Friday, January 19, 2018

Closure

Last Friday was supposed to be my last official day at work.  I woke up to a fast approaching winter storm.  I needed to go to the office to meet with my boss, clean out my desk, and say goodbye to my friends and co-workers.  When I arrived at work people were leaving the building.  A manager I worked with told me to do what I needed and then go home.  I did not know it at the time but my boss was stuck in Florida trying to get home.  My building was virtually empty of people.  When I got to the floor where I worked there were only two people there, one of whom was my ever faithful partner and assistant.  She helped me finish my packing and then we walked out of the building together.  I was happy that she was there and I was able to say goodbye face to face.  Throughout this first week of retirement I've had the thought that I really didn't have closure with my office, co-workers, and friends.  I feel like I didn't get to say goodbye.  When I went to work last Friday I expected to work most of the day and to be able to walk around and say my goodbyes.  The reality is that it feels like my entire work experience just vanished into thin air.  Some people in the office might feel this way about me.  I don't mean to sound arrogant but I know I was a well liked and popular person.  I think many people saw me as a "character" who was somewhat entertaining, especially when I was going off about some office process or task.  I exploited my old man/senior citizen grumpiness on a daily basis.  However, I think most people enjoyed this.  Who will take my place and say all the things other people are thinking but are afraid to say out loud?  If you are one of my former co-workers, especially if we literally worked together every day, I am sorry if we weren't able to say goodbye to one another.  Although I don't miss working, I do miss people.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Gratitude

After braving the cold, the darkness, and the morning commute I returned to the warmth and comfort of my home.  As always my neighborhood is a very quiet and solitary place during the work week.  After brewing some African coffee that my wife gave me for Christmas I sat down for my morning meditation.  Although meditation can sometimes be a restless and difficult experience I still enjoy it most of the time.  Think of meditation as going to the gym.  It is a form of spiritual exercise.  It is not always pleasant in the moment but over time it is beneficial.  Of course there are also times when you really enjoy it and feel like you could go on and on.  This morning as I sat in silence I had the thought over and over how grateful I am for these days.  I feel like I am on an extended retreat.  The ice and the snow and the extreme cold increase my sense of isolation.  With all due respect to humanity I am loving my solitude.  Retirement is not a guarantee for everyone so I am exceedingly grateful that I have been given the means and the opportunity to retire from full time working.  Down the road I may venture into part time work or volunteering but for now I have been given the gift of extended and full time retirement.  I have often complained in the past that my life was spent meeting the needs and expectations of other people often to my own detriment and unhappiness.  I think I have earned the right to now be a little selfish and to focus on my own needs.    

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Meditation

One of my new goals is to meditate on a regular basis.  I have always strived to meditate on a regular basis but my practice has been erratic.  With my new found solitude and leisure I hope to be more disciplined about it.  What is meditation for me?  At this stage of my life it is simply sitting, being quiet, and breathing in the tradition of the Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and his book The Miracle Of Mindfulness.  For many years, while I was still working, my wife and I would ride to work together.  We both worked downtown, it was convenient, and it saved money.  I will still do this on a regular basis if for no other reason than to get myself out of bed.  Morning is my favorite time of day and the goal of my meditation, not to mention my retirement, is to be awake.  When the Buddha was asked who he was, he replied, "I am awake".  At this time my world is still cold and covered in ice and snow.  In a few days we will have spring like weather.  As the weather improves and real spring makes its annual appearance I will add walking in the park to my daily routine.  The circle will be complete when I arrange my day to also include an afternoon meditation session.  It is all part of the slowing down and calming down process.  When most people look at me they see an aging hippie and they assume I am a calm, laid back, not a care in the world kind of guy.  This image is not totally true or accurate.  I am someone who tries to always be calm and laid back but internally I am often not that way at all.  I am not always happy or content with my life.  Though the surface of my being may appear serene, on the inside I am often a whirling dervish of feelings and emotions.  I want to be calm, serene and happy but too often I am restless and agitated.  

Now I have to go defrost the ice maker.  I will try to breathe while I do it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The First Day

Yesterday was my first day of retirement.  I didn't feel retired.  I felt like someone who called in sick when I should have dragged myself into the office.  It was also Martin Luther King, Jr. day so my granddaughter spent the day with me.  I didn't see much of her because she is now a teenager who stays up late and then sleeps much of the day away.  In my part of the world we are experiencing winter and for now I am living in a very cold, snow covered landscape.  Once the weather warms up and the snow and ice melt I hope to go to the park every day for walks.  I did begin what I hope is a disciplined spiritual practice of meditation and reading.  My urge is to play rock and roll music all day but I am striving to start my day with silence and meditation.  I am enjoying my solitude even if I do feel a little bit guilty for not going to work every day.  Although I have wanted to retire for a long time, now that it is here I am finding it to be an adjustment.  I have spent much of my life meeting myself coming and going so having lots of leisure and very little responsibility is a new experience.  It is difficult to not think of my former co-workers and feel like I have abandoned them.  These early days of retirement remind me of retreats at the monastery.  When you first arrive at the monastery, usually on a Friday afternoon, you feel restless and agitated.  Your body and psyche are wired from your frantic life and the silence and solitude of the monastery is a shock to the system.  Over time you slow down, quiet down, and unwind.  About the time you are where you want to be it is time to go back home and jump back into the rat race.  Now that I am retired I am on a perpetual retreat.  My slowing down is permanent.  My life will be quieter on the inside as well as the outside.  My nervous system will calm itself down.  When one's life comes to a screeching halt like mine has done even a naturally contemplative person like me needs to transition from a frantic life into a calm life.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What Will I Do With Myself?


Ever since the word got out that I am finally going to retire people have been very curious about what I am going to do with myself.  At my retirement party almost everyone who spoke to my wife asked, “So what is Michael going to do with his time”?  Most of us have spent many years working so it is hard to imagine a life that doesn’t include mandatory working.  However, for most of us work is just something we do.  It is not who we are.  I am also amazed at how many people assume I will spend all my time traveling.  They must think that senior citizens get free hotels, free transportation, and access to eat anything they want at all restaurants for free.  Retirement doesn’t make you suddenly wealthy.  I don’t expect my lifestyle to get better.  I just hope I can maintain what I currently have.  As far as my new found time, I do not plan to jump from one rat race into another one.  Since I am retiring in the dead of winter I don’t expect to do anything much until the spring.  Anyone who knows me is aware that I am very much an introvert.  I love my solitude.  My immediate goal upon retiring is to rest, heal, and catch up on the many books I have accumulated.  I also hope to resume a more disciplined meditation routine as well as getting back on the horse with writing.  There is also a wonderful park near my home with a great walking path that I hope I can make myself visit several times a week, if not every day.  I am hoping I never have to work for money again.  What I would like to do is eventually volunteer at places where I can give back and help people.  I am especially interested in working at a local soup kitchen that feeds the hungry.  Much of my training and education is in the general field of ministry.  Before I came to Humana I spent two years working  as a kind of social worker at a church.  Some may consider it a weakness that my approach to leadership at Humana has been rooted in ministry.  Enlightened people at Humana call this Servant Leadership.  The bottom line is that I am not rushing into anything after I leave Humana.  My entire life up till now has been spent doing what other people wanted me to do.  It began with parents and teachers, it continued with a wife, children, bosses, and other people in general.  It is time to do what I want.  I recently saw a joke where a wife asked a husband what he was doing.  He replied, “Nothing”.  The wife said, “You did that yesterday”.  The husband replied, “I’m not done yet”.  We all spend much of our life doing many things whether they are necessary or not.  People are hyper-active.  Part of my early education and training was also living in a monastery.  When I leave here I plan to spend more time being than doing.  My inner monk will be re-born.  Who knows what else I may become?  There are probably sides to me that I have not discovered yet.  Of course, I could be like my 88 year old mother and I could rock in my chair all day and stare out the window.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cartwheels In My Mind

Every day I am asked if I am counting down the days until I retire.  I am not consciously doing it but for the record I have 29 actual work days to complete.  Most people, regardless of age, dream of retirement.  Let’s be honest.  The majority of people wouldn’t work if they didn’t need to do so.  People, however, get attached to things like housing, heat, food, running water, and indoor plumbing.  If you value these things you probably have to work for them for most of your life.  People assume that I am doing cartwheels in my mind now that I am finally retiring.  I can’t deny that I am looking forward to it and each day I am reminded how happy I will be to no longer have to perform or worry about work related chores.  I don’t want to offend anyone but I also look forward to not having to deal with people on a daily basis with their various personalities and idiosyncrasies.  Although I am a people person, the real me is more of a solitary hermit.  There are moments when I think I should have stayed in the monastery but even in the monastery you have to deal with all kinds of people.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I like people and I generally care about others.  I just find other people exhausting a great deal of the time.  This is more about my personality than their behavior.  I look forward to the mental and physical freedom of not having to work every day.  However, when a person retires they are giving up more than a regular paycheck.  Working has been part of my lifestyle for my entire adult life.  Many people don’t know who they are when you take work out of the equation.  We tend to think we are what we do.  Personally, I have never believed that.  Working has always just been something I do and it is not who I am.  How I work is a truer reflection of who I am.  Leaving the workplace means giving up some structure in my life as well as leaving behind some friendships that will be challenging to maintain without the shared experience of working together.  I will no doubt have some days when I wonder if I did the right thing.  At the same time my heart tells me it is time.  I have run the race and I have made it to the finish line.  It is time for the next phase of my journey whatever that turns out to be.  Soon the book of my life will begin a new chapter and the blank pages will fill up with other adventures.  What will they be?  I have some ideas and thoughts but no new commitments on the horizon.  The story is not over yet.  Who knows what awaits me?          

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Living In The Center


We can bring our spiritual practice into the streets, into our communities, when we see each realm as a temple, as a place to discover that which is sacred.

-Jack Kornfield

 

When I think about religion and spirituality the image of a bicycle wheel immediately come to mind.  The hub is at the center of the wheel.  The outer rim of the wheel, where the rubber meets the road, represents religion.  For me the center, or hub of the wheel, represents the contemplative life.  The contemplative life represents the experience of God or the universe or whatever has deep spiritual value to you.  The hub, the center, the contemplative experience, is where all mystics live, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever.  The outer rim represents religion.  This is where individual beliefs, dogmas, and doctrine tend to be different.  This is where we sometimes lose our connectedness with one another.  This is where we each tend to believe that “we” have the “truth”.  This is where people can be the furthest apart.  It is in the “center” where we are closest together.  It is on the experiential, contemplative level that we see each person and each realm as a temple and as a place which is sacred.  Outside of the center is where we tend to see ourselves as different from one another, i.e., a Catholic or Protestant Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, etc.  Identities tend to become invisible or non-existent when people are in the center.  I believe that all spiritual practice should lead us to this center.  It is where everything and everyone comes together.