There Is No Such Thing As An Easy Life

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There Is No Such Thing As An Easy Life

It's naive to assume that someone feels loved just because they are popular.

It's naive to assume that someone feels worthy just because they are successful.

It's naive to assume that someone feels content just because they are wealthy.

It's naive to assume that someone feels happy just because they are smiling.

We're all constantly fighting a battle on the inside. A battle that no amount of money or accomplishment alone can win.

The amount of people who had "the good life" & still chose to end their lives should be proof enough that material things and worldly accomplishments will never be enough to bring us the fulfillment that we all long for. It should also be proof enough that just because someone appears to have it together on the outside, that's not a reliable tell for what's really going on in their heads.

Now more than ever, most of us are only interested in showing the world the sides of ourselves that we think look the best and that causes a lot of us to suffer in silence. But you don't have to. There are so many people out here who are willing to listen if you just need an ear. There are so many people out here who don't care about who you think you are and so they won't judge you for telling them what you're going through. There are so many people out here who care about you and I am one of them.

If you ever need someone to talk to, please reach out ❤️

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The Importance of Speaking Kindly To Yourself

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The Importance of Speaking Kindly To Yourself

How in tune are you with the dialogue that you're constantly having with yourself in your mind? What kind of language do you use when addressing yourself? Are you always as sweet and understanding with yourself as you are with others? Probably not. But why?

Kindness has always come pretty easily to me when it comes to other people but due to bad programming, I have very seldomly offered myself the same grace that I extend to others.

Through contemplation I've realized that I've falsely convinced myself that being tough on myself is what has brought me the success I've enjoyed in life when in reality, all being hard on myself really brought me was more and more self-doubt.

Everyone on this planet deserves love and kindness and that includes YOU! So be your own best friend. Encourage yourself. Support yourself. Believe in yourself. Give grace to yourself. This world we live in is chock-full of obstacles already -- what sense does it make for us to make life more difficult than it already is by being our own worst enemy instead of our own biggest fan?🤷🏽‍♂️

Reprogramming your thoughts is hard work but it's certainly work worth doing. These days I give my mind the same ultimatum that I give everyone else, "Talk to me nice or don't talk to me at all!" ❤️💜💙

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Life Wants So Badly To Live

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On more than one occasion the sight of this weed growing through the pavement behind my apartment has moved me to tears because on more than one occasion, I woke up in my apartment disappointed that I was alive. Disappointed because I didn't know what to do. Career wise. Relationship wise. Hairline wise. Grief, depression, anxiety wise. Disappointed because the landscape that was being presented to me didn't match the landscape that I had planned out in my head -- & there were often times that I'd lost the motivation to live.

Then I'd walk outside to my car and I see this weed. A weed that wasn't planted intentionally. A weed that no one in particular loves or cares about. A weed that has no pretty flowers or distinguishing features. A weed whose very existence was supposed to be thwarted by what it is surrounded by.

I get so moved because it wants to live so badly that it makes no difference to it that it's surrounded by asphalt and not wildflowers. It taught me that life, the essence of life, just wants to live. Regardless of the circumstances, life in nature always searches for a way to continue.

As far as I know this weed can't create art. It can't feel love or joy. It can't think critically or make complex movements with its body. Nah, this weed is destined to be where it is for the rest of its life. It hasn't a fraction of the capacity for life that I do and yet, through the only opportunity it got, it still fought to live. And now, not only is it living, it's thriving.

When we're always listening to what other people say we should be doing with our lives, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you're not doing enough. It's easy to convince yourself that your life isn't worth living just because you don't have what others have or you don't have what you think you should have or because things aren't going like you planned. But always remember that you were blessed with a life for the sole purpose of living it.

Even if you're surrounded by asphalt.

Even if society says you're undesirable.

Even if you must stand alone.

Live.

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9 Ways Meditation Will Change Your Life

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9 Ways Meditation Will Change Your Life

My story isn’t really that unique, you know. When I had my first breakthrough experience with meditation, the second thing I did was hop on the internet to look and see if there were others who had experienced something similar. To my pleasant surprise, there were others! LOTS OF THEM! I now know of so many people who have substantially changed their lives for the better by just sitting their neurotic, anxious, fearful, angry, and/or depressed selves down for a little while. Life is still not all rainbows and butterflies over here but there’s an obvious difference between my quality of life prior to having a meditation practice and my quality of life now. Here are 9 of a literally infinite number of ways that meditating today will change your life!

Physical Benefits

1. Stress Management — You Don’t Have To Feel Bad ALL The Time

Stress is deadly. Especially for those of us that belong to a marginalized demographic. I’ll spare you most of the statistics but just know that stress is tied to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. On top of all that, it makes day to day life suck quite a bit. Some stress is helpful, but most of it is not, and without meditation, most wouldn’t know how to discern the stress that is helpful from the stress that is not. Like most of the other things that cause us to suffer day to day, stress is a bad habit. We enter a pattern of making ourselves stressed out in times of adversity because it’s how we’ve always responded and we’ve falsely convinced ourselves that getting stressed is a part of the problem solving process. Meditation will relax you physically because of the deep breathing that is involved. It will also relax your mind because instead of focusing on your volatile thoughts, you’ll be focusing on something simple and peaceful like the sound of your own breath, a count, a candle flame, or the waves of the ocean. Over time, you’ll reprogram yourself to respond to intense situations with deep breathing and focus instead of mindless, stressful thinking.

 

2. Get High! — Naturally

Meditation has been shown to greatly boost the release of dopamine and other feel good chemicals in the brain. This is something else that I can personally testify about —  there’s no high like a meditation high! Truthfully, you shouldn’t go into meditation with the desire or goal of getting high as it will be distracting and you can make yourself disappointed because not every meditation is going to leave you in a state of ecstasy. But generally speaking, if you sit long enough and allow your mind to quiet enough, you will feel substantially better after you meditate than you did before!

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3. Unlock Your Superhuman Abilities! —  No, seriously.

One of the things that has blown my mind the most since I began studying meditation is how many humans have been recorded to have “unlocked” these extra abilities through meditation and why no one seems to care about it. There are ancient accounts of monks being able to raise their body temperature enough through meditation to dry wet towels on their backs using Tummo meditation practices . A few years ago, I was introduced to Wim Hof. Through meditation and his breathing techniques, he’s taught himself how to control his nervous system. He can control his core body temperature enough that it doesn’t drop when he’s exposed to extreme cold… naked. It’s insane. And he believes it’s possible for everyone. Don’t take my word for it, peep this video!

 

If that’s not convincing enough, check out this guy. He’ a Chi master who has used meditation to foster his ability to use the power of Chi to heal people. I get that the video is old, but it seems so authentic. Everyone he interacts with seems genuinely affected by the things that he does and what they feel when he touches them. Oh, and he makes a piece of newspaper spontaneously combust. It’s lit! 

And these are just a couple examples. This stuff is really only foreign to us living in western societies. In eastern cultures, tales of spiritual masters having powers is very common. There was a time when I would have never believed some of the things shown above were possible. But now I do. No, not because I’ve learned how to bend fire myself (yet) but because I have had other experiences in meditation that made me feel much greater than I once thought a human being could be.

Spiritual Benefits

1. Good Vibrations — Better Mood and Attitude

Meditating regularly raises your vibration. What’s your vibration? In my opinion, your vibration is your spiritual I.D. card. Your vibration is what tells other souls who you are and what you’re about. This is why we prefer to be around people with “good vibes” and why you can always feel when someone’s energy isn’t meshing with your own. Raising your vibration causes you to come into your center and in a centered space, your mood is always better because you’re less susceptible to be influenced by small things that would typically throw you off if you were already unbalanced.

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2. Spiritual Awakening — Open Your 3rd Eye, Your Mind, And Maybe Even Your Heart

If you google “spiritual awakening”, it will take you a lifetime to read just a small fraction of the personal accounts of the numerous souls who have had an experience in meditation that “woke them up” from what some consider the ultimate dream. I’m included in that number but it’s not always easy to talk about it because it seems like most people wouldn’t understand. Not only that but like most of the other true peaks of life, spiritual awakening is an experience that is difficult to put into words. I’ve had several experiences in meditation that I can’t explain — experiences that have stretched what my idea of reality is and challenged who I thought I am at my very core. There’s so much more to this existence than what we can see with the eyes that look. In order to access those other planes of existence that are always available to you, you have to open the eye that sees. And meditation will definitely help that happen.

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3. Learn Love Yourself and Everyone Else

A lot of people told me they loved me over the course of my life but I didn’t truly feel love until I meditated successfully for the first time. Until that point, the only love that I had experienced was a possessive or conditional love. An “I’ll love you if” or “I’ll love you as long as you” type of love. But the day that I surrendered and told myself that I was going to sit until something happened, I felt a love that said “regardless”. It said “I love you Micheal, regardless to how many times you’ve failed.” “I love you Micheal, regardless to how much hurt you’ve caused”. “I love you Micheal, regardless to how disappointed you are in yourself”. “I love you Micheal, regardless to whether or not you go bald” , haha. “I love you Micheal, regardless to whether or not you love me too”. In meditation, I felt a love that didn’t need me to do or be anything. It loved me just because I exist. Being loved that way changed me in a drastic way. It’s the reason I talk about love as much as I do today. It’s made me more compassionate for all life but most importantly, it made me more compassionate for myself. I found a value for myself that runs much, much deeper than anything I could ever gain materially. I promise you that this same experience is available to you right now. It’s waiting for you. Go sit and meet it.

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Emotional Benefits

1. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯— Less Reactionary

When you’re mad, stressed out, depressed, anxious, or fearful, it’s really easy to be influenced by the actions of those around you. But meditating regularly will make you more mindful and when you become more mindful, what others choose to do affects you a lot less. This means you’re less reactionary, which means you’ll make better decisions, which means you’ll be happier with the way your day to day life unfolds. Not only that, you’ll free yourself from being slave to whatever someone else is doing and gain much more authority over your mood. Allowing people to make you upset is giving them exactly what they want. If you want true power, master yourself first. 

2. Better Relationships

Becoming a more meditative person will drastically improve your relationships. Meditation will center you and centering will get you out of your feelings. Once you’re out of your feelings, you may be able to allow yourself to imagine what the other person is feeling. That’s called empathy. It’s not something that seems to be incredibly popular these days but it’s honestly one of the best things you can do for any relationship. We were taught to think of ourselves because the world can be a dangerous and scary place —  we naturally feel the need to look out for number one. And that’s all well and good when you’re on your own but it doesn’t work in relationships because relationships are about how you relate to something else. In order to be able to relate to something well, you have to be able to at least attempt to see the world from the perspective that it does.

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3. Mitigate Depression and Anxiety

I believe that both depression and anxiety affect 100% of people at some point in their lives. Personally, they’re both things that I frequent bouts with but I really do feel like I’m getting a grip on handling them when they arise and meditation is why. You might not notice it but anxiety is always caused by anticipating something that hasn’t happened yet. And depression is typically tied to something that has already happened — something that has changed when you weren’t prepared and instead of accepting how things are, you’re focused on how they were. Meditating helps cure both of these ailments by bringing us into the present moment. Typically, all is well in the present moment. There are so many wondrous things unfolding around you in every moment and if you can focus on just one of those things instead of the constant carousel of thoughts begging for your attention, you’ll begin to know peace.

If you want to get into meditation but don’t know where to start, be sure to check out my “How To Meditate in 5 Minutes” Infographic. I’ve heard from a few people that it’s really helped them jumpstart their meditation practice because it doesn’t take long at all! Download the full-sized infographic here and please share!

 

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How To Get Out Of Your Own Way

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I am the reason that my life isn't the way that I want it to be. And I've decided that as of this moment, that ends. Most of the limits that are imposed on us are self-imposed and they are based in fear and not in truth. Too many of us have allowed chickens to convince us that this thing or that thing wasn't possible or wasn't worth pursuing and it's caused us to close ourselves off to experiences that could have made us more complete people. We all have a calling in our hearts -- we all have something or some things that we would like to accomplish before we leave this planet. But most of us won't pursue those things because of what might happen. Because of what we might lose. Because of what we might gain. Because of what others will think about us. Because we might fail and because, if we do fail, it'll likely make us feel less sure about ourselves than we already do. So we keep doing what we've been doing. And we keep getting what we've been getting. And I guess that if you like what you've been getting, there's nothing wrong with that formula. But I haven't been liking what I've been getting. This past year has confronted me with more toxic patterns, more bad habits, more old thought structures, and more open wounds that I need to tend to in order to become my best self. I've had to deal with a lot of monsters this year and like a nightmarish episode of Scooby-Doo, each time I pulled the mask of the monster I saw myself. If you can relate, know that there is hope for us. What has been learned can always be unlearned. And I've committed to unlearning the habits I've picked up over the years that too often steal too much of my precious time, my precious energy, and this precious life. 

How do you get out of your own way? Well, the first step is to find the places in which you are standing in your way. You must become conscious of the systems you've created and the thought forms you've been programmed with that are hindering your progression. Once you become aware of the ways you sabotage yourself, you can begin to take steps to change them. For instance, if you find yourself skipping the gym because you don't have time to find your gym clothes in the morning, start packing your gym clothes at night. Become aware of the excuses that you frequent when it comes to not achieving your goals and then attack them! Most of us would have a lot more time to be productive if we didn't fill our free time with bad habits. Habits that bring us immediate pleasure but later add to our misery because they take away time for us to go after the things that are truly going to bring us fulfillment. If you show up for yourself and be your own guardian and your own motivator, your own supporter and your own disciplinarian, I promise that you'll see radical changes in your quality of life. But getting out of your own way in just the physical world isn't enough. You also need to find the places you get in your own way in your relationships with others and most importantly, how you get in your own way in your relationship with yourself.

It is inconsiderate, irresponsible, and frankly, quite selfish to get involved romantically with someone new when you still have attachments or unhealed wounds from a prior relationship. This is a major way that we tend to get in our own way in relationships. Reason being, until you've dealt with everything you needed to since a prior relationship, you are going to bring those same wounds and still be affected by the same triggers with your new person who doesn't deserve what you're going to project on to them. This not only applies to romantic relationships but also to the relationships you have with your family members. Mommy and daddy issues sabotage relationships more than anything else, I'm certain. Because they didn't give you the love or support or attention you craved, you seek it in partners and when they can't live up to your skewed expectations, you sabotage the relationship. Or you don't believe that you're worthy of being loved so whenever someone gets too close to you, you do something destructive to sabotage the relationship. Or in my case, you still haven't quite gotten over your abandonment issues and so now, at the first sign of trouble, you're ready to bail on the relationship out of fear of being left again. So be mindful and take notice of what triggers strong emotions in you and investigate the causes of them. Understand that the only person that can heal you is yourself and that regardless of the choices the people in your life have made, you are valuable and you are worthy and their lack of desire to be involved in your life doesn't change that at all. You have to choose that being free of having to react to every little thing is more important than the petty, useless, empty, toxic grudges that you're holding on to. You're going to have to let that shit go if you're going to get out of your own way.

I love being kind. It comes to me pretty easily and is pretty much my default setting unless something is really bothering me. I believe that just about every human being on this planet deserves my kindness with the exception of one person -- that one person being myself. It's kind of mind-boggling when I think about it but I guess I'm hard on myself because I've assumed that that's what's gotten me where I am today. And in a way, it is what's gotten me here and by "here" I mean, "neurotic", "anxious", "overly-critical of myself". People were hard on me growing up, likely because others were hard on them, and I accepted what was said to me and what was said about me as fact when it was merely a poor opinion. No one can say "Micheal" with more disappointment in their tone than I can. No one can present a stronger case for my inadequacy than I can. I truly, truly, truly have never been called "stupid", in it's literal sense, by anyone in my life other than my self. I've falsely convinced myself that what has brought me success up to this point in my life is being rough on myself but it is a lie. Condemnation serves no other purpose than to shame and to punish -- not to rehabilitate -- so there's no way that my self-condemnation could have made me better. It just made me more damaged.

If you want to be a more hopeful and positive person, you have to surround yourself with hopeful and positive people. You have to consume hopeful and positive media. You have to read hopeful and positive books. You have to aim where you want to land. One of the biggest concepts I've grasped this year is that where you look determines what you see. For so long I didn't understand why I saw so much pain and suffering and frustration and confusion when I looked out into the world. But I've realized that the reason I saw those things is because I was programmed to look for those things. Because they validated my unhappiness. Because they validated my unworthiness. Because they validated the darkness that I felt inside sometimes. But I guarantee you that there's at least as much good in the world as there is bad. And if you choose to look for good things, you will find them. And if you can train yourself to look for mostly good things most of the time, then I promise your experience will shift from pain and suffering and frustration to peace, and joy, and wonder.

Consider the possibility that you only have one hater and that is yourself. Consider the possibility that you create conflict with others to validate your own unhappiness or your inflated ego or because you want them to be miserable like you. Consider the possibility that everything about your life that you don't like is, at least partially, your fault -- and if you can't accept it as your fault, at least accept it as your responsibility. Because it is your responsibility. How silly is it to put your path and your happiness in the hands of other people? How silly is it to try and live your life for the approval of other people who can't know what you're destined to become? People who can't know you in the way you know yourself. People who only think they know what you are. People who really don't care whether or not you're happy with yourself or not as long as they're getting what they want from you. How silly is it to allow the poor choices others have made to convince you that you're not worth going after everything your heart desires? It's very silly. And I hope that you will join me in responding to that silliness in 2018 and beyond with "fuck that noise!". I'm doing me. This is my life. I am in control. It will be what I want it to be. And I or no one else is going to prevent that.

-@MichealSinclair

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Losing My Religion

I've done a lot of scary things in my life but very few compare to the day that I said out loud that I'm not a Christian. My relationship with Christianity has always been complicated. Going to church wasn't an option in my family when I was younger and being drug there every Sunday on the 1 of 2 days that I didn't have to go to school certainly caused me to be resentful towards it. But I've also always felt very connected to a higher power and religion often gave me something to hold on to when it felt like everything else was falling apart. My religion was very important to me for a very long time but not because I loved God or was devoted to her. On Sundays I would go through the motions and sing on the choir and give a dollar or two to the collection plate. But during the week, I pretty much did what I wanted to do. I would say "God is great…" before my meals and tried to say my prayers before bed every night just like I'd been trained to do but they were usually filled with selfish requests for myself to get more things -- not to connect with God. To be completely honest, the only reason religion was important to me was because I was scared. Scared of the world around me and all the pain and destruction and confusion and suffering that's here. But most of my fear came because I was scared to die. Because I believed the lie that there's this red man with horns whose sole purpose is to run around all day tormenting people. Scared because I'd been burned by fire before and the idea of having to spend eternity in a pit of it was too much to handle. Scared because I don't know how I got here, what I'm doing here, or what's going to happen to me after I leave. I definitely didn't realize it while I was in it, but fear is the only reason I clung to my religion for as long as I did. But something snapped inside of me when I learned that my mom was facing almost certain death and that the God who supposedly loved me allowed it to happen. All of the fear that I had of dying was replaced with anger. I no longer was afraid of being damned to hell or being punished or being left behind or whatever else. Nah fam, me and God needed to have some words about this and I wasn't going to stop looking until I found him to let him know that he had me fucked up. So I started looking -- not in my bible because I was certain that he wasn't there. Desperation led me to trying meditation -- something that I'd heard about before but likely would have never tried without feeling like I didn't have any other option. And through meditation I did find God and was surprised to find that she looked and behaved nothing like I'd been told she did.

You hear the phrase "God-fearing" in just about any church that you go to as if it's something to aspire to be. But why? Why does God, who allegedly is Love, want me to be afraid of it? If I came to your house and your children were afraid of you, I would immediately think that there's something wrong with you -- that you're abusing your children. So why on earth would our "heavenly father", who loves us unconditionally, want us to be afraid of it? I remember when my little brother had just learned how to crawl and my mom didn't want him going into areas of the house that she wasn't in. So what she would tell him is "don't go back there, there's a dog back in that room!" and when he wouldn't listen, she would start to bark and that would usually be enough to get him to turn around and scurry back to her in terror. She lied & used fear as a means of controlling him -- of getting him to do what she wanted. And what I've learned since forfeiting my fear of death is that the church uses fear to control us as well. But instead of a dog, it uses death or sickness or bills or demons or just general discontent with life to scare you into behaving the way it wants you to. I once believed that hate is the opposite of love but I've learned that fear is actually the opposite of love and that love and fear can't exist in the same space at the same time. I've learned that it's impossible to love something that you're afraid of so those that claim to be God-fearing don't love God at all. Yes, I loved my mother dearly but I can assure you that I felt 0 love for her when she whooped me for misbehaving. And I found the same was true for God. I only "loved" God when I felt like I was being blessed or favored. All the rest of the time I was merely afraid. I didn't love God, I was just afraid to die. I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't "love" God. And so to really know God, I had to give up the fear I had of him, and of death, and of hell. The day I realized that a heaven filled with the Christians I know would actually be hell is the day I stopped being afraid of both & truly came to know God.

I distinctly remember being in church on several occasions and hearing the pastor say something that I knew in my heart was a lie -- even as a kid. I remember contemplating the often contradictory messages that were being broadcasted from the pulpit -- in one breath telling me that God loves everyone unconditionally and in the next telling me that fornicators were going to be damned to hell. Speaking of hell, that's another concept that never really made sense to me. I've never been able to understand how a loving God could punish his own creations for eternity. Maybe because I'm a creative myself and sure, there are times when my creations don't turn out or behave the way that I intended them to but as the Creator, I understand that it's no fault of my creations because they are only what I made them to be. About a year after I learned that my mom had cancer I'd been meditating for a few months and was definitely beginning to feel more connected to a different God than the one I was raised knowing but I still clung dearly to my Christianity out of fear of not having anything else. It was then that a dear friend of mine presented to me a proposition that I honestly didn't think was possible until I heard it from her lips. She said that she loved Jesus and was very connected to Jesus but didn't believe that he died for her sins. This blew my mind! It was so difficult for my conditioned mind to understand how someone could love Jesus but not be a Christian. It definitely took some time but this little seed of wisdom she planted in my mind took root and I began to inquire why I needed a savior in the first place? Why am I not good enough? Because some woman that I never knew and don't even know really existed was misled by a very persuasive snake? What have I done that's so bad to deserve an eternity of suffering? After much deliberation, the answer I came up with is "nothing." If I had a nickel for every time I've heard the phrase "the devil is busy" whenever someone was confronted with an obstacle, I'd at least have enough money to move somewhere far enough away that the devil would never be able to reach me. It always confused me how God loved us and was all powerful but for some reason he allowed this other evil being enough power to punish, torment, and tempt us into doing bad things. I'd also noticed that often times when myself or other people blamed the devil for something it was usually something that could have been avoided had we just been more mindful or considerate. But we human beings hate to be accountable and are always looking for a scapegoat but when you stop and think about it, it makes absolutely no sense to blame the devil for your sickness if you eat trash all day everyday, don't exercise, and make other choices that lead you to being susceptible to sickness. Meditation made me a lot more mindful and a lot more reflective and I noticed that a lot of the things that I didn't like about my life were nobody's fault but my own. So one day back in 2015, I decided that the devil isn't a real. And if he is real, he looks a lot like me. And I promise you that I've had 0 encounters with the devil since having this epiphany.

Yoga and meditation introduced me to Hinduism and while I wouldn't call myself a Hindu, it's definitely the belief system that I feel most connected to these days.  Once I forfeited my fear of "putting other Gods before me" I started to study all the world's major religions and I've learned that they are all a lot more similar than they are different. I learned beautiful stories of Hindu deities that I feel just as connected to as I do to Jesus.  I learned about Buddhism, I learned about Islam, I learned that being a Satanist has absolutely nothing to do with worshipping Satan but fear would have prevented me from ever knowing that. I've learned that atheists are actually a lot closer to God than most of the religious people that I know because they're a lot more open minded. But the most important thing that I learned is that we all are searching for something greater than our day to day existence whether we admit it or not. We all want more answers about who we are and what we're doing here. We all want to know what awaits us on the other side of death. I held a lot of resentment towards Christianity and religion in general when I first "woke up" but I've since learned that this resentment was misplaced. We all are looking for God and we all are looking for the same one --it's just that most of us don't know it yet and that's okay. But what's not okay is judging others or telling them that what they feel, do, or believe is wrong. What's not okay is believing that you're better or higher than other people just because you belong to a religion. What's not okay is pretending to know exactly what God is and what God wants because you don't and if you did, you wouldn't be here. I definitely don't intend to speak for all Christians but in my personal experience, Christianity is more about belonging to a social club than it is about following the teachings of Christ and actively trying to love everyone unconditionally. This is in no way meant to imply that nothing good comes out of church or religion or Christianity because I don't believe that. I visit my bible more often these days than I ever have and I definitely believe there's an infinite amount of wisdom within. But I don't believe the bible was ever meant to be taken literally. And I do believe that over time some individuals have capitalized on the human fear of death as a means to get people to follow their beliefs and ultimately control their lives. I do believe that religion separates us and causes conflict between us. I do believe religion gives us an excuse to judge others and be righteous. And that's ultimately why I am super okay with losing it. 

I still love Jesus. I feel very connected to Christ and I think about him literally everyday. In fact, I love Jesus a lot more truthfully and honestly than I ever did back when I identified with being a Christian. Everything that I've been doing lately from Yoga, to As You Are, to this blog is directly influenced by my desire to live my life after the way Christ lived his. I would certainly consider myself a follower of Christ's teachings but I would not call myself a Christian. "So what's the difference?", you might ask. Well, I don't believe what Christians believe. I don't believe that Jesus died for my sins because I'm a wretch because I've learned that I’m not a wretch and that I don't need saving. I don't believe that "good" people go to heaven when they die and that "bad" people are damned to hell. I don't believe that a newborn baby that doesn't know up from down or right from left is a born sinner. I don't believe in condemnation and I've learned that Love is the absence of judgement and so the God I know judges no one and never will. I don't believe that God gets jealous or wrathful or angry or even happy for that matter but we humans took our own emotions and assigned them to God and assumed that she must feel the same things that we do -- like Zora Neale Hurston said "Gods always behave like the people who make them". I don't believe that "favor ain't fair" because the God I've come to know loves everyone equally and blesses everyone equally. I believe the idea that some are more blessed than others is an ego game that we created in order to put others down and make ourselves feel better by comparison. I don't believe that God only gives messages to a select few -- I believe that God speaks to us all equally and all the time, it's just that some of us don't know how to listen. I believe that righteousness is gross -- and that there's a big difference between purity and righteousness and most of the righteous people that I know are inwardly very ugly and impure. Do I know that I'm right? Absolutely not. If I've learned anything these past few years it's that I know nothing. Which is another reason why the church isn't for me because the church pretends that it knows the way. And maybe it does know a way but I’m certain that it doesn't know the way for me. My way continues to unfold as I continue in this life of mine and I'll have more to say on that as it's revealed for me. For now, one thing I'm certain of is that there is something out there that's bigger than me and that it does love me unconditionally and that's enough for now.

--@MichealSinclair

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The Only Way Out Is Through

I've had my heart broken at least once a year for every year that I can remember being alive. I've tried my best to avoid it ever since the first little girl checked "no" on my note asking if she liked me but it seems like no matter what I do, heartbreak makes it's way into my life. Often when we think of heartbreak we think of romantic relationships and unrequited love. While romance is definitely a common cause of heartbreak, I haven't had my heartbroken by a girl in at least 5 years. But I've still managed to be hurt on a very deep level each year since then. Heartbreak is actually the reason why I got my very first tattoo. I used to be so afraid of committing to putting something permanent on my body but the pain I felt after getting my heart broken back in 2013 inspired me to want to do something drastic. Something meaningful. It was the first time in my life that heartbreak seemed to have a bit of a positive effect on me even in spite of all the pain I was feeling. I wanted to give myself a reminder -- something that I would have to look at everyday. Something that would remind me of the pain and the fact that my pain has a purpose. Something that would remind me that strength is built through resistance. Something that would remind me that there are no shortcuts in this life and that nobody here owes me anything. Something that would remind me that I can't escape heartbreak and that heartbreak is actually essential to becoming better. Something that would remind me everyday that the only way out is through. 

Spring 2013 was a very confusing time in my life. Well, most of the time I've spent living has been confusing but that's not the point. In spring of 2013, I'd just gotten out of the longest relationship I'd ever been in (a whopping year and a half lol), I'd just quit my "dream job" in Boston and moved back in with my mom in hodunk Laurens, SC, and I was using my Sports and Entertainment Management degree to it's fullest as a teller at the local credit union. I felt so lost. I was literally having breakdowns on what seemed like a daily basis because I was so discontent with my life. I left college feeling like a big shot and not even a year later I felt like a failure more than anything else. All I did with my life was go to work and pander to ungrateful people for 8 hours and then come home and mope about it. I was constantly looking for an escape route so I spent a lot of my free time looking for jobs in big cities. I still thought that I was a model back then and one day, I was on craigslist looking for modeling gigs and I came across this ad that I felt like described what I am and what I was looking for to the letter. Further investigation revealed to me that the poster was Truth, the brand behind all of the anti-tobacco commercials. Apparently, Truth goes on tour ever summer with Warped Tour to basically tell kids that "smoking is bad mmkay?" If my memory serves me correctly, they tour for five months and the "truth riders" live on a tour bus that goes city to city spreading the word. This sounded like my dream job. I'd always been enchanted by the tour life from my love of music and even though I didn't make a ton of music back then, I'd always had dreams of making it as a musician so this seemed like the next best thing. Not to mention all of the opportunities that could have come out of it. To apply, you had to make video of yourself and post it on Youtube. I'd never done that before but I figured, "what do I have to lose?" I'm 22, living in my mothers house in middle of nowhere, SC and worse case scenario, they just don't show interest. So I made the video. And I sent it in. And the next week, I got a call.

There's not a word in the english dictionary that would properly describe just how excited I was after I got that call! Not only was this an opportunity to work with a major brand doing something that I love but it was also my ticket out of my moms house which really meant it was a ticket to no longer having to feel like a loser everyday. They liked my video and I couldn't believe it. This was the first video I'd ever shot and edited and I recorded it all on my Samsung Galaxy S3. I was still low-key creatively back then so I wasn't sure how it would be received or if they would think it or I was good but apparently, I piqued someone's interest. A couple phone interviews later and I was on a plane to JFK to do the final round of interviews in Manhattan. This was it. This is how I would make it out... or so I thought.

New York was just as magical as it always is. My line brother graciously agreed to let me crash on the floor in his crib for a week and I had three days of interviews between me and my dream. The setup was a lot like what you see on MTV reality shows. I want to say maybe 20 people were invited to New York and people were getting cut everyday after the interviews. On the first day, I did my first interview and met a lot of the veteran truth riders. They all seemed to like me, a lot, and I did pretty well in my first interview. That evening, all of the applicants got together at this bar for drink while everyone anxiously waited by their phones to hear whether or not they made it to the next round. I remember that there were like 3 or 4 people that got the call before me. 2 of them got yeses but they others didn't so I really had no way of guessing what would be on the other end of my call. Eventually, it was my turn. I walked outside to answer the phone and was delighted to hear that I'd made it to the next round! I walked back in the bar feeling accomplished. Feeling certain. The next day was the last day of interviews and it was the most intense. It was a full day of unorthodox Truth try-outs where we did a number of things ranging from this charades type of personality test to going out on the street in Manhattan and trying to get strangers to talk to us or dance and be silly. This went on for like 8 hours or so and then they sent us home to wait for the results. I was still pretty confident at this point. Most of my peers had expressed to me that they liked me and thought that I'd make it for sure and I'd also became friends with a couple of the tour veterans who also seemed to imply that I had a spot or at least to my ego their words felt like implications. The call came at like 10pm that night. I was sick with anxiety and was honestly relieved to see a call come in. I answered and the voice on the other end of the phone had a tone that I was familiar with from the dozens of other jobs I had applied to months before. I didn't make it. 

The best way I can describe what I was feeling is the Mister Krabs meme. The pervading emotion that I felt was confusion because I was so sure that this was it. I was so sure that I was a perfect fit. I was so sure that this was going to be my ticket out of monotony, boredom, and discontent. But strangely, unlike all the other times I'd gotten my heart broken before, I didn't cry. I just felt really, really sober. Heartbroken, for sure, but unconvinced that it was because I was inadequate. I called one of the truth veterans that I had gotten cool with for a little insight on why I got denied. I don't remember exactly what he said to me but it was something along the lines of "it doesn't matter how dope you are, there will always be somebody that can't see it." Those words brought me peace in a weird way. I was still hurt, for sure, but I also felt a little empowered. My LB took me out for a night on the town where I pretty much successfully forgot about it all with the help of a lot of liquor. I missed my flight the next morning, to add insult to injury, AND I left my lights on when I parked at the airport, so I came back to a dead battery, but I eventually made it back to my momma's house in hodunk Laurens, SC. Still full of pain but also full of something I didn't have before I left which was determination to not let what was happening to me define my worth. 

A couple weeks later I drove myself to a tattoo shop in Greenville, SC and I decided that I was finally going to pull the trigger on getting a tattoo. I'd done some research and I chose the Koi fish because in Japanese/Chinese mythology, the Koi fish has to swim upstream against strong currents for years and years and years in order to reach this waterfall called "Dragon's Gate". If he perseveres long enough, he'll eventually pass through the waterfall and will be rewarded by becoming an all powerful dragon. I felt like there was no better representation of the experience I'd just been through and other experiences that brought me to that point. My entire life it felt like I was swimming against the current, facing obstacle after obstacle, and there were many times that I wanted to give up. There were many times when the heartbreak felt so painful that I felt like I couldn't go on anymore. But what I've learned is that heartbreak provides us with an opportunity and one of the highest opportunities that this existence can provide. Each time our heart breaks we have the choice to either fill in the cracks with cement and build these walls to try and make it harder for us to get hurt again. Or we can allow the heart break to open our hearts a little bit. We can allow that pain to reconnect us to our humanity and to our purpose. We can allow the pain of heartbreak to make us soft again. Vulnerable. Sensitive to the beauty of life and the beauty of pain. We can allow the pain to make us cold and withdrawn or we can use it to inspire us to keep going. I don't know much about this life that we're living but I know that there's no way to escape it. I pity my friends who have chosen suicide, not because I think that it's shameful because I don't and there have certainly been days that I didn't feel like living anymore. But because I know that they are just delaying the inevitable. Life is a curriculum. Lessons will keep appearing over and over again until they are learned. You can try your best to avoid the pain of heartbreak by going under it or going around it but you better believe that it will only cause the pain to appear again in another form. You can travel all around the world in an attempt to escape what you're feeling inside but you'll soon find that what's really bothering you isn't geographically based; it's inside you. Instead of trying to escape, I encourage you to be brave and face whatever it is that you're dealing with right now because you are strong enough to handle it and you will be better because of it.

The only way out is through. 

--@MichealSinclair

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You Are Who You've Been Looking For

Most of us walk around all day every day with this gaping hole inside of us. It feels like something is missing -- something's just not complete. So we spend the vast majority of our time on this planet looking for things to fill that hole. The online dating industry generates over $2 billion a year from people looking to buy something that cannot be bought. And I'm certainly guilty of it myself. While I've never paid for a dating service I've definitely spent way too many hours of my life swiping on Tinder looking for a girl that would probably never use Tinder. But what I've realized over the past few years is that what I was actually looking for on Tinder was the love I didn't feel for myself.  We all desire love in some way, shape, or form and unfortunately, this often leads us down paths that aren't very beneficial for us.  But it doesn't have to be this way at all. I honestly felt betrayed when I first learned that I could love myself and that loving myself is honestly all I needed to feel fulfilled. I felt betrayed because it seems like everything around me, from as early as I can remember, was trying to convince me that I wasn't good enough. Even the people that claimed to love me were constantly reinforcing this idea that I needed to be more than what I am. That I didn't deserve happiness unless I achieved certain things. That I didn't even deserve my life and instead I should feel guilty and obligated to worship this man that I'd never met because he "saved" me. Anytime I turn on the TV, there are 100s of companies telling me how I need to buy their product in order to be happy. And had it not been for meditation and learning about who I really am, I would have believed them. I would have continued to bounce from woman to woman, leaving in my wake a trail of broken hearts because they couldn't fill a void that I had no business trying to make them fill. I would have continued to buy more and more stuff that I didn't need to impress people that I didn't even really like. I would have continued to subscribe to a belief system that is based in making feel guilty for something that I didn't do. But what I've learned from spending so much time with myself lately is that no one or no thing can fill the void that I used to feel inside of me other than myself.

Have you ever wondered what really happens when you fall in love with someone? You think about them all the time. You're constantly thinking of ways to make them happier, or how to make them feel good, or how to make them fall in love with you more. All of your thoughts of the future start to include that person and all of your thoughts of the past pale in comparison to how your life is now that you've found your person. You wake up everyday happier and more excited about life. Food tastes better. Colors are more vibrant. You become a much more positive and bright being. I've heard so many people say that they are at their best when they are in love and they believe wholeheartedly that that best has come from their new love interest. But what if they're wrong? What if the love you feel when you fall in love has nothing to do with how you feel about the person you "fell in love" with but instead has everything to do with how that person makes you feel about yourself? What if that person does nothing more than provide you with a mirror to see all of the beautiful parts about yourself that society does it's best to make you forget? What if the smile that you put on your lovers face makes you happy, not because you made them happy, but because it showed you that you're capable of causing joy? What if the clinginess of your partner makes you feel secure, not because they're attached to you but rather because they've shown you that you're worthy of holding onto? What if it's not the love of your lover that makes you feel at your best but instead it's that your lover has provided inspiration for you to release and cultivate the love that is always present inside of you? We've convinced ourselves that love is a verb and that it requires action but I'm not sure that this is true. The love that I've had the pleasure of getting to know lately doesn't require any action because it does not need anything. So when I say that I love everyone, it's not that I'm constantly trying to do things to show people that I love them because that's not love at all, it's a trade. When I say that I love everyone what I mean is that I'm allowing them the space to be whatever it is that they are with as little judgement as possible. And I think what really happens when we fall in love with someone else is that they've allowed us the space to see that what we are is already enough to deserve love.

As an artist, I've spent a lot of time investigating the need for a muse and just how essential the muse is to the creation process. Muses are important because they provide us with a point of reference. Isn't it bizarre that you'd never know what your face looks like without a mirror or something else that casts your reflection? Just like it would be impossible to know our faces without a mirror, it's also impossible to know things about our personalities without the mirrors that our relationships provide us.  I believe the things that we don't like about people show us the things we don't like about ourselves and consequently, the things we love about other people show us the things we love about ourselves. I mean, "it takes one to know one", right? So consider the possibility that it's not someone else's love that you're after to feel complete but instead it's your own love. Consider the possibility that you don't need a better half because you are already whole. Consider the possibility that you're at your best when you're in love because that person makes you forget about all the things you don't like about yourself which allows you the clarity to see and be your best self.

One of the most interesting things I've had the pleasure of studying is how people become more attractive to you when you start to fall in love or develop feelings for them. There have been a couple girls that I wasn't that into aesthetically at first but as I learned more about them, they became so beautiful to me and I preferred to see them more than girls who I originally thought were more attractive. Have you ever wondered why this is? I think it's because love and judgement can't exist in the same space. So as you begin to fall in love with a person, you start to judge them less and less. The insignificant things that used to bother you about their appearance disappear because you've become more attracted to who they are beyond their bodies. As I began to turn inward for love instead of looking outward as I'd been doing, I noticed that the same thing was happening to me. For too long my "love" of myself was based in my appearance and my personality and the access that both provided me but that also meant that the hatred of myself were based in the same things. But through meditation I began to reconnect with the part of myself that is beyond the physical and when I did, my bodily imperfections and personality flaws started to mean a lot less to me. Through meditation, I learned to love myself truly which means that I've stopped comparing myself to everyone all the time. I've stopped tripping over every little blemish on my record or whenever someone isn't interested in being with or around me. Through meditation I've learned that love is something that we all have inside of us all the time but over time we've forgotten how to access it. Through meditation I've learned that the person I've been dying to meet this entire time is myself and in recognizing that, I've been enjoying life more than I ever have before because my happiness is no longer dependent on other people or other things that may leave me but instead my happiness is dependent on something that I've always had and always will have -- my Self.

-@MichealSinclair

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The Spiritual Reasons Why I Stopped Eating Meat

First and foremost, animals are delicious. Or at least they are when you're used to eating them. That's why I'd like to precede this by saying that at no point throughout this post am I going to try to make you feel bad or guilty for eating animals because I did it and enjoyed doing it for a long time. In fact, I'm actually a pescatarian right now as I still eat sea creatures about 2-3 times a week and typically enjoy doing that too. But I stopped eating pork, poultry, beef, and any other kind of land animal about a year and a half ago and I don't think I'll ever start back. Switching to a plant-based diet has enhanced my quality of life in so many ways. I made the change around the same time that I started to take my spirituality seriously and my heart started to open back up after years of being sealed shut. For the entirety of my life up to that point, I thought animals only existed to serve human needs. But meditation showed me that humans aren't that different from any other animal. We've convinced ourselves that we're superior to other animals but is that true? And if you do think that it's true, what makes you so sure? One thing that I am sure of is that I really don’t enjoy suffering and I've noticed that animals suffer. As I gained more love and compassion for myself through meditation, I also gained it for every other living being around me. I was no longer okay with another sentient being having to suffer for my enjoyment when there was an alternative. My eyes were also opened to the health dangers that eating meat exposes us to and I don't mean just physically. You get what you give and I wholeheartedly believe that the reason there's so much disease and suffering in human existence is because we bring so much suffering to our earth and the beings we share it with. Type 2 Diabetes, which preceded my mom's Pancreatic Cancer, is entirely preventable and a plant-based diet has been proven to cure it completely. I used to frequently get sick until I started eating cleaner and I swear that I've only been sick once or twice since I cut meat completely. As someone who would rather break a bone than have a cold, having a stronger immune system is reason enough for me to stick with a plant based diet. But it's honestly the changes that happened to my spirit, not my body, that led me to give up eating land animals for good and I hope that what I have to say in the next few paragraphs will encourage you to consider that possibility for yourself.

Sometimes I dream about fried chicken. Our relationship was way deeper than just taste. Fried chicken is home. Fried chicken reminds me of the best times I had with my family growing up. Fried chicken was there for me when my crush rejected me. Fried chicken was there for me after I got cut from the basketball team. My mother and grandmother's fried chicken was one thing that seemed to stay consistent while everything else around me changed growing up. The smell of chicken slowly frying to a golden brown state of perfection was the first experience I had with psychedelics because I swear it got me high. For me and for a lot of people like me, fried chicken is the epitome of comfort food and honestly, I never thought I'd be able to part ways with it for that reason. So you can imagine how confused I was after I started having this nagging desire to stop eating it. The religion I was born into always told me what not to do -- don't do this thing or don't do that thing. But the spiritual teachers I've learned from never told me that I had to stop doing anything. They said, just do your spiritual practice and your "impure" desires will fall away. Probably like you're thinking right now, I thought that was absolute bullshit. But since meditation was the only thing that brought me peace in the midst of the storm of cancer, I meditated regularly. As my meditation practice deepened more and more, I noticed that things were changing inside of me. The first major change I noticed is that I cared a lot more about the feelings of those I interacted with. It started bothering me that I was consciously manipulating people for my selfish benefit. I started getting this weird feeling of compassion for everything around me, not just other people. The way I was suffering back then was kind of like a scared straight program in the way that it opened my eyes to the fact that all sentient beings suffer and that I had contributed quite a bit to suffering of a lot of living things. I remembered seeing those viral videos of the behind the scenes of what happens to animals at farms and butcher shops and I remember knowing for sure that those animals were suffering but not caring enough back then to stop eating them. But now I did care and not only did I care, I had this feeling deep inside the core of my being telling me that it was time for me to stop contributing to that suffering. And that's why even though there's a moment of bliss when I bite into the fried chicken in my dreams, I immediately wake up to feelings of guilt.

I'm a big believer in energy and it was Ram Dass who first introduced me to the idea that everything that we eat has an energy of it's own and that we take on the energies of the things we eat. Under this school of belief, you literally are what you eat and so if we eat something that died as a result of violence in a state of fear, terror, and anxiety, those emotions become the pervading ones we feel in our lives as well. Now I know that's a pretty abstract idea and I'm not asking you to accept it as fact, just consider it. You have certainly felt the energy of a dog or a cat when it was hurting or in distress haven't you? When I watched those videos of animals having to live in their own shit and being beaten and slaughtered, I felt a certain type of energy and it wasn't an energy that I wanted inside of me. "But Micheal, you eat fish, doesn't that make you a hypocrite?" Some would say yes! But… the verdict isn't in yet about whether or not fish are sentient beings and if they feel pain or suffer. And that's honestly why I've been able to hang on to eating them for now, at least. My Yoga teacher is a passionate vegan and she says that all life is sentient, including plants.  But not all spiritual practitioners are anti-meat. Some teachers say that not eating meat won't make you enlightened any faster than eating it everyday. They believe that the relationship you have with your food is what's most important. That as long as you show respect and genuine gratitude for whatever it is you're eating as a gift from the Creator then you're golden. And I'm not qualified to tell you that they're wrong and that's also why I'm not going to tell you that you should definitely stop eating meat or that you necessarily need to stop eating meat to be spiritual or get closer to God. I'm just saying that breaking my addiction to meat has made me a better person. It's made me more compassionate for all life, including my own. It's fostered an awareness in me that our planet is a living thing and that the choices we make either contribute to it's longevity or to it's demise.

It's not just animals that I've gained compassion for -- I also try my best not to kill insects these days which makes dating a challenge. Not too many girls want to hear "try and catch it" when they're freaking out about seeing a spider on the wall. But it's really difficult for me to intentionally kill something these days.  There was a time that I found pleasure in killing insects but what gives me the right to end a life that I didn't begin? Because I'm afraid? Because I don’t understand it? I've learned that there's never a good reason to be afraid and that fear is a sorry excuse for ending someone or something else's life. This idea is beautifully put in the following poem by Nikki Giovanni:

"I killed a spider

Not a murderous brown recluse

Nor even a black widow

And if the truth were told this

Was only a small

Sort of papery spider

Who should have run

When I picked up the book

But she didn’t

And she scared me

And I smashed her

 

I don’t think

I’m allowed

 

To kill something

Because I am

 

Frightened"

I've gained so much love for this planet, for my life, and the lives of all those around me because I now see it all as a gift from my Creator. I now see the same beauty I see in flowers in snakes and in roaches and in rats. I no longer subscribe to the belief that human beings are the superior life form and that we get to choose whether or not other life forms should be able to enjoy their lives here. The truth is, we humans are the visitors here and as visitors, we should be doing everything that we can to maintain life on earth, not destroy it and certainly not just for our pleasure. At every moment we get to choose whether we'll act out of fear or if we'll act out of love. For too long, fear drove my diet. Fear of missing out. Fear of not getting enough protein. Fear of not being able to eat my favorite foods. Fear of not being accepted if I didn't eat what my family ate. But now, I try to choose love in regard to my food. Choices that not only show the planet that I love it but also show my body that I love it enough to only want to put the best food in it. So I encourage you to consider love, consider life, consider at least cutting back on meat if you can't quit it completely and I promise you that both your physical and spiritual health will benefit from it immediately!

--@MichealSinclair

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The Importance of Making Friends With Change

2016 was filled to the brim with change for me. I started the year by moving to a new city and starting a new job. By the time the year was over, I'd lost the job and several other things that I thought made me who I was. My mom didn't pass away until June of 2016 but it honestly felt like I lost her around the end of February because she was restricted to a bed for the last 3 months of her life. When she left her body every fear, every anxiety, every insecurity, and every worry that I had projected over the past 2 years manifested all at once. My job was really stressful at the time because I was heading up this new, extremely volatile, product for my department. I was already losing my mind because of what had just happened with my mom and I definitely didn't need the additional stress that my job was giving me so in the first week of September, I quit.  In October I flew to Sedona, AZ, on a whim, on a sort of spiritual-seeking trip to meet a stranger that I had only known through Twitter. The insights that I gained on that trip encouraged me to follow my heart and go ahead and commit to becoming a Yoga Teacher and in November, I started a month long, intensive Yoga Teacher Training program. On the 3rd to last day of December, I reemerged from the shadows of depression to show everyone what I had been working on. I launched As You Are and I had absolutely no idea how people would receive it. I had absolutely no idea how people would receive me being a Yoga Teacher. I had absolutely no idea how the words that I decided to share on my blog, my truth, would effect the people that I care about. Fast-forward three short months later and to be honest, I still have absolutely no idea what I'm doing most days. I'm still uncertain, not about the choices that I made last year, but about what lies ahead for me. I'm 100% sure that what I'm doing now is what I'm supposed to be doing but that damn sure doesn't mean that it's always easy, or fun, or what I want to be doing.  But one thing I have become sure of is that in order to grow, one must change. I've never done anything as fulfilling as the work that I'm currently doing and I would have never been able to do it if I didn't change. In order to get what you've never had, you have to become what you've never been. And what I want to be is love. What I want to be is joyful. What I want to be is not judgmental or envious or maliciously manipulative. What I want to be is better and in order to become better I had to become willing to lose some of the things that I thought made me who I am. In order to become better, I had to change. 

January of 2016 was a really exciting time for me. I'd just gotten back east from Oklahoma and I was really optimistic about all of the changes that were happening around me. Meditation and Yoga had afforded me with a new outlook on life & I was determined to live in the present moment instead of placing my happiness in the future like I used to do. My mom's health seemed to be on the come-up -- her hair had finally grown back out and it was so beautiful in it's natural state. Her weight was healthy considering her condition and she still had a decent quality of life. In fact, me and my brothers took her out to eat for her birthday on the 17th of January and she had a really good time. In that first month of 2016, it felt like I could breathe again for the first time in a long while. I was excited to be in a new city and have new opportunities. I was excited that my mom was beating cancer. I was excited to be closer to her, my friends, and family yet still far enough away that they couldn't be in my business. For a good month and a half, I was comfortable again. Unfortunately, things did the only thing that things ever do and that is change. I remember coming home sometime in late February after only being away for a couple weeks. I had just driven two hours from Charlotte to Laurens and was about to drive another 4 hours to the cancer center in Newnan, GA which is where my mom got treatment. We had done this several times before but when I saw my mom this time, I didn't recognize her. I walked in her bedroom to find her sitting on a chair trying to pack her suitcase, short of breath, visibly fatigued and unable to stand. She was also about twice the size she was when I left her a couple weeks prior. It looked like she had just swallowed an extra large inner tube the way her abdomen had became swollen with fluid.  Just two weeks ago, she seemed fine but she obviously wasn't fine anymore. I was caught totally off-guard and it was honestly too much for me to handle so, like I'd done so many times before in that house, I went into the bathroom to cry without fear of being judged or even worse, showing my mom that I wasn't as strong as I was trying to pretend to be for her & possibly discouraging her in the process.  I remember looking at myself in the mirror -- seeing this grown man crying and judging myself for it and then, to add insult to injury, I noticed just how thin the hair on the top of my head had gotten. In that moment, it felt like I was losing everything that I had. Two of the biggest contributors to my identity (my mom and the way I look) were slipping through my fingers and there wasn't shit I could do about it. It felt like everything around me was changing at a rapid pace and that this change was exposing all of my flaws to me at once.

Stephen Hawking said "intelligence is the ability to adapt to change" and I truthfully have never had a more telling assessment of my own intelligence than living in and trying to adapt to what was happening to me last year. "What am I going to do now?" is the mantra that seemed to repeat in my head constantly. This isn't a question that was new to me and I remembered that I'd asked myself the very same question publicly, on Twitter, several years before my mom passed. Me and the girl I was talking to at the time had just called it quits and I was being a drama-queen. The question was obviously a sub-tweet directed at her and our situation and luckily for me, she caught it. Remembering the advice she replied with is honestly what got me through last year and what continues to push me forward through the uncomfortable changes that I'm still experiencing today. She simply replied to my question with "live" and I honestly think she was trying to be petty but what she told me was the truth. I had to continue. Even though I didn't necessarily want to continue without her at the time. And even though I didn't want to continue without my mom, I had to do that too because that's what life is -- a continuously unfolding process. Nothing in nature wants to stay the same. The trees don't whine when it's time to shed their leaves in the winter nor do the birds refuse to fly south to reach warmer climates. The Sun doesn't refuse to set just because it prefers one side of the earth over the other. Everything around us is constantly in motion, constantly adapting, constantly changing. But for whatever reason, us human beings seem to think that we're exempt from the nature of change. Human beings prefer comfort because comfort is associated with certainty and when we feel like we have certainty, we're less fearful. But here's the thing -- there's no such thing as certainty. None of us have any idea what the next 12 hours have in store for us when we wake up in the morning. We have these nice planners that we fill with every detail of how we'd like for our days to go but at their best, they're just guesses.  One of my favorite quotes is "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". It amazes me how some of us believe that God writes the story in one moment and then in the very next, we try to control everything that happens to us. We assume that we know what's best for us even though we can't see what lies ahead of us. But what I've learned on this path is that if you really believe that God writes the story, you have to surrender your desire to dictate or even know what happens next. You have to surrender your resistance to change if you want to be with God because God is nature and nature is constantly changing. To resist change is to go against nature which is to invite suffering into your life. I didn't suffer because I lost my mom or my hair or my job or the lifestyle that I used to have. I suffered because I clinged to those things and I convinced myself that they made me who I am. But change has proven to me that who I really am isn't affected by external circumstances and I really believe that's the purpose of change at it's core -- to teach us not to "lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt".

Me and change are friends these days but my relationship with it is complicated. It's like the relationship you have with the friend that you're not always excited to see but sometimes they surprise you and really enhance your day. I'm not going to lie to you and say that I always embrace change because I don't. But what I've learned is that life IS change. Every single day I wake up uncomfortable these days but it's this discomfort that has propelled me forward.  Without losing all of the things that I lost last year, I'm sure that I would still be doing what I was doing which truthfully wasn't very much. I've always had a desire rooted deeply in my heart to help others but before those changes my ego was way too big for me to allow the seeds of service to sprout. The changes that happened to me and are still happening to me are breaking me down. They are destroying who I thought Micheal Sinclair Irby is and they have created room for Micheal Sinclair Irby to become who he's destined to be. Duncan Trussell is one of my favorite people that I've never met. He runs a spiritual comedy podcast at his website and he actually lost his mom to cancer as well. I'll leave you with some words that she left him before she left.

--@Michealsinclair

 

"I may leave this plane of existence sooner rather than later, but the love isn't going anywhere.

I am as certain of that as I am of anything.

I want to say that I will be with you in ways that neither you nor I can comprehend.

I'm spread out throughout the world. Not by anything I'm doing, but I'm with you.

Just pay attention, listen for me.

I'm here.

I'm there."

- Deneen Fendig

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The Magic of Mindfulness

No matter how painful it may be to admit it, we all have things that we don't like about ourselves. Ironically, being aware of something that you don't like about yourself is actually a great thing because then you're in a position to change it. Unfortunately, a lot of us are unaware of the parts of our lives and personalities that could use improvement. Some of us are born with the gift of self-awareness but for others, it's something that we've had to cultivate. Personally, I've always felt like I've had high emotional intelligence but meditation led me to practicing mindfulness and practicing mindfulness has allowed me incredible insights about myself, what I think, and why I behave the way that I do. Having a fragile ego made it really difficult for me to take criticism because I'd based a large part of my identity in this inflated sense of self. My large ego also made me blind to a lot of the toxic habits and behaviors that I'd developed over time. When I started to meditate, I developed a different quality of awareness about myself and my surroundings. I began to think before I spoke and magical things started to happen to me. I began to notice the patterns that had been repeating in my life up until that point. I had to face a lot of things in myself that I didn't want to face like the fact that I felt empty and the fact that I often manipulated people to try and cure that emptiness. But I noticed that even though it was difficult to face these truths, facing them gave me a certain sense of power. Yes, it hurt to look at myself critically but it also gave me hope because now that I knew about the things in me that I didn't like, I could work to change them! I used to hate feeling so controlled by the things that other people did and said to me. Especially if I felt like they were trying to push my buttons to intentionally to get a reaction out of me. But that's where the magic of mindfulness really shines. Being mindful taught me that just because someone wants to get a reaction out of you, that doesn't mean you have to comply.  Just because someone approaches you with negativity, that doesn't mean that you have to reciprocate negativity back.  By practicing mindfulness I've gained so much more control over my emotions and how I react to circumstances. I can honestly say that I don't have toxic people in my life anymore but I don't think that it's because they became less toxic -- I think it's because I became less toxic. It's because these days I have an awareness of my emotions and the energy that I exude and I'm very particular about how I allow that energy to be used. These days, I'm mindful of the things I say and of the things that I do. These days, I'm especially mindful of the thoughts that I think because thoughts are where everything begins. And if we can learn to better control our thoughts, we can certainly learn to better control our lives.

Rene Descartes said "I think, therefore I am" showing that even in the 17th century, we worshipped our thoughts and identified who we are with what we think. Human thinking is responsible for some pretty incredible things from placing man on the moon to the mass production of Reese's peanut butter cups so I can totally see why people would obsess over their thoughts.  But the truth about thoughts is that they are not always good or helpful. Sure, you could spend most of your thinking time on useful thoughts like trying to develop a cure for cancer but most of us take regular breaks from trying to solve the world's biggest problems in order to enjoy some lower quality thoughts from time to time. These lower quality thoughts come in the form of worry, fear, self-loathing, anxiety, gossip, hatred, envy, or maliciousness just to name a few. What's worse is that most of us don't have nearly the amount of control over ourselves or our thoughts as we think that we have. I used to think that I was a great listener but practicing mindfulness showed me that I had a ton of room for improvement. I began observing my conversations with others and I noticed that I have a habit of cutting the other person off when conversing.  It was really difficult for me to listen to the entirety of what the other person had to say -- typically because I felt like I already knew what they were going to say and it was going to be wrong. I noticed that in most of my conversations with others, I listened with the intent to respond -- I listened with the intent to control the conversation and have it end in my favor. While my ego has absolutely no problem with seeking to "win" every interaction I have with another person, my soul grew tired of always trying to best people. My soul only wanted to love people, not beat them, and that's what allowed mindfulness to show me the error in my ways. I've learned that just because I can manipulate or take advantage of people, that doesn't mean that I should. Just because I sometimes feel like I'm intellectually superior to some, that doesn't mean that the thoughts they have or the words that they say have any less value than mine regardless to my ego trying to convince me otherwise.

A wise woman once said "misery loves company" and I've learned that like misery, negativity needs negativity to exist so the negative people in your life only exist as a result of your own negativity. Consequently, the only way to rid negativity from your life is to rid negativity from yourself and the only way to rid negativity from yourself is to be mindful and notice it when it arises within you so that you can be aware of what triggers it. It may not seem like it now but YOU are the biggest reason that there are so many negative people in your life because without you feeding into their negativity, it wouldn't be effective and they would eventually tire of trying to be negative towards you or just go find someone else that will participate in their negativity. But when you give a negative person what they want, which is a reaction, you are reinforcing their behavior. You are renewing the lease that they have over your life each time that you react to their negativity by trying to out-negative them. I know very well the sometimes overwhelming desire to "put someone in their place" after you feel like they've disrespected you but it's a trap! Especially when your ego is as big as mine and even the littlest of things feel like disrespect. You can never win by fighting negativity with more negativity because in order to be negative, you have to sacrifice your own joy. Sure, it may feel great to say something hurtful (but true) to someone in order to "win" an argument but in order to say something hurtful, you have to allow yourself to first become angry, resentful, or vindictive. And while that anger may bring you pleasure for a moment, you have still lost because you've allowed someone else to be a dictator over your mood. Mindfulness provides an opportunity at freedom for those willing to try it, though. Mindfulness allows us to recognize that we shouldn't take anything personally because most people act and make decisions based on their own limited perspective about things. Mindfulness allows us to recognize that most emotions are suggestions, not demands, and just because we feel anger arise within us, that doesn't mean that we have to give in to it and hurt others because of it. Mindfulness allows us to understand that people try to hurt us because they are hurt and the only way to "win" in those situations is by trying not to hurt the other person back. Mindfulness is what allowed Gandhi the wisdom to understand that "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

Mindfulness, at it's root, is awareness. Practicing mindfulness is practicing not being controlled by circumstances or the things that people say or do. Mindfulness is not being snarky in that email response even though you feel like the original sender was being snarky towards you. Mindfulness is not going to the sweets section of the grocery store if you know that you're trying to cut back on sweets. Mindfulness is not texting your ex just because you're lonely because you understand that you're only lonely for a moment and that it will pass. Mindfulness is getting your lunch prepared the night before so in the morning, you won't have to rush to get it done or even worse, skip making it and eat fast food instead. Mindfulness is making a full assessment of what is happening in the current moment and then responding to that assessment with love and understanding instead of fear. A lot of us ruin our own blessings and then blame everyone else for it because we lack the strength to accept responsibility for not being happy with our lives. But being mindful immediately improves our lives because it gives us back control so that we can stop being puppets that are manipulated by external circumstances.

So, I implore you to spend less time thinking about how you've been wronged and more time thinking about what you're thinking about. Make honest evaluations of your thoughts and ask yourself "is me thinking this serving me or anyone else?" If the answer is "no", work to think those kinds of thoughts less frequently. Not only will you be doing the world a great service by being more mindful of your thoughts, you will have taken the first step to learning more about who you really are and learning to accept that person fully.

-@Michealsinclair

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Learning To Love My Black Skin

Race is the dumbest thing that human beings have ever invented. That being said, I absolutely adore being black but it's honestly taken me awhile to get here. Being black is confusing, to say the least. In one moment it fills me with joy because of our culture - our music, our dances, our lingo, traditions, and inside jokes. Joy from the pride I feel about our resilience and defiance in the face of constantly being threatened and devalued. In the next moment it fills me with sorrow because of how unfairly black people have been treated throughout American history. Sorrow because I saw the confederate flag every day of my young life in rural South Carolina - a reminder that there are some people who preferred when I was legally considered less than them.  Sorrow because in my professional career, I've often been met with eyes that said to me "you don't belong here". Sorrow because I have to take being black into consideration when interacting with anyone who isn't black. Sorrow because when you're black, it often feels like the only thing you can ever be is black.

I used to hate being referred to as black because "black" things are associated with negative and bad. My hair is literally the only part of my body that is actually black so to be categorized as black always seemed more like an insult than an ethnicity or true description of what I look like. I didn't like being called African-American either because, well, I've never been to Africa! Nor am I 100% sure that my immediate ancestors lived there. Now obviously, I have ancestors that lived in Africa at some point, but so does literally everyone else since we know that human kind originated in Africa. But what I mean is that I have no idea what country my people originated from. There's this game I used to play with my non African-American friends where I would ask them what their ethnicity is and they'd tell me that they're German or Scottish or Spanish or from some other country with a well recorded history and then I wait for them to return the question to me so I can say to them, "I'm just black." "I'm just black" because like so many other African-American people, I have no idea what all ethnicities I'm mixed with even though it's apparent that I'm mixed with several. "I'm just black" because for way too long, the only black history I really knew was slavery. I didn't know that black people were all up and through medieval Europe and even became Knights, saints, and musicians in royal courts. I didn't know that I had been preceded by great thinkers - scientists, doctors, explorers, and champions. I didn't know because the country that I live in didn't want me to know. The country that I live in tried it's best to hide my history from me and instead generalize me and all those with my skin tone as "just black". Being black felt like a curse for a long time, not because I longed to be another race because I never have; but because it seemed like being black only came with disadvantages and not just in America, but everywhere. Across the globe, people that are darker are oppressed the most but why? Why do we associate darkness with evil? Why do we see those with lighter skin as more beautiful than those who are darker? Why was I made to believe that what I am, what I can't change, is bad? I haven't figured those questions out completely, yet, but I have learned to embrace the skin that I'm in fully and without a modicum of guilt or shame.

When I was a senior in high school, I became infatuated with this white girl from a pretty prominent family in the area. To be clear, her being white had nothing to do with the infatuation -- I've always been attracted to every flavor of woman but this one just happened to be Caucasian. We used to flirt with each other and talk quite a bit. I thought she was absolutely gorgeous -- easily the prettiest girl I'd ever met at the time and I was determined to have her. One night, after about a two hour conversation on the phone, I mustered up the courage to tell her how I felt about her. I told her that I liked her and that I wanted to be with her and she told me that while she was attracted to me and liked talking to me, she could never date me because I am black. She said that her parents would disown her if she ever dated a black guy. I remember feeling so heartbroken and confused. Confused because I knew that she liked me because of how she acted around me. Confused because I knew that I had so much to offer. Confused because I was smart, generally considered attractive in school, pretty popular and athletic, all the things that most high school girls would be looking for in a mate but that wasn't good enough. It would have been a lot easier for me if she would have said that she just didn't like me like that or that she was interested in someone else but no, she couldn't be with because of something that I couldn't change. Something that ultimately had no affect on my worthiness. From that day forward being black became more of a burden than it had ever been before because it made it very apparent to me that my blackness spoke for me long before I had the opportunity to introduce myself.  It made it apparent to me that being black means that a lot of doors will be closed in my face before I even get a chance to knock on them. It made me feel like less than a human being as being called "black" often did back then. Like nothing inside of me really mattered. Like the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that I had were invalid. That my entire identity was based around this caramel colored shell. I'd be lying if I said that it didn't produce resentment in me. Not resentment for being black but resentment for race in general. Resentment towards everyone that fed in to the bullshit of there being different races and that we shouldn't mix them. And not just resentment towards white people but toward anyone that perpetuated the idea that race made a difference. My mom used to say to me all the time growing up, "If she can't use my comb, don't bring her home" which also was confusing because she always had white friends. It just seemed like everyone around me was brainwashed and so I decided that my ideology would be that race isn't real. Being black had brought me so much pain that I didn't want to be it anymore. So, I tried to pretend that it didn't exist but as I'm sure you well know, pretending things aren't there doesn't make them go away.

Seeing Mike Brown's dead black body laying in the hot street for hours while his murderer stood over him like some hunter that had just earned a trophy and then hearing him being described as some sort of demon who didn't deserve his life infuriated and radicalized me. Mike Brown's murder changed my life drastically and I haven't been the same since. Up until that point, I enjoyed the perks of being black but I still preached my "race isn't real" message whenever I could. Up until that point, I was only black when it was convenient for me to be but largely avoided conversations and institutions based around blackness. But when Mike Brown got shot, something clicked inside of me and all that "race isn't real" shit went out the window. I knew deep down that I could no longer run away from my blackness. I knew that I could no longer play the sidelines and pretend to be unaffected by race in a world that judges people by their skin color first and the words that they say second. Mike Brown getting shot inspired me to want to fight systemic racism and I knew that if I really wanted to help black people not be so oppressed, I needed to fully accept what I am. It was then that I realized that being "black" was a lot more than a category that was made up to oppress me. I realized that being black was my destiny and that the challenges that being black brought with it were blessings, not curses. I realized that I do know where I come from and that is a long lineage of fighters just like me. A long lineage of rebels just like me. A long lineage of dreamers just like me. I realized there's so much strength in being black and that strength is a direct result of oppression because strength is built only through resistance. My heart became so full and so proud of my black skin because I realized that it's not a burden but one of the biggest blessings that could have been allowed to me. Do I still think that race is a social construct created only out of insecurity to divide and control people? Absolutely. But I've learned that I can't love myself if I don't love the things that make me who I am and my skin color is a big part of who I incarnated in to this round. My skin color is the reason why that white girl in high school didn't want to be with me but it's also part of the reason why so many other white girls did want to -- proving that it was a burden only when I allowed it to be. Racism honestly doesn't even bother me like it used to because I've learned that racists don't hate me, they hate themselves. I've learned that all hatred originates within the hater and that racists can't face the hatred they feel for themselves and so they project it onto people that they don't even know.  I'm so grateful for the all the pain that being black has brought me because of the perspective and wisdom that that pain has allowed me. These days, I'm so proud of my blackness and not because I'm ignorant enough to believe that black people are the superior race because I know there's no such thing but because "black" is another word that was assigned to my people to oppress them but it backfired. We were called black because black things are thought to be impure or evil but we took it and transformed it into being one of the most beautiful cultures this earth has produced.  Black no longer carries a negative connotation for me because now I understand that black is not the absence of any color but instead the presence of all colors. Black is not the absence of life but instead it is the very essence of life. As spiritual people, I believe we've become obsessed with the word "light" but it's so important to remember that our Universe and everything therein was birthed from darkness. Black is limitless, formless, infinite potential, and if that's not me, I don't know what is.

I know that there are now services that allow you to track your heritage and I may use one of them one day, just out of curiosity, but I'm in no rush because being "just black" is good enough for me these days. So many incredible people were "just black", like me, and to be a part of their history is an honor and a privilege. I believe that knowing where you came from is nice and can really be helpful in achieving a (sometimes false) sense of identity. But you don't have to know where you've been to know where you're going -- you just have to know where you are. And I am here. It is now. And in the here and now, I am black and proud. 

-@MichealSinclair

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Why Goals Are Often the Enemy of Success

Can a person be successful if they're constantly anxious and unhappy? I don't think so but a lot of the people we label as "successful" are miserable from moment to moment and a part of that misery comes from being anxious about achieving or not achieving goals or success. There are many reasons why success brings pain but I think the largest of these is that every time you accomplish a goal, you give yourself something else to worry about. Have a new child and congratulations, you're responsible for an entire human being for the rest of your life. Make a new piece of artwork and now you have to worry about what other people will think about it.  Get a new promotion at work and now you have to worry about performing up to par. Start your own business and now you worry about whether or not the business will be successful. Goals give you something to shoot for but they also give you something to miss. Goals give you something to gain but they also give you something to lose.  For a long time, I placed my success in a later date and I had rigid goals that I needed to achieve in order to feel successful. I'd been programmed into believing that I had to have goals and that I had to be constantly working to achieve them or I'd never be successful but is this really true? Over the past few years I've forfeited my need for goals and I've become happier because of it. I've learned that setting goals can be a trap that often leads you to more pain than relief because goals are set in the future which doesn't exist. I've learned that most people are unhappy or dissatisfied with life because they've set goals for themselves that they can't achieve and since they placed their worth in those goals, not achieving them really affects their self-esteem. Goals are an attempt to hit a moving target blindfolded because none of us can see what tomorrow holds and things are always changing. We assume -- we make very calculated guesses about what might happen but we have no idea what the next 5 years or even what the next 5 hours hold in store for us. Acknowledging this truth led me to adopt a growth based mindset instead of a goal-oriented one. This truth inspired my obsession with getting better and revealed to me that my only opponent is the person that I see when I look in the mirror. These days I have but one true goal and that's being better than the person I was yesterday; a task that has proven itself to be ambitious enough to keep me busy for the next few lifetimes.

When I was 18, I thought I'd be married with kids by 25. Having a son was honestly my biggest dream. This goal was so important to me that I used to legitimately fear the possibility that I wouldn't have a son. All of my grandmother's children are girls, all of her grandchildren are boys, and all of her great-grans are girls so if the pattern continues, I'll only have daughters. But I didn't want a daughter because it didn't fit the narrative that I was writing for myself. I needed to have a son because I didn't have a father around growing up and so to justify that pain, I needed to have a boy and give him everything that I felt like I missed. I wanted to "do it right". I couldn't wait to name my son Micheal Sinclair Irby II and leave my legacy on this earth. I thought that if I didn't have a son of my own to love and teach, then the pain I experienced in my childhood would be in vain. I wasn't aware of it at the time but this goal is what led me to gravitate towards toxic romantic relationships. I think because I'd missed out on the two parent household life growing up, I was constantly subconsciously looking for something or someone to fill that void. The problem is, no one besides me would ever be able to fill that void but since I didn't realize this, I tried to fit many square shaped women into a round hole. It honestly wasn't from lack of trying but I’m so grateful to report to you that at 26, I still don't have any kids (that I know of). Not only do I not have kids but these days, I'm not even sure that I still want to have kids. I think kids are amazing -- the most wise, kind, and loving members of our society by far. I also think that children are a blessing and that it's the dopest work of art that two people could possibly create together.  But I’m not sure that I want to be responsible for one. I've learned that I'm still a kid myself. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing in this place. I still have a ton of questions about my existence and a ton of exploring to do and I feel like having a kid, at least anytime soon, would limit my experience. I understand that for a lot of us, having a child is a major life goal and that's certainly confirmed if you just log onto Facebook for a while. And having a child is a major success! But for me, having a child was also a very selfish desire and this was made apparent to me when I realized that I wanted a son wayyyy more than I wanted a daughter. And the real reason that I wanted a son was just to spite my father. To show him that not only was I more successful than him in general but also a better parent. My goal of being a father was superficial and I'm 100% sure that by fulfilling that goal, I would have suffered, my partner would have suffered, and the child would have suffered. Had I gotten someone pregnant, I would not be doing the things that I'm doing right now. I wouldn't have the freedom to do what I want at a moment's notice and to me, that flexibility is a key part of my success. 

I've learned that comparison kills a lot more things than just creativity. Comparison is the thief of happiness and it ruins relationships and self-esteem. Unfortunately, most of us set our goals by comparing where we are to where we want to be or by comparing what we have to what someone else has. We see that another person is doing what we want to be doing so we assume that we need to achieve the same goals as that person or we'll never be successful like them. On Twitter you often see the hashtags #relationshipgoals, #friendshipgoals, or #careergoals along with a photo of a person or people that appear to be happy.  But comparing yourself or your journey to someone else is not only a surefire way to make yourself discouraged, it's also downright silly. Everyone comes into this world alone. Everyone has a unique set of experiences in a unique set of circumstances that shape us to be very unique people. But for whatever reason, we'd rather sacrifice our uniqueness and conform to what's popular at the moment because we assume that popularity equals love. We assume that popularity equals value so when we see something that appears to be valuable, we compare ourselves to it and often attempt to become more like it instead of more like ourselves. The saddest part about it all is that you'll always fail when attempting to be like someone else. You'll always fail at your goals if your goals are rooted in becoming more like someone else because you're trying to clone an output without having all of the same inputs. Even if you succeeded at duplicating the success of someone else, you'd still be just that -- a duplicate. A copy-cat. A replica with substantially less value than the original. Why sacrifice everything that makes you a unique expression of your creator in order to become like someone else? You literally cannot be successful unless you're being yourself and the best way to be yourself is to not have goals at all. Instead focus on growing. Focus on learning about yourself and why you do the things that you do. Focus on learning about what you really want to get out of life. Focus on getting better in every aspect of your day to day life and you'll start to find that goals are unnecessary. Goals are inherently terminal. They have an ending and what will you do after that ending has come? What will you do once you've accomplished all of your goals -- do you stop there? Do you win the game of life once you've accomplished all the things? Of course you don't and of course life doesn't stop when you get what you want and that's why you should always want to improve yourself beyond achieving temporary goals.

Diamonds are valuable because they're relatively rare and take time to cultivate. But guess what's even more rare than a diamond? YOU! Scientists estimate the probability of your being born is 1 in 400 trillion and of all the earth's gems, diamonds are actually the most common. So even comparing yourself to a diamond is selling yourself short. Attempting to be anything other than the best version of yourself is a disservice to yourself and to the world at large. Human beings are insecure and this insecurity leads us to idolize those that seem to have it together. I think goals are the direct result of this insecurity and I don't think they are necessary to achieve a fulfilling life. Bowhead whales have a life expectancy that's over 200 years on average and I'm sure that not one day of those 200 years is wasted on setting goals. I know it doesn't seem like it, but it's totally possible to live your life one day at a time without constantly having to focus on some point in the future when you'll achieve something. You don't have to spend your life worrying about accomplishing goals that you have imposed on yourself or have been imposed on you by society. You don't have to compare your life and what you're doing to what someone else is doing and you don't have to constantly be accomplishing things for your life to have value. Your mere existence is a success so if you really want to be successful than just live! Take risks, ask questions, put yourself out there and shift your focus from being better than everyone else to instead just being better than yourself. The only goal worth having is to live life to the fullest extent and to learn as much about yourself as you possibly can. Do those two things and I guarantee that you will live a very successful life!

M.S.

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A Brief History of Black Yogis in America Pt. 3 - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in what appears to be a modified Eagle Pose.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in what appears to be a modified Eagle Pose.

The most beautiful thing about Yoga is that it IS for every body! No matter how tall or wide. No matter what sex you are. No matter if you're missing limbs or how uncoordinated you are, Yoga will make you better. Guaranteed. This project has led me to discovering many unassuming black Yogis but the largest of these is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by far! Considered by many to be greatest basketball player to ever live, Abdul-Jabbar's legacy and impact to the game of basketball cannot be disputed. But very few know that the secret to his game is Yoga! Don't believe me? Well take these words directly from his mouth, "I could have never lasted as long as I did in the NBA without Yoga", Abdul-Jabbar told Jet magazine in 1991. He discovered Yoga in 1961 after reading "An Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda who is credited with popularizing the philosophy of Yoga in the west.

 Abdul-Jabbar in Standing Bow pose.

Abdul-Jabbar in Standing Bow pose.

Kareem started practicing Hatha (physical) Yoga in 1976 and continued to practice consistently for more than 30 years! "Yoga is somewhat hard to quantify in terms of benefits because you see them in all the injuries you don't get... For me I noticed improvement in my posture – that was key for me because I had been having lower back problems," Abdul-Jabbar states. "After I started doing yoga positions – asanas — all that changed. My health greatly improved overall", he told USA today in a 2003 interview. Like the last Yogi featured, Quincy Jones, Abdul-Jabbar starting practicing Bikram or hot yoga with Bikram Choudry though he has definitely explored other schools of Yoga. "I do Bikram yoga and a number of other styles too," Abdul-Jabbar says. "People who tend to get into yoga often do what I call a 'yoga tour' — trying different styles and techniques. Eventually you find the one that is your niche."

 Abdul-Jabbar in Marichyasana A.

Abdul-Jabbar in Marichyasana A.

Yoga has definitely made me a much, much better athlete. Before doing Yoga, I hardly ever stretched which caused my muscles to tighten up and decreased my range of motion over time. I also had a very difficult time balancing because I never worked on balance or really even cared about it, to be honest. Yoga brought me an awareness of my body and my balance and the way I carry my weight around everyday. It seems to be picking up slowly, but Yoga is becoming more and more popular with NBA players today. Joe Johnson is quoted as telling Sports Illustrated “It’s better than weight training or anything of that sort. It’s therapy for my muscles, and my muscles need that more than anything.” Even the arguably the best player in the game today, Lebron James, is a known Yoga advocate. "Yoga isn't just about the body, it's also about the mind and it's a technique that has really helped me... You do have to focus because there's some positions that can really hurt you at times if you aren't focused and breathing right." James told Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2009. Who would have known that Yoga has had such a large part in refining some of the world's best athletes?

 LBJ leading Yoga at a Nike Basketball Camp.

LBJ leading Yoga at a Nike Basketball Camp.

I must say that this is the most inspiring discovery I've made yet about black yogis of yore! Reason being that basketball is something I hold near and dear to my heart and Yoga is not something you see a lot of athletes praising. On top of that, Kareem Abdul Jabbar is 7'2" and can sit in Lotus pose which  may not seem like a big deal to you but Lotus is hard! Especially for those of us with longer muscles. Lotus isn't something that I've achieved just yet in my own practice but seeing this modern giant do it proves to me that I will accomplish it someday!

 Abdul-Jabbar in Lotus Pose. 

Abdul-Jabbar in Lotus Pose. 

"Yoga is just good for you" - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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How Facing My Addictions Made Me More Compassionate Toward Others

We're all addicts. And the crazy part about it is that we're all addicted to the same thing. We're all addicted to feelings of pleasure, something that we unfortunately mistake for happiness. It used to be so easy for me to judge people that I thought were overweight because I thought that I knew why they were overweight. I thought that they just didn't have any self-control or enough self-discipline to exercise and that's ultimately why they gained weight. I've since learned a number of things about food and how it affects our weight providing me with an understanding that gaining weight is not as simple as just overeating. I've learned that I was ignorant in my most of my assumptions about overweight people but the most important thing that I've learned is that for most of us, myself included, eating is an addiction. The reason eating is a addictive is the same reason any other thing can become addictive -- it makes us feel good when we don't feel good. It's really as simple as that. When I told my roommate at the time about my mother's diagnosis, he bought me two 8packs of Reese's Cups to show his condolences because he knew they were my favorite. I remember eating all 16 of them in less than an hour and I think that was the first glimpse I had into seeing that I'm an emotional eater. I couldn’t see it growing up because yes, I've been pretty slim my entire life and yes, I do have a pretty fast metabolism; but I also have been pretty physically active my entire life too.  I think those things kinda hid from me that I frequently turned to food all throughout my life for comfort when I was stressed out. If I had a nickel for every time my mom called me "greedy" as a kid, I would be rich! There was this running joke in my family about me having tape worms because my stomach seemed bottomless. There was this period in high school when I'd regularly buy 2 of those 12 pack boxes of Oatmeal Crème Pies on a Friday and finish them all by Sunday night. Life was stressful growing up and I didn't always have access to the same outlets that I do now or the understanding of how to mitigate stress in the first place. So to treat stress, I gravitated to something that was usually available in some form or another and I've learned that's what most other people do as well. This realization completely changed the way I see people who are overweight or battling any other kind of addiction. Life is confusing and ofter very painful so we all develop bad habits to help cope with the lows of our existence. Confronting my bad habits not only made me more compassionate for my fellow addicts but it also made me a better person in general because by facing them, I've been able to work towards getting passed some of them and gaining more control over my life, my emotions, and my time.

Feelings of pleasure are controlled by chemical processes in the mind.  There are only four things that anyone ever enjoys and those four things are Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, and Oxytocin. Every pleasure that you enjoy, be it writing, creating art, bike riding, skiing, teasing others, social media engagement, watching tv, playing video games, being tied up and spanked -- all of these experiences produce one or more of the four chemicals mentioned above which in turn makes you feel good, important, or fulfilled temporarily. Because life is inherently chaotic and because no one likes to be stressed, we've all developed habits that we return to again and again because we know that they will produce these feel good hormones.  Of course, this sounds harmless at first but too much of any good thing will become a bad thing. The real danger comes because a lot of us aren't aware of the things that we're addicted to or we assume that the addiction is something that we're supposed to be doing naturally. For instance, I was addicted to not only having sex but the entire process leading up to getting to that point. I was addicted to the thrill of the chase, the dialogues, the manipulation, the entire game of it. Believe it or not, I was also addicted to the fallout the resulted in me ultimately getting bored because the other person's attachment to me made me feel important or significant. For a long time, I couldn’t see how what I was doing was wrong because in my mind, it was what men were supposed to be doing. It gave me a sense of purpose, something that I think we all are constantly looking for, and that made it even harder to face. I kid you not when I say that I used to think that I'd never be able to stop having sex with women I didn't have feelings for. It literally didn't feel possible but that just speaks to how strong addiction is. And that's exactly why I shouldn't judge anyone for overeating or for using drugs or for doing any of the other things that we view as self-destructive. I'm no different from a heroin addict or someone who weighs 600lbs -- the only real difference is that my addictions often don't manifest physically and even whey they do, I can enjoy them in private without the prying eyes of society judging me for it. A privilege that some other addicts unfortunately can't enjoy.

When you think of the word "addict" your mind probably immediately goes to an image of a strung out drug user. This is because it's human nature to project the things we don't like about ourselves on to other people. Deep down we all know that we're addicted to something and I think that we use drug users as a scapegoat to not have to face our own truth. Did you know that sugar is believed to be more addictive than cocaine? Did you also know that 80% of all processed food has sugar in it? Did you know that you're probably addicted to sugar right now? Don't think so? Well, I challenge you to go a week without consuming any of it starting right now! I used to be so judgmental towards my father because to me it appeared like he was an alcoholic. Most, if not all, of my memories of him involve him having beer on his breath. I associated alcohol with how he treated me and it was so traumatic for me that for a long time, I said I would never drink. I had access to alcohol since I was 17 but I didn't have my first drink until I was almost 21. Not because I had experience with alcohol and how it affected me personally but because of assumptions I made due to what I observed in my father's behavior and the behavior of others that drank.  But the entire time that I judged my father for his drinking habit, I never stopped to wonder why he had it in the first place. I'd never asked him if he was stressed out or depressed or dissatisfied with life. I never asked him how his childhood was or how his parents treated him growing up. I never asked him if he was broken hearted or confused and used the drink to cope with the feelings that he was having. I never asked him why he drank so much. I just assumed that I knew. I assumed that he was just no good and weak and not a human being with feelings and emotions just like me. It really wasn't until I got knee deep in my own shit and I started using substances for relief myself that I started to wonder about what pain he might have experienced. The truth is, people don't just become addicted to things out of nowhere. Addiction is an effect, not a cause, and too often we judge people for the effect of what's happened to them instead of attempting to understand the cause of it.

I love pleasure. It's one of my most favorite things about life. Most of my days are planned around how to get as much pleasure as possible while avoiding as much pain as possible. If I had my way, I'd be pleasured from the time I open my eyes in the morning until the time I close them at night and then I'd be pleasured some more in my dreams. But the problem with pleasure is that it is fleeting and it's the fleeting nature of pleasure that turns us in to addicts. I'm a big advocate for orgasms -- I think they are so powerfully healing and it's no secret that they induce an incredible endorphin rush. But that endorphin rush doesn't last very long and that's why some of us feel the need to masturbate every day. It's also why it's easy to objectify and manipulate others into having sex with us. It's stress relief at it's finest but even the highest of orgasms will always wear off eventually which means you'll do whatever you need to do in order to make it happen again. And so a habit is birthed and what are we other than the things we do all the time? Sometimes our habits become so powerful that we disregard other things in our lives to make sure that our habits are fulfilled and that's where the danger really comes into play. When our addiction to food or drugs causes us to disregard our health and what's being done to the planet. When our addiction to sex causes us to disregard the feelings and emotions of others. When our addiction to being the victim causes us to disregard the power we have over ourselves. When our addiction to independence causes our family and friends to feel like we don't care about them. When our addiction to information causes us to disregard our mental well-being. We've all been guilty of being controlled by some form of addiction or another at some point in our lives and that's why we shouldn't judge anybody for what they're doing. No matter how destructive it appears to us, we must instead be compassionate and empathetic and see ourselves inside the people we point the finger at. The truth, whether you want to hear it or not, is that we're all a lot more alike than different and that what you don't like about others is usually a reflection of what you don't like about yourself.

M.S.

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A Brief History of Black Yogis in America Pt. 2 - Quincy Jones

 Jones in Padmasana or Lotus Pose. 

Jones in Padmasana or Lotus Pose. 

When he wasn't producing arguably the greatest album of all time, Quincy Jones was a dedicated devotee of the Bikram system of Yoga for 15 years. He's even quoted as saying that Yoga was the most important thing in his life at one point. Though you can't really tell from how he speaks, Quincy Jones suffered from not one but two brain aneurysms in 1974 and the doctors thought he would almost certainly die soon because of them. In fact, he only had a 1 in 100 chance of surviving the surgeries needed to repair the aneurysms. His death seemed so certain that he attended his own memorial service which, I imagine, had to have been quite the experience. Miraculously, Jones did survive and said that his brush with death changed his outlook on life. In 1976 he is quoted as saying “I haven’t turned mean or anything like that, but I don’t ever again intend to hold all my feelings inside and refuse to get things out in the open. There’s going to be no more pretending about anything.” That last sentence really resonated with me because "no more pretending" is a mantra I adopted soon after my mom got sick. It's amazing how tragedy leads us to seeing through this game of pretend we play. 

 Choudhury instructing Jones. 

Choudhury instructing Jones. 

Jones admitted that he never rested or exercised before practicing Yoga and he believes that those choices contributed to his illness. Soon after recovering from the surgeries, Jones met Bikram Choudhury -- a pioneer of Yoga in the U.S. and creator of the Bikram system of Yoga or as it is better known, "hot yoga". Bikram migrated from India to the states in the early 1970's and set up Yoga schools in Hawaii and California. It wasn't long before he became the Yoga teacher to the stars as Quincy Jones noted in a 2016 Los Angeles Magazine interview, "I began doing yoga with Bikram Choudhury. Me and Jeff Bridges and Herb Alpert, Candice Bergen, Raquel Welch. Everybody was in that class. Ninety minutes a day for 15 years." Jones credits Yoga for helping him recover both physically and spiritually from the trauma of almost dying. So much credit that he even thanked Bikram in the liner notes of "Thriller"! Fair warning, Choudhury himself is a bit of an eccentric character and not someone that you'd think would be a Yoga teacher judging off of his behavior but one thing that can't be denied is that hot yoga is still a big deal! While Choudhury's name is shrouded in controversy these days, I'm grateful that he developed something that has helped so many people and even produced some of the first Black American Yogis! 

 Michael Jackson, Bikram Choudhury, Quincy Jones

Michael Jackson, Bikram Choudhury, Quincy Jones

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Why Being Single On Valentine's Day Should Make You Feel Powerful

Kairos (n): a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action. Kairos is obviously the reason I decided to write about romantic relationships this week and it's also the reason why I'll be single again on Valentine's for the 4th year in a row. Not because there aren't any beautiful young ladies that I'd enjoy getting to know but because I still don't think the time is right for me to get romantically involved. Why? Because I've learned that I'm very selfish and while I don't think it's possible to become completely selfless, I do think I need to get over myself a bit more before I'll be able to maintain something real with someone else. Have you ever sat and thought about why you want to be in relationship? Is it because you're lonely? Because you're horny? Because you're bored? Because you crave attention and affection? Because memories have the most meaning when they are shared with others? Because you want to have babies before it's too late? These are all valid reasons to want to be in a relationship, by the way. But they are all also desires and the funny thing about desire is that it often blinds us from seeing things as they really are and instead causes us to see things the way we want them to be.

In fact, our desires are what create our reality everyday. Ram Dass says "If a pickpocket sees a saint, he'll only see his pockets" meaning that because a pickpocket's primary desire is picking pockets, he can't even see, let alone care about, whose pockets he's picking.  Another quote that I think illustrates this idea is when Abraham Kaplan said "Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding", speaking to how what we currently have (or don't have) shapes our desires and our interactions with everything we come into contact with.  Fun fact: In college I worked for the university union and my co-workers gave me the nickname "Mike, The Hammer" because I was a hard worker but I really only embraced it because I loved to nail things too! Back then I would meet a girl and only see a body because even though there was an entire person in front of me, all I desired from that person was her body. And that caused me not to be able to see everything else that the person really was. I would often suffer after I got their body because afterwards I would also have to deal with their personality and their drama. To be fair, it's not even that they had personalities that I didn't like, it's just that the personality is not what I desired. The same thing would happen if I went to a sushi joint & ordered a shrimp tempura roll & the waiter instead brought me a California roll. I would want him to take it back and bring me what I ordered! Not because the California roll wouldn't be good or that I wouldn't enjoy it but because it's not what I desired. At any point in time, what I perceive about reality is totally dependent on what I’m desiring & that's why I've avoided romance for a while now. Not because I think that all desires are bad but because a lot of my most prominent desires are shallow and selfish and by giving into them, I end up hurting others and myself. By giving into shallow desires, a lot of us get in to relationships that we have absolutely no business in. Understanding this about myself has made me more than just okay with being single, it's made me feel empowered because I no longer feel compelled to hop into situations just to fulfill an immediate but ultimately empty desire.

Stranger -> Lover -> Stranger is a cycle I've found myself in too many times. Isn't it bizarre that a person who meant everything to you one day could mean nothing to you on another? Have you ever wondered about why that is? I have and I can’t speak for everybody but for me, it was because I was looking for the love I didn't have for myself in someone else. At my worst, I need love & when I need love, I will overlook things in people that I know deep down I don't like but won't care because I need to have the desire to feel loved fulfilled. When I need love, I'll pretend that I don't know when I'm being lied to or misled. I'd guess that in 90% of the relationships I've observed, either one person or both have settled. Their partner maybe scratches the biggest itches (desires) that they have but you can tell that they are lacking in other areas and that both parties suffer because of it. Have you ever done the same?  Maybe your partner wasn't as artistic as you would have preferred but they have access and status that you find attractive. Maybe you settled with someone lacking in other departments because they fulfill your desire of being financially comfortable.  Maybe it's all in my head but I feel like my dating stock decreased dramatically when I quit my job and no longer had a reliable, consistent source of income. It definitely feels like most of the women in my age group want someone who has an established career and some sort of financial stability. Some people say that physical attractiveness doesn't matter to them at all. I can't relate nor can I discredit their claim because I'm not them. But I do wonder if they secretly have crushes on other people that they do find physically attractive while being with someone they don't see that way.  And I wonder if maybe it slowly causes resentment to be built about their partner because they're not scratching an itch that you've lied to yourself about not having. Of course, you'll likely never meet anyone who will check all of your boxes but by loving and getting to know yourself first, you'll learn what boxes are really important to you and shouldn't be compromised out of fear of being lonely. Emphasis on the word "fear" because fear is usually the biggest driver behind us rushing into relationships.  Fear that we're not good enough. Fear that people won't think of us as valuable if no one wants to be in a relationship with us. Fear that we're getting left behind because our friends are getting married and having kids. Fear that we won't be able to give our parents the grandchildren they’ve been asking for. For a long time I thought that hate was the opposite of love. My life changed forever when I learned that fear is actually the opposite of love and if fear is any part of the reason why you get in a relationship, it would be foolish to expect love to be there too. 

Instead of beating yourself up this Valentine's day about what you don't have, why don't you celebrate yourself for what you DO have! What do you have? Space and time -- the two most valuable things known to man. Space and time to learn about who you really are and what you really need. Space and time to defeat the fear of inadequacy. Space and time to explore and see what all is out there before committing to one thing. Space and time to work on making yourself the best you that you can be. I've learned that we don't attract what we want, we attract what we are. The truth is, if you attract trash relationships it's because you're trash. I don't say that to be hurtful but it's the truth! It was certainly the truth for me. I always led every interaction with women with my sexuality and what I got was relationships that were based in sex and lacked in pretty much every other department. My sacral chakra was on some other shit for a long time but by addressing why it was overactive and by denying myself the empty desires it led me to, I've been able to see things a lot more clearly. I could see this time alone as some sort of punishment but being alone has become sacred to me. I used to love being "all up under" whoever I was with as much as I could and in hindsight it was because I was uncomfortable with being by myself. It's been such a spiritually enriching experience to be able to spend time with myself and learn about what I want without the influence of someone else's desires for me being projected onto me.  I know that you're going to have to scroll through legions of pictures of happy couples on Instagram and that could send you down a toxic mental trip of what you don't have and what you wish you had but you don't have to give in to that. You have the power to be happy for all of those couples without envy and to also be happy for yourself that you still have time to fall in love with yourself. You still have time to work on becoming the person that you want to be with and I promise that if you do that, that person is going to land in your lap sooner than later.

M.S.

 

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A Brief History of Black Yogis in America Pt. 1

If you're like me, you probably don't know many black Yogis. At first glance, it may seem that it is just now that more and more African-Americans are taking interest in this ancient eastern practice. Black History Month inspired me to do some research about if and what role Yoga has played in the African-American community throughout the years and I'm so thankful to tell you that my assumption was wrong! Black people actually have a rich history of doing Yoga in America dating all the way back to 1926! Not only the physical Hatha Yoga that most of us are familiar with but African-Americans have gone on to become prominent spiritual leaders in the non-physical Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana forms of Yoga as well. Representation matters and I personally have often felt very alone in my Yoga journey because I don't find too many people who look like me and can relate to me with not only the physical practice of Yoga, but also my beliefs in Yoga philosophy.  That's why I'm so excited to share what I've found about Black Yogis of yore!

Pictured throughout is an article from the September 1975 edition of Ebony Magazine. The article is titled: "Yoga, Something For Everyone" and it blows my mind that over 40 years ago, there were efforts being made to get more black people to do Yoga. The article starts by highlighting Krishna Kaur, a black Kundalini Yoga pioneer here in the states. Kundalini Yoga is a school of Yoga that focuses on awakening Kundalini energy through meditation, pranayama (breath control), chanting, and physical asana (physical yoga). Kaur began her life as Thelma Oliver and was an actress before studying Yoga in 1970 under Yogi Bhajan whom introduced Kundalini Yoga to the U.S. Bhajan understood that the black community faced a different set of challenges in the U.S. around that time and believed that through Yoga, African-Americans could find inner peace and healing from the years of trauma they'd faced.

Also mentioned in the article is prominent Civil Rights leader Angela Davis. Davis began doing Yoga while awaiting trial in a California Prison. She wasn't allowed to leave her cell so she took up Yoga as a means of exercise. She says "Just the physical part was a help, in my case, because I couldn't leave the cell for regular exercise. I have never used Yoga as an end in itself but merely as a means to prepare myself for a more effective struggle." As time passed, Davis got deeper in her practice and continues to practice Yoga today. The article goes on to mention other prominent black Yogis of the time such as business manager Marc Mason who attributes Yoga to helping him find health, peace, and balance in his career. Other black celebrities such as singer Freda Payne and actress Madge Sinclair often practiced with Bikram Choudhury at the Yoga College of India in Beverly Hills. Pro baseball players Willie Davis and Willie Stargell were also devoted Yogis in a time when there was much stigma around the practice. 

The article goes on to mention other famous black yogis of the time such as Smokey Robinson, the members of Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Alice and John Coltrane. There are a ton more that I'll be mentioning in later parts of this series. I hope you learned a little and that you have been inspired to try Yoga yourself! Contrary to popular belief, black people have been practicing Yoga here in the United States as a means to transcend the often painful and chaotic day to day of our existence for decades! I believe Yoga still has the power to change any one that will give it a try and it is critical for healing from the trauma we've collectively faced as a people. I'll leave you with this quote from Krishna Kaur from this same article which I believe says it all "The revolution is really one of the mind. Blacks have got to realize where the power really is. The struggle is not on a physical level. It is on the level of the mind". 

Do you have any older Black Yogis in your family? If so, I would love to hear about them! Feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment!

You can read the original Ebony article here starting at page 96.

Sat Nam! 

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Why Playing the Victim Is Playing Yourself

I honestly feel like I don't lose often these days -- figuratively speaking, of course. Just a couple weeks ago, I was back home shooting ball with my little brother and we lost 2 games in a row while running pickup at the Y. But did I really lose? A few years ago I would have been pretty frustrated about losing in hoop to some high schoolers but this time, it didn't feel like a loss at all. I mean, I was getting to spend quality time with my little brother doing something we both love and also getting vital exercise. Those two things are more than good enough to make it a win for me. I know that sounds cheesy, but it's true. You can probably already see where I'm going with this -- winning and losing is all in your head. I spent way too much of my early life playing the victim and thinking the odds were against me all the time. Woe is me, my family is poor. Woe is me, my dad's not around. Woe is me, I'm a black man in America. Woe is me, nobody understands me :' (. I was runnin' with my woes long before Drake made it cool. Now, don't get me wrong, there are certainly systems in our society like racism, capitalism, and patriarchy that do create literal victims and there are certainly times when the people in your life will hurt you but what I've learned is that just because you are literally the victim of an injustice, that doesn't mean you should behave like a victim. Losers lose because they expect to lose and it's impossible for a victim to win because in order to be a victim, you have to forfeit your power. In order to be a victim, you have to forfeit your hope. You have to become a slave to your circumstances. And I was a slave to my circumstances for a long time but by finally admitting to myself that I did have a bad habit of playing the victim, and by exploring why I became a victim in the first place, I gained the strength to overcome it.

Hurt people hurt people & I can always gauge if someone is truly happy by how they treat other people. You can't be happy if you're trying to hurt someone intentionally -- it's literally not possible. That's because once you have happiness, you want nothing else than to spread it and you know that insulting others won't make them happy. It's always funny to me when people tell me that they can't picture me mad. I guess it's a compliment? But it usually feels more like a challenge. I can say that it does take a lot to piss me off but once I'm there, I can become one of the most hurtful people you would ever meet.  I would often surprise myself with how low I could go in arguments that I'd have with lovers. It's worth pointing out that it was usually only lovers that could get me red hot. Why? Because those are the only people I would ever voluntarily be a victim around. Those were the only people that got see my insides, that knew that I was broken, so when they hurt me, it felt extra offensive. And it made me want to hurt them back.  It's no excuse, but back then I was such a hurt person from the trauma I experienced growing up and it made me want to hurt other people sometimes. I've learned that in order to be a victim, you have to constantly carry pain and pain is not something that should be carried around. To constantly carry pain around is to constantly be afraid of being hurt again. To constantly be afraid of being hurt again is to miss out on life and all of it's beautiful uncertainty. My pain used to be my nametag. I wrongly interpreted people's pity for love and so I used to be eager to show lovers my wounds.  When my mom got sick, it seemed like I couldn't help but tell everyone that I met that my mom was sick. It was like "Hi! My name's Micheal and my mother has cancer. How are you?". I allowed myself to identify fully with my circumstances and that's why I suffered so much from my circumstances. You are so much more than what you're currently going through but the only way to see that is to get up off the floor, dust yourself off, and keep pushing forward without allowing what has happened to you to be an excuse for why you can't win. Everybody gets hurt, everybody gets knocked down, but the difference between great people and mediocre people is that great people get back up and continue to fight, mediocre people stay on the ground and cry "victim".

I used to take life so personally but I've learned that life doesn't happen to you, it just happens. How I react to life happening is what determines not only my happiness, but also my overall human experience. Victims react negatively to every situation that doesn't seem immediately favorable for them. I've learned that you don't ever have to react negatively, regardless to what is happening. If you get a flat tire tomorrow, you could whine and cry and think "why me!?" You could freak out about it and start to spiral down a mental rabbit hole of everything else that could possibly go wrong now that you have a flat tire. You could allow yourself to forfeit all of the peace that's available to you by losing it over something that won't make a bit of difference 5 days from now. Or, you could breathe. You could try to remain relaxed so that you can think clearly so that you'll make the best decisions on how to move forward. You could save yourself unnecessary pain and stress by taking control of the situation instead of being the victim of it. After all, what if unbeknownst to you that flat tire saved you from an accident that would have ended your life? Yes, this world is congested with pain and injustice from top to bottom but as the victim you're not in a position to do anything about that injustice. But maybe that's what you want? Maybe you don't want to be able to do anything about the injustice in the world or even in your own life because that would give you responsibility for it. Maybe you want to play the victim because then you don't have to consider the possibility that even if you aren't responsible for everything that you don't like in your life, you are responsible for everything you don't like about yourself. I would have never been able to fix the things I didn't like about myself if I didn't realize that I had the power to change them. I would have never been able to fix the things I didn't like about myself had I not stopped feeling sorry for myself for long enough to work on making my life better.

A World Health Organization study has shown that only 5% of people worldwide suffer from depression. I'm no doctor but I honestly think that figure is more close to 100%. I think the other 95% of people in that study are lying to themselves due to the stigma around depression and mental illness in general. Depression is said to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and I believe that imbalance is significantly enhanced by having a victim mindset to begin with.  I've been depressed off and on for the better part of the last 2 years. But thanks to meditation making me aware of my victimhood, I was able to regain some control of my life by reclaiming the power I'd given to my circumstances. That's how I maintained a quality of happiness during those 2 years even in spite of being depressed. "But Micheal, you can't be depressed and happy!" Well, why not? Says who? Most people think that depression and happiness cannot coexist because we've been brainwashed to associate happiness with pleasure when in reality, they are very different things. People dream of being rich so they can afford constant pleasure and comfort and they assume that is the same as happiness but it's obviously not. Isn't it obvious? How many wealthy celebrities have taken their own lives? How many times do we read about those who can literally afford to have pleasure every minute of everyday and are still depressed, miserable people? So there's obviously no correlation between pleasure/comfort and happiness. As my mother got ready to die, I lost desire for just about every pleasure I had; creating, music, women, working out, yoga,  they all went out the window for longer than I was comfortable with. But I maintained a little happiness through my depression because I still tried my best to live in the present. I tried not to unnecessarily stress myself out about a future I couldn't see or a past I couldn't change. I maintained happiness because in spite of how I felt inside, I tried to always greet others with a smile and when they returned their smile, it would hurt a lot less if even only for a moment. I maintained happiness because I claimed depression for what it is, a temporary teacher, and I decided not to let what was happening to me close my heart off to others. It was scary at first because I use to see my pain as the source of my strength, but in letting the victim mindset go, I've gained a strength that I didn't know was possible for me. A strength that allows me to be vulnerable for whoever wants to see without any worry that they might hurt me. A strength that allows me to choose love over fear everyday.

M.S.

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Love: Appreciation vs Possession & Why Possessiveness Is Toxic In Any Relationship

Parents don't want to hear that their children don't belong to them. In fact, had I ever said something like that to my mother, she would have promptly bopped me in my mouth. How dare I say that I don't belong to her!? She carried me inside her womb for 9 long months, pushed my extra large, irregularly shaped head out of a hole much too small for it, spent thousands of dollars that she didn't have on hospital bills, food, shelter, clothing, etc. And on top of all that, still found time to show me love and affection -- even when my drawers had skid marks. How dare I say that I don't belong to the person that cared for me for so long!? Well, because it's true -- I don't belong to my mother and she doesn't belong to me.  But for a long time we tried to possess each other and I'm sure that's what caused the bulk of our conflicts. I read this Osho quote a few years ago on Tumblr and I remember my mind being blown by it. It goes "If you love a flower, don't pick it up. Because if you pick it up, it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation."  I didn't fully accept this as truth back then but I remember thinking it was a profound idea. All the love I knew up to that point was possessive in nature so I had no experience to validate it with but that all changed when I started meditating. In meditation I found a love that isn't possessive at all. A love that doesn't require me to change. I found a love so spacious, so complete, so fulfilled, so unbothered that it didn't need anything else from me other than to marvel in my beauty. A love that had no interest in my past or my potential but was fully engulfed in what I am now. A love that understood that by attempting to possess me, it will change me, and I no longer will be what I was when it first loved me.  Meeting that love showed me that Osho was right. Not only that, but I started to see how I'd let possessiveness and it's toxicity ruin many relationships. I was so used to thinking that possessiveness is just a byproduct of love but I'm so grateful to have learned that couldn't be further from the truth.

I think it's safe to say that we all crave love. I'm no parent but from observation I'd say that this craving is a big reason why people have kids -- to have something to love and that will hopefully love you back. To have something that will listen to you and be there for you. To have something to mold into what you think they should be. To "give a better life" than you had, whatever that means. But beneath all of those seemingly harmless desires is also the desire to possess and control.  I remember telling my family that I wasn't sure if I still wanted kids this past Thanksgiving and my grandmother having an objection to it. She said "you need to have a few kids or else no one will be around to take care of you when you get old." It was in that moment that I knew that what I suspected about parenthood, at least in a lot of cases, was true.  My grandmother is 82 years old and has been taking care of all of us for as long as I can remember so she wasn't speaking from personal experience but rather fear of how she sees her own future. I understand her logic, sure, but I'm no longer afraid of getting old, dying, or being alone so none of those are a good reason to have kids to me. People have children (on purpose) because they are afraid to die and having kids is the closest thing we have to cloning ourselves. This fear of death is what causes us to become possessive of our children. We tell children what to do and what not to do. What's good and what's bad. We try our hardest to protect them from what we perceive to be dangerous and we act like that's what love is; forgetting that it is our painful experiences that make us strong & wise. I've done many, many things that people in my family would view as bad or harmful but they've led to some of the most amazing experiences of my life. Experiences that I wouldn't trade for any amount of money. Experiences that I would have never known had I allowed what my family thinks to stop me from doing them. Years and years of having your opinion disregarded as a child builds resentment and ultimately pushes the child away. At least that's how it was in my case. I felt so scrutinized and controlled growing up that I couldn't wait to get out of the house. And when I got out of the house, I didn't come back often.  The real, or perceived, possessiveness I felt from my family pushed me away and made our relationships weaker.

I've never been in love. I thought I had been but the truth is, I've lied to every girlfriend I've ever said "I love you" to.  What I thought was love was really just attachment to their physical beauty and to the power trip I got out of knowing that they were desired by many but possessed by me exclusively. Attachment to the false sense of security I got from feeling like I owned someone who is valuable.  I would have been much better off telling them truth which was "I'm attached to you" or "I don't feel like I have much control over my life but possessing you makes me feel like I have control over something and that makes things a little less scary" or "I like how you are right now and I don't want you to change. If you do change, my "love" for you will likely disappear".  Since I "loved" other people using this ideology, I "loved" myself using the same rules. The difference is that instead of getting attached to another person, I got attached to my looks, personality, talents, and the access all those got me and I thought that because I loved those things about me, I loved myself. But I didn't love myself, I loved things about me -- just like I didn't love my exes, I loved things about them. So when they stopped behaving the way that I wanted them to, I would either try to manipulate them into changing into what I wanted or I'd just leave. As you probably know from personal experience, it sucks when people are trying to change you. It sucks because it means that you aren't good enough as you are. It makes you feel inadequate when people tell you that you need to become something else -- especially if you already don't love yourself. Us not loving ourselves is really the issue here. We don't find love within ourselves so we go looking for it outward. We find someone who awakens or incites the love that is already, always inside of us and instead of realizing that the love is already in us, we falsely associate that someone as being the architect of the love we feel instead of merely the muse. This is fine and dandy until that person no longer wants to be with us because when they leave, they take those feelings of love with them. Wouldn't it be much better to love ourselves first, before we got romantically involved with another? That way, if you and your lover split, you'll still have love because you will have already cultivated it within yourself before you two got together. That way, you won't have to feel jealous, or alone, or betrayed because you know that love is freedom and to love your ex is to allow them the space to be happy -- with or without you.

Look, I get it -- life is strange. There are a lot of unanswered questions about our existence and you can really only ever know what you alone are experiencing. Everyday you wake up and have no idea what exactly the next 16 hours have in store for you. Life is a mystery unfolding and I've learned that the difference between happy people and unhappy people is that happy people approach this mystery with love and wonder -- unhappy people approach this mystery with fear and insecurity. That fear is what makes people hop from relationship to relationship because it's a little less scary when you have a companion. That fear is what causes parents to get attached to their children and try to prevent their children from living the lives they're destined to live. That fear is what causes us to want to change the people around us instead of ourselves. But fear is the opposite of love and love cannot exist where fear exists. Since possession is based in fear, there can be no love in possession. It was a very special day for me the day I saw a pretty girl and didn't immediately have the desire to own her or use her. For a very long time, anytime I saw a girl I found attractive, I had to have her, if only temporarily. I thought this was normal and natural for a male because that's what I had been taught, but it's not. Seeing people that way is objectification which is another byproduct of possessiveness.  At one point, I didn't think it possible for me to see a girl in the same way that I see a flower. To see a girl as a beautiful creation that I can find pleasure in looking at and wondering about but not something that I need to possess. As something I can experience for a moment without needing to disrupt. I didn't give women this liberty for too long but I've learned that's what love is. Allowing things to exist without assuming that their life needs to be changed or enhanced by your presence or opinion. Love is spacious. Love is understanding. Love is the freedom to exist just as you are without anyone trying to impose onto you what they think you need.  I entitled this post "Love: Appreciation vs Possession" but it's really no contest. Possessiveness is toxic and truthfully doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same conversation as love.

M.S.

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