That Is Enough

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Life is stressful. Shit happens! We get sick. We lose our jobs. People we trust let us down. It is nice to think there will be a day when none of these life altering things will happen. But, we are not naive. We know the next shit storm is right around the corner. That’s what makes life a messy adventure.

This won’t be a long post. It will also not be a post about how your mindfulness or my Buddhist practice has taught me to appreciate the shit storms so that I will recognize the glorious sunshine that breaks forth. And though this is accurate it’s not the point of why I’m writing this.

The quote above is imperative to my life. My friendships have dwindled over the years. But, I can happily say the few amazing close friends that have remained a constant in my life have made all the difference. And spending time with them is more than enough. Often it’s the only thing that keeps me going. Go out, find those few, hold them close. Nurture those relationships. They will be your greatest champions; your strongest support.

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

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

What do I do for me?

I want you to stop and think about this question for a moment. Don’t continue reading until you’ve pondered it for at least one minute.

As many of you know I deal with depression on a consistent basis.  I need to insert a caveat at this point – I do not walk around my life in a cloud of depression.  I am on regular medication and thanks to my father I take some herbal supplements that help as well.  But, from time to time those things aren’t enough and I become mired in my own thoughts that drag me into a depression.

My recent bout, however, left me more bruised than in past times and I made a dinner appointment with my friend/therapist, Liz.  There are two people in my life that I can count on to give me no nonsense advice without sugar coating it, one of those people is one of my best friends, Justin.  The other is Liz.  Where Justin’s advice is often a hard slap across the face, Liz’s advice is more gentle but still gets directly to the point.

While we were eating she stopped me from talking and asked me a simple question “What have you done for yourself lately?”  I opened my mouth to respond to her but then realized I didn’t have an answer to that question.  I tried to play coy, “What do you mean?”   She smiled at me and said, “You know exactly what I mean.  What have you done for yourself?”

The pause was palpable.  I racked my brain.  What have I done?  I’ve been reading, but even that was diminished during my time in Purgatory with my depression master.  What had I done for me?  The answer was, “nothing!”

She looked at me, that smile playing on her face again, “You know, I’ve noticed you are less depressed and more able to be at your best when you take time to do things for you.”

Could it possibly be that simple?  Was my depression lessened when I took time for me? How is that possible?  Doesn’t Buddhism teach us to do for others?  In fact, doesn’t all religion tell us to do for others, sacrificing ourselves in that pursuit?

Please understand, I am by no means a religious martyr.  But, as a teacher my job is to give of myself, as a friend my hope is to give fully of myself, as a brother and son my desire is to give fully of myself.  And, I do endeavor to do just that.  So, what is this about doing for me?

It was a logical and plain idea.  Many psychologists have talked about the need to refuel yourself emotionally and spiritually.  Even Oprah has touted the necessity.  I am loathed to admit it but my emotional and spiritual tanks are on empty.  They still aren’t nearly full enough.  As I looked back at the recent months I completely understood where Liz was coming from.  I’d stopped going to yoga, I was just too tired.  I’d stopped meditating because I wanted to  try to sleep.  I stopped writing because it was mentally exhausting for me.  I even stopped reading my spiritual books and put them aside for books of a more secular nature.  I wasn’t doing a damn thing for myself and my batteries were drained.

It’s been about a month since that meeting with Liz and I have made some positive changes.  I’ve been reading some great books by Pema Chödrön and Dr. Wayne Dyer. I’ve joined Weight Watchers, I started running (though found that my knees have NOT liked that idea).  I’ve also shared my love of yoga by teaching it at my school a few times to teachers and students.  (I knew things were bad when I gave up yoga.)  And though I have not started back on a regimented mediation schedule, I have been taking more time to stop and breathe and be mindful.  I call these my mini-meditation moments.  It works for me and as a former English teacher I love the alliteration.

Am I still struggling?  Yes.  Am I on the right track?  Yes, again.  Now, I want you to think back for a few moments.  What do you do for you?  Maybe you don’t feel depressed, but I know you feel stressed.  Stress attacks us on many fronts.  It could be the joyful stress of expecting a new baby, or a wedding.  It can also be emotional stress; the change of a relationship status, the loss of a loved one.  There’s also physical stress, feeling tired, overwhelmed, ill.  These things take a lot of our strength, often without us even knowing it. So, what do you do to make sure you are replenishing your batteries?  Take some time for yourself, each day.  Even if it’s just for twenty minutes.  I guarantee it will help.  It’s helping me.

Namastè
Matthew

Disappointment

How are we supposed to handle disappointment?  Let’s be honest, we face disappointment on a regular basis; both large and small.  We find it when our favorite restaurant is out of our usual culinary delights or when we arrive for happy hour to discover that it ended 15 minutes earlier.  We also confront larger disappointments when we are let down by those we care about or worse, when we let ourselves down.

The idea for this blog post came to me earlier this week when I was turned down for a job I’d interviewed for; my summer employment.  Of course I was disappointed that the job fell through, but where I felt the most confusion was in the fact that I felt disappointment at all.  I had, just a few days earlier, decided I wasn’t going to take the job. So, instead of disappointment, I should have felt relief.  But ultimately rejection brings disappointment to the forefront of our emotions.

In the end it boils down to this simple idea: I wasn’t wanted.  It isn’t the first time I’ve faced this realization.  I’ve been rejected by people I wanted to date.  I’ve been rejected for jobs.  I’ve been rejected for promotions.  I was once even rejected for rejecting someone (it’s a long story but they refused to accept the fact that we would not be dating).  Rejection does not feel good. No matter what spin you place on it, you’ve still been measured and found wanting.

The question then becomes, what do I do with these emotions?  How do I take this negative kick in the gut and transform that into a positive.  My answer? I have no freakin’ clue.  But I know what has been working for me lately.  The power of the affirmation.  I used to be a self-help junkie.  Of all the books on improvement I’ve read my favorite, by far, is Louise L. Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life.  In it she extolls the virtues of positive affirmations.  I plaster them all over my bathroom mirror.  But for many that is probably going too far.  However, reminding yourself that you are strong, or powerful, or just simply saying “thank you” to yourself can make a positive difference in how you’re feeling.

I’ll fully admit that when I began my practice of affirmations I felt like a complete idiot.  Staring at myself in a mirror saying, “You are a powerful human being,” was completely unnatural and I was more than a little embarrassed.  Then, without completely acknowledging it, I started to feel better.  Less disappointment, less fear, less anger.  Did it solve the issue completely? No.  Did it take the edge off the emotions? Yes.  Just as with my anger, I sit with my disappointments as well.  I nurture them to find the root of my deeper pain.  The expectations I have set for myself, and worse, for others, has led to much of my disappointment in life.  As the Buddha taught, the cessation of desire leads to happiness.  Does that mean I stop wanting and striving and hoping?  No.  But I work, through my practice, to keep those in check and keep my disappointment at bay.

The next time you’re faced with disappointment sit with it, nurture it, delve into to it to find the deeper meaning.  For it is only through greater understanding that we can control and eventually conquer our difficult emotions.

Namasté

Matthew