The Lesson of Pain

I have recently been ruminating on the idea of pain; both physical and emotional.  Prior to the new year I started running.  In the beginning, and to a certain extent even now, it was painful.  My knees, my shins, my calves, my thighs.  I also felt the pain of my lungs as they struggled for air the longer my stints of running grew.  I remember hearing, when I started going to the gym several months ago, “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  I would ironically quote this to my workout partner numerous times throughout each of our sessions. He, however, liked the quote and used it often in the most sincere manner. Then, as we both began to use the phrase more often it began to percolate.

Pain, both physical and mental can initiate spiritual growth.  As I feel my physical pain I become very mindful of how it makes me feel.  The part that makes me most aware is the pain I feel as I try to breathe.  As someone who meditates and does yoga I have grown more keenly aware of my breath as it passes in and out of my body.  The more and more I focus on getting my breath into my lungs, into the part of me that were hurting physically the easier the running becomes.  Breathe into the pain.  It is the perfect solution.

As for the emotional pain, I recently ended a relationship with someone I have cared about for several years.  We haven’t dated in almost a year and a half but we have remained friends and intimates in that time.  I was not emotionally prepared for him to move on and begin seeing someone else.  Don’t get me wrong, deep down I know it’s the right thing and needed to happen.  He needed to move on and I needed to let go.  But, when the truth finally came out it was like a kick to the stomach.  The wind was completely knocked out of me.  I remember thinking, “why are you surprised, you’ve suspected this for a while now.”  That doesn’t help soften the blow when your suspicions are confirmed.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time I was hurt in the name of love (or should I say my expectations of what love is supposed to be – love does not hurt).  I was recently drawn back to the song Try To Remember from the Broadway musical The Fantastiks. My favorite line in the entire song is, “…it’s nice to remember, without a hurt the heart is hollow.”  This led me back to the idea that pain is often the greatest catalyst to spiritual growth.  Growth comes when we are still willing to open our hearts to love even when we still feel the raw pain of our failed love attempts.

Physical and emotional pain feel very different to each of us.  But, I find I combat the pain in exactly the same manner.  After completely cutting off the person I have loved for quite some time I was reeling and struggling to breathe.  Just as though I were running. Then, I began to breathe into the pain.  The pain in my heart, the pain in my mind, the pain I was feeling in my deepest recesses.  At first the breaths were shallow, but with each in breath and out breath I knew I could breathe more deeply, fill my body with the healing breaths. And it began to work.  I felt the immediate sting die away.  I felt the peace coming back to my mind.  Such great advice, breathe into the pain.

This does not end pain completely, after all, pain is weakness leaving the body.  It does though offer us a way to dull the pain, embrace the pain, work with the pain, and grow from it.  That is the lesson of pain; grow from it or be devoured by it.

Namasté
Matthew

Lighten Up Your Resolutions

I’ve never been one for making New Year’s resolutions.  I didn’t bother because I knew I would just wind up breaking them.  Resolutions tend to be large grandios dreams of what we would like to accomplish.  They become so inflated and detailed that we don’t follow through on them.

This year I will stick with my resolution of not making resolutions. I will, however, take heed of how I will continue to develop myself mentally, physically, and spiritually.  These are my areas of mindful determined improvement:

1) Writing – I love to write, but I don’t do nearly enough of it.  My favorite yoga teacher, Lezlie Laws, writes in her blog that artistic time should be scheduled regularly.  One of my favorite posts of hers discussed the widely held assumption that artists shouldn’t be hampered by schedules and time tables.  I don’t know about you, but I work better when my time, whether artistic, personal, or professional, is meted out for the most efficient outcomes.  I will not schedule myself to the point of impossibility.  I will layout a reachable goal that will allow a strong writing habit to be formed and nurtured.  I have many writing objectives I’d like to meet, but I will start small and build from there.

2) Physical activity – I am working to lose weight and get my health under control.  Of late, I have complained about aching knees, acid reflux, migraines, and myriad other ailments. Some of these come from work stress, but just as much comes from being over weight and out of shape.  So, last week I began taking matters into my own hands.  I began the Couch to 5K training.  My first few sessions have gone better than I hoped for.  It was quite a pleasant surprise.  But, unlike most resolutions, I did not set a lofty unattainable goal for myself when it comes to adding physical activity into my life.  I HATE going to the gym, I feel self-conscious and lost.  I do, however, enjoy walking around the downtown area.  I’ve been doing that already for the past few weeks.  So, why not add in some running?  I’ve always said I would only run if a murderous clown was chasing me, but the Couch to 5K training app has really put things into perspective for me.  I have also been lucky enough to have a great group of friends go out running with me.  Just last night five of us went out running together in our own little running club.  It made the 30 minute session fly by.  Having these valuable assists along the way is helping build a habit quickly. I’ve also set a goal to run my first 5K in March.  This will help me stick with it.

3) Spiritual growth – Today I began 2015 with an hour yoga session followed by 30 minutes of meditation at my favorite yoga studio.  For me, yoga has always been a form of physical meditation.  The asanas and focused breathing allow me to remain mindful and present.  Following this with quiet, contemplative meditation was just an added New Year’s bonus.  Meditation is vitally important to me.  It is also the task I often allow to fall by the wayside.  As I mentioned in another recent post I frequently make the excuse of not having enough time.  As I’ve told you before one of my favorite Zen proverbs is, “you should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time, then you should meditate for an hour.”  Daily meditation is a goal I am setting for myself this new year.  I will not force myself into a certain time of day, but I will build it into my schedule the way I will build in my writing.

What resolutions will you parse out and whittle down from the grandios pie-in-the-sky dreams to manageable obtainable goals and habits?  Start your new year off right.  Set yourself up for positive self-improvement.

Namasté
Matthew

The Construct of Time

How often do you think to yourself that there isn’t enough time?  Not enough time to complete a project, to run all of your errands, to sit down and enjoy reading a good book, to do all the things you need and want to do.  I have definitely been a victim to that thinking.  I often am now.  The problem becomes either stressing ourselves out trying to get everything accomplished or, my method, doing nothing and stressing or getting depressed because nothing is done.

Fear not, I am here to tell you now that time is merely a construct that we have invented to imprison ourselves and trick us into believing we have no control over our lives. That is simply not true.  Though I am better, currently, at do as I say not as I do; I improve daily.

So, if time is not the enemy we perceive it to be does that mean your work deadlines and doctor’s appointment times don’t truly exist?  Well, no.  That’s not where I’m going with this.  We will always have the deadlines and time constraints, for the world still believes in the concept of time.  However, there are small ways we can break out of time’s grasp and rebel against this heretofore necessary evil.

My biggest rebellion is to take myself out of the physical world and enter the spiritual world through meditation.  There is an old Zen proverb that says, “You should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time, then you should meditate for an hour.”  It makes me laugh because my biggest excuse about meditation used to be, there isn’t any time.  Once I began carving out that 20 minutes a day I could feel the stress knots begin to loosen a little.

Another way I have made myself a time rebel is to take 20-30 minutes a day to do something I enjoy.  This usually means reading something I like.  Whether escaping into a world of fiction or reading a book that further explores my spiritual nature.  It may be the only reading I do in a day, but it becomes my time.  I am also working on fitting in more time for writing.

I consider reading, writing, and meditation my three favorite gifts to myself.  I enjoy doing each of these and as I feel overwhelmed by responsibility I recognize how quickly these three gifts fall by the wayside.  Now, I have begun to use time as a weapon against itself; carving it out to include my gifts to myself.  We may never be free of humanity’s invention of time, (in the divine perspective time is insignificant) but, we can find small ways to become time rebels and capture more for ourselves.  Things will always need to be accomplished under the guise of time, but for your own sanity become a time rebel, even briefly, every day.

Namasté
Matthew

Spiritual Rock Bottom

Off and on for a while I’ve wondered if I can truly have a deep, great, spiritual connection with the divine creator.  Can I connect to my spiritual needs and desires?  My fear has been, recently, that since I have not had a time where I have hit rock bottom, I can’t truly recognize spiritual growth.

Let me first say, I am truly grateful for the life I live.  I am in no way complaining that I haven’t hit rock bottom.  I have had many amazing people in my life that have ensured I do not have to make the long painful journey of recovering my life from the bowels of heartbreak and struggle.  I have had bumps in the road, tough times, but nothing compared to what many have experienced in the way of pain.  For that, again, I am abundantly grateful.

With that being said, many spiritual teachers have said we are most open to spiritual growth as we recover from our lives crashing down around us.  As I’ve pondered this recently I’ve come to believe that we truly don’t need to hit those low points in our lives to become great spiritual seekers.  All we need is compassion, love, and openness.

We live in a connected digital world.  We can find any story on any subject within seconds. And for many, there is a morbid fascination with the suffering of others.  Schadenfreude, as the Germans have coined it.  Though I do not find happiness in others’ misfortunes, I can find the spark of spiritual growth.  I can find my compassion, I can find my love, I can find my openness, my gratitude in these painful, heart-wrenching stories that are no longer miles away but are a part of my spiritual psyche.  They cannot be ignored.  How can I help?  How can I make this world a better place?  How can I expand my love, compassion, and kindness to ensure there are less and less of these rock bottom moments in the world? That is the true definition of deep spiritual practice.

So, when, like me, you begin to wonder what you can do to deepen your spiritual practice, follow this advice: meditate on how you can expand your love, compassion, kindness, and gratitude into a world that so desperately needs them.

That Is Enough

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Life is stressful. Shit happens! We get sick. We lose our jobs. People we trust let us down. It is nice to think there will be a day when none of these life altering things will happen. But, we are not naive. We know the next shit storm is right around the corner. That’s what makes life a messy adventure.

This won’t be a long post. It will also not be a post about how your mindfulness or my Buddhist practice has taught me to appreciate the shit storms so that I will recognize the glorious sunshine that breaks forth. And though this is accurate it’s not the point of why I’m writing this.

The quote above is imperative to my life. My friendships have dwindled over the years. But, I can happily say the few amazing close friends that have remained a constant in my life have made all the difference. And spending time with them is more than enough. Often it’s the only thing that keeps me going. Go out, find those few, hold them close. Nurture those relationships. They will be your greatest champions; your strongest support.

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