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.

There Will Be Times…

…when your meditation practice feels stunted. When your concentration falters every few moments. When you stare at the timer wondering to yourself why it doesn’t appear to be any closer to the end then when you looked at it three seconds ago. Does that mean you stop the timer, turn off the music, blow out the candles, douse the incense? My answer to that is no. You keep sitting. This lack of concentration can be a test to your practice. Can you continue to sit, even though you aren’t feeling successful? Can you lean into your feeling of failure and stay with the moment? You will never know if you get off your cushion before it’s time. As I’ve said in previous posts, you sit with the body and mind you have at this very moment. You do not try to make it something it cannot be. The more you force the more difficult and frustrating the process becomes. Sit with the frustration, see the practice to the end. Go back to your breathing as often as you need to (that may be every ten seconds and that’s ok). Once your practice has ended, contemplate where your challenges lie. If it’s one time that you are distracted, figure out what has you off kilter. Not enough water? Too much going on at work? Fight with a loved one? Too much caffeine? Too full? Too hungry? Headache, stomach ache, or other ailment? Then know for your next sitting what you need to change. If this is a continuing issue you will need to explore deeper. What series of challenges are holding you back from full concentration? What can you change? Are you sitting too late at night? Too early in the morning? Are you getting enough sleep? Is there a major project at work that you can’t get off your mind? Are you and your spouse fighting on a regular basis? There may be one or several issues that you will need to drill down into to ensure you can concentrate on your meditation. Even if the problem cannot be solved during this contemplation session, you still continue to sit in meditation practice. Do not give that up. Keep sitting, every day.

…when your relationships will feel unfulfilling. Does that mean you give up on friends, family, a spouse? No, you do not. You must sit with this feeling. You must get to the root of the issue. Where is this lack of fulfillment coming from? Are you not spending enough time together? Are you not spending enough time apart? Is your emotional life suffering? Is your sex life suffering? Where do you sense the problem lies? Everyone knows relationships take work. You cannot abandon them just because a snag has been hit. Your first step is to explore your feelings as they pertain to your unfulfilled relationship. If you cannot pinpoint from whence your own personal issues stem, then your partner, or friend, or loved one has no way of meeting you in the middle. Once you have ascertained your basic concerns and needs the dialogue must begin. Discuss everything openly and honestly, without judgement and without blame. And above all else, remain present in the moment. Remember, the conversation is the relationship.

…when emotions will over power you. Anger will spark. Jealousy will ignite. Depression will drown you. It is how you handle each of these that will effect you. Anger often stems from feeling out of control. When you accept that the only person you can control is yourself, then the anger diminishes. You will still have bouts of anger, but you will not let them control you. Jealousy often consumes because we wish to possess someone. The sooner we learn that we cannot possess anyone the easier our relationships will become. Life is filled with impermanence. The more you try to possess someone the more they will slip through your fingers like grains of sand. You must sit with this feeling of jealousy and find its root. What in your past has occurred that makes you wish to possess someone? Why do you desire to terminate their independence? You cannot be fulfilled if your jealousy is the only thing that forces someone to remain with you. Find where it comes from and work to change your perceptions. Depression often feels as though we’re drowning because it becomes all we can think about. Often depression is a chemical imbalance and there are many ways to combat that imbalance through therapy and medication (I utilize both myself). But, that is not the depression I am thinking about. I want to focus on the depression that occurs when we don’t get the promotion we wanted, or a relationship ends before we expected it to. Often times our depression grows from a disappointment of not getting what we had hoped. Buddhism teaches us that expectations cause suffering. If you were expecting to be the next vice president of your company and you are passed over, you suffer. If your spouse leaves you after your expectation was “till death do us part” you suffer. The question then becomes how do you battle these expectations. I remember the advice I was given over and over by my mentor when I was looking to be promoted in my retail job, “don’t worry about getting the next position, show how amazing you are at your current position, that’s when they’ll know you’re ready.” This proved to be great advice and has stuck with me, even as I practice now. We all want the best out of life, and I’m not saying don’t go out and try to get it. What I’m saying is don’t get so caught up in your expectations of how it has to be that you forget to give your best effort in the present moment. Don’t forget, it’s the only moment you have.

The key to each of the “whens” I’ve written about is to remain in the moment with each. Stay present with your meditation. Sit with the disappointments. Lean into the anger. Delve into your jealousy. Discover the root of your depression. Explore your expectations. Embrace your lack of fulfillment in your relationships. You cannot run away from any of these; they will give chase, they will catch you, and you’ll still have to deal with them. When you ferret out the root causes you will begin to find your way back to the right concentration you need. Don’t be afraid, it may be painful, but it’s worth the energy you put into it.

Namasté
Matthew

Real World Application

Last night tried my patience, tried my soul, and tried my attempts at peace of mind. After three weeks in the shop my little Fiat wouldn’t start in the mall parking lot. It was raining rather heavily, I was tired, and a little upset with Fiat. I will honestly admit that before I began my yoga, Buddhism, and meditation practices the old me would have been cussing up a storm, lashing out at my poor friend (who was stuck with me in the tiny space that is my Fiat), and generally hating life as a whole.

I am happy to say that those things did not happen. I did place my head in my hands for a few moments and I came right to my breathing practice. I closed my eyes and took many many many deep breaths. As I did this I could feel the overwhelming anger begin to abate. I took one final deep breath in and made all the necessary calls to get the situation handled and move on with my night. This is not to say I didn’t feel anger, disappointment, or disgust; trust me those feelings were right below the surface. I did, however, not let them rule my emotional well being. I sat with them for a moment (let’s not lie; many moments) and dealt with each emotion as it surfaced. I refused to let this ruin what I’ve been working so hard to accomplish.

I am not perfect. I am not enlightened. I probably still could have handled my emotions far more maturely. But, I can honestly say I’ve come a long way in controlling those emotions and that is what my practice is all about. Step by step improvements, no matter how small or trivial make all the difference.

This is a short post, I know. But I wanted to share this story as a beacon of hope for anyone else that might be working on the same issues that I am.

My love to you all!
Namasté
Matthew

Overtaken By Anger

Today I let anger overwhelm me.  It began as a simple inconvenience that snowballed, rather quickly I am ashamed to say, into a blinding anger.  In his book, The Buddha Walks Into A Bar…A Guide To Life For A New Generation, Lordo Rinzler calls these “afflicted emotions” The Incredible Hulk Syndrome.  The Sanskrit word is actually klesha (not in any way to be confused with the pop singer Ke$ha – don’t laugh the first few times I read the word I was convinced he was talking about her).  

I was in the mall today and I was ready to leave when a typical Florida thunderstorm dumped sheets of sideways rain.  I was trapped in the mall.  In the grand scheme of things this is no big deal and an expected occurrence on any given afternoon during the Florida summers.  But, I was headed to meet the person I’m currently dating and I didn’t want to keep them waiting.  So this minor set back began to irritate me and make me apprehensive.  I finally ran to my car, getting quite wet in the process, which started the tiny snowball rolling down the mountain. 

It just got worse from there.  I hit every red light between the mall and home. No matter what lane I traveled in I was behind a slow driver.  The snowball gained in size and momentum.  By the fifth red light I became aware of my anger bubbling.  By the eighth red light my clothes were starting to rip and my green skin was starting to show.  When I finally met my date I was in full Hulk mode.  It was when I snapped at him in the first five minutes of being together that I realized I had to take a step back.  What was I so angry about?  I needed a few minutes to myself to figure this out.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, “Why Am I Angry?“, my anger generally stems from a perceived lack of control.  And I was definitely not in control today.  I couldn’t control the rain, I couldn’t control the other drivers, I couldn’t control the traffic lights.  The only thing I could control was my reactions to these uncontrollable forces, and I failed in that arena as well.  The Incredible Hulk was in full swing; tearing up my emotional stability.

When I finally stepped away, I took my dogs into the back yard and I stood on my back steps.  I always know I am out of control with my emotions (anger specifically) when my dogs irritate me.  If I’m mad at them I am being completely irrational.  When I yelled at Lizzy, my black poodle mix, because she wasn’t going to the bathroom fast enough, I knew I’d reached my breaking point.

I stopped everything.  I apologized to my dogs, I closed my eyes and took three deep breaths.  I filled my lungs completely and emptied them.  The breaths were slow and deliberate.  I tilted my head upward and opened my eyes toward the sky.  I tried to bring all five senses to bare in this healing meditation.  I allowed myself to feel the concrete steps under my feet.  I could feel the grit and the heat of the day on my heels, toes, and the balls of my feet.  I felt the breeze on my skin and I saw the trees billowing as the wind rustled through their branches.  I smelled the rain on the air and watched as the dark cloud floated across the sky.  I forced myself to stay in the moment.  When I felt the anger trying to push forward I looked back to the clouds and took another slow deep satisfying breath.

Within five minutes of beginning this gentle meditation the rain clouds had drifted out of my field of vision to reveal a clear blue sky.  Just as quickly as the thunderous clouds vanished so had my turbulent temper.  I should have taken a brief moment to clear the anger earlier but my judgement was clouded.  I went back inside with the “girls” (my dogs) and I apologized, rather effusively, to my date.  Luckily he is a reader of my blog (and often my proofreader and critic) so he understood and forgave me easily.

I am lucky to have forgiving people around me.  If I did not my anger could lead me to lose the people I care about.  The lesson I take from this is to make sure I douse the flames of my anger quickly.  I need to make sure that my Bruce Banner doesn’t have the chance to become the Hulk.  The easiest way to do this is to find your breath and find your perspective. Very rarely is the object of our anger worth the lack of control we suffer.  I know for me it is not.

How to you stop your anger from getting out of control?  How do you control your Hulk?  Don’t let anger or any emotion cause you to lose control.  Our emotions are neither good nor bad; positive nor negative.  It is our reaction to those emotions that take on good or ill connotations.  

Always try to remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice, “Smile, breathe, and go slowly”.  This can extinguish your emotional flames before they are uncontrollable.

Namasté

Matthew

Disappointment’s Real World Applications

I’ve written several blogs about how to deal with issues as they arise. I’ve spoken more as a guide than as a practitioner. I believe that may be misrepresenting myself. I am not a great master or teacher. I am a humble practitioner on a journey and I should represent myself as such.

In that vein I have a story to share. This is not a life altering story and to some of my readers it may seem quite minuscule in the grand scope of life. But, it is a story of the challenges of leading a life out in the world and trying to reconcile the disappointments of that life with the practice of my Buddhist ideals.

This school year has been more difficult than usual for me. As I’ve said before I work in a lower income school and I have had struggles with some very challenging students this year. As such, I have complained once too often to my bosses at my school. Because of these complaints I had one of the courses I teach given to another teacher so that next year I will teach only history. When I first learned of this change my ego immediately took over and I was devastated. I was convinced they were telling me that I was an incompetent teacher and that I was being punished for my complete inability to teach (have I ever mentioned that I have a tendency toward over-dramatics?). I waited four days to discuss my feelings with the powers-that-be to make sure I did not bring my over dramatics with me into the meeting. It took a great deal of thought, meditation, and positive affirmations to get myself prepared for this meeting. My principal allowed me to be honest and graciously listened to my concerns, no matter how far fetched they were. She assured me that in no way was I being punished and she advised me to put a positive spin on the issue and look at it is a reward. I would no longer have to deal with the most challenging of students on a large scale. After four days of meditation this was the conclusion I had come to on my own, but it was nice to have the professional validation of my thoughts. I was able to walk away from this issue feeling rather pleased with myself and at peace, no matter how tenuous.

Then came the last day of school. These feelings of inadequacy and punishment reemerged when it was announced I would lose my classroom. A little background here, I have the second largest classroom on campus. It was the old home economics room. It has two refrigerators, two stoves, a microwave, a washer and dryer, a dish washer and is twice the size of other classrooms. I had quite the set up here. I purchased an iced tea maker, made my own ice, cut up lemons, went grocery shopping for snacks and lunches etc. I was living large in this room. My room is truly the reason I didn’t want to give up the program I was teaching. It is a room envied by many. And, it was another blow to my already fragile ego. Disappointment came again to the forefront of my emotions which of course then led to anger. I was mad at my boss, mad at myself, and extremely mad at the teacher taking my job. These emotions are still at the surface, they are not going away as easily as I had hoped. I have meditated quite often on my knowledge of desire and yearning and ownership. I do not own the program I was teaching. I do not own the classroom I was teaching in. What I do own in the desire to have my classroom back. That is where my problems arise. By longing for that one thing I have allowed my feelings of inadequacy and disappointment to take over and at times overwhelm me. If I let go of the desire for my room I will let go of the anger as well. But, as anyone who has been a practitioner for any length of time will tell you, this is far easier said than done.

I will admit it has gotten easier for me to recognize where my emotions are coming from and why I am turning those emotions into negative feelings. The challenges arise when I can’t get my ego aligned with my practice. This is why I felt the need to share this story. As I said at the beginning, this will seem shallow and childish to many who read this. But, this shallow behavior is how I recognize that I have a lesson to be learned here. It is not, in the end, about the classroom or the program I’ve lost. It is about the lesson that karma/life/the universe/the almighty/the goddess is teaching me. I have to let go of these feelings. I will not be less of a teacher because my classroom is different. I also have quite the nerve to be “proud” of the fact that people envy my room. My ego believes I was envied. Envied for what? The luck of getting a large room? In the end the classroom is just a shell. What breathes life into that classroom is the interaction that comes from my students and me.

The great thinker Eckhart Tolle said, “Not all thinking and all emotion are of the ego. They turn into ego only when you identify with them and they take you over completely, that is to say, when they become ‘I.'” I have allowed these feelings of desire for my classroom, disappointment over what I’ve “lost”, and inadequacy that I’ve invented to take me over completely. I have made all of this about me. Could I be any more arrogant? The first step here has been realizing my arrogance. Now I must take this lesson and glean knowledge and insight from it. I must kill off my ego. That is my task and I shall not slink away from it.

Namasté

Matthew

Why am I angry?

I am an angry person.  I imagine many people could say that about themselves in our modern society.  We are inundated with angry stories on the news, angry politicians and political commentators that attempt to persuade us to share in their righteous indignation.  I feel it. I get angry with my students, I get angry with myself, and I certainly get angry with other drivers that I share the road with.  I used to drive a Honda Element and when I got mad I pictured myself a seething pit bull.  Now that I drive my more economical Fiat, I am more in line with a seething chihuahua.  When my anger kicks into high gear I swerve around cars, yell, cuss, grip the wheel tighter; anything I can think of at the time.  I try to remember my breathing: “in 2-3-4 and out 2-3-4.”  But it winds up being more to the effect of “in out in out in out in out,” turning me from a seething chihuahua to a hyperventilating seething chihuahua.  This is all to the chagrin to any passengers that may be riding with me in the car, fearing for their lives.

This anger has come to a boil on two separate occasions.  Both, ironically, towards the end of a relationship I was in at the time.  My first boiling point happened as I was driving with my partner.  I became so irrationally angry that I had to pull the car over and have him drive the rest of the way.  I cannot remember what triggered the anger, but I recall how it enveloped me completely, like a thick wet blanket that was smothering me.  I could not escape it.  When he took over driving it was nearly thirty minutes before I calmed down enough to feel like I was back to “myself”.  The other occasion I am even less proud of.  I hit my partner (not the same person as the driving incident), two separate times.  No blood was drawn, no bruises or marks were left.  The first time it happened he announced, rather coldly, that he had been cheating on me and I punched him in the chest as hard as I could.  This error in my anger clouded judgement immediately put me in the wrong.  The second time I became physical he informed me, equally as coldly, that he was leaving so he could continue to sleep around.  I pushed him into a chain link fence.

Now some might say he deserved these actions for cheating, but in my mind violence is never the response I want to have toward any aspect of my life.  In fact, anger is not a response I want to have either.  Especially the anger that explodes into such a negative outcome.  The first experience in the car led me to therapy.  The second, more violent episodes, led me to anti-anxiety/anti-depression medications.  But the aftermath of both of these events did not lead me to a greater understanding of my anger.

Sure, therapy helped scratch the surface, but I needed a deeper explanation.  And I began to brush at the edges of that explanation when I started my yoga practice (Please understand I use the terms yoga and buddhist practice interchangeably; to me they are one and the same and cannot be separated in my mind or heart.  I hope this doesn’t offend any of the purists that may read this.).  As I became more adept at yoga and began reading and studying more I began to actively ponder my anger issues.  I began reading Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh (can you tell already I love this guy?) and the Tricycle Teachings e-book Anger (which you can download for free from the Tricycle website if you’re interested http://www.tricycle.com).  As I read these books I remember smiling, laughing, and crying.  I didn’t know I was allowed to be angry.  These great Buddhist teachers were telling me it was ok, embrace your anger.  WHAT?  Are you kidding me?  Embrace it? Be ok with being angry? Wait, that can’t be right.  Then came the catch…I can’t let the anger control me.  Well damn, how am I supposed to do that?

Well, here’s what I came up with.  It isn’t going to happen all at once.  I know, many of you are saying, “duh genius, you can’t make life altering changes instantly.”  But, now would be a good time to mention I’ve always been an instant gratification kind of guy.  If I see it, I buy it.  If I go to the gym I want to loose ten pounds after my first visit (yes, I recognize the ridiculousness of that statement).  But this isn’t going to be instant and often I won’t feel gratified.  But it is a start.  Now I work on sitting with my anger.  I take a few deep deliberate breaths and try to step back from the situation.  This has been working as a start.  However, my major “ah-ha” occurred when I realized the root of all of my anger.  Are you ready for this?

C-O-N-T-R-O-L.

When I feel I’m not in control, anger is the response that I default to.  This very idea was like a thousand light bulbs going on at one time.  How could I not have recognized it before?  I get angry at my students when they won’t do what I say (of course they won’t they’re 11).  I get mad at drivers when I can’t travel at the speed I want and move freely about the road.  I get mad at myself when I can’t loose the weight I want, or can’t attend my yoga classes as regularly as I’d like. I was flying high when this realization hit me and it has made all the difference.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I now have complete control over my anger and that I can face any situation with calm and aplomb.  That is not, however, the case.  But I am on the right path.  I try to stay in the moment as the anger is rising.  I try to remember my breathing and the deeper reasoning of my anger.  I’m not there yet, not even close, but I’m happy to say I feel lighter for making the attempts to improve my anger; to sit with it and embrace it.  Try embracing your anger as well, what could it hurt?  It’s better than lashing out at the people you care most about.

Namasté

Matthew