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.

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

Breaking Our Habits

I was sitting in yoga class tonight and my amazing instructor Lezlie was talking about our posture.  She was telling us that our habit is to slouch and round our backs in.  Now, I have heard her tell us this many times.  That part is nothing new.  But, the connection came when I began thinking of my own spiritual practice.  Recently I have been reading a great deal of Louise Hay and don Miguel Ruiz.  Both of these amazing authors and teachers discuss the way life trains us to react to the world around us.

Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements calls life and our “domesticated” reactions to it “The Dream.”  Growing up we have built habits of how we respond to the world, based on the “lessons” we’ve learned from those around us.  These reactions become ingrained habits that become difficult to break.

Louise Hay also takes on our deep seated habits.  She deals with the emotional baggage we carry with us.  She believes that our negative outlook about ourselves and our lives can lead to “dis-ease” of the body, mind, and soul.

Each author has different ways to battle the habits.  Hay uses positive affirmations and Ruiz uses the Toltec teachings of the Four Agreements.  Now, this isn’t a blog post to extoll the virtues of these two amazing spiritual teachers.  I do recommend that you read their books and teachings, but that is not where we shall be stopping.

Let’s take this back to Lezlie’s comments in class and how that got me thinking.  I’ll admit, I often have bad posture.  But, since I’ve been practicing yoga I have become much more aware of that posture and how it affects me.  Awareness is the first step.  As I slouch, I gently (or as gently as I can remember to be) remind myself to sit up, straighten my back, and improve my posture.

But, my worst habits are from my own mind.  I became very aware of how cruel I’ve trained myself to be.  We were sitting in a twist pose that we haven’t done too much in my 3 years on the mat.  The gist of the pose is placing one leg over the other and you twist to face behind you.  Now, twists are my absolute favorite poses in yoga.  They stretch out my back and I feel amazing going into them.  My problem came when I was placing one leg over the other.  The leg on top just would not reach to the ground as it should have.  And, I found myself saying over and over, “you’re too fat for this pose, just look at you, it’s pathetic.”

I berate and belittle myself quite often.  This is one of the many things I am working on to improve myself.  And, I’ll admit that both Louise Hay and don Miguel Ruiz’s books are helping me a great deal. (OK, we’re getting to the habit part.) When I caught myself saying these things I wondered, does this poison I’m feeding myself come from a true belief that I am not good enough, or is it merely a habit that I’ve fallen into?

So, here I posit this theory: if I can begin to recognize that my cruelty that I harbor towards myself comes more from habit than true feelings, then I believe it will be easier to break these habits and retrain myself to speak compassionately and lovingly.

Smoking is a habit that many work to break and so many are successful.  Biting my nails was a long time habit.  Thanks to regular manicures I have broken that habit.  My Diet Coke habit has turned into a caffeine addiction. This I have not yet conquered, but I shall.  I do believe that my emotional self-cruelty habit is more toxic and dangerous than any of these. We must find a way to be compassionate towards ourselves.  So, if we are ever together and you hear me mumbling to myself, I am probably saying one of the positive affirmations that Louise Hay has been teaching me.

Awareness is the first step to identifying the habit.  Don’t beat yourself up because you caught thoughts roiling, unbidden.  These habits have been developed over the years and are deeply rooted in our psyches.  Be gentle and compassionate.  That is the key to breaking all habits.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This includes you.  Don Miguel Ruiz talks about being spiritual warriors to battle the negative aspects of the “Dream.”  Well, I am a spiritual warrior and I will battle every day to bring myself closer to my true amazing self.  Will you do the same?

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

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