Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books That Changed My Life

A friend recently challenged me to list ten books off the top of my head that changed my life.  Here are the ten books that I picked in no particular order.

  1. The Sign Of Jonas by Thomas Merton
  2. The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen
  3. Centering Prayer by Basil Pennington
  4. Discovering The Enneagram by Richard Rohr
  5. The Little Flowers Of St. Francis by Raphael Brown
  6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  7. Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  8. The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  9. The Art Of Happiness by the Dalai Lama
  10. Spiritual Master-A Thomas Merton Collection edited by Lawrence Cunningham 
Here are five additional books that had a great impact on me at the time I read them.

  1. The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser
  2. The Cistercian Way by Andre Louf
  3. The Mystery Of The Ordinary by Charles Cummings
  4. Letters From The Desert by Carlos Carretto
  5. The Cloud Of Unknowing by an unknown monk of the 14th century
As you can see the books that have most formed me as a person are books of a spiritual nature.  Certainly there have been other books I thoroughly enjoyed, such as books about music, but those that formed and changed who I am are deeply spiritual in nature.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Through The Years On My Blog


What Is Not Wrong?

If you ask the question “What is wrong?”, most people would have little difficulty providing you with a laundry list of their problems, issues, concerns, and complaints.  I would like to challenge you to take a different approach to your life.  It’s safe to assume that everyone has problems, issues, concerns, and complaints.  Sooner or later, however, you will wear out the people around you if that’s all you talk about.  I would like you to change the question to “What’s not wrong”?  Start focusing on all the things in your life that aren’t wrong.  We should always be grateful for the good things in our lives.  We should also be grateful for the bad things that aren’t in our lives.  In others words, we should be grateful most of the time.  It seems to be human nature to completely blow out of proportion any negative experiences in life and to quickly forget all the positive experiences.  Even negative experiences, however, have a positive side.  They remind us to be grateful.  When life is good we can become complacent and forget to be grateful.  We earthlings are a fickle species.  Life is good and we don’t always appreciate it.  We have a bad experience and we think life is always bad.  To paraphrase the words of Thomas Merton, we are all walking around shining like the sun and we don’t even realize it.  What’s not wrong?  Almost everything most of the time.  When you are waking up, opening your eyes, and looking for joy, you are likely to trip over it.  Joy can be like the lost glasses that are sitting upon your nose.     

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Joy Happens!

I once read a book titled Living A Beautiful Life.  I admit this is not the kind of book that most men would read.  The book was generally about the little things we can do for ourselves to make life seem beautiful and special.  For example, I would only drink bad coffee from a Styrofoam cup in the most extreme of circumstances.  I am more likely to drink “special” coffee from a beautiful mug.  On one of my trips to Gatlinburg I bought a coffee mug from a local potter.  On the side of the mug it says “Paw Paw”.  The mug is a thing of beauty.  I thought about all this when reading a chapter in a mindfulness book about joy.  How much real joy do you have in your life?  What gives you joy?  Are you awake enough in your life to recognize moments that give you joy?  A few things that give me joy, in no particular order, are my granddaughter, hummingbirds, great coffee, music, a cool breeze, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, anything with cinnamon on it, friends, laughter, moments of oneness with the universe, a great nap, weekends, anytime I feel good, books, an ice cold import beer, movies that touch my soul and heart, and on and on and on.  We all know that life is hard and at times can be very challenging.  Much of life can be depressing and discouraging.  Life is often unfair and unpredictable.  People talk about love all the time but it often seems scarce.  Joy can be the antidote for all in life that does not uplift our spirits.  Be awake today.  Open your eyes.  Joy happens!       

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Life In The Slow Lane

I love three lane highways.  I think they are a metaphor for life.  When traffic is heavy I stay in the middle lane.  If I am going too slow for someone they can move to the left lane.  If I am going too fast for someone they can move to the right lane.  The middle lane represents the middle path and this is the path I attempt to walk in my life.  If traffic is light or non-existent I move into the slow lane so I can truly enjoy the drive.  Most people don’t enjoy the drive.  They are totally focused on the destination.  If I drive to Gatlinburg it takes me approximately five hours.  About half way there I stop for a big breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Corbin, Kentucky.  When my oldest son drives to Gatlinburg he gets there in approximately three hours with the help of a five hour energy drink but without the experience of a nice breakfast.  I believe in life, and on road trips, the journey is the destination.  Another reason I like the middle path is that it represents the contemplative way.  Most people think there are two options for dealing with life.  You can fight it or run away from it.  The middle path is the path of simply being present.  Whatever is going on, you don’t have to always fight it or run away from it.  Instead, be present to it.  Deal with it.  Learn from it.  Get over it.  Life has a way of always pulling you or pushing you.  Stand firm and strong on the middle path.  Do not be intimidated by life.  Be present to it.  I know many of you love moving fast but as Gandhi once said, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed”.  I highly recommend the slow lane.  There’s a lot to see there and it’s a lot less stressful than always living your life in the fast lane.    

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Believe What You Experience

One of my former teachers once said, “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking”.  The great teacher, Buddha, said, “Believe what you experience”.  It’s been my experience of life that we often start with an answer and then we build a question.  We want things a certain way so then we try to manipulate reality to match our desires.  Such manipulation may get us what we want but the side effects can be damaging.  Rarely do we just let life unfold.  The fact that it’s done that for billions of years doesn’t seem to deter us in our desire to be in control.  Most of us try to live according to whatever belief system we have chosen to embrace.  How would life be different if we believed according to what we have experienced?  This is a door that can swing both ways.  If you’ve never experienced love, it’s difficult to believe in it.  If all you have known is abuse and hatred, it's very likely that all you are capable of is abuse and hatred.  If you have felt great love in your life it is very likely that you will want to share that love with others.  Depending on our experience we may believe in hate or love.  If you choose to believe in God but you never have an experience of God, your faith may eventually disappear.  Some people, however, who have little or no faith may have an experience of God that deepens their faith.  Good or bad, our experience, or lack thereof, can greatly affect what and how we believe.  It's about balance.  Most people need and want something to believe in.  However, if we’ve never had the experience to support and strengthen our beliefs, they will eventually fall by the wayside.  Belief must be balanced with the experience of what we choose to believe.     

Monday, August 25, 2014

Keeping Up With Chloe

My granddaughter spent the weekend with my wife and me.  We had some interesting conversations with her while she was here.  In the middle of her Happy Meal and my Filet of Fish, she asked me who Prometheus was.  Catching me in a moment of Greek mythology weakness, I had to do a quick Google search to determine that he was a son of Titans, friend of Zeus, and stealer of fire.  In another conversation we discussed how you can run until tomorrow but you can’t run to tomorrow.  When I tried to explain why she said, “I know, Paw Paw, its because of the time space continuum.”  Chloe is only ten years old.  How am I going to keep up in the conversations when she is 20 years old and I am in my mid 70’s?  In another conversation she told my wife that for Christmas she wants an iPhone, iPad, and a laptop.  She also said to tell Santa (me?) that it would be nice if we had a Wii at our house so she could play it when she visits.  She’s already taken over my personal computer.  I love my granddaughter.  She brings me a lot of joy and I cannot imagine life without her.  Although a part of me wants her to stay exactly the way she is now, I also love watching her grow up and develop into the person she is.  I love being her grandfather and having the relationship we have.  I held her within an hour of her birth and my wife and I starting keeping her for weekends since she was three weeks old.  Let me tell you that keeping a three week old baby overnight when you are in your mid-fifties is quite the eye opening experience.  Yes, we had raised two children of our own but we were totally out of practice by the time Chloe arrived.  She will be back again this weekend so I better brush up on my Greek mythology and time travel.  May we will discuss Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.  She already thinks my hair looks like Albert Einstein’s when I wake up in the mornings.