The Value of Pain


It shows up at times where we’re thinking of others. That’s why we don’t notice its value. When we use our experiences with pain, it will be in some kind of compassionate act. To heal them is to heal ourselves when we feel that level of empathy. That is when we see another’s pain as our own. That is when we feel a sense of oneness with another person.

Let us immediately distinguish pain from suffering. Suffering is psychological and it leads to psychological pain, which is only just now becoming important for people to distinguish from physical pain. As I noted in yesterday’s post, relative to our cellular structure language is a very new creation. As a result, our body keeps reacting under the assumption that we’re in physical danger, when really we’re just worried about what someone will think of us on social media. Clearly those things should not been seen as equally important or meaningful.

While the same chemicals can get triggered, with physical pain it can take a long while to heal, whereas sincere efforts at understanding the structures of psychological suffering can quickly reduce it almost completely, and over time people can soon learn how to deeply love their own lives. But we gain access to loving it by trading away our psychological suffering in exchange for acceptance of the certainty that we will experience both physical and non-optional psychological pain.

Physical we’re already ready to accept, and to what degree we accept it is generally referred to as our pain threshold. But buying office supplies for our new job, signing our married name, imagining our life as someone different–these are all either hopeful or wildly hopeful fantasies. We’ll all do them sometimes, but that doesn’t make it wise. It just makes ego human.

There is no need nor benefit for us to spend a lot of time leaping into a made-up future to concoct expectations. We can just stay in the now, where we can actually take action to impact our future, and in doing so we become less likely to avoid causing ourselves future psychologically pain.

Non-optional psychological pain is when our circumstances have changed so suddenly and so drastically that we literally have brain wiring that just isn’t set up to manage it. It’s impossible to be someone and not take on a world view, but if you’re a soldier and you get your legs blown off, then you’re suddenly someone who needs a revised identity. Same for someone who goes broke, has a divorce, loses a job or through the death of a loved one.

The depth of our love with our loved ones relates to the level of pain we’ll experience when they die and our brain can no longer interact with them in the present. That’s why it still tries, often until death. I haven’t lost a parent yet, but I know a lot of people who still ask their deceased parents for advice all the time. They’re just wired into too much other stuff. Their beauty is that they’re literally hard to forget.

By living through very painful experiences, we become valuable to anyone else experiencing those things, and in a ways that could not be known by people who had never actually been in the same position. This is the basis of empathy: our own psychological and physical pain. And when we’ll feel its value is when we bestow our empathy on anyone whose pain we truly share. Having surrendered ourselves into a state of oneness, healing them is to heal ourselves. And that is the value of our pain.

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 Value of Anger

Eckhart Tolle on Anger

Nature isn’t stupid. It didn’t give you a collection of useless emotions. It gave you love to bond you to your community, it gave you fear to keep you safe. You have your bell and your thunderbolt, as the Buddhists might say. A little love and you have appeal, a lot and you have a romance. Have a bit of fear and you’re excited, have too much and you bare your teeth in anger.

There’s a lot of folks today that figure that once we’re advanced enough that we’ll drop that last one (as though we’re being graded by someone other than our own egos). We will see a less angry world for sure, but going so far as to think that anger is beneath love is to live in a dualistic world of ego. Things simply are. You may have noticed that the world functions the way it will regardless of your opinions about it.

Of course, it’s not like we’re helpless in this life. Maybe we don’t control the ocean, but we can learn to be a pretty skillful sailor. That said, even skillful sailors have to face storms. Big human emotions are like storms. But even facing those can be exhilarating and expanding if done with an open attitude.  A grandmother’s patience was won by raising her own terrible two-year olds. If you take the problem away, you also take away the sense of achievement that goes with overcoming it.

What you do want to avoid is egocentric anger. This is a fabricated, thought-based anger that is based on something like your hopes or expectations. Don’t go blaming anger for that though. You were living in ego having those hopes or expectations. Those are thoughts, those aren’t the world. Pain will create the feeling of anger. But angry thought-based emotional suffering is all ego.

You getting mad about not getting something you want is not the same thing as you getting mad at an attacker and fighting for your life. Yes, they’re the same emotion, but when you were built, nature didn’t figure you were going to invent language and then sit around all day and tell yourself scary or frustrated stories that then called for a chemical that your body wanted for much more serious circumstances. It’s you telling you the stories. You can’t blame nature for needing aggressive emotions to exist.

A lot of you won’t like that idea. You want a holy that looks like yoga and sounds like Eckhart Tolle. All quiet and calm. Hey, Eckhart does know what he’s talking about. For sure that is someone presenting the truth. But in all honesty, as awesome as he is, would you really want an entire world filled with Eckharts? He’s pretty low key….

What Eckhart is saying is critically important and people should listen when that’s what they’re ready for. But Eckhart’s not who you think to call when you want to go to Burning Man with your kids, or white water rafting with your summer, beer-drinking friends. He’s not who you’d think of racing to if you were super excited about something. His calmness would absorb the excitement. Like all of us, he’s right for some situations and not for others.

The world needs variety. There’s a lot of ways to be enlightened. Don’t fall for the idea that it looks like nervous people want it to. Those are egos. Listen to Eckhart. That’s one form of enlightenment. But so was Mozart, and you might be familiar with the fact that his personality was almost the exact opposite of Eckhart’s. Meaning Mozart’s crazy life, and Symphony No. 40 and the first movement of ‘Allegro,” are also the sound of enlightenment.

Your job as an enlightened being isn’t to stop all of the world’s tumult. Your job is only to move through that tumult as yourself. The scenic flats of the river and the raging rapids are all legitimate aspects of your river. Sometimes you’re a teacher like Eckhart, sometimes you’re a teacher like a raging two year old. You can learn a lot from Eckhart. And you can learn a lot from the two year old. Because in the end, the differences won’t be in them, they will be in you.

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.

It Starts Now

Video below.

You’re worried and you want certainty. You don’t want to make a so-called “big” decision in case you choose the wrong thing. And yet, as expensive as it is to your life, your mind and your body, you will worry despite the fact that it does nothing but stretch out the decision time. In fact, it’s helpful to recognise that a decision-making delay is the only reason there’s even room in your life for worrying.

The universe rather obviously wanted a you to exist. That’s why you’re here. You’re part of nature. You just have this odd habit of talking to yourself like your someone undeserving of respect, as though the stories you tell yourself in your head matter as much as the fact that the universe bothered to create you in the first place.

Just accept you’ll make mistakes and then trust yourself. Give up on figuring it out before you get to the moment you’re in. Failing is a part of the story you’re in, it’s not anything more meaningful than that. This is a massive drama. Don’t even try to imagine how your role ultimately fits in, just trust that your lines will occur to you when you need them. The best kind of prepared you can be is to be relaxed and to have faith in yourself.

It hurts less. It really does. Too many of your attempts to preserve your life, your health, your sanity and your reputation are all more painful than just facing life as plain old you. Again, your job’s not to be an impressive character, your job is to be you so that the story can unfold naturally. Just live without all of that second-guessing. The second-guessing is the pain. Again: the second guessing is the pain.

All the planning in the world can still not guarantee success. Accept that fact and begin living within reality, where your control is limited, but your ability to adapt is fantastic. Rather than being a rigid person looking for a perfect world, be a flexible person who comes to enjoy the leaps and tumbles that go with discovery, realisation and enjoyment.

If you’d just stop your efforts to avoid suffering, you wouldn’t have to suffer so much. Leap. It’s okay. Life will catch you.

Have a great 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 Confrontation

She let him have it. How dare he speak to her that way? They were friends, she was hurting and he attacked her. He went right for the jugular, refusing to respect what was happening and what it all meant. Her heart was broken.

“I can’t believe you said that to me.”

“I can’t believe you asked me to believe something so ridiculous.”

“I never asked you to believe anything! I was hurt. I came to you for help and you acted like my problems are nothing!”

“What problems?”

She’s incredulous. He was right there. He did it! And now he’s claiming he doesn’t know what’s going on?! She was livid. “I just finished telling you about how my boss has been treating me and you acted like it didn’t matter!”

“Okay, first off, can we at least try to calm down enough so that we’re not yelling back and forth?” He took a breath and steadied himself. His voice was warmer when he spoke. “Look Syd, we’ve known each other a while now. If you haven’t figured out that I care then pay more attention because it should be obvious for a variety of reasons. Who rescued you when blew your rent on that crazy gift for your Mom?”

“She was worried she was going to die!”

“I remember. That’s why I gave you money I really didn’t have. Of course I thought your Mom was important. Who took her special meals up every time you couldn’t? Who sat and played her dice game with her? Don’t act like I haven’t shown I care.”

She shuffles in her place, uncomfortable. He puts his arm around her. “When that guy dumped you I’m the one that invited you over for dinner, and it was me that was sitting beside you and it was me that put the mirror on the chair across from you because it was me who told you I wanted to make sure you had dinner looking across the table at someone beautiful.”

She jags a cry. She’s emotional, and he’s mixing a bunch of sweet and awful moments together really fast. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“That’s us Syd. That’s what we do. A girl dumps me, I come see you and you tell me I have a nice ass or that girls are dumb anyway and you help. Even if I’ve been a dick. You show you care. And I do too. So that’s who we are so you can’t take today and rewrite all of that. You can if you want, but to me you’re the same person, which is why I don’t want to hear this shit anymore.”

She’s incredulous that he’d attack her after they just calmed it down. “What shit?”

“This shit about you being weak. This shit about you going into a depression because of your boss. I know you. So it’s insane to ask me to believe that you’re too weak for this. It’s offensive to you, and you asking me to pretend you’re weak is offensive to me. I know who I know, I know who I see every day.” It’s weird. He’s complimenting her and giving her shit at the same time. She gets up, back to him, crosses her arms and paces nearby. It doesn’t seem to bother him.

His tone shifts down a bit. “And who I see is a strong woman who made it through her Mom’s cancer and her parent’s divorce, and her breakups and mine–and she survived Grady Marsh in high school and yes, she was knocked around for sure.” He leans in to stress his point. “But the weeble wobbled and it didn’t fall down Syd. You were fine then you’ll be fine now, so all of this dramatization is exactly that.”

“Don’t reduce my life to some lame plea. And so I’m just supposed to go everyday and get treated like shit? Is that it? I should just be fine with how she treats me?”

“Of course not. She’s a classic over-compensator. She feels like a fraud who doesn’t really deserve her job and so she feels uncomfortable around any capable person and she over-compensates. It’s classic. It’s hardly personal. She’ll do it like a robot to everyone who she perceives has the ability, intelligence or beauty that she doesn’t have. And don’t act like you’re helpless.”

“Oh what, I confront her and wait for her to get angry and undermine me and then just surrender my job? That’s what she’d do.”

“Maybe. Depends on how you approach it. But regardless, either fix it, leave it or stop bitching about it. She’s always been like that; you should either go in and accept that as the landscape of the job, or make a formal complaint and wait to get fired, or just leave. But stop talking like you’re weak with no options when you’re really only scared. You’re an adult.”

“This is a painful thing, why can’t you see that?”

“I can. But no one said there’d be no pain. You live around enormous numbers of people in horrible pain. My point is it won’t last so it doesn’t need us to engage with it so much.”

“I’ve put in five years there. Why should I have to leave!?

“Why not leave? Why are you assuming where you go would be worse? Maybe it would be better. Maybe you’d meet your new boyfriend who becomes your husband there. Syd, stop acting like these mental attachments matter.”

He urges her to sit back down next to him and she does. “Let me clear it up Syd: the world isn’t fair. Go to a children’s hospital and see people with real challenges. Even your own sister. She’s a single mom of a sick kid, she has to work two jobs, and your once-had-cancer mom helps but you don’t. Your life looks pretty good you know. I know it’s no princess-life but come on. We gotta remember, 25% of the people walking past us will get cancer and a bunch of the rest of them are those people’s families. Maybe that’s still us, so maybe this isn’t so bad really.”

“I don’t think you understand what being depressed is.”

He’s not angry, but he is firm. “Now you’re being disrespectful to me. Please don’t pretend you’ve got some feeling I don’t. Don’t pretend that everyone you know hasn’t suffered horribly in their life. All of us feel like just throwing in the towel sometimes. I know that hurts and so does everyone else over about ten years old, so don’t put a spotlight on your problems like they’re the only ones that count because the rest of us have some challenges too you know. When was the last time you asked about Brian?”

Her eyes widened and she hid a gasp. “I’m so sorry. I was so caught up in what’s been happening that I didn’t even think to ask. I’m so sorry.” She takes a step toward him but she can see he needs some space.

“Thanks. Mom says he’s good. We’ll wait and see how the chemo did.”

“I’m so sorry. We should go see him.”

The whole thing between them is a bit weird for her now. He seems comfortable, just stung. “Yeah. He’d like that.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Syd, just stop okay? Just stop with all of the whining. You’re not depressed, it’s just when small shit goes wrong somehow your dad taught you this habit of spinning it around in your head for forever and for what? What’s all that thinking do but dump a bunch of awful-feeling chemicals into your brain? How does that help you solve your issues with your boss, or Palestine and Israel, or climate change, or women’s rights, or any other thing you’ll get all down about? It’s just a stupid waste of time and a bad habit and you always defend it. It steals energy from our friendship that could be used more wisely.”

He turns toward her, almost intimately. “It’s why you forgot to ask about Brian. You’re always too wrapped up with thoughts about yourself that you never stop to ask what you’re missing and yet you’re famous for not noticing major things in people’s lives.”

“I am not!”

He just looks back at her. She can tell that it’s true. She has a moment where she caves in a bit. She hates the thought that among her friends she’s known as the one who hogs the pain limelight. But to her credit, that reputation doesn’t feel comfortable, so she takes a good breath, sits up straight and she turns to him. “Okay… okay… so you’re saying I’m strong and so you’re not mad at me and you’re mad at me for acting like I’m weak.”

“Yes. You I love. I know you. It’s the behaviour. It’s beneath you. It’s like watching an alcoholic hurt themselves. I won’t blame the alcoholic for drinking themselves, but I won’t buy them a bottle either.”

She sits with that for a bit. If her parents made it to Canada, through all of that hell back home, then how could the child of those strong people act like a shitty boss would be enough to knock her entire life off track. The longer she considered it the more the stronger feeling built until finally she turned to him. “Okay. Okay then tell me what your brother loves and then lets go get a lot of whatever that is.”

He turns to her. He’s crying. She touches his shoulder. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

“I’m not crying about that.”

“What’s wrong then?”

“Nothing. You’re just so beautiful when you love people.”

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.

Self Harm

1091-relax-and-succeed-the-mind-is-responsible-for-the-feelingsThis week we’ve discussed spiritual and psychological violence. You’ve worked on altering your external discussions to remove that sort of violence from what you say; you’ve worked on your internal discussions regarding how you judge others; and today you’ll work on the most damaging version: attacks on yourself.

The concepts of cutting or self-sabotage can be difficult for happy people to understand. But it is possible to use internal violence against ourselves so effectively that we also begin to believe we deserve physical pain as well. We start to use the pain to divert our attention away from the even-more-painful thinking. The point isn’t to stop the cutting, it’s to stop the thinking.

The illusion that there is something wrong with us is created through comparison. If your parents were verbally hard on you then they would have taught you to be hard on yourself within your thoughts and there will always be a comparison. If we’re not careful we can start to think the training for our thoughts is actually who we are, but just because someone judges you as something doesn’t mean that’s what you are, it just means that’s their style of judgment.

1091-relax-and-succeed-dont-let-your-struggleThe trick is, you can’t get back into a healthy mode by trying or changing or effort because it’s all an illusion. Everyone is naturally psychologically and spiritually healthy, but we can be convinced–and then we can continue to convince ourselves–that somehow we are not worthy unless we do this or that thing.

As strange as it seems to the person who’s made a habit of doing it, there’s nothing wrong with them other than they’re currently engaged in painful thinking. That’s why they still have friends and family that love them and are often confused. None of it makes sense unless you’re the person thinking the thoughts. They still see the same old lovable, potential-filled you.

When you look in mirror you don’t see you, you see a jumble of judgments about you. When you consider who you are, you don’t look at yourself very thoroughly; you’re more likely to cherry pick out all of your biggest challenges. But if you didn’t have those challenges you’d be perfect and that would be boring. You’re here to move around all that, not overcome it. Mountain climbers don’t chisel the mountain out of existence, nor do they want to stay on top. Their life’s joy is just trying a life of different routes.

1091-relax-and-succeed-i-am-made-and-remade-continuallyToday’s meditation is to compete with yourself or your partner to catch yourself internally using the words I and you, because that’s the two words you’ll often use when you talk to yourself. (e.g. If I don’t get this paper written I’ll fail this class; come on Sara, you can do it.) Keep in mind you do this all day every day so there will be lots of opportunities for you to catch yourself.

Just like you did yesterday with another person, today you do that with yourself. You listen to that criticism and then you find a way to rephrase it to yourself in more positive, encouraging terms. This can feel silly and meaningless, but that’s because you think your big problems need big solutions, but really you don’t have big problems, you just have an overabundance of  counterproductive thinking.

Don’t stop altering your external conversations; keep shifting those to be more positive as well. For every interior criticism you have about someone or something, rewrite it to be most positive. And today add interior and exterior criticisms of yourself. You’ll feel like you’re getting away with something or you’re letting yourself off easy, but in reality it’s that easy. Don’t add another layer of argument about that. Just do it.

Your reality is not made from things it’s made from ideas. The ideas that are real in your world are the ones you believe. Start believing in a stronger, more lovable version of yourself, because despite your very real concerns, that’s the real you. Believing anything else will continue to be a painful denial of that much larger spiritual reality. Bottom line, the universe doesn’t make mistakes and the universe made you. Anything else is just thinking.

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.

Real Peace Is Not What You Think

1022-relax-and-succeed-i-am-not-what-you-think-i-amYesterday we discussed Decision Fatigue and how it is wearing a lot of people out today, but a lot of people are misunderstanding what their peace has to look like. Making lots of decisions about your life is stressful, yet responding to needs of those we love often has a strange, compelling effortlessness which is representative of the psychological and spiritual peace you’re looking for.

One of the best examples of this is infant parenting. People can find parts of it nerve-wracking as they try to figure out what the right thing to do, but even that is just us dithering between ego choices rather than quieting our mind and calmly trusting our instincts like we’re forced to do in an emergency. It’s also why people working in refugee camps are often calmer and enjoying life more than successful people with nice office jobs. What to do is often so clear, important and obvious that there is no need for but-if thinking.

This is why stay-at-home moms will often have a strange transition as their kids reach more independent ages. Even by 2 or 3 years old they have enough ability to communicate that we begin treating them more like adults and we start heaping expectations on them, which of course they can either satisfy or not satisfy, but that’s where the over-thinking of the mother starts because it theoretically could go differently….

1022 Relax and Succeed - Forget trying to find your path

Strange huh? When the responsibility is shared with the child because they can communicate now things can go well or go poorly because blame is possible. The child can have listened or not have listened, so in a way they can now misbehave for the first time ever. They now have enough control over themselves that the mother can regain her sense of expectation, which in turn spawns a sense of depression.

What happens to all of us in these cases is that we mis-ascribe the source of the pain. The mother will think she’s just lost two years of her life and never thought much about herself. A fireman will wish there weren’t so many candles at Christmas that start fires, or the surgeon will imagine how the surgery might have gone if they’d only known about…. It is the revisiting of these choices that is stressful not the choices themselves, because at the time of making them they often weren’t choices they were simple reactions to life-threatening events. No time to over-think.

So the Mom ends up feeling depressed that she didn’t to have a bath or read a book in the last two years and yet she will often look back on those very years as some of the best of her life. Why? Because she was largely selfless during them. And what is it to have no ego? It is to be selfless; it’s literally to avoid using the mind to create a self than can then think wanting-for-itself thoughts. She didn’t mind not having a life of her own because she had no time to stop and think about it.

1022-relax-and-succeed-there-is-tremendous-happinessSo don’t think you need a quiet hardwood room with tatami mats on the floor, don’t think you need a book or a glass of wine, don’t think you need to be bent into some particular shape; peace can be wherever you go and in whatever you do, but the secret is to make friends with the present moment. It’s not to second-guess what happened, it is a time to be and not to do.

You don’t need emergencies to winnow down your thoughts, you can stop yourself from building them in the first place. Work on focusing your mind rather than creating wanting thoughts and you will find yourself in the same peaceful state of mind shared by a meditating Monk, an athlete in the midst of their best performance, an artist at the height of their creativity, and a parent who is fully mindful of the needs of their child rather than on wants of their own.

Remove your personal thoughts that would compare, judge or want and you are instantly free. The only question is, will you look at your life and actually see that you were at your best when you were forced to trust yourself rather than think, and then having confirmed that; will you be vigilant and practice your mindfulness today?

peace. s

PS This is a companion piece to the post Decision Fatigue.

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 Four Noble Truths

1015-relax-and-succeed-the-buddhaUnderstanding the secret behind a clear, rewarding life is not a matter of intelligence, it’s a leap into a paradox. Enlightenment is the action behind a rewarding life. It is a motion through experience. Even repeated actions are each given moment by moment attention. It is to simply be aware of experience without the creation of nor attachment to an experiencer.

A student once asked me why she saw several different versions of The Four Noble Truths. Since this blog is all about clarifying popular quotes it seemed a fitting basis for a blog and so I’m answering her question here.

The phrase, Suffering is universal, and the phrase, Life means suffering essentially say the same thing. If you want life you must also take suffering. They’re a package deal. But the noble truths should not be seen independently. They are almost more a riddle than a checklist of rules.

1015-relax-and-succeed-four-noble-truthsClearly we don’t have to reconcile the two when they both say, The origin of suffering is attachment, but we do have to define attachment. This doesn’t just mean attachments to things, people, or places, it also includes ideas. Like for instance, you will suffer if you’re attached to the idea of becoming detached. (Now there’s a tricky one.)

Again the two versions agree in their third stanza: The cessation of suffering is attainable. Now it gets interesting. Note that the first truth said that there was no way around suffering and yet here it says you can cease it. Logically, that means that you have to take it during your lifetime but you can learn to stop it for periods of time. You can exert limits on suffering, you just can’t make it vanish or you also wouldn’t know happiness. By accepting some suffering you avoid most suffering, but without the contrast joy will disappear.

Now to speak to the biggest difference–or apparent biggest difference–because I would argue these two statements are different phrasings of the same thing; Path to cessation of suffering is detachment means detached from an outcome. You can only be enlightened if you don’t want to be enlightened. You cannot have any attachment to an external outcome and achieve an enlightened state. That only happens when you have no personal feelings or desires, just pure experience.

1015-relax-and-succeed-the-four-noble-truthsThe alternate version is, Gradual self-improvement is the path to the cessation of suffering. This too is saying there is no identity nor any state of enlightenment there is only the act of becoming enlightened. You can’t have the goal of enlightenment and then know that as an individual you achieved it, you can only enact enlightenment through focusing on learning how to cease suffering. Again, it’s not a state, it’s an action. You just move around the spokes of the four truths. The road home is home.

Learning to manage your suffering will make you more ephemeral, flexible and free. Conversely, not wanting to suffer is to bring suffering directly to the smallest, weakest version of you there is. Learn how to suffer wisely. Much of this entire site is dedicated to helping you do that. Make it a priority in your life. There’s nothing else you could do that would make as much difference in how much you enjoy your life.

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.