Be Always In The Arena

It is not the critic

 

Theodore Roosevelt has long been a hero of mine.  But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered this quote.  Over the years I have heard it in bits and pieces, but have never known the true power of the words until I heard Dr. Brené Brown speak on Super Soul Sunday.  The title of her latest book, Daring Greatly, comes from this quote.

My intent, however, is not to rehash her book, it is to question my own absence from the arena.  For the longest time I have stood by and watched others live the life they dream.  I have questioned their choices, given advice (whether is was solicited or not), and made judgements.  I would do this with family, friends, strangers, it didn’t matter.  All the while I comfortably stood outside of the arena, never stepping in.

Growing up the only thing I ever wanted was to be on stage.  I dreamed of being on Broadway.  Singing and wowing audiences with my voice (let’s not even get started on the ego involved here).  I would audition, even though I was petrified of failure.  I spent most of my high school years living inside my local theatre.  When it was time for college I auditioned and was accepted to several colleges for musical theatre.  My dream school; NYU accepted me.  But, fear of debt and ultimate failure kept me from going.  I wound up in a wonderful program at a small school in North Carolina, Catawba College.  I auditioned, performed in shows, won accolades, trained and rehearsed.  After two years it was no longer financially feasible to attend.  I transferred to Florida State University and stepped out of the musical theatre arena permanently.  To this day it is my greatest regret.

My latest passion has been writing.  Full disclosure: I’d love to find a way to do it as my full time job.  But, I do not dare step into that arena.  How could I?  I have bills, I have debt, I have a house.  What would people think?  What would they say about this decision?  How could I really earn a living at writing?  So, I stay on the outside of the arena.  Convinced of failure but never fully investing in a new and daring dream.

I do not dare greatly.  I do not stand proud with a face caked in dust and sweat and blood.  I am not a man Theodore Roosevelt, my hero, would be proud of.

The day has come to step into the arena.  I will screw my courage to the sticking place.  I will brave the ridicule and judgement, whether it’s from others or from my own inner critic. No longer can I stand on the outside looking in.  I must launch myself into the arena and find my happiness, live my passion, and fulfill my dreams.

Take my hand and step into the arena with me.  We can go together.  Courage is greater when we have each other to depend on.  Join me here.

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

 

Love is…

Love comes in many forms. At times we do not recognize it. We feel as though it is hiding from us. But Love does not hide. It does not disguise itself. Love is always open, always available, always reaching for us.  Often we are the ones running in the complete opposite direction, away from Love’s embrace.  We scream and shout, “Love, where are you?  Why have you forgotten me?  Why do you not find me worthy of your presence?”

The irony of our plight is the simplicity of the solution.  Instead of running around shouting for Love to find us all we truly need to do is stop; be silent, present, and still.  Love will always find us no matter how far we run, how complicated we make things, Love will be there.  It will hold us in its warm embrace, as mothers have held their children for eons.  It will shelter us against the storm as husbands and wives have protected each other through the ages.  It will rejoice with us as new lovers have celebrated each charged moment of the fledgling passion.

Love is kind.
Love is gentle.
Love is eternal.
Love is daring.
Love is passionate.
Love is soothing.
Love is new.
Love is ancient.

But Love is never callous, never vengeful, never hurtful.  Do not blame Love for your pain, Love cannot cause heartache.  It is only our mistakes, our misjudgments, our lack of faith in the all encompassing Love that leads to devastation.  Love fights for us, never with us.

Stop running.  Stop screaming.  Stop searching.  Stand still.  Be silent.  Be mindful.  Love is ready to find you.  Here it is!

Discipline

I have come to realize recently that I have no discipline.  I take on so many tasks and hobbies thinking I will love them and they all peter out.  I’m so gung-ho but have no follow-thru.  I don’t know if it’s that I lose complete interest or if it just loses the “fun” for me.  I think if I knew the answer to that I’d have a better understanding of why I can’t hold on to my infatuation with a new ambition.

I have had three major undertakings of my life fizzle out in 2013.  I began the year with a subscription to Rosetta Stone online.  I was determined to learn Italian.  I’m still determined to learn it; how, I’m not sure since I rarely go on the site anymore.  It began as a grandiose dream to one day reside in Italy.  I’ve had this dream for years, since I first saw the movie, “Under the Tuscan Sun.”  I have devoured every travelogue about Italy I can get my hands on.  It is my favorite subject.  I even had hopes of moving to Italy this year for work, but that fell through.  I sat with that disappointment and saw my desire to learn Italian diminish.

That’s not a fair statement.  My desire to learn is still quite alive.  My desire to do the work that goes along with it has diminished.  I’ve begun to think of myself as lazy or possibly incapable of actually following through with something, no matter how much I love it.  I end relationships, I stop my healthy eating and living, I have faltered in my writing, all but extinguished my yoga practice, fell behind on my ambitions to be a stronger teacher.  To me this all leads back to my lack of discipline.

What is worse I overwhelm myself with disappointment over my fall from each of the pedestals I’ve placed myself upon.  I began this blog and had so many hopes for what it would become.  I started like gang busters.  A post written every two days.  Then it was once a week.  Once a month.  Now I have to talk myself into writing.  I still have ideas.  I still want to write.  But the thought of actually doing it depresses me.  It’s the same with yoga.  I began practicing yoga 3-5 times a week.  I lived for it.  When I had a bad day yoga was there to pull me up.  The yoga transitioned me into my Buddhism.  Now?  The last time I was at yoga was 6 weeks ago.  The desire to go is there; the will to actually get off my ass and do it…poof…disappeared.

My meditation practice has fallen away as well.  I used to sit daily for 20-30 minutes.  Now, I just light the candle on my alter and nothing.  Yoga was my meditation.  Sitting before my alter was my meditation.  Now, I have nothing.

I have been on medication for anxiety and depression for a few years now. It’s nothing I’m ashamed of, it was a conscious choice my doctor and I made together.  My depression wasn’t debilitating it was more that I couldn’t get my mind off the depressing thoughts.  I have been much better since taking it.  But I often wonder if this lack of discipline is more rooted in my ongoing battle with depression than it is with my inability to follow through with my passions.

I wanted desperately to perform on broadway, to live in Italy, to be a writer, to follow my creative passions.  Every single time I’ve been thwarted by my own apathy.  But the secret here is, I’m not apathetic.  I am paralyzed.  Paralyzed that I will fail, paralyzed that I’m not any good, paralyzed that I will succeed and fizzle out.  These racing thoughts are what the medication is supposed to help counteract.  It doesn’t always.  So, I rely on my mindfulness to help.  Then the catch, I’m not practicing my mindfulness anymore.  I’m faking my way through my own life.  How do I get off this roller coaster and take my life back?

I have made so many lists for my New Year’s resolutions.  They were becoming overwhelming.  But I have dwindled it all down to one.  My resolution this year is to regain my discipline.  I am going to take control again.  Fear and depression will not stop me.  I don’t want to be held back anymore.

Just writing those words gives me a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.  My inner critic starts chattering away about my past failures.  It is telling me I can’t.  “You will fail.”  “You have failed.”  “You are a failure.”  My inner passion must gain the upper hand here.  My confidence must win out.  That is my goal.  That is my drive.  That is my discipline.

Bring on 2014.  I’m ready.
Namaste
Matthew

What Scares You?

What scares you?  I don’t mean the things that go bump in the night (though I readily admit they scare me). I want to know what scares you.  What makes you say, “I’m not going to try that, what if it doesn’t work.”  “I can’t do that, what if I fail?”

When I teach lessons in class many of my students, when they are exploring a concept, will ask, “What if…” questions.  “What if I do this…?” “What is she does that…?”  I tell my students, “I don’t deal in ‘What If’s.”  This should become our motto when it comes to fear. No more “What If” scenarios.  Stand proudly and tell yourself, “I don’t deal in ‘What If’s’!”

Now, making that our motto and actually living our life that way are two completely different things.  I have many fears that have stood in the way of my happiness.  Growing up I wanted to perform.  I loved being in front of an audience.  I practically lived at our local civic theatre when I was in high school.  My first two years in college were devoted to musical theatre as my major.  Then, after some financial concerns I moved back to Florida and attended Florida State University.  I was accepted in their vocal performance major and was on the path into their musical theatre program.  It was then that my inner critic began to take hold.  “What if you can’t ever find a job?”  “What if everyone laughs at you?”  “What if they see what a horrible dancer you are?”  “What if you have absolutely no talent?”

I’m sad to say I let my inner critic win.  I am scared of performing now.  I have “What if-ed” myself into a fear of performing.  I used to have no greater pleasure than singing up on stage.  I loved the thrill of the audience’s applause, belting a tune, and holding that final note.  Now, my greatest performances come in front of a group of eleven year olds.  I tell myself that I took the more noble path, that educating children, our future, is far more rewarding than performing.  I try to convince myself that I have let go of my ego by choosing the life I currently lead.  But, that is complete bullshit and I know it.  But, if I keep repeating it, maybe one day, I won’t feel like I’ve cheated myself out of the life I dreamed of.

Once I let the idea of performing go, after listening to my inner critic, more fears began creeping in.  My most crippling one now if the fear of being “talked about.”  It’s that idea of not being able to control the situation.  At times it is crippling for me.  I try not to show the fear.  I hate walking into the cafeteria at my school because I’m convinced that the group of children that are laughing are laughing at me (I recognize the giant ego at play to assume everyone it talking about me).  At times I will allow infractions to pass because I don’t want a student to call me the word I live in true fear of being called, “FAG!” I have been called fag many times by students.  I’m sure I will be called fag many more. But, it has become so derogatory a term that I can’t get beyond it when it happens.  I’m taken back to my middle school and high school days when it was a popular epithet hurled at me by closed minded, small town boys.  And believe me, I am completely aware that the middle schoolers that call me that now hold absolutely no power over me.  And part of me wants to respond, “ddduuuuuuhhhhhhh!” But it is still painful.  And pain is often accompanied by fear.  We begin to fear the pain so much that it breathes new life into the the very object that should hold no power.

This is not to say that I allow this fear to win.  I conquer it every day I walk into the school house.  It is why I have perfected a “hard ass” persona with my students.  They know I don’t take crap.  But deep down that fear lingers and grips me with it’s cold powerful hands.  I will not allow it to win.  I will not allow any fear to ruin my happiness again.

I have a new dream now.  I want to travel and write.  My inner critic has talked me out of this many times over the recent years.  But no more.  I’m going to push ahead with it.  This blog is just the start.  I will not be taken hostage by fear again.  It is no longer a matter of, “what if I fail?”  Now, I stand strong and say, “I DO NOT DEAL IN WHAT IF!”  Each morning I repeat my affirmation, “I am a prosperous and successful writer.”  Though affirmations may not work for everyone, they are powerful to me.  Find where you can draw power.  Do one thing each day that scares you.  Even if it’s as simple as walking into that cafeteria with your head held high.  Don’t live a life of “What If!”  Stand up now, own your dreams.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Namasté
Matthew

How Do You Do It?

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine.  We were discussing how we were both feeling overwhelmed by our personal and professional obligations.  My friend is a passionate educator and a devoted wife and mother.  She juggles her theatre students, shows, her son’s theatre schedule, and her other son’s soccer schedule.  She and her husband have been together since high school.  And through all the storms of life, she makes it seem so simple.  And that observation will drive her crazy.  She related to me, while we spoke, that it frustrates her to no end when people ask her, “how do you do it?” Her polite reply is always, “I wish I knew.”  Her interior monologue is, “what the fuck are you talking about?  I’m barely holding on to my sanity!”

 

Cover of "The Invitation"

Cover of The Invitation

These feelings she shared remind me of an excerpt from the book, “The Invitation” by Oriah. In the book she says, “It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.  I want to know if you can get up, after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.”  This is an extremely powerful statement.  Can you?  Have you? Will you?

 

Often we are completely unaware of how we keep going.  We walk through our pain and grief, and despair much like Jacob Marley, weighed down by the chains we have forged in our lives.  The honest truth is I rarely know how I make it through the tough times.  My last major heartache I survived with anti-depressants, alcohol, and a violent temper that ignited far more often that I am even comfortable thinking about.  I am not proud of that time in my life.  And I know we all have those moments that we think back upon and hang our head in disgrace.  But each of these moments is an opportunity to build on our mindfulness to deal with the next moment.  Every pain, every heartache that we suffer is the key we can use to unlock our genuine selves.  Each of these moments in which we wonder how we do it, how we make it through, holds the answer to that very question.  Are we brave enough to look to see the answer?

Some times that answer may be as simple as FDR’s advice, “if you have reached the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”  All you may be able to do in those moments is will yourself to place one foot in front of the other and keep moving through your life.  But, it is the courage to take one more step that makes all the difference.

In her book, Oriah also wonders, “It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.  I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.  I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.”  Those times that overwhelm us, those times that kick us in the face and laugh as we lie crying on the floor, those moments where we just don’t think we can go on; how have we faced them?  Is it straight on with bravery, compassion, and love?  Or, is it like a zombie that cannot feel pain because it isn’t truly alive?  Or do we face this life filled with anger and resentment?  Acknowledging our true coping skills is the first step.

I readily admit that my ability to face the toughest parts of life with bravery are far less frequent than my zombie approach or worse my anger.  But, as I consciously work to improve myself I find that love and compassion move in more quickly to take the place of the resentment.  I by no means have all the answers.  I often wonder how I have the nerve to write some of the things I write, when I clearly do not have my shit together.  But it is a start, it is a hope, it is a fervent passion to change myself that keeps me moving forward.

I wish for each of us the ability to face our toughest moments with love and compassion. That does not mean we don’t feel pain, heartache, or despair.  It means we can sit with that pain and move forward with a lighter heart.

Namasté
Matthew

 

Our Own Worst Enemy

Growing up I always wanted to be a performer. This led me to become a musical theatre major at Catawba College and later at FSU, where I also spent some time as a vocal performance major. I love performing (well singing). But I gave up that dream to pursue the safe route of being a teacher. I began listening to the voices in my head that said I’d never make it to Broadway (my ultimate dream, one I still secretly hold) or make any money performing. When I switched majors and entered the Education department at Florida State I convinced myself that I could still perform.  I even went so far as to tell myself that I could teach drama and still have the best of both worlds.

Fifteen years later I am teaching World History to 11 year olds and the last time I sang in public was for my uncle’s funeral five years ago.  Prior to that was my brother’s wedding. The only places I perform are family functions.  What is key to remember here is that I did this to myself. The person that held me back is me. No one else can be blamed for this, though I have tried.  In the beginning I blamed my mother who planted the seeds of doubt about surviving as an actor.  I blamed college professors that told me that tenors are a dime a dozen in New York and that they’re all working in restaurants as servers. In recent years I have worked several times as a production assistant for a friend that is a casting director for broadway and movies.  This cemented my own doubts to completely shut off any chance to perform. I love working for this particular friend and I love being involved in the casting process. But, I kept telling myself, “I’m not good like these people.” “Broadway requires dancing, you have no rhythm.” I had numerous excuses.
 
I fully admit that part of my issue is a deep seated laziness that as I approach forty is beginning to finally dissipate.  However, much of my problem has been believing my own negative PR that my inner critic has been spouting to me since I was little. Thanks to myself I fear rejection, I fear being laughed at, I fear the possibility of even minor success.
 
What I have discovered recently is, I’m not alone in this self sabotage. We are our own worst enemies. Each day I receive a daily dose of Buddhism from, Big Happy Buddha. It is a quote from a guru, or monk, or nun, or even from the Buddha himself. These are great quotes I enjoy pondering.  But what I love most is the tag on all of the e-mails I receive from them, “What you think upon grows.” I have learned that the hard way, as I look back on my life.  The key now, what do I do with this information. How do I convert this lesson to improve my “life unlived”?
 
Don’t get me wrong, I have made amazing friends, I have loved, I have a fulfilling personal life. I am also finding fulfillment in my life as a teacher, and now as a writer. Dreams do change. But they should not change as a result of doubt. They should not shift because of fear. We often think that we cannot pursue dreams we find unobtainable. We convince ourselves of their impossibility. In high school my favorite teacher often quoted Robert Browning, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a heaven for?” Our hopes and dreams should exceed our capabilities. We must work for the attainment of our happiness. Laziness, doubt, and fear are the enemies of our dreams. Fight each day against them. Rally the forces of your own determination. Fight the good fight. Live the good life chasing your dreams. As Joseph Campbell often said, and I have often quoted here, “Follow your bliss.”
 
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 Block

Much like writers block, I have recently been suffering from yoga block.  That feeling like I’m stuck, I can’t do my practice.  For months I’ve been finding reasons not to go to yoga.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love yoga deeply.  It is still a great driving force in my life.  As a matter of fact I’m working in a summer camp for middle school students and each day I start off by teaching a group of anywhere from 15-40 students yoga.  We work for 45 minutes first thing in the morning.  At the start of the program the students hated yoga.  They complained and whined the entire time; through every pose.  By the fourth day of the camp they were hooked.  Now students fight to get into the yoga program.  This excitement I see in them, as they beg to assist me in teaching, has grounded me more firmly in my love for yoga.  But still I wonder; why do I miss so many of my yoga classes?

I have been attending College Park Yoga in Orlando, FL for almost two years now.  There are amazing teachers and caring students that attend.  The first time I walked in the studio with my best friend I knew I’d found a home.  When I first began practicing I attended 3-5 times a week.  At the time I was 60 pounds over weight and I was depressed on a pretty consistent basis.  I could not comfortably do many of the poses but I didn’t let that stop me.  I’d show up and do my practice and each time it got a little easier.  My yoga instructors encouraged me, pushed me, and found ways to help me expand my abilities.  Within 8 months I’d lost 40 pounds and rarely suffered the depression that had been plaguing me.  Yoga literally saved me.  To this day I’m not sure Lezlie, Linda, Calvin, or Theresa (my yoga instructors) know how much their time and love has meant to me.

So, knowing these things I couldn’t understand why about 3 or 4 months ago I just stopped going to class.  I went two months without going to CPY and I rarely sat on my mat.  Before this I couldn’t imagine missing a class. What was holding me back?  I would find excuse after excuse not to go.  I would tell myself when I awoke in the mornings, “tonight is yoga, I have to go.”  By the time I made it home I would crawl into bed, take a nap and wake up too late to make dinner and get to class.

It wasn’t until I felt the need to go back to my doctor to refill my anti-depressants and I felt my old habits of anger surging back that I realized how much I needed to get my yoga practice back on track.  I knew it was bad when I got into a shouting match with an 11 year old, in class.  This verbal altercation ended with a figurative punch in the gut when the student stormed out of class, turned to me before he left and said, “real mature.”  I knew I had to get back on my yoga mat, ASAP.  Nothing like an 11 year old giving you a harsh reality check.  I didn’t realize how important yoga had become until it was gone.

English: Zen Habits Logo

English: Zen Habits Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stumbled upon part of my answer when I started reading Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits that I really started to understand what was going on with my “Yoga Block” and why I couldn’t seem to get myself to practice.  He wrote a blog titled, “Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything.”  In this post he talks about changing how you look at habits you’ve created for yourself.  “Stop thinking of a habit as something you have to do, but as something you are allowed to do.”

This clicked with me instantly.  One of the things I like about Babauta’s blog is it’s Zen simplicity.  He cuts right to the heart of the matter.  I had turned yoga, something I loved and needed and was passionate about, into something I HAD to do.  I’m terrible when it comes to being told I have to do something.  That shuts me down pretty quickly.  But, when I began giving myself permission to go back to yoga, the switch flipped again.

I am not attending with the regularity that I have in the past, but I am definitely on the path to my old frequency.  I may not make it to as many classes at CPY as I have in the past, but I make up for that thanks to the summer program where I’m teaching yoga.  I practice right along with my students and their enthusiasm has reignited my passion for yoga.

Now that I am aware of the “why” behind my yoga block, I am using that mindfulness to ensure I don’t cut myself off from something that brings me such great joy.

What do you need to give yourself permission to do?  What habit do you need to “allow” yourself to perform?  Change your thinking and end your own personal blockage.  Don’t talk yourself out of the rituals and activities that bring you happiness and joy.  In today’s society it can be extremely difficult to find our passions.  Take Joseph Campbell’s advice, “Follow your bliss!”

Namasté

Matthew