Thursday, November 30, 2006

Time Bandit

This week is flying by. I had to stop for a moment to remember what day it is. Sometimes I feel like Captain Kirk and Mr Spock in an old Star Trek TV episode. They appear to be moving at a normal speed and everyone around them appears to be standing still. The reality was that Kirk and Spock were moving at an accelerated pace and everyone else was moving at a normal speed. The buzzing sound that everyone was hearing was Kirk and Spock who were moving so fast no one could see them. In my world, I know I am not the one moving so fast that I am only a buzz to other's ears. I am the one hearing the buzz and that buzz is the world around me. Do you ever feel like you are standing still and the rest of the world is moving around you? This is different than thinking the world revolves around you. I know the world doesn't revolve around me. It does, however, seem to often be on a different schedule. I resist the pace of the world. I am the Robin Hood of time. I am a time bandit who steals time from the world in order to give it to myself. I try to meet all the responsibilities of my life without being swept away in the vortex of the world's demands. In the sixties there was a poster that all self respecting hippies had in their apartments. It said, "What if they gave a war and nobody came"? My questions today would be "What if we all slowed down? Would the speed of life in the world keep increasing"? Does the world control us or us the world? So much change happens so slowly that we don't notice it until it's out of control. It will take similar small changes within ourselves to reverse some of the trends of modern life.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I received some nice comments on yesterday's thoughts. It's always nice when I strike a cord that is meaningful to people. It's further proof that we are all not so different. The people who receive these thoughts are very diverse but we are all just people. We are many places and we do many different things but at the end of the day we are just happy to return safely to our homes. When I get home at nights, it's the simple things for which I am grateful. First of all, I am grateful that I survived the day and I am still alive. I am grateful for a good meal. I am grateful for the hot bath I take before changing into more comfortable clothes. I am grateful for letters or messages from friends. I am grateful for music and a soft chair while I read the daily news. I am grateful for my couch where I sometimes take wonderful naps. I am grateful for my granddaughter, Chloe, who sometimes surprises me with a visit. I am grateful for my cat in spite of litter boxes and hairballs. I am grateful to be part of a family even though we all drive one another crazy sometimes. I am grateful that I feel safe and secure in my home. I am grateful that I don't think life sucks even when it does. O well, I could go on and on. You get the point.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Yesterday I received the following email from one of my readers.

You probably don't know me, but I get your morning thoughts every day and enjoy them very much. Any way, I have struggled with attachment and having unrealistic expectations my whole life and am now feeling drawn toward meditation and spirituality as a release for these things. I am always putting so much pressure on my self to be successful and perfect and in doing so have become intolerant and detached. I figured you may have some advice. Thanks.

We all struggle with the attachments. If you can't let something go, whether it be a person, things, or even ideas, you have attachments. There is a saying that goes, "The bird of happiness lands upon the hand that does not grasp". The Buddha teaches that all things are impermanent. This is not a negative teaching. Yes, it is true that many good people or experiences may come into our lives and later leave us. Sometimes this causes us sadness. It is probably more appropriate to be grateful for the happiness they brought us or the life lesson they taught us. Instead of being something we lost, it was a gift with an expiration date on it. As others have passed through our lives, so do we pass through theirs. We are all attached to things. I like my nice car, my CD's, my book collection and even my personal space. Of course, tomorrow someone could wreck my car and the insurance company total it. When I get home after my transit bus ride, I might discover that a thief has broken into my home and stolen all my CD's and books. I would be sad about this because I admit I am very attached to these things. However, in a more lucid and reflective moment I would realize that they are only things and can be replaced. Perhaps the happiness I thought they gave me was an illusion. People in this country and culture are obsessed with success. It all about more power, prestige, and possessions. We want to have authority over others and to be important. We believe that he who dies with the most toys wins. I even saw this last thought on a poster once. These obsessions are a serious deterrent to any deep spiritual growth. Our cultural narcissism has now spread to much of the world. Without getting political, this is why so many people in other countries and cultures dislike Americans. Our secular obsessions are in conflict with many others deeper spiritual values. Of course, their reaction to this is not always appropriate either. Much of this reaction is now called terrorism. So what is the answer? I can't give you a definitive one but I can make a suggestion. Instead of being driven to acquire more and more and more, why not explore ways to be happy with less? A former teacher once told a story about a time he was in Africa. One of the tribal elders in a small village prayed, "Lord, may our homes never have doors". In their village, their homes had no doors and everything was open and people shared. The elder's fear was that doors would destroy that feeling. Doors would keep everyone out and then people would be overly attached to everything within. On top of all of this, many of us also want to be perfect and beautiful. Of course, it is the world's standards of perfection and beauty that we use to measure ourselves. We were born perfect and beautiful. It is our own mistakes and choices that have made us less so. Most of what we think we are is a false self. The goal of the spiritual life is to return to the original, perfect, and beautiful essence of who we are in God. This is the true self. Do not think I have achieved my own spiritual ideals. I have not and there is still a long journey ahead of me before I do. I struggle with all of this as many of you do. I am awake enough to know I am struggling. I try to keep it simple. Live with kindness, share what you can, put people first, and let go of more than you acquire. Instead of adding to my life, I seek to let go of things. It's what my former teacher calls a "Spirituality of Subtraction".

Sunday, November 26, 2006


It's Sunday night after the long Thanksgiving Weekend. I woke up in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and after driving nearly 300 miles, we arrived home safely. The weekend began at 5:00 AM on Thanksgiving Day when my wife, son, and I loaded up the car and headed down the road. We were blessed all weekend with beautiful weather. There were warm, sunny days and cool, clear nights. In spite of the holiday weekend, the traffic was normal going down and coming back home. On the way down I decided to take full advantage of my satellite radio. I have found a channel that sounds like an underground radio station from the late sixties and early seventies. I could be a DJ on this station. They play all the music I play for myself with my CD collection. One of the highlights of the weekend was visiting with Charles and Annette. They are the couple I met while sitting on a bench in Gatlinburg last summer. My wife, son, and I spent most of an afternoon visiting with them in their cabin. It's very close to town but has a remote feel to it. It is a wonderful and cozy spot full of memorabilia from their lives. I mean it as a compliment when I say it reminded me of a Hobbit house from the Shire in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We drank apple cider and had cookies and brownies as we talked of many things. I would probably still be there talking if my wife hadn't reminded me that we had some shopping that needed to be done. I look forward to future visits. The city of Gatlinburg is beautiful at this time of year. The city is aglow with Christmas lights and decorations. During the evenings when we walked along the streets and in and out of the shops, it was lovely. It was cold enough to appreciate the warmth of a egg nog latte but not cold enough to be miserable. It all reminded me that Christmas is less than a month away! In about two weeks I will be seeing Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol at the theater. That will be the icing on the cake of my Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I would like to wish all of you God's blessings during this time of Thanksgiving. We all have days where we don't feel blessed but I can assure you that we are. If you really stop and reflect, you will find a myriad of people, things, and events for which to be grateful. I have often talked about contemplation in the past. Much of contemplation is learning to live with a grateful heart. Contemplative mindfulness is simply taking the time and allowing yourself to be aware of the moments and the blessings they contain. Holidays are sometimes a bit crazy and too often get focused on all the wrong things. Tomorrow and in the coming weeks, take some time to breathe and to pay attention to the moments as you experience them. There are moments within moments that are full of joy. Be open to these moments. If you don't pay attention to your own life you will miss them. I count all of you who receive these daily thoughts as a blessing in my life. Thank you for letting me share my stories and thoughts and for trusting me enough to share your stories with me.

Today is the birthday of my good friend, Father Dennis. He is 67 years young. We have a wonderful friendship. He is a big brother and a mentor to me. We glide easily from deeply spiritual conversations to making one another laugh hysterically. Happy Birthday, Dennis!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Monday was an exhausting day. Was it because my eyes shot open at 4:00 AM and I didn't fall back asleep until one minute before my alarm clock went off? Am I getting sick for the third time this season? I certainly hope not because I hitting the road on Thursday morning for some rest and relaxation. Maybe I was just tired because I had a busy and hectic weekend. Not everything is complicated. Some things are simple. When your car stops running, the engine isn't always broken. Sometimes the gas take is just empty.

The building maintenance workers are assembling the "official" office Christmas tree. It will be nice to arrive in the early morning darkness to the warm and inviting colored lights. Some of the Christmas music is a little jarring first thing in the morning but I won't be a scrooge. On the positive side, there are mornings where the blast of trumpets as I walk in the building will be an excellent wake up call to arms!

As this Thanksgiving Day approaches, I find myself grateful for friends old and new. Yesterday I received an email from an old friend and teacher who is traveling in New Zealand. When I got home I had a postcard from Katie who is visiting Costa Rica. (Why didn't I marry Katie???? I could be in the rainforest this morning instead of standing in my driveway scraping the frost off my car!) Finally, I also received a real letter from another old friend delivered by the postal service! Of course, I am also grateful for those friends who are part of my everyday life. They are my lunch buddies, my walking buddies, those with whom I laugh during frustrating work days, my spiritual friends and those who rock and roll with me. My friends are a very diverse group. It would be interesting to get them all in the same room

Monday, November 20, 2006

Moods Are Like The Weather

It was another quiet Saturday morning at work. I was in a daze all morning and wasn't very productive. Two cups of coffee and one diet Coke didn't energize me. I have been in a contemplative mood lately and throughout the morning I reflected on all the different parts of my life. It occurred to me that my life seems to go through the same patterns over and over. I go along for days and weeks and even months feeling content and satisfied with my life. Then, for no apparent reason, I don't feel content or satisfied. I get in a slight funk where I seem to feel empty or bored. These waves of feeling are like the tides of the ocean as they come in and go out. I don't know why they happen. I think I often feel like this when the holidays approach. These times of expected happiness are not always on the same schedule as my emotional moods. My life doesn't change that much from day to day so I usually try to ignore my moods. Moods are like the weather. They constantly change and who says that a sunny day is better than a rainy day? Both are necessary and they work together to bring about the desired results. When a farmer plants a seed, doesn't he need the rain and the sun? If there's one without the other, the seed doesn't grow or reach maturity. So, like the weather, one must patiently wait out our changing moods. Sometimes, when I am down, something will happen that will cause me to suddenly wake up and be in touch with something deep within that fills me with a new joy and zest for living. My life has been full of such awakenings. I love the surprise when they happen.

We had an early Thanksgiving yesterday with my wife's side of the family. Chloe was lovely in her multi colored tights, denim skirt, and French curled hair.

It is cold this morning. There was a trace of snow on my car. The thought of snow excites me.

Life never leaves us alone. One of the realities of spiritual growth is that no matter where you are, you can't stay there. O, you can be where you are in a zen sort of way but only for a spiritual moment. What we used to call "grace" in the Catholic Church is always prompting us to move on. Why do you think it's called the spiritual journey?

Several years ago I drove to eastern Kentucky with a friend to visit a Zen community. It was not a place where you would expect to find such a community. Slightly off the beaten path, there it was. Nestled among the trees was a collection of log cabins and nearby, on top of a small mountain, was a Zen temple. If I didn't know better, I could have imagined myself in Japan. One of the zen masters gave us a tour of the area. Afterwards we went into the temple and meditated. The front of the temple was open and I had a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. Hawks were circling in the sky and I felt totally one with everything around me. If only for a brief moment, I was where I was.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Avoid The Rush!

There's little over a week until we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in America. On that day we gather with family and loved ones to count our blessings, be grateful, drink wine, eats lots of food, and watch football. Avoid the rush! Be grateful now! Count your blessings today! OK, we may have to hold up on the drinking of wine since it's a workday but we can still live now with grateful hearts. We all know that life it tough and it's a rare day without a challenge. If I just look at this moment, however, I can find all kinds of things to be grateful for. I am warm and my stomach is full. I have a job where I am surrounded with lots of friends. The little coffee pot on my desk has been faithfully providing me with my morning Java for over 15 years! I am able to send out these daily thoughts which so many enjoy. I am alive and in relatively good health. As I sit here at my desk I ask myself the following question, "What, at this moment, is lacking"? The only thing lacking, as I pour my first cup of coffee, is a cheese danish. Other than that, I am good. How about you?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It's That Time Of Year Again!

There was lots of activity at my house this weekend. I slept in on Saturday morning as late as I could because I knew that when my granddaughter Chloe arrived there would be no rest. Eventually on Saturday afternoon Chloe and her parents finally arrived. They're never on time. Our goal for the day was to bring into the house all the Christmas decorations stored in my outdoor shed. Soon enough the inside of my house looked like a movie set from a Tim Burton film as we hauled in Christmas decorations while some Halloween decorations were still sitting around. With everyone pitching in it didn't take too long to achieve this first step in the Christmas decoration process. My granddaughter was wide eyed and excited all afternoon and night as she explored all the various Christmas items around the house.

Chloe is at the age now where she will tell you when she is ready for bed. By the time she announced it, we were all ready. Grandma's goal was to get Chloe asleep so she could get back up and have some quiet time. Chloe snuggled with me all night long. When we weren't "spooning", we were back to back or face to face on my pillow. She slept the whole night. I, however, didn't. Most of the night I was awake, sometimes hanging on to the edge of the bed, hoping I wouldn't fall out. Grandma, of course, had three fourths of the bed all to herself. At one point when I was awake and watching Chloe sleep, all of a sudden she started laughing out loud. I wondered what dream she was having that made her laugh so much? Was it about me? Our cat? A great day at school? What do two and a half year olds dream about?

On Sunday, Chloe's parents returned, bringing one of the great grandparents along, and we completed decorating the tree. Afterwards we cooked burgers out on the grill. By the time dinner was eaten and cleaned up, I was ready for some solitude and quiet. Chloe and her parents headed one way and my wife and I headed another way as we took Great Grandma back to the old folks home. Soon my wife, son, cat, and me all found a corner of the house in which to retreat and rest . Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hang On! Christmas Is Coming!

Although we still have two weeks until Thanksgiving, the pressure is on at home to prepare for Christmas. There are already some presents hidden in the dining room, specifically a Cabbage Patch doll for my granddaughter. My wife has already given everyone in my family, especially me, the word that it's all hands on deck this weekend to haul out all the Christmas decorations from wherever they are stashed. It won't matter if I am not in the Christmas spirit. I am sure my wife is thinking that if I am not in the mood, I need to get in the mood. Our weekdays are full of work obligations and our weekends are filling up with other commitments. This weekend will be chaos as we clean up the house as best we can and begin the task of putting up Christmas decorations. Somewhere in the middle of all the excitement will be Chloe. By the time Christmas actually arrives, she will be 2 1/2 years old. Nothing this year can be as intense as last year at this time when we were not only decorating for Christmas but preparing for my son's wedding at our house. I have been feeling sick all week so I broke down last night and tried to go to the "Doc in the Box" at the local supermarket. It was a long wait and eventually I gave up. I settled for some Theraflu and breakfast at the Waffle House with my son. Today I am feeling much better.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Seasoning For The World Around Us

Someone once said "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand". I understand this sentiment. I guess on some level I have always had a goal to love everyone but, quite frankly, I haven't achieved this goal. Some people are just annoying. In my defense, I like most people and most people seem to like me. I like variety and diversity in people. If I don't like someone it has nothing to do with their gender, race, sexual preference, religious affiliation, political agenda, or musical taste. They're probably just a jerk. I saw a cartoon once of God making the world. He was dressed like a chef and was "cooking up the world". In the cartoon he has what appears to be a salt shaker that he is sprinkling into the "world" that he is cooking up. The shaker is labeled "jerks" and God is saying "Just to make it interesting....." This cartoon has made it easier for me to accept that some people's purpose in the world seems to be to irritate the rest of us. Of course, we all have our bad days. I have been called a jerk before....and worse. If our personalities are seasoning for the world around us, what kind of flavor are we adding to the mix? Are we sweet or sour? Do we bring out the best flavor of what's around us or do we completely ruin the taste? It's only human to occasionally be a jerk but I sure don't want to be labeled as one.

Monday, November 06, 2006

My Religion Is Kindness

Outside my window, on this Saturday morning, the sun is shining brightly and it looks like a beautiful day. It is a bit of an illusion. It was very chilly when I came into my office today and I suspect there is still some coolness in the air. I often talk about my walk down the spiritual path. Lately I feel as though I have been stumbling along that path. Why? Do I need to get back to basics? Have I become too distracted? In my quest to be an "Awakened One" have I been falling sleep? I admit I have a difficult time being faithful to spiritual practices. I often begin a discipline with enthusiasm but then run out of gas. Spiritual practices are like dieting or exercising. You know they're good for you but eventually they become a chore or you're bored and you just get tired of them. Sometimes spiritual practices become empty for me, and once they lose meaning, they are difficult to maintain. In such moments I come face to face with the reality of how undisciplined I can be. On the other hand, in these days where I become more aware of my aging and the importance of living each day well, I feel I am living a new kind of spirituality. I call it the spirituality of my life. It involves paying attention to your life. It's being real and true to yourself. It's striving to live well and be present to all the special moments of your life. It's not necessarily about doing more. It's often about doing less but doing it better. The Dalai Lama has consolidated his entire belief system into four words. He says, "My religion is kindness". I agree with him. Why can't my spiritual practice be kindness? Kindness to myself and kindness to others. If I just did this one thing...all the time...would I not be living well? Timing is everything. Just when I was needing a B-12 shot of spirituality, it was time for my monthly trip to the monastery. My alarm went off at 6:00 AM on Sunday and I awoke with a sore throat. It wasn't enough to keep me home so I got out of bed and headed for the shower. Soon I was on my way in the early morning darkness trailed by a full moon. The drive was very enjoyable as the daylight overcame the darkness. Most of the leaves are off the trees and the ones that remain are mostly a burnt orange or brown. Soon I arrived at the home of my friend, Fr Dennis. We had our usual mass for two, followed by coffee and muffins. Afterwards I headed to the monastery to meet with my group. We had delightful discussion about all sorts of things. Later, when I got back home, my wife and son coerced me to go see "Santa Claus 3". It was OK but what I am really looking forward to seeing is "The Christmas Carol" at Actors Theater in a few weeks.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Make A Joyful Noise/Music Is Life

Today I decided to keep alive my tradition of not working the day after a concert. I don't do this because I partied too much. I am not much of a party animal. My health doesn't encourage drinking and I am not as young as I used to be. The day after is often a celebration of the night before. I rest and remember what I experienced. I sometimes play the artist's music again and again. As luck would have it, my day off also turned out to be a glorious autumn day. Much of the day I looked out my window as the wind blew thousands of leaves from the trees. My entire yard is now covered with a carpet of multi-colored leaves. I enjoyed my solitude. I also ran a few errands and had lunch at a deli that I haven't been to in quite a while. The concert I saw was another wonderful musical experience. I saw some great musicians in an intimate theater from the second row. Earlier, in a serendipitous moment, as a friend and I were walking from the parking garage to the theater, we had one of those moments that all music lovers dream about. As we were walking on a side street, we ran into the headliner and his entire band. We shook hands and told them how much we were looking forward to their performance. They did not disappoint. It was an evening of mesmerizing music. Music can be a very spiritual and emotional experience for me. I think my friends would say the same. For us, music is not just entertainment. Music is life. There is a depth of emotion that only music can touch. The musicians I saw played with a level of skill and a depth of emotion that sent chills up and down my spine. This emotion was especially felt on a song entitled "Make A Joyful Noise". This title says it all. Music is life and joy and certainly one of mankind's greatest achievements.