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

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

Love Thy Enemy

Our society has grown to be very antagonistic.  Us vs. them.  As a former president once proclaimed, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Conservative vs. liberal, pro-choice vs. anti-choice, Christian vs. Muslim, pro-gay vs. anti-gay.  It’s become a war between differing opinions.  Each side convinced of their own righteous.

I will openly admit that I am guilty of this mentality.  I have found myself unjustifiably angry at people that do not share my views of the world.  During the last election cycle I found I could not stop myself from thinking everyone that badmouthed the president was a flaming idiot and that everyone that blindly supported him was brilliant beyond belief.  When the election was over and my candidates were successful I recognized how ridiculous my beliefs were.  Now, had they lost I would more than likely still be licking my wounds, much like many conservatives are still.

What I find most disturbing about my thought patterns are how closed minded I can be when someone doesn’t agree with me.  Why can’t I see beyond this differing of opinions and see the person for who they actually are.  Confession: my father, brother, step-mother, and sister-in-law are staunch conservatives and we rarely agree on anything politically. For them I often find myself softening my own views and demurring for the sake of peace.  But, this is my family and I find very little worth destroying the love we hold for one another.

So, the question I often pose to myself is, why can’t that sentiment pervade the entire country?  I have been pondering this post for several days.  And I couldn’t figure out the answer to that question.  These differences have caused different factions to put up walls. How can anyone spread love when there are obstacles blocking the way.  We tend to congregate with like minded people; often too afraid to open our hearts to others.

One thing I have discovered with the us vs. them mentality is the feeling that if our side doesn’t win we are somehow “less than” the side that was victorious.  I vividly remember when Al Gore ceded the 2000 election.  I was distraught.  How could we be cursed with George W. Bush for 8 years?  But, on the flip side I know many conservatives in 2000 that were saying, “thank God, our Clinton nightmare is over.”  Now, I’m not here to argue politics.  In fact, I’d like for everyone to give up “arguing” about politics.  It’s not a win/lose situation.  It’s not a game.  When we see it as a win/lose strategy game we make enemies of our brothers, our friends, our co-workers, our partners.  Is it really worth it?  Can this not be approached with an open heart and mind?  When you think mindfully on this idea you cannot help but think of a 3 year old that does not get their way.  How many politicians, acquaintances, friends, family, loved ones, have you seen, throwing a childish tantrum because they did not get their way. (I think I our recent government shut down was the perfect example, no matter which direction you lean politically).

A New Earth

A New Earth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eckhart Tolle teaches us to strive for the death of our ego.  This desire for “our side” to win at all costs is nothing more than ego telling us we are better than “them” if we win and they have humiliated “us” if we lose.  These self-defeating thoughts must be purged. The ego cannot gain control.  It has no place in our spiritual life.

Ohhhhh, I talk a big game here.  My Mr. Know-It-All rears his ugly head.  And, I recognize that it is far easier said than done.  I know for a fact that my ego is deeply entrenched and I still focus on the us vs. them ideal.  My greatest us vs. them that I cannot let go of is me vs. Christianity.  I have had a bad taste in my mouth for a long time when it comes to “Christians”.  I am ashamed to admit that I have so often thought that anyone who is a self-professed Christian is automatically weak and a bigot.  I remember in high school my favorite teacher often told me that organized religion was for the weak of mind.  I held on to this idea.  I still have not completely let it go, but I now see it as a fault of my ego, not of my Christian brethren.

What has stemmed this dislike and distrust of Christians?  Their long held belief that I am somehow flawed for being gay.  Growing up hearing you are an abomination who is doomed to the fires of hell does not place those that proclaim this in your good graces. Logically, I know that not every Christian believes this.  Logically, I know that when I think of Christianity and Christ as bad words that deserve my derision and not my respect that I am allowing anger, disappointment, hurt, and ego to lead my heart.  I still find my self cringing when someone professes to be a Christian.

I work hard every day to overcome my prejudice.  My hope is to open my heart fully, to love everyone completely.  I am not there yet.  But as well all know I am not perfect.  No one is.  Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians; they are so unlike your Christ.”  I have held onto this saying for many years.  I agree with the sentiment for so many of the in your face, judgmental Christians that hold themselves as better than others.  But, I also recognize the ego and hypocrisy of feeling I am somehow better because I do not identify with Christianity.  I am no better by assuming that every Christian I meet is a weak minded bigot.  I certainly know this is NOT the case.  I have met many beautiful and loving Christians.  And my heart turns to them each time I see another so-called Christian misusing the words of Christ to justify their hatred.

Thich Naht Hanh wrote an amazing book, “Living Buddha, Living Christ” that shows the parallels of these great men.  It has begun to lead me on the long walk back into the light of acceptance of all beliefs.  Another great book that has softened my heart is “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young.  Both books have helped me open my heart to the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of The Christ.  And it is with this open heart that I go forward. Not perfect, not fully forgiving my past hurts, but forward on the road to love and healing.

Will you join me?  Can you forgive your hurts?  Take my hand and let’s walk together as a family.

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