28.11.10

How To Meditate II - Sitting Meditation

How To Meditate I - What is Meditation

Buddhism....What it is and is not!



Some of you have asked me about Buddhism and would like to know more about it.  First of all, I am by no means an expert!  I can recommend several good books on the subject and I can tell you that there are several Buddhist centers in Pittsburgh.  I will give you the book references and a link to the centers at the end of this article.

I can tell you that there are a lot of myths and stereotypes out there about Buddhism.  I recently had a coworker ask me if I was going to start wearing pink robes and shave my head!

Lets talk about some myths:

1.  Buddhism isn't a religion per se, its a philosophy or a way of living.
2. Buddhist do NOT pray to the Buddha. Buddha was a teacher, not a god. In fact, Buddhists do not believe in a monotheistic deity.
3. Buddhist's do not run around in pink robes and shave their heads.  Buddhist monks, who have chosen to give up their possessions to follow the path to enlightenment wear orange robes and shave their head to symbolize giving up vanity and a need for possessions much like a nun or monk in Catholicism wears a brown robe or a habit. Lay Buddhists dress just like you and me. 
4. Meditation is NOT going into a trance.  Meditation is a tool to gain insight into ones own self.
5. Buddhism is NOT a cult.  Buddhist are very accepting of other religions.  In fact, Buddhists do not believe that you must give up your religion to become a Buddhist.

Facts:

1.There are over 400 million practicing Buddhists in the world.
2. Buddhism originated in India and widely practiced in China, Japan, Thailand, and Burma and is the fourth most practiced religion in the United States.  It has seen a 170% growth in the US in the last ten years.
 3. Many aspects of meditation are being currently used in modern psycho-therapeutic practices.
4. There is more than one "type" of Buddhism. There is Zen, Mahayana, Theravada, and Tibetan.  Think of it as sort of like Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, etc.   They are all christian, but they have different interpretations of the teachings of Christ. The different types of Buddhism have somewhat different interpretations of the Buddha's teachings but all follow a very similar structure and goal.
5. Buddhism originated in 563 BC and predates Christianity. It originated in what is now northern India.
6 Buddhist believe that you are what you think.  If you think negatively then your life will be negative.
7. You cannot approach Buddhism from a western religion point of view,  it is like comparing apples and oranges!   Think outside of the box!!!

The resource listing below contains links to a few of the centers around Pittsburgh.  The Pgh. Buddhist center is open to the general public and offers mediation sessions on Weds at six.  The Bhantes  (or Monks) there are very willing to show you how to meditate and will work with you if you show an interest.

The books I have listed are great because they are written in plain English.  Even if you are just looking to practice mediation for stress relief, they are a good starting point.  The Tibetan book talks more about the fundamentals and structure of Buddhism and gives a great overall synopsis of what it means to be a Buddhist. The last link is to a youtube page.  Yuttadhammo is an ordained Buddhist monk who has his own you tube site that teaches all about Buddhism and answers many questions that you might have.  He is a great teacher and very accessible!



Resources:

Pgh Buddhist Center

Pgh Zen Center

Tibetan Shop and Meditation Center

Free Copy of Mindfulness in Plain English

Mindfulness in Plain English

Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism

You tube Bhante Yuttadhammo's "Ask a Monk" series

25.11.10

Anti-mas at my house!






This morning I hung out with my friend David.  He had to work so we went out for breakfast. Later I am heading over to another friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner.  I went to Whole Foods yesterday and the parking lot was already swarming with people who looked frazzled and annoyed. What a mess!

I have been thinking a lot about the holidays this year and  I am going to do things a little differently .  In the past, I have always been the good son and endured countless Thanksgivings with relatives that really have not treated me well in the past.  This year, I told my mother that I love her very much but I need to distance myself from these people and that I would not be home for Thanksgiving.She agreed that some of them do not treat us well and indicated that her way of coping is to just not think about it.  I though about how she was being so disrespectful to HERSELF! This year, a lot has changed for me and I have been working so hard to fix things with myself.  I just cannot do that anymore.  I cannot abuse myself  for someone else anymore!

  I also thought about Christmas a few weeks ago and was talking to a friend in DC at the time.  He and I agreed that Christmas, and all of the holidays in fact, have stated to lose their meanings.  Christmas doesn't seem like its about family and friends anymore.  Its about RETAIL.  How much debt can I put myself into to make my family and friends happy.  NOT COOL.  To me, and to a lot of other people out there, the holidays are about being with people that you love.  I could care less about who gets me what and how much the spend.  I would rather have a dinner with three or four of my very close friends and just enjoy the fact that we are together!  My friend asked me what I was doing for the holidays.  I said probably nothing.  He said, good, then lets hang out.  I think it will be wonderful  He is taking the train up from DC.  My other friend David, said that he would come over too as he is not a huge fan of the commercial holidays.  We have decided to name it Anti-mas. 

I am VERY thankful to have so many wonderful people in my life.  I am thankful that my father is still in good health after a recent cardiac scare and pacer implant.  I am thankful that my Mother is handling things relatively well and is also in great health.  I am thankful for my wonderful friends who have stuck by my side for many, many years. I am thankful for Dan, my partner and best friend of seven years.  I am thankful for David, who recently came into my life. I am thankful for the beautiful world in which I live....for the ocean which gives me such a sense of peace when I am near it.  I am thankful for my life, even though it hasn't always been easy, it has always been mine and I wouldn't trade it in for anything else!

Lets all try to stop and think of each other during this holiday season.  Its not about gifts, or huge, fattening dinners, or about how much we spend.  Its about each other............

23.11.10

Love and It's Many Definitions......




According to the dictionary love is a very broad and generic term....


"Love is the emotion of strong affection and personal attachment.[1] In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. In religious context, love is not just a virtue, but the basis for all being ("God is love"[2]), and the foundation for all divine law (Golden Rule).
The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure ("I loved that meal") to intense interpersonal attraction ("I love my wife"). "Love" can also refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros (cf. Greek words for love), to the emotional closeness of familial love, or to the platonic love that defines friendship,[3] to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. [4] This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.
Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts."

Why is there only one word in the English language that covers such a crucial part of the human experience?  I love coffee.  I love my boyfriend.  I love my Mother.  I love God.  I love my friend.  The same word but each usage has such totally different meaning.  How can the same word be used in so many different ways?

I think that  a lot of people are confused about love. For myself, its a word that I use with care.  I don't readily throw it out there unless I feel very strongly about someone. I feel that with love there is responsibility that comes a long with it.  A very good friend of mine, well probably my best friend, and I had a talk one time a long time ago after we had tried going out on a date or two during a very rough emotional period for both of us.  This friend was smart enough to know that it wasn't the right time for either of us and at the time I couldn't understand that.  We talked about how words, like love, come with a great responsibility and can be used to hurt if not careful.  Thinking back, I know how hard it was for my friend, but he did the right thing.  The responsible thing.  It made our friendship even stronger and it made me trust him very much even though at the time my heart felt like it was broken. 

What made me think of all of this was a conversation with my friend David, a fellow blogger, who just recently ended a relationship.  David said to me that it felt like the responsible thing to do.....to end it before getting too far into it and hurting the other person.  I thought, wow, what a responsible thing to do.  To put the other person first and to also take care of yourself in the process.

For some people, I think that their definition of love is clouded.  Think about it!  What does love mean to you?  For some, love is associated with material goods.  If you love me, you will buy me that big diamond ring. For others, love is looking for a  caretaker.  If you love me, you will be like a parent to me. For some people, love is a physical thing.  If he or she had sex with me they MUST love me! Still, for others, love is pain and abuse.  Think about all of the battered women (and men!) out there who go through life thinking that hitting someone or controlling them is love!

I think back to my past relationships and my definition of love has changed over the years.  In my first relationship, love, for me was very confusing since I had a very limited experience with it growing up.  I met my first partner when I was very young, in my early 20's.  It lasted seven years and ended in a very big disaster. At that time, I thought that love was just having someone around 24/7 and that I had to BECOME what the other person wanted and they had to become what I wanted.  It doesn't work. 

Right now, for me, love means putting the other person first.  Love means allowing the other person to be free to be who they are and loving them as is.  Love is respect for one another and having the maturity to communicate about issues without putting the other person's views and opinions at a lower level than yours.  Love is being able to be angry with someone but when you look them in the eyes you still see them as something beautiful. Love is a commitment to one another. It is to be able to look at one another and view each other as something precious and unique.  Love is knowing that no matter what happens in life, you will be there for that person and vice versa.  Above all, love means honesty.  It may not always be pretty but if you truly love someone you should be able to be honest with them in a loving way. 



 

20.11.10

Hetero Overload!

Lets take a close look at this add from Calvin Klein.  What do you see?  A half naked woman and a half naked man in a very suggestive pose.  I see stuff like this everyday on the way to work on billboards.  I see it all day long on television and in magazine adds.  It's everywhere and no one cares.

Now, take a look at the video below.  What do you see.  Two men, half naked, dressed in leather doing very suggestive things in  a video by Lady Ga Ga.  Is it offensive?  To a lot of you , probably. Why?

A few months ago I came to work and asked a couple of  female coworkers if they had seen the new Ga Ga video and they indicated that they hadn't so I pulled it up on you tube.  You would have thought that I put hard core porn on the computer!  "Turn that off! It's offensive!"

I just don't understand the double standard.  Why are gays and lesbians ok with a deluge of heterosexual images EVERY day  but straight people, who are my friends mind you, cant deal with two men in a video? Why is it that I have to hear the word "faggot" on television and on the radio?  If the "n" word were ever uttered or any other racial slur it would make headline news and the offenders would probably be banished from the airwaves! Why is this ok?

I got into a HUGE debate about that very issue with a very close, straight, female friend of mine.  She used the term fag in font of me.  It really upset me.  I thought how could you, as my friend, use a word that is so ugly and demoralizing toward LGBT people?  She said that it was a word she grew up with and didn''t realize that it had any negative meaning!  I was floored. I asked her if she would use a black racial slur in front of a black friend and she replied "of course not."  Well WHY is it ok to use faggot in front of me?!?!?

Do you know that you cant say words like shit, or fuck, on television.....but faggot is ok?  I just don't get it! Am I , as a gay man, of less value than other people?  

Try to see it from our side!



Dumbing it Down for American Audiences?

I don't know if some of you have seen the Millennium Trilogy already, but I highly recommend it.  It is based on a series of novels written by Stieg Larsson, a Swedish born author who recently died.  His death was surrounded by controversy because he had intended on writing a very long series of these books.  There is a rumored fourth manuscript that is being held up in court by his wife who is suing for the rights of the movies.  The fun thing for me was that I was just in Stockholm in the Sodermalm area and most of the movie was filmed there.  I am also half Swedish!

The movies are fantastic.  They are raw, gritty, shocking, and make no excuses for putting reality right out there in your face.  Think La Femme Nikita mixed with elements of James Bond and Saw. The main character, Lisbeth Salander, is sort of a Femme Nikita type who went through sexual and emotional abuse as a child and all of this is thrown at you in full, vivid scenes.  Some of these scenes are quite disturbing.  There is a male rape scene, a full blown lesbian sex scene, as well as some pretty graphic murder scenes.  Unlike most American films, these scenes are an important part of the story and are not just thrown in to shock us with the gore or violence factor.  You are left cheering for her!

I watched the "extras" on the blue ray version of the movie and learned that they are redoing all three movies for the U.S. market and Daniel Craig will play one of the main characters.  Why?!?  Are we that puritanical as Americans that a lesbian character is not acceptable.  Is it too shocking for our delicate eyes?  We will sit here and watch movies like Friday the 13, or Last House on the Left, both of which are chock full of senseless gore, rape, and murder.  Just don't put real life meaning in front of us.....we can't handle it!

19.11.10

To all of my brothers from Body Electric....

To all of my fellow brothers from CBE...

.I wish you luck on your journeys.  May you all find the inner peace for which  you came in search of and thank you for helping me find my way in mine.


Please share a breath with me....

With love,


Michael

More baggage than London Heathrow!






Baggage.....we all have it in some shape or form.  I know that I do!  We all do.  Its a part of life.  Its a collection of all of our battle scars, our deepest fears resulting from years of emotional abuse inflicted upon us not only from the outside, but often from the inside.

A wonderful new friend just said something profound to me today. I was talking to him about some issues that I have been having with someone who is very close to me. This person seems too terrified to allow himself to get close and to open up to anyone.  My friend said that fear is the anticipation of pain.  Think about that!

Being gay is not easy on many levels but one of the most challenging things is that most gay men have an intense fear of commitment.  Why is that?  I have been pondering this for quite awhile now given recent events.  Why is it so hard for us to accept love from another human being.  Why will gay men let you use their body  (without being too graphic) but don't dare ask them for a hug or a kiss or any kind of deep conversation afterward?  I have thought and thought and thought about this and it just doesn't make any sense! My problem friend that I was referring to falls very much into this category.  He is very affectionate, but don't ask to get into that brain of his...he slams the door shut tight and triple bolts it!

I think that we are conditioned while we are growing up to act a certain way toward certain situations.  If we see an image of something bad, we react with fear, and anxiety, or avoidance.  If we see something that is good, we react with happiness.  If we see something as neutral we don't react at all.  Our past relationships, not only romantic, but friendships and familial relationships, condition us throughout life.  If we have had a series of bad relationships sometimes love can take on a negative effect.  We associate the feeling of love with being hurt or abused and we relive that pain over and over again.  Unfortunately, when this happens we shut ourselves down and avoid letting anyone else in....because it might hurt again ...and we learn not to trust people.  As you read in my prior posts about my new found belief in Buddhist principals there is a lot that it can teach you.  One idea is just what I wrote about.  That what we think is what we become. That applies to situations as well.  If we are conditioned that LOVE is a bad thing.....we will react that way.  If we think relationships are supposed to turn out badly then chances are that they probably will for us.  If we can change the way we REACT to  things, like love, then we will change ourselves and that will transfer to those around us in our personal relationships.

A lot of gay men and women out there have been through a lot of hell in their lives. Many of them have been abandoned by their families because of who they are. Others have lost friends or have even got married and spent their whole lives in the closet leading a double live with constant fear of losing their children if their wife finds out.  Some of us have wrestled with religion and feel conflicted about what our life means.  Are we wrong for being born?  Wounds go very deep in the gay community and all of this makes it ten times harder to have a normal, stable relationship with someone.  Too much of our community is focused on image.  We are own worst enemies.  In gay culture, emphasis is placed on what we look like, and how much "stuff" we have.  We even stereotype within our own community with words like bears, bull dykes, lipstick lesbians, retail queens, closet queens, twinks, and on and on. We alienate ourselves from each other. We focus on everything but what is inside of us.  We bury that part of us and wont let anyone else see it when that is the FIRST thing we should be concerned with.  Not if your date is wearing Gucci, or if he drives a BMW or has a six pack of steel.  

A favorite quote of mine is "you can wrap a dog turd in Prada, and its STILL just a dog turd!"  Its true.  If you are a mess on the inside, you cant hide it! Well, you can hide it for a little while...but it always interferes eventually. 











 

Face the Lions Roar and You May Find the Answer to Survival....


I just attended a Body Electric workshop two weekends ago.  During this workshop I learned so much about life and connecting with people.  Our teacher, a very gifted man from San Diego, gave us a great lesson about fear in life.  He used the example of a lion and how it hunts. 

The story goes like this....

When a lion ages its roar gets louder and deeper even though it becomes more feeble.  When the younger lions find prey they send the old lion ahead of them and they prey.  When the old lion roars, the prey runs away from the frightening sound and into the path of the young lions who are waiting on the other side opposite of the old lion. 

The lesson is that if the prey would have faced its fear it would not have been eaten.  Instead it ran in the opposite direction.  Sometimes if we face our fears, we find that it wasn't as big and scary as we thought.

A Whole New Way of Thinking

Recently I have began to take on some major issues in my life.  For most of my adult life, I have been a very anxious person.  I grew up with a very anxiety ridden mother and a father who was the total opposite.  My father remains calm unless you really push his buttons and then watch out.  Anyone within range will be leveled to rubble, but this is on rare occasion and usually only used when justly deserved.

It wasn't until the last three years that I really began to notice how anxious I really was.  I think for most of my life I was very good at pushing issues and feelings down and locking  them away in some dark dusty space in my head.   Over the last three years my stress levels at work have increased greatly.  I work in a very busy hospital setting that is riddled with staffing issues, and scheduling issues, as well as a few personality conflicts.  All of these combined is a great recipe for a stressful disaster. Without boring you with all of the gory details lets just say that it has managed to suck the very life out of me.  I have also had some health issues going on as well as some relationship issues.  Two months ago I had finally met my breaking point.  I was at my wits end.  Between battling ongoing vertigo, of which the origin seems to be a great enigma to my doctors, and dealing with constant stress and long hours over which I had absolutely no control,  I was on a downward spiral.  I wasn't sleeping, I was loosing weight, my personality had started to change from being happy to being constantly negative and miserable. I decided that it was time to face reality and make changes.  Thanks to a very understanding boss, I was able to take three months off to fix myself. and it has been a very long and tedious ongoing process.

As part of my recovery process (and that is how I think of it) I started going to therapy once a week. My therapist is a wonderful, and insightful older woman and I am quite happy with her.  During my first few sessions she had asked if I had ever considered meditation.  Meditation?  I have heard about it.  I have seen people do it.  Tina Turner swears that it got her through her rough life.  For those of you who have not seen her biography, I highly recommend it.  Meditation?  I had never considered it.  I have always had an interest in eastern religions but I had never really taken the time to look into them, only briefly and in a very casual manner. My therapist gave me a book to read about mindful meditation.  It talked about clearing ones mind and doing things like focusing on ones breath to induce a state of calmness.  I thought, hmmm....maybe I should give this a try.

I can tell you that it has truly changed my entire way of thinking.  I am not saying that my life is full of unicorns and rainbows now, but it is very much more calm after getting into the habit of practicing this. I began to try meditation on a regular basis every night for at least 20 minutes a night. I also began to look into Buddhism.

I was raised to be a conservative baptist.  My Grandmother, who recently passed away, was a strict follower.  I however, developed a strong distaste for it given how rigid and  unaccepting it was of, not only my lifestyle, but also of my origin.  I have never been a strong believer in organized religion as a whole. 

Part of what attracts me to Buddhism is that it does not consider itself to be a religion, it considers itself to be a philosophy, a way of living to increase ones mental clarity to attain inner peace.  Buddhists do not pray to any God.  They believe that God is within and that we are all part of  one thing....LIFE.  .  One of the teachings is that "we become what we think."  I think that this is a great way of thinking and I think it rings with a lot of truth.  If we think that we are failures, we will always be failures.  If we think that we are trapped in our jobs, we will always be trapped in our jobs because nothing will ever change.  Change comes from within us.

For the last seven years I have worn a pendant around my neck and it seems to attract many comments.  I have had strangers ask me what is that really interesting thing on your neck chain?  It is something that I purchased at a Tibetan shop in Toronto.  A slender silver bar on which is inscribed, Om Mane Padme Hum in Sanskrit. At the time I purchased it, I asked of its meaning.  The man at the shop said that it was a mantra and the meaning roughly meant that something beautiful comes from something ugly.  I found that to be very profound and I liked how it looked so I bought it.  How ironic that the answer to attaining some semblance of control was hanging around my neck for all of these years.  It turns out that this mantra is one of the main mantras in Buddhism!

I am not saying that Buddhism is the the end all be all answer to your life.  I am saying that it just makes sense. Many of its teachings are common sense.  Don't do anything that would cause undue harm to others, physical or mental.  Do not lie, because it robs the other person of their own reality.  Do not kill anything that breathes out of respect for life.  How can you argue with any of these?

18.11.10

Family

I find it amazing how crazy families can really be.  I just spent over an hour on the phone with my mother and I heard about every ailment that every relative has ever had in their entire life.  I even try to steer the direction but it always comes back to that.  What is with that!?  Thank God for friends! 

My Mother always finds the negative in everything to the point that sometimes I hate sharing things.  If you knew my family background you would know why.  Lets just say think Woody Allen and Mia Farrow.  I was a product of a very messed up situation and this situation had a profound effect on myself as well as my adopted sister.  Nothing was ever directly addressed in my family and a lot of guilt and blame was placed on me for something that I had no choice over.

So today on the phone, after enduring an hour's worth of ailment retelling, I said to my mother that I have been seeing a therapist.  Of course her immediate reaction was "why, whats wrong with you?"  You see, where I grew up, which is a place that I often refer to as the Black Hole of Humanity, it is considered a weird thing to go to a therapist.  Only those screwed up big city folks go to head shrinkers, as my mother and father so lovingly like to refer to them.  If you go to one you must be crazy, or at least that is the generalized gist of it.. So, after sharing this with my mother she proceeds to ask me a thousand questions.  Whats wrong?  Is it you and your partner? Is it me?  I assured her that people actually can to to a therapist because its THEM that needs fixing.  Its so easy to consider all of your problems as some mysterious outside force that has taken control over your life when in fact its actually YOU that is just doing a poor job of playing driver with your life.  As usual, my mother completely missed the concept.  I wanted to tell her,, yes mother , part of it is YOU.  I didn't, I held it back because my mother is such a fragile person that she would have questioned her mothering skills from the day I was born until present day.

For most of my developmental years, all of my parent's energy was focused on covering up the big family secret and not focused on me or my sister.  My sister is much older and had already flown  from the tangled family nest  before I was sentient enough to have any valuable input.  She went through a lot.  Learning that her father had slept with her foster sister and had produced me.  I grew up with who I thought were my mother and grandparents and then had my foundation bull dozed at the age of 13 when my mother and "grandfather" finally came clean about stuff.  From that point on, my life was never the same.  I was angry, upset, rattled, insecure, damaged, and profoundly hurt.  My sister, had the unfortunate pleasure of catching things at a much earlier age and it was never addressed to her.  She was told to shut up about it and was sort of treated as an outcast.  All my life I was told that my sister has issues and  that you cant trust her.

So this week my father had a pacemaker put in at the age of 87.  My sister contacted me via face book and seemed to be in a tail spin about it and I could tell that something was up.  I sat back and thought....here is this poor woman who throughout her life has been treated like she was just a problem child.  I realized that this is not fair and she has every right to be angry about stuff.  I am angry about stuff from the past as well.  So I called her and we spoke for two hours an I assured her that she is NOT crazy and that she just needs to consider that you cant rewrite history and you sure as hell cant change people.  I connected with her in a way that I hadn't ever been able to do.
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