Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Where Are Our Spiritual Leaders?

The Dalai Lama was recently in Bloomington, Indiana. Although that's not very far from where I live, I was not able to attend the event but I have been fortunate to see and hear him speak in the past. He is an "awakened one". I found him to be deep, very human, and funny. It's no secret that I am a great fan of this holy man. Although I am a Christian by birth and upbringing, I consider the Dalai Lama the most important and influential spiritual leader in the world today. When Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa were still alive, I thought the greatest spiritual influences in the world at the time were John Paul, The Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. Of course, there are many holy men and women in the world today but few are on the world stage. Why can't we find and elect more men like Mohandas Gandhi or Nelson Mandela to be our leaders? The solutions to most of the problems in this country and the world are spiritual in nature. The problems of humanity will not be cured with guns and bombs.

In my part of the world we are finally in autumn. The greenness and abundance of summer is giving way to harvest time and the seeming death of nature. It is not really a death. It is a transition to the new life we will see in the spring. Before that time, however, we will experience great beauty that will lead us into the cold and barrenness of winter. As the trees and bushes and flowers turn inward, in a manner of speaking, it is also a good time for us to turn inward. It is a great time to reflect on our own abundance and the beauty of so many things in life. In a few weeks or months, when the winter arrives, the seeds of next spring will be germinating within nature and within

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our Restless Minds

I woke up yesterday morning about 4:30 AM and never did get back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 6:15 AM, I got up as I normally do and found my way to the shower. When I got out of the shower, my wife informed me that she felt ill and would not be going to work. I finished my morning chores and headed out of the house alone. It was a cold morning and there was light frost on the car windows. I drove down the highway lost in my thoughts. Most of the day my mind was dull and empty. I didn't feel badly but I had no energy or enthusiasm for anything. At times I felt bored. I still worked but it was a mind game to do so. A couple of times I went outdoors hoping the fresh and cool air of the day would revive me. It never did. Do you ever have days like this? I felt like I was in a funk but my mood wasn't bad. It seemed like a day that would have been better served walking in a woods somewhere with the leaves rustling under my feet and the dry twigs cracking under my footsteps. Perhaps my head and the rest of me simply needs airing out. This coming weekend when I am at the monastery I will have an opportunity to give myself this airing out. The monastery has lots of woods and they are gorgeous this time of year. I think I will seek out the beauty of the woods and find a tree to sit under or a log to sit upon. I will become one more tree in the woods shedding my deadness and waiting for new life. I will sway in the wind and let my thoughts and troubles be carried away.

I am feeling better this morning. I slept well if not long. My walk through the park in the cold morning air was an awakening experience even if I did yawn the entire way into my office. I sit here now with my empty coffee mug. Soon it will be filled with fresh coffee. A new day has begun.

Everyone struggles with a restless mind and the coming and going of many thoughts. It's impossible to not have thoughts. One thing you can do while being quiet is to imagine yourself sitting on a riverbank. Your thoughts are like the boats going up and down the river. You watch them go by but you basically ignore them. You can't stop them from coming and going but you don't have to get all involved in them. Make sense? You can also use what some people would call a mantra. It is a simple word or sound that helps to keep one focused. I use the word "Abba". When I am trying to be quiet and still, and then become distracted with my thoughts, I slowly start repeating the word "Abba" which pulls me back into the quiet. Every time you realize that you are thinking, go back to your word. Another important element of contemplative prayer is solitude. Solitude is the positive side of being alone. The negative side of being alone is loneliness. I've made no secret of the fact that I am an introvert. Solitude is as necessary for me to live as breathing. However, even those of you who are extroverted need to spend time alone. It doesn't matter where you do it but preferably it is a quiet place. You can go out in nature or have a sacred space in your home. The outdoors is nature's cathedral. If you choose a place in you home, decorate it in a manner that is quieting and sacred to you. Avoid clutter and other distractions. Use a comfortable chair but one that isn't so relaxing that you fall asleep. Sometimes, however, I do fall asleep and occasionally that is what I really need so I consider it a gift of God. After all, one of the fruits of contemplative prayer is a grateful heart. When God gives me sleep, I am grateful. But to be fair, I think God prefers me to be awake when I sit quietly in solitude. A quiet place where you will be undisturbed is more important than a solitary place but quiet and solitude together is the perfect blend. I have, however, done a lot of meditation on airplanes which are neither quiet nor solitary.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What Is Prayer?

It was a glorious, autumn weekend. The days were clear, sunny, and cool. The leaves are finally starting to show some color. The nights have been cold and this morning many saw their first frost of the season. The month of October is rapidly coming to a close. Much of my weekend was spend alone. My wife had family obligations. Her Sunday afternoon was spent at a wedding shower. Wedding showers, or any kind of a "shower" for that matter, makes me glad to be a man. This is my last weekend without obligations for a while. Next weekend I will be attending a meeting at the monastery involving folks from all over the USA. Soon after that is a family trip and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. At this time of year life is on fast forward. Halloween is this Wednesday. After that it's a roller coaster ride until January.

What is prayer? Most people would answer that prayer is talking to God. This is correct but it is not the entire answer. There are many kinds of prayer. Prayer as talking to God may be the most common form of prayer. Contemplative prayer, however, is more about listening to God. Instead of going to God with a laundry list of needs, one simply sits before God and says, "Here I am, Lord!" Contemplative prayer is more about listening and waiting than talking. It is sitting before God as an empty cup waiting to be filled. Too often we go before God as an empty cup with our wish list of what we want God to put into our cup. In contemplative prayer we sit and wait and offer our emptiness to God. We let God choose how we are best to be filled. In Psalm 42, we hear, "Be still and know that I am God". If you want to pray in a more contemplative way, find a quiet spot and simply sit. Be silent and still. Wait for God and he will come to you. Do this a couple of times a day, preferably before you start your daily work and again when your work is done. Twenty minutes each time is a good start. Be silent, be still, and breathe. There is a famous story about a priest who, every time he goes into his church, sees an old man sitting looking towards the tabernacle. Finally, after seeing the old man many times, the priest asks him, "What are you doing"? The old man said. "I look at Him and He looks at me". The famous mystic Meister Eckhart said, "The eye with which we look at God is the same eye with which God looks at us".

Friday, October 26, 2007


I am so happy the weekend is nearly here. Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in my car waiting for my wife. My eyes kept snapping shut and my head was bouncing like a bobble head doll. This was happening despite the fact that the Grateful Dead were playing a concert in my car. By this time of the week I am feeling the accumulated fatigue of a general lack of sleep, work, personal activities, getting up too early, and staying up too late. Sleeping in on Saturdays is one of my simple joys. I love the extra sleep and the lack of commitments. I slowly get out of bed, feeling like the tin man in search of his oil can. My bones are stiff and I am moving slowly. I make my way down the stairs and start the coffee pot. While the coffee is brewing I walk to the end of my driveway for the morning paper. Along the way I greet the new day with a silent prayer of gratitude. When I get back in the house I prepare a simple breakfast as the coffee maker groans in the last stages of brewing. I make my way to my chair and take a moment to simply breathe. I am so happy to be home and in my solitude.

I've never been shy about my love of music and rock and roll in particular. Few think that rock and roll is as sophisticated as Mozart or Bach but I love it anyway. It has been the soundtrack of my life. To be fair, this soundtrack would also include some blues, jazz, classical, and a healthy dose of monastic chant...and silence. Music gives me joy, relaxation, and great entertainment, especially when I am able to attend a live show. I think one of the reasons I like rock and roll so much is the energy. I have a very laid back and passive personality. I have never been a high energy person. Rock and roll provides the energy that I don't have within me. Rock and roll is only now starting to get some respect. The truth is that many of the great poets of my generation are musicians. Bob Dylan and Neil Young come to mind. The Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, is an accomplished poet in his own right. The songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney will still be played in a hundred years and beyond. All generations love their music. Mine is no different. It keeps you young. When I am sixty five years old, and I hear "Jumpin Jack Flash" on the radio, I will crank it up! Even now, at age 56, my wife sometimes yells at me for playing music too loud. She goes, "Are you deaf"? I look her way and reply, "What"? I know it's only rock and roll but I love it. I will concede that age has caught up with me a little and I do have a greater appreciation now for quieter and more subdued music. I also prefer to see live music in small, more intimate venues instead of the huge mega events in stadiums. In our advancing years my friends and I also need proper lumbar support. Sitting crossed legged on the ground for hours is no longer an option.

I love to walk outside in the early morning darkness. I look at the stars and the moon. The day is so full of promise. Today's moon is huge. It is much closer to the earth at this time than it normally is. The morning air is cool and refreshing. It's good to be alive!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Life's Side Paths

Do you ever have days where your calendar is wide open? You come to work happy to have some space and time to do all the things you want and need to do. You look forward to a day of personal productivity. Then, as your day is nearly over, you realize that you accomplished virtually nothing that you hoped to accomplish. It's not like I sat around and did nothing. I just didn't accomplish what I hoped to accomplish. I actually was busy much of the day. What I wasn't was centered and focused. Much of the day I was pulled into little things that I just didn't plan on. The good news is that I will rebound and the still unfinished tasks I have will likely get done by the end of the week. Their unfinished state is not a crisis for anyone including me. My lack of focus seemed to fit in with the sleepy, overcast, rainy day that yesterday was. Much of life is like yesterday. It was, as John Lennon says, life happening to you while you make other plans. Such days present a challenge to us. The challenge is staying centered, and not losing your focus, while also being pulled out of your center into places and activities that you didn't see coming. When you are walking along a trail, and you venture down a side path, one must not lose their way back to the main trail that will take you where you planned to go. At the same time, the side paths of life are often the most interesting or meaningful. You don't want to spend you whole day...or life...being lost. Occasionally, however, it is a good thing to wander. J.R.R Tolkien, the man who wrote "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" said that "Those who wander are not necessarily lost". So, I guess it's best not to be too rigid about your plans. Be open to the side paths of your life and wander a little. If you get lost, hang in there. You'll find your way back.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Diabetes

People are always coming up to me and saying things like, "Boy, you are getting too skinny"! or "Michael Brown, you are just wasting away! What's your secret"? Well, I don't really feel skinny but compared to the 275 pounds that I once weighted, I am considerable thinner. What's my secret? Well, diabetes is a powerful motivator. After I was diagnosed with the condition, I attended a nutrition class at a local hospital. The dietitian advised counting my carbs as a way to manage my blood sugar. By doing that I have managed to lose 50-60 pounds over the last few years. It is still difficult and I don't always do it well. I still have problems keeping my blood sugar at appropriate levels. Why? I love carbs. Keep your sweets. Give me a loaf of French bread and a tub of butter along with a big plate of fettuccine Alfredo. Counting carbs is not the answer to everything but it has worked for me. The only thing that makes me unsuccessful is my own personal weakness. Read the labels before you eat the food. When I came in to work today, our company food service vendor had given everyone a package containing two strawberry Pop Tarts. These Pop Tarts called my name with their siren song as I drank my coffee. I then picked up the package and read the carb count. These two tempting pop tarts contained 73 carbs! Now, according to my nutritionist, to maintain my appropriate blood sugar levels, I should never eat more than 195 carbs per day. These two little pop tarts would have exceeded more than 1/3 of my daily carb allowance. As I was typing these thoughts a lady from the food vendor delivered some strawberry shortcake with whipped cream to my desk. It's a conspiracy! I can't find the carb count for this dessert. It must be so high it won't fit on the label! We all need to think a little more about our food choices. The need and desire to eat is powerful. We all love a good meal. I'm right there with you but 50+ years of poor choices finally caught up with me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rain And Tea Parties

Yesterday I once again attended an all day off site meeting. My early morning walk along downtown streets was enjoyable as we were finally having some cool autumn weather. I didn't, however, bother to watch the morning weather report so I was totally unprepared for the downpour of rain that awaited me at day's end. I walked a couple of blocks in the rain to my wife's office. Since the rain was kind of heavy and we were in the heart of Louisville's downtown entertainment district, we decided to stop in a restaurant, have dinner, and wait out the rain. We went into a place called "The Pub". When you crossed the threshold you found yourself transported to London, England, at least in your mind. It was tempted to consider downing a few pints of Guinness. Had I been staying in a nearby hotel, I would have done so. I did enjoy the quiet atmosphere and the ambiance although the food was unspectacular. Unfortunately for us, but good for the earth, the rain continued to come down and we still had to face the evening commute with all the other tired workers who just wanted to get home. It was still raining when I went to bed and it has continued to rain throughout the night. O God, I am grateful for the rain but please send some south to my friends in Georgia and to the people in California battling the wildfires.

My week end was mostly quiet. Princess Chloe came over for the night on Saturday. In this season of witches, ghosts, and skeletons, we had a conversation about bones and skin. She seemed impressed that we all have a skeleton inside us and that it's all covered with skin. It's always fun to wake up early in the morning with Chloe sitting up in bed saying "Pa Paw, I want to go make your coffee". My wife never seems to mind when I get up with Chloe at 7:30 AM while she pretends to not know we are even awake. Chloe also prepared a tea party for my wife. Some of the invited guests were Barbie, Spongebob Squarepants, and a stuffed Opossum. Yes, you read that correctly. Of all the stuffed animals on an entire wall of toys, she picked a an opossum!

Someone recently asked me to explain what Zen is. The following is my simple understanding of what Zen means to me. There are many books written about this subject so some will likely find my understanding simplistic. The truth is that I am a simple person. I do not like complexity. When I study or encounter something complex, I try to break it down into simpler terms. I feel, however, that my understanding gets to the heart of what Zen is.

Zen is a kind of philosophy that is found within Buddhism. In simple terms, for me, Zen is about mindfulness. Mindfulness is being where you are and doing what you are doing. It's about being present to the moment and trying not to let your mind wander and be somewhere different from where your body is. It's being one with the moment. Sometimes when I write about a "perfect moment", I am describing what I consider a Zen moment. It is a moment of total oneness and clarity. It is a moment where life suddenly makes sense if only for a brief time. I remember a winter day once where I arrived home to an empty house. It was cold and there were heavy snow flurries in the air. I made a cup of hot Cafe Vienna coffee. Holding the warm mug in my hand, I sat by a window, in silence, and I simply got lost in the snow. It was a moment of complete peace and total oneness with nature. For me, this is Zen. These kinds of moments, at least for me, are also contemplation.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Storms, Chloe, And Another Great Musician Passes

I thought I had to pick up my granddaughter at the day care yesterday but it turned out that I didn't need to so. When she's around on a work night I have no chance of a nap. Since she wasn't around last night I soon found myself slipping into dreamland. That's when I heard the tornado sirens going off. I went into the living room where I thought my wife was watching the weather report on TV. She was out like a light. The good news is that we never had a tornado and neither of us woke up in a tree. As a matter of fact, it never even rained until I went to bed. The timing was perfect. The combination of rain, gentle thunder, and occasional lightening was a wonderful backdrop as I quickly fell asleep. I know some parts of the Louisville area were hit hard by the storms. I hope none of you suffered any damage.

I did pick up Chloe from the day care this past Tuesday. When I arrived she was coming in from the playground. She entered the building at one end of a long hallway and I was standing at the other. As soon as she spotted me, she ran towards me like an Olympic sprinter on steroids. She practically knocked me down when she leaped into my arms. I think the day care workers are even impressed with Chloe's excitement when I walk in the building. It's great to be so loved. Of course, I let her know how loved she is as well. I give her lots of my time and I try to ignore my own fatigue on these work nights so I can play with her or sit and watch a movie. We have delightful conversations about life. I'm a lucky guy to be her Pa Paw.

I felt some sadness last night. While on the Internet I discovered that one of my favorite musicians had died on September 11th. His name was Joe Zawinul. He wrote the famous Miles Davis song entitled "In A Silent Way" and was also a founder of the pioneering jazz fusion band called Weather Report. His partner in Weather Report is another famous jazz musician named Wayne Shorter. They played some awesome music together and apart. Weather Report has a greatest hits CD which is a great place to start if you're not familiar with their music. My favorite CD, however, is called "Sweetnighter". If you listen to the song entitled "Boogie Woogie Waltz", you'll be hooked forever. Trust me. "Boogie Woogie Waltz" is also on the greatest hits CD.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gifts And Talents

I am loving my new work area. This is an old building that has been completely renovated. It is very quiet and I am in a somewhat isolated area. This building has a much calmer atmosphere than my previous building. Whenever I return to my former haunts it feels chaotic and fast paced. I like the calmer atmosphere and the peaceful environment that I have now. It may be too quiet. Yesterday I had to finally go outside for some air because I was falling asleep. Earlier in the morning it rained again for a short time. That did not help. Normally on such a day I look forward to getting home so I could take a nap. Alas, there was no rest for the weary. I had my weekly three hour meeting at church. In my mind I could hear my wife saying, "When are you going to learn to say no"! In spite of my fatigue, I enjoy these sessions.

I work for a large company. My previous building had several thousand occupants and my current building has several hundred. My fellow co-workers are men and women that are young and old and that represent multiple ethic groups. All in all, it's a reasonably diverse group of people. Some are calm and laid back. Other are frantic and hyper. There are many personalities. Some are easier to take than others. A few drive me crazy but then again, I am not every one's cup of tea either. Somehow all of us manage to work together in peace most days. It takes all types, working together, to create an environment that is productive and accomplished. Within this diverse community are many gifts and talents. All of us have a gift and some type of talent. Many have "hard skills" that help us accomplish the many tasks that we have. Other's have "soft skills" that help smooth the friction that can sometimes occur between people. Everyone brings something to the party. It important to recognize that everyone has a purpose and that everyone is needed. It takes many gifts and talents to keep a community or organization going. If everyone was the same, not much would get done. You can't be a leader if no one will follow. If everyone tries to lead, nothing will get done. In life, everyone needs to determine their gift and talent. No gift or talent is better than another. It is when all gifts and talents work together that we make progress. Look in your mirror. What is your gift and talent? When you discover them, be grateful and use them for the common good. Remember, however, that others may have different gifts and talents. If you are a leader, be a good steward of the gifts and talents of those who follow you. If you are a follower, make your gifts and talents known. Do not hide them. Share them and make the world...or your workplace...a better place.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Desert Experience

When I was driving to work yesterday, it was pouring down rain. Even though I dislike driving in the rain, I was very happy to see it. It rained much of the morning but not nearly enough. We need more rain desperately. Much of the country is experiencing drought conditions. Obviously, the lack of rain is causing much dryness. When I was on the farm this past weekend where the pumpkin patch is, I noticed many irrigation lines. I'm sure the lack of rain has been especially hard on farmers. In some places, however, even the city dwellers are feeling the pain as lakes and reservoirs reach new and dangerous levels. The dryness that we are experiencing in nature is sometimes felt in our lives. In the history of Christianity there is a "desert" spirituality that goes back to the 2nd and 3rd century. In those days men and women left the cities and headed to the desert to find God in the barren wastelands. In our modern lives this desert spirituality can manifest itself as dryness and an absence of spiritual consolations. In the 14th century a famous spiritual masterpiece was written entitled "The Cloud of Unknowing". It speaks about the experience of knowing God by unknowing. In other words, it is in the unknowing, the darkness, the dryness, and the void that seems empty of obvious experiences of God that we might be most likely to experience the true reality of God. We tend to think that all experiences of God are warm and fuzzy and peaceful. They can be but if that was the only time we experienced God, we would be limiting God to only a portion of our lives. My life is sometimes warm and fuzzy and peaceful but it is also occasionally stressful, demanding, busy, empty feeling and unclear in it's direction and meaning. God is in it all. He is in the rain as well as the dryness. Don't be afraid of the desert or the void. God is closer than you think and everything has a purpose. Never judge the experience of God by how it feels.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Emptiness And Fullness

It is near the end of my work day and my mind is empty. I'm not sure it was full when I began my day. Sometimes these daily thoughts come easily to me and I can go on and on. Other days, like today, nothing worth writing about comes to mind and I wonder what I will share. Such emptiness can make us feel dull and uninspired. The irony of the spiritual life, however, is that emptiness and fullness can both be good. When we are full, we have much to give and, perhaps, much to say. When we are empty, we have great capacity to be filled. It is when we are empty that God can do his best work. On a spiritual level, when I think I am full, I am usually empty and when I think I am empty, I am often full. I like the confidence that feeling full gives me but it is when I am empty that the Spirit has room to work. I have a new responsibility at my parish. I am now the Lay Director of the men's retreat team. The basic responsibility of the role is to provide some spiritual formation to the team of men working on the retreat. I have to give reflections on scripture and lead them in prayer. The reflections are not meant to be academic. Rather, the reflections are meant to be more from my heart in order to provide spiritual food to my companions. After some group discussion, I must lead them in prayer. I've got to be honest and admit this is challenging for me. Last week I was totally empty and not at all prepared. True to my beliefs, however, my emptiness was filled and I believe I did a good job. This week I will be better prepared but not so much that the Spirit can't work. Well, I started off these thoughts feeling rather empty. By letting go of my emptiness, I have, hopefully, ended up with something worth saying. I hope these thoughts are of some value to you.

Monday, October 15, 2007

From Indianapolis to Pumpkin Land

I need another day off to rest from my weekend! It was a full and busy time. The good news is that all of it was enjoyable. I took a day off from work on Friday. My wife and I drove to Indianapolis to pick my son up at the seminary. It was a very enjoyable drive until I reached downtown Indy and realized I was in the wrong lane. It was one of those moments in time where you have a realization that you've made a mistake and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it. The next thing I know I am heading east on I-70 when I wanted to being going north on I-65. There was heavy construction going on so I had to drive about ten miles before I could turn around. It was one of those moments where the journey was not the destination. 20 miles later we pulled into Marian College and were happy to see Nick. The drive home was uneventful.

Saturday was a family trip to the pumpkin fields of southern Indiana. It was a glorious, Indian summer kind of day. The prolonged summer heat and extremely dry weather has delayed or possibly destroyed the autumn colors one would normally see at this time of year. Still, it was a beautiful day and it did have an autumn feel as we found ourselves surrounded by the farmland. Chloe had an absolute ball riding on the farm wagon and running through the pumpkin patch. She was all smiles and excitement. We left with a trunk full of pumpkins and other goodies and very empty wallets.Finally, the weekend ended with a family photo session that turned out pretty good. It's our first family photo of my extended personal family. I think we squeaked a smile out of Chloe but I was not caught in my best pose. Better luck next time. Chloe and I finished off the day visiting my mother and father. When I took Chloe home I had to visit her room and let her show me all her stuffed animals.

Now it is a new week and I have much to do. It's always a little daunting to start a new work week after such a weekend. May God be with all of us in our busyness and give us quiet moments of calm between all the demands. When I feel a little frantic, and I surely will, I will pause for a moment and think of a little girl sitting on a pumpkin in a big field, smiling in the sunlight, and enjoying life.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Family Weekend

Since my son's car is playing dead, I must drive to Indianapolis to bring him home for an extended weekend visit. As much as he loves his new life I think he is ready for a visit to the old homestead. Much of the coming weekend will be about family. All of my immediate family will be crossing the river on Saturday to visit Huber's Orchard in southern Indiana. It's time to take Chloe out into the pumpkin fields. If my father in law were still alive, he and I would be visiting the winery there. We've had some good wine and great conversation in that building. It is supposed to be a beautiful day so I am looking forward to chasing Chloe through the fields and checking out the pumpkins. On Sunday the project manager of my family, also known as my wife, has declared that an official family photo will be taken. I have no idea what shirt she will tell me to wear. If I chose my own shirt I will likely get a comment that will go like this, "You're not wearing that, are you"? It's been a while since we're had a photo and now my family includes my daughter in law, Stacy, and, of course, Chloe.

I finally have some live rock and roll music on the horizon. John Fogerty, of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame, will be in Louisville on December 3rd. A few weeks earlier I hope to see Leon Russell at a local pub. I really love seeing and hearing live music. Music celebrates life and is good for the soul. I'm not completely over the hill yet and I do believe in celebrating life.

Remember the retreat I didn't want to attend? Remember the retreat team that I didn't want to join? Well, as you know, I went to the retreat and I also joined the next retreat team. Now I have a leadership role on the team I really didn't want to join. All of my initial resistance and subsequent acceptance are at peace with one another. I am happy that I have made this commitment and I will do my best to help create a meaningful experience for the next group of men. I realize now that I was just be lazy and self centered. Everything I need to do are things I am actually good at doing. Now I feel energized by the challenge and happy about working with a group of really good men.It finally feels like autumn! It is 50 degrees this morning and I am wearing a light sweater. The cool morning air is so refreshing. When I stood on my front porch this morning and breathed in deeply, I felt rejuvenated. It's going to be a beautiful day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Yesterday I attended an all day company meeting. It was a long day for an introvert to be in a room with 300 other people. By the end of the day I couldn't get into the solitude of my car fast enough. I appreciate all the hard work that went into the day but it is very difficult for me to sit in a crowded room, especially at a table that was mostly strangers, for an entire day. Such days seem tailor made for extroverts. We introverts sit there quietly praying for a break and hoping we are not called on to perform or speak in front of the large group. I do much better in smaller groups. Others, however, seemed to really enjoy the large group energy and action. Today, however, I am happy to be back in my normal work environment where there are familiar faces and a pleasant balance of interaction with others and solitary time in my little corner cubicle.

Almost everyone I speak with about work tends to have one thing in common. Most agree that work is mentally exhausting. The combination of demands, needs, pace, people, deadlines, and everything else that is part of a typical day tend to drain the brain and leave one lifeless by the end of the day. I used to think it was just me and that it might be related to getting older. However, age doesn't seem to have anything to do with it. The young feel the same way. It's probably a good thing to be tired at the end of an honest day's work whether it's in the factory or the office. Being tired, however, and being exhausted are two different things. When you leave work with barely enough energy to drive home and maintain minimum life support systems at the same time, that's a little more than being tired. What's the solution? I don't think it's more sleep. I think it's more about perspective. In the world of modern work, who serves who? Does work serve the needs of people or are people serving the needs of work? At its best, work should be energizing and creative. In reality, most work is boring, repetitive to the point of monotonous, and there is little opportunity for creativity. The challenge of work needs to be something other than simply getting through it. I struggle with finding meaning in much of what I do. What I find most meaningful in my workday is my interactions with people. These encounters are not always directly related to work. For the most part, though, they are life giving and I find great satisfaction in them. A new challenge for me now is having about half my staff working at home. Staying connected as to them and them to me...presents new challenges. I think most people want to find their work interesting, challenging, energizing, and satisfying. They want to bring something of themselves into what they do. How do we do that? I don't have the answers. Do you?

Monday, October 08, 2007

What Contemplation Can Be

I think contemplation can be learned but some personality types seem to be naturally contemplative. In all the major religions there are contemplative traditions but I also think you can be a contemplative person without necessarily being a person who practices a particular religion. In my mind a contemplative person is one who takes the time to stand back or step away from the fast pace of life and simply breathe. The contemplative is someone who likes life in the slow lane. It's about being awake enough and present enough to not only notice the flowers but also be willing to stop and smell them. It's being present to life in all it's details (mindfulness). Perhaps you are aware of the story of the prophet Elijah from the Book of Kings in the Hebrew scriptures. He had challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a duel. To make a long story short, Elijah won so they ran him out of town. He hid in a cave on a mountain. There was thunder and lightening and earthquakes and all that kind of stuff but God was not present in them. Finally, there was a small whispering sound like a gentle breeze. Elijah hid his face for in this God was present. The contemplative person is one who has achieved an interior quiet that allows him to notice the small whispering sounds in life where God is often present. If you are constantly running through life with your hair on fire, busy all the time, stressed out, and meeting yourself coming and going, you will miss such opportunities.

Finding Out Who We Aren't

I've been looking forward to autumn for weeks. So far we are having the hottest October in the history of Kentucky. It appears, however, that we may finally have some fall like weather by week's end. It will not happen today. Today's high is expected in the mid 90's.

One of my readers is a friend that I have only met a couple of times and who lives far away. Occasionally she sends me her observations on things I have written. What amazes me about her observations is that they are usually based on what I didn't say. She seems to have a gift of reading between the lines of what I write. It is not unusual for me to receive an email from others telling me that whatever I said on a particular day was what they needed to hear. I have received many gracious notes thanking me for providing something meaningful or insightful to their life. It is rare, however, for me to get a response to my writing that is insightful about me. I am happy to receive these insights especially when they give me something to really think about. Some recent observations gave me much to reflect on and created a rather deep and meaningful dialogue. I suppose that all of us are saying many things to others with what we say, what we write, how we walk, our personalities, our passions, and our overall way of being. Some of our messages are obvious and others are more subtle. In a manner of speaking all of us are walking billboards advertising who we are. Once someone in my office came up to me and asked if I was as peaceful as I appear as I walk around the office. I replied, "Most of time but not always". Sometimes when I write I am writing to myself. Whatever message I am trying to convey is often meant for me. If others need to hear the same message, all the better. Of course, some messages I hear from others I don't really want to hear. They can be too painful and full of truth. I want to mark the envelope "Return to Sender". These random thoughts remind me of the moment when I had a true sense of who I am. I was happy for this moment of self discovery but it was not who I thought I had been. The way I was differed from the person I thought I was. It was the death of at least one of my false selves. I caught a glimpse of who I really was. This is what happens to me when my friend sends me one of her observations. I am confronted with another glimpse of another false self. We all want to discover who we really are but it can be painful to discover who we really aren't.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

My Mother In Law's Sadness

Yesterday after work I went to the annual Octoberfest at the old folks home where my mother in law lives. It appeared to be the social event of the season. Most of the residents were all dressed up and they seemed excited about the break in their normal daily routine. Many, if not all, of these folks are well to do and I imagine they had very active social lives before age and illness slowed them down. I know this is true of my mother in law. I found myself thinking of my deceased father in law and the life my family had in the past before he died. It was my in laws that introduced me to the "good life". By my standards they had lots of money and lived a different life than I was used to until I married their daughter. I started eating meals that required more than one fork. I learned about wine and developed a taste for shrimp cocktail. I went to white tablecloth restaurants where you had to dress up. When my in laws were both still alive and active, we were always celebrating something. I found myself missing my father in law as I looked at my mother in law's now sad face and the distant look in her eyes. I remember when she was the hostess of wonderful parties. In a few weeks my father in law will be dead for four years. At the time he died, Chloe was in the womb and no one knew it. My mother in law has now been sad for four years. Her mind is constantly challenging her. When my wife took her up to her room, she discovered that she had packed many of her possessions. We have no idea where she thinks she's going. She has no idea either. All of our lives have changed greatly with the passing of my father in law. He was a wonderful guy and I miss him.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Staying Centered

It has been a busy week. Yesterday my morning was quite hectic and the afternoon was spent visiting co-workers who are now working from home. It was nice to be out of the office but now I am even more behind. When my workday ended I barely had time to eat some dinner, go home, and get changed before leaving for a meeting at my church. It was the kind of jam packed, over booked day that I usually don't like. Somehow, in the midst of it all, I was able to remain centered and calm. I find myself turning inward frequently when I am feeling overwhelmed. In a manner of speaking my heart is the eye of the hurricane that my life sometimes resembles. I realize that what I consider a busy or hectic day might seem like a day off for others. It's all relative. I am not a white water rafter. I prefer that my life doesn't feel like I am always shooting the rapids. I prefer a calm and steady flow. Unfortunately for me, life is seldom a calm, steady flow all of the time, at least on the surface. That's why it is very important to be calm on the inside. Being centered spiritually helps me maintain some equilibrium in my life. When I am not centered, I am off balance and can easily become rattled and stressed. When my inner calm is compromised , and I am not centered, it's like trying to stand on one leg. I am off balance and can quickly tumble over. It's like a spiritual inner ear infection. The room and my life seem to be spinning. Yesterday was busy and my body was spinning a bit but inside I was calm. I am grateful for that.

Today is the feast of St Francis of Assisi. He is my favorite holy man and has been my entire life. He was a simple but joyous man. He is the saint of ecology and patron of animals. He is remembered by many for his peace prayer. Here is an excerpt from it.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Men And Feelings

After the relative bliss of my extended weekend, returning to work was a bit daunting. I was two days behind in accumulated emails, I had to unpack from my move, and I had to get my bearings in a new building, all while trying not to miss a beat in an otherwise normal and hectic day. I am in a building called the Clock Tower Building. I am in a corner with a window that faces south. Directly behind me is a small round room that is actually part of the clock tower. There is a small table and chairs in there. When no one is looking I think I will remove this furniture and toss some over sized pillows in there. It would make a great Zen meditation room that would be much more valuable to most employees than another conference room. The silence of meditation would be much more valuable than most of the talking that occurs in meetings.

Not long ago I was playing with my granddaughter, Chloe. At one point, and I can't remember why, I pretended to cry. Chloe lifted her hand and said, "Stop! Boys don't cry"! Where did she pick up that message? Why does a three year old girl think boys don't cry? I assured her that boys...and Pa Paw's...sometimes cry. There's a myth in our culture that men do not cry, feel few emotions, and have no deep feelings. I know that I am not a typical man. However, I believe that even so called "tough" men have feelings. What we have not traditionally had is permission to express them. To be healthy, all men and women need a balance of masculine and feminine traits. As a man I am expected to be tough with my feelings tightly wound and held within. As a man, I certainly can be tough when the situation requires it. But anyone who has read my daily thoughts for the last three years knows the kind of emotion I am capable of expressing. Women do not have a monopoly on kindness, affection, and sensitivity. I am proud to be a sensitive man who is not afraid or embarrassed to express his feelings. I urge all of you who have influence in the lives of boys and young men to help them be in touch with their feelings. Sensitive and caring men are not usually full of the stereotypical male bravado but they often possess a quiet strength that will outlast the false courage of so called tough men.

The following link is to photos from my retreat weekend taken by a friend of mine. I thought some of you might enjoy them.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Celebrating Friendship

I took off from work yesterday so I could rest from doing nothing all weekend. I rose at my usual workday time last Friday. After stopping for gas and coffee, I jumped into the frantic morning commute. Instead of heading to work, I headed towards the monastery. The morning commute on a workday is a great metaphor for everything one wants to leave behind when going on a retreat. My joy increased as traffic decreased. I did not stay at the monastery for this retreat. The demand for rooms in the guesthouse was high and I always have a place to stay with my friend, Fr. Dennis, so I gave up my room. Dennis is a great host and a very welcoming person. We have much in common although he is much more extroverted than me. The theme of this years retreat was spiritual friendship. At first I felt a little disconnected from the retreat because I wasn't at the monastery. Eventually I realized I was very much in tune with the retreat even though I wasn't always physically present. During much of the weekend I shared meals and conversation with Dennis. We talked in depth about the spiritual life and more mundane topics such as our shared struggles with diabetes. Early on Friday, we took a walk on the grounds of Nazareth College. At one point when Dennis realized I was breathing rather heavy, he suggesting sitting for a moment. There we were on the park bench. It reminded me of a Simon and Garfunkel lyric that goes, "Old friends, old friends, sitting on the park bench like bookends". Later in the weekend I realized that the retreat had actually turned into a celebration of friendship for me. Dennis and I are two friends who met long ago, were separated by time and distance for many years, and then were reunited as much older men. Staying with Dennis turned into a great personal retreat for me. We had quiet masses together in his small chapel. I took a couple of world class naps that made me feel as though I had slept for a thousand years. We shared simple but enjoyable meals. Over the weekend I became rested and refreshed. I was able to also spent time at the monastery and interact with other friends and acquaintances. I will have more time their next month when I attend a gathering of monks, nuns, and lay people from all over the United States. So, like most retreat weekends, I wasn't sure what would happen. What did happen, however, is what I needed to happen.

My extra day at home was wonderful. It was a mostly quiet day spent doing simple things. I was alone all day except for some neighborhood cats and a couple of very industrious squirrels preparing for winter. Yes, winter is coming although these early October days are still feeling like summer.