humans Being. Ego’s do. But under it all, our souls still be.

When speaking with a Rabbi while travelling, I noted that, in general, names have meanings. Some are intentional names that have significant religious, or conceptual, or referential meanings, (I have a friend whose name means “Light of God.”), and some people even have accidental ones, like Miller, Butcher, or Farmer.

When I asked about the Yiddish name for God, Yahweh, he took a long time to consider what I had asked before explaining that the name was almost like –what I will now call– a yin and yang symbol. The two parts flowed together like the crest and the trough of a wave; inseparable. Indivisible. The two parts of this ‘wave’ were Is and Be.

We may ask what Is our ego doing? But under the ego’s ups and downs, and inseparable from it, our souls presence is consistently being. We might think that a wise person is one who can shift more energy into being, but being is very still. It’s beautiful, but not much happens. And souls like a full life.

On the other hand, when we feel badly is generally when we’re overloading the doing. If one makes us rise and get top heavy, where we start to teeter, it is the other that draws our center of gravity downward to stillness, where the power of being is always there, flowing through the present moment.

As we move about our days today, let us segment them phase by phase. The drive or ride to the freeway is one. Journey down the freeway is two. Exit is three. Arrive at work and enter is four. Greet our co-workers is five. Turning on our computers and getting set for our day is six, etcetera, etcetera.

All of those things are things our work identities are doing. But today we will add a small but meaningful meditation to the times in which we switch tasks or conversations. These are our oases of being.

The way we achieve this being is to break for a moment between tasks, and to do the following exercise from a previous post:

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It is likely our egos will find this frustrating. Egos are emotional. Our souls have feelings. But our frustration is a good sign. That’s our ego banging on the door, wanting control of us back.

Switching identities takes a few moments for the breathing exercise. Our identity will sometimes do things for hours. That is how greedy our egos can be as they bang away with their frustration. The ego wants.

Our souls are generous. They do not want, they give. These little breaks to be can add a great deal of power to our day. So we must move past our ego’s frustrated resistance, like an itch during a meditation session. We must dispel its power with our presence. We must learn to use the breathing to stop the course of our minds.

Let us begin today. As we switch between tasks, let us breathe and bring presence into the next task. Let us feel it lower our spiritual center of gravity. Let it slow the course of our minds.

And when the frustration goes, and our days become more peaceful, we will know that our doing and being are flowing in balance, giving us wide and awesome opportunities to do, while always maintaining enough life for us to simply be.

peace. s

Clearing Our Minds

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Today is easy. Do not over-complicate it.

We think our thoughts. We are not the thoughts, we just get that feeling because our mind gives those thoughts to our hypothalamus and it converts them into chemistry. That chemistry then spreads out into our bodies for us to experience as a feeling or emotion.

That’s why the thoughts feel so personal. But they’re still just thoughts and chemicals. They are what we are doing, they are not ‘us.’

If we don’t think we can change how much we think –or how much we think about which subjects– we just think that. Lots of people have thought that who now know how to take far more control over their minds.

Of course, no one ever gets exclusive control. We need our mistakes to grow from.

It’s a bit like evolution, where the mutations lead to growth and diversity. It’s hard to call those ‘mistakes’ ‘wrong.’ Similarly, within us, facing adversity expands our resilience and confidence. We do get something in trade for our pain, we just don’t know we have it until we or someone we love needs that ability in the future.

Our job is to remember the long game and see our adversity in a larger context. But to do that we must be prepared to challenge the ways we see the world now. In fact, that’s all I really do; I ask questions that people find it paradoxical to answer and I help them find their answers.

To develop the responses they need to answer to those questions about reality, they have no choice but to abandon their previous view of reality in order to replace it with something that fits their experience more accurately. It is by stretching their minds in those new ways that I lead them to change themselves. That’s why it sticks. It’s not a technique. They are different.

That’s how it happened for me too. I was just a little kid who wanted to know where people who were brought back to life were while they weren’t alive. That lead to questions about what is it to be alive, and that lead to questions about the definition of who or what the being having those experiences really was. Those questions change us.

Don’t overthink. Be aware of yourself as a biochemical reality. If we’re going to think anything, we should ask ourselves some very basic questions about the definition of ‘I,’ the definition of ‘life’ and the definition of ‘reality.’

The answers to those questions change how we use our minds, and changing who or what we think we are is at the heart of changing our lives and the world around us.

peace. s

Psychological Knots

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I recently posted the photo above on this blog’s social media and it struck me as being particularly relevant right now. There are various terms in society that people use or run into without really thinking about them, yet examining those concepts are important meditations to undertake.

Yes, some people can go routes like Transcendental Meditation and that does help the mind clear. But for many people that is not their favoured route to our shared, central truth. Fortunately, there are many paths up the mountain.

For many in the West particularly, our subtly Socratic society means we are often more comfortable approaching wisdom or clarity by disassembling ego. This is generally done with a guide, by studying the language –the labels– that shape the conversations our egos conduct with us.

As an example, when I work with a group of women who have organized themselves into a lunchtime workplace, spirituality/self-help group, the aim of the ten week course is to guide them to experience epiphanies that relate to their personal definitions of Self.

Each of them will be unique people, but they all get healthier by doing the same thing; we simply challenge the value and necessity of achieving their individual desires, yet we do it in ways that do not threaten the vitality they live life with.

This is not the sort of self-examination most people are practiced at, hence my role. It takes some explaining to help people understand how it’s not a paradox to have a motivating goal and yet not have an attachment to it.

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If we were watching ourselves more closely, we would know that when times are good, most of us can be pretty good about non-attachment. But when they’re not, if we err, it will often be through our attachments to what we perceive as necessary outcomes that may not be viable, whether they feel ‘fair’ or ‘deserved’ or not.

Our desire for an answer is itself not an answer, so there is no point in adding to our pain with voluntary psychological suffering. If we’re conscious, the pain of that mistake is usually what gets us to redirect our thoughts into some form of action, even if it’s a bit feeble or incapable of providing our desired answer. Even feeble action feels better than worried rumination or speculation.

Attachments and desires. The Buddha was right, they generate suffering. In those groups of women they each find hidden attachments they have held that were framed in ways they simply could not see before. And once those attachments and their meanings get exposed in a profoundly deep ways through our dialogue, their own understanding leads them to a natural process of bunny-hopping to greater peace and mental health.

Once we have see how they are created and how they function, conscious people win increasingly more battles with their desires until they reach the point of total surrender. It’s a beautiful, empowering thing and the journey’s a joy as well.

There are ways out of the tangle of our own thinking. It’s a form of self care to take action to untie the knots that we carry in our psychology. And asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness shown toward others, it is a sign of strength shown to ourselves.

If we’re really ready, we needn’t suffer longer than we have. We can learn to understand.

peace. s

Discovering Mindfulness

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Not learning; discovering. Mindfulness is not something we come to know, it’s something we come to do. Allow me to illustrate.

Imagine two days. If anyone asks us, we say that the first day was wonderful. If they ask why, we explain that we spent the first day typing letters to people who had won awards for doing wonderful life-changing things for strangers.

If they ask about day two, we all say it was horrible. One of our worst days at work, ever. If they ask why, we’ll explain that we had to transcribe sessions of brutal torture, and write letters to inform innocent people of the untimely and violent deaths of their innocent loved ones.

Let us review the facts. We are at the same desk, using the same computer and software, working for the same bosses, being paid the same amount, writing in a room the same temperature, with the same soundscape.

If all else is equal, then the only difference between a wonderful day at work and a horrible one is what is inside our heads while we’re there. Considering how ephemeral thought is, that is a wide pendulum swing –from wonderful to horrible– all using the same bits of reality, with the only difference being our thoughts. That’s worth meditating on.

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As important as they clearly are, for a beginner, trying to entirely stop our thinking is often a frustrating route that ends up taking much longer than taking steps.

First we must understand our thinking in new ways. From that level of awareness we can begin to see how it can become easier to be less affected by it. Rather than stopping our thinking, we learn to make it less relevant. After all, we do need it sometimes. We can’t have a path without a not-path.

Clearly what’s in our heads matters. I won’t pretend that shifting our understanding is ‘easy,’ but it’s also not hard. I’ve said it before –it’s like learning to multiply numbers. It seems really obscure until you suddenly ‘get it.’ Then we wonder what’s actually different between when we couldn’t and when we can?

I had an insight myself today, where I realized that what I actually do with students is just describe things from the perspective they’re seeking. Because it’s very natural for me, I can analogize it. That means I can remove their ego from their deliberations regarding the sense of what I’m saying. It depersonalizes the principles involved. Then I take them back to their life with the principle established, which they often quickly realize also applies to their situation.

This isn’t a traditional top-down intellectual offering, learning this is more getting onto the same level to share the flame from a common candle that illuminates a shared path. I’m no different from you, I’m just more experienced doing this because I had the good fortune to have an accident. But when we’re healthy, we’re all achieving that health in essentially the same way. And that makes that a way worth knowing.

peace, s

Secular Sundays: Souls in Nature

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Time together in nature. It’s good for us if we’re able to achieve it. Our souls know the sky. And it’s a very nice temple to walk in.

Whether it’s what we eat, or how and when and with whom we eat it, or if it’s walks outside or time with a book, we must ensure that we are not expecting our minds to compensate for a life that is drastically out of a balance in terms of expenditures of energy versus opportunities for rejuvenation.

I too am expending a lot of life energy in balancing many serious responsibilities so I can relate to the need to find opportunities to actively cultivate peace. As hard as it can be at times, we all must make room to rest or else everything will become even more stressful.

Rest is not a selfish luxury of ego; that’s called sloth. That’s what we do when we deny the world our love and capability. Contrary to that, rest is what a healthy mind needs to sustain its hold on equanimity and enthusiasm for life.

To that end, for those readers who are located in Edmonton, I am looking at doing Sunday walks that would be around various trails in the city, with the walks built around the idea of shared experience with our natural world. These might be 90 minutes in length, with maybe 20-30 minutes spent lingering here or there before or after for some discussion. It will be very informal.

Depending on whether there’s just a few of us or more, maybe a short talk might start the process, but it would be more to walk and Be together, and maybe I can answer some questions along the way.

I suspect they would start some time in June. If you’re in Edmonton and would like to be part of these proposed Sunday spiritual walks, send me an email to the address below and on the first Sunday that I start the walks I will let you know where we can meet to begin.

scottis@relaxandsucceed.com

Whether there are many or I pick the wrong week and end up walking alone, even if only for a short time, I am very much looking forward to getting back into Edmonton’s forest system to reconnect with all that is around us. Maybe I’ll see you there. Happy trails.

peace, s

Holiday Blog: Other Perspectives #39

It’s a holiday here in Canada so here’s a reminder for today:

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Ideally we are quiet-minded and there are no voices in our head. But okay, if we can’t quiet ourselves enough to point ourselves toward that silence, we can at least direct ourselves toward thinking charitable, compassionate and loving thoughts about ourselves.

That’s not ego. That’s the real us. We are decent people, we do care and we do want to love and to be loved. And of course like everyone else we have some struggles and peccadilloes, but that doesn’t change our worthiness in the slightest.

We are as integral to the universe as anyone else. So keep in mind (no pun intended) that every single voice inside our head is just us talking to ourselves. It’s absurd that we would pay attention to that voice as though it has some profound meaning.

Silence. Silence has profound meaning. Talk is all ego by nature. Maybe it lines up with reality, maybe not. Self-talk presents us with a divided world where comparison leads to suffering. Ego divides and describes. Our spirit doesn’t.

We should all do our best to try to use our minds as an awareness and absorption input device and not as an opinions and language output device. And we always always always always need to remember that any voice in our head is meaningless and it holds zero power to make us do anything unless we inexplicably choose to act on hollow thoughts.

If we’re going to think anything, think positive thoughts. But as much as we can, we should just try to be really, really quiet. After all, ff we’re quiet enough, wisdom is all that’s left. Take care.

peace. s

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True Action

1264 Relax and Succeed - The best place to findSome people approach the act of learning to manage their consciousness with fears that it is too difficult for them to do (it isn’t), or they may have have fears that without thoughts about religion or guilt that humans are destined to descend into chaos, but these are very weak and bleak views of ourselves and of humanity, unsupported by history and daily experience.

Certainly humans get a lot wrong, but for better or worse we managed to go from just another ape to being the dominant species on the world with 7.5 eventually to be 11 billion people. Clearly we cared enough to about people to do that, and now that we’re starting to get slightly competent with that we have switched our attention to the other living things that comprise our environment.

Despite our many mistakes, humanity also offers daily examples of compassionate, heroic responses to need, from cleaning oil-slicked seagulls, to entertaining the elderly, to inventing a simple, yet life-saving, medical technology. These aren’t the sort of stories that fill the news and sell lots of security systems or insurance, but they happen every day nevertheless.

1264 Relax and Succeed - The truth is everybody is going to hurt youThat connection to the others around us that leads to heroism is where we’re at when we’re healthiest. But we can’t be in that state if we’re slicing up the world and the people in it into labels, and then sorting them by how we value them at that time. That is one valid representation of the world, but it’s not the only one, but our judgment process delays our action and takes it out of the realm of in-the-moment callings and makes it a thought-based decision.

A hunting animal doesn’t make a decision. It skips straight from awareness to action in a constant whirling flow like a spinning Yin and Yang. A gazelle does no pro and con list as it tries to evade a cheetah. At that point it is so involved in appreciating its own life that it surrenders thought and the animal trusts the secret forces inside itself that are telling it which way to go and when. After that it’s simply chess between it and the cheetah doing the exact same instinctual in-the-moment thing.

We feel impulses. There is a consistency to them. If we’re looking for our calling we should look for what naturally matters. You might be the biggest toughest guy on the block, but if every time you see a special needs kids you go soft and react the instant you see an unmet need, then maybe despite all that tough exterior, you’re a caregiver.

1264 Relax and Succeed - You can sufferEgos will feel guilt about not being home for the kids, or about not wanting to be home for the kids. But trusting ourselves means that we do whichever one we feel is necessary for our fulfilment and we accept the consequences of that choice. Modelling being oneself is also important to children. Freedom isn’t freedom from pain or consequences, it simply allows us to make the kinds of sacrifices we find it more natural to make, despite how significant  or unwise they may appear to others.

Let’s take today and pay attention to our reactions to the world. Where are our impulses and what do they have in common? We’re not looking for the cloying needs of our egos, we’re talking about actions where we can’t recall having decisions attached to them. These are times where we’ve acted as our true selves in an actual present moment.

These moments of reality pepper our days. As uncomfortable as our calling might feel to our ego, we need to ask ourselves what those moments say about who we fundamentally are and therefore where we might find the heart of our calling. Asking that through observation is important because, after all, no one knows the answer to that better than we do.

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.