Friday, November 21, 2014

Living In The Season

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each”.
-Henry David Thoreau
I am quickly exhausted by negative and pessimistic people who always see the worst of everything.  These people are chronically unhappy and nothing ever seems to give them joy.  I am an optimist.  I see the glass as not only half full but often overflowing.  A pessimist once told me that an optimist is a person out of touch with reality.  I understand that a lot of life is just trying to survive but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed.  The above quote by Thoreau is a very good definition of Zen.  Living in the season means being one with it.  Whatever the season, it is full of life.  Now is the season of thankfulness.  Breathe in life.  Exhale thankfulness.  Drink life.  Taste it’s fruits.  Give thanks always.  Let the goodness of life permeate your bones.  Life does change but that is not necessarily good or bad.  Life just is.  Our opinions of life are based on personal judgments which can be terribly skewed.  Thinking that life is always either good or bad is dualistic thinking.  Life is both good and bad.  The Zen way, the contemplative way, is to not judge it but to simply be present to it.  Often, when you least expect it, joy happens.  As we all prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with our families and friends, lets renew our attitudes and live more intentionally by having grateful hearts and joyful spirits.    
If you’ve never read Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau, I highly recommend it.  It is a life changing book. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Connecting The Dots

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something…your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”.
-Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs changed the world.  He would be my hero if all he did was invent the iPod.  I have always been reflective and introspective.  It’s part of my nature.  However, I don’t dwell in the past and I am not in mourning over its passing.  I do sometimes re-live great memories in my mind or perhaps with family or friends who shared the moment.  Much of the time my life does not make sense to me while I am living it.  It is only when I look back at previous events or people who crossed my path that I can begin to make sense of my life.  I can see now where even things that felt like failures were really successes and they made me who I am today.  It is only in retrospect that we can connect the dots of our life.  Life never goes in a straight line.  My personal blog is called “Stumbling along the Spiritual Path”.  The use of the word “stumbling” was very intentional.  The path of my life has gone in many directions.  My path has sometimes seemed overgrown with weeds.  It has gone up and down and all around.  Sometimes I could not tell if I was going North, South, East, or West.  A few times when I wasn’t paying attention I got wacked in the eye with a tree branch.  Many times I have stumbled and occasionally I have fallen down.  This convoluted path, however, has been my path.  It has taken me through some pretty interesting and unique experiences.  It has brought me to where I am today and has also made me who I am today.  These thoughts make me think of a favorite poem by Robert Frost. 
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Without A Loss Of Enthusiasm

I tend to believe that life will get better even when it doesn’t.  Even though I don’t really think of myself as a happy person, I am reasonably content most of the time.  Some of my blessings don’t always feel like blessings but I try to be grateful for every good person and every good thing in my life.  I admit that I have lost some of the optimism of my youth.  When I was young I thought there was no way to go but up.  However in my “old age” the world often seems to be going to hell in a hand basket and all I am doing is hanging on.  With all the world’s troubles as a backdrop, I have read that most of today’s children will not live as well as their parents on a material level.  This bothers me.  Most people of my generation live better than their parents, at least on a material level.  I don’t think we are happier.  Looking back my family was kind of poor although as a child I didn’t realize it.  I realize now that my parents certainly struggled to raise six children on one blue collar salary.  My children are doing fine but I worry about my granddaughter and the world she will be in as an adult.  I have also read numerous times that most baby boomers haven’t saved a dime.  It would seem that many baby boomers are just living for today.  I do feel ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing for the future but by all accounts I have not saved nearly enough.  Life is a struggle for just about everyone and sometimes success is difficult to define.  Winston Churchill once said that “success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm”.  This could well be said about life in general so it is important to celebrate and acknowledge any success or victory, no matter how small.  I have no trouble accepting that there are failures in life.  We’ve all had them and more are down the road.  Failure can be a great learning opportunity.  The part of Churchill’s quote that really challenges me is “without a loss of enthusiasm”.  How does one maintain endless enthusiasm for life and work and love?  No one has ever accused me of being overly enthusiastic about anything.  On a rare occasion I will display some passion but not much really excites me.  It is a challenge to have endless enthusiasm.  If you ask my wife how she feels she will reply, “I’m tired and I’m tired of it”.  What she is tired of is all the BS of life.  Most of you know what I mean.  It is what saps our energy and depletes our enthusiasm.  I don’t know the answer but I think it is a positive step just to be aware of this.  The awareness probably grows with age although many young people quickly begin to sense it once they are out in the real world.  I still recommend optimism as a lifestyle choice and hopefully you will also discover your enthusiasm along the way.            

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's All Coming Back To Me Now

I believe in karma and something called the “Law of Attraction”.  What do these things mean?  You often hear people say “what goes around, comes around”.  This is the belief that you get what you deserve.  If you put positivity and goodness into the world, that’s what will come back to you.  If you’re a bad person who does bad things and you enjoy making others unhappy or you enjoy wreaking havoc in their lives, you’ll get yours in the end.  This is karma.  The “Law of Attraction” is the belief that what you think about is what happens to you.  If you are always negative and pessimistic, don’t be surprised if nothing ever seems to go your way and that bad things always seem to happen to you.  Negative and pessimistic people also seem to worry about everything all the time.  On the other hand, if you are positive and optimistic, you will find that things usually go your way.  Most of the time I am a positive and optimistic person but I am also an imperfect human being and sometimes I am tired and grumpy.  In spite of the occasional down day, most things in life go my way.  Although I am not a perfect person, and my life is not perfect, I am very blessed and I have been the recipient of much kindness and many good things in my life.  I try to be grateful for all of it, whether it be my granddaughter’s laughter and smile, my Zen moments where I am one with something bigger than myself, or maybe for something as simple as a really good sandwich.  Let me share a couple of really good quotes that re-enforce what I am saying.  Wayne Dyer, who wrote a book about the Tao, says, “Change your thinking and change your life”.  Another of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain who said, “I’ve lived through some really terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”.  Put nothing but goodness and love into the world, think positively, and be optimistic and hopeful.  I truly believe that if you do these things, your life will change for the better.              

Monday, November 17, 2014

Zen Moments

I once received an email from a friend and co-worker telling me he had a “Mike Brown moment”.  He described it with the following words, “I read your references to Zen moments quite often.  However, a couple of weeks ago, I think I had a Mike Brown moment.  It was a Saturday morning, and there was snow on the ground.  I sat in my living room, sipping a cup of hot chocolate, reading a book, and occasionally I glanced out to admire the snow.  I considered that a Mike Brown moment”.  I certainly don’t have exclusive rights to Zen moments or glancing out the window to admire a snow covered landscape.  However, I will take some credit for trying to teach other people to recognize such moments in their own lives.  Beauty is always present even if it is not obvious to us.  Having a Zen perspective gives us a greater clarity as it opens our eyes to what is around us.  As I think about my friends experience, I am reminded of my own experiences where I am doing one thing when my attention is drawn to another thing.  I like to read while I am listening to music.  Sometimes, however, the music is so wonderful that all I can do is focus on the music.  Perhaps it is only for a moment but as the words or melody of a great piece of music float through the air, I must lay my book aside, much like my friend when he became lost in the beauty of the snow.  Zen moments are those perfect “Mike Brown moments” when you become lost in the moment unaware of time and space.  You cannot search out such moments.  They arrive unannounced and you must be ready to embrace them.  This is also mindfulness.  Mindfulness is having your mind and body together in the same place and being aware of what is going on in each moment.    

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Crock Pot In A Pressure Cooker World

The older I get the more tolerant I have become of others.  This is due in large part to an increased awareness of my own imperfections.  If we are honest about our own personal weaknesses it should become more difficult to be judgmental and intolerant of others.  I believe most people are like me in the sense that they’re doing the best they can.  Work is only one thing in most people’s lives or that’s all it should be.  People also have family concerns, personal issues, worries about their health, and perhaps they also struggle on a spiritual level.  Along with personal struggles and challenges there are the chores of everyday life that one must do to simply live.  At age sixty three I simply don’t have the energy that I used to have.  Even when I was young I wasn’t exactly what you would call hyper.  I was never a driven, ambitious, dynamo.  In a world of pressure cookers, I have always been more of a crock pot.  We all like to think we’re superstars but the reality is that most of us aren’t.  Most of us are ordinary.  Most of us are “salt of the earth” types who keep the world running even if we aren’t always recognized for our efforts.  Most of us labor in relative obscurity and do so most of our lives.  This does not mean that we have little or no value.  We’re not just bricks in the wall or part of a mindless herd.  Most people don’t need, or even want, to be in the spotlight.  I certainly don’t need to be number one.  I’m happy to be part of a team of people cooperating with one another to achieve a goal, whether it’s within my family at home or my family at work.  When I do this, I sleep well at night and I am at peace.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Imagine A Mountain

Imagine a mountain.  Every day the mountain experiences some type of weather.  Some days are bright and sunny and beautiful.  Some days are cloudy and overcast.  Occasionally some days are stormy with heavy rain, thunder, and lightening.  Other days the mountain gets buried in snow.  Our moods and feelings are like the weather.  They come and go and change all the time, often on the same day.  People have a tendency to think their moods and feeling are who they are.  We are not our moods and feelings any more than a mountain is the weather it experiences.  The reality is that each of us is the mountain.  Sometimes I am in a bad mood and I can’t come up with a reason for feeling that way.  Some days I am just in a funk.  When I feel like that I try to remind myself about the weather and I try to just wait out my funk, much like I would wait out a storm.  Others days, again for no particular reason, I feel happy, life is beautiful, and I am walking on air.  On days like that I really try to just enjoy the moment and get lost in it.  I don’t wonder why I am happy or if I deserve to be.  I just thank the universe.  One of my favorite jazz bands is called “Weather Report”.  They picked that name because their music, like the weather, is always changing.  However you’re feeling today, just acknowledge it, and let it go.  If today’s a sunny day, enjoy the warmth on your soul.  If it’s a stormy day, just hunker down until it passes.  If it’s overcast, be patient.  The sun will shine again.