Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Anyone out there old enough to remember the movie Urban Cowboy? Maybe some of you younger folks are into old, cheesy movies. But I’m guessing if you know the movie, or the song, it is now tragically stuck in your head for the rest of the day. I apologize.

An Effort to Evolve

I remember, once, seeing a cartoon of a cowboy looking under a horse’s tail, captioned, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”

Where do you find love? Where do you look for it?

I know countless people who, despite heroic efforts, can’t find love. Maybe not countless in literal terms, but as I’ve never kept track, in that respect, countless. However many of these people I know, they are all on every online dating site, some even have consultants to assist and advise them on their dating site profiles. I have friends who are chronically single and others who are chronically miserable in the relationship they’re in. I even follow a blog written by a woman who writes of her efforts to find lasting love, which seems to elude her to an almost comic level. Every time she is “in love” again, her readers watch and wait, kind of like watching Jersey Shore or a car crash, we can’t not watch, as much as we’d like to. We all know in a week, or two, a month, tops, she will be single and on the hunt again. Which is tragic, except that she has an enviable following.

For the many I know who struggle with love, I know a few wise and blessed people who find lasting, fulfilling and joyful love. Sometimes with no effort whatsoever, they round a corner one day and BAM!! Love.

May I share with you my thoughts on this? Not that I am some well-published love guru, nor am I the ill-fated, love sick blogger with an enviable following and the “can’t not watch” antics.

I often kid around with my single and dateless friends, “If you want to meet guys you just need to go to bars, alone, and drink really dark beer, it guarantees getting noticed and almost certainly a conversation.” And that is where it all begins, with a conversation. If you aren’t having conversations, or aren’t available to converse, or are always with your pussy posse and so, unapproachable, how can you expect to have a conversation?

Conversation is required for a relationship to begin, but 99% of conversations are not for that intent. They are just conversations. It surprises me, though, in all my travels and in all my observations, how few people are really willing to converse with “strangers”. And, even among my chronically single friends, they “would never” just enter into a conversation in a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, or any other public setting, with a stranger. Question; how else does a stranger become an acquaintance? Am I missing something here?

Conversation or no conversation, there is much more to the story. Love may follow a friendship that develops from some initial conversation that begins in a coffee shop, a bar, the grocery store, an opera performance, or even an online dating sight. But love can only survive under the ideal circumstances, like a rare, exquisite and temperamental flower. We may be “looking for love” in all the usual places, bars, coffee shops, online dating sites, etc., and we may even have some promising, preliminary success, but, I’m here to tell you that’s not where you’re going to find true, meaningful, fulfilling and lasting love (and by “lasting” I mean of some undetermined, unguaranteed, duration, because, remember, love is impermanent, like life, like baseball season, summer, youth, and  like rare, exquisite and temperamental flowers; a topic for another time).

The biggest problem with love, that I see, is that people expect it to happen to them. In other words, love comes from an external source, “he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me …” How often do we hear people make mention of the fact that people in their lives either love them, or don’t? Their kids, their lover, their parents, their relatives, their co-workers, spouses, friends of friends, acquaintances, exes, and so forth and so on? Does this, then, add or decrease their value as a person, to be loved, or not, by other people in the world? We are looking in the wrong place. Love does not happen to us, it isn’t something that is just bestowed upon us, from an external source, because we live and breathe and occupy space on this planet. There seems to be a false sense of entitlement here, and there, and everywhere. Don’t get me started on THAT topic, we’ll save it for later, as well.

Where, then, should we be looking for love, if not from those around us we wish would love us?

Love begins, exists and is always, for eternity, from within.

How often have you heard someone say, or how many times have you, yourself said, “I wish I could find someone who loved me for who I am. I wish I could find someone who loved me exactly the way i am.” Question; do you love you for who you are? Exactly the way you are? To be loved we must first be lovable. To be lovable, we must first love ourselves. We pretty much set the standard, our expectation of how others will regard us, like us, love us, by how we feel about ourselves. You remember those hapless people that round a corner, bump into a stranger, and find blissful love? Chances are, they are very lovable and that it all begins with how they feel about themselves.

Sound narcissistic? There is a different between narcissism and loving oneself. To love oneself means to have self-respect, to treat oneself with love in the way we think, speak and act towards ourselves. If we are self-loathing and self-destructive that is perceived, if only on a subconscious level, by others, as being unworthy of love, our own, first, and theirs, then, too.

When was the last time you picked a daisy and plucked the petals from it, one at a time, saying, “I love me, I love me not, I love me, I love me not, I love me!”?

An Effort to Evolve

Do you recall Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways“? Perhaps we should recite it as “How do I love me? Let me count the ways.” We are, sadly, in the practice of counting the ways we don’t love ourselves;  “I’m not pretty enough.” “I’m not thin enough.” “I’m not young enough.” “I’m not interesting enough.” “I’m not adventurous enough.” “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m boring.” “I’m stupid.” We constantly tell ourselves “I am not enough”, and so those in our midst, the world, the universe, if you will, hears “I am not enough.”

No matter our I.Q., our body type, our shape, size, hair color, job, hobbies, political view, religion, national origin, family history, or anything, we can be lovable. But we must begin with ourselves, it all begins inside our head, inside our own heart. When you feel deserving of your own affections and adoration, you become deserving of others’ affections and adoration. It shines like a beacon through the fog, ethereal and intangible, but real and palpable.

You know those people, friends, relatives, or complete strangers you may casually observe, they’ve just got “that quality”? People seem to notice them despite their relative physical attractiveness, or unattractiveness. That’s the quality; self-love, self-respect, self-worth. The beacon in the fog.

So if that’s the secret, how does one fall in love with one’s self?

It is a process. It is a practice. It is a daily, moment to moment, and lifelong chore. Loving oneself is not something we accomplish and then just check off our list. Loving oneself is something we work at daily, every day, for the rest of our lives. It’s a lot like getting fit and healthy; you can’t just go on a diet for three weeks and then stop. You can’t go to the gym for the month of January and then stop. Health and fitness are lasting only when our efforts are lasting. There is a sign in the yoga room at my gym that says “fitness is not a destination, it is a lifestyle”. Loving oneself is the same, it is a lifestyle and it takes the same level of commitment, sweat, exertion, and sometimes even pain, to maintain. Make no doubt.

Don’t be mistaken, though, I’m not saying it’s hard to love one’s self, I’m saying it’s hard to change the patterns we’ve developed and are enmeshed in. People, without making a conscious effort, are generally very self-loathing. Truthfully, even the most conceited, narcissistic, people you’ll ever meet are actually, usually, the ones that hate themselves the most. It is our tendency, as humans, and this tendency must be reversed. Volumes have been written on it and as I am not going to add to those volumes here, today, that is where I’m going to recommend you begin. Some of the books I’ve seen lately that I’ve found enjoyable to read and informative and enlightening are listed below.

Looking for love? Start in the right place, within. Learn how to love yourself and the world will follow. To get the dreadful Urban Cowboy song out of your mind, I’m going to give you another song from even further back in history! Remember the Coca Cola ad with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”? That’s a lot like what this self-love thing is all about. It begins with one little voice, (yours) a good message and a catchy tune. By the first chorus, others are singing along with you and by the end of the song, all of humanity has joined in. Cheers!

 

Unlimited – by Jillian Michaels
You Can Be Happy No Matter What – by Richard Carlson
The Soulmate Experience – by Joe Dunn and Mali Apple
The Art of Happiness – by Dalai Lama

Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

A recurring theme in much of the reading I’ve been doing lately has been living in the present moment, and, related to that, mindfulness. Eckhart Tolle, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, even Arianna Huffington, all modern teachers of living in the present and mindfulness

I have seen quoted, time and again, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and everywhere, ” if you’re depressed, you’re living in the past, if you’re anxious, you’re living in the future.” The only time in which we actually live, the only time we can actually make a difference and have any impact, is the present. Have you tried to live and think only in the present moment? Even for thirty seconds? Not so easy, is it?

And, so, enters “mindfulness”, the practice of noticing and acknowledging thoughts as they enter your mind, and then, filtering out those that are based in the past, or in the future. More than that, mindfulness also allows us to identify, acknowledge, and hopefully, derail thoughts that are not beneficial; judgmental thoughts, limiting thoughts, comparisons, and self-critical thoughts, among others.

A practice that helps us hone our mindfulness skills is meditation, and one that all the authors above practice, preach, and promote. I’ve been practicing meditation, off and on, for a few years. Lately, though, in an effort to evolve, I’ve been making a daily practice of meditation. Like yoga, meditation is not something that is ever perfected, it is something, always, that is practiced. Even well practiced meditators, Buddhist monks, even the Dalai Lama himself, have days where their meditative practice is more or less fruitful than others.

I remember the first time I ever really tried meditating; first feeling very self-conscious sitting there with my eyes closed, legs crossed, on the floor. Even though I was alone in my room. I didn’t quite know what to do with my hands, I tried them this way, then that way, then another, flopping them around in my lap like a couple of recently landed fish on the shore. I remember trying to empty my mind of thoughts, I remember not being able to empty my mind of thoughts for more than a split second. I remember getting kind of discouraged and not really trying to meditate again for quite a while. Months later, still reading of its benefits, I attempted meditation again. Again, dissatisfaction with my ability.

When I migrated my yoga practice from my living room a la DVD to the gym, a guided meditation became part of my routine with each class. Still, I struggled with the mindfulness part, but, out of peer pressure, at least I remained still and in good meditative form for the duration. Like yoga, with practice, I improved at meditation during class, and even with mindfulness. On one occasion, I became so mindful I almost dozed off.

In my daily practice, at home, or wherever I happen to be, I feel as though I am gaining ground. Of course, I’ve really committed myself to the practice this time around. And, by “committed” I mean I’ve committed in the best way I know how; I’ve spent money. I’ve bought a dozen Kindle books, I’ve downloaded several guided meditation MP3s from iTunes and Amazon, and I even have a whole folder of iPhone apps with different guided meditations and soothing noises. I even went so far as to order myself a “tuffet” and a “dog bed”, though I think the proper terminology for these items is “zafu” and “zabuton”. Now that I’m heavily invested, I am compelled to practice, regularly, or be consumed with guilt every time I trip over my tuffet and matching dog bed on the floor of my room.

By the way, this is an oft-employed strategy of mine for remembering all sorts of things; put something on the floor in the tripping zone as a reminder. If I don’t want to forget something when I run errands or leave on a trip, I make sure it’s on the floor where I can’t help but trip on it. I even taught my son, Dogwood, this trick, and he employs it often. So this isn’t something just for the middle aged and forgetful. Dogwood will remember something he needs to do in the morning, after he’s gone to bed, so he just takes one of the pillows on his bed and throws it in the middle of the floor. The next morning, he sees the pillow and remembers what he’s supposed to do. At my age, though, if I just see a random pillow on the floor, I just get confused. My tripping objects need to be specifically related to what it is I am trying to remember. Just a strategy, in case you’re so mindful and in the present moment, you forget everything else!

Still, with all the equipage, props and practice, I struggle. More than I should, I think. But I’m committed and I just keep trying. A few things I’ve learned, I thought I’d share, in case you’re in the same boat as me.

First of all, “bed-itation” does not work. In “Zen and the Art of Running”, a great book I read earlier this year, the author, Larry Shapiro, PhD, warns of “sleeping hazards” when meditating. For me, that’s just about anything that isn’t rock hard, cold or incredibly noisy. The Dalai Lama, in “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” while speaking at a large event, warns attendees, all 1,500 of them, that they are likely to fall asleep during a group meditation he leads. “In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness,” he recommends, daily, for eight weeks, a forty-five minute guided “body scan” meditation, lying on your back in “a quiet, warm place where you won’t be interrupted by anyone, or by the phone”. I don’t even have to be lying down to fall asleep in a quiet, warm place where I won’t be interrupted! The body scan begins with becoming aware of the breath, then moves to the left, big toe, then up the body to the top of the head. I can usually remain awake for the left big toe. I regain consciousness again at the top of the head. Sometimes. Other times, I don’t regain consciousness until the audio has moved to another track, like rap music. And, yes, I’ve tried the body scan guided meditation in bed. I fell asleep on the second deep breath. Bedi-tation, a sleeping hazard. Hardwood floor offers some success. Be advised.

Another problem I’ve experienced in effective meditation practice; the medi-libation. I usually practice meditation first thing in the morning (bedi-tation), mid- day for a brief spell, if I can, and before bed. Well, sometime between my mid-day meditation, the end of my workday, and dinner, I like to have a beer. After dinner, I like to have a glass, or two, or three, of red wine. Needless to say, my late night meditation is very relaxed. I do not recommend libations any time before or in conjunction with meditation, I did order my zafu and zabuton in wine color, just in case. Now, for insomnia? Medi-libation, in moderation, may be just the thing!

So now that I have a tuffet and a dog bed, I practice my meditation seated, and (reasonably) sober. I am having more success remaining awake. I am still struggling, and probably always will, with mindfulness. I am improving, but I have to be very mindful about being mindful. And, as I mentioned above, I’m in good company, even the monks themselves still practice this for hours and hours each and every day!

So, mindfulness; focusing on the present and being alert and aware of thoughts that enter the mind, then letting them pass like water in a stream. Piece of cake! No, really, among a bazillion other random thoughts, I am likely to picture a piece of cake, then a zebra, then, perhaps, a Tesla Model S P85. I’m likely to think of what to have for dinner, that cute shop in New York City where I saw all those Christian Louboutin shoes, learning to fishing, my next business trip or Disneyland. I also write articles. Every great idea I want to write about begins as an article, drafted in my head, during meditation. I can’t help it. But, I’ve devised a plan.

Every time I catch my mind wandering, I just tell myself “Wait! Wait! Wait!”

WAIT! What Am I Thinking. It’s an acronym, get it? When my mind wanders and I am trying to be still, I tell myself to “wait”, I take notice of what I’m thinking and then let it pass. Mindfulness. Yes.

Tuffet and dog bed
Tuffet and dog bed

WAIT! When Am I Thinking. If I catch myself focusing on any time but the present, I remind myself to “wait”. I can even think about the past, in the future; I plan how I’m going to recount events and circumstances from the past, in a future conversation. And I bet you do too! How “not in the present” is that? Wait! Presence.

Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dogbed)
Zafu and zabuton (tuffet and dog bed)

WAIT! Who Am I Thinking. When I catch myself thinking about people, especially if I am thinking judgmentally or am making comparisons, I just have to remind myself to wait.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!
Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait!

WAIT! Where Am I Thinking. My mind wanders! It’s normal, I know, but as a reminder, when I want to be more focused, I just remind myself to “wait”.

I tell myself to “wait, wait, wait, wait” when I get off track during my meditation practice AND when I catch myself dwelling on past events, future scenarios, limiting, or undesirable thoughts or when I just need to focus and my mind has wandered. It works great! I swear by it! But, be warned, people will look at you a bit askance if you’re shopping for shoes or filling your car up with gas and you suddenly look startled and yell, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Wait! then smile and go peacefully back to what you were doing. This from experience.

So, I guess to sum up my very mindful thoughts, today, I’d have to say, just stop, wait, and listen. Namaste.