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

Feel The Fear

We are often taught that fear is for cowards.  For so long I believed, when I felt that growing pit of anxiety in my gut, that I was incapable of being courageous.  Fear was my greatest nemesis.  I recognize that fear often stems from the unknown.  A favorite quote of mine which happens to be from a Disney song has always been, “We don’t like what we don’t understand; in fact it scares us.”  Fear can stop us dead in our tracks.

Don’t get me wrong, there are healthy amounts of fear.  The prickle on the back of our necks when someone approaches in a menacing manner.  The fear of physical or emotional harm that allows us to remain alert. Let’s also not forget our love affair with being scared.  Horror films rake in millions of dollars each year.  We will watch Saw 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10… (I know there aren’t this many but you get the idea).  Freddie and Jason still haunt my nightmares and I’ve never even seen one of their movies.  We have a love/hate relationship with fear.

Now, I ask you to contemplate this question.  Can you sit with your fear?  I don’t mean your fear that comes from the movies you watch or the books you read, I mean the fear that cripples you.  The fear of public speaking.  The fear of heights.  The fear of being alone.  The fear of losing your financial stability.  The fear of failure.  The fear of success.  The fear of death.  Step one is to pinpoint your fear.  What are you most afraid of?  Once you figure that out, stop and take a deep breath.  What feelings are stirring inside of yourself?  Do you have the urge to think of any topic other than your fear?  Are you in flight or fight mode without even thinking about it?  Use your meditation techniques to bring awareness to these feelings.  Don’t shy away from them.  Don’t allow judgement to overtake you.

Often what gives fear its power is the judgements we place on it.  Your mind tells you that you are weak because you have this feeling.  Emotions, like fear, are neither good nor bad; positive nor negative.  Emotions just are.  So take a moment to sit with the fear and anxiety you are beginning to feel.  If it begins to overwhelm you stop and focus on your breathing.  When you feel stronger begin to let your mind fall back into the awareness of your emotions again.

Now, it’s time to delve a little deeper.  What is the root of your particular fear?  Abandonment?  Poor relationships?  Absent father or mother?  The loss of loved ones?  Be honest with yourself.  You cannot glean the lesson if you are not willing to be honest with yourself.  This may take several meditation sittings.  You may never completely lose your fear. But discovering the root causes of your fear and your ability to sit with it without judgement will take you a long way in dealing with the fear (or any emotions for that matter) that keeps your from growing mindfully and spiritually.

Fear can be debilitating.  It can also be the key that unlocks your greatest potential.  If you learn to embrace your fear and move beyond it you have the power to accomplish greatness.  Make a daily or weekly appointment with your fear (or again any emotion you’d like to “conquer”) and truly take the time to sit with it.  Get to know it, embrace it as an old friend.  The fastest way to abolish fear is to get to know it intimately.  Years ago my mother bought me a book that still sticks with me, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”  I don’t actually remember much about the book itself but the title and what it means has never been lost on me.  Embrace your fear and move beyond.

Namasté
Matthew

Overwhelming Desires

English: The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

English: The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I shouldn’t be making this judgment but, I was a complete failure in my practice while I was in Las Vegas.  Now, that being said and putting the dramatics of my ego aside I know I let my desires get the best of me.  We all have desires that’s natural; Financial desires, emotional desires, sexual desires, physical desires.  In Buddhism our practice is to control these desires and eventually realize that our true peace comes from the cessation of these desires that ultimately bring us pain.  So, how do we do this?  Well, I’m still working on that.

 

I had quite a bit of time alone in Vegas.  At times it allowed me some quiet contemplation.  But mostly it allowed me boredom and some bouts of depression.  I have to admit here that as a Buddhist that contemplates impermanence I have never been very good with change.  I don’t do well in changes of routine, changes in lifestyle, changes in how things operate as I am used to.  Of course, I don’t let that stop me.  Because as an ironic twist I am a lover of adventure.  I love to explore and observe.  And that’s what I did to help jar me out of my malaise when I was alone.

 

The Forum Shops - Caesars Palace - Las Vegas -...

The Forum Shops – Caesars Palace – Las Vegas – Nevada – United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Vegas my solitary adventures often took me to the Las Vegas Strip.  The center of this hotbed of sin and degradation in the middle of the desert.  I say this with a grand helping of sarcasm.  I love the strip.  But, where most go to the strip to gamble I went to the malls and walked through the hotels.  Fashion Show Mall, The Forum Shops, The Shops of the Grand Canal.  I went to them all and wandered in and out of stores.  I found things I wanted and knew I couldn’t have because they were ridiculously overpriced.  I found things that were on sale and I immediately jumped and bought them.  Hats, shorts, shirts, headphones, a charger, a mug; it was retail therapy at its most obvious.  In the moment I didn’t care.  I talked myself out of items to find my self back in the store an hour later purchasing the very product I’d talked myself out of.  I’d get back to where I was staying, purchases in hand and wonder to myself, “was all of this really necessary?”

 

NOOOOOO, it was not necessary.  It was me trying to cure my loneliness and mild depression of the changes I was experiencing.  It also didn’t help that I was lax in my meditation practice.  These events merged to form a perfect storm of shopping until I dropped.  While I was in Vegas I blogged about the importance of maintaining your meditation practice while on vacation.  But, that post was the perfect example of, “do as I say, not as I do”.  I recognize that much of this could have been avoided if I had stuck with my meditation or stepped it up and meditated more often.  Sadly, I did not.

 

As a Buddhist and as someone who is working very diligently not to be so hard on myself I should not be passing judgement.  As I work back into my full meditation practice, now that I’m home, I should and will focus on how to avoid these emotional pitfalls in the future. Treat your practice the way your GPS device treats you.  (I love this analogy and I admit fully that I stole it from Dr. Oz and his co-author on many books Dr. Michael Roizan).  Your GPS calmly gives you directions.  If you miss a turn it does not scream at you, “YOU STUPID FOOL!  LOOK WHAT YOU DID, YOU MISSED THE TURN!  YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN SUCH AN IDIOT!”  Instead the GPS simply tells you, without any judgement whatsoever, “at the next available opportunity make a U-Turn and proceed to the proper path.”  Simple right? When you make a wrong turn in your practice don’t beat yourself up, simply make the U-Turn, without judgement, and return to your proper path.  You must treat yourself gently with love.  That is what I am currently working on now that I’ve returned to my regular daily routine.  I am trying to remain mindful of where I needed adjustments to my practice and aware that I do not and must not beat myself up over my behavior.  So, I now tell myself and anyone else that is struggling the way I am…

 

…welcome back to the path.
Namasté
Matthew

 

 

Vacation Meditation

I’m sitting in my best friend’s apartment in Las Vegas after finishing the first meditation of my vacation.  This is my fourth day on vacation and I have found a reason every day not to meditate; not formally at least.  I have taken moments to remain present, especially when I was hiking up Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles.  The view was spectacular and the realization of how out of shape I am definitely kept me present and focused on my breath.

The Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have often extolled the virtues of meditation and as I am taking my first holiday since adopting a regular meditation practice I have had the opportunity to focus on how important vacation meditation can be.  Let’s face it, vacations can be calming and restorative.  They can also be hectic, stressful, and filled with activity.  If we are not relaxing in the sun on the beach with a cold drink in our hand we are more than likely looking at a guide book or map trying to fit in as many sites as possible into our limited time.  We want to pack as much experience into our short window of a holiday we possibly can.  We run through Grand Central Station trying to catch a train.  We rush past priceless master pieces just to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Mona Lisa.  We ignore the powerful energies of an ancient Celtic ruin to make our lunch reservation on time.  We don’t take the time to be present in the moments we are creating.

How often on vacation do you feel tired, overwhelmed, and cranky?  Do you snap at your travel partner?  Do your children see your frustration as they ask for the millionth time, “when will we get there?”  Do you leave some place you were looking forward to seeing with a sense that you missed most of what was there?  Then you are wasting your holiday. Meditation can help you enjoy your holiday more.  I know you may not believe that, but it’s true.  Start each morning and end each night with just ten minutes of focused meditation and it can help you slow down and truly enjoy the holiday you’ve paid a great deal to be on.

It will help you remember to put down the guide book and truly see, hear, feel, experience what is happening around you.  Don’t read about the Piazza Navona stand at its center and drink in your surroundings.  Actually look at the faces of the people as they move through.  Look at your children as they discover what is being offered to them.  Have lunch together and savor the smells and flavors of the food.  Listen to your loved ones as they regale you with their versions of the holiday experience.  Every step you take, every moment you pause, every site you see can be a form of meditation; either passive or active. And all you need to jump start staying present in each of these individual moments throughout your vacation is a morning and evening meditation practice.  Take it a step further and involve your entire travel party.  Invite everyone to experience true awareness.

If you have been actively meditating for a while the addition of a morning and evening meditation while you’re on holiday will not be a burden for you.  If you are new to meditation or just want to improve your overall vacation experience it may be a slight adjustment for you.  You can wake up just ten minutes earlier than you planned and go to bed ten minutes later than the others you are with.  It is an investment.  The ten minutes you take in the morning to ground and center yourself will allow for a more stress free day. And the time you take at the end of your day will help to restore you after all of your adventures.  Take this little bit of time for yourself.  It will all be worth it.

Namasté
Matthew

 

Yoga As Meditation

As you have read in past posts meditation has not come easy to me. It is something I still struggle with. Even tonight as I sat it was very difficult for me to remain in the moment with my practice. However, I have come to terms with many of the issues I was having with meditation that were holding me back. The moment I knew I could finally meditate was when I realized that the yoga I was doing three to four times a week was a great form of meditation.

From the moment class begins the entire focus is on your breath. My yoga teacher even goes as far as saying, “if you do no other pose during class, but you are still breathing mindfully, you are doing yoga.” Those yogis reading this may not agree one hundred precent but I love this statement. This reminds me that just as in meditation, the breath is paramount to all things. Yogis are encouraged to focus on the breath which leads all movement during practice. If the breath is lost or cut off; back off of the pose. The same is true in meditation. When the mind begins to wander and the breath is no longer the focus, nor is the present moment; back off of the thoughts and return to the breath.

In yoga there are resting poses that can be returned to when the yogi is completely out of breath, losing focus, getting frustrated, etc. The foundational pose in yoga (please understand that is from my perspective and my practice) is Samasthiti. It begins each yoga class. Feet together standing straight up, shoulders back and down, and hands with palms together at your heart center. Yogis are called to Samasthiti at the beginning of class. From this pose the breath becomes the focus. No further pose is attempted until the breathing comes in line. It is the same with meditation. You cannot move into a deeper form of meditation until the focus is ready. This is done by breath awareness.

As mindfulness develops and meditation moves into deeper practice, if concentration wavers, the practitioner always returns to the breath. This is similar to the pose of the child and simple seated pose in yoga. These poses are designed to allow the yogi time and space to regain their breath so they can rejoin the practice. Then of course comes the mother of all resting poses, Shavasana (the corpse pose). This is the final pose in yoga where the mind is released, the body is relaxed, and the yogi lets go. It is complete relaxation. It is in this pose that I often repeat mini-mantras I use when I meditate. “Breathing in I calm my mind. Breathing out I smile.” I also will each part of my body to relax. This gives me an even greater focus on the now. I mentally move to each part of my body and invite the hands, the feet, the chest, the pelvis, the shoulders, the stomach, etc. to relax.

So, we have the focus on breath. Important? Yes. It is the grounding that is necessary in yoga and seated meditation. It is also the way to refocus both practices. You cannot meditate if you are holding your breath and you cannot do yoga without the breath either. How else is yoga a form of meditation? Without your full, focused, mindful attention throughout the practice you will not be a successful yogi. I have allowed my mind to wander many times in yoga. During the standing series I often will lose balance, even in the simplest poses. Forget about trying to hold an actual balancing pose. When I teach yoga to my middle school students I remind them over and over again how important it is to keep their minds focused on the poses (especially the balancing ones). You may also notice that as your mind wanders so does your breath. And, once the breath is lost so is the proper practice of yoga. The yogi then returns to the breath through one of the resting poses and then begins again.

The key to both sitting meditation and yoga as meditation is to not beat yourself up when your mind wanders. You are not incompetent. You are not the worst yogi or meditator on the planet. The fact that you are on the cushion or on the mat makes you the greatest (though many yogis and Buddhists would say greatest denotes positive versus negative and those are not recognized in the practices). The point I’m trying to make is; come back to the mat as often as you can. Come back to the cushion as often as you can. Do your yoga at home and go to class to gain a sense of community. The same is true with meditation. Meditate at home but join a sangha or community of meditators to help you gain further insight into your practice. Each time your return to your mat or sit on your cushion with the mindfulness that is required to practice; you are meditating. And every time you meditate or practice yoga you are improving and that is all you can ask of yourself.

Namasté
Matthew

 

Remaining Present During Meditation

I know that I ruminated on this topic in my post “The Elusiveness of Meditation.” Remaining present during meditation was the bane of my practice, for the longest time.  I have not perfected a particular way to remain present while I meditate, but I do have a few tricks I’d like to share.  Hopefully they will work for you.  If they do not, feel free to tweak them for your own use or completely disregard them.

My first trick I borrow from my favorite Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.  Again, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts Thich Nhat Hanh relates to his pupils that focus on and awareness of the breath is vitally important.  He suggests a few things you might say to yourself to keep your mind focused on the breath.  “Breathing in, I am aware that I am breathing in.  Breathing out, I am aware that I am breathing out.”  Another that he recommends – which is my favorite – is, “Breathing in, I calm my mind.  Breathing out, I smile.” This has a wonderfully simple and happy feel to it. Thich Nhat Hanh also reveals that the simple act of smiling relaxes many of the muscles in the face.  You are doing yourself multiple favors by smiling.  When my mind is bouncing here and there and everywhere I will begin focusing back on my breath and using the mantras taught by Thich Nhat Hanh.

On my home altar I have a stone candle holder in the image of the Buddha.  There is a slight smile on the Buddha’s face.  When I want to remind myself to relax and smile during meditation I will gaze at the Buddha’s face; his smile in particular, and I can’t help but smile in return.

Another trick I use to remain present is my own process.  I recently purchased a mediation cushion, or zafu, from Amazon.  When I meditate on my zafu I sit in the half lotus position with one foot resting on my knee.  As a way to remain present in the moment I will give a mental rundown of my body’s position.  “I am in the present moment as I sit on my zafu.”  “I remain present during my meditation as I align my spine to sit up straight.”  “I feel my legs crossed over each other as I meditate and remain present.”  I will even mentally comment on any pain or irritation my body may be experiencing.  “While I am present in this moment I feel the tingle of my foot as it falls asleep.”  “I am present in this moment as I feel how my left arm itches.”  I try not to focus too much on the physical feelings because then it becomes too easy to attach myself to those feelings.  It is one thing to use a physical pain or irritation to maintain awareness of the present moment.  It completely defeats the purpose if I allow myself to become attached to those feeling and begin to complain or whine.  “My back hurts.  My toe itches and won’t stop.  I need water.  I want a massage, etc.”  Don’t let it become an excuse to let your mind wander and take over the meditation.

One last trick I use to remain present comes from Eckhart Tolle.  You may remember him from his master class with Oprah Winfrey a few years back.  His book, A New Earth, was an Oprah Book Club selection.  He and Oprah did an online class for five weeks.  Tolle’s ideas are deeply rooted in Buddhism (another experience that helped set me on my current spiritual path).  In his book and during the online class Tolle suggested that audience members focus on the underlying energy that is constantly surging through the body.  He insists that if you focus you can feel this energy as it moves through every single part of your body.  At first I was skeptical, but when I truly focused I could feel it.  It was like a tingle that I could feel in every digit, every limb, every organ of my body.  After I’d been doing it for a while I could feel the energy pulsing through me.  This awareness of my body allowed me to feel alive and vibrant.  I still use this idea to help ground me in the present moment.  It is highly effective.  I’ll admit to you right now, it may take you some time to master this particular trick, but once you do, I promise you’ll be amazed.

Start by focusing on the crown of your head.  It will probably begin by feeling like your pulse beating in the top of your skull.  That’s the perfect beginning.  As you focus more you will begin to feel the tingle.  Once the tingling begins, move your focus to your forehead, then your eyes, nose, lips, chin, and so on down your entire body.  If you remain focused on this task you will remain present.  If you find your mind slipping and wandering, gently “shhhhh” the fussy baby, start back at step one and Thich Nhat Hanh’s breathing exercises until you are fully focused again.

My final suggestion is to download the mobile app, ReWire.  I have mentioned this app several times, and I cannot talk enough about how amazing it is.  You can use the ReWire tracks or you can use your own music.  I mix it up from night to night and use both.  I am particularly fond of ReWire’s track “Calm” and I love listening to Enya from my own music. The beauty of this app is it keeps you present during your meditation by allowing you to focus on the vanishing of the music track.  When the music stops you just tap the screen of your mobile device.  If you aren’t paying attention the mobile device will vibrate to bring you back to the present moment.  If you are trying too hard to anticipate the next vanishing, and tap too soon, the mobile device will vibrate again.  This app has worked wonders for me.  I am extremely grateful to the Buddhist Geeks podcast that brought this app to my attention. I highly recommend this app, especially if you’re a techie like me.

Don’t try to be perfect in your meditation.  It won’t happen.  Your mind will always wander. You’ll have good days and you’ll have crappy days.  Sometimes your mind will cooperate and others it will drive you bonkers.  It is much like my yoga teacher, Lezlie, tells us at the beginning of each class, “focus on the body you have tonight, whether it’s energized and ready or whether it’s tired and needs calm; that is the body you are working with.”  It is the same with your mind during meditation.  Work with the mind you have at the moment, because that moment is the only one that matters.  Just like each individual moment of your life.

Namasté
Matthew