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

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

The Lesson of Pain

I have recently been ruminating on the idea of pain; both physical and emotional.  Prior to the new year I started running.  In the beginning, and to a certain extent even now, it was painful.  My knees, my shins, my calves, my thighs.  I also felt the pain of my lungs as they struggled for air the longer my stints of running grew.  I remember hearing, when I started going to the gym several months ago, “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  I would ironically quote this to my workout partner numerous times throughout each of our sessions. He, however, liked the quote and used it often in the most sincere manner. Then, as we both began to use the phrase more often it began to percolate.

Pain, both physical and mental can initiate spiritual growth.  As I feel my physical pain I become very mindful of how it makes me feel.  The part that makes me most aware is the pain I feel as I try to breathe.  As someone who meditates and does yoga I have grown more keenly aware of my breath as it passes in and out of my body.  The more and more I focus on getting my breath into my lungs, into the part of me that were hurting physically the easier the running becomes.  Breathe into the pain.  It is the perfect solution.

As for the emotional pain, I recently ended a relationship with someone I have cared about for several years.  We haven’t dated in almost a year and a half but we have remained friends and intimates in that time.  I was not emotionally prepared for him to move on and begin seeing someone else.  Don’t get me wrong, deep down I know it’s the right thing and needed to happen.  He needed to move on and I needed to let go.  But, when the truth finally came out it was like a kick to the stomach.  The wind was completely knocked out of me.  I remember thinking, “why are you surprised, you’ve suspected this for a while now.”  That doesn’t help soften the blow when your suspicions are confirmed.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time I was hurt in the name of love (or should I say my expectations of what love is supposed to be – love does not hurt).  I was recently drawn back to the song Try To Remember from the Broadway musical The Fantastiks. My favorite line in the entire song is, “…it’s nice to remember, without a hurt the heart is hollow.”  This led me back to the idea that pain is often the greatest catalyst to spiritual growth.  Growth comes when we are still willing to open our hearts to love even when we still feel the raw pain of our failed love attempts.

Physical and emotional pain feel very different to each of us.  But, I find I combat the pain in exactly the same manner.  After completely cutting off the person I have loved for quite some time I was reeling and struggling to breathe.  Just as though I were running. Then, I began to breathe into the pain.  The pain in my heart, the pain in my mind, the pain I was feeling in my deepest recesses.  At first the breaths were shallow, but with each in breath and out breath I knew I could breathe more deeply, fill my body with the healing breaths. And it began to work.  I felt the immediate sting die away.  I felt the peace coming back to my mind.  Such great advice, breathe into the pain.

This does not end pain completely, after all, pain is weakness leaving the body.  It does though offer us a way to dull the pain, embrace the pain, work with the pain, and grow from it.  That is the lesson of pain; grow from it or be devoured by it.

Namasté
Matthew

Lighten Up Your Resolutions

I’ve never been one for making New Year’s resolutions.  I didn’t bother because I knew I would just wind up breaking them.  Resolutions tend to be large grandios dreams of what we would like to accomplish.  They become so inflated and detailed that we don’t follow through on them.

This year I will stick with my resolution of not making resolutions. I will, however, take heed of how I will continue to develop myself mentally, physically, and spiritually.  These are my areas of mindful determined improvement:

1) Writing – I love to write, but I don’t do nearly enough of it.  My favorite yoga teacher, Lezlie Laws, writes in her blog that artistic time should be scheduled regularly.  One of my favorite posts of hers discussed the widely held assumption that artists shouldn’t be hampered by schedules and time tables.  I don’t know about you, but I work better when my time, whether artistic, personal, or professional, is meted out for the most efficient outcomes.  I will not schedule myself to the point of impossibility.  I will layout a reachable goal that will allow a strong writing habit to be formed and nurtured.  I have many writing objectives I’d like to meet, but I will start small and build from there.

2) Physical activity – I am working to lose weight and get my health under control.  Of late, I have complained about aching knees, acid reflux, migraines, and myriad other ailments. Some of these come from work stress, but just as much comes from being over weight and out of shape.  So, last week I began taking matters into my own hands.  I began the Couch to 5K training.  My first few sessions have gone better than I hoped for.  It was quite a pleasant surprise.  But, unlike most resolutions, I did not set a lofty unattainable goal for myself when it comes to adding physical activity into my life.  I HATE going to the gym, I feel self-conscious and lost.  I do, however, enjoy walking around the downtown area.  I’ve been doing that already for the past few weeks.  So, why not add in some running?  I’ve always said I would only run if a murderous clown was chasing me, but the Couch to 5K training app has really put things into perspective for me.  I have also been lucky enough to have a great group of friends go out running with me.  Just last night five of us went out running together in our own little running club.  It made the 30 minute session fly by.  Having these valuable assists along the way is helping build a habit quickly. I’ve also set a goal to run my first 5K in March.  This will help me stick with it.

3) Spiritual growth – Today I began 2015 with an hour yoga session followed by 30 minutes of meditation at my favorite yoga studio.  For me, yoga has always been a form of physical meditation.  The asanas and focused breathing allow me to remain mindful and present.  Following this with quiet, contemplative meditation was just an added New Year’s bonus.  Meditation is vitally important to me.  It is also the task I often allow to fall by the wayside.  As I mentioned in another recent post I frequently make the excuse of not having enough time.  As I’ve told you before one of my favorite Zen proverbs is, “you should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time, then you should meditate for an hour.”  Daily meditation is a goal I am setting for myself this new year.  I will not force myself into a certain time of day, but I will build it into my schedule the way I will build in my writing.

What resolutions will you parse out and whittle down from the grandios pie-in-the-sky dreams to manageable obtainable goals and habits?  Start your new year off right.  Set yourself up for positive self-improvement.

Namasté
Matthew

Spiritual Rock Bottom

Off and on for a while I’ve wondered if I can truly have a deep, great, spiritual connection with the divine creator.  Can I connect to my spiritual needs and desires?  My fear has been, recently, that since I have not had a time where I have hit rock bottom, I can’t truly recognize spiritual growth.

Let me first say, I am truly grateful for the life I live.  I am in no way complaining that I haven’t hit rock bottom.  I have had many amazing people in my life that have ensured I do not have to make the long painful journey of recovering my life from the bowels of heartbreak and struggle.  I have had bumps in the road, tough times, but nothing compared to what many have experienced in the way of pain.  For that, again, I am abundantly grateful.

With that being said, many spiritual teachers have said we are most open to spiritual growth as we recover from our lives crashing down around us.  As I’ve pondered this recently I’ve come to believe that we truly don’t need to hit those low points in our lives to become great spiritual seekers.  All we need is compassion, love, and openness.

We live in a connected digital world.  We can find any story on any subject within seconds. And for many, there is a morbid fascination with the suffering of others.  Schadenfreude, as the Germans have coined it.  Though I do not find happiness in others’ misfortunes, I can find the spark of spiritual growth.  I can find my compassion, I can find my love, I can find my openness, my gratitude in these painful, heart-wrenching stories that are no longer miles away but are a part of my spiritual psyche.  They cannot be ignored.  How can I help?  How can I make this world a better place?  How can I expand my love, compassion, and kindness to ensure there are less and less of these rock bottom moments in the world? That is the true definition of deep spiritual practice.

So, when, like me, you begin to wonder what you can do to deepen your spiritual practice, follow this advice: meditate on how you can expand your love, compassion, kindness, and gratitude into a world that so desperately needs them.

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.

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

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

 

I’m Homophobic (About Myself)

I have a fear.  I’ve only really mentioned it to a few people.  I am homophobic.

Let me clarify what I mean by this.  I am homophobic of my own homosexuality.  I recently watched myself in a video and I caught myself cringing at the things I was doing.  My voice is high and “feminine.”  My mannerism are über gay.  I even half joked with a colleague that there was no way, after watching this video, that anyone would EVER mistake me for straight.

In the last ten years people have compared me to Nathan Lane’s character in the Bird Cage, Jack from Will and Grace (though I’m not that shallow), and Cam from Modern Family.  This comparison is always followed with, “they always make me smile,” or “they make me so happy, like you do.”  It is never said to me maliciously.  The comparison is always made as a compliment.  And, more often than not, I take it as such.  I like making people laugh and smile, and I love knowing I bring them some form of happiness.

My homophobia (which is reserved and aimed exclusively at me) is most evident at work.  I have always believed that in life we actually never leave middle school.  We tend to group together in cliques much like we did in middle school.  We talk about others and stir up drama, just as our younger versions did.  Which is why, I think, working in a middle school has brought this feeling to the forefront.

Now, to be fair, in my life I have suffered little from homophobia directed toward me.  In high school the captain of the basketball team tried to throw my from the second floor of my school yelling, “faggot” the entire time.  I was called, “the little faggot” by an administrator at the first high school I taught in.  And, most recently I had a parent e-mail me that he does not approve of my “lifestyle.”  Beyond that, even growing up in a small town, I was pretty lucky.  My mother, like all protective parents, used to tell me to sit on my hands when I talked or to try to speak in a lower tone so people wouldn’t think I was gay. But, I know her concern came from that place all mothers fear; the pain that their children might suffer.

I’m not sure which of these issues, or more likely all of them combined, caused my inner homophobia.  In most aspects of my life, the fact that I’m a “flaming homosexual” is joyfully embraced.  The only time I hate myself for it is when I think a student will be malicious enough to call me a “fag.”  This epithet has been hurled at me by many students over my ten years of teaching.  When kids get angry their first thought is to lash out, and when it’s aimed at me, it is usually, “faggot” or “fag.”  The “clever” little ones even came up with the nickname, “Mr. Cava-queer.”  The first time this happened it was like a kick in the stomach.  Thoughts reeled through my head.  “How did they know?” “How can they be so cruel?” “What’s wrong with being gay?”

I was indignant.  I wanted the child who dared use such a term toward me thrown out of school.  How dare they?  Disappointment led to anger.  I was pulled into my administrator’s office (not the same administrator that called me “the little faggot”) and they talked me down from the ledge.  They also gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten, but that, unbeknownst to them, cemented my inner homophobia even further.  I was told that I need to keep these incidences much calmer because even though my administrator would back me up 100%, they would never be able to protect me if a parent came in complaining about the “faggot” teacher.  I was told that homophobia was the last acceptable bigotry in the education field.

Even today, that sticks with me.  When I can see a student getting angry I often prepare myself for the “fag” remark to be flung out.  I know I should not allow the hateful words of an eleven year old to get to me.  Nor should I live my life ever believing that there is something wrong with being gay.  I am amazing just as I am.  Each day I remind myself of that.  But each day I also tense up with the fear.  This is definitely a personal issue I am constantly working on.  I have come a LONG way since the scared high schooler being shoved by a star athlete, but I have a long way to go before I stop feeling bullied by the thoughts of an eleven year old.

I know this may make me seem weak. But, I believe that admitting this is a strength.  And the fact that I still do my job and what I believe is best for my students, even though I fear what they might say, is another sign of strength.  Each year, each month, each day, and with each student I get better at accepting and being proud of who I am.  And each time I can accomplish that pride my hope is that it encourages gay students to accept, with pride, who they are.  To not allow homophobia to settle in their souls.  If sharing my pain and fear makes even one person stronger then I have made this world a better place. Spread only love and love will return to you.

Namasté
Matthew