How Do I Fight The Fear?

I live with fear as my constant companion.  Not the fear of death or impending doom, but fear none the less.  I gave up the pursuit of my dreams for fear I could not make a living.  I remain in a job that does not bring me joy because of the fear of failing at a new endeavor. And now, I do not follow my bliss, my dream, my passion, because, I am sad to say, I do not know what it is anymore.  I have spent so much of my life squashing the desire to follow my passion, that I honestly do not know what I am passionate about any longer.

This fear that is coiled inside me like a sleeping, but ever present dragon, also extends to my desire to find a loving committed relationship.  I am afraid to attempt to find love with the person I want because of what others may think.  I am afraid to step into the arena of love for fear of being rejected for the “shortcomings” I have heaped on myself.  The reel that plays in my head over and over, “you’re too old; you’re too fat!” “You’re too old; you’re too fat!  No one would ever love someone like you!”  “Don’t approach him, he’s out of your league.”  I have said it to myself for so long I believe my own press.  And, just as I begin to find some sense of inner peace and hope, that sleep dragon awakens gnashing his teeth and breathing his fire and I am left with the scorched earth of my own fear and self-loathing.

This all sounds terribly depressing, I know.   And, I am not writing this so that you’ll feel sorry for me.  I am writing this as a life lesson for myself and those that might happen upon this missive.  I was once given a book by a very great friend who I have since lost touch. The book was called, “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.”  It was a self help book from the 80’s.  I couldn’t tell you what I learned from it, but I still remember the title.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  It reminds me of a great quote by Mark Twain, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to do what is best in the face of it.”  I may not have the quote 100% correct, and who knows, I may be giving credit to the wrong person, but the sentiment is what matters.  It is ok to feel fear.  In all of my spiritual studies, the great practitioners and teachers agree, fear is a part of everyone’s life, even the most enlightened.  It is what you do with that fear and how you conquer it.

I for one cannot sit back any longer and let my life go to waste because of fear.  I shall be a warrior, I shall battle my inner dragon until I wear the beast down.  I may not ever defeat him, but I can lull him back to sleep and conquer him.  I will use the flames of the dragon of fear to ignite my passion, what ever it may be.  I am a warrior.  Will you do battle with me?

Namasté
Matthew

Be Always In The Arena

It is not the critic

 

Theodore Roosevelt has long been a hero of mine.  But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered this quote.  Over the years I have heard it in bits and pieces, but have never known the true power of the words until I heard Dr. Brené Brown speak on Super Soul Sunday.  The title of her latest book, Daring Greatly, comes from this quote.

My intent, however, is not to rehash her book, it is to question my own absence from the arena.  For the longest time I have stood by and watched others live the life they dream.  I have questioned their choices, given advice (whether is was solicited or not), and made judgements.  I would do this with family, friends, strangers, it didn’t matter.  All the while I comfortably stood outside of the arena, never stepping in.

Growing up the only thing I ever wanted was to be on stage.  I dreamed of being on Broadway.  Singing and wowing audiences with my voice (let’s not even get started on the ego involved here).  I would audition, even though I was petrified of failure.  I spent most of my high school years living inside my local theatre.  When it was time for college I auditioned and was accepted to several colleges for musical theatre.  My dream school; NYU accepted me.  But, fear of debt and ultimate failure kept me from going.  I wound up in a wonderful program at a small school in North Carolina, Catawba College.  I auditioned, performed in shows, won accolades, trained and rehearsed.  After two years it was no longer financially feasible to attend.  I transferred to Florida State University and stepped out of the musical theatre arena permanently.  To this day it is my greatest regret.

My latest passion has been writing.  Full disclosure: I’d love to find a way to do it as my full time job.  But, I do not dare step into that arena.  How could I?  I have bills, I have debt, I have a house.  What would people think?  What would they say about this decision?  How could I really earn a living at writing?  So, I stay on the outside of the arena.  Convinced of failure but never fully investing in a new and daring dream.

I do not dare greatly.  I do not stand proud with a face caked in dust and sweat and blood.  I am not a man Theodore Roosevelt, my hero, would be proud of.

The day has come to step into the arena.  I will screw my courage to the sticking place.  I will brave the ridicule and judgement, whether it’s from others or from my own inner critic. No longer can I stand on the outside looking in.  I must launch myself into the arena and find my happiness, live my passion, and fulfill my dreams.

Take my hand and step into the arena with me.  We can go together.  Courage is greater when we have each other to depend on.  Join me here.

Namasté
Matthew

Do You Judge Yourself To Be Better?

As I observe life I’ve come to realize that many of us take great pleasure in not only thinking we are better than others, but by pointing out this fact. Nowhere has this been more prevalent than in my attempts at online dating. Anyone who knows me, knows I can talk to a brick wall. This is how I approached my online dating life. If someone chatted with me, nine times out of ten I would chat back. I thought I would get the same in return.

I learned quickly, that was definitely not the case. I was often ignored. There were numerous times I was greeted with a curt, “not interested” which I never understood. Not interested? Not interested in what? A friendly greeting? In one of my final forays before deleting all of my accounts, I asked the uninterested party, why they said, “not interested” when nothing but a simple hello was offered. Their response, “look at you, and then look at me, be realistic, bro.” Of course my ego shot straight to the forefront and defended my wounded pride. I am not proud of everything I said. And, ironically, I was more offended by this person than I was by the person that randomly messaged me to say, “you’re too fat and old to be on here, you’re gross go away.” Perhaps that one was easier to stomach because I had not approached them first. Perhaps it was because my ire had been spiked by numerous other slights that had been building up. No matter the reasoning I was angry.

Now, often in these situations I will linger on the cruel remarks and play them over and over again in my head. My first response was to be angry at the arrogance and shallowness of the affronting party. Then, my ego started to buy into the lies. Over and over in my head I kept saying, “you are a worthless sack of shit, why would you even say hello to a guy like that? Look at him and look at you! What were you thinking?” This went round and round for a few days until finally, I stopped the madness.  My first realization was that I was diminished by my own thoughts, but he was equally diminished by his. 

What I finally settled on was a simple question, Why have we allowed ourselves to create an ego based self that thrives on being better than others? I will admit, I am guilty of this. I in no way claim to be perfect.  I often feel I’m better than someone based on intellect, looks, or personality.  I don’t voice that belief, but I often catch myself enthralled by these thoughts.  Perhaps I have so many run-ins with overinflated egos thanks to Karmic vengeance.  But, I gives me great pause and the opportunity to reflect on our need to not only be better than someone, but to prove it and rub it in their face.  

Now that this realization has punched me hard in the gut I will be far more mindful of my own ego’s tendency to harshly judge others as being less than me.  No one is less than any other.  The moment you think you are better than someone else is the moment you are weakened by ego.  The moment you allow someone to make you feel less adequate is the moment your inadequacy becomes reality.

The Devine gave us each the gift of love.  Therefore no one can take that away from us. We are all worthy of the Devine’s love and have no right to diminish that in others or ourselves.  We can start by being mindful and standing up to our egos.  Don’t allow yourself to alter someone else’s self-image to improve your own.

Make this your new affirmation: “I am powerful and worthy of Devine love.”  Go on, give it a try.

Namasté
Matthew

Taking Back My Spiritual Practice

As you may have noticed (or the bruise to my ego is more likely that it has gone unnoticed by all but me) I’ve allowed my writing to fall by the wayside.  What has become more disheartening to me is that my spiritual practice has also fallen into obscurity as well.

This didn’t register with me right away.  I slowly became aware of my non-existent practice gradually.  Ironically, in conversations with others, I had convinced myself that it was in full swing.  But, of course, this was not true.  I always find it amusing how the Universe finds ways of pointing out your hypocrisy.

When I was fully engaged in my yoga practice (3-4 times a week) and sitting nightly for meditation I was rarely angry, I had a consistent feeling of peace, and I was much thinner. But, slowly, I started going to yoga less and less, mediation became a thing of the past, and I have creeped back up past the 200lb mark.

It has been anger and discontent that have been the most telling signs of my fallen away spiritual practice.  It is, as always, most telling when I’m driving.  I freely admit that I inherited my father’s lack of patience, especially behind the wheel of a car.  But, it has multiplied to the nth degree in the past few months.  I find myself screaming at drivers for the most ridiculous reasons.  How dare they drive the speed limit.  How dare they pull out in front of me.  Could they possibly go any slower as they make that turn?  I often feel that these actions are taken against me personally (yes, my ego is highly inflated as a result of not practicing).

I can no longer ignore the signals the Universe is throwing my direction.  This week I decided to take back my life and reignite my spiritual practice.  No more excuses.  No more, “maybe tomorrow.”  It is time for me to take control.  I refuse to allow myself to continue wallowing in anger, discontentment, and depression.  Let the journey back begin now.

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