Wednesday, July 18, 2018

An Afternoon At Thomas Merton's Hermitage






This past Sunday I got up early and drove to the Abbey Of Gethsemani.  If you are familiar with this monastery you know it was also the monastic home of Thomas Merton, a well known spiritual master and writer.  It is also the monastery where I spent some time as a young man.  I have been visiting the monastery for nearly 50 years.

The purpose of my visit was to attend a gathering with friends and some of the monks.  We gathered a short distance from the monastery, up in the woods, where the hermitage of Thomas Merton is located.  Merton lived there for the last three years he was in the monastery.  He died in Bangkok, Thailand from an electrical shock just days after meeting with the Dalai Lama in India.  His body was returned to the monastery and he is now buried with his brother monks in the monastic cemetery.

While at the hermitage on Sunday we shared a nice pot luck lunch and had a group discussion on the topic of contemplative awareness.  The topic was inspired by a recently published book by Brother Paul Quenon called In Praise Of The Useless Life.  Brother Paul is a long time friend of mine and a monk at Gethsemani.  During the meal and group discussion I was able to sit next to 95 year old Brother Frederic.  Don't let his age fool you.  He is sharp as a tack.  Approximately 48 years ago, when I wanted to be a monk, Brother Frederic was one of the monks who interviewed me.  The other monk pictured above is Brother Paul.

I shared with the group that my personal awareness of life in general has improved since I retired from full time working.  Most people are so busy and moving so fast that they fail to notice many things.  Life is a blur.  Now that I am retired my life has slowed down significantly.  I have the time and the awareness to notice the small things and to stop and smell the roses.  In other words my slower pace allows me to notice more.  My renewed meditation practice has also contributed to my heightened awareness of the life around me.

After the group gathering everyone left to go home and I had some alone time at the hermitage.  Earlier in the morning I briefly met with Brother Paul and arranged to meet him at the hermitage after the mid-afternoon prayer called None.  I sat on the porch at the hermitage and took in the view.  In the past I was fortunate to have been given permission to spend some weekends alone in the hermitage.  On one such occasion I had the wonderful experience of sitting in front of a roaring fire, in Thomas Merton's rocking chair, while it poured down rain outside.  What made this moment even more special was that I was reading a Merton piece called Rain And The Rhinoceros.  This bit of writing was Thomas Merton capturing a moment when he was having the very same experience that I was having as I read it.  I highly recommend reading it for yourself.

Soon enough I heard Brother Paul coming up the road.  For the next hour we just sat on the porch and talked about life and anything else that came into the conversation.  I also highly recommend his memoir In Praise Of The Useless Life.  Paul is a poet and has a poet's eye for life.

My visit to the monastery and the hermitage made me realize how much I have missed Gethsemani.  I really need to start going there more often.  It is good for my soul.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Empty Mall's And Contentment

I returned home a little while ago from a walk in the Mall.  Unless I have a conflict I try to go there every weekday morning.  In these dog days of summer the heat and humidity keep me away from the park.  If you walk the perimeter of the Mall, including all the nooks and crannies, it adds up to approximately 10,000 steps which is the daily recommended goal for non Olympic walkers like me.  I must confess I usually don't hit this goal.  I start running out of gas after the third lap so most days I walk about 8,000 steps.

After a couple of laps around the Mall, I usually take a five minute break in the food court.  The picture above is how the food court looks early in the morning.  Most of the stores and restaurants are not open yet.  I have been getting there early enough that the Cinnabon folks are still preparing the day's cinnamon rolls.  No, I have not yet succumbed to actually eating any of them.  However, by the time I finish my walk Starbucks is open so I usually have an iced coffee before I leave the Mall.

I haven't written much lately because I am currently living a very quiet and uncomplicated life.  It is now possible to say I am happy being a retired person.  This does not mean I am always happy and everything is now perfect in my life.  I still have my moments of existential angst but they are fewer and further apart and there are longer periods of time when I am simply content.  My early struggles with retirement taught me a lot.  In the beginning I had a lot of separation anxiety over people and things.  Now I am happy to simply spend most of my days alone.  I don't dislike people but I no longer feel the need for others to make me happy.  Each day I make myself happy or I don't.  The day is what it is.

This coming weekend I plan a trip to the monastery for a gathering of friends and monks.  It will include a meal and much conversation and will most likely be held at Thomas Merton's hermitage.  This is a special place for me and many others.  I have not been there for quite a while.  Even now while I think about it I am reminded of two personal, solitary retreats I made there.  I was quite fortunate to be allowed such opportunities.

I will try to write more for those who care about me as a person or who simply enjoy what I write.  Either way, be assured that I am fine.  Now that I have settled into my retirement I cannot imagine living any other way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Catching Up With My Life

It's been  a few weeks since I have posted anything.  The last few weeks have been exciting.  One week ago today I was walking around in the Grand Cayman Islands.  However, let's start at the beginning....

A week ago this past Sunday I flew to Tampa, Florida to board the Carnival Paradise for a five day cruise.  I went to Tampa a day early so that my family and I had plenty of time before the ship left the Port of Tampa.  A highlight of my short stay in Tampa was lunch at a place called Whiskey Joe's.  I had a few beers which inspired my son to say, "Dad is a lot more fun when he's been drinking".  Normally I am quiet and withdrawn.  However, a few drinks removes all my inhibitions and I become much more extroverted and chatty.

The ship left Tampa at about 5:00 PM.  It would take about a day and a half to get to the Grand Caymans.

There was a real party atmosphere on the ship around the pool.

After leaving the Grand Cayman Islands we had another day at sea.  I loved the days at sea.  The Gulf Of Mexico was very calm and I did not experience any motion sickness.  I also slept like a baby at nights which is something I rarely do at home.

This past Thursday I woke up in the Port of Cozumel, Mexico.  I liked it much better than the Grand Cayman's.  As soon as I was off the ship I was overwhelmed with the beauty and the colors of this part of Mexico.  The people were very nice if not a bit aggressive in their salesmanship.  The best line I heard from a shopkeeper was, "Amigo, we are not like Donald Trump tells you we are.  We are nice people".  This was certainly my experience.  Some shopkeepers offered me shots of tequila or bottles of beer while I shopped!

All good things come to an end so Saturday morning I found myself back in the Port of Tampa.  Getting off the ship and through customs went smoothly.  Sone enough we were at the airport for a long wait before our flight home.  All in all it was a great vacation.

Last night I spend a pleasant evening with a dear friend that I have known for many years.  We attended a Jackson Browne concert.  It was my first Jackson Browne concert and her 47th!

Now life is back to my new normal of daily retirement living.  With all the food and drink I consumed on my cruise I have surely gained some weight so tomorrow it is back to the park to resume my walking and exercise. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Calm Waters

In recent days two of my friends have checked up on me because they have not heard from me and I have not published any new blogs.  They were concerned about my well being.  I now realize that it has been almost three weeks since I have written on this blog.

Let me assure everyone who cares about me that I am alive and well.  My lack of writing is actually an indication of calmness in my life.  Looking back over the last few months most of my blogs were me venting over my daily existential angst as I transitioned from a busy working life to a life of relative leisure in retirement.

What have I been doing?

One or two days a week I have breakfast or lunch with friends.  A couple of weeks ago I had a particularly enjoyable lunch with two monks from the Abbey of Gethsemani.  I have known these brothers for many years.  When I was a very young novice in the monastery they were also part of the community.  One of them actually interviewed me when I first applied to be accepted into the monastery.  Earlier this week I had coffee with another friend I have not seen in quite a while.  We first met in the early 80's when we worked together in ministry at a local parish.

When needed I take care of household chores like grocery shopping, laundry, and cooking.

I am also taking what I call Zen walks in the park three or four days a week.  These walks are enjoyable for me and I believe I have even lost a few pounds.

This week I attended the third class of a philosophy class entitled "Integral Spirituality".  It is basically an overview of the thinking of Ken Wilber and his book A Brief History Of Everything.  I find the reading assignments challenging due to the density and style of the writing but the lectures from the Passionist priest teaching the class are very enjoyable and easily understood.  

When I am not sharing a meal with friends, going to class, or walking in the park, I practice mindfulness meditation twice a day, I read from the pile of books on my table, and I occasionally take a nap.  After a few months of struggle adjusting to retirement I now have a comfortable routine and sometimes I even feel a little busy.

This week, sadly, has been a little tough.  My wife's best friend and workday "lunch buddy" died only six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.  He was 51 years old and leaves behind a wife and two college age sons.  His funeral is in the morning.

I knew if I kept trying my retirement would work out and everything would be fine.  

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Integral Spirituality/A Brief History Of Everything


Next week I am beginning a five week course called "Integral Spirituality".  I am been trying to get in better physical shape by being more active.  Now it is time to stretch my brain and challenge my intellect a little more.  This looks very interesting and I expect to also meet some very interesting people in the class.  Only people like me would sign up for such a class! 

This course employs the work of Ken Wilber to offer a multidimensional perspective on how meditation enhances the evolution of consciousness and personal transformation. It presents an easy-to-grasp map of human consciousness. Content includes: the integral vision, spiral dynamics, four corners of reality, stages of human development, the formation of the self, and integral life practices. 

Here are some comments I pulled from Amazon....

"In this 20th-anniversary edition of the bestselling work, Wilber takes readers on a journey from the Big Bang to the future, impressively synthesizing multiple fields of study. He organizes his material to fit its evolutionary nature, feeding off of what came before in order to provide a transformational ‘unified theory’ of history. Readers will gain new perspective on what they know, or think they know, about every possible discipline.”—Publishers Weekly

"Ken Wilber is a national treasure. No one is working at the integration of Eastern and Western wisdom literature with such depth or breadth of mind and heart as he." —Robert Kegan, Professor of Education, Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and author of In Over Our Heads

"When Ken Wilber’s thought walks through your mind, the door to the next higher level becomes visible. Anyone seeking to update the wisdom traditions of their lineage needs his reality and consciousness maps. The kabbalah of the future will lean on Ken’s work." —Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

"Ken Wilber is today’s greatest philosopher and both critic and friend to authentic religion, a true postmodern Thomas Aquinas." —Father Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

"In the ambitiously titled A Brief History of Everything, Wilber continues his search for the primary patterns that manifest in all realms of existence. Like Hegel in the West and Aurobindo in the East, Wilber is a thinker in the grand systematic tradition, an intellectual adventurer concerned with nothing less than the whole course of evolution, life's ultimate trajectory—in a word, everything. . . . Combining spiritual sensitivity with enormous intellectual understanding and a style of elegance and clarity, A Brief History of Everything is a clarion call for seeing the world as a whole, much at odds with the depressing reductionism of trendy Foucault-derivative academic philosophy. "—San Francisco Chronicle

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Finally There....

After a little over three months, mostly in the dead of winter, I believe I am finally comfortable and happy being retired.  During the first three months of my retirement I felt like I went through the five stages of grief.  I realize now that I had to go through that to be where I am now.

It is fully spring in my part of the world and I feel a sense of renewal.

I have forgotten, for the most part, my previous life in the world of work.  The work itself was forgotten rather quickly.  In a few months I will probably not remember where I worked or what I did.  Additionally, I have also let go of emotional attachments to social and personal relationships with people who have let go of me.  I have maintained relationships with people who truly care about me as a person.  I do not water dead flowers or beg to be remembered.  In a sense this has been very freeing.

Yesterday it occurred to me that if a can do my mindfulness meditation twice a day, walk a couple of miles in the park most days, read some books, write some blogs, listen to some music, have occasional lunches with my friends, and take a nap when I feel the need, then I am having a good day.

I look forward to each day.  In the beginning I dreaded another day at home.  I was lonely and depressed.  Now I love getting out of bed every day even if the physical act of getting out of bed is as challenging as ever.  I have a basic routine that I follow each day although it is very flexible and allows for the unexpected.

In many ways nothing has changed except my attitude.  Most of my days are still spent in solitude.  However, my solitude is now rooted in contentment instead of anxiety.  I am comfortable with my solitude but I also enjoy when I meet friends for breakfast or lunch.  Perhaps for the first time in my life I feel totally free.  For example, earlier this week I didn't sleep very well one night.  The next day I was on my way to the park for my daily walk.  I wasn't feeling very good and I was tired.  I thought to myself, "I'm retired and I don't have to do anything if I don't want to or I don't feel like it".  I turned my car around, went home, and took a nap.  Allergies are very bad in my part of the world and I think I was suffering from them.  After taking an allergy pill and having a good nap, I was fine.  The next day I was feeling great and had a very enjoyable walk in the park.

I know some of you, whether you know me personally or not, have been concerned about my well-being.  I struggle with life's changes like most of you.  However, I am doing great and hopefully the tone of my writing will be significantly more positive than it has been in recent months.  If you are sharing my struggles, hang in there because it will get better.

Monday, April 23, 2018

My Inner World

There are many places in the physical world that I have never visited.  However, I have been to many places in my inner world and I have walked on quite a few paths of my inner landscape. 

The ups and downs of my retirement have given me much to consider.  One of the things my retirement solitude has done is confirm, with little doubt, the best and the worst aspects of my personality.

Way back in the early 1980's, while I was working for a church, I took a nine month course on spiritual direction.  Part of the course was taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator test for the first time.  It revealed that I was an INFP which is also called the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiver type.  It is too much to explain it all here but if you want to know more about INFP's and the Myers-Briggs in general, you can find information at www.personalityperfect.com/16-personality-types.

After some years of studying the Myers-Briggs I was introduced to another system called the Enneagram.  Today there are various tests one can take to identify which of nine types you might be.  When I was first introduced to the Enneagram it was more of a self assessment in the sense that one needed to recognize and own their own behavior, good and bad, to identify your type.  Because different personalities can have similar traits and behavior it is relatively easy to mistype yourself.  I was a person who did this.  For many years I thought I was a different kind of person than I really am.

Consider this....

When you look in the mirror there are three people looking back at you.  There is the person you think you are.  There is the person other people think you are and there is the person you really are.

I now realize that I am a Type Four on the Enneagram.  Early on I suspected this but was led astray because I wanted to be a different kind of person than I really am.  Don't we all think this way at one point or another in our lives?

One way to nail down your own personality type is to own the negative aspects of your personality.  We often think we have all the best aspects of every personality type.  It also helps to look at the characteristics of the types on either side of the type you think you are.  For example, I am a Type Four.  I also have some of the characteristics of a Type Three and a Type Five.

Here are some of my best traits....

Individualistic, Perceptive, Expressive, Creative, Warm, Supportive, Refined, Compassionate, Gentle, and Witty.

Here are some of my worst traits.  It hurts me to admit to these.

Temperamental, Withdrawn, Self-absorbed, Envious, Emotionally needy, Easily hurt, Snobbish, Depressed, Critical, and Self-indulgent

Unfortunately, I can be all of these things.  My type is sometimes called the "Tragic Romantic" and that I surely can be at times.

Of course, even our personality traits are not who we really are.  Our true selves, our essence, is who we really are.  Our personalities are only a way to cope with the world around us and to get attention.

If you would like to learn more about the Enneagram this is a good place to start is www.enneagraminstitute.com.

I have learned a lot about myself and others from studying the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram.  If you are interested in this type of stuff, I urge you to check them out.