Nothing is Something

1269 Relax and Succeed - They are the chosen onesThey were sitting in a coffee shop. The decidedly unsettled woman twitched a statement his direction. “I can’t paint.”

“You painted all of those beautiful paintings in your house, and quite a few hanging in other people’s houses too, like mine.”

“There’s no point.”

“You enjoy it.”

“Not like this.”

“This isn’t painting, this talking about painting.”

She was already done her coffee. She leaned over toward the garbage and ditched it. “This is a kind of torture, being stuck like this. Constant procrastination, no work. No achievement, no sense of self-respect. But how could I think I was gonna get that from something so fated? So pointless?”

“I like the paintings I own of yours. I take pleasure from seeing them. Don’t you enjoy people liking what you’ve offered?”

“Praise is uncomfortable for everyone. It’s too rare. Feels weird. And my problem is bigger than procrastination–although that’s huge–my problem is metaphysical. It’s… philosophical. It’s spiritual. It’s so huge it’s not even my problem it’s the problem. With everything”

“Oh oh. Then it’s a problem for me too. What is this problem we have again?”

“Everything comes from somewhere.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“It’s just a giant universe of pool balls, clicking and clacking away. We live inside a math formula.”

“What?”

She caught the eye of the bearded guy behind the counter then looked at her companion. “You want another one?” He signalled he still had 90% of his existing drink. She held up one finger and the barista nodded in understanding. “This whole thing. Everything in the world was predetermined by every other thing. It’s all just billiard balls.”

“I’m going to need a bit more detail.”

“Just think about it: why are we speaking English?”

“…Because we’re in Canada? Because our parents speak English?”

“Exactly! See! We had no choice. English came to us, we didn’t pick it off a list of German and Japanese and Italian and Swahili. Our lifestyles. Why do our Dad’s both own businesses–because their Dad’s did.”

“We’ve got friends who own businesses whose parents worked at jobs.”

“Yeah, but those people didn’t want to be like their parents, so in a weird way the parent still dictated what they did. It was all inevitable. All billiard balls. Every song, based on the notes developed by others, using the timing systems developed by others, and played on instruments invented by others. Everything is so derivative. There’s no point.”

1269 Relax and Succeed - Millions long for immortalityThat last statement shot the eyebrows of her companion up. He was thoughtful while she fidgeted even more, checking her phone. He broke her attention away from it when he spoke. “What if it’s not balls?”

“What?”

“What if it’s not balls? What if the reason it feels like there’s no point is that we’re not all individual balls in search of individual achievements. What if we’re all just one big flowing mass? Then aren’t your actions both kind of predetermined and also awake and alive? Isn’t it possible to be fully occupied with fulfilling our ‘own’ aspects of that flow? Doesn’t an ocean crash on anew on every shore? Isn’t that both ours and the–and part of the ocean of everything?”

She seemed genuinely impressed that it hung together in the end, but it didn’t line up with what she already believed, so her initial reaction was rejection. “That’s too easy. It ignores the nihilism of it all. I cannot paint with any kind of meaning. All anyone is ever going to get is just another reflection of every force I ever encountered as life unfolded me like a predetermined plan.”

“Can’t all of that be true and still leave you space to feel like you’re a part of a great oneness? Isn’t that what a muse is? The hand of God needs fingers right?”

Eyebrow. “Hand of God?”

“I was shooting for poetic.”

“Ah… no.” In the background the barista was foaming her latte.

“You’re the one going on about metaphysics and nihilism. I’m not even sure either one of us knows what those words mean exactly.”

“I just want my life to have meaning. Is that so much to ask from the universe?”

“How would I know? What’s meaning? Meaning changes as we mature anyway. I don’t see the crap we did at 10 years old the same way now that I did then. I can only assume that since everything else in my life is like that, now will be like that too. So what’s meaning? Meaning’s some floating idea we temporarily layer over an experience or a memory. But what’s so great about that? People have different opinions about the same book. Why can’t that be wonderful? Why do they have to agree on a meaning?”

“What’s the point?”

“That’s like asking for a meaning. Can’t life be the point? Can experience itself be the point? What do people who find out they’re dying want? They want more experiences. They might have had a lifetime of crappy ones and they’ll still want more when you tell them it’s over. There has to be something to that. Picasso was billiard balls too. I remember you getting pretty excited about Picasso. Wasn’t that joy real? Wasn’t that a thing? Isn’t that a point? To just…–live that? Doesn’t the universe need witnesses?”

This catches her attention. “Witness?”

“What if we’re not here to do anything? What if we’re just here to be? To see it. What if we’re just all witness-actors in the universe? What if this whole wondrous thing only happens because each part does its part, for every other part?”

1269 Relax and Succeed - A life worth living“Can’t be. I’m sitting here. I’m not doing anything. I’ve stopped the flow of the balls.”

“Ooo. Look at you. The grand ball stopper. The whole universe? Come on. But: what if this procrastination is just you misunderstanding that this is not when you’re supposed to create? What if you’re living this, but you don’t even understand why yet, like the Kierkegaard quote? But what if this is all part of that big flow? What if you being stuck is perfect? I don’t know art, but I’d bet another coffee that Picasso got stuck too.”

She’s thinking. This logical explanation has thrown a wrench into her nihilistic negativity. Despite herself, she’s finding some gleeful exuberance bubbling down low. “I dunno. Seems too easy. And where’s it leave us anyway?”

“Under that explanation there is no ‘us’ and no ‘where’ anyway, so it’s a nonsense question.”

The barista drops down her coffee and quickly swipes her cash card. While he’s going through the motions she continues her conversation. “Right. Oneness. Flow. That was good”

It’s as though he’s realising it more than stating it. “If everywhere is the same place then your lostness is inside foundness. Right?”

She’s confused herself. “Now you’re getting too deep for me.”

“You wanna get out of here?”

“Actually if it’s cool with you, I think I might head home. This actually makes me want to paint.”

“What’s the point though?”

She tosses a sugar wrapper at him. “My own joy of the doing.”

“That sounds worth it to me.”

“I’ll hate you during the hard parts.”

“What are the hard parts?”

“The parts on which there is no paint.”

“Ah. I get hated right to the end then.”

“I get a painting out of it though.”

“A nihilistic painting?”

“I dunno. I’m going to experiment with flow.”

“I guess I’ll wait to see it.”

peace. s

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

Shine On You Crazy Diamond

A group of seniors were being interviewed on the radio about what kind of person they were when they were younger versus today. Without any of them intending to, or likely even noticing, all of them gave the same answer.

All the answers sounded different in that they involved different qualities and situations, but all of them essentially said: I have this one skill I’m known for, plus I had these particular experiences that helped changed me for the better in this particular way that I’m proud of, and I knew it would help me if I changed this one other thing about me but, oh well, I tried but it didn’t work out and I eventually I just gave up.

My favourite part was how comfortable they were with themselves. They were not only letting themselves own failure, they were even letting themselves have their victories. They were proud of what they could do, proud of what they learned, and they accepted what they couldn’t do.

They hadn’t built some perfect soul like you’re trying to. You’re trying to be mistake-free, with a perfect life. What you really want to know how to do is fall. If you’re really good at falling and getting back up, then you’re a champion. Those seniors experienced a lot of unwanted falls before they ran out of time to fix them, which lead them to realise there was no point in worrying about changing anyway. They always seemed to be too busy living. They would have just have to accept who they were.

Note: it wasn’t like they were unaware. They were always aware of how they were challenging for others as a person. But we are who we are and after a lifetime of trying, eventually they just decided those so-called faults weren’t worthy of any more attention. They said things like, I probably should have spoke up more, but that just wasn’t me; I know was too pushy a lot of the times but what are you gonna do–and I did get a lot done; I spent two decades drunk. I can’t get that back, so I’m just thankful for being sober today.

Rather than spend much time or emotional energy on the negative thing, they shifted pretty fast to an oh well perspective. What are you gonna do? several of them said. It was very casual and comfortable. That’s the sweet sound of surrender. That’s someone no longer striving because they’re too busy being.

Don’t wait until you’re 75 to give yourself permission to be multifaceted. On a diamond we see the table and its pedestal. But the reason the light fires back out of the table with such an intense sparkle is because of all the angles below the setting. They aren’t pretty in and of themselves, but those angles are just right for reflecting your light back out of your more polished sides. They are what allow the top of the diamond to shine. Yes, maybe you wish you’d had a better relationship with your Dad. But the fact that it wasn’t good was why you worked so hard to nurture the excellent relationships you have with your kids. It’s all connected.

It doesn’t help to look at the bottom of someone else’s diamond nor does it help to look at yours. Your brashness will create opportunities for you and others, your shyness will give chances to some that wouldn’t get one, your fears make you excellent at advice on bravery, and your outrageousness brought joy to many.

That’s what all of those people learned in their lifetime; you’ll change in ways you never planned to that are really meaningful, so just let those happen; and you won’t change in some ways even though there’s some benefits to it, but that’s just how it goes so you might as well just settle into being who you were born to be and enjoy it.

That’s good advice for all of us. Find out who you are–all of you–accept that person and then just live. Accept that you were never supposed to play any other part but yourself. That flawed, sometimes embarrassing person is who the world really wanted you to be. Thank you for playing your part. Without you, we’d be missing out on an important part of life.

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.

Setting Limits

808 Relax and Succeed - Self care is not selfishHow far should you let people push? How much should they get away with? How much should you be accommodating them? And how are your feelings about them playing into that? Would you put up with as much from your neighbour as your boss? Or what about your children or a spouse?

May I suggest you begin by setting some limits on the idea of setting limits? Because we’re talking about how long (how much time) we should put in before it’s too much. So can you see that the very idea of setting a limit traps you in time? You’re upset because of what’s happened again which means there must have been a before and you’ll be worried it will keep on happening which means by setting a limit you’re trying to alter your future. It’s like your mind colours in a section of your life stretching from a point in your past to a point in your future and you call that your relationship.

Fortunately one thing that actually does impact the future is what we do today. And even if we live in the moment we still have access to all of our knowledge. So we can make a decision today that we’re going in a new direction, but as soon as that person approaches us again we either have to re-make that same decision or we cave in and double back to our old decision. You can use the moments of now to plan your future but that future will still happen one moment at a time.

808 Relax and Succeed - Bent pots need bent lids

This isn’t to diminish what’s happening in people’s lives. This can get serious. If you’re dating a drug addict or someone that gets violent then these can be some of life’s most important decisions. But important and unimportant decisions are all made the same way. You can say whatever you want but your life is ultimately made out of what you do.

We all have those friends who keep going back to the same agonizing relationships over and over like a drug addict visiting their dealer. And it’s a good analogy, because the person really is addicted to the source of the drug they want (anger, sadness, victimization, whatever). So they see this person and they make them react in this predictable way and voila–they get the brain chemistry they came for and you have a perfect co-dependent relationship.

If this is something small it’s easy. You decide you don’t like this person or that activity or whatever and you just quit. You’re not setting a limit so much as realizing something doesn’t suit you. But setting a limit implies that we want to be close to a person (remember–be wary of that word want), but the person’s behaviour makes being close to them impossible or difficult. If it’s not something small and easy like an acquaintance or co-worker–if it’s a child or a spouse–then you still have to make your decisions one at a time and your only recourse between decisions is to accept your situation–which means don’t re-think a past choice.

808 Relax and Succeed - We are all searching for someoneIn the end the closest thing to setting a limit would be to continue to make that same decision, each time, for the rest of your life. But of course many of you will end up waffling. You’ll set the limit and then have a low day or a high day where you’re a little needier or a little softer and you’ll let whoever it is close enough to hurt you again. But don’t beat yourself up for that even if you do end up with a broken heart. Because that’s what the you in that moment felt compelled to do–otherwise meaning you’re living your life wisely and in the moment because both decisions are equally fine, they each just match the state of mind of the thinker at the time, as they should.

Either accept people for how they are or you are doomed to a life of vainly trying to get them to be the way you want them to be. No one owes us any sort of behaviour so we certainly shouldn’t get attached to what we perceive as good behaviour. Other people live in moments too and they are always in a state of change. But it’s also very important to remember that we too are always changing. And as we change ourselves we also naturally change our idea of just what our limits really are. 😉

peace. s

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