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.

That Is Enough

image

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

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

What Right Do I Have?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namasté
Matthew

Coming Back

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

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

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

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

Namasté
Matthew

Thank The Now Publication

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

The article is called: Embrace Your Innate Talents

Namasté
Matthew