Saturday, April 30, 2016

What Has Formed Me? Part One

I have been reading a book about retirement called "How To Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" by Ernie J. Zelinski.  The author speaks of retirement as a time to be who you really are.  I found myself thinking about who I really am as well as who and what has shaped me into the person I am.  Most of my influences have been spiritual.  My childhood was spend in a very Catholic environment.  Many priests and religious sisters influenced me in very positive ways.  I have no horror stories of being abused by priests or smacked with rulers by mean nuns.  It was quite the opposite.  I wanted to be like them.  They were heroes to me.  I went off to the seminary at the tender young age of 14 to be a Franciscan priest.  Two of my earliest influences were Jesus and Francis of Assisi. The minor seminary did not work out for me and I returned to my home town.  The next major influence on me was the whole counter-cultural movement of the late 1960's.  I became a hippie and today at the tender age of 65, I remain something of a flower child.  As the sixties were winding down I began to have a new spiritual awakening.  I found myself thinking of my Franciscan past and soon enough I joined them for the second time.  It was during this time that I was introduced to two more major influences in my life.  One of the friars introduced me to the writings of Thomas Merton.  I quickly fell in love with the monastic and contemplative life.  Before I left the Franciscans for the second time, I had the great fortune to live with a newly ordained priest named Richard Rohr.  He was impressive even then and he remains a friend and teacher.  Today he is highly regarded all over the world as a speaker and spiritual master.  One of the great things I have learned from Richard is the Enneagram.  The Enneagram taught me who I really am.  When I realized I was a Type Nine on the Enneagram, it was a real moment of spiritual awakening for me.  It was also during this time that I began having serious thoughts of becoming a Trappist monk in the same monastery where Thomas Merton had followed his call.  I made it into the monastery and my time there proved to be a major influence on the kind of person I am today.  It was during the time I lived in the monastery that I learned the meaning of contemplation and I began living with a sense of wonder.

To be continued.....       

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Spiritual Life

“One doesn’t have to be religious to lead a moral life or attain wisdom.”
-Allan Lokos
This quote can generate some differing opinions among people.  Many people of my generation describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious”.  Many people have a problem with organized religion and who can blame them?  There are people that never go to church who are very spiritual and there are people who go to church every Sunday and have not changed one thing about themselves.  The spiritual life, whether you regularly attend church or not, is about inner transformation.  It is not about sitting in the front pew hoping to be seen by everyone else or being the biggest contributor to the parish collection plate.  It is not outward appearances that are important.  It is the inner transformation or change of heart a person attains.  This inner transformation or change of heart is found in service to others.  Service involves everyday life and everyone you encounter.  It is not just volunteering once a week at the soup kitchen although that might be part of how you serve.  Everyone should be a servant to others, especially if you are in a leadership position.      

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Moment Is Forever Changing

Mindfulness isn’t about trying to grasp onto this moment.  It is about recognizing that life is made up of constantly changing moments.”
Buddha says that all things are impermanent.  Mr. Spock, in the first Star Trek movie, explained a painting of the Garden of Eden to Captain Kirk as a reminder that all things end.  However, when one thing ends, another thing begins.  In Kentucky we say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.  You can literally experience all four seasons in the same week.  We often talk about mindfulness as being in the moment.  This does not mean that we are standing still whenever we practice mindfulness.  The moment is constantly changing.  The same person cannot enter the same river twice.  Each time you enter the river it is a different river and you are a different person.  Sometimes I wonder why we physically age if our bodies are constantly re-generating new cells.  Maybe we are really just recycling old cells and eventually they just wear out.  When we practice mindfulness we are in a moment that is constantly changing and moving.  Maybe this is why I sometimes get dizzy.    It may be more appropriate to speak of mindfulness as flowing with life.  If life is a river, mindfulness is grabbing your inner tube, jumping in, and going with the flow.  Life does not stand still.  Life is movement.  If you don’t move with it, it may knock you down. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

It's All In Your Head

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their lives, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
-William James
Everything in life is attitude.  Change your thinking and you can change your life.  I can remember times in my childhood when I was complaining about something and an adult would say something like “That’s all in your head, Michael”.  Buddha has a similar teaching when he says that all of our suffering is within our own minds.  Of course, he is speaking of emotional suffering, not physical pain.  One person’s Hell is another person’s Heaven.  Every time I complain about working, an unemployed friend tells me how much he wishes he had a job.  Some days I do have a bad attitude.  It is usually due to fatigue, not feeling good, or it’s just a day when nothing seems to go right.  On those days I try to remind myself that a bad day is not a bad life.  Most of the time I try to live my life with gratitude.  This past Wednesday night my wife and I had dinner with her sister and my brother-in-law.  He is a little older than me and retired a few years ago.  Retirement has been a smooth transition for him.  He told me how much he enjoys sleeping in every day.  I told him that every time I wake up, and I see by the alarm clock that it is not yet time to get up for work, I gratefully thank God that I can sleep some more before I have to get up.  When I do have to finally get up I am grateful for another day of life, even if it is a work day.  True gratitude begins with the little things in life.  If you aren’t grateful for the little things, you probably won’t really appreciate the big things either.  A good attitude, positive thinking, gratitude, and perspective are what will bring you happiness and contentment.  Please note that none of these traits are things.  It is not what you have the makes you happy.  It is how you live.        

Signs Of Intelligence

The sign of intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason.”
-Marya Mannes
With all due respect, the world is full of ignorant people.  If there was ever any doubt, the Internet has brought this to light.  Everyone and their brother has an opinion about everything and most of these opinions are not based on facts, logic, or intellectual discernment.  Those with the loudest voices seem to be mostly driven by their emotions.  Emotions are not a bad thing.  Emotions at their best evolve into passion.  Passion at its best is the fuel for positive change.  Emotions and passion need to be guided by the intellect.  Emotions and passion need to be balanced with reason.  An intelligent person can listen to an opposing view and not feel threatened.  An intelligent person does not need to shout.  An intelligent person’s first response is not fear or anger.  An intelligent person listens deeply before forming their response and their response is based on logic or experience.  The current political season is an example of people unable to control their emotions.  It is also an example of people using emotions to prey on people’s fears.  Everyone thinks their point of view is the only correct way to think.  It is the same old problem with dualistic thinking.  It’s the belief that it has to be one way of thinking or the other, i.e., the Democratic point of view or the Republican point of view.  All of these supposedly intelligent leaders and few of them can see things in a non-dualistic way.  Why can’t we take the best of each point of view?  Emotions need to be controlled with the application of reason but also by the willingness to see both sides of an issue and be willing to meet in the middle.  This is called compromise.  It seems to be a lost art in today’s political arena.             

Listening To The Silence

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself in crystal clearness.  Our life is a long and arduous quest after truth.”
-Mahatma Gandhi
As I have written before, we live in a noisy world.  Most of you have heard the expression “I can’t hear myself think”.  I know that many people have requested to work at home because they find the office too noisy and distracting.  They want to work in a quieter place.  My home and my entire neighborhood are very quiet places during the work week.  On weekends, however, you are more likely to hear leaf blowers, lawn mowers, or even chainsaws.  Prolonged noise, in whatever form it takes, is not good for the human spirit.  When I lived in a monastery as a young man, we got out of bed at 3:00 AM and began the day with prayer and meditation at 3:15 AM.  At first it was a shock to my system, and it never got easy, but after I got used to it, it became my favorite part of my day.  I especially liked the time after group prayer when each monk could go off on his own to a solitary place and simply become one with the approaching dawn.  It was a wonderful thing to sit on the porch during a pre-dawn rainstorm or to watch the sun rise through the trees and across the fields.  The silence was soothing and healing.  Any time I have visited the monastery over the years I have always looked forward to re-experiencing these things.  The first thing I noticed after leaving the monastery was the noise and the speed of life in the city.  It was a shock to the system.  I am afraid that most of us have become de-sensitized to it.  Many people are equally shocked when they encounter silence.  You cannot hear well or listen deeply when you are immersed in noise.  You can’t hear physically and you can’t hear spiritually.  When I finally retire and I no longer have the pressure of my morning alarm clock and the need to come to work, I hope to spend more time listening to the silence in my early mornings or even in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep.  Sometimes tells me, however, that sleeping won’t be a problem in retirement.  Some of the best sleep I ever had was in the silence of the monastery.  My best thoughts also seem to come to me in silence as well.          

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Relaxation Is The Opposite Of Stress

Relaxation means releasing all concerns and tension and letting the natural order of life flow through one’s being.”
-Donald Curtis
In some ways relaxation is the opposite of stress.  If stress makes us feel uptight and tense, relaxation makes us feel loose and light hearted.  I have been told by friends that when they get a full body massage they can barely walk out of the spa because they are so relaxed.  They feel like they could float and be carried away by the wind.  When one learns to create balance in life, and you are able to make time to breathe, one can attain a general sense of relaxation as you go about your day.  Some people who are spiritually inclined call this being centered.  When you are centered and rooted within yourself, it creates a stability where very little ruffles your feathers.  When you are centered and rooted within yourself, concerns and tension are minimized and the natural order of life flows within you.  Instead of having emotional responses to everything, you learn to simply deal with whatever happens.  I don’t always do this very well.  I do get upset sometimes and it usually blows everything out of proportion.  My favorite Star Trek character was always the Vulcan, Mr. Spock.  I envied how cool, calm, and collected he was no matter the situation.  He responded to the challenge of the moment intellectually, logically, and without emotion.  He never lost it.  Alas, I am not a Vulcan.  I am an emotional human being from planet Earth.  The best I can do is try to breathe and remain calm.  When I am able to do this I can relax and release all my concerns and tension and let the natural order of life flow through my being.