Returning to Loving - the self

Charlie Chun giving me some love.

Charlie Chun giving me some love.

There's nothing like receiving love from a dog. I got to visit with my brother in Hawaii last month, and his dog Charlie, gave me unconditional love and affection. Right about now, I wish that I could give myself that same kind of unconditional love and affection. Loving one's self is hard at times!

What a momentous month it's been. Whew.

At the moment, I am feeling extreme frustration. My apartment has been a complete mess for the last two months due to an infestation of bed bugs that I only became aware of at the start of the new year, though unbeknownst to me the problem actually started 4 months prior. I've been living amidst piles of plastic bags -- at least 40 of them -- and working at a messy desk that has stacks of things to do strewn here and there. At times, it feels like there is no room to breath in here, and I am not one for being able to work easily when there are seemingly endless to-do's right in my line of visibility. Trying to run my small nonprofit business under these conditions has, at moments, felt impossible. Just about now, I am really taking comfort in something the Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg wrote: 

The Buddha taught that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them. The negative forces can never uproot the positive, whereas the positive forces can actually uproot the negative forces. Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt because it is a greater power.

While at times it has felt like the negative forces in my mind are winning out and dominating, I also have just enough space in my mind to see that this situation will not last. From a yoga perspective the above statement seems to make sense. Our need for food, clothing, and shelter are said to rest down in our lower chakras and our capacity for loving resides in our higher ones. Love is the higher and greater power, and as yoga practitioners we need to keep our hearts open and return to love over and over again.

According to Sharon, the Buddha taught that "you can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection."

So the flip side of my current condition is that I have had many opportunities to be compassionate toward myself, cut myself some slack, and seek ways to be affectionate and loving toward myself. For me, it's meant not trying to be so perfect and disciplined all the time. It's meant treating myself to 'junk' food every so often, such as the other night when I had a tremendous craving for a Big Mac, fries, and coke. It's meant acknowledging when I am afraid, such as when I am working to grow my business and feeling like I don't know what I am doing yet trying anything I can think of to keep moving the momentum forward. It's meant acknowledging that I am afraid to ask for help, yet leaping forward and asking anyway. It's meant being OK with shutting down the computer when my mind is mush and just can't think straight any more, even though it feels like I have a thousand and one tasks with imminent deadlines to accomplish. It's meant indulging in lack of time-management and taking longer showers so that my mind can go to that place where the answers to my current questions can arise. It's meant being OK with wearing the same set of clothes day-in and day-out for the last two months, and remembering that many people in the world have to do the same with even less. It's meant giving myself extra doses of metta, or loving-kindness.

Sharon writes: The practice of metta, uncovering the force of love that can uproot fear, anger, and guilt, begins with befriending ourselves. The foundation of metta practice is to know how to be our own friend. ... With metta practice, we uncover the possibility of truly respecting ourselves.

So with all that I have been through this month, I have also retuned to loving my little self. In yoga, we are always striving to connect with the bigger Self, and I think a necessary pre-condition is to start by being kind and loving towards -- and once again befriending -- the little self, the all-too-human little me that does get afraid, that does lose hope, and is only trying  to do good for both my little self and others around me. 

Sharon alludes to this poem by Walt Whitman -- which I absolutely love -- to illustrate the practice of metta and the results that are possible:

I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.

― Walt WhitmanLeaves of Grass

It's all too easy for most of us -- myself definitely included -- to forget the goodness that already resides within and to not acknowledge the good that we do for others around us. It's been all too easy for me -- perhaps you too -- to slip into thinking I am not good enough. So in writing my Artist's Way morning pages this morning I used it as an opportunity to remember all the ways I have held so much goodness for myself and others over the last few days, to remember all the joy I have brought to others in my teaching, and the joy that I received in return. I am now recalling the happiness I experienced teaching my little children gymnastics, dance, and yoga this past Monday and seeing the smiles on their faces and their feelings of pride in their accomplishments. I love teaching little children, and I love seeing them laugh and be excited to learn, and I am so grateful that I can help mold their young and still malleable minds to learn the values that yoga teaches at such a young age. I recall the joy on the faces of the special needs individuals I was invited to teach yesterday at a workshop for a disabilities organization. Seeing the possibilities for movement and awakening within each of them, even with their limited abilities, brought me great joy and feelings of goodness for myself. Seeing the goodness within me has meant allowing myself to be OK with being lazy and indulgent at times, and to accept my current progress as good-enough. 

Most fortunately, I have a loving partner who has supported me through thick and thin, and who reminds me that I am loved and let's me complain and kvetch occasionally for no other reason than so that I can get things off my chest. 

And speaking of my partner Ed, this being the month that we celebrate Valentine's Day and seeing the possibilities for romantic love as a force for helping to do good in the world, after 7 years of being together and deepening our friendship and love for each other, I presented him with a ring and asked him if he would marry me. He said "yes!" We plan to be married back in my home state of Hawaii later this year, and have a wedding ceremony there in 2019, the year of my 60th birthday. I am so fortunate to have a good man in my life, and am looking forward to being partners for life!

And to think that this could only have been possible as of six years ago, when NY State passed same sex marriage and then in 2014 when it became the law of the land here in the U.S. It's because countless LGBTQ individuals loved their little selves just as they were just enough over the last half century that eventually a tipping point was reached in our country.

Whew, what a month it's been.

May you hold much love and affection for yourself, and see all the goodness within you,
May you return to loving the self,
... for your benefit and for the benefit of all.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni

Teaching Chair Yoga at the Center for Family Support, Feb 27, 2018.

Teaching Chair Yoga at the Center for Family Support, Feb 27, 2018.