Recognition of Involvement

Winner: 2016’s Blog of the Year #10!

So this week we know two things: our Dominant Negative Emotion and our Dominant Positive Emotion. Your mind has lots of things wired into those two emotions and so those are the ones to which you have the most effective route. Your brain’s like that–the more you do of something the better it gets at it.

861 Relax and Succeed - Today I listen to my feelingsFor our example today we could use sadness or anger but since it’s so popular, let’s say you spend most of your day anxious. Maybe you got laid off and there’s no work so you started your own little business but every day you’re freaked out that in you’re in over your head, it’s more than you can handle and you feel lost and afraid about your future and you lack trust in yourself. Again, it can be any emotion; this is just an example.

And let’s say the enjoyable thing you can easily experience is compassion. You can be having a terrible day–be all caught up in your own egotistical suffering and then you can see an injured dog being rescued on social media and suddenly you’ve switched from anxiety about your future to a form of caring love for the animal and thoughts instead about its future. You’re so invested in the animal that you’re not even creating a you to do any suffering.

This example works particularly well because compassion is tied to someone else’s suffering. For your mind, it’s not a giant leap to stay in suffering mode and yet focus on someone else. That once-removed understanding of the pain is the same thing that makes watching suffering in a movie actually resonate. It’s not your pain, but you feel it as pain you personally understand.

861 Relax and Succeed - Feeling unsure and lostWell it’s time you got to understand your own pain like that. That way, if you can’t shift to a better-feeling emotion you can still feel okay being in a painful situation. That’s an important distinction. Pain is mandatory in life. Everyone feels it. But suffering is the egotistical thought layer we place over the world and we invent suffering and claim it’s pain. It isn’t. Psychological pain is very fortunately a choice.

You can’t blame people a few years ago for thinking this was crazy. Common belief in psychology was that it worked the other way around. Your mental health affected your thinking, not that your thinking affected your mental health. Now they’re old fashioned if they think that people are victims. We can’t out-victim people who went through the worst of WWII, so if they can still have fruitful lives so can anyone else. It’s a matter of understanding our choices. It’s a matter of valuing this awesome opportunity called life.

Remember, because you have a preference for an experience that feels good that does not mean that the undesirable emotions and experiences are incorrect or otherwise something to remove from your life. You want to learn to spend the least amount of time there possible, but there is still tremendous value in the contrast that negative experiences provide.

861 Relax and Succeed - You are innately mentally healthyThere cannot be a path of enlightenment if there isn’t a not-path. And it’s not a path to enlightenment, because that makes it sound like it’s a destination when it’s actually an action–a verb; a way of moving through the universe. It is to be awake. To see the creation of your emotions and the possibility of a shift. Just wondering about that change for one day will do you tremendous good.

These are not small steps you’re taking every day. It’s you learning to see the world in a different way. If we do this long enough you’ll not only have the benefit of each lesson, but you’ll also have the larger total benefit of having assumed as natural, an entirely new way of seeing the world. A way so comfortable it can eventually replace the flawed version of reality you’re struggling to manage today.

That’s your assignment: watch your two biggest emotions. See how they each rise within you. Wonder about those sources. You’re wiser than you think. If you’re sincerely doing the exercises you’re likely to have a very helpful insight about how you can be more peaceful with yourself. It’s those little a-ha moments that we’ll stitch together into a new understanding. It’ll be fun. See you tomorrow for the act of the switch.

peace. s

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

Old Laughs

219 Relax and Succeed - Always laugh when you can
I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of laughs in my lifetime. Thanks to my accident I’d realised by five that the only reason to be alive was to enjoy it. That made funny people very important to me and I sought them out at every turn. I thought my childhood best friend was funny. I thought the Icelandic friend I went to elementary school with was funny. The chubby guy I played floor hockey with was hilarious. The guy that lived upstairs from me at my old apartment is funny. My current favourite neighbour is funny. My dad is funny. Laughs are important.

What’s the point Scott?

(sorry.)

Okay, so despite a life with all those and many more funny friends, and despite great comedians and comedies, and despite every other funny thing that’s happened to me, one of the funniest moments of my life came from the strangest source—the person wasn’t even trying to be funny. Now don’t see this as some big setup. You won’t find it funny at all. You would have had to have heard it, and even then you would still have to note the subtle shift in the voices before you’d think it was funny.

My work often has me up very late and when I am,I often listen to CBC One’s overnight programming, which includes broadcasts from across Canada and around the world. They’re all excellent shows and I thoroughly enjoy them. One of the shows features a host I find particularly good. He’s funny, smart, widely studied, and dare I say even profoundly compassionate when the interview calls for it (he did one of the best I’ve ever heard). But the night in question was not his shining moment.

219 Relax and Succeed - If it doesn't make you happy
He was interviewing the first man to fly a solar aircraft a significant distance (maybe it was across America?). The host asked a lot of smart questions and then he seemed to pause as though he may have lost where he was in his notes. He threw out a rather abrupt question, “Is the aircraft a propeller kind, or a jet?” and I absolutely exploded with laughter.

I know to some people this may seem like a legitimate question because they have no idea how radio or jets work, but I know how they work, well enough that, to me , it was as though the host had said, “What fuel does your engine run on, forks or rabbits?” The fact that it was still after editing indicates he needed those question for the interview. We’ve all been trapped by our own mistakes like that. I cannot fully explain why, but this question would for some very cool reasons, be one of the top five funniest things I’d ever heard in my life. But here’s the thing….

The reason I’m writing this is that the same host is doing his show as I write this. And he happened to be interviewing someone who reminded me of that pilot. Think of that word: Re-minded. As in, “put back into my mind.” The moment I shot some ATP electricity through that particular circuit of my brain again, I loaded some charge into my memory of the previous experience. As soon as I thought of it, the absurdity (that’s what makes us laugh) of the statement hit me the very same way it did the first time, and I once again exploded in laughter just like I do every time I think of him saying that.

Do you get it? It’s just as funny as a memory. Or just as sad. Or just as scary. You’re where you’re thoughts are. Your mood is dictated by what you think. You were in a mood when you started reading this. But as you read it you thought about what I asked you, or encouraged you, or wrote you into thinking. So you felt what I lead you to feel. That’s the fundamental journey artists take their audiences on as their work: translations of experience.

219 Relax and Succeed - I am still determined
If your experience with my words was interrupted by your own thoughts, you would have felt other emotions that would depend on the nature of the interruption. Some might have made you excited and happy, and other interruptions can be irritating and troublesome. But the point is, the experience of your life will be the judgments you make, so you have to get serious about making those judgments conscious. You have to be responsible with your thinking.

Trust me, this is the best trade-off you’ll ever make. Just don’t be an Ego. Monitor your thinking. Choose the direction of your thoughts. Don’t live out of blind habit. Because you can laugh anytime you want. You just have to fully invest yourself in thinking about something funny.

This isn’t something you learn. It’s something you practice. Practice laughing by going to places where you are likely to laugh. Practice switching from other states of mind into a funny head-space whenever you can. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Eventually you’ll be able to turn former fights into exchanges of sarcastic wit layered with a dose of humility. But it will always be a genuinely spiritual practice.

Start now. Think of an enjoyable time. Fully get into it. Remember what each of your senses was focused on. Go into that Moment, feel it, and translate it to us into our current reality by feeling today what you felt then too—the two moments forever linked in time through a filament of joy.

Such is the nature of happiness.

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.

Preventing Performance Anxiety

110 Relax and Succeed - What worries you
Both the athletes and artists I work with regularly face performance anxiety. This makes sense because both groups perceive that they are in an event they can potentially win. They imagine there is a good outcome and a bad outcome, and so they place considerable mental energy on worrying about the bad one, and yet all that does is attract the bad experience to us by distracting us from our task.

Have you noticed that your best performances always feel relaxed? If you golf, you know our best golf swings our often easiest golf swings; and why is that the piece of art that seemed the easiest to create is the one everyone loves and gives you credit for? This is a nice spot to discuss the Buddhist Illusion. What is that illusion? What is it made of?

The illusion is made from words. The illusion is a conversation we have over top of an event. So while we’re standing off-stage or at a starting-line we’ll be talking to ourselves about success. We’ll be reminding ourselves about the shape and components of failure. We will weigh our competitor. And it’s critical to note that all of those states (success, failure, competitor) are all things that can only exist in our minds—in our imaginations.

If those states of mind were actual objectively real experiences, then everyone would feel the same way and yet they don’t. The experience is individualized and internal. Some competitors are worried about their training, others about their equipment, others about various competitors.

110 Relax and Succeed - Racecar

Prior to a performance or race or competition we will be dosing our brains with all kinds of chemistry based on whatever thoughts we’re thinking as we prepare. But despite all of that thinking, the only thing we have real control over is our actions in the competition.

When I drag race a car, I’m really not racing the guy next to me. Because he and his car will do whatever they’re going to do—I have no influence over that. All I can do is prepare and drive mine the best I can and the rest is the giant math of the universe. Some days my performance would win, others not. I can’t be thinking about the universe’s math. That’s out of my hands. I have to be focused on what is in my hands.

If the only thing in my control is my own performance then I should focus 100% of my attention on that, not on word-based thoughts about the events. I’m not looking for language to describe what’s happening, I’m looking for actual open, focused awareness that then smoothly becomes action, like it does for heroes. It’s a subtle but significant difference.

When a crane is fishing, do you imagine its mind is full of thoughts? Do you think the crane is standing there in the water, perfectly still, thinking to itself that it really needs to get this fish—that its family is hungry and this fish is important? Or that it needs to beat this fish in this contest? Do you think the crane is trying to win? Or is the crane prepared to strike with a speed that can only come from a profound stillness on both the inside and out.

110 Relax and Succeed - Inner peace begins

There is in fact intense activity in stillness. A crane is fully invested in the hunt. With no thought whatsoever directed toward an abstract idea like failure, the crane is left with only Now. There is no outcome. There is no winner or loser, there is only the present unfolding moments and the math between crane and fish; and that is the universe’s math, not the crane’s, and so that is why no thought is given to it.

Can you see that when you are at a starting line, you can be an ego, or you can be like the crane? You can be open and aware, with access to all you know, poised and ready. Or you can stand in the same position, but have your head filled with busy, noisy, distracted thinking.

In doing so you weave an illusory layer of words between you and the experience—between you and your reactions. You can simply look at a golf ball, or you can stand there with your eyes on that ball, but your mind playing words about how you should keep your eye on the ball. That again is a subtle but critical difference that will have a remarkable influence over your performance. Mental discussions about things are not those actual things.

If a crane had to stop thinking about how important this fish was, or how hungry its children are, then it would have to download that thought before it could enact its physical being and strike at the fish. But without that layer of thought, it is simply ready. It may still miss the fish, but again, that is nature’s math not the crane’s.

The crane doesn’t worry itself with things it cannot control. Its mind is filled with being itself, and that will either be enough or it won’t. Athletes and artists would do well to do the same. Be the crane. Be still inside. Because then there is nothing standing between us and the best performance the rest of the universe will allow.

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.