Do You Like Yourself?

How do you begin to repair your life when you don’t like yourself very much?  Many new age and positive affirmation gurus can often be heard saying, “How can you expect someone to love you if you don’t love yourself?”  My question goes even further: How can you love yourself when you don’t even like yourself?  This sets you back even further.

This question could easily be seen as the over dramatic rant of an attention seeking masochist.  But it isn’t.  In fact, I suspect it is the foundation of the psyche of many of my fellow human beings, whether they are consciously aware of the fact or not.  It can be seen in the choices we make.  The unhealthy, destructive, or abusive relationships we hold onto because we only want someone to “love” us.  The lack of fulfillment we experience from our lives; career, hobbies, relationships, etc.  The excess weight we can’t lose, the excuses we make when our passions are ignored.  Can you recognize this in your own life?

I’ve experienced them all.  Some of them I’m still experiencing.  So often we are shocked by the truth we have ignored.  It lashes out at us when we least expect it.  Like a frightened caged animal.  We do anything to feel better about ourselves.  Which usually equals more poor choices made.  These choices are often addicting.  We make a choice, we feel better, momentarily, and then the feeling is gone.  We seek to recapture that feeling with further choices that do not lead to our fulfillment.  It becomes a vicious cycle. Repeated one night stands, gorging on food, spending money, drinking too much, illicit drugs, whatever your emotional drug of choice may be.  The high is always followed by an even deeper low than you were catapulted from.

Sadly, I do not have the answer to loving or liking myself.  I know that all I have been learning over the past year and a half is a light unto my path.  Mindfulness is the key.  I cannot allow the despair that I so often feel become the lock to my prison of self-loathing. Each day must be a further step to liking myself.  Each day must be a choice made not to accept my further self-destructive behaviors.  Let mindfulness be your guide.  Allow it to give you pause long enough to make the choice that leads to your higher purpose.  Each day you can learn to like one part of yourself.  Each day that you can make a choice that serves your higher good is a day closer to the ultimate prize of finally liking and loving who you are.

Stop, be mindful, make the choice for your higher good; start now.

Namasté
Matthew

Affirmation Meditation

I’ve written before about my meditation practice.  I’ve also discussed how it is precarious and that I don’t always do it consistently.  I have been away for a while.  But, coming back recently, I’ve added a little twist that I find quite refreshing and rewarding.

I am a huge fan of Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Abraham (the Law of Attraction), and Neale Donald Walsch.  Each of these authors/life coaches are fervent believers in the power of positive thinking.  They preach the value of affirmations.  Sending your thoughts of how life should be out into the Universe so that it is reflected back to you.  I have begun using these affirmations as a part of my meditation practice.

My typical meditation lasts 15-20 minutes.  I set a timer (I used Insight Meditation Timer on my iPhone).  With that timer there is a “gong” every 5 minutes.  I typically focus on my breath, in and out, in and out, in and out.  Recently I have added positive affirmations to the last 5 minutes of my meditation practice.  This helps me add a feeling of involvement in the track my life is taking.

I have always loved Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation guidance. He invites practitioners to say or think, “Breathing in I calm my mind.  Breathing out I smile.”  I take this a little further.  I start by thinking, “Breathing in I am…” and here is where I add my favorite affirmations.  I focus on one thing I’d like to change or improve in my life and repeat it over and over or I choose numerous ones that will also send the positive outcomes I’m hoping to obtain out into the Universe. As I breathe out I think, “Breathing out I smile.”  You can also think to yourself, “Breathing out I am at peace.”  Here are some of the affirmations I use.  You are welcome to try them yourself or go for it and create your own.

Breathing in I am…

…at peace.
…happy.
…healthy.
…in a career that I love.
…living a life that fulfills me.
…financially abundant.
…intelligent.
…a powerful human being.
…confident.
…love.
…worthy of love.
…worthy of a career that I am passionate about.
…beautiful.
…strong.

The list can go on and on.  You can say each one as you breathe in and follow it with either, “Breathing out I smile.” Or, “Breathing out I am at peace.”  That choice is yours. But, even if you aren’t a Kool-aid swallowing believer in the power of affirmations, adding them into your meditation practice (which has proven mental, physical, and emotional benefits) can’t hurt to try.

I wish you all the best with your meditation practice.

Namasté
Matthew

Follow My Bliss?

One of my all time favorite quotes is from Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss!”  This is something I’ve always wanted to do.  There are so many books and spiritual teachers that talk about finding your passion and following it.  Paulo Coelho, wrote masterfully, on the subject of passion (or treasure as he called it) in The Alchemist.  I’m also re-reading and re-listening to Wayne Dyer‘s Excuses Be Gone and Change Your Thoughts – Change Your LIfe.

I admit, they are powerful books.  But, sadly, I feel, at times, that they are lost on me. They are lost on me for two major reasons: 1) I can’t narrow down just one passion and 2) I use the exact excuses they discuss in the books to avoid following my passion(s).  What’s worse; I take it a step further and berate myself for not following the advice laid down by these brilliant men, and other brilliant writers such as Louise Hay (whom I adore).  How do I stop the cycle of madness that keeps me locked in a place/job/life that I’m “content” with but not passionate about?

Let’s start with issue #1.  I can’t narrow down just one passion.  I am passionate about writing though laziness often gets in the way (this will be discussed with issue #2 momentarily).  I am passionate about travel though I often feel I can’t afford it (another issue #2 thought).  I am passionate about singing though I talked myself out of this many years ago (wow, a lot to discuss with issue #2).  I often ask myself, “how do I make a career of writing, travel, and singing?”  How can I earn a comfortable living doing the things I enjoy?  Better yet, how can I simply afford to do the things I enjoy?  In actuality, only one of my passions truly costs money, travel.  I have been lucky enough to see some amazing places in my life.  Chicago, NYC, Washington DC, California, Colorado, North Carolina, England, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Monaco.  There are so many more places to go and adventures to be had.  I suppose there really is nothing holding me back from following any of my passions…well, there is; ME.

Wayne Dyer, in his book Excuses Be Gone, makes a list of typical excuses people make to avoid following their passion in life.  “I’m too old.” “I’m too tired.” “I can’t afford it.” “Friends and family won’t approve.” “I’m not smart/good enough.”  There are many and I’ve used quite a few.  The other day I was with a few people and a friend turned to someone in the group and said, “Did you know Matthew has a blog?”  The person my friend was talking to said, “Really? What’s it about?”  When I told him it was about my spiritual journey this person started laughing telling me how silly a subject that was.  Luckily, one of my favorite pieces of advice I often give to myself and others is, “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”  I turned away and began a conversation with another person I was with.  But, there is a certain amount of self-criticizing that we do.  To make it easier on ourselves we will put the blame on others. “My mom will not approve if I quit my job to pursue…”  “My friends will not support my decision to…”  When in actuality we should just replace “my mom” and “my friends” with “I.”  Or, better yet, which is my true excuse, even if I say, “I can’t afford it,” “Mom won’t approve,” “I’m too lazy,” what I really mean is, “I’m too scared.” I’m too scared to leave the comfort of my job.  I’m too scared to give up what I know for the vast unknown.  I’m too scared that I won’t be able to afford anything.  I’m too scared that I’ll fail.  Fear is the excuse that Wayne Dyer, Paulo Coelho, and Louise Hay all state as the number one absolute hands down reason people do not follow their passions…FEAR!

I am ready for fear to dissipate from my life.  My affirmation for this is, “There is no room for fear in my life.  I will pursue my passions unhindered by fear.”  This is an affirmation we should all begin saying to ourselves daily.  I’ve talked myself out of so many amazing experiences in my life because of fear.  I keep turning back to the safety and comfort of the fearful life I’ve laid out for myself.  Does that mean I will be perfectly fearless from here on out?  No!  But, now that I am aware of what is holding me back do I have a better chance of fighting that fear, little by little every minute of every day?  YES!

Say it with me now…the more of us that say it the more it will resonate in the universe. “There is no room for fear in my life.  I will pursue my passions unhindered by fear.”

Namasté
Matthew

Breaking Our Habits

I was sitting in yoga class tonight and my amazing instructor Lezlie was talking about our posture.  She was telling us that our habit is to slouch and round our backs in.  Now, I have heard her tell us this many times.  That part is nothing new.  But, the connection came when I began thinking of my own spiritual practice.  Recently I have been reading a great deal of Louise Hay and don Miguel Ruiz.  Both of these amazing authors and teachers discuss the way life trains us to react to the world around us.

Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements calls life and our “domesticated” reactions to it “The Dream.”  Growing up we have built habits of how we respond to the world, based on the “lessons” we’ve learned from those around us.  These reactions become ingrained habits that become difficult to break.

Louise Hay also takes on our deep seated habits.  She deals with the emotional baggage we carry with us.  She believes that our negative outlook about ourselves and our lives can lead to “dis-ease” of the body, mind, and soul.

Each author has different ways to battle the habits.  Hay uses positive affirmations and Ruiz uses the Toltec teachings of the Four Agreements.  Now, this isn’t a blog post to extoll the virtues of these two amazing spiritual teachers.  I do recommend that you read their books and teachings, but that is not where we shall be stopping.

Let’s take this back to Lezlie’s comments in class and how that got me thinking.  I’ll admit, I often have bad posture.  But, since I’ve been practicing yoga I have become much more aware of that posture and how it affects me.  Awareness is the first step.  As I slouch, I gently (or as gently as I can remember to be) remind myself to sit up, straighten my back, and improve my posture.

But, my worst habits are from my own mind.  I became very aware of how cruel I’ve trained myself to be.  We were sitting in a twist pose that we haven’t done too much in my 3 years on the mat.  The gist of the pose is placing one leg over the other and you twist to face behind you.  Now, twists are my absolute favorite poses in yoga.  They stretch out my back and I feel amazing going into them.  My problem came when I was placing one leg over the other.  The leg on top just would not reach to the ground as it should have.  And, I found myself saying over and over, “you’re too fat for this pose, just look at you, it’s pathetic.”

I berate and belittle myself quite often.  This is one of the many things I am working on to improve myself.  And, I’ll admit that both Louise Hay and don Miguel Ruiz’s books are helping me a great deal. (OK, we’re getting to the habit part.) When I caught myself saying these things I wondered, does this poison I’m feeding myself come from a true belief that I am not good enough, or is it merely a habit that I’ve fallen into?

So, here I posit this theory: if I can begin to recognize that my cruelty that I harbor towards myself comes more from habit than true feelings, then I believe it will be easier to break these habits and retrain myself to speak compassionately and lovingly.

Smoking is a habit that many work to break and so many are successful.  Biting my nails was a long time habit.  Thanks to regular manicures I have broken that habit.  My Diet Coke habit has turned into a caffeine addiction. This I have not yet conquered, but I shall.  I do believe that my emotional self-cruelty habit is more toxic and dangerous than any of these. We must find a way to be compassionate towards ourselves.  So, if we are ever together and you hear me mumbling to myself, I am probably saying one of the positive affirmations that Louise Hay has been teaching me.

Awareness is the first step to identifying the habit.  Don’t beat yourself up because you caught thoughts roiling, unbidden.  These habits have been developed over the years and are deeply rooted in our psyches.  Be gentle and compassionate.  That is the key to breaking all habits.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This includes you.  Don Miguel Ruiz talks about being spiritual warriors to battle the negative aspects of the “Dream.”  Well, I am a spiritual warrior and I will battle every day to bring myself closer to my true amazing self.  Will you do the same?

Namasté
Matthew

Thank The Now Exclusive June

My latest Thank The Now article has been published exclusively on ThankTheNow.com.  Check it out, like it and comment on the site.  I’m very grateful to be a part of the Thank The Now Family.

Find my exclusive post here: Add A Soundtrack To Your Life

What Right Do I Have?

First, I have to start this post by saying, I am living a blessed life.  I have never truly wanted for anything.  There has never been a night where I’ve gone hungry (being 40 pounds over weight proves that).  I have always had a roof over my head.  My mother was able to get me through college without me having to take out a single loan.  I have a career, I own a house, I have a family that loves and supports me, and have a great group of friends that are always there when I need them.  I. Am. Blessed.  (I just wanted to reiterate that.)

So, who the hell am I to be depressed?  I’ve spoken in many of my posts about my depression.  I am on medication, yes.  I do, from time to time, feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of my depression.  But, what right do I have?  I have everything I could possibly need.  How do I allow depression to take such hold over me?  As a teacher I have borne witness to the lives of my students.  I have heard stories from them that have made me go home and cry.  I have listened as they tell tales of suffering that no human should ever endure, sufferings that I could never come close to experiencing with the strength they have mustered.  So, again I ask, what right do I have to allow my depression to hold me hostage?

Science tells me that it’s nothing I should be ashamed of; we cannot expect to conquer a chemical imbalance in our brains.  So, I should be ok that I often feel lonely without a “partner” by my side.  So lonely, that the empty feeling in my chest threatens to rip me open and reveal a heart unworthy of love.  So, I should feel ok that some days I don’t feel fulfilled in my life.  I worry about losing the people I love.  This is selfish when people are losing their loved ones every day.  Children lose their parents, husbands lose their wives, fathers and mothers lose their babies.

My thinking needs to reversed.  Perhaps it is not chemical imbalance in my brain.  Perhaps the imbalance comes from my way of thinking.  One of the major tenants of Buddhism is that human beings suffer because they desire and grow attached.  As I’ve learned and practiced my Buddhism more, I have struggled with how, as a human being, I can work, and make money, and own a house, and want a partner but do it all without desire and attachment.  I have obviously not learned the lessons completely or I don’t believe I’d still suffer from the depression that often grips me.  But, isn’t the first step recognizing the issue and working from there.

My desire to be loved causes me to suffer.  Whereas the gratitude I should show for the people that truly love me already, we heal this suffering instantly.  The desire for a new more lucrative and glamorous career mires me in pain that I would not need to endure if I could recognize and be grateful for the lives I shape every time I step into a classroom. The fact that Buddhism, as a faith, has been teaching the cessation of desire and attachment for the last 2500 years does speak to its staying power and validity.  Now it is time for me to embrace these teachings further, to rid me of my scourge of suffering.

The compassion I feel for my students that are in pain makes me stronger and hopefully offers them some solace.  The gratitude I feel for the friends and family that love me and whom I love fills those empty spaces in my chest.  Going forward, every time I hear myself say, “I want…” I will change that to, “I already have…” and fill that in with someone or something I am grateful for. And when the loss I so desperately fear comes, I will be grateful for the love they gave and the love I will always feel.  I will fight this chemical imbalance by putting my thinking and my compassionate love into balance.

Namasté
Matthew

Coming Back

After many months away, tonight I returned to my meditation cushion.  I have too often looked at it tucked away in my closet and thought to myself, “you haven’t meditated in a while, you should do that.”  My response varied but it turned out the same, “I’m too tired!” “Maybe tomorrow.” “I have so much to do, I just can’t right now!” No matter my excuse the outcome has been the same; no meditation.  And I have suffered for it.  I don’t feel as “free and easy” if I don’t meditate.

Tonight was different.  I have been reading a few self-help books of late.  I know many of my readers may, perhaps, roll their eyes at the idea, but I find many self-help books…well, helpful.  I have a stack I’m moving slowly and thoughtfully through.  I’ll admit, I’ve always wanted those books to be an instant cure.  They are not, they are only helpful if you’re willing to work at the steps they offer.  Tonight, as I sat eating dinner alone (I think my current feelings of loneliness prompted much of my self-help need) I was reading Ask and It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks.  In it Esther describes the importance and ease of meditation. I loved what was said.  “Sit in a quiet room. Wear comfortable clothing, and focus on your breathing.  As your mind wanders, and it will, release the thought and focus upon your breathing.”  This is perfect advice for meditating.  So, after thinking about it while I ate and later explored Barnes and Noble, I decided to do more than give my meditation cushion a passing glance.

So, I came home, lit the candles and incense on my altar, dialed up some Enya on my iPhone and sat my excited rear end on my meditation cushion.  At first it was perfect, like greeting an old friend you’d been missing.  But soon, the relationship began to turn.  My mind wandered, often.  “My back hurts.  My feet hurt.  How long have I been sitting here?” All of this ran through my head as I sat trying to meditate.  I couldn’t believe how badly I was doing.  I used to do this all the time.  “Patience, you’ve been away a while.  It will come back.”  My consciousness was coming through as the voice of reason.  “As your mind wanders, and it will, release the thought and focus upon your breathing.”

That’s just what I did.  I stopped beating myself up.  I closed my eyes and breathed. Before I knew it I was smiling as I meditated.  I felt peace returning to my entire countenance.  Then, abruptly, my time was up.  Should I keep going?  Is 15 minutes enough? “Yes, it is enough,” my consciousness was telling me.  “Return tomorrow,” it added, “and give it 15 more minutes.”  “Do not push yourself or you risk growing to resent your meditation time and that is counter productive.”  Sometimes I’m pretty brilliant if I do say so myself.  But, seriously, as with any new or revisited endeavor, don’t push yourself. Be patient.  Allow your self to grow and mature into the practice.  It was my ego that was whining about being a poor meditator.  My ego wondered why it wasn’t the same as it was before.  I have to release the ego, as I released my wandering thoughts, and stay with the person I am and the meditator I am in this very moment.  If I’m too hard on myself, I won’t go back to the cushion.  And I so desperately want to be on that cushion again.

Namasté
Matthew

Thank The Now Publication

I am very happy to announce that my first article as a monthly contributor for Thank The Now has been published.  Please check it out and show some love.  It is much appreciated.  This article has not appeared in my blog.  It is exclusive to Thank The Now.

The article is called: Embrace Your Innate Talents

Namasté
Matthew

 

That Little Push

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This is my camera and tripod all set up ready to film my first video entry for my blog. The only problem is, I keep talking myself out of it.

The whole purpose of the video entry is to completely push me out of my comfort zone. I’ve filmed a few test entries, just to get placement of camera set up, but I can’t bring myself to actually make the video.

I’ve been obsessively watching YouTubers whose entire careers have been made making videos. They are young, attractive, and energetic. They talk about their lives and dish gossip. I watch them and marvel at the ease they have in doing this. My inner critic won’t allow me to let go. So, this is to push me to let go. I want to have their energy and excitement, but I don’t want to focus on the trivial things they do (I’m not in anyway judging them, but at times they are a bit too self-absorbed for my tastes). I want my blog, my words, and hopefully my videos to mean something to people.

That’s why I’m posting this now. To push myself. I’m letting my followers know that I’m going to do this; so now, I have to. Wish me luck.

Namasté
Matthew

 

I’m Homophobic (About Myself)

I have a fear.  I’ve only really mentioned it to a few people.  I am homophobic.

Let me clarify what I mean by this.  I am homophobic of my own homosexuality.  I recently watched myself in a video and I caught myself cringing at the things I was doing.  My voice is high and “feminine.”  My mannerism are über gay.  I even half joked with a colleague that there was no way, after watching this video, that anyone would EVER mistake me for straight.

In the last ten years people have compared me to Nathan Lane’s character in the Bird Cage, Jack from Will and Grace (though I’m not that shallow), and Cam from Modern Family.  This comparison is always followed with, “they always make me smile,” or “they make me so happy, like you do.”  It is never said to me maliciously.  The comparison is always made as a compliment.  And, more often than not, I take it as such.  I like making people laugh and smile, and I love knowing I bring them some form of happiness.

My homophobia (which is reserved and aimed exclusively at me) is most evident at work.  I have always believed that in life we actually never leave middle school.  We tend to group together in cliques much like we did in middle school.  We talk about others and stir up drama, just as our younger versions did.  Which is why, I think, working in a middle school has brought this feeling to the forefront.

Now, to be fair, in my life I have suffered little from homophobia directed toward me.  In high school the captain of the basketball team tried to throw my from the second floor of my school yelling, “faggot” the entire time.  I was called, “the little faggot” by an administrator at the first high school I taught in.  And, most recently I had a parent e-mail me that he does not approve of my “lifestyle.”  Beyond that, even growing up in a small town, I was pretty lucky.  My mother, like all protective parents, used to tell me to sit on my hands when I talked or to try to speak in a lower tone so people wouldn’t think I was gay. But, I know her concern came from that place all mothers fear; the pain that their children might suffer.

I’m not sure which of these issues, or more likely all of them combined, caused my inner homophobia.  In most aspects of my life, the fact that I’m a “flaming homosexual” is joyfully embraced.  The only time I hate myself for it is when I think a student will be malicious enough to call me a “fag.”  This epithet has been hurled at me by many students over my ten years of teaching.  When kids get angry their first thought is to lash out, and when it’s aimed at me, it is usually, “faggot” or “fag.”  The “clever” little ones even came up with the nickname, “Mr. Cava-queer.”  The first time this happened it was like a kick in the stomach.  Thoughts reeled through my head.  “How did they know?” “How can they be so cruel?” “What’s wrong with being gay?”

I was indignant.  I wanted the child who dared use such a term toward me thrown out of school.  How dare they?  Disappointment led to anger.  I was pulled into my administrator’s office (not the same administrator that called me “the little faggot”) and they talked me down from the ledge.  They also gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten, but that, unbeknownst to them, cemented my inner homophobia even further.  I was told that I need to keep these incidences much calmer because even though my administrator would back me up 100%, they would never be able to protect me if a parent came in complaining about the “faggot” teacher.  I was told that homophobia was the last acceptable bigotry in the education field.

Even today, that sticks with me.  When I can see a student getting angry I often prepare myself for the “fag” remark to be flung out.  I know I should not allow the hateful words of an eleven year old to get to me.  Nor should I live my life ever believing that there is something wrong with being gay.  I am amazing just as I am.  Each day I remind myself of that.  But each day I also tense up with the fear.  This is definitely a personal issue I am constantly working on.  I have come a LONG way since the scared high schooler being shoved by a star athlete, but I have a long way to go before I stop feeling bullied by the thoughts of an eleven year old.

I know this may make me seem weak. But, I believe that admitting this is a strength.  And the fact that I still do my job and what I believe is best for my students, even though I fear what they might say, is another sign of strength.  Each year, each month, each day, and with each student I get better at accepting and being proud of who I am.  And each time I can accomplish that pride my hope is that it encourages gay students to accept, with pride, who they are.  To not allow homophobia to settle in their souls.  If sharing my pain and fear makes even one person stronger then I have made this world a better place. Spread only love and love will return to you.

Namasté
Matthew