Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Just Another Day

Today is just another day but it also happens to be my birthday.  At my age birthdays can be viewed two ways.  One can bemoan the fact that they are older or one can celebrate that they are still alive.  I choose the latter.  I am happy to be alive and in many ways this is one of the best times of my life.  As a retired person I have the freedom to finally live the way I want to live.  My life is more simple than exciting but I am content, relaxed, and stress free.  My mother and father lived well into their 80's.  A few years ago my granddaughter asked me how old my mother was.  When I told her she replied, "Boy, she sure is good at living"!  I hope I am also good at living.

Although I am now 68 years old and I do have a few aches and pains, I do not feel old.  In my mind I am much younger.  Just this past week my friend and I attended a concert honoring the memory of Jimi Hendrix.  We are still young enough to leave our homes at night and attend a concert but old enough to have seen the real Jimi Hendrix in our youth.

Today I slept in as I now can do whenever I want or need.  When I got up I made some coffee and reflected on my life as I listened to some Jethro Tull and Bach.  Later in the morning I went to Starbucks and enjoyed a free birthday breakfast.  Since it is a sunny and beautiful spring day I will soon go to the park for a nice walk among the trees.  The weather lately has been overcast and gloomy.  I am suffering from a lack of sunshine.  Gloomy weather is tough for me.  When the weather is dreary I lack the motivation to leave the house.  That's not all bad since I am a classic introvert who can be quite content with my music and books.

I know I don't write as much as I did in the past.  Those who care should not worry about me.  I am fine.  My introverted and solitary nature is doing very well now with the expansive amount of free and unscheduled time that retirement has given me.

Am I really 68?   My inner child is not convinced!    

Monday, March 04, 2019

Getting Back On The Horse

I have been retired now for over a year.  During much of that time I have not been writing.  During the early days of my retirement I struggled with my new freedom.  That struggle is well documented on this blog.  These days I am happy and content with my life.  I have settled into some new routines and in many ways I am living the way I have always wanted to live.  It is a simple Zen like existence.  I eat when I am hungry and I sleep when I tired.  I read books, listen to music, and walk in the park or around my neighborhood.  Nothing is forced and I strive to not feel guilty if some days I do very little.

Yesterday I came across an old blog from ten years ago and it still seemed relevant.  I posted it on Facebook and Twitter and it elicited a few responses.  This has encouraged me to take up writing once again.  Part of the reason I took a break from writing is that I felt I had nothing left to say.  After all I have written over 1,500 blogs since 2006.  Perhaps I do have a few things left to say.  Like the rest of my life I will not force anything.  I will listen and be open to the voices in the wind.  If there is something to say, I will say it.  If there is nothing to say, I will be silent.  Too often in the past I felt as though I was on production and every day was a deadline.  I often felt pressure because many people expected their daily thoughts from me.  I hope to have some new thoughts for you but they will not be on a daily basis.

Here's to new beginnings...…

Today is a frigid day in my part of the world.  It snowed a little yesterday and temperatures are currently in the teens.  I was hoping to not leave my house but my granddaughter left her book bag here and I had to drive it to her school this morning.  Now I am home with hot coffee and good music.

Did I mention that some days I just sit in my chair with a book in my lap while I stare out the window?  Rocking in my chair and staring out my window are traits I seemed to have inherited from my mother.  Do you ever wonder what parts of your parents are now part of you?

This is enough for today.  There are dirty dishes in the kitchen and books that need to be read.

If you are reading this I hope you are well.      

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