That Is Enough

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Life is stressful. Shit happens! We get sick. We lose our jobs. People we trust let us down. It is nice to think there will be a day when none of these life altering things will happen. But, we are not naive. We know the next shit storm is right around the corner. That’s what makes life a messy adventure.

This won’t be a long post. It will also not be a post about how your mindfulness or my Buddhist practice has taught me to appreciate the shit storms so that I will recognize the glorious sunshine that breaks forth. And though this is accurate it’s not the point of why I’m writing this.

The quote above is imperative to my life. My friendships have dwindled over the years. But, I can happily say the few amazing close friends that have remained a constant in my life have made all the difference. And spending time with them is more than enough. Often it’s the only thing that keeps me going. Go out, find those few, hold them close. Nurture those relationships. They will be your greatest champions; your strongest support.

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

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

 

How Dare You!!!

I remember in my high school AP literature class my favorite teacher, Dr. McClellan, discussed the story of Job from the bible.  I have never been well versed on the bible, but she taught this story from the stand point of literature, not to push any beliefs on us.  (To my knowledge, Dr. McClellan was a devout agnostic who distrusted religion in any form, even up to the day she succumbed to cancer.)

The story of Job is often told to show the patience that a righteous man must possess.  We still revere this quality in others.  But, this was not the part of the story we were told in AP Literature.  We were told of the whiny Job.  The Job that complained constantly to God. How unfair his life was, how unfair people were to him, how unfair God was to him.  On and on Job complained until one day God reached his breaking point.  From heaven God bellowed, “How dare you question me, you have no idea what I have done for you.” (paraphrasing from memory)

Now, in all fairness, I have not read this passage since that high school class 22 years ago. And, as stated before, I am not a biblical expert by any stretch of the imagination.  But, I do remember God’s reply to Job’s complaint and is has stuck with me.  (If you are familiar with this story and I have completely messed it up, please do not ruin my memory of it by correcting me.  It has been a foundation for much of my spiritual thinking.)

I have been thinking of this story a lot lately.  Instead of just complaining to God, I have recently been complaining to “life, the universe, the goddess, the higher being, God, Mary,” whoever will listen to me complain.  I don’t have enough money, I can’t find love, I can’t afford my house without roommates, I’m not happy or fulfilled in my career, I’m not happy or fulfilled in my life.  And on and on.  I am the whiny Job of the story.  I can’t even stand to hear my self speak or think sometimes.

But, Karma, life, the universe, the goddess, the higher being, God, Mary, whoever has been listening always finds a way to kick me in the ass and bellow out to me, “How dare you question me, you have no idea what I have done for you.”  This is often shown to me through my students.  Working in a lower income school I am shown what true suffering can look like. The child that does not eat on weekends because they’re parents can’t afford food for the family.  The 12 year old girl who hasn’t showered in days because the water and electricity were turned off because her mother couldn’t afford the bills.  The 14 year old boy who practically raises his little brother and sister because his mother passed away three years ago and his father works every single night to try to feed the family.  Or, the 11 year old girl whose step father sold her to a man for his sexual perversions.

These children have suffered in more ways in their young lives then I could ever imagine.  I cannot even fathomed what they have lived through in the short time they’ve been on this planet.  Karma is right, how dare I.  I have a house, I have a car, I have a job, I have a family and friends that love me, I have my health and when I don’t I can go see a doctor to get myself better.  I have an amazing life.  This is the story that pops into my head every single time I start to feel sorry for myself.

When I first heard this story, I remember, at 16 years old, how mean I thought God was.  As I have grown and meditated I have realized it wasn’t God I should have been taking issue with, it was the selfishness of Job.  From time to time it is good to have life kick us in the ass and remind us, “How dare you question me, you have no idea what I have done for you.”

Take a look around you.  Recognize the multitude of things life has provided for you.  And when selfishness rears it’s ugly head, shout out to it, “How dare you!”

Transitions

Changes are a constant in life.  Some are very welcome, like a better job, a new relationship, a new child.  Some are not welcome at all, the end of relationship, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one.  Each of these changes are nothing more than a transition in our lives.

I am a firm believer in the power of the universe.  The cliche of, “when one door closes another opens” is an adage I subscribe to.  If the loss of a job is viewed appropriately, you will see that you have been given the opportunity to find a better job.  When I lost my job with Disney, I thought for sure I would never recover.  I literally felt it was the end of my world.  Then, out of the blue, a friend of mine called and asked if I had any interest in leaving Disney to work in education.  Did I?  It was an answer to many many prayers.  My degree is in education so it was the perfect transition for me.  I wasn’t even out of work for a week before I began teaching.  That was almost a decade ago.  And though I have not always been 100% happy, I can definitely say I found a job that I am very good, where I make a difference in kids’ lives.

The transitions that are hardest for us to understand and embrace are the loss of a relationship or the death of a loved on.  There are many relationships that transition from one form to another each second of each day.  The transition of friendship to romantic love, the transition of stranger to friend, the transition from romantic love to friendship, and the transition of romantic love to no relationship at all.  Some of these transitions are joyous and some are painful and torturous.  But each transition is a growing experience.  We often see breakups as a negative gut wrenching experience.  And having been through many break-ups, I speak from experience.  They are painful.  You wonder what is wrong with you, why you are unlovable, why no one wants you.  These are not the thoughts to ponder.  Every experience in life, every person we meet teaches us valuable lessons.  Our choice is to decide, are we going to learn the lessons or are we going to dwell on the negative aspects of the transition?

As my current relationship is embroiled in the throes of transition, this idea became a stark reality.  Can a transition be made smoothly?  Does a transition need to be made (often this choice isn’t ours…it is made for us)? Can I accept what the relationship might transition to? More importantly, can he?  Can he see the positives of transition?  For that matter, can I see those positives?  But again, transitions occur constantly in life; change is constant.  We will both survive and grow and thrive from whatever transitions life offers.  But it is difficult to see the forest through the thicket of trees we are currently lost in.

Of course, relationship transitions are nothing compared to life’s greatest transition, death. Death, is the ultimate transition.  We fear death as the unknown.  I have been afraid of dying most of my life.  That is until I began re-examining the roots of my fears.  These fears became muted when my father began taking me to Cassdega, Florida.  I met many kind and wonderful psychics and mediums.  Here they commune with those who have passed on.  With their help I realized that death was the next great adventure.  Unknown, yes, but an adventure none the less.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not ready for death, I don’t plan to embark on this adventure for quite a number of years, but I am no longer scared of it.

The other side of this fear comes from losing those you love.  As my parents grow older, I fear the loss of their presence here on this plane.  Both of my parents are healthy and vibrant people, but the thoughts do still pervade my psyche.  I am not ready for them to leave me.  And that is where fear takes its grip.  What will it be like without them?  How will it feel when I can’t visit them, talk to them on the phone, or hug them?  I will be ready to face the challenge of this transition when the time approaches.  For the time being, I do not relish the idea, and each day I pray for their continued good health and long life.

These fears have become more real for me recently as my uncle’s partner has been facing her own mortality.  She was a strong vibrant woman that cancer has wasted way.  I worry about her, my uncle, my cousin, and my mother who have all taken on her daily care.  The transition has been painful and stressful for all.  I remember when my grandfather passed away, after nine years of suffering from the aftermath of several strokes.  Many people, including my grandmother, felt he was finally at peace.  That is the opposite of our fears.  Knowing that someone has suffered makes death appear as a blessing for some.  For others it sparks anger and even more fear.  As with all transitions, it is the way you view it, and the positive or negative energy you attribute to it.

Thich Nhat Hanh has written many great books, but one of my favorites is, “No Death, No Fear”.  It is an amazing book that helped open my eyes to death, and more importantly, all of life’s transitions.  Begin to see these transitions for the positive changes that they are.  Embrace transition, no matter how scared you are.  Open your mind and your heart to the possibilities.

Namasté
Matthew