I once read a book titled Living A Beautiful Life. I admit this is not the kind of book that most men would read. The book was generally about the little things we can do for ourselves to make life seem beautiful and special. For example, I would only drink bad coffee from a Styrofoam cup in the most extreme of circumstances. I am more likely to drink “special” coffee from a beautiful mug. On one of my trips to Gatlinburg I bought a coffee mug from a local potter. On the side of the mug it says “Paw Paw”. The mug is a thing of beauty. I thought about all this when reading a chapter in a mindfulness book about joy. How much real joy do you have in your life? What gives you joy? Are you awake enough in your life to recognize moments that give you joy? A few things that give me joy, in no particular order, are my granddaughter, hummingbirds, great coffee, music, a cool breeze, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, anything with cinnamon on it, friends, laughter, moments of oneness with the universe, a great nap, weekends, anytime I feel good, books, an ice cold import beer, movies that touch my soul and heart, and on and on and on. We all know that life is hard and at times can be very challenging. Much of life can be depressing and discouraging. Life is often unfair and unpredictable. People talk about love all the time but it often seems scarce. Joy can be the antidote for all in life that does not uplift our spirits. Be awake today. Open your eyes. Joy happens!
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
I love three lane highways. I think they are a metaphor for life. When traffic is heavy I stay in the middle lane. If I am going too slow for someone they can move to the left lane. If I am going too fast for someone they can move to the right lane. The middle lane represents the middle path and this is the path I attempt to walk in my life. If traffic is light or non-existent I move into the slow lane so I can truly enjoy the drive. Most people don’t enjoy the drive. They are totally focused on the destination. If I drive to Gatlinburg it takes me approximately five hours. About half way there I stop for a big breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Corbin, Kentucky. When my oldest son drives to Gatlinburg he gets there in approximately three hours with the help of a five hour energy drink but without the experience of a nice breakfast. I believe in life, and on road trips, the journey is the destination. Another reason I like the middle path is that it represents the contemplative way. Most people think there are two options for dealing with life. You can fight it or run away from it. The middle path is the path of simply being present. Whatever is going on, you don’t have to always fight it or run away from it. Instead, be present to it. Deal with it. Learn from it. Get over it. Life has a way of always pulling you or pushing you. Stand firm and strong on the middle path. Do not be intimidated by life. Be present to it. I know many of you love moving fast but as Gandhi once said, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed”. I highly recommend the slow lane. There’s a lot to see there and it’s a lot less stressful than always living your life in the fast lane.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
One of my former teachers once said, “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking”. The great teacher, Buddha, said, “Believe what you experience”. It’s been my experience of life that we often start with an answer and then we build a question. We want things a certain way so then we try to manipulate reality to match our desires. Such manipulation may get us what we want but the side effects can be damaging. Rarely do we just let life unfold. The fact that it’s done that for billions of years doesn’t seem to deter us in our desire to be in control. Most of us try to live according to whatever belief system we have chosen to embrace. How would life be different if we believed according to what we have experienced? This is a door that can swing both ways. If you’ve never experienced love, it’s difficult to believe in it. If all you have known is abuse and hatred, it's very likely that all you are capable of is abuse and hatred. If you have felt great love in your life it is very likely that you will want to share that love with others. Depending on our experience we may believe in hate or love. If you choose to believe in God but you never have an experience of God, your faith may eventually disappear. Some people, however, who have little or no faith may have an experience of God that deepens their faith. Good or bad, our experience, or lack thereof, can greatly affect what and how we believe. It's about balance. Most people need and want something to believe in. However, if we’ve never had the experience to support and strengthen our beliefs, they will eventually fall by the wayside. Belief must be balanced with the experience of what we choose to believe.
Monday, August 25, 2014
My granddaughter spent the weekend with my wife and me. We had some interesting conversations with her while she was here. In the middle of her Happy Meal and my Filet of Fish, she asked me who Prometheus was. Catching me in a moment of Greek mythology weakness, I had to do a quick Google search to determine that he was a son of Titans, friend of Zeus, and stealer of fire. In another conversation we discussed how you can run until tomorrow but you can’t run to tomorrow. When I tried to explain why she said, “I know, Paw Paw, its because of the time space continuum.” Chloe is only ten years old. How am I going to keep up in the conversations when she is 20 years old and I am in my mid 70’s? In another conversation she told my wife that for Christmas she wants an iPhone, iPad, and a laptop. She also said to tell Santa (me?) that it would be nice if we had a Wii at our house so she could play it when she visits. She’s already taken over my personal computer. I love my granddaughter. She brings me a lot of joy and I cannot imagine life without her. Although a part of me wants her to stay exactly the way she is now, I also love watching her grow up and develop into the person she is. I love being her grandfather and having the relationship we have. I held her within an hour of her birth and my wife and I starting keeping her for weekends since she was three weeks old. Let me tell you that keeping a three week old baby overnight when you are in your mid-fifties is quite the eye opening experience. Yes, we had raised two children of our own but we were totally out of practice by the time Chloe arrived. She will be back again this weekend so I better brush up on my Greek mythology and time travel. May we will discuss Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. She already thinks my hair looks like Albert Einstein’s when I wake up in the mornings.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living once studied the idea of leadership in the writings of Thomas Merton. While Merton did not specifically address the issue of leadership, his writings prompted the following questions:
- How is the inner life of a leader integral to leadership style?
- How are core personality traits reflected in the way a person leads?
The Institute identified the following six key characteristics of a leader.
- Clarity of Vision/Intuition
- Openness to Change
In my opinion, these characteristics support what many refer to as “Servant Leadership”. True leadership is a life of service. In our society, especially in politics, leaders more often than not seek their own self-interests and the promotion of their personal agendas rather than serve the needs of the people they represent. In history, the greatest leaders have been servants not dictators. Leaders should be compassionate, they should be courageous, they should be humble, they should be people oriented, they should be visionary, they should intuitively know what is the right thing to do, and they should be open to the change that supports what is right.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
According to a book I once read by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, whenever we have a bad experience or we feel negative emotions, we can create inner knots within ourselves. If we don’t get past the experience or over the emotion these knots just get tighter and harder. If we continue to have bad experiences or negative emotions we begin to accumulate these inner knots and they start affecting our entire lives. Thich Nhat Hahn suggests mindfulness as a way to loosen and untie these knots. By being mindful, and with some practice, we can learn to step outside our experiences and emotions and look at them more objectively. We can ask ourselves such questions as “Why was this such a bad experience for me”? or “Why do I feel this way”? When we can look at our reactions and emotions more objectively we can begin to understand them. The more we understand our own behavior, especially bad behavior or negative emotions, the more we can prevent it. I am at a point in my life where I can often see my dysfunctional self-coming down the road a mile away. When I see him coming I take steps to prevent his arrival. I am more successful now than when I was younger. Age has also taught me other lessons. I prevent many inner knots from forming because I realize now that life is too short. I have learned to not take things too personally and to let many things go. I have learned to build bridges rather than burn them. I know what it’s like to struggle with life so I cut other people some slack whenever possible. True to my nature, I am a peacemaker. There is enough pain in this world. Why would I want to create more? There are too many negative feelings and emotions. If I can do anything to make another person’s life better, or to loosen their inner knots, why would I not want to do that? Choose goodness. Be a light in the darkness. Loosen the knots within yourself and don’t create them within others.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Most of my adult life I have been a little obsessed with trying to understand what makes me tick. I have wondered why I think and act as I do. Why am I who I am? One of the great things that has helped me in my understanding of myself, and others, is called the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a personality system, similar to the Myers-Briggs, but much deeper in my opinion, that has given me much insight into my own behavior. In this system, there are nine basic personality types. Each has their positive and negative traits. Typically one finds their type from the somewhat painful acceptance of their negative or dark side. In terms of the positive traits of each type, it is usually easy to identify with all of them since most of us have exaggerated images of ourselves. Here is a brief description of the nine types. Of course, it’s more complicated than these simple descriptions and there are many subtle dynamics. One insight I have gotten from the Enneagram is the realization that our gift is also our curse. It’s the “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” conundrum. Some of you may quickly see yourself in one of these types. I am a Type Nine. I highly recommend Richard Rohr's The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.
1. The Perfectionist-Motivated by the need to be right.
2. The Helper-Motivated by the need to love.
3. The Achiever-Motivated by the need to be successful.
4. The Romantic-Motivated by the need to be special.
5. The Observer-Motivated by the need to know.
6. The Questioner-Motivated by the need to be certain.
7. The Adventurer-Motivated by the need to avoid pain.
8. The Asserter-Motivated by the need to be against.
9. The Peacemaker-Motivated by the need to avoid.