Monday, October 24, 2016

It's All Life

Here are some nice quotes that I would like to share with you.
Somebody’s boring me.  I think it’s me”.
-Dylan Thomas
The problem is not that there are problems.  The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem”.
-Unknown but sent to me by a fellow thinker.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t think I have some good qualities.  If you could separate the world into good guys and bad guys, I know I am one of the good guys.  I think I am at an age and a time in my life when I am starting to experience some self-actualization.  In other words, I have a sense of self, what I am worth, and why I am here.  Having said this, sometimes I drive myself crazy.  I tend to be a thinker who spends a lot of time in philosophical discourse with myself while trying to develop a personal theology and understanding of the meaning of life…well, at least my life.  Sometimes I wear myself out doing this and, as Dylan Thomas suggests, I bore myself with myself.  Sometimes I wish I could just relax, chill out, and not feel the need to understand the universe. 
As far as the second quote goes, why are we always surprised when life is problematic?  Who told us that all of life is a walk in the park on a beautiful spring morning?  OK, sometimes life is a walk in the park on a beautiful spring morning.  However, it is also at times a walk under overcast skies in the pouring rain.  This is where most of us fall into the dualistic thinking where we assume a sunny day is better than a rainy day.  Both are simply weather.  Some people think problems are stumbling blocks while others see problems as challenges.  Try not to see anything as a problem.  It’s an over-used phrase but life, and what happens in life, “is what it is”.  There are changes in the weather and there are seasons in life.  However, it’s all life.      

Finding Yourself

In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his or her life and for ‘finding themselves’.  If they persist in shifting their responsibility to someone else, they fail to find out the meaning of their own existence.
-Thomas Merton
Living your own life is not as easy as it sounds and finding yourself can be like looking for buried treasure.  It involves walking down quite a few false trails, digging a lot of holes, and moving tons of dirt.  I have been walking, digging, and moving quite a bit of dirt for a very long time now and I’m a little weary.  However, this is a task that only I can do for myself.  I cannot outsource it.  No one else can walk my path, dig my holes, or move my dirt.  For as long as there’s been people, individuals have wondered “what is life and what does it mean”?  Last year I  watched a television show Cosmos.  It is the story of the universe from a scientific point of view.  I can’t decide if I am  blown away by the magnificence of the galaxies, the star systems, the complexity of outer space and beyond, or if I now feel totally insignificant in the great scheme of life.  When the world as we know it has taken billions of years to form, does it really matter if I came to work today?  In cosmic time am I just a miniscule, sub-atomic particle in the continued evolution of all that life is?  Do I really matter?  On a similar vein, a few months ago a friend shared his thoughts that within a few generations most of us will be completely forgotten, even by our descendants.  We are all star dust and to dust we shall return.  What do we do in our current configuration?  How do we find ourselves and the meaning of our current existence?  Let me quickly admit that I don’t really know or I would have already done it.  I don’t know if my life matters or not.  What I do know is that I am a consciousness aware of itself.  As a living being with a consciousness, I am motivated to move and grow and expand myself.  My senses take in data and react appropriately or at least as programmed.  Like a machine that evolves into artificial intelligence, I evolve into whatever I become.  Along the way I rub shoulders with other beings, I form relationships, I experience happiness, and, if lucky, I feel loved and worthwhile to everyone and everything around me.  I become one with my world.  No one else can do any of this for me although they may walk a similar path and be going in the same direction.  Ultimately we are all on our own although life may give us companions on the journey.       

A Zest For Living

“Acedia” is a monastic term that describes a kind of boredom with your life.  We all have things we dread, procrastinate about, or simply do not want to do.  Acedia is more than that.  It is the sense that everything is a chore, everything is exhausting, everything is meaningless.  Whenever I feel like this, and it seems to happen more and more frequently, I have that “I’m over it” feeling.  As my wife often says, “I’m tired and I’m tired of it”.  I know I am feeling this way when I have a sense of fatigue that goes far beyond a lack of sleep.  It is a mental, psychological, and spiritual weariness.  I think everyone, except for the most extremely positive and optimistic people, sometimes feel like this.  So what does one do about it?   The first step is to simply recognize it.  The second step is to remind yourself that your feelings are like the weather, always changing, and that your feelings are often a poor representation of reality.  I also find it helpful to change my routines as much as I can.  I know I am a creature of habit and routine.  Sometimes I take comfort in that.  However, I also know that my routines can sometimes create a rut that brings on these feelings of acedia.  Sometimes we all need a break from our lives and responsibilities.  Sometimes we need a “me” day.  I had one yesterday in Red River Gorge State Park.  Sometimes we need a good nap or perhaps a night out with friends.  We all need someone or something to periodically give us a boost or sense of renewal.  We all sometimes need to re-charge our batteries so that life does not overwhelm us or totally drain us of all zest for living.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Day At Red River Gorge

I spent Monday in an all-day seminar of intensive retirement training.  Two of my brothers and a nephew accompanied me to Red River Gorge.  It is a beautiful area located in the Daniel Boone National Forest near Lexington, Kentucky.  The fall colors were more intense than where I live and most of the morning was cool and breezy.  Being a Monday there were few other people around and at one point the only sound I was hearing was the wind blowing through the trees.  We eventually found our way to the Natural Bridge State Park Lodge where we enjoyed a delicious all you could eat buffet.  I especially liked the fried catfish and blackberry cobbler.  After lunch I rode on one of the most intense and scary ski lifts I’ve ever been on.  At times I was hundreds of feet off the ground.  The lift would stop and there I was just swinging in the sky.  I must admit that I said a few prayers and closed my eyes more than once.  Did I mention a fear of heights?  Near the end of the ride up the mountain you basically scale a shear wall of rock.  I felt like I was on the television show called “Running Wild with Bear Grylls”.  If you have never watched the show it involves a serious outdoorsman taking celebrities out to remote parts of nature and basically scaring the hell out of them.  Once you are on the natural bridge, there is no easy way back down except the ski lift.  When it was time to leave I took a deep breath, said another prayer, got in the chair and closed my eyes until I could open them without experiencing a full blown panic attack.  I am happy to report that I made it down the mountain alive.  The next time I think I will just walk in the woods and hope a bear doesn’t attack me. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Becoming A Centered Person

I’ve read many books about meditation.  Over the years I have tried to spend time each day just being quiet and still.  Way back in the 70’s I studied Transcendental Meditation.  It was introduced into the United States by a Hindu monk named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Later in the 80’s I learned a Christian version of meditation called “Centering Prayer”.  Both of these types of meditation are very similar in their technique.  They basically involve the use of a mantra or prayer word in coordination with your breath.  They don’t require total silence or isolation but it is important not to be disturbed while you are doing them.  Typically these types of meditation would be done for about 20 minutes twice a day.  The biggest obstacle to meditation is your own mind.  Most of us have over active minds.  We have what the Buddhists call “monkey minds”.  Imagine a tree full of monkeys.  They’re making all kinds of noise and chatter while jumping from limb to limb.  Our minds are often like a tree full of monkey’s.  No one can turn off their mind.  However, certain types of meditation, especially one’s that use a mantra or prayer word, can help us control our thoughts somewhat or at least learn to let them go.  These types of meditation also help us to feel a sense of calm in our bodies.  The mantra or prayer word acts like an anchor.  Our minds could be compared to a busy river where there is lots of activity on the surface.  When we let our thoughts run rampant, it’s like we are on the river.  When we sit still and use a mantra or prayer word, it acts like an anchor that brings us down to the bottom of the river where everything is calm.  When we realize that we are thinking and floating back to the top of the river, our mantra or prayer word can anchor us and bring us back to our inner stillness at the bottom of the river.  When you can live your life with this inner stillness, you are what some would call “a centered person”.    

Staying Young

The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.
-Comedian Lucille Ball
Lots of words have been written about staying young.  Some people say age is all about attitude.  This idea has been humorously captured by the famous baseball player, Satchel Paige, in his quote “Age is mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it don’t matter”.  Some people also talk about being “young at heart”.  I don’t think we should obsess about being young.  As Bob Dylan once sang, “Those not busy being born are busy dying”.  Sometimes our attempts to be young are little more than immature behavior.  There’s nothing more pathetic than a man or woman my age trying to act like they are twenty.  As we grow older we should trade our immaturity for wisdom.  If there is a quality we should strive for, it is not youthfulness, it is being childlike by living our life with a sense of wonder.  One of the pitfalls of aging is that we often become cynical and we can no longer be awed by anything.  If I end up physically old, wise, and with a childlike sense of wonder and awe, I will be happy with myself.  Never lose your openness to awe and wonder.  Fight your cynicism.  When nothing impresses you or causes you to be lost in the moment, you are already dead.  Life is tough and it can sometimes feel boring.  Every day there are the chores of life and the demands of making a living.  Don’t let making a living, however, replace having a life.  Be open to the extraordinary within the ordinary.  Pay attention and be present when moments of wonder and awe reveal themselves to you

Live In Each Season

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each”.
-Henry David Thoreau
Recently I have been in a few conversations about people, how they act, their attitudes about life, and how so many of us see the same things so differently.  I quickly get worn out by negative and pessimistic people who always see the worst of everything.  Drama Kings and Queens often have the same effect on me.  These people are chronically unhappy and nothing ever seems to give them joy.  I am an optimist.  I see the glass as not only half full but often overflowing.  A pessimist once told me that an optimist is a person out of touch with reality.  If your reality is always negative, pessimistic, and full of drama, then I hope to always be out of touch with it.  I know that a lot of life is just trying to survive but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed.  The above quote by Thoreau is a very good definition of Zen.  Living in the season means being one with it.  Whatever the season, it is full of life.  Breathe in life.  Drink life.  Taste it’s fruits.  Let the goodness of life permeate your bones.  Life does change but that is not necessarily good or bad.  Life just is.  Our opinions of life are based on personal judgments which can be terribly skewed.  Thinking that life is always either good or bad is dualistic thinking.  Life is both good and bad.  The Zen way, the contemplative way, is to not judge it but to simply be present to it.  Often, joy happens when we least expect it. 
If you’ve never read Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau, I highly recommend it.