Interpretations

This blog is about taking the common quotes people see and then extrapolating them into useful practices that can affect your life today. To that end, today I leave you to do that very thing for yourself.

Your healthy realisation will come when you figure out how both of these quotes can be true at the same time. And you’ll know how dedicated you are to your spiritual development by how different you feel about finding your own meaning versus having me find some of it for 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.

Thens and Whens

The definition of Stultified is “to cause to lose enthusiasm and initiative, especially as a result of tedious or restrictive routine.” Sound familiar? You have an instinct for how life should feel and let’s face it, because egos seek security over experience, a lot of folks feel like their lives are small dashes of fun amidst a sea of monotony, responsibility and anxiousness. And who can blame them. Who wants to think that’s all there is?

But here’s the deal: think or live. The world is not terrible, you aren’t inadequate, your life does not lack potential. So why are so many people thinking those three things? Habit, supported by the fact that every other ego around you is doing it too, which makes it appear sane when it’s actually the key form of mental disruption for people.

People want answers but there aren’t any; you are an answer. Your life is an answer. And you write that answer as you live and that is a part of the perfection of how this all works. That’s once again why Kierkegaard went on about how you live forward but understand backward. So everyone can simply be, and life would be the jostle we experience together. But we can’t do that because most of you avoid jostling.

You don’t like being uncomfortable. You don’t like it if someone doesn’t like you, and you don’t like to fail. But achieving comes from trying and trying is another word for failing, so now what do you do? Success is on the other side of failure. Do you go for it anyway? Or do you live in the past or present, constantly thinking, always trying to figure out who you were supposed to be, calculating what’s wrong now, and then figuring out how bad your future is likely to be?

Seriously? No way. You have way too much potential for that. You stop the fearful thoughts by carefully considering what’s actually happening, which then leads to the eventual realisation that the only suffering you’d be open to was from your own thinking. Fortunately, you control that, so essentially you’re free of everyone except yourself. And even if you do attack yourself, it’ll be harder to take yourself seriously when you’ve truly considered how meaningless your fearful thinking is to the world.

Rather than living your life afraid that the world is too big for little you, live knowing that life is a powerful imperative within you. Standing in its way is sure to be painful. You were meant to be. As the naturalist David Attenborough said about plate-sized lichens, surviving for hundreds and thousands of years, “They simply exist, testifying to the moving fact that life even at it simplest level occurs, apparently, just for its own sake.” If you’re going to feel an urge to live anyway, why be a lichen? Why not live and enjoy a bunch of it?

I recently saw a quote: “The worst kind of sad is not being able to explain why.” Look, either you found out you have cancer or you didn’t. Someone died or they didn’t. Let’s not pretend that sadness just shows up like some kind of invisible cloud. It’s brain chemistry that’s fired by what’s in your consciousness. If something didn’t recently happen, then the reason you’re sad is why anyone would be sad: you’re taking your nows to think about depressing thens or whens. It hurts because it’s not your path. You were meant to be not think.

The pain just increases as you avoid life and think more. It is your nature, your destiny and your future to fill your lifetime. The universe simply wants some things to be and the internal arguments you replay in your head mean nothing in the face of it creating your life. Instead of talking to yourself, it’s time you climbed on board your own life and then ride it to wherever you really feel like going. Even if the route is hard.

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.

Your Life Story

There’s debates about who said it or who said it first, but somewhere sometime someone said that every writer has to write a million words of shit before they’ll write anything any good. The number itself is largely a metaphor for the fact that in everything in life, we get good by doing. And the more we do (either in intensity or duration or both), the more skilled we get at that thing.

Just as in life, every writer wants to be good because they know the tools. They know the alphabet, so they have their hammer; and they’ve read sentences–which is like watching a house being built–so that’s where they start. But it’s absurd to think they’ll be as good of a carpenter on that first job as they’ll be in 25 years.

That logic applies to anything. The conscious person who learns with intensity learns more than someone with less intensity, and someone conscious who puts in more time also learns more than someone who puts in less time or who uses less consciousness. This is is true of writing, cooking, raising kids, teaching, or–yes–living.

Living is a skill. So yeah, physically and mentally you eventually deteriorate, so maybe your life-work gets a bit sloppy near the end, but by then everyone’s forgiving you. But otherwise you just get better and better at living life every year you live it, and the more conscious you are the more your learn. That’s all well and good. The problem comes in when you want the wisdom before you’ve even had the experiences that teach it.

Your expectations of yourself and your life start off pretty wacky. Because you can edit your writing you think you can edit life. And because of that you’ll go through these periods where you’ll feel like you’re totally failing because you’ll be nowhere near your targets and you can’t fix your past. But it’s not your life that’s the problem, or your ability to edit; it’s your expectation that you would know things before you learned them. You do that all the time and yet it’s truly crazy.

Graceful living requires only one thing: live the moment you’re in fully and presently. That means being in it and aware of it, rather than thinking about what-ifs or regrets. Things going in challenging ways aren’t failures, that’s just the texture of the surface you’re climbing. And when you reach the summit of your own peak–your own death–you’ll have a better understanding that you weren’t supposed to climb the highest mountain or the hardest–you were just supposed to climb. Which mountain you started on never really mattered.

You will know more tomorrow than today, and today you know more than you knew yesterday. If you go back and rethink and rethink over and over, re-editing all of your life’s work, you’ll never get much writing done and you won’t get much living lived.

Trust that as the writer writes, the writer improves. Forget the early pages. They’re both written and read. Because that’s the other important thing; other people will only glance at your book just as you’ll only glance at theirs. You might read deeply into maybe half a dozen books in your life. Because it turns out these weren’t being written to be read, the were written for the writing’s sake.

Stop worrying about your mistakes and just write–just live. You were never supposed to be perfect. You were just supposed to be here. That in and of itself, is perfect.

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.

Love in the Trenches

They were out at the lake. The husband had just yelled at his wife for how how dissatisfying he found his lunch. He barely tasted it, choosing instead to storm back down to the lake and take another shot at fixing that stubborn boat engine. The very liberated daughter had watched the whole thing and she clearly was not happy.

“Why would you let him talk to you that way? If Ray ever spoke to me that way I’d show him the door.”

The mother just smiled as she picked up her husband’s uneaten food. She sat at the counter and ate it herself while they talked. “Ray’s way to be angry is to get quiet and cold. Honey, if I left your father every time he was upset we would have been divorced hundreds of times over.”

“All the more reason! Why do you let him treat you like that again and again? You didn’t raise me to be weak like that.”

The mother took a moment before speaking. “You’re right, we didn’t teach you to be weak. But what’s your definition of strong? He was one of the few liberated husbands when we were young. He cooked for you kids, he helped with school work, and he always made sure there was a roof over your head even if he really didn’t like what he was doing for work.”

“That’s 20 years ago! If you’d made him behave back then you probably wouldn’t be dealing with this now.” The daughter was very piqued.

“He’s not a child. And how exactly do you make someone behave? Withhold affection? Make demands? Fight with him? Why would withholding, demanding and fighting do anything for a relationship?”

“Mother! You just made him a incredible quinoa salad and he insulted you! He could at least appreciate that you made it for him!”

The mother pushed her meal aside and she went to the fridge and she started to make a sandwich. “Your father doesn’t like quinoa, you know that. When he was at the peak of his career I used to complain about him not being home enough.”

“Well he wasn’t.”

The mother returned to the fridge for more ingredients. “He wasn’t successful to spite me. Why would I criticise him for something I was proud of? Aren’t you trying to get a promotion right now? Do you see that as an attack on your relationship with Ray? Of course not. You’re trying to succeed at being a good professional, like we raised you to be. It’s a sign of respect to others to do your job well. You know your father always says that.”

“He still shouldn’t talk to you that way.”

The mother stopped and looked at her daughter for a long moment before speaking. “I’m not sure what ‘shouldn’t’ means. Your Dad was in pain. I was just being compassionate. I’m not a pushover.”

“What pain?! He wasn’t in pain! He couldn’t get the stupid boat motor working and so he got angry at you, like he always does when something breaks.”

The mother went back to finishing the sandwich. “Your father prides himself on being able to fix things, it’s what made him look capable in front of his Dad. He feels like he’s letting his Dad down, or he’s not being a man, if he can’t fix something. He’s always been like that.”

“All the more reason for you to tell him it’s time to stop.”

The mother smiled. “I might do that if I could figure out a way to stop getting mad at him. Demands don’t fix relationships honey. Love does.”

“Love doesn’t yell at someone for making them quinoa.”

“That’s right, love doesn’t. He knows I made it because you and Ray were coming out. Your father just told me is that he’s feeling a long way from feeling good. That’s the problem, not whether he likes quinoa. My job isn’t to demand that he like the food you and I like it’s to love him when he feels unlovable.”

“He yelled at you!! Why would you be helping him!! It should be him crawling back up here to apologise to you!”

“Crawling?” The mother smiled at the thought. “Your father’s having his version of a tough day. He stayed too long trying to fix the boat and now he’s really hungry and he came up to eat and found something he finds totally unsatisfying. He gets angry when he’s hungry. That’s just being human.”

The daughter notices the sandwich. “You’re making that for him!”

“He’s hungry. I’m just being practical. He’s in a better mood after he’s eaten. When I’m menopausal and screaming at him for no reason, these are the things he remembers to help balance things out. You see him upset about quinoa. I see a man I care about having a bad day; a man who’s proven himself over and over for all of us.”

“Your expectations are too low.”

“I’m trying not to have any.” The mother picks up the sandwich and starts for the pier. “Sweetheart, you guys just had a baby. You’ve been exhausted and your hormones are going wild. I’ve seen you be pretty mean to Ray, but ninety percent of the time he just takes it because he loves you.” The daughter chases after her.

“That’s a baby! How can you compare that to a boat motor!?”

“Pain is pain. It doesn’t matter whether you broke a foot or a leg.” As they near the water we can see the daughter really cloud over. She is harbouring a lot of anger toward her father. The mother stops and addresses her before walking onto the pier where he and Ray are working.

“Honey. Again: your father’s problem is that he’s suffering. I’m not going to debate whether he deserves to or not. What makes a marriage isn’t weighing whose suffering is worse. I can think about me and what I want, but does he really look like he’s got much to give right now?” Just then the father hurls a wrench angrily onto the pier. The mother kisses her daughter on the cheek and walks out onto the pier and offers the sandwich. He half-heartedly thanks her, but he seems a bit embarrassed.

Later that afternoon he does get the boat going. After a nice steak dinner he suggests a boat ride. Ray suggests, “Should we head down to Half Moon Bay?”

The father walks to his wife’s side and puts his arm around her. “Diane likes the view down by the promenade. I thought we’d go down there.” The mother turns to the daughter, winks and smiles.

Later, while the father and Ray do the dishes, the mother sits down for a tea with her daughter. “Ray might go under soon and we all know it. Every business like his is struggling in this recession and he just had a baby. If that happens you can kick him while he’s down and demand that he do the impossible and undermine his confidence. But after 35 years of marriage I can tell you, you might find that you’d get where you’re going quicker if you just made him some sandwiches instead.”

peace. s

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

Everyday Spirituality

Actually working to understand why ancient quotes can still be useful today is what this blog is all about. It’s not like drive-thru religion where you get a quick dose of spirituality without all the rules, and its not like traditional religion where following all the rules automatically leads to salvation regardless of the other deeds in your life–this is about those other deeds being your church. This is about you being dedicated to being human.

Reading quotes, finding one that vaguely applies to your situation and posting it on social media does not mean you’re pursuing your spirituality, it means your ego likes being seen as being spiritual. You can’t just dress the part, go to yoga and post the quotes; you have to ask yourself challenging questions. Questions like, what does the quote I posted really mean; or how can I take yoga from stretching and flexing into actual personal development?

The answer is meditation, but not the Ohmm meditation that monks do. You want to be like Siddhartha, sitting under the tree pondering why suffering exists. You want to ask yourself questions that don’t appear to have answers. You want to know how one wise guide can tell you to be peaceful by rejecting victory and loss, and yet another tells you that you can’t be balanced until you agree to lose.

The key is to understand desire. Desire requires a result. You’re after something. You have a specific outcome in mind and your life is oriented toward achieving that outcome. The problem with the outcome is that is that it’s theoretical. This is why even the slowest fifty year old is wiser than a someone in their early 20’s thinks they’ve found their answer.

You can’t have the answer because that will change as you become different people through your experiences. We tend to think we’ve found the answer when we find a route to the future that finally makes sense to us, but then we think we’re lost when our old answer doesn’t suit our new selves and we feel trapped or directionless. It’s not the answer that changed, it’s the person asking it.

It’s a constant rejuvenation process. That’s why they call it spiritual practice. But aging is like a church where you’re constantly delivered new real-life parables that need explaining. Why did that person try so hard to date you and then leave you? Why did you think this was your dream job and now you hate it? Why can’t you lose weight the way you want to? What is the definition of the word friend?

Over time we ask countless questions but we look for the answers outside of ourselves. We conclude either we are good and the ex is wrong, or we are faulty and they’re right; the dream job either has the wrong boss, or maybe you do really suck; you’re either mad at your mother for teaching you bad eating habits or you self-hate; and you conclude either that your ex friends are bad people or you conclude you’ve not been good enough. Winning and losing, winning and losing.

Even when you win, now you have to stay on top. That takes effort and you’ll be a different person sometime within the next eight or so years, so maybe that effort won’t seem wise. That’s because winning and losing are funny terms. They almost shouldn’t exist as static ideas. They only mean something in the moment you’re in.

If you listen to interviews with people over 50 years old, almost invariably you’ll hear them discuss their challenges more than their successes. They almost seem bored or uncomfortable with success because by then they’ve realised it’s largely chance. They also know that when you get there it doesn’t look like it did when you embarked on that journey.

After enough disappointing “wins” we start questioning the meaning of winning. If half of North American marriages end in divorce, then those marriages weren’t a dream come true; they devolved into a nightmare. But if you knew that at the time you wouldn’t have chosen it as your path. And yet as you age you realise that your marriage wasn’t wrong, it just didn’t work out long term. You still walk away with a better idea of what kind of person you’re really looking for in the future.

Victory and loss are tied together. If we live without the desire for a victory we cannot lose. We don’t need goals so much as targets. The getting there isn’t the point, it’s about being sanguine for as much as the journey as possible.

Victories and losses are judgments laid over top of events. Remove that static idea and the meaning of those moments can always change, meaning any defeat could become a victory, and any victory a defeat. Everything lives in potential. There’s no need to win now when we know can we live in a way that seeks value from all our interactions, even the ones we attempt to avoid.

peace. s

MoK: Compliment Day!

Three full weeks of positivity. A bunch of people, each doing a few kind acts per day. Both individually and collectively we have literally changed the world for the better. Stop and think about that. It’s like being a soldier in the Love Army, where you shot people through the heart and mind with acceptance, understanding and love. I can’t believe how amazing you are.

We never know who we caught at what time. There’s no way any of us could know it at the time, but with this many people, surely one of us caught at least one person on a really difficult day. Someone was heading toward suicide, or some other very negative act, and our little March of Kindness–likely without them even knowing it exists–may very well have saved their lives, or at least their day.

We’ve all had those days, weeks, months and years. Maybe we lost someone important to us. Maybe we got news that our dreams were not going to pan out the way we’d hoped. Maybe a relationship ended. These things happened in life. And yet just stop and think about those days where someone’s actions felt more like a life preserver than anything. Good for us! We made a difference.

So with only one week left, today let’s return to something from the end of week one; only then you were giving compliments as a way of shifting your thinking away from you and your thoughts, and toward someone else. Today we’ll act the same, but inside ourselves we won’t be doing it as a symbiotic act. This time we think about what we’ve done, we feel strong and capable, and then we give from that position of strength.

As the title obviously suggests, it’s Compliment Day. We stand up tall, we remind ourselves of our strongest times and then we turn on our awareness, looking for things and acts and people we admire. Today you’re a compliment machine. Today you make people around you feel good through your willingness to openly acknowledge them.

It can be their coat, their hair, their smile, their manners, sense of humour, work, or character. All compliments count. You are a fountain of strength and sharing today. Today you surprise and please people. And in doing so, between all of us we’re sure to incite someone to spontaneously join us. Without doubt, one of us will tip a positivity-compliment domino and it will keep tipping through a number of people as the good feelings pass like a wave.

I’ll start off by complimenting all of you and your willingness to work on your own mental health, resiliency and society. Even the kids in schools that participated had to buy-in. That was voluntary and as a fellow human being I really appreciate the fact that you did that. Thank you. Thank you–personally–thank you thank you thank you for having the big heart and great attitude that you have. I love that quality in you.

So today, get out there and give those compliments. Let your full cup runneth over into the lives of those around you. Make a co-worker or classmate feel great about their effort, or attitude or style. Make a stranger feel good about who they appear to be to others. Make those closest to you realise that you do notice the little things.

Thanks again for your participation. You’re all just awesome. What a great thing that a bunch of strangers would meet on a website and agree to be kind and generous to a bunch of other strangers and friends. Who does such a thing? Us, that’s who. Us, people who care. We’re the ones who are strong. We’re the ones filled with love. And today we express that love! And we enjoy every minute of it!

Have a great weekend everyone. For my part I’m going to carry this compliment thing all the way to Monday and our final week. You have a spectacular three days and I’ll see you all back here on next week. Until then, much love to each and every single one of you.

peace, s

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

MoK: The Rarest Kindness

By this point we will all have contributed a lot of positivity to the world through our actions in the March of Kindness. Congratulations. Collectively we’ve done a lot. Now it’s time we remembered to include ourselves in that process.

Just as everyone around us benefits equally from kindness, we do too, and in this often fast-paced world too many of us are either so focused on what we’re doing, or we’re too focused on caring for others, to have the time or energy left to care for ourselves.

The greatest kindness anyone can pay to anyone is simply to be present. These are those times when the person feels seen or heard or understood or that a strong connection exists. But most of us have a much better sense of when that’s happening with other people than with ourselves.

When we sense conflict with others we feel an automatic impulse to repair it because in the end, the deepest part of us knows we need each other. This brings the other person or people into focus our awareness and our impulse is to act. Unfortunately, when we have conflict within ourselves we attempt to resolve the conflict by trying to “improve” rather than by making a stronger connection.

You know that improvement feeling. That’s those times where you talk to yourself critically and talk about what you should have done or should do. You spend a painfully large percentage of your life doing that and it’s all for naught. You don’t get better by “improving” yourself, you expand by being present with the world and acting on your nature. When you help others is a great example of that. So today it’s time to shine that same light upon ourselves.

Your act today in the March of Kindness is very simple. Immediately after reading this (or as soon as you have at least 10 full minutes to focus on it), take about five to ten deep breaths. Fill your lungs. Oxygenate your mind and body. Give it part of the fuel that will power your perception.

First, look at your life. Not in that critical, judgmental way you usually do, but look at yourself like you would view a friend or relative you love a great deal. Now imagine someone loving you the same way you love that friend. Imagine that friend just got back from a year away and they’d been in a monastery or something–you couldn’t talk.

Now imagine that they’ve just heard about what’s been going–and I mean literally do this, not brush your way through it quickly like it’s silly. Caring for yourself is not silly. Remember, this friend just heard about your life and they love you. This person that loves you comes back from the monastery all peaceful and caring. They don’t have a lot of money available and they understand you have some real responsibilities, but they know and love you. What act of kindness do they suggest?

Maybe it’s simple–they take you out for your favourite meal. Maybe it’s that they convince you to skip the gym to see a beloved childhood movie. Maybe it’s extra sleep. Maybe they take you for a walk and they discuss with you all of your good times, all of your achievements, all the times you felt proud of yourself. Wouldn’t that be different from all of that self-criticism!

Or here’s a a couple rare ones: Say no to someone when you usually wouldn’t. Or here’s the most challenging one of all. They help you with something. But you’re thinking, Scott, there’s no actual friend. This is me and me. I get it. What I mean is that you find something you need help with and you actually ask for the help you never ask for. Now there’s a rare one.

That’s it. Easy. Be a present open, aware and loving friend to you. But you have to take this seriously. Do you get it? This one’s very important. You can’t shortcut it, cheat it, downplay it or dismiss it–this friend loves you and they’re wise. Take what they suggest you do and then do it. You’re worth that. I’m absolutely certain of it. Do it. I love 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.