The Interval

1391 Relax and Succeed - From the moment we are born
Life is precious. Spend it living deeply.

When any human being talks about ‘living their life’ we are talking about the interval between life and death; the short burst of time our soul spends being human. During that period our naturally expansive and connected souls narrow themselves down into a limited identity (our ego).

We create that limiting ego by using our thoughts to tell ourselves stories about how reality ‘really’ works and who we are within it. We then act like those thoughts are a shared reality when that’s impossible. Everyone sees things a little differently, that’s what it is to be an individual.

We all essentially ‘are’ the sum of the decisions made by the internal logic of the people we subconsciously became by telling ourselves stories innocently built around random experiences. But what else could we do?

Like waves go up and down, the human soul oscillates. Before life and after death, the soul is wide and connected. In living life we are shaped by limits. And where there are limits there is an interval, and within that interval are challenges, and where there are challenges there is life.

Being is important, but living is too. Even our struggles are a part of our story. This is why it is better to flow than to fight.

peace. s

Social Anxiety Disorder

In my previous post I discussed a form of intense anxiety that leads to a form of depression. In this case, the effects of anxiety are less acute and extreme, but the overall impact to someone’s life is still very serious.

 

1388 Relax and Succeed - Many people are now reaching adulthood without having

There is a new type of person that has inadvertently emerged in large part due to the advent of personal computing and video game culture. That personality type has only expanded thanks to the internet, cell phones and texting, food delivery services and, to some degree, ‘social’ media (it’s almost ironic to call it ‘social’).

Prior to those inventions there were shy people –even extremely shy people– but there was no effective way for anyone to hide from others without it being obvious, and often financially impossible. The closest thing to modern social anxiety were people who read an enormous amount, but even they were forced to mix more with other people just due to the in-person nature of society at the time.

Today it is possible for an adolescent to shy away from uncomfortable social contact almost completely. They can make friends through their computer or phone where most or all of their ‘friends’ are in other cities, and where they require some form of electronic connection to make contact.

This means a shy or awkward person can now literally ‘shut off’ anyone they find annoying or threatening, or even just those that make them feel even a bit uncomfortable. This is problematic because those are formative years when people would normally be making the sorts of embarrassing in-person social mistakes that ultimately lead to the development of healthy social skills.

The issue for these future adults is that they can now prevent themselves from having almost all of the experiences that would actually teach them how to relate to the rest of society. To a young person’s mind, being able to hide like that can feel like a comforting level of power. But it also has serious downsides.

In the adult world everyone’s jobs, relationships, and lives will demand that they spend time with people that they find difficult, or with people that don’t particularly like them. Avoiding the skill development we all need for those situations can soon evolve into what gets called ‘social anxiety disorder.’

The upside is that this is a very fixable situation. Just as a lack of exposure to others creates social awkwardness and fear, more exposure demonstrates that the downsides of social interactions are no where near as meaningful to us as the upsides. Humans were built to work in groups, so it is our nature to ultimately succeed at this process. But what stops most people today is fear.

For a previous generation that fear was largely overcome by parents that were viewed much differently. Next to no kids had input on dinner or holidays, there was no real ability to escape chores, and they were put into classes they disliked ‘because it was good for them.’ Even ‘talking back’ was often met with serious punishment.

Back then, the choice for an adolescent was to be kicked out to fend for oneself, or do as ones parents wanted. That culture had significant downsides too, but one of its most important upsides was that shy kids were effectively forced to interact.

A good example of this is Bill Gates, who by all appearances exhibits strong tendencies toward a socially awkward or even an Asperger-like nature. As I’ve noted previously, the recent three part documentary on him demonstrates, his sisters note that a lot of Bill’s success came as a result of his mother ‘forcing’ him to act as the social greeter at the family’s country club.

By being ‘forced’ to have that social contact, a very shy Bill Gates –who probably would have preferred to stay in his basement working on code with maybe one close friend– instead became the sort of person who could run one of the largest companies on Earth, and who has gone on to run one of the world’s largest charities.

Bill Gates still doesn’t appear to love social situations, but the point is that he can function in them. That ability is a key part of what he has been able to accomplish in his life. As his sisters suggest in the documentary, without his mother and that exposure, Bill could easily have been one of the first generation of people to be crippled by a form of social anxiety disorder.

1388 Relax and Succeed - Social Anxiety Disorder

The challenge for modern parents is, they are bringing up children in a much more complex world.

In the end, in many cases, the influence of a parent is limited when a child is carrying a powerful computer with them everywhere they go. Even if they are instructed to ‘go socialize,’ it is easy for them to still avoid interaction through their smartphone.

This new technical ability means too many people are now reaching adulthood without having developed the skills needed to be a successful adult.

Fortunately all is not lost. In fact, the biggest barrier to making meaningful changes is the initial resistance of the young adult who needs a healthier approach. Once they have accepted that –at least in the way I approach it– most people find the socialization discussions we have to be interesting, sensible and motivating.

By developing a better understanding of the nature of society, the nature of human personality, and the nature of how our thoughts can impact both, most people find that the training process makes them feel increasingly alive. The world gets bigger and more exciting –and more inviting.

Far from hiding from the world, socially comfortable people become more interested in both participating in it, and affecting it.

If someone feels increasingly trapped by their lifestyle and they can sense the impact that can or will have on everything from their career to their love life, then they should know that they are closer to making changes than they may realize.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a shy person, they simply need to work with someone who can help them to find their place in the world in comfortable, inviting way.

Of course no changes can happen until we take the first step, which is to seek the help and then move thorough a process. It may sound corny, but the saying ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life‘ is always true. So none of us should hide from the world.

If any of this sounds like you or your child, then please get in touch with me or someone else who can help you navigate this change. Any resistance will only be as ephemeral as thought. And I know for my part I would be happy to meet anyone, no matter how awkward they think they might be.

peace. s

(780) 439-0341
scottis@relaxandsucceed.com

Paralyzed by Anxiety

1387 Relax and Succeed - Your new life is waiting to be lived

If someone has an anxiety-based form of depression they’ll often spend as much time as possible in bed, turtled away from others. Otherwise pleasant social situations will feel emotionally ‘heavy,’ and requests for our help from even our most treasured loved ones will feel thoroughly overwhelming. We can easily end up feeling guilty and worthlessness. It’s a terrible cycle.

When we’re in these states it makes logical sense that we feel alone and misunderstood. But it’s important for us to remember that our current internal psycho-logical reality does not translate to the larger world, or even to our own future selves.

Anyone in psychology, psychiatry, general counselling; or those of us from religious or philosophical mindfulness practices will have all heard people express this sense of alone-ness countless times because these feelings are a common part of human life.

The roughly 107 billion human beings that have ever lived all share the same four DNA letters, in almost identical locations, with all of us coded to produce certain proteins that combine to form all that we are. As different as we can seem, we are all stunningly the same.

Within those 107 billion lives, each of us uses the same essential set of systems to create and experience our own biochemistry. This is the only reason psychological drugs can have any effect –they are working at the level of the common systems we all share.

Each of these facts is what unites us in a powerful way with those around us. As this set of interviews illustrates, even ‘successful’ people live and work with the sorts of crippling feelings described above. But as these interviews also illustrate, there are ways to feel better even if our lifetimes have inadvertently taught us to habitually create darker feelings.

In the three cases in those interviews, what lead to people feeling better was when they realized a level of responsibility for how they felt. Rather than just feeling impacted by the feelings, they started to feel a sense of control over them. Drugs also helped in one case, but their common realization was they each felt they could have more control over how they felt.

1387 Relax and Succeed - Paralyzed by Anxiety

David Alexander Robertson noted, “I was laying in bed, as I always did when I got home from work, and my wife came in and said I needed to get some groceries. I didn’t think I could do it. I felt like I was going to die. She told me that she couldn’t support the family all by herself. And she said, ‘How do you want to live?’ That was a really big turning point for me…. What’s helped me the most is to talk about it. ”

Alicia Elliott noted, “What happens with people who have family members with severe mental illness or with addictions is the idea of co-dependency. You are always wanting to take care of someone or put all of your energy into that. For me, my coping mechanism has always been to listen to other people’s problems, to ask them how they’re doing and to take care of them and not tell them anything about what’s going on with me.”

When we feel deeply depressed reaching out to others can feel counter-intuitive, which is why formerly depressed people often talk about having an epiphany that incited their shift to seek help. But we do not need an epiphany to get healthy –we can generate our own.

There is nothing stopping us from recognizing that our lives are short, there are beautiful experiences to be had, and that the sooner we feel better the sooner our experiences will become more positive and life-affirming.

Do not trap yourself under a blanket of thinking that leads you to feel isolated, lonely, anxious or depressed. Getting healthy can be easier, more enjoyable, and happen much faster than most people would ever assume possible. But as the examples above demonstrate, the first step toward feeling better is to believe that you can, and then reach out.

If you need help; call or write me or anyone else who has a track record of helping people find their health. You won’t get judgment here, you will be welcomed. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing people awaken to the wonderful possibilities and remarkable strengths that exist within us all.

If you’re depressed or anxious, don’t sacrifice another day. Your new life is waiting to be lived, it only requires your presence.

peace, s

(780) 439-0341
scottis@relaxandsucceed.com

Struggling to Sleep

1386 Relax and Succeed - It is our thinking that creates our resistance to sleep

When I first begin working with people to help them realize how flexible reality can be by merely changing our perspective, people routinely suggest that changing their consciousness is a difficult thing. But how can that be true when both children and adults do it every night, (without even noticing), when we fall asleep?

Insomnia is wanting to sleep. Wants are desires, and as the Buddha noted, desires are at the route of all suffering. Wanting is pretty consistently unpleasant to whichever degree we want. Yet the act of falling asleep is ultimately so easy that none of us can even remember doing it, or how we did it.

Sleep is not an achievement created by succeeding in fulfilling our wants; it’s more like falling into a hole created by the silence of our psyche –by the ‘ceasing of wanting.’

Thoughts create our reality. If we say to ourselves, “I want to fall asleep,” we are creating a reality in which we are separate from sleep. Our sheer desire is what moves us out of a state of sleep and into a state of wanting.

If we were what we want to be, then the want would not exist. Therefore, if the want exists, then we have used our thoughts to create distance between us and what we want: the state of sleep.

Our desires are literally the barrier to us becoming sleep. This makes ‘wanting to sleep’ into a bizarre irony. Babies do not want to sleep. Children do not want to go to bed, as every parent knows. And yet babies and children alike all, without exception, eventually fall asleep. Can we see why it is called ‘falling?’

Babies surrender the unpleasantness of being awake and uncomfortable for the gentle peace of sleep. Youngsters eventually lose their footing on their desires to stay up and have more experiences and, as their mind loses the momentum created by those desires, they naturally and inevitably slip down into a state of sleep. And indeed, adults can learn to surrender the state of their adult thoughts and do likewise. We cannot be in two states at once.

To find sleep or any other state, we must disengage with the idea that it is something difficult to achieve. We must surrender our idea that we and it are separated when we go there every night.

We will achieve sleep with less difficulty and in less time if we make it familiar, if we return it to what it is –an entirely natural state demanded by our physical selves. All else is resistance.

Rather than chase sleep, embrace it. Rather than want it, we are better to lose our mental grip on everything that is not it, and in doing so we will flow toward it like water coursing toward ever-lower ground.

Sleep is a state our minds enjoy, so rather than see it in the distance like some much-need oasis; as some aching desire, we should instead approach it more as we would a holiday; with joy and appreciation.

If we want to practice the act of using our consciousness wisely, insomnia is like a gift. It will present us with the unpleasantness of our inaction as a motivation. So let us not waste that opportunity. We can use it each evening to search for the state of sleep.

We can surrender idea after idea of what our nighttime thoughts should be. And we should do so until such time as we simply run out of the desire to find sleep. For once we have exhausted all of our wants, sleep will flow toward us by nature. That is ultimately what happens anyway. We may as well make it conscious and enact it sooner, because that control of our consciousness is a skill that will also pay off when we’re awake.

peace. s

Logical to a Fault – Why You’re Struggling to Connect

1384 Relax and Succeed - Increased understanding is what exposes

One commonly and unfairly judged group are those who have personalities tilting toward the Autism or Asperger spectrum, while still being far short of the criteria for any medical diagnoses. My own appreciation for this group emerged thanks to an accident that provided me with an understanding of various patterns in human behaviour, when it rightfully should have left me dead.

Since there is no ‘cure’ for either state (and many people like this don’t want one either), what people really need are new and helpful ways to see themselves and their lives. Fortunately, increased understanding is often what exposes people’s unique routes to personal success and healthy relationships, despite whatever definitions or judgments the outside world may try to apply.

The people I see will often have trouble with co-workers, dating, marriage, and friends –all because they share a set of qualities. Yet many of life’s most successful and popular people are successful precisely because of those same qualities. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs exhibited these traits but, as the attached video hyperlinks demonstrate, one learned to cope with these traits while the other did not.

The simple fact is, male or female, if someone employs the right tools and learns how to communicate in effective ways, an Asperger-like personality need not hold them back from success in either life or love.

Yes, people of this personality type can be quicker to anger, but they are also much better at forgiveness. They are often bold and assertive about their views, but they can also change those views quite easily given good reason, (whereas most people will struggle to do so because their beliefs are too closely tied to their sense of identity).

Those shifts in position can happen because they are generally better than average at logic, and they’ll trust their results over their beliefs. (They also often love puzzles and strategy games.) Despite the advantages, these same qualities can lead them to struggle with making emotional accommodations for others that they themselves do not need.

There is no perfect way to be in life; every personality carries benefits and deficits for ourselves and for others. But no group is more commonly maligned, misunderstood, or told to be different than those who approach life with this Asperger-like mindset. If the world recognized personality-ism the same way we have with racism and sexism, this would be one of the most harshly judged groups.

Thanks to my near-death experience, I proudly count myself as one of them because, despite others’ judgments, these personalities have a great deal to offer. Yet none of us will ever be allowed to make those contributions if we cannot first teach others how to understand or deal with our behaviour.

1384 Relax and Succeed - There is no perfect way to be in life

Nobel Prize-winner, Richard Feynman demonstrated a personality of this type. He was both passionately admired and despised. He was known to be dismissive and brusque to a logically weak idea, be it in his professional or his personal life. Yet his correspondence with others –which forms the content of a book ‘about’ him– clearly demonstrates a man who loved openly and who cared about others a great deal.

There is also a radio interview which features a scientist and researcher named James Fallon, whose own research shockingly exposed that he was technically a ‘psychopath.’ Despite that definition fitting, he was a good husband and father and his research was all about helping others. Greater self-knowledge did improve his life and relationships but, even before that, he was not who people imagine when they hear the definitions ‘psychopath’ or ‘sociopath.’

Many engineers, lawyers, professors, scientists, accountants and programmers can be exasperating to their spouses without ever intending to be. Great artists are well-known for not caring what others think. They do what they do precisely they trust what they know and feel.

It’s important to note that the very qualities that lead to the interpersonal challenges are often the very same ones that make these people uniquely excellent at their jobs. Those same qualities also give them unusual courage when dealing with issues around ethics and character. These are not defects. This is a way of being.

These are rarely people who need ‘treatment’ for a condition or illness. They benefit from training on how to be themselves in effective ways that allow their relationships to be as good as they can be, whether at work or at home. I know this because I have helped a lot of people to find that balance, and to develop the interpersonal tools they needed to negotiate the individual intricacies of their lives.

Don’t beat yourself up over being alone. Don’t torture yourself by trying to reconcile the sincerity of your work with others’ distaste for your style. You don’t need to change, you need to learn how to shift your awareness to expose the new approaches that will smooth your relations and improve your life. I meet too many people who think they are failures at dating when in reality they are just part of this group.

If any of the above feels familiar to you, please contact me. One of my greatest pleasures is freeing people from the tyranny of others’ perceptions so that they can maximize who and how they are. Improving your life is not as hard as it seems when you’re working with someone who has studied these personalities in the unique and empathetic ways I have.

You can free yourself to live a better way. Don’t live inside some culturally-imposed prison of personality. Not when I can show you the way out.

peace. s

Balance and Transition

1383 Relax and Succeed - Balance and transition

The words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are so heavily equated with the sexes that our biggest issue in discussing the terms is in trying to see past our own biases about what we think people mean when they say things about either.

For the purposes of this writing, the let us say that the ‘feminine,’ represents the strengths exemplified by our compassion, tolerance and kindness. Rather than striking it it heals. Rather than forcing it flows. Rather than chasing it invites. Rather than pouring it is filled.

Also for the purposes of this writing, let us say that the ‘masculine’ represents the strength of our convictions, righteousness and courage. Rather than concede it consumes. Rather than accepting it achieves. Rather than accommodate it requests. Rather than giving it takes.

For many people the divisions between these two states are quite commonly seen as someone being loving, compassionate and forgiving, versus those that are more passionate about creation, protection or justice. Those of us raised by two parents will often immediately know which parent is which in this scenario.

Both of these qualities exist within every single human being, and by adulthood most people also know from experience that both approaches to life can lead to enormous advantages, or enormous problems, if the wrong one is applied at the wrong time or in the wrong context.

Balancing these two ‘aspects of being’ is why we often perceive the world’s most respected people to have a unique but quiet strength.

Those sorts of people hold these two sides of themselves in a good –though never perfect– balance. Whether it’s a man or a woman, it’s hard to imagine knocking these sorts of people off their own course, and yet all of them also seem like people that would be comforting to others. They could represent us in court, or be our caregiver in hospital.

No matter where our own ‘balance point’ is on the larger spectrum, given our respect for those with that near-centered balance –no matter what their sex or gender is– it makes sense that people generally come to me when they are in a period where they feel like they are losing their balance.

If people feel they are too timid and emotional, they want more strength and fortitude. If they feel they’re too angry and aggressive, they want to know how to be more tender and open. Isn’t it wonderful how wise we all are about what we need?

1383 Relax and Succeed - Balance is something

Keep in mind, none of these people arrive ‘wrong’ as they are. The world needs super strong people sometimes. And it also needs those that have the strength of vulnerability. But if we remove extreme circumstances, everyone tends toward balance, even though our personal balance points may not actually be all that ‘centered’ by nature.

 

We should not see where are on that scale as being either right or wrong. We simple are where we naturally are, despite our compulsion to constantly move toward balance. No one ever really gets there, but our wobbling journey along the way is the yin and yang of living a life.

This also explains my role as a guide. Just like some people have healthy lifestyles and visit gyms and eat healthy and do regular medical check-ups, there are some who prefer to see me regularly to ‘maintain’ a healthy balance and grow in their own balancing abilities.

Others tend to move through life less conscious of their health, so if they subconsciously feel balanced then they will feel no impulse to talk with me. For those people –as with medical emergencies– it will only be when life offers a major change that I will hear from them.

At those times the latter people will often feel they are struggling or failing. In reality they are being a bit hard on themselves because in most cases life will simply and understandably have thrown them off balance and they are reaching out as we all rightly should. My job is to help them to calm their minds and help them to regain their balance.

Even if someone only sees me in ’emergencies,’ each time we go through the training process, the student/client will grow more resilient themselves. The more time we spend together, the stronger they get. But this does not happen because they are getting something from me.

In either the maintenance or emergency situations, a new strength doesn’t move from me to them. I can simply see them in a very particular way, without the cloud of their own debilitating thoughts. And with that practiced vision I am able to effectively communicate to them how strong they already are.

If you feel weak or afraid or confused or lost, remember that we all feel that way at times in our lives. When we do, it genuinely is difficult to marshal ourselves in a way that allows us to find our strength again, which is where I come in. Fortunately, that weaker sense of ourselves is merely a temporary, thought-based identity that is masking the strengths that are always within us.

If you are currently troubled you have my full compassion, but fear not, for we all will rise again as we have before. For these are simply the hills and valleys of our journey through life. Our job is only to keep going, and to ask for help when required.

peace. s

Managing Extreme Pain

1382 Relax and Succeed - Eyepain 1

I arrived in the Emergency Department with a complex problem. Through no fault of my amazing doctors, I had a rare and excruciating outcome that was largely created by the sheer fluke of how my body is built, and how it subsequently reacted to my surgery. It was like being in ‘pain school’ and I paid close attention to its lessons.

Rather than shrink away from the experience in an effort to wish it away, I tried to make the experience useful by going ‘into the pain.’ For the purposes of this post, I investigated it closely. What was it to be in such pain, and what hidden opportunities did it present to me?

This operation often includes putting a silicon band around the eyeball to change its shape, and thanks to my unusually small eyeballs, the combination of that and the extensive surgery is what lead to my rare outcome. I was told that my pressure situation was possibly the worst case that most if not all of the doctors recalled seeing.

The pressure was the issue, so I will begin by attempting to describe the pain I was in. Normally eye pressure would be between about 10 to 20 mm HG. Doctors become concerned if this pressure rises to anything higher than 24 mm HG. My pressure started off at 62-64 mg HG, then slowly fell over a week and a half to 58, 54, and 37 –which will lead to glaucoma and blindness if not relieved.

Fortunately, the skill of my doctors allowed them to take action that did lower that pressure and save my vision. They lasered some pressure-relieving holes into part of the eye, and the pressure dropped to 34, and by my next visit I was at a safe 24, and soon after saw my pressure lower to a relieving 9 mm HG. Whew.

In terms of my internal experience, keep in mind, this pressure is inside your head. My nose, cheek, and brow were badly bruised, and it placed a great deal of pressure on my eye cavity as well as on my sinuses, which in turn badly irritated the Eustachian tube linking our sinuses to our ears.

In addition, I had a bubble of nitrous oxide gas placed inside the eyeball, which meant I had to constantly look down, which placed a strain on my shoulders and back. Sleeping facing downward was also an issue with badly plugged sinuses. I really didn’t sleep at all for at least a week.

By looking downward, the bubble of gas rises to the back of the eye, which then holds the wound in place while it heals. Looking any other direction made the bubble move, which was also very painful.

It’s fair to say that my extreme case lead to extreme discomfort. People are fortunate that most cases are nothing like mine. Many people have in-office procedures that have them seeing fine in ten minutes, with no pain at all! Do you see why I encouraged you to see your optometrist regularly?

In trying to define the pain associated with that pressure, I came up with the following description, which I’m frankly quite proud of. For turning a feeling into words, I doubt I could have done better than this:

Start off with someone pounding a rough spike or chisel into your ear until it bursts your eardrum and pierces your brain. Then imagine a major league baseball player swinging a bat as hard as they can at your eye socket, where the impact very badly bruises your nose, brow, and cheek bone.

Following that, imagine that this impact drives the eye straight to the back of your head where it hits the skull hard and bruises itself on all sides. Then the bad stuff starts.

Next was the sensation that someone had stuck a long, candle-shaped cone of sharp, burred metal into the black iris at the centre of your eye. That was in turn pushed so hard into my head and eye that the ‘metal cone’ sensation felt as though it had pinned the front of the eye to the back of my skull. Finally, imagine that someone takes a wire brush and rubs the rest of the eyeball roughly.

I’ll say it again: do you see now why I urged in the previous post that you go straight in as soon as you get symptoms? As previously noted, the surgery for just minor damage is itself quite minor and not overly painful. Wait, and you could end up like I did (even though I did go in as soon as I saw symptoms).

1382 Relax and Succeed - Eyepain

One of the doctors described my experience as ‘giving birth through my eye, with no pain medication, for nine straight days.’ Oh yeah, and in order to monitor pressure, you’re also limited to plain old acetaminophen (Tylenol). On scale of 1-10 I’d put this pain at about a 40.

So how did I ‘manage’ this pain? Largely it was practised acceptance. For the first week, I accepted that my identity simply was pain. I had no arms, no legs, no stomach, no feelings like hunger or happiness or exhaustion –just excruciating pain. It keeps a person quite busy, so that may have strangely been the easiest part.

Eventually the pressure dropped to the point where it was still ever-present and super painful, but I also started to have other sensations enter, like hunger, awareness of my sore back, and the desire to have my sinuses clear. That actually felt relieving after how I’d felt.

Everything is relative. I accepted these tiny gains with substantial gratitude, and I reminded myself that my father and uncles were in WWII, and that many people before me had suffered even worse.

Eventually I could slowly start to eat again, I could tolerate normal voices and light, and around this time my gratitude had a surge as I was able to better-appreciate the efforts of my brother and several key friends who not only cared for, cooked for, and visited me, but some also took up caring for my parents as I normally have that responsibility. The people I work with were also very kind with their patient reactions.

There were times when I lamented the pain and pined for relief, but I did manage to spend 95% of my time grateful that I didn’t lose my sight, that my care was so excellent, and I was extremely grateful to all those who expressed their compassion through action, either for me or for my parents.

For my part, much like our fovea controls the focus of our vision, my mental focus was largely controlled, whether I was focused on the inevitable pain, or my deep gratitude for all of the people who were helping me and for my positive outcome. I had done as well as I could and felt good about it.

As I felt better each day my gratitude surged even further. If we can imagine our attention as a hose, and our thoughts as the water that perpetually flows from it, my salvation was that –rather than watering thorns– I kept my focus on the ‘flowers’ that were my various caregivers and compassionate friends. I could never put my thanks into mere words, I’ll just say that I love every single one of them.

There is no getting around the fact that parts of life will be painful, even extremely so. And we can be forgiven for sometimes giving into this as we move through these experiences. There were times where my pain lead me to be impatient and unkind but, overall, I felt like I had been in some kind of pain Olympics, and I ended it happy with my performance.

1382 Relax and Succeed - Enjoy the little things

I couldn’t call the experience a ‘win,’ but I remain very aware that it was also not a loss –I can still see to write this, even if I needed help with the proof-reading for a while. My outcome looks quite quite, although the eye was too filled with blood for the doctors to see if the operation did all it needed to, so we’re still not entirely sure if another operation will be required.

What I can tell you this: I know my immediate future is unlikely to be worse than what I’ve already experienced, and that makes that future feel extremely positive to me.

So what should you the reader take from this? Certainly not that we can avoid pain because we want to. In 20,000-25,000 days of life it’s a simple fact that some serious pain will be in there. But we can remember that it is what provides the contrast that makes normal life feel like a blessing. Right now most of you are reading this largely pain free in relative terms. Be grateful.

Normal is normal; it’s like a fish trying to find water. But once our ‘water’ has been boiled or poisoned, we gain a deep and meaningful appreciation for what not long ago had been the most basic qualities of life.

By having those advantages taken away, we do become more aware of the grace that is created as a part of our everyday existence. And even just by hearing about others situations, if we’re wise, we can look about our own lives with a new vision and a sense of grace.

Imagine never seeing your loved ones again. Imagine never seeing a flower again. Imagine never seeing the sun filter through the trees, or the smile of a child you love. Every day most of us are given these gifts along with life and it is my hope that by reading this, you can spend some time more appreciative for something it’s easy to take for granted: our vision.

Finally, please know that if you ever find yourself in what feels like unbearable pain, be it physically or emotionally, remember that no sensation in life lasts forever. Sometimes the best we can do is endure. But even that allows us to traverse time and to cover ‘distance.’

As a Buddhist monk once said to me, ‘the secret of life is that everything changes.’ If life is good, be grateful. It will change. But if life is bad, be patient. For it will change too. Our job is to merely be grateful no matter where our journey is taking us.

peace. s

PS Special thanks to Doctors Baker and Sia, as well as the entire remarkable staff at the Alberta Retina Consultants. In addition to them, I would also like to thank the support and surgical staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, as well as the family and friends that supported me throughout this process, including Don, Anita, Henry, James, Nick, Mike, Kirsten, Christina, Brian, Jarrid, Christian, Sausan, Sue, and for the compassion shown by Tracy, Elizabeth, Beth, Rob, Dwayne and Charlotte.

A Diagnosis For Fear

1381 Relax and Succeed - Fear is born in speculation.jpg

Being different from most people I’m often surprised by common reactions, particularly negative ones. I have to stop and actually think about how people would look at those things if they believe their thoughts are reality. That’s why I was surprised when one of my doctors noted that their staff is often mistreated by patients.

I’m not sure whether it’s through good office management, a culture that started as a few positive employees and that evolved over time to include more people, or whether it’s just all just a fluke, but I have never been in such a positive office in my life.

The staff all act respectfully toward each other, they treat each other and the patients well, and they even announced our names with a cheerful tone. All that being case, the question then becomes; why would those people end up being mistreated by the patients? The answer is: fear.

Anger comes from fear, and people will generally be at their worst when they are the most afraid. And many of the people in that office were learning that they were either losing some, or all of their sight, and that their intervention would be somewhere between very uncomfortable and extremely painful.

Part of what was scaring people was the unknown, so they were speculating on how bad things were in the present. The second part was that they were using their imaginations to conjure a scary future. But both of those reactions are illusions. None of them necessarily accurate in that moment.

The only thing that could understandably explain any shortness, frustration or anger would be that people were in pain and had little consciousness left to consider other’s needs with. And that’s fair, and it’s why the rest of us also need to be tolerant to be wise.

The next question is: why was I generally calm and feeling fortunate? And the answer’s important, because the way I do it is how I would teach anyone else to do it too.

First off, I had read up on the eye, and the issue of the detached retina. That meant I understood more of what was happening and what people were saying. I also knew that in theory my future was more likely to be positive than negative. Knowing the truth is generally far better than believing a lot of our own self-constructed, negatively-conceived myths.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Knowing the truth is generally far better

So what did I know? I’m no doctor but, in basic terms, the white ball of our eye is called the Sclera. In the middle of our Iris (the pretty, coloured part) is a dark, flexible hole called the Pupil that shrinks and expands to control how much light enters our eyeball.

Directly behind the Pupil, where the light actually hits –and attached to the back of the Sclera– is an area called the Choroid, which supplies blood to our Retina. And the Retina is the part that actually collects the light from our Pupil and results in our sight.

The Retina itself is like the pages of a book, where each page plays a slightly different role in collecting and translating the light that enters the Pupil. Some of these layers are where our ‘cones’ and ‘rods’ for colour vision are located, if you remember your Junior High / Middle School health classes.

The Retina is centred by a low spot called the Fovea, which acts as the focal point of our vision. As we move our eye around, our focus will be in the centre of our vision –wherever the Fovea and Pupil are aligned.

In a normal detached retina, we get a tiny hole in the top page of our ‘retinal book.’ This hole allows in ocular fluid which then creates a sort of blister. If light hits the far side of that blister, we see dark patches in our vision. If it hits the near side, we see light scatter across the Fovea, which can create sparkles.

If we leave those symptoms unattended (please refer to my previous post for a list of all of the potential symptoms of a detached retina), the fluid in that blister will shake around and turn the hole into a tear, which can lead to the black speckles or curtain quality to our vision.

In my case, rather than a tiny hole on the top page of my retina, I had a large U-shaped tear through all of the layers right down to the Choroid. This allowed the centre of that U-shape to fold up under itself like a carpet might.

All that meant that rather than trying to fix a tiny hole in one layer, my doctors were forced to weld that entire U-shaped canal back into place, layer by layer. The fact that they can even attach each microscopic ‘page’ to the corresponding ‘page’ is a miracle of modern medicine and surgical talent.

My doctors had a suitably serious tone and they were very forthcoming about the facts. As I noted before, it is never a good thing to have an ‘interesting’ case at the doctor’s office. That’s code for ‘rare’ which is also often more difficult. But reality is reality. It’s what our minds do with those facts that matter.

While others with much better prognoses were much more afraid (and were therefore much less pleasant to deal with), I was better off because I accepted my reality and I chose to focus on other things that were equally real.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Reality is reality

I was in one of the leading facilities in the world with equipment that looked like it belonged on Star Trek. The staff was super-pleasant, and my doctors were considered some of the best anywhere. Even staff at the hospital for the surgery felt I was lucky to have such an excellent team on my side.

On top of all of that I was in Canada, where all of this care was going to cost me zero personal dollars. I could even be grateful for my own taxes and those paid by other Canadians who were now helping share the load of my care.

I suspect the work I had done and will have done will potentially be in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is genuinely a lot to be happy about, so there’s no delusion there. I was looking at what was real. It was the scared, uninformed people that were pondering illusions.

In life, we can choose to be our thinking and to have the course of our thoughts dictate the painful experiences that scare us and lead us to treat others badly. Or, we can be incited to have those thoughts, and yet not follow their course because we remain aware that they are only thoughts –while we are the thinker of them.

By seeing that reality, we can then take steps to stop the course of our mind and to redirect our thinking to other considerations that leave us feeling better. The choice is always ours, and that choice always happens in the moment we are in.

I realize I can make this sound easy here, but what people learn by working with me is that it truly is easy for everyone. People generally just get me to expose the folly of saying “But…” After that they’re just practicing the act of acceptance.

They still start off the training as all egos do. I will only take some credit for the fact that I suppose there is something about the way I answer them that allows me to be successful at what I do –but I can’t really see that, only they can. I’m just telling them the truth as I genuinely see it. Take away my accident and my subsequent meditations and I’d be just like everyone else.

If you are living in fear, I’m genuinely sorry you are. But even in the midst of that, keep in mind that there are ways to use our consciousness to make our lives better, even if we can’t materially solve every ‘problem.’

They key to all of that is acceptance, which is a good place to leave off. Because what followed next was an unlikely reaction and the most unbelievable pain I have ever experienced, and I was only kept sane by acceptance. But that is a different lesson than managing fear, and that is for the next instalment….

Until then, look closely at the people and things you love, because just being able to see them is a far bigger gift that we could ever imagine.

peace. s

Foreboding Symptoms

1380 Relax and Succeed - Nothing in life is to be feared

Every adult knows that any life can be loosely divided up into experiences that are ‘good,’ or ‘positive,’ and those that are ‘bad,’ or ‘negative.’ Joy is pretty easy –we can all do that. But our suffering is where we generally require either guidance, or lengthy, meaningful and dedicated meditation.

Whether it is spiritual, psychological, or a mix of the two, any guidance we receive will only come from people who have done their own very practical psychological or spiritual ‘work.’ If there was a way to ‘learn’ our way around suffering, everyone who took psychology classes or who attended places of worship would have miraculous, pain-free lives –and yet we know this does not happen.

In the end, it is only experience that truly teaches us. This is why one of my favourite testimonials for my work comes from a very talented and successful cinematographer who wrote, in part, “The training gets you in the Moment. It’s experiential. Unlike reading about living in the present, this actually lets you do it. It’s the difference between reading about swimming and taking swimming lessons.”

That last sentence is smarter than anything I could have written about what I do. It’s a brilliant metaphor and it is the reason I will undertake this series of posts about how I psychologically managed what would commonly be seen as a very bad situation.

Using my recent eye operation as the example, it would be easy to describe my complex situation and intense pain as being a ‘bad’ experience. But can it really be called ‘bad’ if I live in a place with first class care, and that I was able to help some young medical residents learn to be better doctors, or if I can use the experience to help others through this writing or through my work helping others?

My own story began with good news –I was at a dinner with beloved friends. Due to my heavy workload and the care I provide for my aging parents, this was an extremely rare night out. I remain grateful that such a happy and warm event was my springboard into the most serious medical issue I have ever faced since the childhood accident that ultimately lead me to write so passionately about life in this blog.

Being seated where I was, it was late in the dinner before I noticed the blacked-out semi-circle of darkness that had taken the lower left portion of the vision in my right eye. Thanks to a story told by a friend, I was lead to torque my vision hard enough to the right that it lead me to realize that the spot was there, and something likely worthy of quick medical attention.

Being a scientific sort of person with a penchant for experimenting, rather than immediately follow a course of fearful thinking, I chose instead to focus on testing the eye for both pain and capability.

I diligently used those tests to gather information I felt would be useful to any diagnosing doctor. This included the shape and density of the darkness, as well as its specific location, and whether or not it moved as my eye moved. I was also grateful that it did not hurt. I also thought about the preceding days in case I could find an injury or impact that might explain it (a minor impact from playing hockey was my best candidate).

Thanks to a lifetime of learning about all manner of weird things, I rightly guessed that what I was experiencing was likely a detached retina. My first question was to ask myself how useful or helpful any fear might be.

This represents the moment in which we can all choose to use our thoughts as tools, rather than having them blindly, habitually and emotionally control us. It was like the situation had shown me fear on a menu. My job was to decide whether or not I wanted to request more of those thoughts to actually ‘consume’ with my consciousness.

Since I could find no rational reason that fear could serve a purpose beyond motivating me to get care, I chose not to pursue that line of thinking. The fear had already done its job so I gratefully accepted it as a signal, and after that I largely dismissed it from my consciousness.

Because I have grown up in Canada where hockey is a common sport, I knew that detached retinas were something experienced by athletes who experience impacts to the head. With no recollection of ever hearing about a player’s career ending because of one, my working assumption was that there was likely a fix that would allow some form of ‘normal’ life. That helped to keep me calm.

Following my personal and quite logical test of my vision, my internal thought process would have sounded much like this:

Clearly there is a black spot in the right eye that likely has physical causes. It is fortunate that something that serious is only in one eye. I’ve collected as much useful data for a diagnosing doctor that I can think of. This does not appear to impede my ability to drive, so I should probably leave the dinner as soon as possible and do some immediate reading of some scientific papers and relevant medical websites.

I bid my fond farewells, headed home, and immediately began doing some preliminary research on good old Wikipedia, where I ensured I understood any important relevant terminology. I then visited sites for HarvardThe Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, (among others), as well as reading some relevant scientific papers. This further reinforced my belief that I was experiencing a retinal detachment, which every bit of reading suggested required immediate care.

Since I wasn’t sure if driving was wise in case the condition was neurological and not something actually relating to my physical eye, I chose to have a short sleep and then called a good friend in the morning and he kindly offered to drive me into Emergency.

Once there, I found a very busy waiting room and yet I was rushed in ahead of almost everyone. Since triage is about sorting the most serious cases first, I knew that this indicated that my situation was time sensitive. I was grateful for the quick response.

1380 Relax and Succeed - Acceptance doesn't mean resignation

Since further fear served no useful purpose to me, I quieted my mind and surrendered to the process and did my best to focus on, and be cheerful about, anything I could. This left me free to actually help some other waiting room patients cope better with their own fears.

In the end a broken piece of diagnosis equipment meant that they could not get a pressure reading on my eye, but the emergency ophthalmologist arranged for me to get the very first appointment at the hospital’s eye care centre the next morning. That had me feeling lucky.

Following my diagnosis, the doctor asked if a resident could also put me through a quite uncomfortable diagnosis process because it would be good for the young doctor to see what a rare case looked like. Despite the real discomfort, I focused on the fact that I was in a rare position to assist in that doctor’s education. I was grateful to be able to help.

The attending surgical resident then arranged for an appointment as soon as possible at the Alberta Retinal Consultants offices. A visiting Australian doctor explained that the centre is a world-renowned, state-of-the-art facility that was the very reason he had travelled so far for his education. That had me feeling lucky to live where I do.

I will leave what followed for a following post about my potentially frightening diagnosis. But to conclude this portion of the experience I would like to note that, so far, I was simply aware that my situation was very serious, but otherwise I had felt fortunate to get such quick and quality care all the way through the process.

I had reacted quickly, had been given emergency priority, and I had a good friend who had offered to take me to what was the first appointment of the day at a world class facility. If a person isn’t choosing to follow a course of fearful thoughts, that really is a lot of good news.

It might seem strange to some of you that I felt fortunate at this stage. But, if we’re living in the moment, and we’re accepting about life and have no expectations that anyone would live their entire life without any serious medical issue, then the rest really was very positive news. That was the gratitude I focused on rather than investing my energy in worry.

My conscious choice to pursue that course of thinking is what allowed me to get a good night’s sleep before I went in to face what would be a somewhat daunting diagnosis.

No life is lived without some pain and suffering so I do not live with the expectation that I will be able to avoid experiences like this one. But I reminded myself that I come from a family where many had served in WWII and, no matter what my future held, I was still likely better off than many of my own relatives. That had me feeling fortunate again.

If maintaining this state of mind seems impossible to you, remember that I too learned to do this. Yes, I had the advantage of starting my lessons after my accident at only five years old, but whether we start high school at 10 years old or 40 years old, it’s still just high school. Everyone reading this can come to know what I know through practice.

By reading your way through my experience, it is my hope that you will glean something about the active process that allows me to see life in an overwhelmingly positive light.

You may need to find your own way through your own experiences but, in the end, the tool we use –our minds– and the way we use it, are universal principles shared by us all. That being the case, I sincerely hope you find comfort in the knowledge that you too are capable of this sort of beneficial perspective. Any thoughts you have to the contrary are merely limiting, self-imposed beliefs.

In the following post, as things grew more serious, I will attempt to convey my internal process so that you can even better understand how we can all use our minds and our thoughts to generate positive responses to every kind of life experience.

If any reader goes back to just focus on the italicized sections of what I wrote above, everyone will easily see that I was not lying to myself by being positive. I was merely focusing on the most positive, realistic thoughts I could. We can all do this, but first we must believe in our ability to do so. My hope is that this post will help you in that regard.

Until the next installment, value your vision. It’s not guaranteed to last our lifetime, so don’t forget to meaningful behold the faces and places that you love the most.

peace. s

World Kindness Day

1379 Relax and Succeed - Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness

As promised, I am working on some pieces about my experience, the fear, and dealing with intense pain. Due to the depth required for those subjects I will need more time to fully assemble those ideas. You are better served if I can find ways to make my experience useful to you in the most material ways possible.

In the meantime, I am grateful that it happens to be World Kindness Day. That fact allows me to take the time to write and finalize those pieces, as well as celebrate this day by discussing how we can extend our sentiments beyond this single day, so they may imbue our lives throughout our year.

We can often see our kindnesses or our gratitude as things we give to others, but this is only because we tend to see our reality as being ‘out there,’ in some external sense. With a deeper understanding, we realize that all of our ‘experiences’ happen within our consciousness, which means genuine expressions of gratitude or kindness are even more our experiences than they are those of the people we may be helping or showing kindness toward.

Today, and going forward, I would strongly encourage everyone to join me in the daily meditation of seeing life not as something happening to us, but rather an experience we are co-creating with the universe, moment by moment. Like the cells of a single organism, our state does impact the state of those around us, just as those parts of reality also affect us, so control is not our answer.

Just as we will sometimes not be at our best, so too will other cells in the organism that is our larger society. There is no hope of us fully grasping or controlling that reality, but we can learn to accept it in ways that are profound, and that permit us to understand what people mean when they say things like, “Before I was enlightened I suffered. After I was enlightened I suffered.”

Acceptance adds a form of grace to the latter portion of that statement. By living in that way, we build no residual resentments, attachments or expectations, although we may experience them fleetingly. Likewise, we all regularly experience enlightened moments. What everyone seeks is a somewhat efficient route from their suffering, and to their moments of grace.

While we are never free of what the Buddhist’s call the cycle of samsara, we can learn to move within it with greater awareness and psycho-spiritual skill.

How this takes shape in real time can be demonstrated with my recent pain, and the fears around potentially losing my sight. As with anyone, the pain was agonizing, and the fears were based in very real potential outcomes. We can come to see that external reality as ‘our environment,’ much like the banks of a river are not the river, but they do form –and are formed by– the flow of our lives.

What gives us grace is our ability to remember that, like the river, periods of tumultuous rapids and frightening waterfalls are only parts of our overall flow through the moments of our life. All rivers change as they move through the geography of our reality, so all states are temporary. This is why I often refer to a wise Buddhist monk who once told me that the secret to living is that “everything changes.”

As we experience intense pain, we can become aware that our state is temporary. This turns our agony into a waiting-game of positive anticipation. We don’t know when or how we might feel better, but we know that the river of our lives continues to flow even though our pain can leave us inactive.

The above describes why suicidal thoughts can be natural, and yet ultimately foolhardy, because they operate on the presumption that nothing is changing if we are still. But whether rapids on a river last for 10 miles or one, our surrounding geography will eventually change our flow whether we act or not. In this way our own patience is a form of meditation or prayer.

If we can see this clearly, it allows us to simply let our suffering ‘be.’ That wisdom is reflected in Paul McCartney’s advice to John Lennon’s son in the song, Hey Jude,” wherein he reminds the boy that despite our periods of personal darkness, it is worthwhile to maintain our conscious anticipation and movement toward better experiences to come.

1379 Relax and Succeed - The level of our success is limited only by our imagination

Again, while our suffering in life is often unavoidable, what allows us to flow forward is our deep knowing that all of our states of mind are always temporary. This also means that, when we see others in states of suffering, we should not see our acts of kindness as merely gestures –in fact these actions are what shape the banks of other’s rivers.

In many cases, our own ‘rapids’ will dissolve thanks to the efforts of others, both seen and unseen. That being the case, in closing, I would like to thank the many people who very recently and greatly contributed to the gradual easing of my own suffering.

Without these people I would surely have struggled far more, and while my gratitude is my own to feel, I do hope they each saw their own kind acts as their own meditations on gratitude, empathy and compassion. In this way, my own pain can act as an opportunity for grace for those around me.

In terms of specifics, I would like to take this opportunity to single out those who have, and continue to, allow this struggle through the rapids of my life to move from near intolerable, to places where I can now feel deeply grateful to no longer be in the worst parts of the experience.

To this end I offer deep and special thanks to Doctors Baker and Sia, as well as the entire remarkable staff at the Alberta Retina Consultants. In addition to them, I would also like to thank the support and surgical staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, as well as the family and friends that supported me throughout this process.

These people include Don, Anita, Henry, James, Nick, Mike, Kirsten, Christina, Brian, Jarrid, Christian, Sausan, Sue, and for the compassion shown by Tracy, Beth, Rob, Dwayne and Charlotte (and any others my addled state may have forgotten).

As I also live in a nation with nationalized health care, I would also like to thank my fellow Canadians for your contributions toward making such a system work in my time of need.

In closing, today, as you move about your own World Kindness Day, remember that you are not only lifting weight from the specific people you help but, in total, you are also adding to a much larger force that, along with others, is easing suffering throughout the universe itself.

peace. s