Friday, February 29, 2008

The Death Of Buddy Miles

Another musician from the Sixties generation has gone to rock and roll heaven. Buddy Miles died on Wednesday. Many of you are wondering "Who's Buddy Miles"? Buddy Miles was one of the few African Americans in the primarily white rock and roll world of the Sixties. Of course, if you know your rock and roll history, you know that rock and roll was really created by African Americans. If you don't believe me, check out Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. Anyway, Buddy Miles first became well known as the drummer for a band he created with Michael Bloomfield called "The Electric Flag". They made their debut at the infamous Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967. Michael Bloomfield was one of the premier white blues guitarists. Part of the uniqueness of the Electric Flag was that they were one of the first integrated bands in rock and roll. Another part of their uniqueness was having a horn section. Horns were relatively rare in rock and roll bands. Later, groups like Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears became very famous for their horn sections. Buddy Miles most famous gig was being part of Jimi Hendrix's only all African American band called the "Band of Gypsy's". They recorded a historic live album on New Years Eve 1969 at the famous New York venue called the Fillmore East. The Fillmore East was to hippies, who were mostly white, what the Apollo was to African Americans. If I had a time machine I would want to go back in time and visit the Fillmore East as many times as I could. If I was smart, I would also check out the Apollo on a night that James Brown was playing. Buddy Miles also toured and play with other guitar luminaries like John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana. Unfortunately, he was one of the few musicians from the Sixties that I never saw perform live. RIP.

Since we are starting a new month tomorrow, it is once again time to go to the monastery for my monthly visit on Sunday. I do enjoy my visits to the monastery. I'm also having lunch with my friend, Fr. Dennis. I wasn't able to see him on my last trip so we have a lot of catching up to do. Much of my life I feel like I am always listening to other people and their tales of woe. I have a few of my own tales and Fr. Dennis listens to me. As I've said before, he's like a big brother to me and I need that.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Daily Rituals

When I woke up on Wednesday morning there was a light dusting of snow in my neighborhood. There were also some icy patches on my steps and driveway. As I walked outside to get my morning paper I almost did a triple axle with a double back flip. If I was in Olympic figure skating competition I might have scored a perfect ten. Apparently, turning left is not the only thing I cannot do well. I cannot walk left either.

These late winter days are quiet ones for me. Work is busy but not overwhelming. My evenings are free of obligation so I spend my time quietly reading or listening to music or watching movies. Most nights I also do some horizontal meditation. While my body lies still my mind travels the universe. My early mornings are equally quiet. My new coffee maker has a timer so the aroma of freshly brewed coffee greets me as I walk into my kitchen each new day. I fill my travel mug for my morning commute and then I take another cup to my wife who sits in the living room fighting the desire to go back to sleep. (Unlike me, she is NOT a morning person) I eat a simple breakfast as I glance at the morning newspaper. Afterwards I gather my lunch together before joining my wife in the living room. These last twenty minutes or so before I leave for work are some of my favorite moments in the day. I usually read a few lines from a spiritual book of some type before allowing myself to savor a few moments of silence. When I leave the house I am calm and centered and ready for the day.

The simple daily rituals I have described above are in many ways the foundation of my day. The way I do these things and the approach I have to such basic tasks are calming to me. They are basic and routine and simple. When I do them I am awake and present to the moment. These activities ground me. Most of the time my mind is with my body and not hours ahead. This allows my mind and body to arrive at my office at the same time ready to begin the work day. Nothing I do in my attempts to live a spiritual life is difficult. It's all basic stuff although it can be a challenge to always have the presence of mind to pay attention to what you are doing. I try to keep life simple by practicing mindfulness and compassion, treating other people the way I want to be treated, and constantly working on improving my driving skills. (smile)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How To Develop Patience

A friend wrote to me yesterday and asked "How can I be more patient? I am so impatient all the time"! With this revelation I am surprised she didn't want a response immediately. Her question reminds me of a prayer I once read. It went like this."O God, give me patience....and give it to me right now"! Patience is a great virtue. As with most virtues, it is also counter cultural. We are not a patient culture. We are a culture that expects instant gratification in all things. We are a culture that values speed and productivity. We want everything yesterday or before. We no longer write letters. We send emails and then are annoyed when we do not receive an immediate reply. We no longer cook real food. We microwave flash frozen items or drive through McDonald's for "fast food". We don't even take the time to get out of our cars. We don't finish one task before starting another. Problems that developed over a period of days or weeks are expected to be solved in a day. We multi task ten things at the same time and usually don't finish all of them or we do a less than quality job on most of them. We don't stop and smell the roses because most of the time we are moving so fast we walk right past them. How can we be more patient? First of all, stop the madness! Slow down! As Gandhi once said, "There's more to life than increasing it's speed". Take the time to notice the details of life. Quit doing so much and taking on so many tasks. Practice mindfulness and introduce some calming rituals into your life. ( A calming ritual is not happy hour at the local bar.) Empty your life of unnecessary demands and allow some space in your day. I have a friend that can never go to lunch because they are always too busy. Many of us have lives that are so busy and so demanding that it is nearly impossible to not be nervous wrecks as we run around from sunrise to sunset and even into the night looking at our wristwatches , cell phones, and Blackberry's every five minutes. Why do we do this to ourselves? Some of us are driven, ambitious overachievers who feel like we must be involved in everything. Sometimes I believe that people who are voluntarily overextended are on some kind of a power trip or perhaps think all the activity gives them some kind of control. They want their fingers in everything. Other types of people fill their lives up with activity so they don't have to face their own loneliness and emptiness. Their activity is an escape. It hides their pain.So what does all of this have to do with being more patient? Well, I think in order to be more patient a person needs to have some sense of contentment in their life. A patient person usually has a sense of balance and centeredness. A patient person is usually a calm person. A patient person is like an oak tree in a windstorm. A patient person is someone who responds to life appropriately and without an emotional overreaction. The landscape of their inner self resembles a placid lake rather than the rapids of a white water river. I don't see how you can develop yourself into a patient person without some calm and space in your life where you focus more on being rather than doing. This is not always easy. Some of us have hyper personalities. Admittedly, there are others who seem patient when they are just lazy. Being patient doesn't mean you are unproductive. As the Bible says, there is a time for everything. Sometimes we act. Other times we wait. We can all hope for the wisdom to know when to be assertive and when to be patient.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Crashing My Car

Today is my son's 26th birthday! Happy Birthday, Nick! It's starting to freak me out that my children are getting older. My other son will be 30 in May. However, I find it amusing that neither of them find the jokes they made about my baldness quite as funny anymore since their hair is getting a bit thin on top!

After I had my car crash on Friday night I had flashbacks about it all weekend. I kept thinking about the one second or less of time that existed between when I realized what was going to happen and when it actually occurred. The worst case scenario was that someone, possibly me, could have been killed. When I regained my composure, and after I realized everyone involved was OK, I found myself overwhelmed with thoughts of what could have happened. Earlier in the evening on Friday my wife and I met my son and Chloe for a casual, Friday night dinner. Chloe begged to go home with me but I told her she couldn't because "Pa Paw had to get up real early to go see Uncle Nick". My wife wanted to take Nick the kind of care package college kids away from home love to receive. I dropped her off at Kroger and then proceeded to a Thornton's to gas up the car so I wouldn't have to deal with it the next morning. I thought about stopping at the Speedway but it was packed and every gas pump was taken so I headed for the nearby Thornton's. I needed to turn left against three lanes of traffic. I was in a turning lane. Two of the lanes stopped to let me cross. The third lane appeared empty. I started to cross and the next thing I knew there was a terrible crunching sound and my car was knocked about ten feet. If you've ever been in an automobile accident, you know how surreal the experience can be. When I had been in a much more serious accident in 1995 I thought I was in a dream even after I regained consciousness. So, once again life has reminded me of precious it is and how fragile it can be. I thought I knew that but I suppose we can all be a little complacent about it and take it for granted. The irony is that I just recently read a story about an old man and his grandson. The boy asked "Grandpa, how do you get to be as old as you"? The Grandpa said, "Never turn left". After Friday night my wife and sons have limited me to left turns only at traffic lights that have a left turn arrow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Finding Meaning In Life

Last week I received the following response to one of my daily thoughts.

I used to have to "find meaning" in everything when I was running away from a painful reality that I couldn't or wouldn't deal with. In other words, by staying in a painful reality I lost sight of my own integrity. (Integrity means the reason that something was created i.e. its proper use.) I lost sight of the "ordinary" meaning of everything and sought to exaggerate it because I lost the meaning of my own existence. Once I faced the pain of my reality head on and I learned to live in my own integrity I never again felt a need to distort the integrity of "everything" by "needing to find meaning" but rather I saw things the way the really were and in doing so humbly accepted God.

This comment was in response to a statement I made about my need to find meaning in everything. I think my friend's response is very powerful. If I understand her correctly, she is saying that if we are living the lives we are meant to live, we wouldn't have to search for meaning in them. The meaning should be obvious. I think she makes a lot of sense. If our lives or our work seem meaningless, what does that say about our lives or what we do? I think the idea of finding meaning in our lives and work is very much tied up with whether or not we experience joy in our lives and work. Without meaning there is probably no joy. Without joy, can there be any meaning? Are you happy in your relationships? Which ones are working for you and which ones are not? Do you feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in what you do? Why or why not? If there is joy in your life, where is it? Where is it not? What is that telling you? These are tough questions and the answers can be a real wake up call. Depending on the answers, what action is required of you?

I didn't make it to Parent's Day at the seminary on Saturday. Why? Well, I was in an automobile accident on Friday night. I did something stupid and another driver plowed into me. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt although a young boy got the scare of his life and his mother was very angry at me. My car is probably going to be OK but it's can't be driven at the moment. I'm very grateful that it wasn't worse than it was. I am also very grateful I was alone since it was the passenger side of my car that was hit. I am extremely grateful that Chloe wasn't with me. Less than an hour before the accident I was having dinner with Chloe and her father.

After the events of Friday night, it was nice to have Chloe over on Saturday night. I woke up Sunday with her poking me in the nose. We got up and went downstairs. She helped me make coffee, we ate some Honey Nut Cheerios and discussed why the bee on the package was wearing shoes and then we went into the living room where we watched some "Clifford, the Big Red Dog" cartoons.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Weather Gives Me An Afternoon Off

Yesterday started out to be a normal and ordinary workday. I knew there may be some bad weather later in the day. I did not expect, however, for my office to close at midday. An ice storm was coming and local employers rightly decided to let workers out of the city before it hit. A few weeks ago a snow, sleet, and freezing rain storm hit during the evening rush hour. No one got off early that day so the end of the work day commute created total gridlock for everyone as they went home. When the email came out yesterday telling everyone to go home, the enthusiasm level in my office went off the chart. People were flying out the door. I was one of them. My wife's office also closed early so I called her as I was walking to the parking garage. Soon enough we were on our way home. I took a slightly different route and I was quickly out of the city. The weather wasn't too bad yet so we stopped off for lunch at a Mexican restaurant near where we live. It felt like a gift from God to have this unplanned time off. After lunch I quickly went home, looking forward to a quiet afternoon, safe in my home. As much as I wanted to enjoy the time, I soon found myself sound asleep in my chair. I was warm and cozy. It was not how I thought my Thursday afternoon would be spent. I love the surprise of unexpected time away from work. I think most of my co-workers would agree that working is not really that bad but not working is a whole lot better.

Now it is Friday and another work week has passed. I haven't seen my granddaughter, Chloe, in a couple of weeks so I hope to have dinner with her and her parents tonight. I can hardly wait to see her. Afterwards it will be a quiet night. I will need to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow I must get up very early so I can be at my son's college in Indianapolis at 9:00 AM for Parent's Day.

I have been feeling really brain dead lately and having some "writer's block". For a very long time it has been rather easy for me to sit down at my computer and spontaneously write some daily thoughts. Lately, I feel like I sit down, stare at the blank screen, and my brain launches into space. As Jeff Forbst always says to the losing team at the end of every Survivor challenge, "I got nothing for you"! I know some of you like hearing about my life which is a complete surprise to me since I feel much of my life is doing the same things that most of you are doing. The few things of interest that I do, i.e., going to the monastery or the occasional rock and roll adventure, I feel like I do over and over to the point that I no longer know how to make them interesting to anyone but me. I know that others still enjoy the Chloe stories. Recently I received a touching email where someone wished I was their child's Pa Paw. For those of you who like my attempts at daily thoughts, I will keep trying to write things of interest or inspiration. Perhaps the upcoming spring will not only renew nature but my writing as well.

Finally....a couple of news items from the last week. Here's a sobering thought for fellow members of the 60's generation. Yoko Ono, wife of slain Beatle John Lennon, turned 75 years old this week.

Louisville, Kentucky, my hometown, was identified as one of the top five underrated cites in the United States as a place to live. I have lived here most of my life and it is a great place to live.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bela Fleck And Chick Corea

I went to see Bela Fleck and Chick Corea on Monday night. It has been a few months since I've seen some live music so I was ready for a night out. The show was in a small theater and appeared to be sold out. Our seats were in the balcony but we had a nice view of the stage. My seat was fourth from the end so I had a brief moment of claustrophobia accompanied with a hot flash. It always seems to me that seating for public events, whether in the intimacy of a small theater or the open air of a large stadium, was designed for children. I am not a large person but I still feel cramped almost everywhere I go. As I settled in and got relaxed the music started. This was a two man show with no back up band. Although known as jazz artists, the music was closer to classical music rather than traditional jazz. The first song was slow and I wasn't getting into it. I thought to myself, "This is going to be a long night". Soon, however, the intricate interplay between Bela on banjo and Chick on his grand piano began to become mesmerizing. I closed my eyes and often became lost in it. This was serious music and a different cup of tea from the playful and occasionally rowdy rock and roll that I usually go see. This was more like a recital than a concert. Though not always exciting I knew I was witnessing two world class musicians whose resumes were very long and impressive. Chick Corea, besides his own work, was also a major contributor to some of my favorite Miles Davis albums. All in all it was a good night. I enjoyed the music as well as the conversations I had with my long time friend, Tom. We've gone from being two teenage friends to two old men who need to get up from our seats once and awhile to keep from getting too stiff.

My wife thinks she saw a mouse in our house last night. I thought we were going to have to check into a hotel. She is terrified of mice and was not amused when I asked if the mouse was wearing a little suit and had spectacles on the end of it's nose or was it driving a small convertible. I will have to find the mouse or sell the house. I am the mouse's best hope for a continued life. My wife believes in the death penalty for all rodents.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Happiest People In The World

It was a quiet weekend. The weather was nice and it was so warm on Sunday that I was able to open up windows and let some fresh air flow through the house. Weekends are also always nice for getting some much needed extra sleep to offset the accumulated fatigue of the work week. After getting up on Saturday, I went to the movies. I saw "The Spiderwick Chronicles". It was the kind of fantasy/adventure movie that I like so much. Although it was rated for children, I thought it was way too intense for very young children. Had Chloe attended with me, she would have been scared to death. On Friday night I also watched a movie that I enjoyed very much. It was called "Across the Universe". It was your basic boy meets girl kind of movie with what I considered a very creative twist. The backdrop was the Sixties and much of the dialogue and all of the music were the songs of the Beatles. It was amazing to me how appropriate all of the song lyrics were to what was going on in the story. Of course, my wife thought it was awful and later my son emailed me calling it "hippie drivel" and one of the worst movies ever made.

Speaking of my son...

I received a letter from the college that Nick attends. He made the Dean's List for outstanding academic achievement. Now I know why I struggle so much. Apparently, Nick got all the brains in the family.

Last night I was watching 60 Minutes. There was a piece on happiness. The happiest country on earth based on a survey is Denmark. The United States was #23. Why are they Danish so happy? Their immediate neighbors in Norway have more money and the Swedish have better health. The Danes that were interviewed thought it was because they had lower, or at least more realistic, expectations about life. The Danes tend to be more content with their lives. Since they don't expect too much, they are happy with less and always surprised when really good things happen to them. They believed that we Americans are often unhappy because we want too much. Most of us are are driven by the desire for success and money and possessions. When we do not get these things, we are stressed out and disappointed. Another expert in the field of happiness studies stated that 90% of all American college students are stressed out and overwhelmed. I believe there is a lot of truth in all of this. When I feel content, I feel happy. When I am not content, I am not happy. This applies to all aspects of my life from relationships, to work, to what I possess. For me there is another factor that often affects my happiness. In order to be content with my life, I must also find meaning in it. This is the curse of being what some people consider a "deep" person. I am always looking for meaning in everything. "Deep" people who search for meaning in everything are often "Romantics" who have high expectations. According to the Danish people interviewed on 60 Minutes, one of the quickest ways to be unhappy is to have high expectations. In their minds, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Based on my experience of life, I find that much of this rings true. Sometimes I wish I could just relax more and not need to find meaning in everything. I need to find more contentment with what is and not always see what is missing.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Yesterday was Valentine's Day and I failed to even mention it in my thoughts. Judging from the flowers in my office, it was a great day for some. For others it may have been a reminder of what's missing in their lives. Later in the day someone requested a few thoughts on love. These thoughts won't make it on a Hallmark card but I believe they express how many people feel about love and many of the relationships in their lives.

Do any of us ever really feel loved the way we need to feel loved? I grew up in a family where I believe love existed but it was rarely spoken or expressed in any affectionate way. There have been times in my life where I have felt unloved and even a little lonely. Feelings, however, don't always reflect reality. I know there are people in this world that love me. My family loves me. I believe my friends care about me. Even a few strangers who receive my daily thoughts seem to love me. One friend once told me that if I died the funeral home would be packed with people whose lives I have touched. Sometimes when I feel unloved I wonder why. What need is not being met? What do I expect from other people? I think in my case it is probably a need for a little more attention or reassurance. I'm probably a little insecure about love. I don't want to constantly feel the need to convince myself that others care. I probably need others to occasionally reassure me that I am loved and that I am important to them and that I make a difference in their lives. Many of us feel the need to receive this kind of reassurance but we must also must realize the need others have for us to give this reassurance to them. Perhaps it really is true that you get what you give. Love and relationships are complicated. Many of us struggle to express our love for others. There are so many other feelings tied up with this thing called love. Sometimes, thankfully, love is simple and uncomplicated. I have learned much about such love from my granddaughter, Chloe. My relationship with her has given me a whole new understanding of what love can be. Her love is simple and non judgmental. She doesn't care if I am imperfect. Love is sometimes difficult, complicated, and misunderstood. Of course, if you've ever experienced real love, you know it worth the effort.

The men's retreat that I was going to be on, and for which I prepared a talk, has been cancelled. Only four men signed up to attend the retreat. Why? Most said they didn't have the time. It made me think of something that I learned a long time ago. We all have busy lives with the demands of family and work. One thing I have learned about myself and others is that in spite of unavoidable busyness, we manage to find time for the things we consider important whether it be a weekend retreat or a rock and roll road trip. You can only squeeze in so much activity into a day or a week so after the mandatory demands are met, it is a matter of prioritizing what other things you want to do. Like most people I sometimes feel like too many demands are made on me. I try my best to meet all of the legitimate demands placed upon me. Occasionally, however, I quietly....and sometimes not so quietly...rebel. Sometimes I am my number one priority and I choose to spend my time doing something for myself. Sometimes it is a weekend or a day at the monastery. Other times I spend all my money to attend a musical event. Occasionally I simply take a day and spend it home alone doing whatever I want to do. Each of us needs to find our own balance between our responsibilities to others and our personal needs. I don't judge the men who don't have the time for a parish retreat. I am not walking in their shoes. I was willing to give up a weekend to help lead this retreat but I am not unhappy that my time was given back to me. In our culture time is very valuable and it's worth cannot be measured. Perhaps for some men one less commitment will have greater value than a weekend retreat. God works in many ways.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Zen And Work

It is a very cold morning. Most of the landscape is covered with ice and frozen snow. In fact, I almost went sailing off my front porch this morning when I inadvertently placed my foot on a very slippery section of ice. In spite of this I heard birdsong today. It was full of hope and faith that spring is not too far away.

I may rethink the daydream of having a cabin in a remote area. Several people emailed me and asked, "Michael, have you seen the Kathy Bates movie based on Stephen King's book entitled "Misery"? Yes, I have seen the movie and I still have a phobia about women with sledgehammers and blocks of wood.

My wife and I are in our mid fifties. It is a time of life where we are not on the same page about the actual room temperature in our home. I am always cold and she is always hot. 70 degrees for me is 90 degrees for her. In her world it is always summer. Sleeping in our bedroom is like camping out. The window is open and the ceiling fan is about to shoot off into space because it is twirling so fast. She is covered with a sheet and I have my electric blanket on high. I jokingly tell friends and family that I wear a hat and gloves to bed. I am actually thinking about going to sporting goods store and buying one of those bright orange pup tents that mountain climbers use when they camp out on the side of a mountain during raging snow storms. I think they make them small enough to fit on my side of the bed. One of my irrational fears is that a military jet will fly over my home in the middle of the night and accidentally release a heat seeking missile that will come in my window and blow up my bedroom. It will be my wife's fault.

Yesterday was a hectic and busy day. Much of the day I was in Human Resources interviewing perspective employees. Such days challenge my Zen approach to life. It was a day that pulled me out of my comfort zone in the sense that I was not always able to work as I prefer or to keep the balance that I strive to have. I admit that I am a creature of habit and I prefer some routine in my day. I do not like to work in a manner that makes me feel like my hair is on fire. The daily routines I have for myself provide a framework on which I hang all the other activities of my day. As much as I tried to be faithful to this framework yesterday, I kept getting pulled away. Such is life some days. I accept it when it happens and I can deal with it. In the work environment I do prefer days where I am busy but not overwhelmed. Routines are not a bad thing but we can be too attached to them. If everyday went like I would prefer, I would soon feel like Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day". On such days you feel like you are living the same day over and over again. Like the Bill Murray character, however, we can eventually realize that by changing our behavior we can wake up each new day and correct the mistakes from the previous day. Routine helps me to stay focused but I must also have an openness to the surprises and other unexpected things that happen to me. This openness, coupled with a faithfulness to some routine that keeps you "centered" will do much to keep your hair from bursting into flames.

Zen at Work

One way in which you can integrate Zen practice into your job is to focus on a single task at a time. These days there is a lot of pressure on employees to multitask and many people get quite good at it. The problem is that when you multitask, you scatter your energies. Resolve to stop doing more than one thing at a time. We all know how hard it is to get something done properly when we are distracted. This does not mean that you have to finish one task completely before beginning another one; simply that when you are working on something, you should bring your undivided attention to it. If you are filing, file; if you are answering calls, then answer calls. If you are processing claims, process claims. Be where you are and do what you are doing.

Be like water.
Flow around obstacles.
Control your emotions or they will control you.
Recognize the inherent harmony of everyday life.
Seek balance in your life between work and home, work and family, work and yourself.
Recognize the priceless irreplaceability of the present moment.
Empty your cup and fill it with today's lessons.
You are getting feedback every moment of everyday...use it.
Focus on process, not product. If you attend to your present work properly, you will meet your goals.
Train yourself to respond unconsciously, not intellectually. Simple things, including most "people skills", are most effective when they spring, unforced, from your true nature.
Most of our fears are about the future, which hasn't happened yet and isn't real. Fear drains energy from the present moment.
Allow yourself pauses. It is the rest that refreshes. Without the pause, all you have is noise. Make time to clear your mind, because only a clear mind can act, and react, effectively.
Remove distractions and free your mind. The aim is to make your work environment reflect a calm and still state of mind, uncluttered by distractions. The undistracted mind is more efficient and free to react quickly to all circumstances.
Zen encourages graceful flow and movement.

These thoughts are from the book entitled "Zen in 10 Simple Lessons" by Anthony Man-Tu-Lee and David Wei

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Day Home Alone

When I left work on Monday, it was beginning to snow. Because of the cold temperature it began to stick immediately. I thought I would get home before it caused any real problem but I was wrong. The drive home was bumper to bumper and traffic moved at a snail's pace. The snow was mixed with sleet and I had a difficult time keeping my windshield clear. Eventually I made it home and I was happy to be there. I was ready to settle in and enjoy the wintry night. It's always a very pleasant experience to be in the warmth and solitude of your home on such a night. It continued to snow for few more hours and then, sometime in the night, the snow turned into freezing rain. When I woke up on Tuesday morning there were approximately 4-5 inches of snow with about an inch of ice on top. Although I had the day scheduled off in advance, I still had to face the morning commute. Why? Well, I am not a perfect husband but I am a good one. I took the Queen to work. Of course, before I could do that I had to go outside in the cold rain and clean off the car. Thankfully, the ice was on top of the snow and it was a relatively easy job to scrape it off. The morning commute was slower than usual but I had no problems. Soon enough I was back home with the whole day ahead of me. I drank some more coffee and did some meditation. I wanted to be in the right frame of mind when I started writing the talk I needed to prepare. That process went well and I completed a pretty good first draft within a couple of hours. It was pleasant for me to sit at my computer, see my ideas come together on paper, while looking out my window at the winter wonderland in my neighborhood. In quiet moments as the temperature rose I could hear the drip of melting snow and ice. It reminded me to enjoy the day and the moment because the snow and ice would likely be gone in a day or two. As the Buddha says, "All things are impermanent".

It was wonderful to have a day of solitude at home during the work week. Weekdays have a completely different feel than weekends. My wife was laughing at me because "every time you have some personal task to complete you have to take a whole day off"! She speaks the truth. I am something of a romantic. Yesterday was a day to write. I wanted and needed to do it within a certain context. I wanted to be awake and refreshed when I sat down to put my thoughts to paper. I wanted to drink some good coffee. I wanted to be alone and undisturbed. I wanted to be in a somewhat meditative state. It was more than I wanted but a happy surprise to be home on a snowy day. The snowfall outside my window was beautiful and it inspired me. I have sometimes daydreamed of being a writer who lives in a beautiful place. Perhaps it would be a log cabin on the side of a hill with a view of forests and mountains. In the distance there might be a lake with a placid surface that occasionally is moved by the wind on the water. I would be inspired by all the beauty and I would write my thoughts, send them off to some publisher, and then wait for a check to arrive in the mail. Hey, even dreamers like me need to pay the bills!

Monday, February 11, 2008

My Busy Weekend

The good news is that the sun was shining all day Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was like a beautiful early spring day. Sunday, however, the temperature dropped 30 degrees and it very much felt like winter. My weekend began with a very pleasant lunch on Friday with a gentleman I had been corresponding with but never met. I always enjoy meeting new people and we had an enjoyable conversation and lunch. Saturday I was able to get some much needed extra sleep. I no longer have young sons jumping in my bed at the crack of dawn saying, "Get up, Dad"! My wife left the house for a couple of hours to meet with our tax lady so I quickly snatched the remote controls from her side of the room and enjoyed a Rolling Stones concert on DVD while I drank my morning coffee. I knew it would be the only down time I would have all weekend. As soon as she returned home it was off to the grocery store. It's always nice to have a full pantry and refrigerator but going to the grocery store is one of my least favorite chores. When the groceries were bought and put away, there was a one hour break before we had to go get Chloe at her parent's house. My son's home was no where to be this weekend. He is in the process of remodeling his basement and there was a guy there with a jackhammer to prepare for the installation of a hot tub. The whole house was vibrating and you could barely hear yourself think. We couldn't get out of there fast enough. Chloe was very good all weekend. She had this new toy which is a dog whose ears go up and down while he pants and says "Give me a hug! Give me a hug"! When we went to bed I laid the dog on the floor next to my bed. About 5:00 AM on Sunday morning I got up to go to the bathroom. I accidentally kicked the dog and he immediately started saying "Give me a hug! Give me a hug"! It freaked me out and I found myself beating on my alarm clock trying to shut it up. The dog kept yelling and the radio turned on. Finally the dog shut up and I was able to turn off the radio without throwing it across the room. Miraculously, Chloe slept through the whole event. After our usual morning routine, my wife, Chloe, and I went to pick up my mother in law at the retirement home where she lives. I then took them to the place where they get their nails done. Trying to be as productive as possible, Chloe and I went to visit my parents. When I got there lots of activity was going on. My father was doing well and a couple of my siblings were there with bags of groceries for my parents. I couldn't stay too long because I had to go back and pick up the young Grandma and the old Grandma. Then we had to meet Chloe's parents, my sister in law, Judy, and her husband, Andy. We were all meeting to celebrate my mother in law's 85th birthday. It was a very enjoyable meal but by the end I think everyone was ready to go back to their own individual homes. Even Chloe said, "I'm ready to go home". It was a weekend with lots of family interaction and that was good but I was happy to get back to my solitude and my chair.

Remember that talk I am scheduled to give at a men's retreat? Well, I still haven't put words to paper although I have many ideas floating in my head. I'm taking tomorrow off to commit pen to paper...or fingers to I can give a preview to the retreat team on Wednesday night. Most work nights I have been too tired and my weekends are too busy. I need a day home alone when I am feeling rested and fresh.

Friday, February 08, 2008

My Rock And Roll Life

More thoughts from my continuing Rock and Roll adventures.....I'm sure some of you remember my recent daily thoughts about my lunch time adventure trying to secure tickets for a Robert Plant and Alison Krauss concert here in Louisville. A few days ago I received an email from the Alison Krauss website alerting fans that a second show was being added in Louisville and that tickets would go on sale yesterday to fans only before they went on sale to the general public. The only catch was that you had to know the secret password which, of course, I did. So, my partner in crime and I hopped on the ticketmaster website during our lunch break. Moments before the green light went on, and the tickets were on sale, we were poised, each on our own computer, with fingers ready to key or click as needed as fast as possible. We both made a direct hit immediately and we quickly compared who got the best and most affordable tickets. With split second timing and aggressive decision making, we made the choice and hit enter. Seconds seemed like hours but we got a confirmation. Now all of our friends are in! The whole time this is going on I have another friend in the Cincinnati area driving to the Riverbend Music Center to buy other tickets for us to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers along with Steve Winwood. This kind soul was doing this to hopefully save my friends and I approximately $75 in service charges from Ticketmaster. Alas, it was a failed attempt and we still had to pay service charges. Ticketmaster service charges are ridiculous but, as they say, they're the only game in town. My friend in Cincinnati still gets a gold star for having a big heart and a generous spirit and for offering to do this. Now. this friend has a sense of humor. She left me a voicemail that said, "Michael, there's a problem. I guess so many people saw Tom Petty during the Super Bowl that everyone wants to see him live so they sold out of tickets already". Just as my heart was sinking, her voice said "I'm just messing with you! I got you four tickets"! My rock and roll partner and I feel like Project Managers. All of this was almost out of control. We're standing in lines, we calling people on our cell phones, we logging on the Internet, we're sub-contracting to friends in other cities. Man! I need a rest. It's hard work being a rock and roll Pa Paw! Seizing the day is wearing me out!

I picked up Chloe at the day care yesterday. It was wonderful to see her. All went well until we got to McDonalds. It's challenging to be the Pa Paw of a little girl when the cashier tells you they are out of "girl toys" for the Happy Meals. "I don't want a boy toy"!!!!!!!!!!! said Chloe. I finally got her to calm down and we had a pleasant meal. Pa Paw will have to make it up to her when she spends the night this weekend.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Coffee And Responding To Daily Life

I got a new coffee maker this week. Those that know me well understand that I love coffee. I am still in mourning over the kidnapping of my personal coffee pot by Building Management last year. I did recover it but it now sits at home on a shelf in my laundry room. We were once so close. Every morning when I got to work and flipped the switch, it would brew me aromatic cups of caffeine delights. The new coffee maker was free with my subscription to Gevalia Coffee. This is a mail order coffee company that provides excellent coffees from around the world. I used to get it in the past until money got tight and I realized I was drinking away about half my paycheck. Good coffee is not cheap. Have you been in a Starbucks lately? Anyway, I am still not rich but I'm back on the Gevalia express. Drinking coffee is the only acceptable vice that I have left. Coffee, like music, makes just about anything better. I love to sip my coffee while drinking to the monastery early in the mornings. I love my coffee while sitting in my chair with the newspaper on a Saturday morning. I love my coffee in the evenings while listening to music and reading a good book. I love my coffee while the mug warms my hands as I stare into space. As the musician Robert Fripp once said, "Me and a book is a party. Me and a book and a cup of coffee is an orgy".

Back in the 70's I studied and practiced something called Transcendental Meditation. Although I did not learn it directly from the Maharishi, he was the one that made it popular worldwide. He was also famous in the 60's for teaching it to the Beatles. He died yesterday at age 91.

Life is full of ups and downs. Some days all is great and wonderful and beautiful. Other days are not so great, maybe the weather stinks, and you don't feel particularly good. How does one deal with it all? I suppose there's no one way to deal with it. Over the years my spirit has calmed down and mellowed to the point that my mood level doesn't vary much in either direction. On the surface I may seem to have little emotional reaction to anything. Yes, I have a rebellious nature and I sometimes struggle with suppressing my anger but 98% of the time I am able to simply respond to life as it comes to me. When everything is great, I enjoy it. When life is not so great, I deal with it and move on. I can't remember being depressed and I rarely worry. In his book entitled The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama says, "Why worry? Nothing was ever solved by worrying about it. Instead of worrying, use that energy to solve the problem". Most stress, for the average person, is not a direct result of what is happening. It is a result of our reaction to what is happening. I have been making a personal effort to not react or overreact to what happens to me or what goes on around me. These days I am trying to respond rather than react or overreact. A response is a less emotional and more thought out reply. Our human emotions can be wonderful feelings but they can also get the best of us and occasionally cause us trouble. I don't know if this is a dysfunctional coping strategy or not but sometimes when things aren't going my way, I just wait it out. In my life I have out waited many unpleasant experiences. I call it patience but some just think I am stubborn.

Writing And Speaking

I am moving a little slow this morning. Tornado warning sirens went off and on until about 12:30 AM in my neighborhood. I don't have a basement so at one point my wife and I were downstairs in the center part of the house hoping the house didn't blow away. Everything turned out fine for us. The power even stayed on. I knew that would happen after we replaced every dead battery in every flashlight in the house. I hope that all of you who experienced last nights storms were as fortunate as me. Since early last Fall I have been quietly meeting with a small group of men at my church. It's been an enjoyable experience. Part of the reason for our meeting is that we form a team that will be leading a retreat for other men. What once seemed so far away is now a little over two weeks away. I am feeling a small amount of panic but I am not stressed out over it. My role is this weekend is to be a kind of master of ceremonies. I also will be doing a presentation that as of this moment I have not written. I have one week to get it done. In my wife's mind I am going down my normal path of procrastination. This is not totally true. I have been thinking about it for a while. This talk will end up being similar to a spoken version of my daily thoughts. I know that once I sit down at my computer ideas will flow and I simply need to organize them into a talk or, at the very least, an outline. I recognize at this point in my life that writing and speaking come easily to me. There is not much else in my life where my confidence is so high. The hardest part for me is having too many thoughts and ideas. The challenge is to create sections or themes that somehow flow in a logical manner. Assuming one has basic grammatical and presentation skills, the most necessary ingredient in writing or speaking is honesty. In my daily thoughts and in any talks I have given I speak from my heart and not my head. I am not a great intellectual. I don't know everything and I do not speak with any authority. I'm not trying to sell anything. Basically, I share my experience of life and my understanding of things as honestly and sincerely as possible. Honesty and sincerity are at least as important as being correct and logical. If I follow my heart, the talk will be fine.

I doubt there is any person whose mother has not said to them at one time or another, "You are what you hang with". There's a lot of truth in that statement. I am not as smart or well educated as some people imagine that I am. However, most of my life I have hung out with people who are smarter and more educated than me. Don't get me wrong. I am no idiot and one can be very educated without necessarily having a degree. In addition, I have known many well schooled people who are not educated at all. My point is that I have been very lucky to have crossed paths with people who were able to mentor me and teach me about life. I have had good teachers and other friends who have influenced me greatly and who have helped shape me into the person I am today. At the same time, I have not just sat around while others poured knowledge into my head. Most of my life I have been a voracious reader. Sadly, these days I am often too tired or busy to read like I used to do. In addition to what I have learned in school or from mentors and friends, I am a student of life. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I am observing everything around me and taking it all it. Sometimes I just sit and daydream. I try to learn from the "hard knocks" that life has sometimes given me. Although I am not necessarily the smartest person in the room, I guess I am intellectual in the sense that I am always thinking and pondering. This is part of my introspective nature. I think all the reading, observations, conversations, retreats, mistakes, and intellectual pursuits have made me educated. All of this, whether I realized it or not, has been part of my awakening process. There must be a sense of wakefulness in order to have any awareness and awareness is a big part of education.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Faith And Doubt

While I was at the monastery on Sunday I was involved in a spirited conversation about faith and doubt and good and evil and why bad things happen to good people. Can you be a person of faith and also be full of doubt? Why is there evil in the world? What does God do all day? I know I sometimes think we let God off the hook too easily and too often. Everytime something good happens, we thank God. When something bad happens, however, we usually say "It was God's will" or "It's part of a bigger plan". When I was a boy and you asked the priest or nun something they couldn't answer, they always replied, "It's a mystery". This may come as a shock to some of you but there are times I have wondered if there is a God. If there is a God why is he so often hidden from our lives? Once, in a moment of anger with God, I said, "If you're God, be God! Quit playing hid and seek all the time! Show yourself"! I am familiar with the theological arguments for why there is evil in the world, at least in the Christian tradition. I also have some understanding of what is believed to cause suffering as believed in the Buddhist tradition. It's a little easier for me to understand the potential for evil in the world when I face the potential for evil within myself. In general, I think human beings are wonderful creatures but I also believe that all of us are capable of anything at anytime, be it good or evil. I choose to do good and I believe in the power of love. Human beings, however, have free will and some choose evil and hatred. Of course, on the drive home Sunday when I thought about the question of why there is evil in the world, I also wondered why no one seems to ask the opposite question. Why is there good in the world? What is it that motivates most people to choose good and to live good and loving lives? If we want to question God for his seeming indifference to all the evil in the world, who gets credit for all the good things? All the bad stuff fills the newspapers and cable news networks. The reality is that most of the good in the world goes unreported. Maybe God feels like we sometimes feel at work or school or at home when it seems that none of the good things we do gets noticed and every mistake or oversight is immediately brought to our attention. It the world nothing more than a ant farm sitting on the window sill of God's kitchen? I think not. Just because I don't understand God's ways and what does and what he allows doesn't mean there is no meaning or logic behind the good and bad in the world. I choose to believe there's a purpose to it all. Faith gives me hope and I need hope in a world I do not always understand.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Spring Day In The Middle Of Winter

It's a wonderful thing to start your work week by driving to work in the pouring rain. Well, at least it's washing the salt and brine residue off my car.

What a great weekend! We had sunny and warm spring like weather. It was a pleasant change from the cold and dreary weather we've had lately. I went to bed on Friday night happy that the work week was over. It had seemed unusually long. I love going to bed on Friday nights because I rarely have a reason that forces me to get up early on Saturday morning. I let my body decide when it was rested. This week my body decided that 10:00 AM was a good time to get up. When I did rise from bed I immediately sprang into action. I pulled together all the ingredients for some homemade chicken and rice soup. I prepared everything, put it all in the crock pot, and let it simmer for the rest of the day. The aroma wafted through the house as I did my other chores. I then prepared another dish for a pot luck at the monastery on Sunday. I like to cook. It is another one of life's simple pleasures. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and you have a meal! The rest of the day I helped my wife and we finally got all the Christmas stuff packed away for another year.

I got up early on Sunday morning and drove to the monastery. I have done this so many times in my life I could probably do it in my sleep. I made my first trip to the monastery when I was still a teenager so I've been going there about 38 years. There have been changes to the landscape and the scenery over the years. Louisville has grown over the years and expanded further and further into the countryside. I usually only go to the monastery once a month. Over the course of a year I experience all four seasons. On a month to month basis I also experience more subtle differences as I drive along the winding roads. Depending on the month there's a difference in the light and the way the sun rises behind the hills and above the trees. Yesterday's morning sun was a bright and fiery orange ball as it slowly came over the horizon and it's light shone through the bare trees lining the hills. Whenever I arrive at the monastery I always feel a sense of having arrived home. There is no doubt in my mind that this monastery is my spiritual home. It is no longer where I live most of my life but the life that goes on there day after day and year after year is mysteriously linked to the life I live in the world day after day and year after year. After I arrived there I saw familiar faces and a few new ones. We had a lively discussion about work and identity. We are not what we do. If we are not what we do, who are we apart from all our doing? What is our identity as individuals? Who will we be...and remain....when the work is done?

Friday, February 01, 2008

What Is A Spiritual Life?

What does it mean to live a spiritual life? Let me start by saying what I believe it does not mean. You are not living a spiritual life if you are self righteous and judgmental. You are not living a spiritual life if you are simply going through the motions and displaying some version of a false piety. You are not living a spiritual life if everything you do is external and for show and there is no internal conversion of your heart. You are not living a spiritual life if your heart is not getting larger. I think you are living a spiritual life if you have a sincere attitude of thankfulness and gratitude. I think you are living a spiritual life if you seek a calm mind free of anxiety, trusting in the benevolence of a loving God. I think you are living a spiritual life if you are seeking to have a pure heart full of compassion for all people. I think you are living a spiritual life if you treat everyone with kindness. I think you are living a spiritual life is you acknowledge your own failures and brokenness and can both forgive and allow yourself to be forgiven. It is not enough to simply go to church even if you do it everyday.

I read once that in every human encounter is an exchange of energy. I believe this is true. In my experience I usually feel good or bad after an exchange with another person. Some people are full of life and positive energy. When I walk away from them I feel better. Other people are draining and full of negative energy. When I walk away from them I feel like I lost a pint of blood. These experiences make me wonder how I affect others. Do people find me life giving or life draining? Do I attract people or do people avoid me? Am I someone that others want to be with or do I take the sunshine right out of their day? In the work environment we sometimes joke about "heavy maintenance" people. These are the people that always have a problem or issue. My peers and I sometimes joke that we spend 80% of our time dealing with 20% of our people. The question is this. What kind of person are you? Do you brighten other's days? Do you lift their spirits? Do you ease their pain? Are you life giving and life affirming? Do you lighten someone's load or add to it? When people see you, do they smile? Life is hard and often a struggle. Wouldn't it be so much easier and enjoyable if we competed with one another to see who could be most kind and thoughtful? Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty. Give more and take less. Be a ray of sunshine and not a thunderstorm full of dark clouds. Smile more and frown less. Don't make others get their exercise by running away whenever they see you coming. Make others laugh and smile.