PLAYFUL – Why So Serious? Come Play

Life has such a range of experiences from tragedy and despair to euphoric peace and joy. We don’t always remember the dynamic nature of life and can get stuck seeing it as mostly this way or that versus a play between them all. We can create a “way of being” or attitude that starts to purvey all situations. When it is marked by negativity, practicality, stinginess, or just seriousness in general life can seem like a real drag. This can seem like an innate part of our personality. We have all heard people say someone is a negative person or so serious all the time, etc. That is because it’s not enjoyable to be around such seriousness, nor is it enjoyable to be that way.
The good part is that this serious way of being is just a habit based on our negatively biased view of the world, which can change. We simply have lost sight of the magic, wonder and humor in life and need to rediscover that side of things. Mentally what happens is that we quite literally get stuck in the past. After some hurtful or disappointing event or long-term situation we stopped living fully in the present and started resisting the fun, bright, comical side of situations. The physical sensation is one of tightness, isolation and repression. It’s like we are punishing ourselves or others for those past things by not being happy now. And that self inflicted heart wound does hurt, in fact it takes years off our lives. The unhealthy stress creates chemicals that keep the body fighting a ghost versus taking care of more important things. Mental tension becomes physical tension as the mind and body are intimately intertwined.
To be so serious, we must be consciously push away the fun, joy, laughter because they always and quite naturally exist. Even in death and depression there is often one comical moment that squeaks through and like water bursting through a damn, everyone falls into tears of laughter releasing all that upset and tension. We just need to lighten up a bit, give up our positions, and be a little witty. Shake off the past and pay attention to the awesome things in the present.
When we have a playful mind, we look for the best things around us that we can play with keeping us more positive. Comedians have quite a skill for this, they take mundane things and draw out the curious, silly things about them that make us laugh and we love them for it. The saying laughter is the best medicine has merit as it sends chemical signals to our body that we are safe, all is well, so it can focus on all the functions to keep us healthy, versus fighting off stress. When we let ourselves have a laugh, or better yet make others laugh, we touch back into that beautiful, loose, connected, healthy space of the present moment.

Coach Gavin McKay

UPLIFT – Simple Daily Choices Can Uplift Your Life

We tend to look outside ourselves for things that will lift our spirits, entertain us, and make us feel good about ourselves and thats okay. This is not an effective long-term strategy however unless what we chose is truly uplifted and bolsters our core being. If what we chose are cheap thrills and short term comforts they will leave us feeling empty and addicted, like we have a void that needs to be filled again. With trial and error we quickly learn the difference and so it’s a daily choice.

True confidence and joy must have strong foundations deep within our minds or they continually crumble. This emotional foundation is a set of beliefs about our personal value and the inclination of the greater world. If we see ourselves as faulty, damaged, less than and the world as a battlefield bent on servings us overwhelming challenges, than our spirit is chronically depressed. If we see ourselves as capable, good, brave and the world as providing us with gifts and workable challenges than our spirit is strong and flexible. While it may seem like a simple thing to change your beliefs it is more of a process, where experiences must back up the new ideas. This is where making choices about the places and people you spend time with becomes critical.

We are all human and cannot help but be impacted (physically, mentally and emotionally) by the environment, circumstance and people that surround us in any given moment. This is a good thing because it gives us ways in which to manage our experiences and nurture a positive view of ourselves and our world. We do this by uplifting all aspects of our lives as best we know how, which is where Unite wants to help. Unite’s purpose is to create an uplifted, intimate studio and program that attracts friendly, do-gooders to train smarter together: upgrading their diets and workouts in support of greater health and happiness.

All elements are important to living an uplifted life, so consider how you can upgrade a few of them:

  • Eat fresh, quality, healthy “uplifted” food
  • Rehabing your injuries will “uplift” every move you make
  • Spend time with people that “uplift” your spirit or you can uplift theirs
  • Clean and beautify your work and home spaces so they feel “uplifted”
  • “Uplift” your body by choosing safe, holistic exercise balanced with recovery
  • Find ways to slow down, reflect and be grateful and your mind naturally “uplifts”

By making these simple daily choices you will not only feel uplifted, you will become an uplifted person, capable of uplifting the world around you. Unite for an uplifted world.

Upgrade Your Performance & Happiness with Meditation Courses

The science shows that the simple but disciplined act of meditating enhances mental performance, emotional stability and physical health. So how do you learn and stick to a practice?

Like anything else, the best way to create a new healthy habit is to find  a class that meets regularly, connect with the coach and students, and practice several times per week.  Sounds like your fitness training right? Well training your mind is just like training your muscles. Below I provide some of the introductory courses I recommend at the local Shambhala Center, which is largest free, public meditation center in Philadelphia.

Personally I have found meditating and studying Buddhist-based psychology to be profoundly transformative in my life.  Meditation slows me down so I am more mindful of my behaviors and other people, allowing me to break out of conditioned responses and turn my mind towards healthier, helpful thoughts and behaviors. Meditation is the best foundation for being able to make any upgrades in your life, be they dietary changes, athletic performance or emotional/relationship work.  We must have a correct and experiential understanding of how our minds work to be able to use and enhance or minds effectively.

Everyday Life Series - this is the best course series to start with as it spans 5 weeks, meeting 1 evening a week which helps to create a repetitive habit of meditation with readings and practice in between classes. This is a series of 5 courses, each with 5 week night classes. The first two courses, listed below, you can enroll in without any prerequisites.

  1. Meditation in Everyday Life - starts Sept 2nd,  fills up fast
  2. Contentment in Everyday Life – starts Nov 11th , guaranteed break thru!
Basic Goodness Series – also a great place to start to meditation and understand how our minds work and can deceive us from seeing reality. This is a series of 3 course, each with  6 week night classes and no pre-requisities.

Shambhala is a secular meditation community and publisher spanning North America and Europe that is based on Tibetan Buddhism but reframed for Western life with a plethora of sequential course in meditation and related arts.

- Coach Gavin McKay

RELAX – You Have Permission To Relax

Summer is the easiest time for us to embrace relaxation in our lives. The weather improves, the light stays longer, people take vacations and the world seems to slow down a pinch. While it is more natural in summer we need relaxation all the time. Our society created 2 days each week and several special times each season when we are given permission and even the directive to relax.  Why do you think that is?

Our bodies and especially our minds can only be worked so long before they drop in performance and fall into ruin. Early on through basic experience we learned that we could optimize our overall productivity and creativity by balancing the work with periods of rest. Now the science is beginning to catch up with what we already know and giving us more insight into the power of rest, sleep, meditation, etc.

Rest is generally meant as moving very little or with little effort, but we can rest without really being relaxed.  When we cannot sleep because our mind is burning with thoughts, excitement, panic, etc. we are resting our body but not our mind.  This mental stress agitates the mind and is even converted into chemical responses in our bodies adding a secondary physical stress.  This is why all our Presidents look like they age 10 years during a 4-year term. The subtle energy of furrowing your eye brow, thinking hard or nervously moving about puts a strain on us that we are just now starting to fully respect and understand.

Relaxing is a deep state of mind and body when we let go of our fears, our plans, our anxieties and settle into the feeling of the present moment without resistance.  There are great ways to get into this deep state readily available: music, massage, yoga, breathing, candlelight, walking, acupuncture and interesting new techniques like floating. Learning how to relax is as important as learning how to pay attention or take initiative, yet our society doesn’t seem to value it as such currently.

Often we need a sense of permission or justification for taking the time, even if only for 5 minutes, to truly relax. On holidays we have permission, but if we are in charge of the house or dinner it can quickly be lost in business. That is why it was so important to me to include yoga stretch and final rest in Unite’s cross-training.  Unite gives you permission, the directive and techniques to relax every workout. I am continually astonished and saddened when any clients leave Unite’s group cross-training before yoga stretch or even just the final rest and massage.  Relaxation is sacred personal time, embrace it and protect it.

UNINHIBITED – Break Free Of Ego, Enjoy Life Uninhibited

In life there are times when we are comfortable and confident and can trust ourselves. When we feel this way we are uninhibited and act directly off our thoughts because we know we have good intentions, we are intelligent and that if we make a mistake we can handle the repercussions. We all want to be uninhibited and feel this freedom but it’s a scary proposition and so it is a bit of a rarity.
There is no safety net for the uninhibited, no PR team cleaning up any messes, and no way to hide how we really are from the world. Because there are risks to putting yourself out there most stay halfway and manage those risks against more modest returns. While we can still be smart about how we interact with others, i.e. when we show all our cards and when we need to be cautious or patient, the inhibitions we are talking about are about internal struggles. Inhibitions are barriers that our ego put up mainly related to feelings of lower self-worth and fear of embarrassment/rejection. When you feel struggle, that internal pulling between wants and fears, that is your artificial ego and its battery of inhibitions. They are excuses, justifications of why you shouldn’t do something and if you let your ego run wild it will come up with a million and paralyze you from doing much of anything.
The crux of the challenge of living each moment without inhibitions is to fully accept yourself just the way you are right now. When we can see our faults and fears as just a small portion of the positive grand picture of who we are, we don’t get overwhelmed by a little exposure, a little embarrassment. This also tends to come with age. Think of older people, they don’t seem to really give a shit about embarrassment any more, they start to really say what they mean.
To be uninhibited, we simply face our inhibitions and move through them towards what we want without as many internal ego alarms. If you just try to adjust the situation so you are always comfortable, that is not being inhibited, that is being controlling and cowardly.  Be brave and inhibited and go embarrass yourself once or twice and you will find out it’s not so bad so what’s all the fussin about. The payoff of living uninhibited is totally worth it.
 Coach Gavin McKay

SPEECH – Use Words For Good Or Not At All

Saying the right thing in the right way at the right time can have a huge positive impact on people.  We can be uplifted by logical statements and/or emotional speeches to believe in ourselves, to take on great challenges, to persevere after long suffering, etc.
All great people and achievements were fueled by the powerful words of others. This is true whether the source was completely removed, like a book or video, or someone deeply rooted in their lives, like their mother, coach or child. We need inspirational words to remind us of our goodness, to stay on the virtuous path, and how wonderful life can be. Why not start to deliver your own inspirational words when the opportunity arises. We will naturally be attracted to people that provide us a lift but at what point do we realize we need to pay it forward. We can all learn to give someone the Coach’s “I know you can do it”, the Boss’s “I see a lot of potential in you”, the partner’s “I know its tough but”.
If we are not yet emotionally ready to deliver such uplifting words, we can still cause no harm by not saying something hurtful and remaining quiet. Verbal abuse is often more painful than physical abuse. Our bodies heal more or less, pain goes away and we more or less forget about the injury. But verbal abuse can leave mental scars, which can mare people’s behaviors for a long time and require much more time and attention to heal. When in doubt, let quiet win.
It is said that we can avoid almost all danger by just knowing when to stop. We can make the choice ahead of time to not create suffering through our words. This means no lies, no insults, no gossip, and no divisive or manipulative speech. When we do use non-virtuos speech it is almost always for our apparent gain. We think we will look better by pointing out others faults, be clever for using sarcastic wit, or get what we want by wielding influential words. It might be the case in that moment but if we are indeed creating harm, even small doses of it, karma has a way of gathering them up and serving them back in one big wallop.
Another way words carry power is that they deliver commitments. I will pick you up from the airport. I will never do that again. I will marry you. We make commitments to our parents, partners, colleagues and strangers all the time. Our instinct is to believe people until they have proven untrustworthy. Once marked as untrustworthy it is very hard to ever win people back. We must be as good as our word, by doing what we say we will do, even when we rather not. If we do not actually have full commitment to something, stating that we do is next to lying and so people’s reactions are similar.
We must be precise with our words representing our intentions and any potential conditional exceptions to the commitment. Better to set more moderate expectations and deliver on them, then over promise and under deliver.
- Coach Gavin
Coach Gavin McKay

COMMUNITY – Community Strengthens & Uplifts Us

Who’s got your back?
Who picks you up when you are feeling down?
Who gives you good advice/help?
Who inspires you to be better?

There are a few animals on this planet that prefer to live and work on their own, but humans are not among them. While we can think, feel and function independently of each other, humans are super social creatures. Most people understand we are highly depend on each other for the basics of food, shelter, protection, goods and services.

Sometimes however we get caught up in our own egos and we don’t take advantage of the immense resources, energy and caring in our communities for the higher level educational and spiritual support needs. When we really perform at our peak, we are working together towards common goals with our diverse backgrounds. We motivate each other to take action. We teach each other things. We keep each other accountable. We give encouragement. We suggest alternatives. And sometimes just listening makes the world of difference. There is no question we are stronger and happier in a community, so drop any stupid notions of “doing it out alone” and start creating more connections and deepening the ones you got.

From birth til death and most moments in between we are surrounded by other people and those interactions are the major determining factor in our daily and long-term lives. If we are aware of this, we will take care with whom we surround ourselves. We can make greater efforts to connect with people who share our values and goals. Why ever workout alone, eat alone, advance your career alone, raise children alone, build something alone, study alone, etc. Its not only less effective, its a lot less fun.  While developing a support network is immensely valuable, it shouldn’t just be for our personal gain. Thinking only of your own desires and gain isn’t the smartest approach either as it backfires.

First, you have to be a good friend to attract good friends, so make a point to learn how. Listen well. Give readily and genuinely. Ask for help without pride. Second, we must care for and maintain our relationships and communities.  This means contributing to and safe guarding the communities we are in, which starts with our family and includes friends, colleagues, gym buddies, spiritual groups, political action, etc. Don’t take them for granted.  If we don’t give time and money to them, they will dissolve and with it our best chance at achieving shared goals.

If we uplift our community, we will uplift our own lives. We will immediately feel we have been of service and be happy. The inverse is also true. If we work on ourselves and uplift our own energy, health, education, it will seep out and uplift the communities we work and live in. Working together with a community is the best and easiest approach for long-term success and happiness. If we inspire one another’s acts of friendship and community and keep raising the bar, we will create powerful communities capable of astonishing feats. We can change the way our food is made, how our children are educated, how people are treated, etc.

Coach Gavin McKay

GENTLE – Be Gentle As Aggression Only Rebounds Upon Itself

For many people our first reaction to theft, pain, irritation, sickness, death, frustration, etc. is to aggressively fight back against the cause, even if that cause is ourselves. We want to punish the causer for making us suffer.  We judge them/ourselves harshly. We berate them/ourselves openly.  We work them/ourselves too hard. We feel there is some debt to be paid, some wrong that needs to be righted “for good” or we simply want something that badly. That feeling is natural but to follow it up with aggression and give in to the impulse to hurt back is the wrong choice.  It also doesn’t work.

We can never truly correct any the situation and certainly not with aggression. Aggression just ads more suffering and negative energy to the situation, like adding fuel to the fire. This energy almost always rebounds upon itself and comes back to hurt you even more than the original suffering.  Nothing is solved and the unhealthy situation continues or gets worse. So why the hell do we keep doing it?

Aggression happens on a grand scale when countries work themselves up into an all out war, which usually is based on some old vendetta and so it goes on in cycles of war.  Just read your history books or turn on the news. Aggression doesn’t really get you what you want.  Ghandi knew this and so he was one of the most successful and world changing people in history. These situations are no different than aggressive responses on an individual level. In a democratic society these societal issues are simply the addition of all our individual aggression, so it is up to each of us to change our view and help others see the mistake of believing in aggression.

If we don’t berate and punish, how do we act to still try and get the result we want?  First don’t want to hurt others, no matter what they have done to you.  The right action is the one that will diffuse, heal and progress the situation on both ends so that all parties come out happier.  This right action will only come to us when we are in a gentle, peaceful state of mind and remember that all beings want to be safe and happy regardless of what they believe, how they act or express themselves. Many are confused as to how to achieve happiness, so they must be shown the way.  Our gentleness will receive gentleness and teach gentleness. And we must start with being gentle and kind to ourselves.

WORKABLE – Nothing Stays The Same, Every Situation Is Workable

There is nothing in this world that isn’t in a state of change:
weather, land, buildings, our bodies, our health, our relationships, our personalities, our moods, it all changes every second. Science is proving just how much we change and interact by looking down into the microscopic particles that make up all things. We have all shared atoms with each other and every species that has ever lived on this planet and the stars above as well. With this much smaller (and larger perspective) we see that everything that seems “solid as a rock” is actually a ball of atoms, energy and space.  Each thing interacting and adapting to the other in the complex ever changing system of life. On our human level, we might think about how every movement creates mini physical changes in our body, what we are eating literally becomes a part of us and every smile shares energy between people. Nothing is even the same from moment to moment.
In Buddhism the law of change is called impermanence, and it is the foundation of meditation practice and a healthy outlook on life.  This is how certain people can stay somewhat relaxed when they hear about crisis, health problems, bounced checks, etc.  It’s not that they don’t feel that same initial jolt of shock and upset, but they don’t fan the flames of fear by spinning horrible story endings or stay stuck on why did this happen to me. They deal with the present moment directly.
Some things change so slow that we forget and treat them as solid things like when we feel stuck in a situation. The situation is changing I assure you, it is you that needs to catch up and start to work with it.  It actually hurts us when cling on to the way things were or alternatively run away from the way things are moving. When our hometown is getting built up, we have nostalgia for the way it was, which can feel bad or we can choose to both acknowledge what has improved and work to influence what degraded. When we see new wrinkles, we can call ourselves old and ugly or we can embrace a mature look and find ways to still look fantastic. We can get set in our jobs/skills and think there is no way we could get hired to do something else.  The sunken feeling of helplessness we can feel in such situations is simply created in our minds by adding our fixed ideas/concepts/labels.
We must try to accept all states of change as neutral and expect them including: creation, evolution, destruction.  We won’t have a job forever, friendships come and go, we all die and it is completely natural and good. The reality is that every object, living thing and situation is mutable and we can influence that change in a positive way if we are open, flexible and relaxed. If we stay tight, put up our defenses and fight the situation, we won’t even stay put, we will actually regress from our goals and health. Alternatively, we can let go and just take on each experience fresh, without fixed opinions about it and trust that whatever happens it will be workable.
Even a situation which seems horrific right now will change and the worse it feels the more likelihood it will get better with every passing moment.  And so often we find our greatest lessons, acheivements, friendships, etc. result in these times of upheavel in work and personal life so why be overly afraid of these situations. They often are a blessing in disguise and protecting us from greater failure and upset in the future. It is a belief that the world is basically good and happening in a proper way.  As we live and learn we can trust ourselves to do the right things in response, which may be doing nothing at all. Take solice in bad times knowing that they won’t last, and temper good times as well so as not to get attached and feel bad when it ends.
We must learn to surf the waves of change with balanced mindsets or be crushed under the weight of our own resistance.


CLARITY – To See and Feel Clearly, Drop Your Biased Stories

The world is perfectly clear about what is happening at any given moment. However our minds usually step in and start muddying the waters with all our personal biases and conditioned reactions.

Our senses experience the reality of each moment just as they are, but our brain can only hold so much data and ends up missing a lot of detail, especially when we don’t pay close attention. We end up with only sample data of each experience to base our opinions on. This reduces our ability to be accurate and creates a gap of “unknown”. As humans we get uncomfortable with the unknown and so our minds start spinning stories to fill in the gaps and get rid of the discomfort of not knowing.

Our brains interpret everything that our senses capture so that we can integrate them and make sense of what we are experiencing, usually comparing it to past experiences and known concepts. To help understand faster, we add labels and concepts. We need to do this to get through our day, but when this process isn’t kept in check we stray further from reality. This is the biased storytelling that comes out of our personal spin center, the ego.

Sometimes things are pretty straight forward. When we are in a calm mood we just take it in and read the situation naturally without adding a lot of extra ideas that aren’t there. For example we might see and hear an inebriated person making a scene and take some caution, maybe try to help the situation, and go on with our evening.

Alternatively, when we are in a self centered or upset state of mind, or we become so addicted to hearing our own self gratifying storytelling that we relish in our own bias. This is when we start storytelling. In our example, we might label this person as a bum, totally avoid the situation and afterwards complain about the state of the city and why don’t the police or politicians do this and that, blah blah blah.

It’s funny, we go to such extreme lengths to build a case for our stories and defend them, yet we still kinda know our stories are false, half truths, situational or complete ego bullshit. Think of a time when you interpreted incorrectly and it caused harm. Stop believing all of your stories, and start to have a healthy suspicion. Accept that we interpret all the time and remain open to various interpretations to find the one closest to reality. For example, if someone annoys us we could say that they annoyed us or we could say they are a real jerk and start building case. If we actually thought that our story was the truth, we wouldn’t feel the need to defend it so much.

The more emotional we are, the further from reality our versions of things become to the point of actually creating complete alternate realities that we start to believe. In traumatic situations we see this as denial, justification, schizophrenia, etc. but it happens in much smaller daily situations as well.

 The problem with spinning so much self centered bullshit is that your words really start to stink, and other people smell it before you do. We probably have all experienced this downhill slide as “not being in a good place”. Because we are stuck viewing the world with these dark tinted glasses, we don’t see reality and hence have less success. Eventually we get blind sided or hit a wall that breaks our tinted glasses and wakes us the hell up to reality with tears and drama. This is a blessing in disguise.
Our mind gets caught up in what we wanted to happen, what we wish would happen, what we are scared will happen. The bias of our ego and past conditioning cloud what is clear and perfectly told right in front of us. To prevent this simply pay close attention to the present moment by using all our senses and trust our selves to perceive what is going on directly even when it is pain and anger that come up. Be aware of when our minds are adding things. If we feel we have to defend an interpretation, drop it.

Coach Gavin McKay