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

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

The Construct of Time

How often do you think to yourself that there isn’t enough time?  Not enough time to complete a project, to run all of your errands, to sit down and enjoy reading a good book, to do all the things you need and want to do.  I have definitely been a victim to that thinking.  I often am now.  The problem becomes either stressing ourselves out trying to get everything accomplished or, my method, doing nothing and stressing or getting depressed because nothing is done.

Fear not, I am here to tell you now that time is merely a construct that we have invented to imprison ourselves and trick us into believing we have no control over our lives. That is simply not true.  Though I am better, currently, at do as I say not as I do; I improve daily.

So, if time is not the enemy we perceive it to be does that mean your work deadlines and doctor’s appointment times don’t truly exist?  Well, no.  That’s not where I’m going with this.  We will always have the deadlines and time constraints, for the world still believes in the concept of time.  However, there are small ways we can break out of time’s grasp and rebel against this heretofore necessary evil.

My biggest rebellion is to take myself out of the physical world and enter the spiritual world through meditation.  There is an old Zen proverb that says, “You should meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time, then you should meditate for an hour.”  It makes me laugh because my biggest excuse about meditation used to be, there isn’t any time.  Once I began carving out that 20 minutes a day I could feel the stress knots begin to loosen a little.

Another way I have made myself a time rebel is to take 20-30 minutes a day to do something I enjoy.  This usually means reading something I like.  Whether escaping into a world of fiction or reading a book that further explores my spiritual nature.  It may be the only reading I do in a day, but it becomes my time.  I am also working on fitting in more time for writing.

I consider reading, writing, and meditation my three favorite gifts to myself.  I enjoy doing each of these and as I feel overwhelmed by responsibility I recognize how quickly these three gifts fall by the wayside.  Now, I have begun to use time as a weapon against itself; carving it out to include my gifts to myself.  We may never be free of humanity’s invention of time, (in the divine perspective time is insignificant) but, we can find small ways to become time rebels and capture more for ourselves.  Things will always need to be accomplished under the guise of time, but for your own sanity become a time rebel, even briefly, every day.

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.

The Value of Pushing Ourselves

Often we are afraid to move out of our comfort zones.  We fall into a rut and find comfort there.  I have gone through many days, weeks, months, and even years in the trance I was lulled into by eating at the same places (still guilty – I love you Chipotle), traveling the same route to work, and setting up my schedule so I follow the same routine every day.  There is some value in routine.  As a middle school teacher I have learned that routine is what most children need.  For the lower income students that I teach routine can be the only form of comfort they have.  However, as adults we easily lock ourselves into “comfort” and allow life to pass us by.

I began thinking of this blog post last week when I decided to step up my yoga game.  My friend and I typically attend the beginners yoga class on Monday and Wednesday nights.  I have aspirations of becoming a yoga instructor for children some day.  So, I posed the idea of attending the earlier class that is more advanced.  I’ve been practicing yoga for almost two years now, I was ready for this next step.  Boy, did that moment of confidence get blown right out of the water.  It was one of the most difficult yoga classes I have experienced.  Within fifteen minutes my heart was pounding to the point I thought it would explode.  I stopped often, dropped to the pose of the child, and I would put my hand over my heart to ensure it didn’t burst out of my chest.  I couldn’t believe how difficult it was.

Now, yoga teaches the practitioner to listen to their body and not push it beyond its limits.  This is true.  A good yogi knows when the body needs a break.  At the same time no benefit would come if we did not push ourselves beyond our comfort limits.  I would not have lost forty pounds if I gave up when it got tough.  Pushing myself is one of the many things I’ve loved about practicing yoga.

Pushing ourselves is evident in the fitness and health industry.  There is a great Gatorade commercial (though I am a Seminole, I give credit where due) in which many physical activities are undertaken with a coach, player, or supporter continually yelling, “one more!”  This is the perfect commercial to show the success that can be gained by pushing yourself physically.  If you go to the gym but never work yourself into a sweat and achieve muscle exhaustion you won’t experience the benefits.  When dieting if you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone of overeating the “unhealthy” foods you cannot lose weight.  When looking for recognition or a promotion at work, we have to step out of our comfort zones to improve our performance.  To experience life we have to step out of our comfort zones to travel beyond our city, our town, our neighborhood, or our four walls.   To live a fulfilling life, we must push ourselves beyond our routine contentment.

It is no different with spirituality.  I grew up Roman Catholic.  I wore my Catholicism like a badge for many years.  Even today if you asked me what my religion was my knee jerk reaction would be, “I’m Catholic.”  I have often found comfort in the rituals and traditions of the the Catholic faith (most especially the rosary, which I still carry with me to this day).  But, I was an unfulfilled Catholic.  I didn’t find a connection with what was being preached each week from the altar.  I couldn’t understand why I was considered a bad Catholic if I didn’t believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life.  And I certainly couldn’t fathom why I was going to hell based on the gender of the person I chose to love, especially since Jesus’s primary teaching was love.  But, I found comfort in “being Catholic” and couldn’t find my way out.

During my time in college I became a religion minor.  I loved learning about all different religions, the major, the minor, and the ones considered “out there” by many.  I slowly began to cherry pick my beliefs.  This worked for me for a long time.  It wasn’t long before I no longer considered myself Catholic or even Christian.  I actually took the opposite view and began seeing Christianity as a hate filled religion that tolerates nothing outside of it’s narrow thoughts.  I would study and dabble in the new spirituality I was learning.  And when the question was ever asked, “what religion are you?” I’d take a deep breath, screw up my courage and proudly say, “I’m Catholic.”

I can happily say I’ve pushed myself beyond my narrow and biased view that ALL of Christianity is evil.  There are zealots that give it a bad name, just as there are in every religion.  I have known and still know many amazing Christians.  But, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and can now admit my true beliefs (and this blog has helped me in that).

Now when asked, “what religion are you?”  I can proudly answer, “I’m a Buddhist, sort of!”  I find much joy in Buddhism, but I still love cherry picking in my belief system.  So you see, there is a great deal of value to be found in pushing ourselves.  Step out of your comfort zone.  “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”  This is the only way you can have a life truly lived.

Namasté
Matthew