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 let 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

Time To Embrace My “Right View”

I believe this quote should be my life motto.  Well, at least my dating life.

I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.

- Byron Katie

I have a poster hanging in the back of my classroom with the Buddhist Eight Fold Path printed on it.  The first step on the poster is “Right View.”  When I teach Buddhism and the Eight Fold Path to my students as part of the curriculum for ancient India and China, I tell my students that “Right View” is all about seeing and accepting the world as it truly is at that moment.  This quote speaks directly to “Right View.”  Seeing and accepting things as they are at the present moment.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes or asking me about changing your lot in life, that is not what I’m referring to.  I can discuss that in a later post.  Even if you do want to change your life for the better, the first step is to recognize where you are now and own it.

With that being said, I am really quite good at seeing life as it is at this moment.  My issue comes with accepting it as it is.  I see that I am 38 years old. But, I don’t feel 38, I don’t look 38, and I don’t act like many 38 year olds I know.  The worst comes with my dating life.  I look for younger guys that are skinny and (in my eyes) attractive.  And, I have had quite a few that found me intriguing and attractive in return.  This wouldn’t be such an issue if the reality of 38 was a fact that I accepted.  Often, when younger guys learn my age, even if we’ve hit it it off, things abruptly end.  Or, I often realize, too late, that our match was purely based on physical attractiveness (yes, I know it should have been obvious).  Mentally I feel 23, so what’s the problem with dating a 22 year old?

At this point you may be ready to throw a barrage of comments my way about the appropriateness of dating in my age range.  I promise, I’ve heard it all before.  As I’ve said, I see my reality, my issue is accepting it.  I know in my head that younger guys aren’t ready for what I want, even if they profess that they are.  I’m ready for a partnership, stability, and as one friend’s mother called it, my “forever friend.”  I know that I have a better likelihood of winning the MegaBall jackpot that I do of finding what I want with someone nearly half my age.  (I don’t even play the lottery.)

As we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Well, I’m here to tell you that I am insane according to Einstein’s definition.  It’s literally like I can’t help myself.  The Law of Attraction states that we are drawn to what we focus our minds upon.  Likewise, those things are drawn to us. So, it’s easy to get lost in reality when I look for younger and younger is placed in front of me.  I have to admit though, my head is hurting from all of the banging it does against the wall of frustration this insanity builds.

The time has come for me to work on the acceptance part of “Right View.”  I know I am 38, now it’s time for me to accept that fact.  I know I am barking up the wrong love tree.  It’s time for this 38 year old dog to accept he needs to change trees.  Love is…there waiting for me.  Life is great and I am ready to live it with the full recognition and acceptance of who I am.  I am ready to move forward minus the baggage of insanity I have been dragging with me for years.  I am ready to accept my “Right View” of life.

Oh yeah, one last question…does anyone know how I begin?

Namaste
Matthew

Love is…

Love comes in many forms. At times we do not recognize it. We feel as though it is hiding from us. But Love does not hide. It does not disguise itself. Love is always open, always available, always reaching for us.  Often we are the ones running in the complete opposite direction, away from Love’s embrace.  We scream and shout, “Love, where are you?  Why have you forgotten me?  Why do you not find me worthy of your presence?”

The irony of our plight is the simplicity of the solution.  Instead of running around shouting for Love to find us all we truly need to do is stop; be silent, present, and still.  Love will always find us no matter how far we run, how complicated we make things, Love will be there.  It will hold us in its warm embrace, as mothers have held their children for eons.  It will shelter us against the storm as husbands and wives have protected each other through the ages.  It will rejoice with us as new lovers have celebrated each charged moment of the fledgling passion.

Love is kind.
Love is gentle.
Love is eternal.
Love is daring.
Love is passionate.
Love is soothing.
Love is new.
Love is ancient.

But Love is never callous, never vengeful, never hurtful.  Do not blame Love for your pain, Love cannot cause heartache.  It is only our mistakes, our misjudgments, our lack of faith in the all encompassing Love that leads to devastation.  Love fights for us, never with us.

Stop running.  Stop screaming.  Stop searching.  Stand still.  Be silent.  Be mindful.  Love is ready to find you.  Here it is!

What do I do for me?

I want you to stop and think about this question for a moment. Don’t continue reading until you’ve pondered it for at least one minute.

As many of you know I deal with depression on a consistent basis.  I need to insert a caveat at this point – I do not walk around my life in a cloud of depression.  I am on regular medication and thanks to my father I take some herbal supplements that help as well.  But, from time to time those things aren’t enough and I become mired in my own thoughts that drag me into a depression.

My recent bout, however, left me more bruised than in past times and I made a dinner appointment with my friend/therapist, Liz.  There are two people in my life that I can count on to give me no nonsense advice without sugar coating it, one of those people is one of my best friends, Justin.  The other is Liz.  Where Justin’s advice is often a hard slap across the face, Liz’s advice is more gentle but still gets directly to the point.

While we were eating she stopped me from talking and asked me a simple question “What have you done for yourself lately?”  I opened my mouth to respond to her but then realized I didn’t have an answer to that question.  I tried to play coy, “What do you mean?”   She smiled at me and said, “You know exactly what I mean.  What have you done for yourself?”

The pause was palpable.  I racked my brain.  What have I done?  I’ve been reading, but even that was diminished during my time in Purgatory with my depression master.  What had I done for me?  The answer was, “nothing!”

She looked at me, that smile playing on her face again, “You know, I’ve noticed you are less depressed and more able to be at your best when you take time to do things for you.”

Could it possibly be that simple?  Was my depression lessened when I took time for me? How is that possible?  Doesn’t Buddhism teach us to do for others?  In fact, doesn’t all religion tell us to do for others, sacrificing ourselves in that pursuit?

Please understand, I am by no means a religious martyr.  But, as a teacher my job is to give of myself, as a friend my hope is to give fully of myself, as a brother and son my desire is to give fully of myself.  And, I do endeavor to do just that.  So, what is this about doing for me?

It was a logical and plain idea.  Many psychologists have talked about the need to refuel yourself emotionally and spiritually.  Even Oprah has touted the necessity.  I am loathed to admit it but my emotional and spiritual tanks are on empty.  They still aren’t nearly full enough.  As I looked back at the recent months I completely understood where Liz was coming from.  I’d stopped going to yoga, I was just too tired.  I’d stopped meditating because I wanted to  try to sleep.  I stopped writing because it was mentally exhausting for me.  I even stopped reading my spiritual books and put them aside for books of a more secular nature.  I wasn’t doing a damn thing for myself and my batteries were drained.

It’s been about a month since that meeting with Liz and I have made some positive changes.  I’ve been reading some great books by Pema Chödrön and Dr. Wayne Dyer. I’ve joined Weight Watchers, I started running (though found that my knees have NOT liked that idea).  I’ve also shared my love of yoga by teaching it at my school a few times to teachers and students.  (I knew things were bad when I gave up yoga.)  And though I have not started back on a regimented mediation schedule, I have been taking more time to stop and breathe and be mindful.  I call these my mini-meditation moments.  It works for me and as a former English teacher I love the alliteration.

Am I still struggling?  Yes.  Am I on the right track?  Yes, again.  Now, I want you to think back for a few moments.  What do you do for you?  Maybe you don’t feel depressed, but I know you feel stressed.  Stress attacks us on many fronts.  It could be the joyful stress of expecting a new baby, or a wedding.  It can also be emotional stress; the change of a relationship status, the loss of a loved one.  There’s also physical stress, feeling tired, overwhelmed, ill.  These things take a lot of our strength, often without us even knowing it. So, what do you do to make sure you are replenishing your batteries?  Take some time for yourself, each day.  Even if it’s just for twenty minutes.  I guarantee it will help.  It’s helping me.

Namastè
Matthew

New Musings On An Old Theme

When I first started this blog I had an entry called SilenceTruly Is Golden.  In it I discussed the importance of silence, listening, and not forcing others to speak if they do not so choose. In the post I spoke of my love of talking and hearing the sound of my own voice.

I recognize my challenges:

  1. Silence scares me.
  2. I speak to fill voids with friends and loved ones.
  3. I ramble and can’t stop myself when I am in the presence of someone I perceive to be “better” or more powerful than me.
  4. I speak to show off my intelligence (or better still my ego’s need to show off)

My inability to quiet myself is, I feel, my greatest weakness.  There are often moments when I clearly recognize myself spewing forth word vomit and I cannot stop.  It’s as though I am outside of my own body, begging myself to “shut your mouth.”

I often feel my inability to know when I should stop talking has hindered my career choices and the way my leaders view me.  I’m good for a “laugh” but I’m not always good for a different job choice or a chance to grow myself professionally.  This coincides with challenge #3.  My inability to stop talking when I am face to face with someone who is “more powerful” than I am.

This is also a problem in the “dating” world.  Not that dating has been an issue for me since I haven’t been dating, but, in the past, when I’ve been talking to someone I felt was more attractive than I, I can’t stop talking, trying/hoping to impress them.  I often go back and replay conversations in my head and can’t believe how stupid I sounded.  All to impress someone.  I often am disgusted with myself.  My fear is, if I quit talking they will leave and not return.

I will admit I am slowly getting better.  Especially with the principal of my school.  She is the strong silent type to begin with so my need to shut myself up is even greater with her.  I have learned to stop myself.  At times it may seem abrupt or rude, but I feel the brief oversight in decorum is far better than sounding completely inept.  I now find myself asking, “is this a necessary comment or conversation to be having?”  Ninety percent of the time I can answer, “no”!

I’ve also noticed, especially with my leaders, I talk to be noticed.  I catch myself trying to think of something, anything to say, just to get their attention.  It is another reason I hate silence.  I am afraid I will be lost or forgotten if I don’t remind them I’m here.  Remind someone I’m alive.  Some of you may read this and roll your eyes at the dramatic nature of this response, but many of you will read this and understand completely what I am talking about.

The Buddhist precept of “Right Speech” has always been the most difficult for me to abide.  I can usually avoid hurting others with my words, but I often cannot fight the damage I do to myself by not silencing my mind and my mouth.  It is a struggle I face every single day.

So, I continue to work.  I ponder my silence, or lack there of, on a regular basis.  When my meditation was more frequent it was a focus of my practice.  I have gotten to the point where I can step away from a situation where I won’t be able to stop myself from talking, but the fear of oblivion catapults to the forefront of my mind.  But, I remind myself that silence truly can be golden.

How Dare You!!!

I remember in my high school AP literature class my favorite teacher, Dr. McClellan, discussed the story of Job from the bible.  I have never been well versed on the bible, but she taught this story from the stand point of literature, not to push any beliefs on us.  (To my knowledge, Dr. McClellan was a devout agnostic who distrusted religion in any form, even up to the day she succumbed to cancer.)

The story of Job is often told to show the patience that a righteous man must possess.  We still revere this quality in others.  But, this was not the part of the story we were told in AP Literature.  We were told of the whiny Job.  The Job that complained constantly to God. How unfair his life was, how unfair people were to him, how unfair God was to him.  On and on Job complained until one day God reached his breaking point.  From heaven God bellowed, “How dare you question me, you have no idea what I have done for you.” (paraphrasing from memory)

Now, in all fairness, I have not read this passage since that high school class 22 years ago. And, as stated before, I am not a biblical expert by any stretch of the imagination.  But, I do remember God’s reply to Job’s complaint and is has stuck with me.  (If you are familiar with this story and I have completely messed it up, please do not ruin my memory of it by correcting me.  It has been a foundation for much of my spiritual thinking.)

I have been thinking of this story a lot lately.  Instead of just complaining to God, I have recently been complaining to “life, the universe, the goddess, the higher being, God, Mary,” whoever will listen to me complain.  I don’t have enough money, I can’t find love, I can’t afford my house without roommates, I’m not happy or fulfilled in my career, I’m not happy or fulfilled in my life.  And on and on.  I am the whiny Job of the story.  I can’t even stand to hear my self speak or think sometimes.

But, Karma, life, the universe, the goddess, the higher being, God, Mary, whoever has been listening always finds a way to kick me in the ass and bellow out to me, “How dare you question me, you have no idea what I have done for you.”  This is often shown to me through my students.  Working in a lower income school I am shown what true suffering can look like. The child that does not eat on weekends because they’re parents can’t afford food for the family.  The 12 year old girl who hasn’t showered in days because the water and electricity were turned off because her mother couldn’t afford the bills.  The 14 year old boy who practically raises his little brother and sister because his mother passed away three years ago and his father works every single night to try to feed the family.  Or, the 11 year old girl whose step father sold her to a man for his sexual perversions.

These children have suffered in more ways in their young lives then I could ever imagine.  I cannot even fathomed what they have lived through in the short time they’ve been on this planet.  Karma is right, how dare I.  I have a house, I have a car, I have a job, I have a family and friends that love me, I have my health and when I don’t I can go see a doctor to get myself better.  I have an amazing life.  This is the story that pops into my head every single time I start to feel sorry for myself.

When I first heard this story, I remember, at 16 years old, how mean I thought God was.  As I have grown and meditated I have realized it wasn’t God I should have been taking issue with, it was the selfishness of Job.  From time to time it is good to have life kick us in the ass and remind us, “How dare you question me, you have no idea what I have done for you.”

Take a look around you.  Recognize the multitude of things life has provided for you.  And when selfishness rears it’s ugly head, shout out to it, “How dare you!”

Discipline

I have come to realize recently that I have no discipline.  I take on so many tasks and hobbies thinking I will love them and they all peter out.  I’m so gung-ho but have no follow-thru.  I don’t know if it’s that I lose complete interest or if it just loses the “fun” for me.  I think if I knew the answer to that I’d have a better understanding of why I can’t hold on to my infatuation with a new ambition.

I have had three major undertakings of my life fizzle out in 2013.  I began the year with a subscription to Rosetta Stone online.  I was determined to learn Italian.  I’m still determined to learn it; how, I’m not sure since I rarely go on the site anymore.  It began as a grandiose dream to one day reside in Italy.  I’ve had this dream for years, since I first saw the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun.”  I have devoured every travelogue about Italy I can get my hands on.  It is my favorite subject.  I even had hopes of moving to Italy this year for work, but that fell through.  I sat with that disappointment and saw my desire to learn Italian diminish.

That’s not a fair statement.  My desire to learn is still quite alive.  My desire to do the work that goes along with it has diminished.  I’ve begun to think of myself as lazy or possibly incapable of actually following through with something, no matter how much I love it.  I end relationships, I stop my healthy eating and living, I have faltered in my writing, all but extinguished my yoga practice, fell behind on my ambitions to be a stronger teacher.  To me this all leads back to my lack of discipline.

What is worse I overwhelm myself with disappointment over my fall from each of the pedestals I’ve placed myself upon.  I began this blog and had so many hopes for what it would become.  I started like gang busters.  A post written every two days.  Then it was once a week.  Once a month.  Now I have to talk myself into writing.  I still have ideas.  I still want to write.  But the thought of actually doing it depresses me.  It’s the same with yoga.  I began practicing yoga 3-5 times a week.  I lived for it.  When I had a bad day yoga was there to pull me up.  The yoga transitioned me into my Buddhism.  Now?  The last time I was at yoga was 6 weeks ago.  The desire to go is there; the will to actually get off my ass and do it…poof…disappeared.

My meditation practice has fallen away as well.  I used to sit daily for 20-30 minutes.  Now, I just light the candle on my alter and nothing.  Yoga was my meditation.  Sitting before my alter was my meditation.  Now, I have nothing.

I have been on medication for anxiety and depression for a few years now. It’s nothing I’m ashamed of, it was a conscious choice my doctor and I made together.  My depression wasn’t debilitating it was more that I couldn’t get my mind off the depressing thoughts.  I have been much better since taking it.  But I often wonder if this lack of discipline is more rooted in my ongoing battle with depression than it is with my inability to follow through with my passions.

I wanted desperately to perform on broadway, to live in Italy, to be a writer, to follow my creative passions.  Every single time I’ve been thwarted by my own apathy.  But the secret here is, I’m not apathetic.  I am paralyzed.  Paralyzed that I will fail, paralyzed that I’m not any good, paralyzed that I will succeed and fizzle out.  These racing thoughts are what the medication is supposed to help counteract.  It doesn’t always.  So, I rely on my mindfulness to help.  Then the catch, I’m not practicing my mindfulness anymore.  I’m faking my way through my own life.  How do I get off this roller coaster and take my life back?

I have made so many lists for my New Year’s resolutions.  They were becoming overwhelming.  But I have dwindled it all down to one.  My resolution this year is to regain my discipline.  I am going to take control again.  Fear and depression will not stop me.  I don’t want to be held back anymore.

Just writing those words gives me a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.  My inner critic starts chattering away about my past failures.  It is telling me I can’t.  “You will fail.”  “You have failed.”  “You are a failure.”  My inner passion must gain the upper hand here.  My confidence must win out.  That is my goal.  That is my drive.  That is my discipline.

Bring on 2014.  I’m ready.
Namaste
Matthew

Transitions

Changes are a constant in life.  Some are very welcome, like a better job, a new relationship, a new child.  Some are not welcome at all, the end of relationship, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.  Each of these changes are nothing more than a transition in our lives.

I am a firm believer in the power of the universe.  The cliche of, “when one door closes another opens” is an adage I subscribe to.  If the loss of a job is viewed appropriately, you will see that you have been given the opportunity to find a better job.  When I lost my job with Disney, I thought for sure I would never recover.  I literally felt it was the end of my world.  Then, out of the blue, a friend of mine called and asked if I had any interest in leaving Disney to work in education.  Did I?  It was an answer to many many prayers.  My degree is in education so it was the perfect transition for me.  I wasn’t even out of work for a week before I began teaching.  That was almost a decade ago.  And though I have not always been 100% happy, I can definitely say I found a job that I am very good, where I make a difference in kids’ lives.

The transitions that are hardest for us to understand and embrace are the loss of a relationship or the death of a loved on.  There are many relationships that transition from one form to another each second of each day.  The transition of friendship to romantic love, the transition of stranger to friend, the transition from romantic love to friendship, and the transition of romantic love to no relationship at all.  Some of these transitions are joyous and some are painful and torturous.  But each transition is a growing experience.  We often see breakups as a negative gut wrenching experience.  And having been through many break-ups, I speak from experience.  They are painful.  You wonder what is wrong with you, why you are unlovable, why no one wants you.  These are not the thoughts to ponder.  Every experience in life, every person we meet teaches us valuable lessons.  Our choice is to decide, are we going to learn the lessons or are we going to dwell on the negative aspects of the transition?

As my current relationship is embroiled in the throes of transition, this idea became a stark reality.  Can a transition be made smoothly?  Does a transition need to be made (often this choice isn’t ours…it is made for us)? Can I accept what the relationship might transition to? More importantly, can he?  Can he see the positives of transition?  For that matter, can I see those positives?  But again, transitions occur constantly in life; change is constant.  We will both survive and grow and thrive from whatever transitions life offers.  But it is difficult to see the forest through the thicket of trees we are currently lost in.

Of course, relationship transitions are nothing compared to life’s greatest transition, death. Death, is the ultimate transition.  We fear death as the unknown.  I have been afraid of dying most of my life.  That is until I began re-examining the roots of my fears.  These fears became muted when my father began taking me to Cassdega, Florida.  I met many kind and wonderful psychics and mediums.  Here they commune with those who have passed on.  With their help I realized that death was the next great adventure.  Unknown, yes, but an adventure none the less.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not ready for death, I don’t plan to embark on this adventure for quite a number of years, but I am no longer scared of it.

The other side of this fear comes from losing those you love.  As my parents grow older, I fear the loss of their presence here on this plane.  Both of my parents are healthy and vibrant people, but the thoughts do still pervade my psyche.  I am not ready for them to leave me.  And that is where fear takes its grip.  What will it be like without them?  How will it feel when I can’t visit them, talk to them on the phone, or hug them?  I will be ready to face the challenge of this transition when the time approaches.  For the time being, I do not relish the idea, and each day I pray for their continued good health and long life.

These fears have become more real for me recently as my uncle’s partner has been facing her own mortality.  She was a strong vibrant woman that cancer has wasted way.  I worry about her, my uncle, my cousin, and my mother who have all taken on her daily care.  The transition has been painful and stressful for all.  I remember when my grandfather passed away, after nine years of suffering from the aftermath of several strokes.  Many people, including my grandmother, felt he was finally at peace.  That is the opposite of our fears.  Knowing that someone has suffered makes death appear as a blessing for some.  For others it sparks anger and even more fear.  As with all transitions, it is the way you view it, and the positive or negative energy you attribute to it.

Thich Nhat Hanh has written many great books, but one of my favorites is, “No Death, No Fear”.  It is an amazing book that helped open my eyes to death, and more importantly, all of life’s transitions.  Begin to see these transitions for the positive changes that they are.  Embrace transition, no matter how scared you are.  Open your mind and your heart to the possibilities.

Namasté
Matthew

Love Thy Enemy

Our society has grown to be very antagonistic.  Us vs. them.  As a former president once proclaimed, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Conservative vs. liberal, pro-choice vs. anti-choice, Christian vs. Muslim, pro-gay vs. anti-gay.  It’s become a war between differing opinions.  Each side convinced of their own righteous.

I will openly admit that I am guilty of this mentality.  I have found myself unjustifiably angry at people that do not share my views of the world.  During the last election cycle I found I could not stop myself from thinking everyone that badmouthed the president was a flaming idiot and that everyone that blindly supported him was brilliant beyond belief.  When the election was over and my candidates were successful I recognized how ridiculous my beliefs were.  Now, had they lost I would more than likely still be licking my wounds, much like many conservatives are still.

What I find most disturbing about my thought patterns are how closed minded I can be when someone doesn’t agree with me.  Why can’t I see beyond this differing of opinions and see the person for who they actually are.  Confession: my father, brother, step-mother, and sister-in-law are staunch conservatives and we rarely agree on anything politically. For them I often find myself softening my own views and demurring for the sake of peace.  But, this is my family and I find very little worth destroying the love we hold for one another.

So, the question I often pose to myself is, why can’t that sentiment pervade the entire country?  I have been pondering this post for several days.  And I couldn’t figure out the answer to that question.  These differences have caused different factions to put up walls. How can anyone spread love when there are obstacles blocking the way.  We tend to congregate with like minded people; often too afraid to open our hearts to others.

One thing I have discovered with the us vs. them mentality is the feeling that if our side doesn’t win we are somehow “less than” the side that was victorious.  I vividly remember when Al Gore ceded the 2000 election.  I was distraught.  How could we be cursed with George W. Bush for 8 years?  But, on the flip side I know many conservatives in 2000 that were saying, “thank God, our Clinton nightmare is over.”  Now, I’m not here to argue politics.  In fact, I’d like for everyone to give up “arguing” about politics.  It’s not a win/lose situation.  It’s not a game.  When we see it as a win/lose strategy game we make enemies of our brothers, our friends, our co-workers, our partners.  Is it really worth it?  Can this not be approached with an open heart and mind?  When you think mindfully on this idea you cannot help but think of a 3 year old that does not get their way.  How many politicians, acquaintances, friends, family, loved ones, have you seen, throwing a childish tantrum because they did not get their way. (I think I our recent government shut down was the perfect example, no matter which direction you lean politically).

A New Earth

A New Earth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eckhart Tolle teaches us to strive for the death of our ego.  This desire for “our side” to win at all costs is nothing more than ego telling us we are better than “them” if we win and they have humiliated “us” if we lose.  These self-defeating thoughts must be purged. The ego cannot gain control.  It has no place in our spiritual life.

Ohhhhh, I talk a big game here.  My Mr. Know-It-All rears his ugly head.  And, I recognize that it is far easier said than done.  I know for a fact that my ego is deeply entrenched and I still focus on the us vs. them ideal.  My greatest us vs. them that I cannot let go of is me vs. Christianity.  I have had a bad taste in my mouth for a long time when it comes to “Christians”.  I am ashamed to admit that I have so often thought that anyone who is a self-professed Christian is automatically weak and a bigot.  I remember in high school my favorite teacher often told me that organized religion was for the weak of mind.  I held on to this idea.  I still have not completely let it go, but I now see it as a fault of my ego, not of my Christian brethren.

What has stemmed this dislike and distrust of Christians?  Their long held belief that I am somehow flawed for being gay.  Growing up hearing you are an abomination who is doomed to the fires of hell does not place those that proclaim this in your good graces. Logically, I know that not every Christian believes this.  Logically, I know that when I think of Christianity and Christ as bad words that deserve my derision and not my respect that I am allowing anger, disappointment, hurt, and ego to lead my heart.  I still find my self cringing when someone professes to be a Christian.

I work hard every day to overcome my prejudice.  My hope is to open my heart fully, to love everyone completely.  I am not there yet.  But as well all know I am not perfect.  No one is.  Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians; they are so unlike your Christ.”  I have held onto this saying for many years.  I agree with the sentiment for so many of the in your face, judgmental Christians that hold themselves as better than others.  But, I also recognize the ego and hypocrisy of feeling I am somehow better because I do not identify with Christianity.  I am no better by assuming that every Christian I meet is a weak minded bigot.  I certainly know this is NOT the case.  I have met many beautiful and loving Christians.  And my heart turns to them each time I see another so-called Christian misusing the words of Christ to justify their hatred.

Thich Naht Hanh wrote an amazing book, “Living Buddha, Living Christ” that shows the parallels of these great men.  It has begun to lead me on the long walk back into the light of acceptance of all beliefs.  Another great book that has softened my heart is “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young.  Both books have helped me open my heart to the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of The Christ.  And it is with this open heart that I go forward. Not perfect, not fully forgiving my past hurts, but forward on the road to love and healing.

Will you join me?  Can you forgive your hurts?  Take my hand and let’s walk together as a family.

Namasté
Matthew

What Scares You?

What scares you?  I don’t mean the things that go bump in the night (though I readily admit they scare me). I want to know what scares you.  What makes you say, “I’m not going to try that, what if it doesn’t work.”  “I can’t do that, what if I fail?”

When I teach lessons in class many of my students, when they are exploring a concept, will ask, “What if…” questions.  “What if I do this…?” “What is she does that…?”  I tell my students, “I don’t deal in ‘What If’s.”  This should become our motto when it comes to fear. No more “What If” scenarios.  Stand proudly and tell yourself, “I don’t deal in ‘What If’s’!”

Now, making that our motto and actually living our life that way are two completely different things.  I have many fears that have stood in the way of my happiness.  Growing up I wanted to perform.  I loved being in front of an audience.  I practically lived at our local civic theatre when I was in high school.  My first two years in college were devoted to musical theatre as my major.  Then, after some financial concerns I moved back to Florida and attended Florida State University.  I was accepted in their vocal performance major and was on the path into their musical theatre program.  It was then that my inner critic began to take hold.  “What if you can’t ever find a job?”  “What if everyone laughs at you?”  “What if they see what a horrible dancer you are?”  “What if you have absolutely no talent?”

I’m sad to say I let my inner critic win.  I am scared of performing now.  I have “What if-ed” myself into a fear of performing.  I used to have no greater pleasure than singing up on stage.  I loved the thrill of the audience’s applause, belting a tune, and holding that final note.  Now, my greatest performances come in front of a group of eleven year olds.  I tell myself that I took the more noble path, that educating children, our future, is far more rewarding than performing.  I try to convince myself that I have let go of my ego by choosing the life I currently lead.  But, that is complete bullshit and I know it.  But, if I keep repeating it, maybe one day, I won’t feel like I’ve cheated myself out of the life I dreamed of.

Once I let the idea of performing go, after listening to my inner critic, more fears began creeping in.  My most crippling one now if the fear of being “talked about.”  It’s that idea of not being able to control the situation.  At times it is crippling for me.  I try not to show the fear.  I hate walking into the cafeteria at my school because I’m convinced that the group of children that are laughing are laughing at me (I recognize the giant ego at play to assume everyone it talking about me).  At times I will allow infractions to pass because I don’t want a student to call me the word I live in true fear of being called, “FAG!” I have been called fag many times by students.  I’m sure I will be called fag many more. But, it has become so derogatory a term that I can’t get beyond it when it happens.  I’m taken back to my middle school and high school days when it was a popular epithet hurled at me by closed minded, small town boys.  And believe me, I am completely aware that the middle schoolers that call me that now hold absolutely no power over me.  And part of me wants to respond, “ddduuuuuuhhhhhhh!” But it is still painful.  And pain is often accompanied by fear.  We begin to fear the pain so much that it breathes new life into the the very object that should hold no power.

This is not to say that I allow this fear to win.  I conquer it every day I walk into the school house.  It is why I have perfected a “hard ass” persona with my students.  They know I don’t take crap.  But deep down that fear lingers and grips me with it’s cold powerful hands.  I will not allow it to win.  I will not allow any fear to ruin my happiness again.

I have a new dream now.  I want to travel and write.  My inner critic has talked me out of this many times over the recent years.  But no more.  I’m going to push ahead with it.  This blog is just the start.  I will not be taken hostage by fear again.  It is no longer a matter of, “what if I fail?”  Now, I stand strong and say, “I DO NOT DEAL IN WHAT IF!”  Each morning I repeat my affirmation, “I am a prosperous and successful writer.”  Though affirmations may not work for everyone, they are powerful to me.  Find where you can draw power.  Do one thing each day that scares you.  Even if it’s as simple as walking into that cafeteria with your head held high.  Don’t live a life of “What If!”  Stand up now, own your dreams.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Namasté
Matthew