The Value of Caring

What is the value of death? Of funerals? Is there a way to experience these tragic events and draw strength, resiliency, connection, love?

951 Relax and Succeed - Stop and take a momentI was at the funeral of an out-law family member this week. He learned as a relatively young man that he had been dealt a difficult hand which would prevent him from leading a full and involved life. This reduction in his capacity for involvement was always a very painful experience for his family. Everyone always wished more for his future.

Deaths like this can be tricky. I’m sure many came to the funeral concerned about how it might feel. There were certainly people that could have tilted the entire experience toward something really depressing–something that circled and focused on all that was missed. But that wasn’t what happened. In fact, the exact opposite happened. It was one of the most inspiring funerals I had ever attended.

Eulogies are difficult to write at the best of times and this was to be a celebration of a life unlived. The difficult job, given to the eldest, was taken with grace. When many would have hidden behind quotes and scriptures and platitudes, instead she dove into the heart of it and there she found her gold. It was her words that opened everyone’s eyes and hearts.

951 Relax and Succeed - Do small things with great loveThe value of a funeral is in what the life can teach the rest of us. That’s how their spirit is passed on; when we inform our lives by the lessons provided by theirs. In that way we literally make them a part of ourselves. And yet some lives do such a bad job of lining up with society that the presumption is that they are failures and that they have nothing to offer. All the check-boxes are ticked off and no one gives it any real thought. It’s just a shame.

But then a sister takes a deep hard loving look and she’s surprised by what she sees. She’s further surprised that she’s surprised because as she sits with the knowledge she realises that some part of her always knew it–just like everyone in that room subconsciously knew it: the deceased was never seen to be suffering. Yes he experienced pain but he never dwelled there. The person everyone perceived as having a sad life had actually always been happy.

It’s a strange thing for everyone to miss isn’t it? No one actually missed it, but no one at the time every gave it the value it deserved; we were all too focused on what was missing. Everyone else was focused on what was missing his life. He didn’t mind because he never noticed; he was too focused on caring about all of our lives.

951 Relax and Succeed - For everything you have missedI remember going to the funeral of an extremely wealthy man who I had grown very close to and the saddest part about it was that I didn’t hear anyone talking about him the way he told me he wished they would. He wanted to be seen as being a person who people liked because he personally left them feeling better than he found them. Put another way, the billionaire wished he could have given people the feeling that the man with the “sad” life got to give. So in the end whose life was rich?

The billionaire was a good man and his life meant a lot to me due to the many poignant conversations we had about life, but even he said that the lesson of his life was to avoid the choices he made because they were external and hollow. He wanted people to remember him as someone nice. He wanted himself remembered the way we’ll all remember Ray: as a guy who was always smiling and was always genuinely interested in how you were. And when you stop to really think about it, it’s just amazing what that’s worth.

Rest in Peace Ray.

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.

Made to Order

Winner: 2016’s Blog of the Year #5

Despite how parts of it are sold, society is a cooperation not a competition. Traffic, infrastructure, schools, corporate structures, the internet; these are all things that were designed to help us cooperate.

903 Relax and Succeed -Calvin and Hobbes
The Story Behind This Cartoon

Our societal cooperation works best when each of us intentionally aligns our deepest self with the larger goal. So for some big startup company to succeed it needs someone who wants to lock themselves away alone to do some deep, complex thinking. But it also needs bold, talkative, likeable salespeople who’re good at managing grey areas, and those salespeople all have to be different to appeal to different clients. Then the organisation will also need accounting and legal staff that then turns grey areas into black and white. Etc. etc.

It is called an organisation because it is the coordination of all of these very disparate and even conflicting skill sets. So the saleswoman intentionally generates grey area to achieve a sale only for accounting to have to slice all the grey into neat little boxes. One person’s work literally creates the other person’s work. Nothing’s wrong there, it’s just the nature of an organisation.

The challenge occurs when a catch-all idea tries to encapsulate all of these complex relationships. We see this most often in schools, where it used to be presumed that some students were strong in some subjects and not in others. Now if you’re a good student you’re not allowed to be a human with natural skill set. Now a good student gets good grades in everything.

903 Relax and Succeed - Action without visionStudents are no longer their experiences, now they are just the memories in their brain. In turn their brain is seen as a computer to be programmed, and the notion is that the same process applies to programming math skills as reading skills when that is simply not the case.

Some kids look out their bedroom window and see the stars move each night and they wonder about those movements and they get good at math because they are innately interested in becoming a cosmologist. Some can’t sit still in class and they become world-renowned ballerina, Karen Kain. Some aren’t good at math but they’re good at understanding complex physical relationships, as was the case with the physicist, Albert Einstein.

Those are not people who succeeded because they got good grades and fit into the boxes at school really neatly. These are people who had just the right conditions to become fully themselves, even when that self conflicted with some pattern that society found convenient. Yes, we want to see ourselves as a part of larger society, but we don’t want salespeople to start acting like accountants any more than we want accountants to act like salespeople.

903 Relax and Succeed - Notable college dropouts

Real drive, real success and real happiness do not come from good grades, good pay and people approving of you. You’ll get all the approval you need from yourself if you’re realising your inner motivations and then working hard to achieve them. Because that doesn’t even feel like work–it just feels like the steps you need to take to get you where you’re going.

Yes, we all need to do reasonably well in school because those basic skills do end up way more important than any kid realises up until they’re about 25 years old. But we shouldn’t panic if someone struggles in a subject or their grades are average. College is no guarantee of a good life, but knowing how to realise yourself through diligent work is. If something matters enough to someone they’ll work incredibly hard at it whether that’s in a college or outside of it.

Do not treat kids like pegs to fit into holes. They are all individuals and as much as a hassle it might be for a parent or teacher to have Karen Kain and Steve Jobs in the same class, it’s important to remember that the school is a construct not a natural occurrence. Meaning we should be less invested in things like grades and more focused on seeing if the kids themselves feel like they are expanding.

Too many of our pressures on kids have to do with conforming and getting into line. Yes, teach kids to be good, solid cooperative citizens. But not at the price of choking off their spirit, because if that’s intact it will drive their intellect to create not only great things, but also a great 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.

An Attitude of Gratitude

It’s Thanksgiving today in Canada and so I present you this fresh edit on the notion of gratitude. Have a wonderful day everyone. I am grateful to have you to write for. Much love.

The Friday Dose #71

If you just want a quick two-minute way to get really happy then just watch this first video. It’s a lot of fun. But if you’re looking for some longer term solutions then watch the video and keep reading.

Pretty cool huh? Okay, are you ready?

We’ve got to clear up some confusion here on Earth. A small part of the planet is doing extremely well but they’re also famous for being completely unhappy about it. Meanwhile half of the planet is struggling with things so basic that only a few dollars would change their lives. One group has so much it’s a culture that is actually comfortable calling each generation 700 FD Relax and Succeed - One day we will realizeincreasingly lazy, increasingly entitled, and increasingly selfish because it’s fully aware of those truths. Meanwhile 35 million—the largest number of people in history—are actual slaves, working brutal hours at backbreaking work with their only reward being they are allowed to continue being barely and painfully alive. And still the human spirit goes on in both groups. One group feels lost, disconnected, lonely and meaningless, while another would benefit so much from compassion that their gratitude would extend for their entire lives.

While it seems difficult to believe, more men, women and children are disabled or die from domestic abuse and sexual violence than from malaria, car accidents and war combined. If a woman where I live has someone break into her house to rape her she can call 911 and she at least has a chance of being saved and of the attacker being brought to justice. In a poor country the rapist will not only succeed in the rape, they’ll also take the home and all of the possessions too. And why? Because the odds are that person is painfully poor as well.

The hoarders aren’t happy, the weak live in fear and these are two sides of the same problem. I often have business friends ask my aid friends how they can work in refugee camps or do that “sad” work. What they don’t understand is that the reason these 700 FD Relax and Succeed - It is not happy people who are thankfulpeople can sustain themselves in those jobs is precisely because it is so much more rewarding to actually help a fellow human being than to purchase another object. Your new clothes will never look so good in a mirror that they will ever allow you to feel as good as you do when you see your good works reflected in the face of someone who really needed your help.

It’s not our fault. We got confused and it’s difficult to understand parts of the world that we only see snippets of. But take heed—nothing improves a life more than the feeling that you have enough to give, because that must mean you most certainly have more than you need. And that is the only abundance we can truly appreciate.

Yes, parts of these are hard. But like the gym or school, they’re also very rewarding and it’s easy to enjoy the results. You have more to offer than you realize. And the act of offering it is one of the healthiest spiritual acts anyone can undertake so I do hope you’ll consider changing your life in this direction. Thank you.

Jack Black and Felix on Red Nose Day:

Gary Haugen explains the hidden reason for ongoing poverty:

Be grateful today. Take note of all of the things you would not have or be able to make use of if you weren’t living in one of the richest places on Earth. Feel so much good fortune that you bubble over and your happiness spills on to others as good works. Because we can not only change the world, but we can get happier doing it too. I do hope you’ll join us.

Have a wonderful day.

peace and love, s

Easy on Yourself

When people ask me to define the psychological/spiritual advantage my accident gave me in just a sentence, I’ll often say that I saw things for what they were and that I didn’t mistake words for things. This is entirely accurate, but to be truly helpful it’s time I gave that statement a bit more detail.

647 Relax and Succeed - The most dangerous risk of allWhen you’re like me and you can see through words here’s the kinds of strange things you notice: people will tell you that they love progress and new things but you’ll note that they’ve just been brainwashed because in many cases the new thing is much, much worse for the person than the old thing was. The two best examples we have are so huge, and we spent so much money on them, that they clearly demonstrate our willingness to actually trade more for less if we’re told it’s an improvement.

Rolling Stone magazine did an entire issue surrounding the quality of MP3 recordings. Producers don’t like MP3’s because they hold less information than CD’s which limits their creative freedom in way it previous wasn’t, so music marketers sold the idea that this recording wouldn’t skip when you jogged or in your car, even though too few people jog and there were even fewer at the time, and I never remember anyone listing CD skipping as a major car issue. Besides, music is about listening to art. Why would we care more about convenience than the art itself? That’s like we’re doing with our food, where we’re starting to care less about it being tasty and nutritious in favour of it being fast and mobile, practically given to us in toothpaste tubes that we can quickly inject into ourselves as we rush from our 647 Relax and Succeed - Normal is getting dressedfirst job to our second or third. (You may notice that’s why the wrap is replacing the sandwich.)

Next, people used to press between seven and ten buttons on a phone to be in a position to actually hear the other person. We could hear their tone, their mood, and I never remember a couple coming to me because they were looking at ending their marriage over a phone call that went bad. But texting? I cannot tell you the number of times that the couple in front of me is there because of a 140 character facebook status, tweet or especially a text. So now we hit hundreds of keys and young kids are getting repetitive stress injuries all so that we can communicate in a slower, far less effective way. Sure, texts can be useful. But most people have replaced basic conversations with them and way more often than not the communication was either meaningless or it could have been done more quickly with a call and some voices.

Another major area I saw this related to my age. Just as I was growing up the fitness craze started. When I was a kid the only adults that went to gyms were professional body builders and boxers. No one else. But then automation started to take over, more people were driving, fewer were walking, food was beginning to be processed, so it was loaded with fat and sugar and people started to suddenly put on a lot of weight. So what my brain noticed was that all 647 Relax and Succeed - We buy shit we don't needof these people had worked to pay for conveniences that that in the end only incurred more time and more expense because now they had to get a gym membership. This weird insanity continued to the point where I saw a fitness club in my city where you could sit in the lobby and literally watch people ride up the escalator to the gym where they would go in, change and then pay money to climb fake stairs!

Our bodies were built over a long time to do specific things just like any animal. And if you start changing those things you will change the animal. So people are sold iNDEPENDENCE and in turn they get loneliness where they sit alone in front a screen looking at life rather than what they used to do, which is take the energy they used to have for joy and they would go out with their friends. But by 30-35 years old most people aren’t seeing their friends that much, but they’ll be likely to be working very long hours to pay for all of their conveniences.

This is all insanity. Your life isn’t better because your phone is better, or because your car is faster, or because your TV is bigger. You don’t enjoy the championship game 30% more 647 Relax and Succeed - Slavery has many different formsbecause your screen is 30% bigger. Sorry, the guy listening to the game on a radio is maxing out his excitement so there’s no beating 100%.

We’ve all been sold a bill of goods. We’ve been convinced to do things that, if we look at them closely, we realize have no real benefit to us. We’re working for weeks to get enough after-tax dollars to be able to buy the car model with Navigation because we have FOMO, even though we barely ever drive to anywhere we haven’t been before and even if we are, someone else can tell us how to get there just like before. So we work all of these extra hours to get this shiny bauble when in fact we would have drew more joy from some free time talking with a good friend.

We have to start doing far better accounting of our joy. Because we will quickly learn that the reason people go camping to quiet, remote, undeveloped places on their weekends is because it’s slower and it doesn’t include all of those conveniences. We want simplicity, quiet, and companionship. The healthiest people you know are the ones who eat like 100 years ago, who work their bodies like 100 years ago, and who have positive social relations not tons of likes.

647 Relax and Succeed - Imagine there is a bank accountYour life won’t improve if you just put your head down and watch the ads and do as you’re told. It really is crazy for you to spend your life stressed because you bought some expensive thing to impress people and now you own it, but it owns your joy. You have to start being slower and more judicious with your money. Because you give up a lot of life for that power to spend, so spend it wisely. Spend it on things that bring joy and goodness to your life, rather than things that—if you really stopped to think about it—really don’t make much sense. So stop hiring another kid to cut your lawn or shovel your walks when you’re in your basement working out. Because if you can’t see that’s crazy, then you’re very deep inside the illusion that the Buddha was warning you about.

Be free. Spend less on things and more on creating time. Ask yourself, does this create more time or less time? Because it might save an hour, but if you had to work an extra two to buy it, you’re actually an hour down. Remember: use after-tax dollars, not pre-tax dollars when figuring out what something costs your life. Because that’s the real measure, and it almost instantly makes many more things look much more expensive because that’s what they really are.

Here’s to your freedom. Here’s to more joy, more time with people you care about, and a more fulfilling life. Because no one was on their death bed asking someone to collect all of their stuff. No one is saying, just one last tweet, just one last selfie. No, they want to hold hands and look into the eyes of the people they loved. If they had more time it would be for that, not another social media post. So remember that while you’re walking around every day. Because if your attention is one place, it’s not some place else. And right now other people decide where your attention is more than you do and it’s time you changed that. Here’s to freedom and time. That’s real wealth.

Have yourself an awesome day!

peace. s

Spiritual Priorities

What are your priorities? Not the ones you automatically tell people as part of your ego’s pose in the world. What does your life indicate your priorities are? Where are your actions in life and to what end? Do you spend your day actually trying to get happier, or are you mostly focused on affording what you either have or want?

593 Relax and Succeed - If we do not feel gratefulRecently the New York Times did a piece on John Osburg, the author of Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich. It’s an interesting article in which Osburg is asked about how the wealthiest Han Chinese respond to their success and he notes that, “…there’s no question tastes are evolving, albeit somewhat slowly. Now that every Shanxi coal baron’s mistress can afford Louis Vuitton, in order to differentiate themselves, other new rich are moving on to other pursuits and tastes.”

That trend isn’t exclusively Chinese of course. When I was head of creative at the network in the 1990’s we did a two-part movie-of-the-week with Richard Chamberlain called The Lost Daughter. It was about the Order of the Solar Temple cult, which included many extremely wealthy families from Europe, North America and Australia. Much like the Chinese noted above, these people were very successful in the materialistic world, but once you can buy all the things you’ve dreamed of, how do you distinguish yourself?

So why do people want to be distinguished? Why do they want us to admire them? Because much like victims employ sympathy, admiration is a shallow refection of love, which what they want but don’t feel they can get without achievements. And so in their desperate attempt to find greater meaning, wealthy, educated people were encouraged to not only commit mass suicide, but to murder their own family members as well. Can you see how this unhealthy lust for love can manifest? Because remember, those murders were viewed by the parents as acts of love.

593 Relax and Succeed - Carrot and stickNone of that is much different than a victim sacrificing their enjoyment of their own short time on Earth to instead focus on garnering sympathy. Not loving someone is seen as reasonable, but not giving someone sympathy is seen as cruel and the people who use sympathy subconsciously know this. And so they tell their sad story and they get their imitation of love.

Now if their attempts to find value in themselves is what leads them to healthy spirituality then that’s great. If some crazy-rich Lamborghini-driving 29 year old Han ends up discovering true enlightenment by hanging around Monks for status, then the route up the mountain isn’t what matters—it’s the view once you’re up there.

So do you see that you can save yourself from trying to achieve material success in your own life? Can you see that you’re just on some kind of weird treadmill-ladder where no matter how long you climb you still get off at the same height? So you might as well jump off now. Think of how developed you’d be if you invested the same time on your spiritual development as you do in making, saving and spending money. When you think about it, that’s the vast majority of your waking day.

What I like about all of this is that it’s media-friendly. These stories will travel well. And these are stories of the richest people in the world who are placing their spiritual development above their material success. Material success is simply not enough anymore. Not in an age where someone like Ambani can build a billion-dollar 400,000 square foot (37,000 square meter) 27 story house for a family of six. Once you get to that kind of ridiculous excess you literally start to look crazy instead of successful and so people realize that they need to find something that people can genuinely respect. And in the end, when push really comes to shove, the only thing people will ever wholeheartedly respect is if you unconditionally love them.

593 Relax and Succeed - RevolutionIf it continues like this we’ll either destroy the world or we’ll come to the realization that ever-increasing wealth isn’t the answer to happiness, satisfaction and ultimate success and it may very well be the super-wealthy that signal this change. If they start being honest, humble and public about how disappointing their lives are, then that may be the signal for the next big change, which is not a political revolution, an industrial revolution, nor a technical revolution—it’s a spiritual revolution. Not a revolution of religion. One of compassion. Of prioritizing the happiness and security of people rather than focusing on economies. We can invest in ourselves instead of in the stock market. In the end the investment in yourself pays far better dividends.

Look at your life honestly. How much of it is spent shopping or working? How much of it is about money and how much of it is about happiness and life and meaning? Because far too many people wait until they’re seriously ill or dying before ever considering these questions and that’s unfortunate. Because most people who do consider them end up realizing that they’re not actually living the life they truly want and they begin to make changes. Don’t be brainwashed by your society. Don’t have silly, meaningless priorities because that’s what some business needs. Live your life by being present in it. It doesn’t matter what you wear or drive or where you live. What matters is, do you feel connected to other people and do you find it easy to give love? If you have those two things then you have everything that anyone ever truly wanted or needed.

peace. s

An Attitude of Gratitude

It’s funny where gifts can come from sometimes. A friend of mine has had a few pretty challenging years—you know, big stuff. Serious health concerns, bigger than average job stresses, all while she’s had to deal with some big family issues like death and dementia. Life is like a card game and right how she’s in the midst of a run of less-than-easy hands to play. And then she got her gift.

555 Relax and Succeed - Life is full of give and takeThe strange part was, the guy who gave her the gift has next to nothing himself. He was on TV. He was there to try and raise money to be sent to people like him, but instead he gave her a gift. She was trying to get caught up on some overdue paperwork and to get her kitchen cleaned and in her head she was adding up all of the balls she was juggling. The more she entertained the thoughts of how busy she was, the more things she remembered. By the time she noticed the guy on the TV she was getting pretty low about her situation. And then she saw his.

Of course, if the guy’s on a program like that then he’s a representative of that huge section of the world’s population that is just happy to have made it from one day to the next. This guy was a 12 hour a day rickshaw driver with no health care, a government hostile to his existence, no financial security net of any kind, and he had to provide for numerous children who he loved very much. Those were the facts of his life but he still beamed with gratitude. His walls may have been made of whatever was available and his meals might be meagre, but he remained grateful that his family was together and that he had any shelter at all.

My friend’s initial reaction was guilt—she had so much compared to this guy and yet she was sitting there complaining. But the guilt quickly turned to questions. Why was this guy so happy when he had so little? She watched him talk about his life a little longer. It turned out it’s because he wasn’t paying any attention at all to what was missing or what would make life easier. He only accounted for his good fortune. Yes, the hands with bad cards were there—but to him that was just life. He focused on when he won. In the end this poor have-nothing guy gave my upper middle class friend a huge gift. It was like he uncovered all of the things in her life that she had been taking for granted.

555 Relax and Succeed - If you were on your death bedIt’s a cliche, so people always brush past it too quickly, but it’s worth your time: how exactly are you more fortunate than someone in a third world country? This can seem like a chore to calculate until you do like my friend did and realize that it’s not mythical—you do have a lot to be thankful for, and your life is better when you’re consciously aware of it. Having a full belly or a healthy family or the support of good friends—these are all gigantic things when they are missing.

The act of taking something or somebody for granted is easy for all of us to do. It simply means that we have ceased to think about the benefit we receive—it is presumed. It’s not that the value isn’t there—it’s just that you’ve stopped counting it. You’ve stopped adding it up.

It’s a natural progression that we would move from gratitude to complacency and back again—one needs the other to exist. But we are still better to spend as much time in a state of gratitude as possible. Because if we live like that, then it’s possible for a super-poor guy to give my rich Canadian friend a valuable gift.

555 Relax and Succeed - The things you take for grantedSpend less time today thinking about your own plights. No matter how difficult things are, do your best to consider the challenges of the people around you. The insults they would face, the physical challenges, hunger, the constraints of poverty, or even just being cold, or sleeping without a mattress let alone a roof….

The odds are if you’re reading this then you’re probably better off than at least half the planet if not 98% of it. So rather than tell yourself and others about the 10% of your life that genuinely does suck, focus more on the 90% that doesn’t. And do that selfishly. Because sitting there at her kitchen table my friend’s life hadn’t changed one bit from an hour earlier. But still that third world guy managed to help her feel like one of the richest people ever. And you can feel that way too.

Make today a day where you earnestly pursue gratitude as an objective in your life. Make it a priority. Make that a habit and you will absolutely have changed your life. Now go create a great day with your choice of what you focus on. Because that’s the only place great days ever really came from anyway.

peace. s

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