During our lifetime we walk down many different roads. We start in one place and end up somewhere else. When one road ends, another one usually begins. I guess when there are no more roads, you’re dead. As Forrest Gump declared in the movie Forrest Gump, “I’ve worn lots of shoes”. In all of the journeys down all of the roads we have traveled in our lives we’ve all worn lots of shoes. I have an old pair of sneakers with tie dyed shoe strings that are completely worn out but I have kept them because they have taken me to many rock and roll concerts in my life. The shoes, and the journeys on which I wore them, have many memories for me. I hope my wife doesn’t pitch them when I am not looking. Often when we are walking down one of life’s roads we have no idea where it will end or where it will intersect another road. We don’t always know where we are and it is only by looking in our rear view mirror that we know where we’ve been. If we know where we are going we have a better idea about what kind of shoes to wear. I once visited France. Our hosts took a bunch of us on a bus trip to a local shrine in a forest. After we all got off the bus, the bus left us. Most of us didn’t realize that part of the experience was to hike back to where we began. The hike back was through the forest. It was beautiful but there were hills to climb, creeks to cross, and occasional mud. Some of the ladies and a few of the men were not prepared for such a hike. I wasn’t wearing my rock and roll shoes but I did have on some shoes appropriate for a hike in the forest. As you walk down the roads of your life, including the occasional side trip through a forest, be sure you have on the right kind of shoes.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
I once received an instant message from a friend and co-worker in another city. It read “I’d like to place an order for some Zen”. She went on to explain that she was coming un-hinged at work and wondered, “What would Michael do”? I didn’t tell her that I would probably go outside and scream. What I did was make her laugh. I told her that laughter is part of Zen. My co-workers and I often joke throughout the workday and make one another laugh. It never ceases to amaze me how good laughter is for you. It can certainly lighten the mood and re-energize you when the demands of the day make you feel frazzled. I don’t want to be in a workplace where everyone is serious all the time and there is never any laughter. One of my personal goals is to feel joyful about life. This is very challenging at times. Life is hard and there are always bad things happening that can depress you. The Zen of laughter can make life seem sweet and not so difficult. Whatever our differences are as people, we can be unified in our shared laughter. Psychological studies have shown that frequent laughter is good for us physically as well as for our overall well-being. Occasionally people ask me how I have managed to stay married for over 40 years. I would say that laughter has been a major reason. My wife and I are about 98% total opposites but we laugh a lot. Admittedly, a lot of our laughter is based on our mutual disrespect for people who take themselves too seriously, for all things pretentious, and for society’s absurdities. My advice for all you sourpusses and overly serious people out there is to chill out and laugh. Life is too short to walk around with a frown on your face all the time. Lighten up! No one ever died from laughter and being light hearted.
Monday, March 02, 2015
Each morning I receive a daily thought on my cell phone that is directed towards people with my personality type. Some days it affirms me and other days it challenges me. Here is an excerpt from today’s thought.
“How do you postpone showing up more fully in your life? Where and how do you typically hit your snooze button? What conditions do you require to wake up”?
I must admit that my natural tendency is to be withdrawn, disengaged, and solitary. I am an off the chart introvert. One could say I was even trained to be this way during my time in the monastery. I admit that I find a day home alone to be bliss while group functions are often hell for me. I also have a tendency to zone out no matter where I am. When I am listening to a live concert on my iPod, I am at the concert in my mind. Having said all of this, what conditions do I require to wake up and show up in my life? In order to do this the situation or the task must interest me. If it’s a philosophical challenge, I need to believe in it. In most cases I also need to be challenged. If it’s too easy I am bored. If it’s too hard, and possibly beyond my abilities, I am stressed. For me to be fully engaged and present, I need to feel like my strengths are being utilized, I believe in what I am doing, I see its value, and I must feel a sense of accomplishment. If I am operating from weakness in a task that I find meaningless, and it has no apparent value to me, I am mentally and emotionally checked out and I am hitting the snooze button repeatedly.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
I have occasionally mentioned something called the “Spirituality of Subtraction”. This is a concept that is difficult for the young. It should be. When one is young it is a time to build up and to accumulate. You acquire an education. You begin a career and perhaps start a family. You buy a house and fill it with stuff. Youth is a time of building and gathering. This is the point of the first half of life. More often than not, when we are doing all this building and gathering, we are also creating the illusion of who we think we are or who we think we should be. This illusion is what some people call the “false self”. The second half of life is very different. One begins to simplify and let go. Sometimes, despite whatever education you have acquired, you may feel like you don’t know anything at all, but, hopefully, your knowledge has turned into wisdom. When you were young and thought that you were smart and knew everything, that was an illusion of your false self. The career that you spent your entire life acquiring may be slipping away. You may be losing interest in it or it may be losing interest in you. If you’re lucky you have some good relationships with people you love and who love you in return. As your children are growing up, you are growing older. They leave your nest and continue their own journey of life. The changes you are going through will also happen to them eventually. At some point you will realize that you no longer need that four bedroom home and the mini-van in the driveway. Your priorities change. When you begin to de-construct and let go, many of your illusions are exposed and your “true self” begins to emerge. Most of you who are young will read this and think “What is he talking about”? Those of you past 50 probably understand me. None of this is good or bad. It is a natural process that we will all participate in with different degrees of satisfaction and pain. If you are interested in learning more about the idea of the false self/true self, or the “Spirituality of Subtraction”, I recommend the books of Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr. Both of these men have been mentors and teachers for me.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
I believe part of the spiritual journey is trying to remember everything we have forgotten. We are born perfect but begin to lose our true nature as we “mature”. In a manner of speaking the spiritual journey is a return to the self. As we grow older we sometimes feel like we learn new things. I don’t think it is a learning so much as it is a remembering. As we remember who and what we are, we re-discover our true self, the self that is often hidden by our personalities. As I have shared before, our different personalities are nothing more than defense mechanisms we have unconsciously created as our way to deal with the world around us and to get love. Since we have not all had the same experience of life, we do not all have the same personality. I know my own personality well. It has been studied and tested by me on a number of occasions. I am programmed by my life’s experience to act a certain way. Many of us even try to look a certain way. I was asked once if I had a beard so I look “wiser”. Of course I do! Seriously, the challenge of the spiritual journey, and the return to the self, often pushes us to act the opposite of the way we want to act or think we should act. On some levels we are all frauds and imposters. We maintain our illusions of ourselves because we are afraid of who we might really be. If we are born perfect, a return to our true self cannot be scary. The real fear should be living in an illusion. People sometimes ask me, “How can I have inner peace”? First of all inner peace is not the result of having no conflict or challenges in your life. Inner peace comes from being who you are, accepting who you are, and being OK with who you are. If you are doing these things you are on your way to being your true self and experiencing inner peace.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
“To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy”.
I really try not to complain. My basic approach to life is one of gratitude because I know I have been blessed in many ways. When I do complain it is usually because I think something is stupid, a waste of time, or has no value that is apparent to me. When I complain I sometimes become obsessed with whatever I am complaining about. I know that it sometimes annoys other people and most of the time it wears me out too. It’s so much better to be happy and content. Everything in life doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be happy. However, to be happy one needs to spend some time counting your blessings. Too often we focus on what’s missing in life and we don’t spend enough time acknowledging the good in our life. When I avoid the negative it is relatively easy for me to be happy. Generally, it doesn’t take much to make me happy and I am usually content with whatever is available. Although I sometimes think I am a complex person, my basic needs are rather simple. Even though I like nice things I don’t think of myself as a materialistic person. Happiness is found in direct proportion to our gratitude. When we are happy and content with life we don’t usually complain. The less I complain the less I exhaust myself and others and the happier I am.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
This is not a hermitage, it is a house. ("Who was that hermitage I seen you with last night?") What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe. Who said Zen? Wash out your mouth if you said Zen. If you see a meditation going by, shoot it. Who said "Love?" Love is in the movies. The spiritual life is something that people worry about when they are so busy with something else they think they ought to be spiritual. Spiritual life is guilt. Up here in the woods is seen the New Testament: that is to say, the wind comes through the trees and you breathe it.
-Thomas Merton from his essay Day of a Stranger.
This is a quote from one of my favorite Thomas Merton essays. For those that do not know, Thomas Merton was a monk, priest, and prolific spiritual writer. He is also the biggest reason I started writing my own thoughts. I say that with all due respect for my granddaughter who has also been a major influence. Merton lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani which is the same monastery where I lived as a young man although we were not there at the same time. He spent the last few years of his life as a hermit living in the woods near the monastery. I have spent a couple of weekends in this hermitage and they were profound experiences for me. I don’t know about the rest of you but I believe I totally get the message in this quote. I think the basic message here, and one I need to hear on a regular basis, is to stop trying so hard to be spiritual, deep, and profound. Wear your pants, live your life, feel the wind, and don’t forget to breathe. All of life is spiritual so you don’t have to do spiritual things to make life sacred. Life is sacred and spiritual all by itself. Of course, spiritual practices and beliefs are fine too and they can enhance your overall experience of life.