I don’t consider myself a religious man. I might process in some ritual, I do my best to live with a spiritual backdrop and I am known to have a God of my understanding, but I do not personally participate in any form of organized religion.
I do know I have had resentments towards religion as a whole during parts of my life based on my own treatment or experiences around something I will, admittedly, never fully understand. Because I do fall under a typically feared and finger-pointed category (I am gay) I have often felt the sting of condemnation, judgement and bigotry. There have been instances where it was inferred I either needed to or should be saved or was a sinner and/or an abomination. These and other similar experiences will show where (some) religious people can move beyond a their own general practice or faith and attempt to force what they believe onto others. I have always tried to live and let live. If you feel what you believe is important to who you are and what you do, that is your business and, as such, I do not feel I need or want to judge this or be involved. If, however, your business becomes an issue when it comes to me, or others like me, (and you decide to act upon it directly with me or indirectly through influencing law) you are then imposing on my right to live and believe in whatever way I see fit. You are stepping on my choices. You are implying you know or are better. You are not affording me the same respect as I have done for you, or you would expect from me.
You would be wrong.
To be clear, however, my statement cannot or should never be a generalization of an entire religion or the idea of religion in its entirety. I am no more able to shake my fist at a religion as a whole because it is radicalized in any way, shape, form or percentage by certain people, than I am willing to listen to anyone suggest that all gay men are pedophiles or sexual deviants. Generalizations are generalizations, lack of knowledge is lack of knowledge. Fear of what is not known creates the need for answers and when humans do not fully understand or comprehend why PEOPLE do what they do they will find what they need without basis in fact in order to have something or someone to blame for what it is they fear.
Human nature with or without the aid of religion.
I do not condemn religion, nor do I want to. It has enormous purpose and a rightful place within our world. It’s necessary and productive for millions of non-radicalized beings. It provides structure and a foundation for faith and community in its many forms and shapes. Even if I did condemn any concept of religion it would be of no use. Religion is not going anywhere . Radicalized terrorism in the name of religion is also not going anywhere. But I must remember the simple truth in regard to the way terrorism is perceived and practiced is the religion is NOT producing or promoting the violence: PEOPLE are producing and promoting the violence and in almost all cases they are doing so in the name of religion.
From a CNN news program today: “Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. It is just a religion and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent.” – Professor Reza Aslan
Like many others in our troubled world I look for answers and solutions to the senseless violence, hatred, anger and bigotry driving the fears and creating an ever-growing vicious cycle likely intended to produce a winner in a “war” that may not ever be won. There is no doubt Western civilization will need to be on guard and in defensive of the cultures, people and communities under attack. There must be a way for our governments to target the radical terrorist and avoid the generalizations of who and what they might be in order to avoid stereotyping and hurting innocent people just as we would want to avoid in order to protect ourselves?
The fight against radical terrorism is going to be a long, hard and costly battle. The modern radical is not always easily identified. They are organized, scheduled and ruthless. They do not possess compassion in any form. There is no way to know where they are going to be. There is very little way to know who they are. For me, on top of the need to make sure I can somehow contribute to the end of mindless killing (in any form it takes), attacks and war as a whole I need to first remember the answer for living my life must be about not allowing the fear to take over. I cannot permit it to create the radical in my own sensibilities. This doesn’t mean I am lying back and pretending what is happening does not exist, but the very nature of spirituality requires a strength of inner spirit, courage and faith. Faith in the right decisions and results. Personally I would choose to make sure I do not react hastily and with anger to the “terrorisms” that occur in my life both big and small, directly or indirectly. Reaction in any manner would likely add to the problem, rather than a thought out and better-conceived response hoping for an opportunity to be a part of the solution. I have to trust our collective governments to find ways to fight radical terrorism at its source. I have to pray it is not politicized. I have to believe this is possible and will solve the senseless losses the world feels whenever events like the ones in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, Mumbai, Thailand, all of the Middle East and on our own soil in the U.S.A occur.
Today in a Variety article I read the following: Parisians have embraced the Latin motto “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (“Tossed but not sunk”) that appears on the city’s coat of arms. I hope to continue to live my life in the same vein and understand my best reaction is always to:
Stop. Smile. Breathe.
How do you relax?
It has become obvious to me in recent days & months I do not relax very well. I certainly don’t do it often enough. In most, if not all, attempts I tend to not do it completely. In nearly 25 years of sober living, journal writing, prayer, meditation and meetings I have found ways to relax as positive alternatives to what I did before I found a willingness to understand and adopt this program of living. I am happy to say the alternatives I have found are definitely working in more productive ways.
But even with time I can see this is not the end of the story.
I have learned how to relax in my sobriety but what has become painfully obvious is a increased amount of anxiety I don’t seem to have an ability to control from it’s inception. What this means is I am forever trying to relax, to stop, to be aware and to change the way I think. Unfortunately I am, and may always be, a slave to an over-thinking, over-active mind. I was born this way and once handled it in a far different way prior to understanding there are steps and methods much more conducive to healthy and successful living.
This, for those who might feel answers and solutions are a bit more simple in their own experience, is not about faith. I am very faithful to a power greater than myself. I believe with all of my heart I am not the power and I know I am in trouble when I try to control my life. My program has taught me how to understand and recognize my need to control, arrest the behavior and understand the unmanageability it results in. I am able to know my faith can help me breathe and “let go” of the fears and misgivings I can so easily create within the aforementioned thought process I am wired to live with.
Before sobriety I did the same thing with the thinking I do today. The difference was in how I do it. In the past I would turn off the anxiety with alcohol and various drugs (depending on the time of my life and the situations I perceived I was in.) I don’t believe I knew then I was drinking and using as an escape for the over-active thinking. In my world it was disguised as a personality trait, a party, a method to communicate and socialize, a form of courage and a simple form of humanness. I assumed it was what people did, I never thought the way I drank to be any different until the problems it produced and the recognition of how it effected others above and beyond how it effected me personally.
The trick today is in recognizing my underlying anxiety creates conversations I have not been fully able to starve or shut up. They continue to happen and, although I am fortunate to have means to stop them and work into solution and right thinking, will not stop no matter how much of a program I am capable of working.
There is no doubt there are methods for elongating the solution oriented frame of mind, through selfless behavior and service to others, be it within a program for living or in my daily life of work and the surrounding world. But even within my solution my mind remains powerful and resourceful, creeping in with thoughts I have no way of keeping at bay when arriving at unexpected or inappropriate times and ways.
Does this make me psychologically different than those around me? Am I outing myself as troubled or problematic in a world filled with normal people?
Not even close.
What this says about me is I recognize traits of anti-social behavior, isolation, anger, defensiveness and shame (about who I am and what people see me to be.) What the recognition affords me is a better understanding about how to use my program and a realization to reach further than the places I have for the past quarter century in order to afford myself some different or enhanced solutions resulting in the peace and quiet I know I deserve and desire.
I am not allowing myself to be a candidate for relapse. This is a daily mantra I adhere to stringently. I am smarter than that. I know what my issues are and I handle them through writing, communication and all of the tools I have been taught by so many people with similar situations over the years. But it is also important I look at how some of these thoughts come about. I must recognize triggers and look through my own sadness about aging, overwhelm, compulsive behaviors and the difficulty I can face when climbing walls and taking actions I know are going to provide me with better ways to think and live. I am not now, have never been or never will be a perfect soul. All of my many accomplishments have come through toil and hardships of mistakes made and fears finally recognized and conquered.
In order to learn how to honestly and completely relax there must be changes made in how I think and live. Although this is not necessarily news in my world, it is something I am determined to accomplish with as much grace, honesty and open-mindedness as possible. I am in a surrender and with that surrender I will see there may be some different ways to approach this topic and find solutions to take me into another new chapter in the constant evolution of my progress as a human being. I am ready.
Stop. Smile. Breathe.
There are days when I discover I am living in the problem. When this happens life will feel a bit like a vicious cycle going around and around, feeling very familiar to places and situations I have been before. This is also reminiscent to an often quoted definition of insanity, which has us doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. When I find myself in this place would it not be a good idea to seize the problem by the neck and wrestle a solution out of it?
Absolutely. Awareness is most definitely my friend.
Sometimes, however, I am not living with the clarity I would prefer. If fear is strong and anxieties are subconsciously blocking the pathways and light were my solutions can potentially be found I am likely going to fall into addictive (and sometimes oddly comfortable) bad habits. Fear is debilitating. It is counter-productive to faith and gratitude. It is a forceful enemy to happiness. If it builds a foundation I can usually only see a nebulous and very unfocused need for change or escape as the solution to whatever it is I believe I am facing.
But am I really facing anything? Or is this created out of a lack of clarity and my possible general fatigue and oft-over-extended, over-compensating (bordering obsessive tendency driven) personality?
Granted, I am not as bad as the above description would make me out to be. My awareness of certain personality and character defects (be they habit made or genetic offerings) are steps toward shiny freedoms from the very problems I might have, do have, or will have if I create them.
It takes work.
But my storied go-to “answer” of change and escape is almost never a good one. To look for change or escape is always too non-specific. They are descriptions pronounced without the details of actions needed to provide any sort of real result. They signify the wearing of blinders and a general underscore of the dangerous world accompanied by a known masked enemy in hungry, angry, lonely and tired. When I am only able to focus on wanting to somehow remove myself from the perception of problems, the fear of unknowns and anything “uncomfortable” or hazy on an end result, I am clearly unable to live in a moment (any moment as long as I am in it) and will never fully understand the true sense of happiness and gratitude which can only be felt in the right here and right now.
So beyond awareness, how does an intelligent mind honestly try to step on to a path of solution and discontinue the regurgitation in cycles of perceived issue?
An open mind.
When I take the gift of awareness and use it wisely, coupled with ideas I have learned about my own leanings towards control (protecting myself, defending the future and making sure I don’t lose something I don’t have or not get something I want) I am able to step outside of EGO. When I remove myself from that sort of stagnation I remember to recognize the world around me as a gift filled with all manner of good fortune and the culmination of hard work and action from my past. There would be no point in taking an action and asking for change if all I were to do is live in a constant state of seeking something “more.”
Since change is inevitable and happens moment by moment whether or not I accept it as the something I might think I am looking for (and remember, I never truly understand what it is I feel I “need” to escape from OR to in the first place) I want to concentrate on looking deeply into my individual moments to recognize the change I have experienced in the past to bring me where I am. Right now.
By looking at each moment with an open mind I have a power tool helping me to fight fear and all it’s ramifications. If I am able to recognize the fear, as a result of an open mind, I am going to see so much more in the world around me potentially helping point me in positive directions towards wherever my next moments are meant to be. This can only be for the good of my happiness and development.
Since feng shui is a symbol of inventory and deals with harmonious environments, I have equated it in my current world as a symbol not only for the recognition of my current moments, but as a spiritually potent positive step to avoid any negatives which could help me create the problems I perceive and run with in the first place. If I am able to open my mind and see what is right I am more apt to not only find the changes I want, but learn to understand what I want those changes to be before they happen. I can even have a hand in what they might actually turn out to be. They can benefit as an extension of a positive here and now without dragging me down as a means of escape without even knowing what I really want to escape to. No regrets. For this awareness to be possible I must always remember to…
Stop. Smile. Breathe.
It can be easy to say one has faith in any situation, place or person when there is trust and less “at stake.”
In other words, I find it easy to expound on the value of and ease by with I can muster up the essentials for faith when I am in a good place and things are going well. There really is no arguing my life is a more constructive, positive and productive experience when I am living in faith.
For instance: I have an amazing and unlimited amount of faith in my relationship because he has proven thousands of times over there is no reason for faith not to be there. I trust him. I trust the relationship. I trust the faith and I have faith in the trust. Faith is a given when there is a clear and obvious outcome. Faith is an expectation when I don’t stand to become challenged in any way whatever the result of whatever the faith is all about. That was not always the case in past relationships, but patience, faith and trust had to be learned as a result of and even during difficult periods in order for me to get where I got.
When faith is difficult I am with the unknown. It is masked and being over-powered by fear. When faith becomes challenging, it is likely because I am leaping or desirous of a change without fully understanding what anything in the future looks like. If I don’t trust the future because fear is blocking my view I find it difficult to see the gentle and positive outcomes I have so often learned are the default if I allow them to be.
Faith is hard if I am in an obsessive place absent of a required trust. Trust in myself, or a God of my understanding. Faith is almost impossible if I am unable to let go of a desired result or expectation. If I think I know what it is I want, I am not allowing the rest of the world to present other options. If I am focusing too heavily on what I believe to be needed I am closing my senses and awareness to what is likely and probably a better outcome based on factors I am probably not even aware of.
Blind faith is about surrender. Surrender is about letting go of my power or control over any said situation or thought. Faith is all about my trust in God and remembering I don’t need that control. Since I don’t always include God into the equation there is a tendency to see a bit more of the Mark show, where I am the producer, director and star. What often, if not always, will happen, when I am in charge, is the incessant repetitive behaviors and thoughts making my progress on my journey a bit more of a long, drawn-out lesson as opposed to a clear path to the success I am capable of and entitled to.
Not that I have any problem with lessons. It’s just the tendency to need to learn many of them multiple times (often known as the definition of insanity.)
Happiness is not a result of success alone. It isn’t always about getting what I think I want. I don’t desire recognition or validation to be happy. I have learned happiness is easier achieved with faith and trust in process and result. I am happier when I let go of the result and keep my mind and eyes open to see what I might not have seen otherwise. That is a spiritual process and and affords a spiritual outcome.
An inside job.
Faith is beautiful. It absolves me of the need for the control I tend to find myself in so often. It allows me to breathe in and out and relax, knowing what is best for me, what is meant for me and what is likely going to happen either way is going to happen. Faith is a strength in my program that makes the process of living in the moment more accessible and possible. With fear I am rarely where I really am.
The trick is being able to accept and embrace faith when it is most difficult. Faith is absent when fear is in the picture. Fear is strong and can wipe faith clean out of focus with it’s strength and power. I have worked a faith mantra on so many of my days and situations. It is not always going to be as easy as a reminder telling me the results of faith as an opposition to the cons provided by fear. I am human, fear is part of the equation. Fear is a manipulator, I am often weak to it’s many false charms.
What I have learned is there IS a pattern for making the transition in tougher situations. Fear will appear and I will find myself absent of the faith required to be happy, to achieve goals, to experience love and progress. It is uncanny at times how quickly my faith can be erased and my head completely turned to a place of fear. So when it appears I do what I have brought into my life for so many positive purposes:
Stop. Smile. Breathe.
I have always been told to avoid expectations (but probably fail to do so on a daily basis.)
I have always known life is what happens while you are busy making other plans. That never stops me.
I have also noticed I tend to achieve the goals and “get” the things I want out of my life, only never when I may have thought I wanted them. The twist with this last realization has been in finding sometimes you get something you once wanted only to discover it may not be something you want by the time you get it. This, naturally, poses the question of whether you should have ever wanted it in the first place and proves an annoying and in-your-face point about my control and my thinking I actually know what is best for me at all times.
Obviously not true.
This would also indicate I should be careful what I “wish” for, right? Well, yes, but if all my wishes were stellar successes I would be quite a catch, wouldn’t I? Happiness would be my template. Fear might not play such a prominent role. Perhaps I am supposed to wish for certain things even if they DO provide a result I may not feel I asked for or want at the time of it’s arrival. Maybe this is a part of a life lesson I always appreciate in it’s hindsight and wish to GOD I could avoid while I am experiencing it.
Life can be very educational.
What does all this have to do with inspiration or, as the blog post’s title would indicate, looking for something to inspire me to be inspired? Absolutely nothing and pretty much everything.
Let’s say there is currently something I want to do in my life. It is something I believe to be a part of the path I am pre-destined to experience. It will feed me, engross me, teach me, make me happy and take me to levels of my story I have not yet reached or enjoyed. Sounds really good, doesn’t it?
But how do I know that? Is that my plan? Is it meant to be because I feel it is mine for the taking? If so, why am I not doing it and making it so? Why do I stall and procrastinate? I believe it is because I have not yet found the inspiration I am looking for. I am starting each day with a prayer to help me find, see, hear, notice or feel that inspiration. Every so often I see a spark and wonder if it might be leading me down the path I am supposed to go to get in touch with it. Are these glimmers inspiration or am I creating the answers I believe I want in an over-thinking mind? When I think back to a different phase of my life I remember the endless search for a relationship. Looking seemed to block my real ability to find. It created a facade of desperation in the result without the open-mind and faith needed to actually see what could work.
Is inspiration coupled with surrender? Perhaps this is my true answer. To allow myself to let go of the result of what I believe I want to do or be. Let the surrender allow me to experience the world around me naturally and, when the time is right, understand my inspiration and seize it for whatever uses it will have me do. I am on the right path with or without the surrender. Without it, however, I seem to encounter sideshows and become pre-occupied.
Today I am happy with what I am doing and fully aware I can and will grow within it. I am also aware I will be afforded new adventure and growth from other things I have not yet had the opportunity to know. This alone is inspiration. It is a definition of faith in the future and the trust I will find the things I need, without having to seek the things I want. If I forget this for any single moment I have my means to resolve and get back on track. I can always:
Stop. Smile. Breathe.
My perception of the world (or my role in some parts within) could someday very well be my undoing.
Or, if handled with grace, spirituality and balance, perception can lead me towards the happy, joyous and free existence I am entitled to.
It wasn’t long ago I had a familiar conversation with someone in an elevator at work. In this conversation were the common platitudes between casual work acquaintances doing the deed in a corporate environment in order to meet the standard requirements for making a living.
“How are things going?” I was asked.
“Everything is good,” I replied, “unless I choose to think otherwise.”
Deep, but true.
And here lies one of the easier examples of how perception can run or ruin a moment, a day, a week, a month or more. In my head it doesn’t have to take long to determine things are not what they should be, could be better, not going well, or are downright intolerable. Is someone not giving me the proper attention I believe I deserve? Is something I expect not happening as I expected it? Am I not feeling or doing my best and assuming everyone can see or is talking about my being off my game? Am I being misunderstood, maligned or mis-handled?
Then there is always the core foundation of all of my thinking: are any of the things my perception is pounding my brain about real? In an overwhelming majority of the time the answer to that question is resounding “no.”
You would think if I understood just how powerful my perception can be I would learn to understand, master, or even control it to work in my favor, right? If I know my perception has a habit to move towards fear and the creation of imbalance and untruths, why would I not arrest that line of thinking and shift it swiftly into a positive and meaningful direction?
I know I have written about habits, this would fit into that category. Like drugs and alcohol I believe I can also become addicted and even comfortable with behavior. Thought process can become “unconscious” at least initially.
Sometimes perception can go hand-in-hand with mild forms of martyrdom and the always addictive pessimism can be a vicious cycle leading to a colossal waste of precious time and eventual avenues traveled, which could very easily have been avoided (with the aforementioned awareness and arrest of the wrong path for thinking.)
Perception is always personal. If you are living in a fearful place you are likely going to perceive things fearfully. Since perception is governed by the senses it could be assumed when I am fearful my senses can see nothing but what the fear wants me to see. It’s as if a dark blanket overrules the positive positions and accompanying trust in good outcomes becomes overwhelmed by suspicion or doubt under the guise of protection. In my history if my perception is clouded or dark it is likely I have been bitten in one way or another by a similar situation or person and, in the end, the experience is recycled and layered with the fear of another failure or a negative expectation.
Expectations are often a bad omen for perception. If I have an expectation, more than not it is dashed and I am either disappointed or surprised by an outcome. Having expectations is like playing God. I don’t know the future and it is wise when I remember that. On the flip-side fear based perception is clearly based on the past. Therefore my ISM is often placing me on either pre-conceived notions about the future fearfully wedged in past experience or blindly predicting the future with an eye on offense against any “perceived” or potential harms.
Neither is my best bet.
Learning to perceive my surroundings with trust and a positive bent towards happiness and the best possible eventual result without trying to control an outcome is my nirvana. I get there. I love being there. But sometimes I must fight off the fear and perceptions based on past or future evils. It is when I am in true alignment with awareness and can keep my best interests in focus that I am able to understand what MY perception truly has to offer me. Understood and used to its best purpose my perception can offer me comfort, knowledge, growth, friendship, respect, friends, love, trust and a host of beneficial life qualities and gifts worthy of a soul trying to allow life to work as it is meant to work.
In order to recognize my best perceptions the best foot forward is always:
Stop. Smile. Breathe.
I am in something right now. It’s difficult, it’s annoying, it’s uncomfortable, it’s a bit frightening, and it’s taking longer than I would like it to without a hint of understanding or solution.
The thing about this something I am in is I know I must go through it until the solution becomes obvious, the feelings are fully felt, the changes are made and the reasons for the transition are obvious. There are lessons being learned here and I don’t always have the privilege of knowing what they are while they are being presented.
That would be too easy, and easy isn’t necessarily the best way to grow, learn and develop character along the path.
During this particular stretch of the journey I find myself wanting to isolate. I am angry at people and things that I know aren’t worth the time and energy of effect on me. I learned long ago to remember everything is not about me. I understand people have their own quirks and challenges and in their shoes I could very well find myself doing or being just as they are.
The anger is always about fear or, in some cases, fear with a lack of control over understanding the reasons the fear exists.
Currently I feel as though I am in a tunnel. It is slightly dark and I am unsatisfied with the surroundings. My job is not working for me any longer and it is difficult to admit it might be time to go (fear of not being able to pick up with something I want to do or anxiety about not being able to sustain the rest of my days as a result of “inevitable”, but perceived, poverty.) Then there is the perception of some friends not being what I thought them to be (in dissecting and becoming so aware of my own character defects I become a judge of others character and defects as well.) Finally there is the solace I have taken for granted over the years. Simple pleasures offering me refuge from difficult days or situations no longer working where they once did. This might be the scariest thing for me. It is as though I am not who I used to be which would beg the questions: “Who am I, then?” Who have I become? Is this temporary? Will it end? Will I be better as a result? What will I lose or gain because of it?
Questions abound in confusion. Over-thinking is dangerous. But these questions could be the biggest problem I face. In transition and change I have learned must come acceptance and patience. In this period I am learning I must honor feelings if, at the same time, being careful not to hold on to them obsessively . I do not want to become a victim of anything as a result of being afraid of something I do not yet understand. Character is built upon how we handle change and challenge. Nothing I see before me need necessarily be ending or changing as a whole. Then again, everything could be changing and that might just be for the best.
In a nutshell: It is I who is changing and I don’t want to be afraid of that. Change is inevitable and constant. Sometimes it is subtle, other times very obvious. Either way it is up to me to understand, recognize and deal with it all like an adult, removing the fear which is likely going to either make the transition last longer or provide me with results which were not really necessary if handled better.
Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today. Looking at the world in front of me and remembering the anger is a manifestation of the fear or lack of control. Do I need the control? What exactly am I afraid of? Every single transition or period of change I have experienced in the past has thrust me (sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully) into a new way of thinking and living. All of this has spelled the many successes I have experienced in the past.
Why would this transition be any different? Chill out, brother.
STOP. Smile. Breathe