MoK: The Powerful You

Surprise!

I know; I haven’t done posts on Saturdays in a few years but I owe you one from Friday. I appreciate your patience. First my parents were very ill with a stomach flu and then as soon as I got them through the worst of it I ended up catching it too. Once nice thing about being sick is that you really appreciate your everyday health a lot more, and that sense of grace helped me create, at least in my opinion, a particularly helpful post for you today.

When we’re struggling it’s natural for us to look for help. Our brain gets a lot of its base ideas from childhood, but that’s generally when our needs are necessarily met by others. As we age we progressively learn that we are much more capable than we imagine, and then as we decline near the end of life we return to a more childlike state of neediness.

Since very few infants read my blog, nor a huge amount of seniors, I tend to focus on the tough bits; the bits in the middle where we’re trying to discover our strengths and resiliencies. This is when a conflict arises between how you have seen the world versus how you will need to see before you can move forward. We all know this moments–these epiphanies–they’re those a-ha! moments where we suddenly realise we’ve been making a big, simple mistake.

Mistake is the right word because it’s not like you were making your life difficult on purpose. The mistake is generally thinking that there’s something wrong with us versus understanding that something is wrong with our perspective. Wanting to feel better is a perspective. Importantly, it’s a perspective that presumes that we need help.

Sure, sometimes we really do need help. Little kids want to do things themselves but often can’t, and seniors are often late in realising they need help. But those realities are very different from thinking we need help. Stephen Hawking obviously needs a lot of actual help, but he never would have become who he is by assuming he couldn’t do things. That’s easy for anyone to do. Even the most powerful, wealthy and beautiful people in the world face all the same human struggles and pains you do, they’re just better at hiding them.

Importantly, thinking we need help requires us to presume a state of weakness. We are reaching up. But what if this is where our mistake is? What if we’re assuming our childlike identity when it’s not the right tool for the job? And if an old identity isn’t going to help, and our current identity is experiencing struggle, then what’s required is a new identity.

As counter-intuitive as it seems at first, the answer to our wanting feelings is not for us to get what we want. That just reinforces the weak identity as being who we actually are, when what we need is to choose who to be. Wanting something implies first that there is a separate “me” and that there’s something missing, when neither is true. That’s just the subject-object nature of the conversations you have with yourself.

The way to feel better is to stop that conversation, and the way to do that is to stop making the assumption that your feelings are a result of the world rather than the result of your own thinking. So instead of listing our wants and needs to ourselves and others, we’re better to shift to not thinking about ourselves and instead focusing on the needs of others.

Even if you’re in a down state, you still have fantastic resources. Even your painful experiences are helpful to those going through those things right now. So even at your weakest you have a great deal to give. We can see this with babies. They’re 100% needy, and yet they get loved like crazy just for being. You’re actually still like that.

So this weekend, no matter what we feel our current state is, our assignment in the March of Kindness will be to feel stronger by finding a way to be generous. The important aspect of this is that you cannot generate generous feelings in the weak part of your mind.

By focusing on others you cease to create the troublesome, needy you and instead your mind is focused on the outside world. By taking generous action, you reinforce to yourself that you also contain strong identity, and strong identities tend not to review their problems, they’re too busy reviewing the strengths they have available.

Get out there today and be generous. Share yourself with others and feel more connected, worthwhile and powerful in the process. You can do a lot of little things or one big thing, but by doing either you add much more positivity to the world, you model healthy behaviour to others, and you prove to yourself that you are a multi-dimensional being with many forms. And if you’re aware of that truth, then no matter what state you’re in you know the answer isn’t to change the world, it’s to change yourself.

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 Friday Dose #129: Mindfulness

1013-fd-relax-and-succeed-resistance-is-futileStaying vigilant about our thinking can be a challenging thing. My accident gave me a huge advantage in that there was a distinct separation between me and my thinking, but I know when I jam the two together that they feel like one thing, so I suspect that’s what it feels like for everyone else most of the time. As ephemeral as it is, all I really do in my work is create some distance between souls and egos.

One way to create some distance and to slow down that process is to study it closely and break it down into its component parts. It’s like a drummer learning a new beat. You have to do it super slowly, super slowly and then build the wiring and build the wiring until you can go faster and faster and faster until it’s natural.

Since our mental health is tied to us accepting rather than resisting the universe as it is, a good candidate for study is complaining. Complaints are pure resistance. They’re either internal resistance thoughts, or spoken external ones, but they’re resistance either way. A man recently tried going only 21 days without complaining and he found it very difficult. That said, he also did notice a shift in himself in only those 21 days. I would suggest that this would be a beneficial process for everyone to undertake.

Here’s a link to an interview with the author, and here’s Michael J. Fox on how your circumstances can appear worse than average and yet your life is better than average. It’s really only a question of how much resistance you choose to produce.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone because, despite your genuine challenges, in many ways you’re still more fortunate than a lot of the world. Enjoy that.

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 Big Lie

What’s the big lie? It’s that nice car where the payment is killing you but it leads your friends to think you’re not in the struggling group. And your ego is happy to have it concealed. Maybe you have nice clothes and makeup and hair, but also a back-breaking credit card bill, or exotic holidays that are added to your line of credit. All of that looks great on social media but it’s also what keeps you running on that treadmill. Still, that’s probably better than the rest, who aren’t into cars or fashion or travel but they are running because of cancer, a divorce, a disease or a lawsuit.

Since the housing crisis almost a decade ago, around the world many people are struggling with the downturn. A lot of good people worked very hard for years and now they’re exhausted, broke, they’re losing everything and they can’t even figure out where to turn in their white flag to surrender. They literally wonder where their life went. Certainly having a positive, abundant attitude will help a great deal in finding solutions, but we must look for our solutions in spiritually sound ways.

I heard a guy who wrote a book on happiness on the radio yesterday and he stated that everyone has a dream inside them and that everyone can make their living doing something worthwhile and fulfilling if they just approach finding it the right way. This has become a very popular idea and the implication is this choice would carry you safely and happy into your later years. I’ll agree that we should lead inspired lives, but that’s where I depart from most other people on what’s real. In fact, I would argue that selling that idea is part of what’s causing the suffering we’re seeing today.

1012-relax-and-succeed-tibetan-proverbYes, you could write a book that sells a million, but there was a reason that novelist was listed as one of the most over-rated jobs by Forbes. That’s just one book. There’s very few writers who string several together. You might write a great app–that happens all the time. It also doesn’t happen the vast majority of the time and that’s okay because you’ll likely find more happy people at simple jobs than at impressive or powerful ones.

As Paul McCartney said about what he’d do if he wasn’t a musician; “I’d be a gardener or a carpenter.” That’s wise. Those people do their time, don’t think about it too much and then go home with a clear head and no one texting them from work at 11pm. They sleep well and they have the energy to put into dreams that have nothing to do with money.

My Dad just shingled roofs most of your life. It’s hard work but it’s honest and it keeps you in shape. He was happy to provide for his kids. He took actual active pride in that. He didn’t feel badly for what we didn’t have, he was pleased that he gave us a stable home with no violence–which is something he didn’t have.

1012-relax-and-succeed-the-real-giftIn this world there are bad stone-cutters, there’s true craftsmen and there’s Michelangelo. Dad was a craftsmen. The first two aren’t failed attempts at the third. The first is either inexperienced or in the wrong job, the second’s day is made up of their focus, which is why they can be admired by other stonecutters. It’s only Michelangelo’s fame that makes us feel like he’s a pinnacle, but we have to remember he was forced to build a church he didn’t want to build for a Pope he didn’t like. It’s not like that fame bought him more time with his stone angels, rather it took him away from them.

Rather than look for a lofty dream or something big or profound or impressive, try making everything you do profound with your presence. I watched my Dad often at work, and unlike a lot of workers you never saw him muttering to himself about anything; how he wished the past had gone, how he hoped the future would go, or how he felt the present moment was treating him personally. He just nailed shingles.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but that quiet mind and focus added up to peaceful days, a happy man and a wonderful father, and those are extremely fulfilling things that will please you far more than fame or wealth on the day you die. So don’t feel lesser if your work isn’t shiny and impressive. What matters is that you’re fully focused on the doing of it, because when my Dad shingled he wasn’t excited or inspired, he was truly Zen. He simply chopped wood and carried water and he didn’t think too much about it. And as it turns out, that is actually what real success looks like.

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.

Reactions to Failure

Staying conscious is being mindful. If your head isn’t full of self-conversation then much more of the world can get inside you. You notice more and that’s helpful. So when a friend and I were recently disagreeing about an important issue we were working on I noted quite clearly that in the middle of the discussion of the good friend said, “have you eaten?”

972 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes when things are falling apartMe being upset lead to a friend asking if I’d eaten, meaning she had related my mood to my food. I trust her so we ate and I did feel better as my body chemistry regulated. It turned out I just needed some sugar. You could leave it at that but if you’re going to think don’t ruminate, meditate. So I spent the next two days meditating on how that happened.

In that meditation I recalled another similar experience where I had snapped at a different friend for very little reason. At the time my reaction had been so strangely immediate that it registered with me. I remember meditating then on the fact that I loved the friend so it didn’t make sense, plus I hadn’t been thinking any relevant negative thoughts. So what was the cause? My disappointment over how I treated my friend was what motivated my meditations.

After more consideration I realised both situations reminded me of when I got upset really easily for about eight months when I was in my late teens. I was going through a growth spurt and my off-balance chemistry gave me a different personality for a short time. And now here was a friend responding to me being unreasonable by asking me if I’d eaten. Food relates to body chemistry. Can you see if you’re more aware that the truth becomes obvious? The question was, how did it happen?

972 Relax and Succeed - Never regret anythingSometimes the big challenges in life are so obvious and huge in our lives that they cause us to miss some of the smaller implications. A few years ago I underwent my life’s most difficult period where rather than an 8 hour day and a 40 hour week I needed a 40 hour day and a 280 hour work week just to avoid disasters, but that in turn lead to a series of sub-decisions that were far less conscious. Life can deliver us more than we can handle. That happens.

There is no good way to prioritise the very serious and absolute demands presented by very elderly and sick parents, a book deadline, your life’s work, the needs of clients and the business that pays your equally important mortgage, or even your basic life obligations like the fact that you need to eat, drink, sleep, grocery shop, and personally groom, plus you’ll have needs relating to everything from house and yard work to necessary car repairs or maintenance and of course there’s the never-ending administration that life requires.

I knew during that time that I would be letting friends down and I accepted there would be a price. I worked with my doctor on a plan for so little sleep and so much work and I developed a special diet, but even then I accepted there would be both a price and a limit. I worked off an insanely inhuman schedule that I still can’t believe I maintained.

972 Relax and Succeed - A friend is someone who understandsDespite all that effort I was still constantly letting everyone down, including myself. I never had enough sleep and I had quietly developed terrible eating habits over time. I was still eating healthy, but I would often go to bed at 2am realising I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 5am the previous day. And there in my mediation was my answer: In my busy-ness I had accidentally learned not to eat.

Because historically we can be chased by wild animals the desires to eat and to pee can be deferred to later. Pain stays, the desire to eat comes and goes. I got so used to dealing with not being able to eat that it became an unconscious habit to just immediately dismiss the desire. I needed to get conscious about food again.

For the next several weeks I watched myself closely. Sure enough, once I was watching I caught myself tons of times deferring the desire to eat. As often as possible I would remember to respond to it and I’m currently about half way to re-teaching myself to eat when I’m hungry. That’s how busy-minded we can get: we can forget something as basic as eating.

972 Relax and Succeed - Don't deny what's occurringSo can you see that I’m now glad the friends reactions were pain because I care about them? And I’m glad one defended herself by asking me if I’d eaten? Without those signs that I was off the path how could I have rediscovered the path? I needed those ditches to help me find the road. Of course we always want to treat loved ones well, but part of love is that they can help us make it through tough times like that and then we can do the same for them. That’s how love serves.

So now I’m grateful that the universe has taught me to appropriately value food and that my friends were patient and now that I do have the time to eat I’m getting conscious enough to actually do it. So this can help you too if you remember that if you have a problem don’t focus on the problem itself, ask yourself what its source is.

Believe you are a good person that is lost not a bad person that needs changing because that is the greater truth. If you approach your mistakes that way you can see your innocence and then make the change without guilt. Speaking of not feeling guilty, another great truth is that I’m hungry right now so, if you’ll excuse me I’m going to get something to eat. In the meantime, you have yourself a stellar day. Bon appetite.

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 Friday Hoax: Lessons in Misery

It’s April 1st, so I thought I would do a reverse-post. Rather than telling you how to have a rewarding life, I’ll focus on how to be miserable. It might be more illuminating than you imagine. Ready?

897 Relax and Succeed - You should text himIf you would like to be miserable you must be prepared to be committed. Suffering requires much more dedication than peace. It’s not a natural state, you must create it with your will and determination. Otherwise each new moment is like an open net through which all of your bad feelings can escape. You must aggressively re-capture all of your negative thinking if you hope to maintain sadness, anger, bitterness, resentment, guilt, anxiety or fear for any duration.

Since your natural unthinking state would be peace it is important to be vigilant. Think often and think a lot. The longer you can go all day and still stay talking to yourself the more in ego you’ll be. It’s easily dissatisfied with what its critical comparisons of virtually everything and everyone, but if you don’t turn that disappointment into emotional chemistry you can experience what’s the point?

If you want to be release this painful chemistry you have to be prepared to invest a great deal of your time thinking about–and telling others about–your misfortune. You don’t have to have more misfortune than anyone else–in fact statistically, sad people often test as more fortunate than happy people. You can easily have lots going for you and you can still ruin it. You’ve got guilt, self-hate, tragedy-stretching, blame, even basic complaining.

897 Relax and Succeed - You miss 100Even the most dedicated person can get really tired of thinking of new things to complain about, so it can be helpful to find something in your past or future to feel bad about today. Future worries and fears are great because they can convert to anger the fastest. While the past may seem more finite with fewer opportunities, in reality it’s just as open as the future.

The way your memory works is that you essentially rewrite it every time you revisit it, and any memories that brush against your old ones can also influence them too. Memories can easily be adjusted to be better or worse than the event that took place. You can even remember things that never happened. It’s up to you, but you can guess what the people really good at misery choose. They remember bad times. Often.

One of the best ways to use memory for misery is to find someone in your past–an ex lover, an ex boss, a bully at school–someone that there’s no real reason for you to think about, plus your thoughts about them are very consistently painful. There’s your answer. Drag them into your daily thoughts for weeks, months, years or even decades and you have one of the easiest and most effective routes to a bitter and wasted life.

897 Relax and Succeed - Friends are like potatoesIf you can, find an angle to play that can last a lifetime. You can turn that into a broad identity. This is very valuable because initially others can be annoying by rallying around a sad person in a foolish attempt to cheer them up. If you’re able to dodge this by resisting their kindness then you can really set yourself up isolation, which in turn helps you fortify your very deep and effective identity of suffering.

The very best route to long term suffering is victimization. By placing yourself in that state of official suffering you remove people’s ability to motivate you toward something better. Victims and the afflicted are given a hallowed status in our society and it’s possible to play that like a fiddle if you’re good at it. Any story will do but, whatever you do, don’t go competing in the Olympics if you’re lucky enough to end up with a story as good as being in a wheelchair.

Victimization and misfortune work really well to keep happy people at bay and thereby protect you from their influence. Even better; your dedication to your sadness will eventually attract other sad people who recognize your skills. Just watch yourself find each other at parties! You’ll be able to turn nice events into sad ones in no time at all if you have help from someone good at commiseration.

897 Relax and Succeed - People inspire youKeep in mind, the world will be conspiring against you at all times. Positive, happy, life-affirming events happen at a much, much faster rate than the negative and unpleasant ones, plus there are dangerously happy people all over the place. These improvements in the world are seen in the form of steady drops in crime, lower infant mortality, increased life expectancy, real incomes, food supplies, health delivery etc. etc. etc. The world is getting massively better so you’ll have to really focus to convince yourself it’s getting worse. Facebook, the news and some negative friends can really help in that regard.

Bottom line, suffering takes effort. If you’re not prepared to replay non-stop useless negative self-critical narratives, then maybe you’re not cut out for sadness. If you can’t walk around with crazy-high expectations then being angry all the time may not be for you. If you can see that things really are getting better then you should lower your hopes for a miserable life.

You can do it. I have faith in you. The real question will be what do you do from here? Take the easy route and have a great day, or prove to us you really mean it by reinforcing a negative identity as many times as possible between now and bedtime. The choice and power are yours. Use them wisely Young Skywalker.

The Sadness Guru

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

The Friday Dose #103

881 FD Relax and Succeed - When was the last timeThe most challenging times for you will be when you face prolonged sections where you feel more suffering than joy. Good feelings will still be available to you and you will have positive experiences, but there is no doubt there are times when the struggle feels acutely uphill. I refer to those times as your (roughly) eight year cycles.

To stay healthy through these periods, it’s important to maintain an awareness of a longer perspective on your life. The struggle for change is often preceded by a growth. You might need some new friends, a new job, maybe you change where or how you live, you gain a new perspective–a turn into a new you. You’re the caterpillar fighting it’s way out as a butterfly.

Doesn’t it make sense that you would need to begin a new life? Not entirely new–but it really does feel like another section; another level of being a person. It’s a particular kind of maturing. We tend to mark our life by these events. So learn not to lament them while you’re in them. The dentist doesn’t always feel fun at the time but they’re worth it. Same with the awkward and unpleasant feelings that go with growth. Rabbi Dr. Twerski does a good job of explaining the concept:

If life’s enjoyable, enjoy it. If it’s a struggle, enjoy the chance to grow toward even broader horizons. No matter why, have some kind of a wonderful weekend everyone.

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 Kindness of Strangers

You’re looking for big stuff. You want massive change. You want people to start caring for each other, for animals and the environment. You want governments and businesses to act more humanely, with some value placed on happiness and respect and peace. You raise your voice against things you dislike. I love your heart. I love your passion. I love your effort. But I would like to suggest that those efforts can be much more effective than they currently are.

237 Relax and Succeed - Never worry about numbersYes, support the organizations that are doing important work. But if you want a more compassionate society then you have to act like it, not talk like it. What’s the use of wanting someone else to respect or care for someone when you don’t do it yourself? Do you let people into traffic? Do you offer help to those you know are struggling? Will you slow down your own life enough for a child or a stranger?

If they’ve managed to turn their life around, every former homeless person, drug addict or convict I ever met told me that the consistent love, support, and compassion of just a few people made all of the difference in the world. And their material support was only a small part of it. What they really valued was the belief these other people had in them. They saw something good in them when the person themselves saw little or no hope. And don’t think that was always easy for either party. It was just worth it.

Where do you think street people or even the active and working poor come from? Sure, a small percentage got themselves into trouble with blind foolishness but, even in those cases, if we looked at their life we would see that they never had the appropriate mentors. They never had anyone to explain the value of education or cooperation, or how to handle their finances, legal obligations or even manage their tempers.

237 Relax and Succeed - Hey you out there in the coldIf you grew up with both of your parents drunk and fighting all of the time, then it makes sense that you wouldn’t learn the same useful skills that a lot of other people consider common sense. The fact is, we model the behaviour we see because that’s how you learn to live. If we’re fortunate enough to get a secondary influence that provides some contrast, we might be okay. But barring that, we are all trapped by the information we have available.

Most people who are down and out are there for very good reason. If you slow down enough to hear their stories you realize that most were tripped more than they fell. Is it some woman’s fault that she’s bankrupt after her divorce because her husband gambled all of their money away? For that matter, is the husband even as responsible as we might initially assume? If we say that he is, then what do we think an addiction is? The whole point of an addiction is that the person has very genuinely lost touch with their ability to choose.

We must keep in mind that, for an addict, withdrawal is often painful in a variety of ways. If it’s something like gambling, we must remember that these people are often pushing back against an entire industry that hires millions of dollars worth of psychologists and sociologists to help ensure that every piece of scientific knowledge is used in the effort to actually try to get that person to be a regular customer (read: addicted).

237 Relax and Succeed - We know what a person thinksHundreds of scientists and tons of money are all aimed at getting a certain percentage of the population to do something. If you don’t think that’s a real force in this world then maybe you should remember that 90% of your life is absolutely impacted in very serious ways by advertising. Everyone says not them, but the research proves them wrong. So you might not be in the same boat as the gambling addict, but you’re in a boat nevertheless.

Stop judging others. Stop assuming you know how they got where they are. Because I’m the one slowing down to actually know these people, and I can assure you that virtually every one of them was simply operating without enough information and instruction about how to negotiate life. Either that or they went through absolutely horrific experiences.

I have no idea what it feels like to get raped by a parent, but I can easily see that you might feel safer living on the street. So if you grow up without positive, informed, supportive people, then it makes sense that there are things you won’t know. We can say that it’s common sense that you have to eat to stay alive, but that is a much different thing than knowing how to hunt for your own food. So if we were in the jungle and no one taught you how to catch and kill a chicken, or what plants were safe to eat, you would be in the very same situation as the person you’re judging. You certainly wouldn’t have any useful common sense.

237 Relax and Succeed - Too often we underestimateSlow down, be kind. It’s actually enjoyable for you and it will actually accomplish something. Because all of your judgments are thoughts you’re thinking, and so it’s you that’s getting the emotional responses that go with those thoughts. This is a lose-lose proposition, whereas kindness and generosity are a win-win for all involved.

If you want a better world start with yourself. Make your little piece of it better by not thinking negative thoughts about yourself or anyone else. Let people into traffic. Buy someone’s coffee at a drive-through. Offer a hand or lend an ear to someone who could really use it. Because failing in our culture is painful enough. We certainly don’t need to add harsh judgment on top of it.

Open your heart. Care for others. Build a better life and a better world simply by consciously making caring, supportive and loving decisions regarding the people around you. Do that and, as Gandhi said, you will have actually been the change you want to see in the world. If you want to be spiritual, let that be the manifestation of your spirituality.

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.