The Joy of Stable Instability

The world is a flowing, changing place and you keep looking for stability and certainty and victory. I’m sorry, but you can’t have any of those things unless you accept unpredictability, uncertainty and loss. What would one be without the other? How could you describe light if you couldn’t use dark– its opposite–as the main way to describe it?

You have this want, this desire to know. That’s how education and false ideas like right and wrong lead you astray with their illogical silliness. Yet all we really do is believe. And if the belief lasts for a very long time–even right from when it began until forever–we call it scientific. But eventually we’ll find a universe where even those truths won’t hold, and then it’ll be a qualified truth. There will be places where it’s not true. So that’s the real world. It’s uncertain. Can you understand that you’ll feel more stable if you accept its uncertainty?

A friend of mine is trying canoeing for the first time this weekend. She wondered if she should bring her dogs out for her first paddle since they’ll be going on a longer trip with her shortly. As a canoeist, I recommended just getting used to the boat first, and then introduce the unpredictability of the dogs. Otherwise, that’s adding a lot of skills at once.

She’s better to learn to feel stable even with the boat’s instability before she adds things that will decrease its stability even further. After all, it is long and narrow with a curved bottom on a slippery surface. And so it is with life. We’re better to have good balance before the boat starts rocking.

Today, it’s like everyone’s standing in a canoe, attempting to get their balance and avoiding life until they get it–only they learn their boat will sink before that will ever happen, and that’s when it dawns on them that the could have always gone for it, fallen in, and then climbed back in! It’s that simple; all every spiritual seeker wants to do is actually live with that attitude before they learn they’re going to die (BTW: you’re going to die).

What exactly are you worried about? Do the judgments other people have in their heads actually impact your life? Do they have some kind of super-villain ray-beam I’m not aware of? Can they, from a distance, control what chemicals your hypothalamus pumps out? Let’s see, tons of people thought tons of highly achieving people couldn’t achieve their goal, so, ahhh, nope. It turns out that it does not matter how hard someone laughs at you, you can still always climb back into a canoe. Do it enough times and people will respect your attitude no matter how many times you fall in.

Everyone’s misunderstood what winning is. Everyone wants ego wins. They want people to think highly of them. Hey, that’s a nice thing don’t get me wrong. But not if you have to trade your life for it. Healthy people are fine with not being liked. It makes sense to them. There’s people they don’t like either. Who wants to be forced to like someone? Real winning is when you enjoy your life. Then people know your presence is authentic. If you’re with them, they can know it’s because there’s nowhere else that you think is more worthwhile in this moment.

You’re exhausting me just watching you all strive like you’re weak and don’t belong. It’s crazy. You’re amazing and beautiful, but not to everyone. Maybe your tribe is even tiny. Who cares? There’s seven billion of us. Even tiny is big at that scale. How many people do you need to love you anyway? Isn’t a bunch enough? If you’re authentically yourself you’ll definitely find at least a bunch.

Be free. Stop apologising for yourself. Stop thinking you’re too weak or too small to handle the consequences of bigger actions. You don’t get ready for a job and then get the job, you get the job and then learn the job on the job. Learning to be different versions of you is just like that. So stop trying to know and start relaxing into some mystery. You’d be amazed at how relaxing and beautiful it can be.

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.

Wrestling With Life

He had been that way since the 1970’s but I had no idea he was hugely famous until I moved to Australia. I was just horsing around with a buddy at my uncle’s and when I grabbed him in a mock headlock I said, “Bret Hart throws him in a sleeper,” and the two kids in the room just exploded in excitement at the idea of an adult that would voluntarily mention Bret Hart. Likewise, I couldn’t believe two Australian kids would even know who he was.

Now I’m not into wrestling at all, but I come from Alberta, and if you’re from here it was almost impossible not to know about the huge clan of Hart children and their father, Stu. They ran the Stampede Wrestling League out of Calgary, the birthplace of modern technical wrestling. And then Bret took over worldwide wrestling for a few decades. So why should you care?

There’s a great lesson in Bret’s life. Here we have a guy famous for being very polite and kind (when not playing part of his character’s role). He’s intelligent, he comes from a big, hard-working family with a great work ethic, plus he’s a respectful, likeable person. He became a huge star and made a ton of money. It seems like a dream life if you’re okay with the wrestling part.

Bret has respect, admiration, good parents, physical prowess, intelligence, business sense, financial success and he’s well liked. None of that protected him from a two divorces, a bicycling accident that lead to a debilitating stroke, and very recently he was diagnosed with cancer. And while all that’s going on, I heard him mention in an interview that his body is pretty badly banged up from all of those years in the ring and he’s in a lot of pain. So again, he sounds like a nice guy but what’s this got to do with your psychological health?

I would submit to you that the reason Bret has been so successful is that he has a great attitude. I don’t mean every second of every day, I mean overall. We can’t judge people by when their stone skips off a surface when that’s a tiny portion of how far they go.  That’s just the price Bret was willing to pay for his success. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as he accepts it, and he seems to do that with the same grace he did all his training with. He just digs in and does it.

But look at what got him to where he is. Note how double-edged every decision is. Bret’s great work ethic lead to a broken body. Maybe his success contributed some to his divorce. Maybe his money made it harder for his kids to trust that their friends were real. There’s all kinds of negative spinoffs out of everyone’s life choices.

Even a good work ethic and dedication to one’s career had downsides, so do you see how life works? You’re not supposed to avoid the downsides. Those are inevitable. That’s not what failing is.

Failing is not living; Bret Hart has really lived. Pain is mandatory in life, so rather than whine about it, just ask yourself if you’re in a situation where the pain seems appropriate both for its reasons and its duration. And then if it is: just feel it. It’ll hurt, but it won’t last as long as the agony of resisting.

Don’t avoid life because you don’t want to get hurt. You will get hurt. But it’ll hurt a lot worse if you die with your life left unlived. Go.

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: Absorbing Shots

Today for the March of Kindness we’ll focus on negativity. Negativity itself is not a problem, it is a critical aspect of life. You truly cannot have up without down, nor happy without sad, so we don’t want negativity to completely disappear, but we also don’t want to entertain it for longer than is necessary.

Negative things are really nothing more than signals. Your freedom lies in how you respond to the negativity in others, and when doing this it might be best to think of something like tennis or ping pong as a metaphor.

If people express their negativity toward you it can be responded to in one of two ways. If you choose to meet the negativity in a hard, reflective way, that is like hitting a shot back. Someone insults you, so you insult them back. By meeting their shot with a shot of your own, you join them in the exchange of negativity. This will continue until one of the egos involved feels it has “won.”

If the person is responding to previous points they feel you (or people like you) have scored against them, they will keep hitting negative serves to you until they feel they’ve scored an equal the number of points. This is actually a healthy process that keeps relationships internally balanced so that resentments do not build.

The only way to shorten a game of negativity is to not hit a shot back. If you intentionally miss a shot fired at you, or if you strike it back weakly, this means the person has won their point and has less of a reason to continue throwing more negativity your direction. Again, once they feel they have won that game it will naturally end.

So how do we absorb a shot? It’s really quite easy: instead of responding with a hard argument back, we can instead offer the softness of kindness. But what does this look like in practice?

Say we’re in a class at school and someone tries to bring us down with a negative comment, we can simply respond with a compliment back. So rather than participating in the game of negativity exchange, you can toss the ball back with no intention of scoring a counterpoint. Eventually the person gets tired of you not playing and they stop serving to you.

In an office, if someone is being negative about something, you can choose to kindly find a way to agree with them rather than argue back. It can feel very counter-intuitive to not offer your best argument in return, but you can do that if you remember that real winning is when you dissolve the disagreement rather than beat another person.

Today in the March of Kindness our jobs are easy. We each make the world a lot better by finding at least three chances for us to offer kindness were you could easily offer disagreement. All you’re trying to do is find people who want to have a game of negativity but then you let them win. They challenge you for a seat on the bus and you offer it to them. They want that parking stall, it’s theirs. They want to dislike you or your friends, let them. Easy.

Do you see how generous that is? You’re offering to lose. That is so kind. That is what we do for very little kids. We understand they’re growing, so we let them beat us in games by intentionally avoiding our own best game. In those cases we’re more interested in the development of the person than we are in personally winning. We just forget that once we’re adults, but the effect is exactly the same.

Participate in the March of Kindness. Make someone else feel like a winner and you will have made the world a better place. Because there are no losers with kindness.

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.

Winning Arguments

991-relax-and-succeed-im-not-arguingThe problem with arguments is that to have one you need to have a position and at least one other person needs to have a position that isn’t yours. You need a specific perspective and you need to be attached to yours just as they need to be attached to theirs. That attachment creates your grip on the argument. Then, you each try to move the other from where they are now to where you want them to be, but the truth is you just can’t be happy with your life with all of that wanting and attachment.

It’s difficult for me to describe why a band of early Native North Americans would not have had any arguments. Individual people could sit and talk in an igloo but back then they still didn’t see each other as separate individuals. They had no genders or other identities that were separate from others. Their existence was always in relation to the larger whole. You were like that too when you were a baby, but you had us keep poking at your unbroken reality of oneness until we convinced you that there are separate entities with separate names doing separate things and only one can be called “right.” This is when you bit the apple of knowledge.

991-relax-and-succeed-im-sorry-for-passing-judgmentMeanwhile, back with the native band, no one decided anything and announced it to the group and no Chief vetted it all. Any discussion would be a conversation with one entity with many voices. It might be best to metaphorise it into the idea of your body. Your mind might want you to stay out later and get drunk but your liver would prefer that you didn’t. They’re both made of your cells and the parts have different names but in the end it’s all you. So it is with a tribe of people who do not have thoughts of a separate self.

So how can this help you every day in your life? It can make you realise that arguments are ego-creations and they are created for their own sake. You’ve won lots of arguments you shouldn’t have. We’ve all found out as we’ve grown up that we were wrong about all kinds of things, but if that can happen pretty much throughout our lives, one wonders why we allow ourselves to get so sure and so attached to an idea?

Winning an argument is like a lottery ticket. Odds are strongly that we’d be unhappy even if we we won, but because the idea of a lottery includes ideas like winning and money and rich, we tell ourselves we’ve won even when we’ve placed ourselves in the group that’s statistically likely to be unhappy. That’s how important ideas can get.

991-relax-and-succeed-there-is-no-key-to-happinessWe argue for our own demise all the time. That’s how half the marriages end. Today someone will argue themselves out of their marriage. Weird eh? You could win every single argument and the net result would be you’d break up the most important relationship in your life. So what is this winning stuff anyway?

Winning requires those positions to be taken and those attachments to be made. Winning also requires a loser. So the question is, do you really want to take your most important relationships and then lower their quality in pursuit of a victory over a loved one? You want to make your spouse or child or parent feel like a loser? Intentionally? Because that’s what an argument really is. It’s not you holding on the correct position, it’s you trying to move someone from where they are to where you are. No one can be right because neither of you knows the future or if you might find out if you’re wrong.

You cannot win an argument. To do so is to create discord. You might win an argument that you should move to the family to Boston but even if everyone ended up happier there, they wouldn’t be happy because you were right, you would have still needed their full cooperation with finding enjoyable lives in the new city because a bad attitude can easily turn an otherwise good experience into a bad one. If they don’t cooperate however–and they’re less likely to if they’re upset–then you can find yourself in the same situation as many people who won arguments they later wish they’d never started.

991-relax-and-succeed-its-okay-for-you-to-believeYou have to start seeing the struggle of an argument as the pain associated with pushing yourself apart from another. There are only two motions in the universe, recognising oneness and believing in separateness. Recognising oneness is when we seek peace and ego is when we insist on our separateness and argue for its dimensions. Seeking peace is a much different feeling than arguing for separateness.

This is critical: you have to begin steering your life with feelings rather than ideas. Ideas are abstract ego-possessions that can be argued over whereas feelings are experiences and no one can tell you what your experience of something is, they can only respect your expression of it. If steering by ideas helped then the individuals in this world would be in a lot better shape than they we are. Instead, as we’ve gotten more and more ideas we just create more and more opportunities for more and more arguments.

Put down all of the words. Seek peace. Actually pause to ask yourself what winning an argument will really get you when it’s all tolled. Because when the monk Thomas Aquinas took a vow of silence, he both ensured he would never win nor ever lose another argument. And that can be a very nice way to live.

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.

Winners and Losers

698 Relax and Succeed - What you get by achievingSports and games are good examples of how comfortable human beings actually are with suffering. We volunteer to play or watch both with the full knowledge that both contexts require a winner and therefore at least one loser as well. So even if we’re confident we happily enter the game or field of play at least subliminally aware that we could be volunteering to suffer. In fact, that potential price would be what gives the victories their highs. In a way it’s a weird sort of relief.

I live near a school and during a recent break from some yard work I made a cup of tea and watched part of a junior high Phys Ed baseball game. That game is still going on, but watching it inspired me to write this so now I’m seeing it out my office window. It’s important that it’s Phys Ed class too, because the teacher appeared to be quite casual about who was on what team. When that’s the case the kids are not going to have any sort of strong sense of team affiliation. It’ll just be classmates playing baseball. And that’s much different than a team that’s trying to win.

Playing the piano is not the same as playing the piano to win an international competition, or a scholarship or anything where you can win or lose. You can’t lose at playing, but you can lose status, marks, money, scholarships etc. In a team sport this alters things considerably. People get competitive and they do things they otherwise wouldn’t. But in the Phys Ed. game the kids were all pretty encouraging of one another. They didn’t care who was on what team. They cared about whether or not their friends did well. So you would see cheers from the opposing teams on a good hit. It was very bubbly and happy and supportive.

698 Relax and Succeed - Success consists of going from failureThe close camaraderie and unison that is derived from that game is a part of life that is too-often undervalued. Because we can’t buy relaxation or free time, we can just rent places to do it or buy things to encourage it. Relaxation is a verb, so like eating lunch or becoming Enlightened it’s not something that someone else can do for you. You have to relax to achieve it and the kind of play those kids were engaged in is a great way to do that with others. You just can’t have a personal objective. Or as a Buddhist would put it: have no attachments.

This is not to say the world of competition and that sweet sense of victory does not have its place in this world. That’s capitalism. It’s the Olympics and the Oscars. It’s you trying to get a scholarship. Those are really just systems and we live inside them. So it’s best to understand them and use them to your advantage so you can enjoy a life with a lot of winning in it. But that will not seem like much of a life unless you also learn to play. Because winning happens outside of us and play is something we feel inside of us. And that’s the difference between pleasure for your ego and nourishment for your soul.

When kids aren’t on team they have no motivation to yell for another kid to run faster. They have no reason to express disappointment if they strike out. They have no reason to taunt each other. Done right these things can be fun and they’re an excellent metaphor for life. But as with our work and our dating and our conversations, we should maintain an awareness of our State of Mind; are we trying to win or are we trying to enjoy our lives? Because people who do focus on winning at work end up becoming workaholics. And people who do that with love become serial daters. And the people who do that in conversation become tiresome. Winning creates losers. Play has value. Don’t forget play.

698 Relax and Succeed - Anything I can not transformMove through your days with a mind toward monitoring your objectives. Ask yourself directly, are these actions intended to bring me happiness or bring me victory? Because there’s very few fights between couples that truly matter in the larger scheme of things so winning is quite hollow. And yet with happiness you start to feel it the moment you drop the need to win. It is the desire for those outside objectives—those ego-pursuits—that will lead you to surrender your happiness in the present moment. So please stay conscious. You can play and win, but don’t let the need to win lead you to compete instead of playing or you’ll already have lost before you’ve even started.

Now have yourself a wonderful day.

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.