Stormy Days

1334 Relax and Succeed - How high is less important

People want to have no bad days, but without those we couldn’t have the happy ones. Things only exist in relation to other things — but that’s a big subject that needs it’s own post.  This one is about how –when we’re experiencing a challenging day– we can still manage our minds well.

Even if we were worse on a hard day than on a much easier day, it’s not how high we climb, it’s how far. On days where we start in a hole, getting up to ‘even’ is an achievement. If we don’t allow that flexibility into our reality, then we have an unhealthy expectation that will lead to feelings of disappointment.

If we forego setting an expectation and just stay in the moment, where we do our best to try to ensure that each moment is as good as we can make it, that can add up to a spiritually successful day.

Those are the days where we don’t get caught up in our own thought-battles, we break free of them despite their emotional gravity. It does not improve the externals of the day, but within that framework, we can still maintain a form of peace. The entire film Life is Beautiful is based on this idea.

Yesterday was a day of frail parents, critical deadlines, upset people, too many places to be at too many times, it included weakness, defeat, some fear and some intense frustration, and it was all done on too little sleep and too much coffee. It was a day where 100 marbles rolled towards me but my hands could only fit 50. It was overwhelming.

Much of the day was spent on frustrating, complex, incorrect and extremely slow automated phone systems. Sometimes we, (a friend helped and got caught up in my frustration), were quite irritable after finally reaching someone, so the best we could do was be good models for quick and earnest apologies over our curt tones. In fact, bad days are generally good chances to practice apologizing.

1334 Relax and Succeed - It isn't our job to shine

It’s fine to have days like that if we didn’t hadn’t previously told ourselves that there is a way to manage life were these days don’t happen. If we accept that they do, then we just kick into managing them.

At the end of the day, if we look up and we can say to ourselves, I did all I could with the energy and awareness I had available, then we don’t need to really do any judgment after that.

Eventually the storm water is under the bridge, the weather passes, and what we have left is that we did what we did with the best of intentions and the day ended up as it did. If it was unpleasant, then the day ending is like getting off a ride we’re not enjoying at a fair.

Even if a day ends up horrible, some are like that in the roughly 28,000 days most of us will average on Earth. Is even 1,000 horrible days really that bad on a 28:1 ratio? If we want more than that, aren’t we getting a bit greedy?

We need those painful experiences that help us feel painful love songs. We lose a lot of empathy for our loved ones if we’ve never had our hearts broken. Empathy relies on us having experienced many kinds of pain. Besides, just the desire for things to always be better will itself add many bad days to our lives.

It does none of us any good if we walk around with idealized ideas about ourselves in our heads. Our lives can experience any weather, any day. We’re not supposed to be able to stop the storms, we’re just supposed to remember that, despite storms, we will live to shine another day.

peace. s

Michelle’s Understanding

This is the second part of a post started yesterday.
Michelle was already busy working when Alex got into the office. Knowing she was having a freakout the day before, Alex had dropped by to see how she was today. “You’re in early!”

“As you know, there is too much to do.”

“I cancelled my yoga tonight. Thank goodness this only happens once in awhile.”

“Oh, hey, I tried your trick yesterday but it drove me crazy.”

“What drove you crazy?”

“Thinking about how this cohesive whole–this potentially amazing project–got reduced to little pieces by someone’s impatience.”

“Not impatience, aggressiveness. We don’t call an early bird impatient. He just wants the worm more.”

“Yes. She was a worm and she dug us right into the ground.”

Eee. Alex isn’t sure if clarification is a good idea. “Uh… in that analogy our boss is the bird, not the worm.”

“What. Ever. Can’t I just hate her?”

“Sure. I’ll save you some time. I’ll just put some poison in a bottle with her name on it.”

Michelle eyerolls. “It did not work. My thoughts were bouncing all over the place.”

“Okay, first off that’s not what I said I did. FedEx does not load a truck to go to the West End and then the North Side and then the South Side, and then back to the North Side and then back to the South SIde”

“Okay I get it.”

“Half their day is spent between where they really need to be. I didn’t mean spend all of your time between everything. Our fluid department was compressed by time and responsibility into a gas where all the molecules now have space between them. You just find the most important molecule and handle it. Then find the next most important and handle it. But yeah, bouncing between them and never actually settling in? That feels awful when I do it.”

“Well it felt awful yesterday.”

“At least that should keep you from doing it again today.” Michelle looks at her lamely. “Sorry.”

Michelle sits back in her chair and regards her friend. It’s a statement, not a question: “So instead of bouncing between all of these worries I pick the most important one and just deal with it.”

“That’s what I do, yes.”

“And that’ll make me feel better?”

“Why wouldn’t you  feel okay if you did that?”

“Because all of that stuff still needs to be done.”

“That’s just you drifting between different responsibilities with your thoughts. That’s the thing you said you wouldn’t do.”

“That’s it?”

Alex almost feels bad. As though she’s really let Michelle down. “Yeah.”

“So these responsibilities are just… ideas, and me thinking about one, then the other, then another–that is what I’m doing that you’re not? You’re just not drifting between the gaps? You’re just staying on your molecule? And then you go molecule to molecule. None of the worrying…” Michelle started to seem buoyed by the idea. “Hmmm.”

Alex looked like she’s about to say something, but when she looked at Michelle something subtle had changed. There was now a certainty to her, as though Michelle’s posture itself is some kind of highly balanced yoga movement. Her voice sounds less uncertain and more confident the longer her realisation lasted. It seemed that she has gotten what she wanted the day before. So Alex just stepped back and grabbed her briefcase. “Have a great day Michelle.”

Michelle looked up, looking entirely unperturbed. “Thanks Alex. You too. Why don’t you come over for dinner on next week, when this haze has all blown past?”

“That sounds good Michelle. That sounds really good.”

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.

Something’s Gotta Give

971 Relax and Succeed - c'mon inner peaceWe’ve seen it reflected in elections and unrest around the world. We can see it in the fact that the world never really has bounced back from the economic card game that collapsed in 2008. Once people had maxed out their credit trying to survive the world hit a limit. With no more money available and no ability to work harder or longer, even in the richest countries there are a lot of scared people and frightened individuals create an angry and defensive society.

Added to the financial stress is time stress. Everyone’s rushed. Everyone’s phone now gives work access to them 24 hours a day and work will use that time if it can get it. Work isn’t human. Work is a creation of mankind. It is an animal that perpetually wants to be fed more and more every month, every day, every year. No sales manager ever told his team to sell less next month. If someone’s over 40 that’s really starting to add up to no personal life.

In the days where your landline waited at home while people were at work, people used to answer their phone maybe once or twice a day for a personal phone call. No texts. No instant messages. No collection of 20 messages at 10 different social media sites. No classes, just maybe the odd kid taking piano or in judo. Rather than organised sports most kids played pick-up neighbourhood games. Just remove all of those responsibilities from your week. That is a huge percentage of your day. And how much of that would you care about on your deathbed? None. You’d care if your kid was there by your side, you wouldn’t care whether or not they could play the piano.

971 Relax and Succeed - Dream more complain lessSo what did people used to do with all of that time and peace of mind? They used to pursue hobbies or took courses to expand themselves not to make more money. They didn’t need that money because they didn’t have to buy a microwave VHS Walkman CD juicer iPod monitor DVD gym membership X-Box Blu-Ray smartphone Occulus or 70% of the restaurant food now sold. They used to spend way more time with friends and family. Most people didn’t hire anyone else to build decks or fix a toilet or do basic work on their car. If they didn’t know how to do something they found a friend or neighbour who did and you know what? They had the time to help and they did and it was often very enjoyable time.

The challenge with the technological world is that it has created the image that we’re all connected when we’ve never been further apart and it’s not just grey-haired people that can feel that. I’ve taught college kids who were stressed by 25 that they couldn’t keep up with technology. Most people have given up by 35 or they’re stressed. So what’s it all for if we just want to surrender it later?

The pain tells us that it’s information. It’s not life going badly, it’s information about how life is going. Pain is like a gauge in your car. The thermostat isn’t overheating, it’s telling you that the car is. Pain isn’t you failing, it’s the universe telling you that what you’re doing isn’t working. The problem today is that a lot of people can’t figure out how to get enough time to eat or sleep let alone find a way to find some other path that can work for their life, so the problem isn’t the humans it’s the machine.

The machine distracts us from being human. Rather than looking at a face and hearing a voice we contort our hands into machine-shapes and type a message on a keyboard that appears on a two-dimensional screen in symbols that strip out the valuable human information that would be transmitted by having in a person’s eyes right in front of you. It’s shallow when what we seek is depth.

It can seem strange then that I might suggest giving as a solution but I don’t think I mean it in the way you might imagine. I know a lot of people would be almost angered by the thought: how is giving everything not enough!? But I’m not suggesting adding more giving, I’m suggesting that you alter where your giving goes. Only by reintegrating ourselves back into our communities can our communities reintegrate back into us. We must know our neighbour before we can do them favours, and if enough of us do that then we’re not doing each other favours, we’re cooperating on a larger goal to create a safe and healthy society. That’s how drops become a drink.

971 Relax and Succeed - It's not about havingWe’ve spent too much time being sold the singular, cool, proud, branded, I gotta be me; loaded with achievements and never needing help. That is not how humanity got here and it won’t be how it goes anywhere. You’re not broken if you’re tired and worn out. We accidentally built an inhuman world and you’re hardly alone. Even the so-called winners are often alcoholics and drug addicts to cope.

Start cutting the selfish in favour of the selfishly selfless. Rich and poor alike, we don’t need another app or another website or another tool of efficiency. What we need is some restful time where we’re connected to others, but that will not happen until you stop and do a serious assessment to figure out how your time can be better invested in your future happiness.

Set aside some time right now to do that this weekend. Look at a normal week and be brutally honest about where the time goes, even if it is frivolous. And then ask yourself where it could go? And if you ask long enough… I guarantee you’ll find something that’ll feel enriching and rewarding–something you’ll get excited about. I do hope you give yourself that time.

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 Constant Push

923 Relax and Succeed - Your child's mental healthKids today operate with adult pressures and they’re paying for it. With tight schedules, high demands for increased performance and near constant supervision, going to school is now like working in a really bad office where a second set of bosses is waiting for you when you get home too.

If most of us can’t stand living like that it’s because it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t to kids either. With far more human priorities, they can clearly see that society isn’t a thing; it’s a set of rules we all agree to and they, quite understandably, wonder why we agree to such a tortuous set of rules for ourselves. Then again, there’s a lot of political upheaval around the world so maybe that’s a sign that the adults are waking up too.

Take just a second to imagine the life of a kid in say the late 60’s early 70’s. If they were 10 years old they had a lot of freedom both geographically and mentally. A weekday would have been going to school with more requests made for you to behave than to get fantastic grades. It was assumed you would do that as a basic a sign of your own character far more than for an external grade. So a very small percentage of kids had strong grade pressure on them and there was very little homework.

923 Relax and Succeed - Excellence is not being the bestEven if kids had grade pressure, extremely few were expected to be absolutely excellent in absolutely everything. It made sense to everyone that if a brain was good at Math and Science it might not be as developed at doing English or Social Studies. Today, if a kid’s parents want them to go to university then it’s now to the point where the minimum grade is 85–which previously would have been very good to excellent.

So what’s this mean? It means the same kid working just as hard as they did in 1970 would have gone from an acceptable Report Card to an entirely unacceptable one. So one kid goes home and gets questions about their life and friends and the later kid gets questions about grades and potentially dangerous classmates. This ultimately leads to an adult who has difficulty making decisions because they are overly concerned about making wrong ones.

A lot of parenting has slowly become about managing our fears rather than helping to cultivate the natural growth and abilities inherent in a child. We spend more time teaching them all of the systems that form the very society that isn’t working for most people; the one that leads to not only two parents needing to work but they need to work more hours or more jobs and far, far more stress. Why are we training them to be us when so few people feel that their lives are properly balanced between obligations and their natural interests as a human being?

923 Relax and Succeed - Bobby OrrA Saturday in 1970 in North America meant getting up, having breakfast and then heading out to the neighbourhood for the entire day. Often your parents wouldn’t see you until dinner in the evening. You were with all of the other kids developing not your intellect, but your social skills–including skills like relaxing, or finding ways to be comfortable with many different types of people. Those ravines and streets and alleys included some of the best lessons in life.

Today there’s little time for unorganized, unplanned life. From waking up to going to bed there is a demanding enough schedule and a big enough To-Do List to keep even tweens pretty pressured. It’s no wonder they’re always on their phones–how else would they develop those social skills if they rarely see each other unsupervised?

If you and your child are arguing over life, maybe they’re not crazy and maybe you’re not wrong. There’s a third player involved and that’s society. That’s things like our expectations. What we believe is necessary to have a good life. But if you look at who’s stressed and who’s relaxed, there’s no patterns relating to income or industry. 

923 Relax and Succeed - The way we talk to our childrenThe patterns relate to how much control people have over their own lives. A kid feels the same way about too much homework as their parents do about work invading their off-time. It’s the same problem but one group gets in trouble for griping from the other group that’s griping. That’s illogical. We’re all in this together. Kids aren’t crazy. Things are going too fast and the demands are too high and getting them to go even faster just isn’t the answer.

Look at the kids around you and ask how much of their life is about their happiness today and how much is about their happiness tomorrow. Because the one pattern I do so see is that most of the kids that end up in my care end up there by being pushed so hard toward tomorrow’s goals that they begin to rebel against today’s push toward them. I don’t fix their grades. I improve their relationship with their parents.

I haven’t met one bad or troubled kid yet. I’ve only met ones that needed more balance in their lives. Talk to your kids. Listen their challenges and views seriously. In some cases they’ll likely know what to do better than you will. See them less as a fruit to be squeezed for juice and more a tree that, if properly looked after, will produce it’s own fruit for many years to come.

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.

An Epidemic of Dissatisfaction

Every year there’s more. People who feel they have lost their way. They’re feeling depressed. They feel alone against the odds and misunderstood. They feel their life is a meaningless string of responsibilities. That their work lacks meaning. That their partner doesn’t contribute enough. That life has become little more than a repetitious cycle with no hope of anything better. Fortunately they’re only part-way right.

782 Relax and Succeed - Life is like a game of cardsThe part they’re right about is that many modern jobs are rather mindless acts and many managers demand mindless workers. But in any job you will find people enjoying their lives and feeling rewarded. This isn’t to say everything’s perfect but overall they like their own lives and they would describe them as rewarding. The question is, how are they doing it?

The single most important factor to stay in touch with is the knowledge that your dissatisfaction doesn’t emerge from your circumstances, but rather you conjure it into existence at a psychological level. When you can operate at that level you’re fully aware that your pain serves a purpose. You don’t fight the pain, you realize you are being communicated with by your psyche. The question only you can answer is: what is it telling you and what do you do as a result?

Yes, you might feel unsettled and unhappy because you’re supposed to change your life. But it’s far more likely you’re being urged to change yourself. Not in a–you have to change because you’re not good enough kind of way, but you do need to change your perspective on your definition of you. And without guidance that can be a strange thing to do.

782 Relax and Succeed - Your mind is like a computerStudy your own thinking without criticizing it. Just see what direction your subconscious takes you. Do it almost as though you’re looking at a different person. If you’re earnest and honest you’re likely to realize that you have a lot of dissatisfied narratives about your life. You have stories about how you don’t like your job, your relationships, your daily existence etc. etc. This is your ego’s dissatisfaction and it is literally made out of those self-conversations about your disappointments. That is illusory suffering. That doesn’t indicate anything is wrong with your life. That’s just self-talk.

People who achieve a clear enlightened state don’t have their lives change because the outside world changes, their lives change because their interior life changes. They become more awake in their consciousness. Their psychology is less busy and it becomes more peaceful. It has no desires. It understands the value of gratitude.

Gratitude is a wonderful feeling. It’s like love unbound. Unconditional. At its best it goes everywhere at once. Those are the days where you say thank you world for this amazing life. But you can’t live there. You need the contrast of not being there to appreciate the value of being there. The question is: when you’re not there, do you still stay conscious? Or do you assume that when you stop being grateful that your life has gotten worse?

782 Relax and Succeed - Relax it's all just perspective

It is important to learn to stay conscious while you’re suffering. And if you’re doing that you’ll recognize that your dissatisfaction is coming from your thoughts and not your life. That might not mean you can immediately redirect them to something more enjoyable, but as long as you’re conscious that the suffering is illusory then you’re fine. That’s like being worried for a character in a TV show–you do that all the time. If there are ultimately none of those negative, dissatisfied conversations and you still feel like things aren’t quite right, then you might consider making some major change in your life. But the vast majority of your time it’s just your ego.

Get a clear head. Quiet your self-talk and avoid a great deal of stress, worry, fear, anger and sadness.  While it’s far more likely that your expectations for your life were more about externals than internals, in the end all the money and fame in the world cannot buy peace of mind. Even I can only guide you to it. You must look at your existence openly to realize this truth in your own life. Once you have profoundly and thoroughly accepted that your feelings emerge from your thinking then you can begin to steer your life much more consciously, and much more enjoyment and much less stress will ensue.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Human Doing or Human Being? 2

Too much rushing, too much worrying, not enough peace. We must take control of our psychological landscape. We just slow down, breathe deeply, and let go. This holiday re-blog is a meditation on relaxation. Pour a beverage, sit back and read it as slowly as you like. It’s just a few minutes out of your busy day. Enjoy:

Thought Machine

I read your stuff and other similar stuff because I have a lot of pressure associated with my job. You have said that people “live in their thinking,” but I’m not getting what you mean with that. Could I get a clarification on that please, sir?

signed,
Under Pressure

Dear Pressure,

Cool. Thanks for asking. Let’s take a look at this “pressure” you’re under. What exactly is pressure? It’s the sensation you get when you use your power of thought to assess the amount to be done and the deadline, and yet your brain can already feel that you’re trying to fit 75 marbles into a 50 marble jar. So you can say you’re reacting to the “reality” of the situation, but your reality is formed by what you’re thinking about. That is your life experience.

429 Relax and Succeed - At God's footstool to confessThe chemical reaction of anxiety (aka pressure) is created in your mind by thinking about a future that has not yet happened. For all you know in one hour the boss could call and say there’s been a mistake, we’re adding a bunch of jar-space, we’re all good. That could happen. So the pressure isn’t about the actual situation because we won’t know what that is until we get to the deadline. The pressure is about your thoughts about what might happen. That’s pretty ephemeral. Relaxing and being happier starts to look easier and easier, doesn’t it?

Do you follow sports? Whether you do or you don’t, I’ll let you in on a well-known fact: the superstars are always intensely passionate about the game. They always have this zeal and you can somehow sense their intense desire to win. This comes from wanting to engage with every aspect of the sport. Despite the fact that they get checked twice as hard, they still excel. There is a drive that emerges from their passionate desire to understand what they are doing. They always want to know more. So rather than having minds busy with egocentric thoughts about their own comfort or status, elite athletes are constantly trying to pick up new skills to employ in their general pursuit of excellence.

429 Relax and Succeed - A mind that is stretchedForget thinking about what will happen around the work you’re doing. Just focus on the work. If there are 75 marbles and you have a 50 marble jar then write the appropriate memo outlining your concern and define when the situation will become critical, and then get back to work. Don’t think about anything that doesn’t put marbles in jars. Yes, that can include some pretty abstract ideas relating to human nature and behaviour, but bottom line your focus is on bettering your game, not on explaining any deficiencies, real or otherwise, or in imagining possible outcomes. Just focus on the moment you’re in.

The only way you can learn new tricks is to be watching the world around you closely. So stop thinking and start observing. Because there’s a whole world going on out here, and there’s cool discoveries being made every day. Immerse yourself in all that. Observe. As an activity. Just observe. No yakking. No self-talk. Just observing. No judgment. No opinion. No comment. Just observing. Remove the filter of You. Just Be. It’s a beautiful place to spend your day.

Have a great one. Make it that way. Turn your concerns into grace. It’s in you to do.

peace. s

Exam Anxiety

University took ten years off my life this term I was so stressed. Every exam I was so panicked I’m sure I did worse than I deserve to. I need a way to calm down before I die of a heart attack before I’m 25. How can I use your stuff to not freak out like that?

signed,
Panicked Tester

Dear Panicked,

I agree that there is no benefit to the worrying. It does hinder you when you need to have access to all of your faculties and regardless it is entirely ineffectual. There is literally no point to worrying—it does not add to your grades in any way. But you do want your wits about you and for that you need to just do things methodically and either you know or you don’t know.

406 Relax and Succeed - Don't fill your headThis information is all stored in your brain in relational ways. So there’s connections between the idea of thread and needle, and ones between roses and expressions of love. Everything gets tied to anything it relates to within you. So you want to heat up the parts of your brain where the information from that class is. So start by just going through the exam and finding the questions where you are certain that you know the answer easily. That will begin the heating up process. You will be putting electricity through the parts of your brain where this information is stored.

At the end of the exam go back to the beginning and read them again and look for ones you feel confident you can figure out and then go about the process of using your formulas which you should know not by memory, but because they make sense. That way you can recreate the formulas if you ever forget them. Keep doing that back to front process through the exam until you’re at the few remaining tougher questions. And by tougher I mean you remember these less readily than the others. So study the questions very closely. Look for little murmurs in your thoughts—little tugs. Follow those to a path to a memory of something useful. That is the best way to use your brain.

Using your brain to worry is the exact opposite of that. Worry debilitates our cognitive functions, it makes us less creative and energetic and it burns insane amounts of life-energy. We’re far better to quiet those conversations repeatedly until it becomes a natural habit. Because without all of the worry we will have many more resources to apply to the issue.

406 Relax and Succeed - Worrying is using your imaginationPay attention to how you feel during your worrying. Where does it end? And backtrack to the first inkling you have that it’s coming on. Study yourself seriously as a spiritual practice. And learn how you get your ego riled. Learn it and derail that train of thought early in the process by expanding your awareness to actually watch for that shift in temperament.

You basically have total control over how you feel. Do not use your mind unconsciously. Starting today begin to become increasingly aware of what you are thinking. Look at the direction of the thought, the intensity, the path, the meaning. Study yourself. That is what Buddhism is. Not the study of Buddhism—it’s the study of yourself. So do that and you will see that you are spinning your ego in useless circles every time you worry. Better to take that energy and put it into a rejuvenating experience. It’ll be wiser and healthier.

Be kind to yourself. Do not beat yourself up with harsh brain chemistry out of some blind habit. Raise your awareness and take control over your thinking and thereby take control over your daily experience. It’s a fantastic way to live. So stop trying to control the river. Just steer your kayak according to the conditions and all will be well as you go with the flow. No more investing time and energy in worrisome thought. Shift. Yes, you’ll have to shift every minute for the first while. But if you’re earnest you’ll learn quickly. And this is a life-changing skill. After that the process is simple. Shift your thought-energy away from creating fearful narratives about failure and invest that same brainpower on solving the actual problem. It really is that easy.

Learn to change your mind. Use it in your favour. That is all.

peace. s