Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cartwheels In My Mind

Every day I am asked if I am counting down the days until I retire.  I am not consciously doing it but for the record I have 29 actual work days to complete.  Most people, regardless of age, dream of retirement.  Let’s be honest.  The majority of people wouldn’t work if they didn’t need to do so.  People, however, get attached to things like housing, heat, food, running water, and indoor plumbing.  If you value these things you probably have to work for them for most of your life.  People assume that I am doing cartwheels in my mind now that I am finally retiring.  I can’t deny that I am looking forward to it and each day I am reminded how happy I will be to no longer have to perform or worry about work related chores.  I don’t want to offend anyone but I also look forward to not having to deal with people on a daily basis with their various personalities and idiosyncrasies.  Although I am a people person, the real me is more of a solitary hermit.  There are moments when I think I should have stayed in the monastery but even in the monastery you have to deal with all kinds of people.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I like people and I generally care about others.  I just find other people exhausting a great deal of the time.  This is more about my personality than their behavior.  I look forward to the mental and physical freedom of not having to work every day.  However, when a person retires they are giving up more than a regular paycheck.  Working has been part of my lifestyle for my entire adult life.  Many people don’t know who they are when you take work out of the equation.  We tend to think we are what we do.  Personally, I have never believed that.  Working has always just been something I do and it is not who I am.  How I work is a truer reflection of who I am.  Leaving the workplace means giving up some structure in my life as well as leaving behind some friendships that will be challenging to maintain without the shared experience of working together.  I will no doubt have some days when I wonder if I did the right thing.  At the same time my heart tells me it is time.  I have run the race and I have made it to the finish line.  It is time for the next phase of my journey whatever that turns out to be.  Soon the book of my life will begin a new chapter and the blank pages will fill up with other adventures.  What will they be?  I have some ideas and thoughts but no new commitments on the horizon.  The story is not over yet.  Who knows what awaits me?          

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Living In The Center


We can bring our spiritual practice into the streets, into our communities, when we see each realm as a temple, as a place to discover that which is sacred.

-Jack Kornfield

 

When I think about religion and spirituality the image of a bicycle wheel immediately come to mind.  The hub is at the center of the wheel.  The outer rim of the wheel, where the rubber meets the road, represents religion.  For me the center, or hub of the wheel, represents the contemplative life.  The contemplative life represents the experience of God or the universe or whatever has deep spiritual value to you.  The hub, the center, the contemplative experience, is where all mystics live, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever.  The outer rim represents religion.  This is where individual beliefs, dogmas, and doctrine tend to be different.  This is where we sometimes lose our connectedness with one another.  This is where we each tend to believe that “we” have the “truth”.  This is where people can be the furthest apart.  It is in the “center” where we are closest together.  It is on the experiential, contemplative level that we see each person and each realm as a temple and as a place which is sacred.  Outside of the center is where we tend to see ourselves as different from one another, i.e., a Catholic or Protestant Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, etc.  Identities tend to become invisible or non-existent when people are in the center.  I believe that all spiritual practice should lead us to this center.  It is where everything and everyone comes together. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Patience



Patience also contains a wonderful teaching about desire: wish for something, sure, but be at peace when you can’t have it.  Patience knows you can’t make the river flow any faster.
-Rick Hanson 


I am continually blown away by people’s lack of patience.  Recently I was on the receiving end of an old lady’s road rage because I was making a left turn and she didn’t have the sense to drive around me.  Everywhere I go that involves being with the general public I witness people being impatience.  I see people on the verge of nervous breakdowns as they wait for their carry out order at McDonalds.  It is a rare day when someone doesn’t honk at me during my evening commute.  I know I am an old man, and I tend to drive defensively, but I am also a courteous driver.  If you are trying to merge into my lane I even flash my lights to let you know I see you and I’ve got your back.  A lack of patience in dealing with everyday inconveniences shows a great deal of selfishness on people’s parts.  We live in a time when people expect instant gratification because they believe their needs matter more than anyone else’s.  There have been instances when I have shown patience that were criticized as a lack of assertiveness.  I wasn’t being unassertive.  I was just not being a jerk.  Yesterday I was talking to a man that came to check my home air conditioning.  The guy impressed me with his overall knowledge of many subjects.  He was obviously well read and educated.  I was just trying to establish some rapport with the guy.  However, he saw my outdoor Buddha sitting in front of my air conditioner and the next thing I know we are discussing Buddhism.  The simplest, cleaned up definition of Buddhism is “Don’t be a jerk”.  Remember this the next time you are inclined to be impatient.     

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Be The Best Version Of Yourself



Through meditation, we become aware of ourselves exactly as we are, by waking up to the numerous subtle ways that we act out our own selfishness.  Then we truly begin to be genuinely selfless.  Cleansing yourself of selfishness is not a selfish act.
-Bhante Henepola Gunaratana 


To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift.  Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves.
-Aldous Huxley 


Part of the psychological and spiritual journey is to know yourself as you truly are.  Spiritual masters speak of the true self and the false self.  It can take a lifetime to discover your true self.  What is our true self?  It is the pure essence of who we really are at our core.  What most other people see on the surface is our masks, our personalities, and the character we play on the great stage of life. I have often used a story about what happens when people meet.  Imagine two people going on a date.  When two people are on a date there are actually six people present.  There is the person each of the people think the other person is.  There is the person each of the people there think they are.  Finally, there are the people each of the people really are.  We imagine who other people are, we imagine who we are, and then there‘s the reality of who each person is.  After a journey of 66+ years I still don’t have a complete picture of who I really am.  I have been down a few false paths of who I thought I was.  I know for a fact that many people think I am more than I really am.  One of the ways you know you are on the right path of self-discovery is when you begin to accept the more negative aspects of your being.  None of us is perfect but we still tend to identify ourselves based on the positive traits we think we have.  In fairness, we all do have some positive traits but they do not capture our complete being.  I have reached a point where I see myself as self-aware, sensitive, and reserved.  I think I am also emotionally honest, creative, and personal.  However, I can also be moody, self-conscious, melancholy, self-indulgence, and full of self-pity.  I don’t think I am better than anyone else but I do feel different than most other people.  All of you will feel some version of these positive and negative personality traits.  The goal is to be the best version of yourself that you can be while minimizing those aspects of your being that are less than perfect.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Self-Awareness Versus Self-Absorption


One of my sister-in-law’s often says, “Well, you know, 2% never get the message”.  What she means is that 2% of the population is totally clueless.  I would personally put the number much higher.  On a daily basis I am amazed at the lack of self-awareness and knowledge many people have about themselves and what is going on around them.  People, especially young people, seem very self-absorbed.  If you don’t believe me check out the volume of selfies on social media.  What’s ironic is how people can be both self-absorbed yet totally unaware at the same time.  While it is true that self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom, it is equally true that being aware of the world around you and what is going on in that world is also important.  I have sometimes been accused of being clueless.  The reality is that not much gets past me.  Just because I don’t acknowledge everything or comment about everything does not mean I am unaware of it.  My senses are like radar.  All day long I see and hear many things.  The secret, however, is not just to see or hear but to notice and to listen.  You can’t live life in a bubble.  Learn to be aware and to notice what goes on around you.  When a storm is coming my wife will sometimes text our sons.  Why?  She does it because neither of them routinely watch the news or weather reports.  At some point, however, you can’t depend on your mother to tell you to come in out of the rain or to be on the alert for a tornado.  People at work sometimes ask me about something and I usually respond, “Did you not read the email”?  In many cases they have not.  In order to be self-aware and knowledgeable you have to gather information.  If you walk around clueless because all of your sensors are turned off, or totally focused on yourself, don’t blame others when you wake up in the Land of Oz because you weren’t aware of the tornado warning.     

Friday, August 25, 2017

What Defines Who You Are?


What do you care about?  How do you spend your free time?  What defines or describes you as a person?  When you have no obligations tugging at you, what do you do?  If you ask my granddaughter what I like she will reply “books and music”.  There is no doubt that I love to spend much of my free time reading books and listening to music.  I am also a solitary person so I enjoy and need my time alone.  Throw in a good cup of coffee and I’m very content.  If you walked into my “Fortress of Solitude” you would see a lot of books, CD’s, movies, and probably a coffee cup on my table.  This might sound boring to some of you who are more action oriented types but I accept that I am probably a boring person to many people.  However, I am never boring to myself.  I am happy to be left alone and allowed to simply be.  I get it that many of you are the total opposite of me.  I’m OK with that.  You are who you are.  I suspect that there are a lot of people who simply don’t think much about who they are and maybe not much about what they value.  If you could have the rest of this day off, and you had no pressing demands or chores that simply had to be done, what would you do for the rest of the day?  I admit that along with the things I have already mentioned I might take a nap.  It’s what old men do.  How would you spend the time today?  Would you choose a quiet day at home, relaxing and doing something you enjoy?  Would you spend the day at the mall buying more stuff that you don’t need?  Would you go volunteer at your church?  Would you take a walk in the park or go work out?  Sometime today think about what you value and how you would spend your time if you truly owned your time and you had the freedom to decide how it was used.  What is it in your life that tells other people who you are?  I think people who know me well think of me as a spiritual hippie and a thinker, someone who is a free spirit and who really doesn’t care if he’s on the same page as other people.  I hope I am seen as someone who is a lover of music and intellectual pursuits and as someone who values a spirituality that explores a deeper vision of life beyond the common, ordinary, and mundane.  I could be wrong.  Many people might just see me as a weird person.  I can live with that. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

There Are Many Ways To See Life


Absorbed in this world, you’ve made it your burden.

Rise above this world.

There is another vision.

-Rumi

 

I am not someone who reads poetry every day but I do appreciate a good poem.  One of my favorite poets is Rumi.  Below is a link to more information about him.  I have written the occasional poem but I do not consider myself a poet.  However, I do see myself as someone who sees life with a poetic vision.  As I have said many times I tend to be a dreamer and a romantic.  My head is in the clouds although my feet are firmly on the ground.  As the Moody Blues once sang, it is “A Question of Balance”.  The toils and struggles of everyday life can get the best of us down.  If you get too absorbed in life’s struggles it can easily be a burden just to live.  Whether or not you are naturally inclined to be a dreamer or a romantic, sometimes you have to stop, step away, and rise above it all.  There is another vision.  For me to rise above the mundane and ordinary aspects of daily life I need to find beauty.  Sometimes it is right in front of you but if you aren’t looking for it you may not see it.  Thomas Merton, the famous monk and writer, was also a photographer.  A book was published of some of his photographs called “A Hidden Wholeness”.  It was mostly pictures of ordinary things around the monastery.  Merton, however, had an artistic vision so he was able to see the beauty in ordinary things and find the “Hidden Wholeness” within them.  People need to not only rise above this world but also to see beyond the obvious.  People need to deepen their vision of life.  I believe this is what Rumi is saying to us.