Remembrance Day

1252 Relax and Succeed - Remembrance DayIn Canada November 11th is Armistice Day; more commonly known as Remembrance Day. It’s focus is on the exact time the treaties following WWI took effect, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Both of my parents served in WWII, so this has always been an occasion that I was taught by example to respect, for I had family on Dunkirk Beach, and family in POW camps and family killed on the line.

I was never taught that Remembrance Day was a sad day. Somber maybe, but not sad. The point from them was always to take the lesson; war is hell for all involved. As my father described it, “It’s just farmers from one country shooting at farmers from another country and they’re all good men and all they’ll want to do is to get back to their farm.” No hatred, no greed, no desire to conquer, and no sense of revenge. In fact my Dad moved to Canada right after the war and when he started his own company he hired some Germans, which points to one of my favourite things about my Dad.

I tend to write about Remembrance Day most years precisely because it would be a more serious and focused day in our home than any birthday, Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s my parents sacred day, and it has become mine as well. Despite being so important, and despite my having written about it before, I find this year there is an adjustment in how I feel about it.

1252 Relax and Succeed - I wear a little poppyRather than being maudlin about it, I’ve always been taught to be grateful there is no war, and to be grateful to the people who gave their lives in the effort to maintain our freedom. Additionally I was taught that enjoying my life was the price I should look toward repaying if I wanted to honour that sacrifice. If they were going to give up their life to create the opportunity for me then it would be fitting that I would create something worthwhile. I was never made to feel guilty, but somehow they instilled in me that it was fitting to honour the dead with more life.

I still feel that this year, but there’s a new layer too. I love that about life. When you’re present and quiet-minded so many connections between things occur to you. This year it’s that Remembrance Day is not only a day of profound gratitude for me, it’s also a time of deep meditation. On suffering.

When I want to really comprehend the opportunity I’ve been given I get into the nitty gritty of the moment to moment life of those guys in the trenches. Eighteen years old (if they weren’t like my Dad and lied to get in at seventeen, or even sixteen some of them). Rain. Winter. Cold. Wind, trenches filled with water, dead people and rats. And all of your gear for the next few weeks. Oh yeah, and a bunch of people are intentionally shooting and lobbing shells at you, so you’re also terrified. You also have little to no idea why you’re there.

1252 Relax and Succeed - Courage It doesn't mean you aren't scaredIf you get deep into the moments of something like that, you start to have things dawn on you, like; a good friend could die and you would have literally not have even a single moment to fully grasp it at the time. Grieving would come later, as a blur of uncertainty about what really happened because it happened so fast. Or you could lose your squad, lay in injured while shells hit the sand all around you and you’d have no choice except to lay there in agony waiting for a medic to wander by. Even simple things like; what if you have to pee super bad during a battle? And then on your break you go back to the trench and the cold and the wool and the rats and corpses and you eat some three month old sardines from a tin. These were tough people.

Today is when I suddenly realised that that is when and how I set my year for gratitude up, because I always build new experiences every year. Soldiers in different places, doing different things, experiencing different things. Yet during the following year, when I want to generate patience or compassion or connection–or especially gratitude and appreciation–I suddenly realised I always call back to that year’s memory and I compare what’s happening to me to that.

It is remarkable how fast I go from upset to feeling truly silly. It’s funny; being humiliated by the comparison brings out the best in me. We’re all like that. Humans are better than they give themselves credit for either singularly or as a group. We do like it when the group likes us, but we like it even more when they respect us because they think we’re a good example in some way. So when we see things we respect, it inspires us.

Quote For Remembrance Day Remembrance Day Quotes Amp Sayings Remembrance Day Picture QuotesMy parents have been a great example, teaching me to honour the sacrifices made while not emotionally taking over the event for myself; they taught me to value life and liberty, and that’s lead me to take my citizenship and connection to others very seriously; and they taught me to be grateful for the life that was literally protected for me by total strangers. I’ll be wiser this year seeing my meditation on the 11th in this new way. I’ll see it as a touchstone; a talisman; or a spell. When I face adversity, I will use that meditation to generate the appreciation that will drive away any thoughts I have of excessive personal suffering.

Find your own examples of these prices. Maybe second generation immigrants can consider what their parents sacrificed to give their children greater freedom. If your parents have served during wartime, or suffered disease or loss, it is a worthwhile thing to consider that deeply.

Maybe you’ve recovered from a drug addiction and can think back to your own past. Look at your children and remember that places like children’s hospitals are filled with children and parents who were never so lucky. Feel the pain of that and know that some people carry that pain daily, and that it is love that carries them through. It will make you more empathetic toward everyone, because if you do the meditation thoroughly, you’ll realise that most of these identities are invisible when you walk past these people on the street.

Consider creating a yearly meditation. It can be a different subject every year, it can be like mine and stay the same with just the details changing, but find some touchstone of true suffering. Something you believe you can truly relate to. Then use that for the rest of the year. When you’re in a long line at the store, just think back to the kinds of things people have survived before you and you’ll soon find you’ll be feeling better, because there’s really nothing better you can do with a bad experience from the past.

Respectfully, 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.

Pressured by Indecision

We think it’s the situation. We feel the pressure comes from the deadlines, or the bosses, or the schedule, or maybe it’s the kids, family obligations, commitments or responsibilities. But we tend to experience it as an outside-in kind of pressure but that’s misleading because it’s really inside-out.

Pressure isn’t some force your boss sends through an email or that your kids write down in your schedule. It’s something we create within ourselves with our resistant thinking and yet it’s a useful signalling system. Feeling down is not the same as overwhelmed and if there’s one thing I see a lot of otherwise “successful” people doing, it is being overwhelmed.

We’re in the midst of one of worst recessions ever where I live and you can easily tell that a lot of the population is struggling with bills, juggling two part time jobs instead of one full time (if they’re lucky), and they can’t afford as much external support etc. etc. etc. Bosses know they can be more demanding in a tight job market, and the time and money challenges impact marriages, kids relationships with their parents, diets, and even health. As I often remind people, nowhere in the deal to be human does it say that life will only give you 50 marbles for your 50 marble jar.

Pressure starts on the 51st marble and increases from there. Eventually we can get to the point where no matter what we accomplish with busy-ness we’re still seeing marbles drop all over the place. By then we know we’ve waited a bit long to act and so the universe is starting to yell. You may think it’s outside-in pressure, but the universe understands it’s inside-out.

The so-called pressure is created by you wanting to hold onto all of those marbles and their relative importance, so you take on too much work to try to prevent losses. It is also created by watching marbles fall and wanting that to stop, so that also creates a painful sense of loss. And finally, it is also created by wanting to avoid the consequences if we let the marbles fall.  Since the first two are impossible, the reduction in resistance (aka pressure) will take place only when we cease imagining a future that can’t exist and we quiet our minds and accept our current situation and then make our sacrifice.

As an example, I have to make my own decisions about being overloaded with marbles. Not only do recessions tend to create a lot of marbles, but so does looking after two elderly parents and their many appointments, keeping up with two households and two yards, all while trying to maintain a high level of work and also accomplishing some critical administration tasks that modern life requires. Right now, my daily demands would literally take 28 hours per day to complete. Oh yeah, and I’d like to sleep and eat in there too somewhere.

For those reasons and many others, starting next week I’m cutting the blog down to one a week for the remainder of the summer. The timing is coincidental but good. A lot of my regular readers are less frequent in summer (understandably), but the real reason is I simply cannot afford the time.

The blog is important to me because I know it’s helped people I’ve never even met except by email or phone, and I know it’s also a touchstone for many of my former students and that they use it keep themselves on track. In both groups, I’m pleased to report that those that keep themselves the most balanced read the blog the most. So I know it has a lot of value to a lot of you but I must weigh that against my context. As important as each marble is, I simply cannot hold more than 50.

So how do I decide what to spill? That’s a personal judgment call every time, but if we resign ourselves to the fact that these decisions actually need to be made then we can just wake up from our pressured suffering and remember that we are still free. We prioritize things and then cut from the bottom. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes a while before we’re prepared to accept that, without changes, we’ll never catch up on our marbles. The time in between is called pressure, but it will always be created by delayed decisions and it will always be resolved by deciding which sacrifices to make.

We can be a bit like the proverbial frog in boiling water with pressure. The temperature can rise slowly and we can accommodate our expectations to a degree, but eventually we’re scalded with some harsh, painful truth. So it’s better to drop the excess marbles before someone tries to add so many that they smash the whole glass. And dropping them won’t even be too painful. You just have to remember to avoid focusing on the 20 that fall so you can focus on the 50 you saved instead.

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.

Family Ties

I recently took the first holiday I’ve had in many years and I spent the entire thing working on deconstructing much of my life to accommodate the care my parents now require. That is not what I would ever have hoped for in life. It’s busy and chaotic and it means my parents aren’t feeling well as I’d like, but this is just part of the deal of being human. They’re 90.

980 Relax and Succeed - Suffering is not holding youLife can hurt. It can force us into experiences we do not want. Being in love entails dealing with extra pain when a loved one is absent. Yin and yang. It’s just built into how life functions. Life is like a ball we’re balancing on top of. Our egos try to stay on the good side of the ball, but but our spiritual and psychological health are tied more to simply enjoying the process of keeping our balance on either side of it, because when we die is when we lose our ball and we have to go home.

There are no problems, we create them with our thinking. We imagine how life should be. But think about how many factors and people and decisions need to happen for that to occur! It’s like winning the lottery if it happens the way we imagine. Life is messy and getting angry or depressed that there’s not better order is to waste your life. You railing at the universe will not change its laws. Learn to surf the uncertainty.

Even as I move in a direction away from my previous goals I’m aware I’m still lucky. It’s amazing that Mom still drives to a church and teaches an exercise class three times a week. At the same time, if something falls on the floor they have to wait for someone else to show up to retrieve it. So essentially I took my holidays to organise being with them almost all of the time so they’re comfortable and safe and properly cared for. That’s most important to me, but that means sacrifices, sometimes of things that mean a great deal to me; things I put many years worth of work into. But this is life. This is where most people get stressed and it’s where I let go.

980 Relax and Succeed - Do you know what my secret is

We can all get physically stressed. We can ask our bodies to do more than is physically reasonable. But psychological stress is another thing altogether. That is something we create for ourselves by what we choose to load into our consciousness. While I am caring for my parents there is nothing stopping me from listening to enjoyable podcasts with them. I can enjoy the food I cook for them. I can enjoy recalling memories from my childhood and all the fun I had in that house with my siblings and cousins. Or I could think about all the things I’m missing out on by not getting to fulfil my original direction.

This is what detachment is: you’re going somewhere but you’re not attached to getting there. When life says, hey, go here and do this and you feel that as a thing you just know is right, then that is you feeling your truth. Others may disagree with what you do but your job is only to trust that feeling and ignore theirs. How they feel about it isn’t relevant if it’s your life.

I’ve always had a great life. I’m not thrilled by some of the parts of it I’ll have to surrender in order to live up to the person I am, but I am a person who values experiences with loved ones more than any other thing and so that makes this decision easy. And I don’t run the universe. It might tumble things toward me in a painful way but it’s also pretty generous a lot of the time so who knows, maybe I benefit a lot more from this than my parents do. Either way, if I’m keeping my eye out for good signs that’ll help a lot with noticing and appreciating positive things that will reinforce my idea that things are fine the way they are.

Have a great week everyone.

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.