Talking Ourselves Down

1251 Relax and Succeed - Toughness is no match for insecurityNEWSFLASH: It does not matter how strong you are, how smart you are, nor how educated you’ve become, nor how skilled. Those are all great thing, but all of them can quickly become worthless by being easily undone by a simple internal narrative of insecurity. Whether it’s a sport, an art, in business, or with others in our social lives, nothing will do more damage to us than our own egos and their neverending pursuit of whatever our current definition of perfection is.

We’ll go to the gym, we’ll invest energy in things we’re fascinated by, we’ll spend a lot of time learning about that subject either formally or informally, and we’ll practice it. The reason we’ll happily put in a huge effort in will be because we see value there. We don’t get clear-headed and generally peaceful by wanting to stop our suffering, we get clear-headed by valuing the peace we trust we can create.

There are kids who see practicing an instrument as torture while others see it as an escape. Our behaviours often point quite clearly to our real interests, and when we’re pursuing those our pure zeal leads to us to fill our consciousness with excitement about the thing instead of rolling it’s usually unconscious narratives. There is a great lesson in that fact.

1251 Relax and Succeed - It is easy to shield our bodiesThe voices in our heads are debates by for and with ourselves. It’s a strange thing to do when we get right down to it. It’s natural in that no one tells us not to fall into the trap of too much self-talk after we learn to talk, but by the time anyone’s forty they start to grasp that the unhealthy people overthink and the healthy ones seem inordinately calm.

Both groups will still have their big emotional highs and lows, but while one group is whipped around like a flag in the wind for however long the wind is blowing, the other group quickly shifts back to letting things flow around them, unimpeded by personal thoughts. It’s like our consciousness is actually a fast-moving river, and thinking about something too much is like dumping rocks into the water and making the water choppier and rougher. Just looking at a busy-minded person is like being able to see how busy the incessantly burbling thoughts are inside their head.

We must ask ourselves, when and why do we undertake this strange behaviour? What’s our own most common narrative of insecurity? Are we too short? Too weak? Do we need more money? More time? Do we use our narratives to hate others rather than advance ourselves? Do we see the world as against us? Do we tell yourself ourselves we’re unlucky, or doomed or stupid, or lazy or worthless?

1251 Relax and Succeed - Are you being nice to yourself

We can tell ourselves all of those things and they will act as actual barriers to our achieving all we can. Our other option is to actually learn to get conscious about what internal actions actually lead to our satisfaction.

If we do get conscious we’ll see that our pain comes from our thinking, and when we love our own life it’s because we’re too excited by it to take the time to build any self-limiting narratives. It doesn’t matter how much we go to the gym or read or practice something if our mind hasn’t found a way to embrace whatever it is we need to do. You must fall in love with wherever you are. This general caring about our life is what is often referred to as taking pride in our work, or being respectful or having the commitment to succeed.

We don’t have to work to reach this form of clarity. We don’t add to ourselves to find this peace. We take away our ego, our narratives, our insecurity, and we replace it with a peaceful mindfulness capable of drawing in information at a remarkable rate. Remember, we all learned to talk and walk before we were even three. That’s how smart we can be. But to be that brilliant we must consciously avoid using the words we’ve already learned, to undo the very confidence that enabled us to the learn all the words in the first place.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Space To Be You

You know what you need? Nothing. That’s what you need. You need gaps, you need space. You need room to simply be. But you can’t do that because you’re either too busy being busy, or you’re busy being something other than yourself. You’re either too busy thinking other people’s thoughts or you’re too busy thinking about yourself. You’re anxious or worried or angry or depressed, and yet your nature is not. There are zero depressed babies.

The worst thing you can do to a baby is take it away from human contact. That’s why being depressed hurts so much when we’re older too. It cuts us off from the natural camaraderie that is part of a healthy human life. If you’re spending a lot of time alone and you’re hurt or angry, then keep in mind that it’s pretty normal for any human to feel that way if you’re in any way deprived of human engagement.

Temporarily wanting to be alone after taking an emotional hit is fine, but the reason that being isolated eventually always hurts is because the pain is signalling us that our time alone is over and we’re now being prodded by our healthy self to end the source of the suffering: the isolation.

The problem is, people will often mistake the pain of the isolation for the pain for the original experience. Fortunately, that’s just a small mistake our mind makes. Once we’ve trained it to watch for those things it can handle telling the two apart quite easily. But you can’t do that if you think all of your suffering comes from the outside world. The pain, okay. But the suffering you need to accept as your responsibility before you can be free of its agonies.

Let’s say you got cut off from your social group in some harsh and thorough way. Because we’re creatures that do better in the company of other creatures, it makes sense that you would find that experience painful. So go be alone for a while. But then when the aloneness doesn’t feel better–when it doesn’t feel like solitude and space and quiet–then you’ll start to suffer in that aloneness, and that’s your sign.

If you’re suffering you’ll have started to overthink and, if you’re not careful, soon you’ll mistake the emotional results of your thinking for the emotional pain of the inciting event from the past. You’ll blame the outside world for something you’re doing to yourself. You’ll develop all kinds of rationalisation stories that explain why your pain is someone else’s fault. But it won’t be. It will be you. And your freedom is hidden in that fact.

If you put yourself there you can get yourself out. If something painful’s happened, take some time and collect yourself but then rejoin life. But if you’re just wallowing in suffering every day then I’m sorry, but that’s you. You can tell yourself all the stories you like, with all of the sad events and evil characters you can think of, but it will not change the fact that you are powerful. You are free to think what you choose, and you’re free to end your suffering the moment you decide to focus of your consciousness on things that inspire you.

Being alone isn’t lonely if that’s where you feel you should be. Being with people isn’t busy or complicated if you’re quiet inside. No place or activity is right or wrong, it is simply either in or out of harmony with who you are being in any given moment. Allow yourself some sadness. But don’t regard your own thinking as though you have problems when you’re only problem is all of that thinking. After all, learning to tell our thinking from a direct experience is a key part of being healthy.

Save yourself. Whether you’re alone or in a crowd, create more space. Create more openness in each day, and more acceptance of yourself and your life. You are expansive and capable. Listen to your own guidance and then trust it.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Wisdom of Elders

The boy came down the pier, dragging a stick along the slats of the deck. Click, click, click. He was sullen, looking down, and his grandfather was as still as a bird, so the boy was surprised to suddenly come upon him sitting there on an Adirondack chair. His grandfather smiles.

“What are you doing?” the boy asks.

“Sittin’.”

“I’m bored too.”

“I’m not bored. I’m sittin’.”

The boy gives him a withering look.  “I hate it here. Mom won’t even let me bring my XBox out.”

His grandfather looks out at the grand view across the lake. To the right were the long reeds he and his brother would hide in to scare each other. Or just past that, the long winding area where they tried spearfishing the first time. Or way out, where his oldest brother would shoot golf balls and he and his other brothers and sisters would dive for them. He smiled.

The boy’s voice chimes in. “There’s nothing to do out here.”

“What’s wrong with just bein’?”

“What?”

“Being. What’s wrong with just bein’?”

The boy’s looking at the old man like he’s legitimately crazy. “You can’t just ‘be’ grandpa.”

“You can’t, eh?” His grandpa smiles. “Okay. You wanna do something? How about a boat ride?”

The boy looks over at his grandpa’s boat. Maybe in 1970 it was a streamlined beauty loaded with power, but by the boy’s standards it looked more like a rowboat than something cool people might ride in. He reluctantly accepts a life jacket from his grandfather and they climb in. They cruise for a short while. Over the minor roar of the little engine, the boy yells, “Where are we going?”

His grandfather looks at him and smiles. “Nowhere.” And it actually seems like that’s a pretty decent answer to the boy too.

Eventually the engine cuts and the boat glides into a gorgeous little bay. The grandfather handles the boat with great experience, and soon he’s spun it into position where they have a beautiful view of the incredible shoreline. It looks the same as it has for as long as the grandfather can remember. “Why did you stop here?” the boy asks.

The man takes a long time looking out at the shore, and the trees. A deer picks its way through the moss for a drink. “This is where your father and I used to come to fish.” This information instantly arrests the boy’s attention. There is a long pause.

“You came here with Dad?” He’s almost reverent. Suddenly the whole place seems much more interesting to him.

“Yeah. It was our little spot. This is where I hid him from his mother too.” He winks at the boy, who in turn feels good about the idea of being anything anything like his father.

The boy hangs his hand in the water. “Did you guys catch lots of fish here?”

The grandpa smiles broadly. “No…. No, it turned out this was a terrible place for fishing.”

“So why did you keep coming here?” the boy asked.

“We just like bein’ here.” The boy takes yet another look around, this time even more interested, as though maybe he missed something on his first two looks.“Your Dad, he liked keeping busy out here. He was always playing cowboys and indians with his brother in the reeds, or they were water skiing, or diving for golf balls, or hunting for bird nests, or catching salamanders.”

“What’s a salamander?”

“It’s a lizard-lookin’ thing. Lives mostly in the water.”

The kid looks into the dark lake and then extracts his hand from it gingerly. “How big are they?”

His grandpa shrugs. “Big as this boat maybe.” The boy’s eyes bug out and the grandfather laughs. He holds his hands to indicate the animal was actually the size of a cob of corn. The boy relaxes. “When your Dad was tired of doin’ things, we’d come down here and just be.”

The boy looks at the shore yet again, still wondering what he’s looking for. His grandfather continues. “When we came here it was because you wanted to do something. But now you know this place was special to your father. And neither one of us are ever gonna see him again.” They both fight back a tear. “That’s a sad thing. But it’s still a good thing being here, isn’t it?”

The boy looks back at the shore for a good long time before turning back to his grandfather. “I like it here.”

“Me too. I don’t like doin’ anything when I’m here. I don’t even pretend to fish anymore. But even though it’s a little bit sad sometimes, I really like bein’ here anyway.”

The boy thinks a long moment. He eventually settles in with a nice view of the shore. “Yeah. Me too. This is a good place to be.” And they sat like that for about three hours, totally silent, just being.

Later, they got back and docked the boat and walked up the lawn to a few hundred yards to the cottage, where a dreamcatcher caught the setting sun in a window. His mother came out drying her hands. “What were you two doing all this time? I was worried.”

“We weren’t doing anything,” the boy said.

The mother looks at her own father with suspicion. “You can’t have been doing just ‘nothing….'”

The boy reasserts, “We were. We were just bein’.”

His mother’s brow furrows. What are these two hiding… “Being…?”

“Yeah,” the boy offers. “Mom.?”

“What?”

“Do we have any containers good for holding salamanders?”

“Salamanders?!?!” His mother squeals. The boy looks over at his grandfather, beaming at the prospect of freaking out his mother with a ‘lizard.’ His grandfather smiles back, remembering he and his brothers doing the same to their sister. As he heads into the boathouse to return the two lifejackets he looks back at his grandson, now beaming with potential. He winks. The boy smiles and winks back. He is gonna be just fine.

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.

Peace of Mind

We have a lot of questions we want answered and yet there’s no one we ask more than ourselves. We wonder why we cannot generate an answer, but the asking is ironically what is preventing the reception; because we think our answer is an idea and not an action we keep looking for a word-based solution to a living of life problem.

All of that self-talk can sound like it’s doing something, but it’s not. There’s no such thing as crazy, there’s just how much you talk to yourself and how much weight you give your own voice in your own head. Go too far down that rabbit hole and you can get lost, and yet the way out is always available. It’s this moment. This very moment.

But we cannot find our answer by talking to ourselves about our need for an answer. We simply need to act. All of the self-talk is being lost. Quiet impulse, mysteriously motivated, without second-guessing, is what you seek. But you cannot have it until you will get intimate with now, and the voices in your head are the form of your resistance.

Surrender. We associate it with defeat. Indeed. A defeat of the ego. We want that answer. We want the key to unlocking a happy life. But in the end that is our problem. We are searching for key that isn’t there, to open a lock that isn’t there. We have no problems. They are all made by our thinking. We have always been free. You don’t need anything once you can see who you really are.

People get lost because they’re looking for their path, when their path is wherever they are. Their path isn’t a destiny, it’s a fulfilment. You don’t find your way you make your way. No one left you breadcrumbs leading a room filled with treasure. The path is your treasure, and your freedom shapes its value. It’s possible to use your freedom to do nothing, or worse be self destructive. But even that is strangely part of your freedom.

If we stop all of the questions all that remains is living. This verb, this action, this motion through life is life. You have to give up that you’re going somewhere. In fact, you’ll have no idea which way to truly go until you give up all of your ideas about where you should be. Outcomes are not your job. You handle the moment. Your mind’s attachment to an outcome is the only thing preventing you from being in the moment.

Take today. Surrender. Forget trying to figure it all out. Just take a day off. Give up. Let go. Surrender all the self-talk and go peaceful. It’s not hard, it’s tricky. The more you do it the better you get at it. Start now. Go. Quiet. Inside.

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.

Mental Spin Class

1076-relax-and-succeed-suffering-is-not-holding-youIt was entirely normal that a lot of you struggled with yesterday’s meditation. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t productive. The reason it was hard is the same reason that most people are seeking more personal peace with others, ourselves and the world around us. We want to surrender into each other. But there’s these damned thoughts in the way.

When you say, “I can’t stand how Darlene makes it sound like her grandkids are smarter than everyone else’s,” what you mean is: when Darlene talks about her grandchildren I have internal conversations where my ego talks to my self and in doing so it leads me to experience unpleasant brain chemistry that I feel as the emotions I don’t enjoy.

Maybe your conversations surround how you feel insecure about how you raised your kids, and now you feel that your divorced, formerly addicted single mom daughter is something to be ashamed of. Maybe Darlene’s daughter is a chess master who is also an Olympic figure skater. That can lead your inferior-feeling self to want to bring Darlene down a few notches in your thoughts.

1076-relax-and-succeed-the-quieter-you-becomeMaybe you’re fine with whoever your kids and grandkids are but you’ve always had a thing about superiority. That family down the street used to make your mother cry with her comments about your family’s modest life. People like that are jerks. Anyone who displays any kind of superiority has been well thought-out a long time ago. As an adult you can just play that angry recording.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is. What matters is that resistance to someone else’s being feels terrible. It’s unproductive. Fortunately it’s also voluntary. In fact it takes effort. But yesterday, in one of your meditative attempts to be more peaceful, you ended up possibly even more irritated. And that’s okay. It’s instructional.

What often happens is that people do something like this: There’s Darlene, at it again. No. No. Don’t go there. Don’t think about Darlene, don’t think about Darlene, don’t think about Darlene…” I think you might already be getting my point. It’s like your ego and your self are arguing in your head like those two old guys in the balcony in The Muppets. One’s bitching about Darlene and the other’s bitching that he doesn’t want to discuss Darlene. That’s a lot of talking about Darlene.

When a figure skater is spinning really quickly they are keeping their own physical energy near them, away from the outside world. Like them, when you spin thought-loops in your head you keep all of that spinning energy bundled up inside of your consciousness when it should be open to the entire world.

When a figure skater wants to stop their spin they don’t win some kind of argument; they open up and release the energy to the world around them. As the forces are released the spinning stops. Until then the vision of the skater is blurred. Likewise with your psychology. Spin it around Darlene and you’ll get dizzy and upset. Release those thoughts and turn your attention to the surrounding world and you’re free.

Since so many of you struggled yesterday, let us repeat today: choose the same or a different person. Your objective is simple: As you listen, catch your ego starting to spin and then open and release. The idea is that you want to recognise  that you’re focused on your own spinning thoughts. You want to throw your attention outward and without expectation.

1076-relax-and-succeed-i-even-overthink-my-overthinkingWherever you are, a good way to practice this would be for you to try to release yourself by noting something you’ve never noticed before about your location or the people with you. Maybe it’s that someone’s wife is taller than them, or that their eyes are blue; maybe there’s a yellow thumbtack stuck in the ceiling, or there’s a cut in the floor. It doesn’t matter. It’s the act of refocus and release that counts.

Watch for irritation, see yourself spinning, release your consciousness. You already do this in your life. It’s time you started doing it consciously. Have a great day.

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.

Senior Isolation

I had a horrifying realization the other day. It’s one of those things that you should spot right away because it’s right in front of you, but somehow even with all those clues I was maintaining an old and dangerous idea.

778 Relax and Succeed - It's the oldest story in the worldIf you were to ask me how my essentially never-unhappy father could possibly be depressed, I would answer that the only thing I could imagine doing that would be prolonged isolation. He just loves people too much. He loves to talk, he’s a great joker and he’s just a generally super-helpful person. And then it struck me.

There had been a bit of a pattern forming around Dad. I can always feel when one of those realizations is coming–it’s quite distinctive. A few times while I was over doing my daily visit I noticed that Dad wasn’t participating like he usually does. He hadn’t added many jokes lately. Just something was… off.  At first I attributed it to his stroke and then I realized that he looked sad for the first time in my life.

Sadness was so odd–so strange, so baffling–that it really stood out. And then I realized that through body language he’s told us what’s happening. He used to try to participate, but with his hearing aids that’s hard. We can use our brains and ears to hone in on individual speakers in a busy room but people with hearing aids generally can’t.

778 Relax and Succeed - The quietest roomThey aid delivers a different sound pattern to their brain than their ear did, and so they can’t do the filtering with their old wiring. And so my Dad–and I’m sure many others–eventually gave up. So now that he’s not making the effort we didn’t know we needed to change what we were doing. We have left him essentially alone in every room even if he’s with people. And I said, the only thing I can ever imagine making my Dad sad is if he can’t engage with the human beings he’s always loved so much.

The moment I realized that I was driving to my parents to play cards with my Dad. It’s one on one, he can hear me no problem, and he loves beating me at crib–which he often does. Two deals in and there’s my smiling Dad back, making jokes, teasing me, teasing my Mom and seeming younger and less like a stroke victim every hand. My only regret was that I couldn’t plan for it and I only had time for one game. But I’ll be playing against him again tomorrow.

I now know at family gatherings, my Dad hasn’t lost interest. It’s just too difficult. So from now on I’m his crowd-Sherpa. I’m going to lead him through those events so that he knows what’s going on. Even if it’s mostly just him and I–at least we can still have the same fun we always had.

778 Relax and Succeed - Remember that everyone you meetI don’t think older people would decline anywhere near as much if they were engaged with often. Too many institutional seniors homes look like warehouses and not enough like activity centers. We should stick playschools and kennels in the same facility as seniors and get all the love-sharers and fun-havers in one place.

When you see older people on the street remember: there is a lifetime of wisdom there. They’ve felt all the highs you’ve felt and all the lows too. As we age I think we like to think that things get easier but life is pretty consistently steep throughout all ages. A great attitude helps, but you might still have to carry your urine–or your lungs–in a container with you. Getting old is not for the weak. It’s some heavy lifting.

I’ve always been sensitive to seniors, but this situation with my Dad has really raised my awareness. So from this point forward I hope you will join me in trying to acknowledge and engage with more people who are not only younger than me, but older than me too.

We all have a lot to offer each day just by being ourselves. We should take more opportunities to do that. And we should make sure that wheelchairs, distorted voices or even hearing aids never get in the way of us being connected, generous and caring.

Have a wonderful day connected with everyone around you today.

peace. s

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

The Friday Dose #57

630 FD Relax and Succeed - The most precious gift

Today’s Dose is a mixed bag, although all of it does relate to our pace of life to some degree. Let’s start at the New York Times, where Mandy Len Catron—a writing teacher at the University of British Columbia—wrote a pre-Valentines piece on falling in love. It’s probably an exercise that a lot of struggling couples would benefit from….

How to Fall in Love with Anyone

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Next we’ll go to a—thankfully short—piece 😉 written by Anne Bogart on the nature of being busy and small changes you can make that will have a big impact on your life. It’s a subject I’ve written about many times but today there’s few things worthy of more discussion than trying to slow everyone back down to a speed at which they can actually live:

The Business of Busyness

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Next we’ll have a look at what science has to say. I’m sorry to report that it’s confirming what I’ve been writing to you—you’re not actually multitasking and no your arguments of efficiency and effectiveness aren’t working. The pace of modern life is little more than a series of addictions. This will not change unless you make a conscious effort to do so. Delaying that change is tantamount to a slow suicide. You truly don’t need to work as much as you do. You need to see that time-stress as damaging as you would see working with chemicals, or radiation. You would know that limited exposure was wise. But with time you have no such limits—but you should. And if you don’t read this, won’t it just be because you’ll tell yourself that you don’t have the time…?

Why the Modern World is Bad for your Brain

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And because that’s all rather intense, let’s finish on the antithesis of a fast-paced life and slow things right down. I have no idea why this has such a beautifully meditative quality, but when I would show it to friends and I would go to shut it off part way, they would always stop me, wanting to see more—which is a bit odd, interestingly enough, although I find I too am in this group that always watches it far longer than I would think I would. I suspect it’s because an aspect of my brain knows it’s intentionally grabbing that calm thought almost as a defence mechanism. Enjoy:

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Have yourself a wonderful day. And think about slowing it down a bit, eh? You don’t succeed and then relax. You relax and succeed. 😉

peace. s

The Friday Dose is a collection of cool, interesting and surprising things that are chosen for their potential to distract you away from any painful thought loops that may currently be disrupting your sense of perspective. Save these for when you’re feeling low and you want to change your perspective. They’ll help Enjoy.