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 or 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.





Thursday, April 19, 2018

Hearing The Drum Beat

Yesterday one of my readers took me to task for the way I ended my last blog.

I wrote "I am not sure I am hearing a different drummer or any drummer at all right now".

She wrote "O for Christ's sake, what a depressing conclusion.  No drummer at all?  Have you not had days during which an entire drum circle was competing for your focus"?

I deserved the criticism.

For what it is worth, I am not bi-polar but I am subject to mood swings.  I can move back and forth between ecstasy and agony at a moments notice.  I tend to be a sensitive person which is both a gift and a curse.  My best moments are what I call Zen moments.  My worst moments are when I feel depressed and sorry for myself.  In most of my life the Zen moments dominate.

I love drums.  In high school I had a set of drums and occasionally jammed with other people.  Most of my life I've owned some type of percussion instrument.  When I am alone in my car I am often drumming on my steering wheel as I play music.  Once I attended a "Wild Man" retreat.  Part of the experience was a drum circle.  With a natural talent for drumming I quickly became one of the leaders and participants in the drum circle.  Some of my favorite memories are going to Grateful Dead concerts with my friends.  As soon as you got out of your car you could hear the sound of drumming in the distance.  If you have never been to a Grateful Dead concert, the parking lot scene was quite an experience.  People played drums everywhere.  The aromas of cooking food and other substances filled the air.  Freaky people were everywhere.  I fit right in.

No drummer at all?  The reality is that my head is full of the sounds of drums and other percussion.  I love bands like Santana and Talking Heads who have lots of drums and percussion.  I miss Grateful Dead concerts.

Last summer I saw the band U2 for the first time.  They were awesome.  Let me end with the lyrics to one of my favorite U2 songs called Some Days Are Better Than Others.  

Some days are dry, some days are leaky
Some days come clean, other days are sneaky
Some days take less, but most days take more
Some slip through your fingers and onto the floor.

Some days you're quick, but most days you're speedy
Some days you use more force than is necessary
Some days just drop in on us
Some days are better than others.

Some days it all adds up
And what you got is not enough
Some days are better than others.

Some days are slippy, others days sloppy
Some days you can't stand the sight of a puppy
Your skin is white but you think you're a brother
Some days are better than others.

Some days you wake up with her complaining
Some sunny days you wish it was raining
Some days are sulky, some days have a grin
And some days are better than others.

Some days you hear a voice
Taking you to another place
Some days are better than others.

Some days you are honest, some days are not
Some days you are thankful for what you've got
Some days you wake up in the army
And some days it's the enemy.

Some days are work, most days you are lazy
Some days you feel like a bit of a baby
Looking for Jesus and his mother
Some days are better than others.

Some days you feel ahead
You're making sense of what she said
Some days are better than others.

Some days you hear a voice
Taking you to another place
Some days are better than others. 


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Walking In The Park

Henry David Thoreau went to the woods and lived on Walden Pond.

I walk in the local park near my home.

Thoreau wanted to live deliberately.  I want to stay healthy and avoid depression.

Thoreau wanted to "front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived".

I want to pass life with more than a C+ average.  My granddaughter struggles with mathematics.  I struggle with happiness.

My day started fine.  I took my wife to work, came home and meditated, watched a little news, and then went to the grocery store.  My cashier was an older lady who told me she was a retired teacher.  She told me she could only take retirement for about three months before she became bored enough to take a part time job as a cashier at Kroger.  I told her I was at the three month time frame too and retirement had been a struggle for me as well.  She repeatedly used the term "a sense of purpose".  I flashed back to my Humana days and remembered that a sense of purpose was one of four pillars that defined well-being.  I told her I wasn't quite ready to jump from one rat race into another one.  I hope I don't end up finding my sense of purpose as a Kroger cashier or a Walmart greeter.

About midday I realized my mood was not going in the right direction.  Although an 80 year old would think I am just a kid, I was feeling old and a little sad when I watched a Moody Blues concert celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the "Days Of Future Passed" album.  There is nothing that can make you feel old faster than a 50 year old memory.

This is when I knew I had to go walk in the park.

It was a beautiful day in the park.  Though bright and sunny there was still a chill in the air.  I have noticed that other walkers in the park seem to be in a Zen like trance where all they see is the path.  I suppose I look the same to them.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away".
-Henry David Thoreau

I am not sure I am hearing a different drummer or any drummer at all right now.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Some Final Thoughts On Retirement

Last week I hit the three month mark of my retirement.  It is difficult to believe I have not worked for three months.  This is the longest time of my adult life that I have not worked.  Over the last few months I have shared most of my struggles as I made the transition from full time working to full time retirement.

I think I am over the hump.  My retirement is feeling more natural and I now have some loose structure and routine in my day.  My days, however, still have a lot of flexibility in them so I can occasionally have lunch with my friends or take care of needed chores.  On a personal level Monday through Friday have become my new weekend.  Saturdays and Sundays are now the days I feel out of kilter as I adjust to having my wife and granddaughter around all day.

I would like to share some retirement advice for anyone newly retired or who plans to retire soon.

It is important to prepare financially for retirement.  I was lucky to work many years for a major corporation and I took full advantage of opportunities to save money and to make that money grow.  My company also offered me an early retirement package after 32 years of service.  In this regard I was exceptionally fortunate.

Although money is very important it is not the only thing that you should focus on when you get ready to retire.  I realized too late that I was not really prepared emotionally or psychologically for an abrupt end to my working life.  In the immediate days and weeks of my retirement I was lonely and depressed.  It did not help that I retired in the dead of winter.  Meditation and exercise have helped me deal with my negative moods, anxiety, and occasional depression.

If your life revolved around your job and office relationships, you might be in for a shock.  My motivation for working was making a living, getting a paycheck, and supporting my family.  The actual work wasn't very fulfilling.  It was after I left the workplace that I understood the importance of the friendships and social interactions I had with co-workers.  I have had a few surprises in regard to workplace friendships.  You may be surprised when you realize who forgets you and who makes the effort to stay in touch with you.

You should not build your life around the workplace.  I failed to develop a life outside of the workplace.  As an introvert I was usually exhausted at the end of days spent dealing with other people.  When I worked I enjoyed any opportunities for solitude and I couldn't wait to get home at the end of a workday.  Upon retirement I had too much solitude and few friendships with people that hadn't been part of my work life.

My spouse is still working.  If you and your significant other retire together, if you actually enjoy one another's company, and if you have similar interests, retirement may be a breeze for you.  I retired alone.  Time will tell what life will be like when my wife eventually retires.  We are very different kinds of people.

Although I have struggled with retirement, I am glad I did it.  It was time for me to get out of the workplace for all kinds of reasons.  My future is unknown to me.  I am not sure if or when something will reveal itself to me that gives new meaning to my life.  One possibility that crosses my mind is finding a way to help other people deal with aging, loneliness, and feeling disconnected from life.  Social isolation is a real problem for older people as they leave the routine of daily work and no longer have the support and friendships of the workplace..

I hope what I have written is helpful for you as you begin or contemplate your own retirement.