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.

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

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

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

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

 

That Little Push

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This is my camera and tripod all set up ready to film my first video entry for my blog. The only problem is, I keep talking myself out of it.

The whole purpose of the video entry is to completely push me out of my comfort zone. I’ve filmed a few test entries, just to get placement of camera set up, but I can’t bring myself to actually make the video.

I’ve been obsessively watching YouTubers whose entire careers have been made making videos. They are young, attractive, and energetic. They talk about their lives and dish gossip. I watch them and marvel at the ease they have in doing this. My inner critic won’t allow me to let go. So, this is to push me to let go. I want to have their energy and excitement, but I don’t want to focus on the trivial things they do (I’m not in anyway judging them, but at times they are a bit too self-absorbed for my tastes). I want my blog, my words, and hopefully my videos to mean something to people.

That’s why I’m posting this now. To push myself. I’m letting my followers know that I’m going to do this; so now, I have to. Wish me luck.

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

Time To Embrace My “Right View”

I believe this quote should be my life motto.  Well, at least my dating life.

I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.

– Byron Katie

I have a poster hanging in the back of my classroom with the Buddhist Eight Fold Path printed on it.  The first step on the poster is “Right View.”  When I teach Buddhism and the Eight Fold Path to my students as part of the curriculum for ancient India and China, I tell my students that “Right View” is all about seeing and accepting the world as it truly is at that moment.  This quote speaks directly to “Right View.”  Seeing and accepting things as they are at the present moment.

Now, before you start rolling your eyes or asking me about changing your lot in life, that is not what I’m referring to.  I can discuss that in a later post.  Even if you do want to change your life for the better, the first step is to recognize where you are now and own it.

With that being said, I am really quite good at seeing life as it is at this moment.  My issue comes with accepting it as it is.  I see that I am 38 years old. But, I don’t feel 38, I don’t look 38, and I don’t act like many 38 year olds I know.  The worst comes with my dating life.  I look for younger guys that are skinny and (in my eyes) attractive.  And, I have had quite a few that found me intriguing and attractive in return.  This wouldn’t be such an issue if the reality of 38 was a fact that I accepted.  Often, when younger guys learn my age, even if we’ve hit it it off, things abruptly end.  Or, I often realize, too late, that our match was purely based on physical attractiveness (yes, I know it should have been obvious).  Mentally I feel 23, so what’s the problem with dating a 22 year old?

At this point you may be ready to throw a barrage of comments my way about the appropriateness of dating in my age range.  I promise, I’ve heard it all before.  As I’ve said, I see my reality, my issue is accepting it.  I know in my head that younger guys aren’t ready for what I want, even if they profess that they are.  I’m ready for a partnership, stability, and as one friend’s mother called it, my “forever friend.”  I know that I have a better likelihood of winning the MegaBall jackpot that I do of finding what I want with someone nearly half my age.  (I don’t even play the lottery.)

As we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Well, I’m here to tell you that I am insane according to Einstein’s definition.  It’s literally like I can’t help myself.  The Law of Attraction states that we are drawn to what we focus our minds upon.  Likewise, those things are drawn to us. So, it’s easy to get lost in reality when I look for younger and younger is placed in front of me.  I have to admit though, my head is hurting from all of the banging it does against the wall of frustration this insanity builds.

The time has come for me to work on the acceptance part of “Right View.”  I know I am 38, now it’s time for me to accept that fact.  I know I am barking up the wrong love tree.  It’s time for this 38 year old dog to accept he needs to change trees.  Love is…there waiting for me.  Life is great and I am ready to live it with the full recognition and acceptance of who I am.  I am ready to move forward minus the baggage of insanity I have been dragging with me for years.  I am ready to accept my “Right View” of life.

Oh yeah, one last question…does anyone know how I begin?

Namaste
Matthew