Downers

A lot of our thinking stays within us and we’re the only ones that ever know our perspectives exist, but sometimes our thinking externalizes into actual spoken words. Since these words flow in the patterns that create our personalities, we can learn a lot about ourselves by listening carefully to ourselves with others.

As we start trying to catch ourselves we’ll need to do it with big things, and after the fact. Thinks like: what was the overall tone of my last conversation? What all did we talk about? Who started which subjects? What did I engage with and what did I ignore?

Eventually we start catching ourselves within a conversation and we suddenly become aware of where we are in that moment. If you don’t like where we’re at when we do, we suddenly prove how easy it is to change one’s thoughts because we’ll switch instantly and easily. We’ve all done this every time we’re having a big fight with our spouse and then someone from work calls and we answer the phone all cheery and positive. We’ll even flicker between the work identity and our married identity instantly as we cheerily say a sentence with a smile in it, and then as we listen we glare daggers at our partner.

When catching our conversations, first we’ll note a lot of them are sad, or dull, or whiny, or angry, or if we’re lucky maybe they’re relaxed, or fun or hilarious or lively. If we cultivate a lot of the first four we’ll reach for “relaxed” or “lively,” but generally people who are struggling have conversations that sound like people struggling. There’s lots of talk about how misunderstood they are, or what they can’t do, what their limits are, what resources are missing, or how hard, unfair or bad things are.

It will also help to monitor those we talk to. If we’re all having a great time, then we’re good. If one of us is always down and the other is always trying to pull the other up, then that’s strained and it’ll inevitably end. If both of us are always down then we’ve been down long enough that we’ve formed a group of people who like to meet because we’re all so good at negativity.

Once we get better at listening to ourselves while we’re in-conversation we start to spot patterns. We go to certain people for certain things. We have certain patterns attached to certain activities or times of day. Some people will lean on us, others we will lean on. But overall if our tone averages as enjoyable then we’re good, and if it averages as negative for too long then people will slowly disengage and we’ll only hold on to other people who actually worship and nurture sadness like we do.

None of us likes to think we’re negative. When we are negative we prefer to view it as misunderstood, wounded, or betrayed, or weak, or burdened with history. We discuss how no one understands us, or we talk about the hurts we have suffered, or how people have been unfair. We discuss our inabilities and justifications for those inabilities incessantly, and we also claim that things that happened five years ago prevent us from taking action today.

All of this negativity presents as forms of resistance to being, to creation. But every one of us has within us the capacity to alter our world. Even Stephen Hawking’s broke, diseased body took the one thing he had –an abundance of idle time– and he used it to develop his mind to the point where it has travelled farther our into the universe than anyone ever has. And it was all done from a wheelchair.

It will hurt to be inactive in the world. We were built to contribute. Even ants change the world. We certainly were built to build; families, businesses, friendships, community. So we can take our life energy and talk ourselves and those around us into a sad, small, depressing lives filled with suffering, or we can use that same life energy to go out and help others realise something great about themselves or the world. And regardless of our awareness of the fact, our life will be made of the moment by moment choices we make in that regard.

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.

MoK: Casual Kindness

There are many ways to spread kindness into life. Most people remember the direct ways, like doing things for people or offering them a compliment, but there are also the indirect ways. Since people are experiencing what they’re thinking about, changing how someone thinks is to change how they feel.

Parents do this with their kids all the time. You’ve seen it. The kid is screaming about something, and then the parent introduces something new to bait the consciousness of the kid. Hopefully it’s not a threat or a gift, because if that happens too often that person will end up unhealthy. But if it’s an experience then it can be expansive.

So there’s the screaming kid at the grocery store, and the parent says, Do you want ride your bike this weekend with the adults, on the adult trails? And the kid starts thinking about that and they switch from anger to excited in no time. So why don’t we do that as adults? Adults actually argue with you to hold on to the idea that’s painful to them. Don’t try to change the subject on me! (Even though all the discussion in the world wouldn’t fix anything.)

You don’t want these efforts to feel forceful. It’s not some wedge of distraction you hammer into a conversation, but if you’re truly listening the way we all should–very intently and with no other purpose than listening–then you will find yourself struck with opportunities to turn the conversation toward something more enjoyable. It’s your nature. The trick will be getting out of its way.

If humans were designed to tune to negativity we never would have made it out of our first cave. We’d have been too scared. But instead we’re tuned for possibility. We see opportunities. So if you give someone an opportunity for positivity, well, that’s like bait to a fish. Eventually they’ll bite. And if you’re a patient fisherperson who doesn’t try to force the hook in, then you might find that you can succeed on your first try.

Today in the March of Kindness you want to listen carefully to the overall tone of a conversation. If it’s angry or sad or defeatist, listen intently and a natural response will occur to you that would pull the conversation toward something more pleasant and more productive. If you do it well people shouldn’t even notice that you did it.

That’s all that happy people do. When someone shoots them a ball of negativity, they gracefully give them back an easy play on a winning shot. You abandon the subject of their conversation and you focus instead on the tone only. You don’t argue any point, you simply offer a route to something more enjoyable.

You might have to offer it three times if they’re really upset, but eventually everyone would rather pedal their bike on a downslope. Just don’t listen with an agenda. Patiently listen and what to say or do will occur to you. Trust it. Your doubts are only made of thinking.

This is a very subtle form of kindness, and yet once you’re good at this it will be the one you’ll get to use the most. The sheer subtlety of it means it faces less resistance and it gets better results. So join the rest of us today and find some silver linings and help some others notice them too. Because in the end, we’re all in this life thing together.

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.

MoK: Redirecting Negativity

The March of Kindness is about making the world a kinder, safer, more loving space in which to thrive as a human being. We can do this by adding goodness to the world, but we can also accomplish this goal be removing negativity and replacing it with something more constructive.

We’re all too often willing to participate in gossip when we personally agree with it or view it as just idle conversation with friends or co-workers, but it’s far from idle. What people say about each other becomes their identity to a listener. And that can have extremely serious consequences.

If someone didn’t like someone else in high school and they end up getting a job at their company, the new person can be destroyed before they’ve even started because everyone’s been cued to only watch for pattern-matches to what they were previously told. We all say the odd dumb thing, but if people are on the lookout for that then suddenly the odd silly statement can turn into a person becoming dumb rather than just the statement, when in fact the person might be perfect for their job.

We’ve all been victims of it and it’s not like it improves as we age. Who hasn’t had a bitter ex spread lies about them? And the workplace can be just as vicious as the schoolyard. The way to identify gossip isn’t by whether you agree with it, it’s whether or not it’s negative.

If someone is commenting on or judging someone in any negative way then it’s gossip. Period. Unless you’re the person’s manager or teacher your personal opinion has no relevance to anyone but you, and even in the cases of managers and professors, the reasoning should be based on their alignment with the work, not with your personal feelings. A student or worker can be someone you’d never be friends with but that shouldn’t impact how you evaluate their work.

As the saying goes, loose lips sink ships. It’s not like gossip is a minor force in the world. It literally changes lives. It ruins companies and institutions, undermines science, and it can easily destroy lives. People have committed murder, suicide, vandalism and other horrible acts all based on gossip.

Talking is thinking out loud. Taking negatively about someone else is not healthy for the person doing the talking. It’s a sign of being locked into an ego-based, judgmental and superior perspective. The world is the world. It looks different to everyone. You’re not supposed to be going around poisoning other people’s views with yours. Your view is yours. Our personal opinions were never meant to be applied to the broader world. At our healthiest we should function from a position of principle, not opinion.

Today’s act in our March of Kindness is simply to spend the day actively listening for gossip. At work, at school, even at home and out. If someone offers a negative assessment of someone else, then our job is remind the people listening that there are other views. If they identify something they don’t like about the person, identify something you respect about them.

If someone says, Mindy’s always telling people what to do, you could add: We’re all different, and I don’t share her style of doing things, but I have noticed that what she wants people to do isn’t about her or anything selfish, her comments are usually focused on more or better work getting done. At minimum her heart’s in the right place.

Or if someone says, Did you hear that Jennifer’s dating Chris? What an idiot. You could respond, Well, we all like different kinds of people. Do we really want everyone judging who we love? I’m just glad they’re both happy. The idea is to take a negative and insert a positive. Double value if you normally would have agreed and joined in!

Don’t help sink someone else’s ship. Get your oar in the water and let’s make the world better by sharing more about what’s good about the world and less about what we don’t like about it. After all, mental health is really little more than having a rationally optimistic view of the world and the people in it. So let’s make gossip the enemy rather than people.

Have a great day 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.

Background Noise

1098-relax-and-succeed-be-still-and-listenTo many people, there are sounds and then there are words. Words communicate specific ideas between specific people, whereas sounds are more general. Words are intentionally spoken but, other than music, a lot of daily sound is simply the sound of living. It wasn’t for anyone.

If you’re in the forest, sound might mean birds and a waterfall; in a city it can mean sirens and traffic. But to most people that is background. Unless you’re a sound person in film or possibly a composer, for most people those sounds are habitually subtracted from our consciousness. Subtracted. As in; you’ve removed some reality.

If we really want to hear someone we’ll ask the people around them to be quiet. We’ll want to focus on that one voice. Words seem very intentional. Background noises appear less so, but not to whoever or whatever made them. That’s because we handle sound much like we handle the thought-experiment from yesterday about looking versus seeing. We listen for things, we rarely just listen.

1098-relax-and-succeed-the-sound-of-rainIt is because we place such a massive emphasis on words that we’re often lost. If we have a problem and we need an answer, we turn the problem into words and we ask people to give us advice in words. But words are symbols for the world, they are not the world. And people lie all of the time for valid social reasons. So if they’re symbols, and they’re often misleading, why do we use them so much to find our way?

Making matters worse, we spend all day treating these word-symbols as though they are solid, because we see them not as descriptions of the world but rather the world itself. We believe when we then transfer the words to the insides of our heads that we’re continuing to manage the real world using our minds, when it’s really just our ego juggling a bunch of symbols.

In truth we’ve trapped ourselves in an illusion and we’re trying to get out of a symbolic world by using even more symbols. It is the symbols that create the famous Buddhist illusion. When the Buddha speaks of ego, he speaks of mistaking a superficial description for a thing itself.

When you talk to yourself that is 100% symbols. Someone can drive a car without thinking of all of the words associated with driving a car. People aren’t behind the wheel going, “alright, blinker, shoulder check, all clear, lane change, blinker off, check rearview mirror….” etc. They’re just driving. Can you imagine being like that with people?

1098-relax-and-succeed-silence-isnt-emptyIn today’s meditation your job is to flip the world over. Rather than making the words important and the rest the background, you’re going to start ignoring your ego and focusing on the world itself. You want to trade words from outside your head or inside your head for just plain listening. In fact, this practice is often so unusual today that people aren’t even sure how to do it.

Don’t cycle other’s words, or words from your past. Don’t discuss things longer than necessary. Look for a conclusion to the need for words and then take action. The idea is to try to stop using words as soon as you can, and then trade that for active listening. Again, it’s like the difference between going to a big crowd of people and looking for someone, versus noticing someone you know because your eyes and mind are open.

All you’re trying to find today is three things you couldn’t have known or learned were it not for the way you were listening. Three things you realised through sound but you learned it from sounds other than words. If that seems abstract to you–if you’re not sure what I mean–if my words are unclear; just try listening to the world. Then maybe, like seeing a friend you didn’t know was there, you will be able to hear this lesson clearly. 😉

Forget all the words. Be present instead. And have 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 organisations locally and around the world.

Ego Awareness

1026-relax-and-succeed-the-goal-of-meditationMost people want to make changes but they’re too busy being who they think they are. They never stop to actually figure out who their ego is and how they might more easily identify it when it shows up. It’s important to remember; an ego must be summoned. Your natural state is peace. Your thinking-in-words state is your ego. So how do we find that little trouble-maker?

One of the easiest ways to catch your ego is to simply listen to yourself. And I don’t mean the sounds. If you had to ascribe a tone to your conversations and your responses, would it be negative or positive? Do you take what someone said and polish it up to look nicer, or do you take it and make it worse?

Get to know yourself. Most people you know would know your ego more than the real you. Without you being aware of it your ego is the angle that ideas will bounce off of you and the people who know you call that your personality.

1026-relax-and-succeed-the-darkness-that-surrounds-usDon’t think these little differences in how you talk and interact are unimportant. Keep in mind that those are direct reflections of your brain’s wiring. So as trivial as it might seem, there’s almost nothing more important than, if someone says, Nice day isn’t it? Do you say something negative or positive?

Let’s look at some possible answers to that question, but first let’s keep in mind that I live in one of the world’s northernmost cities and we have had one of our warmest years ever. Last winter was very short on low temperatures, and rather than warm weather extending from May to September, this year it’s gone from March to November. That’s five extra months of warm temperatures. But that doesn’t help someone if they have a negative perspective.

In my experiment I’ve been saying Nice day, isn’t it? for a few weeks and here’s a collection of the responses I got. Many of you are likely one of these or close to one of these.

Negative Responses to the question, Nice day isn’t it?

[No answer. Sullen expression]
Yeah, I guess it’s not bad.
It’s about time.
It won’t last.
Maybe for some people.
Yeah, but whatever it gives us now it’ll take it away worse, later.
Just wait a few weeks.
Not warm enough for me.

Anyone can have a challenging day where their patience is short and some negativity shows up. Sometimes people are dealing with very overwhelming circumstances so they’ll be more inclined to the negative but, all that said, there is no more important time to watch for the best things than when things are at their worst.

Take your little stab at negativity occasionally. We all do, because if there’s a path you’re seeking then there must be a not-path too. But you don’t want to stay on that path any longer than you have to, and the only way off that path is through raising your awareness and leading yourself out with a more optimistic perspective. The people above are experiencing one of the warmest years ever and yet they can still find ways for that to not be good enough. This is why expectations and comparisons kill happiness.

Pay more attention. See conversations as balls lobbed over a net toward you; every statement is a new ball. The question is, do you predominantly shoot those back toward the other person’s backhand, or their forehand? Do you make it easy to play, or do you make it harder? Do you take responsibility for your interpretation of reality or do try to pawn it off on others as though it’s their fault, or that somehow they were luckier than you, rather than they were more positive than you?

Positive approaches generate lots of support and assistance. Negative approaches attract anger and blame. Gee, I wonder which one leads to a better life?

Get conscious. Wake up. Don’t answer people out of habit and don’t initiate contact out of habit. Be aware. Choose your words carefully for they are the brushstrokes that form your painting of the world. If a person is always the victim of something, then that is what they are using this lifetime to become: a victim.

A person can do that their whole life if they choose to. Many more people have wasted lives than lived them. You’re the one who lives with those choices. But those can go both ways, because after anyone responds to me negatively, I still usually meet the next person with a positive attitude and it’s amazing what wonderful people are brought into your life though that simple act.

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.

Conscious Communication

966 Relax and Succeed - Don't promise when you're happyThis quote offers good advice for whenever you are conscious and can prevent these things from happening. But that’s only half of it. If you don’t do these things in each and every moment that doesn’t doom you. It just helps if take how you’re feeling into account when you look at the world. The glasses you wear will colour everything.

A useful counterpoint to this quote is the idea that the rest of us should all stay aware of the fact that not everyone will be able to do this all the time. Even the wisest people will spend some time in ego. A friend recently noted that staying balanced can be likened to walking. As we step forward in life our left foot ego might stray a bit into the past, and our right foot ego might stray a bit into the future, but your aim is try to keep your head pretty much centred on the path.

Do take your feelings into account when you’re presenting something, but also take the other person’s feelings into account when you’re listening to them. People often don’t mean what they say but their words will still usually capture how they feel about something. It’s best not to take that personally because they’re reacting to how they see things, not how you see them. No one owes you pleasant emotional responses, you can only encourage them or discourage them.

966 Relax and Succeed - I don't forgive people because I'm weakHappy people will tend to underestimate the challenges that might be associated with a task. Don’t be surprised. Angry people who’ve been deserted in the past will often push others away as a test. Again, no surprise. If someone’s profoundly sad then their assessment of their situation may not recognise all of their opportunities. And why would they at that time? These are all examples of ways where our state of mind colours our perspective and they can all happen in normal, healthy people. If anything, everyone’s expectations are way too high.

Do your best to take your own feelings into account when you speak but, since there’s one of you and lots of everyone else, it helps a lot more if you can also listen to everyone else speak and take their state of mind into account too. Then their words seem less personal and about you. Rather than managing what they say you’re responding to how they said it. You stop seeing the words as just about the literal content and you start seeing the conversation as a shared experience that both you and the other person are independently having. This is where men and women often really get stuck because men are inclined to see conversation as data whereas women often see it as an emotional exchange.

If you can live with this awareness you can create a safe environment for your fellow human beings to feel their natural feelings. My best friend can be mad at her mother, she’ll call me and she can literally ask me if I’ll stand in for her mom and get some hell; or maybe she’ll ask me to join her in being angry about her Mom; or sometimes she just wants to be grumpy for a while. Whatever it is; no problem. I love her. She does the same from me. So her and I literally state it to each other if necessary: Here’s how you can help me. This emotion won’t last. Please be with me or share it with me until it passes.

966 Relax and Succeed - What is loveAs soon as someone gives you permission or the right or even better–the freedom to feel your human feelings, you feel safe. And if the feelings are negative you don’t feel as much of an urge to continue pedalling them with your thoughts. In effect the other person has already said, “if your behaviour can’t be good right now I’m okay with that for a while because I care about you. I can last through some angry language if that’s what will help you feel better.” It’s hard to stay in a dark place when someone is that openly loving.

My friend and I can never stay in a negative state for very long. We just lose all our negative energy. You can have this happen in your home too. Stop focusing on everyone living up to their word and being precise about their commitments and instead use communication to manage the energy in the room. If someone’s pinging then everyone else absorb. If someone’s in distress be fully present. There’s always a helpful response even if it’s concerned silence. The question is, in real time, will you ignore the words so that you can actually hear the meaning?

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.

peace. s

The Friday Dose #84

780 FD Relax and Succeed - Alexandr MilovToday we’ll focus on relationships. We’ll start with a discussion of art and the wisdom of children, then shift to a detailed conversation on how to communicate without judgment, and we’ll end with some profound relationship advice from a child.

First off is a discussion at Collective Evolution about one of this year’s most popular Burning Man art pieces, by Ukrainian artist Alexandr Milov. Seen above, the piece manages to say so much with so little. I have tremendous respect for such artists. Here’s a link to more information on Alexandr:

Collective Evolution: Alexandr Milov

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Next we’ll look into improving your relationships through mindful, nonjudgmental Buddhist communication thanks to Cynthia Kane at The Washington Post. It’s a good article and quite clear, so without further ado:

Cynthia Kane’s: How to Communicate like a Buddhist

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And finally we’ll end on some very clear wisdom on how lowering the intensity of our emotions can result in a much more peaceful and loving life:

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

peace. s

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

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