Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Tomorrow is Halloween. Here is a picture of my granddaughter in her skeleton custom. She used to be afraid of skeletons until I told her we all had one inside our skin. Today in my office we had a pumpkin decorating contest. My co-workers created the pumpkin seen above. Guess who inspired it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Mother

Today was a pretty good day although I was in a fog most of the time. I was sleeping very well early this morning when the alarm clock went off. It was dark outside and one of the coldest mornings we've had since last winter. All I wanted to do was stay in my warm bed. As I was preparing for work, my mother was in the hospital being prepared for surgery. My mother, who will be 79 years old in December, is generally in good health, lives alone since my father was moved into the nursing home, and for the most part is very independent. She recently went to the doctor after experiencing symptoms of unusual fatigue. After an examination her doctor deemed it necessary to have some minor surgery to relieve some blockage in an artery. She got through the surgery very well and tonight is resting in the ICU of a local hospital. I expect her home in a day or two. The picture here is the most recent photo I have of my father and mother together. It was taken in September after the Alzheimer's walk I did with other members of my family.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back To Reality

I was missing my granddaughter this afternoon so I decided to pick her up at the daycare center. After a night of rock and roll, nothing brings me back to reality like my granddaughter. After parking my car I was walking to the entrance of the daycare when I saw a familiar silhouette out on the playground. It was Chloe. Before she saw me a chorus of little voices shouted, "Chloe, your Pa Paw is here"! Chloe stood up from the dirt pile she was playing in and looked around. As soon as she spotted me she bolted for the fence like an Olympic sprinter. When she got to where I was standing she lifted up her arms. I grabbed her hands and then she proceeded to scale the fence. Soon she was in my arms giving me a big hug. After I strapped her in her car seat we headed downtown to pick up Grandma. Along the way we talked about all kinds of things. She pointed to the sky and told me the clouds looked like fish. We then agreed that the sky was blue like the ocean and the clouds were all fish swimming around. Quite an imagination! After we picked Grandma up, we inched our way through the evening rush hour stopping for some dinner before coming to my house. Once there we had a very enjoyable time until Dad arrived from work to take her home. It was the perfect ending to a very pleasant day.

Chloe Carves A Pumpkin!

Some Music Loving Friends

Experience Hendrix

I am once again at home. It is the day after the night before. Last night was another great musical experience. A tribute concert called "Experience Hendrix" played at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Some of today's finest guitar players, along with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell, played a wide selection of Jimi Hendrix's musical legacy. Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell played bass and drums with Jimi Hendrix at such famous events as the original Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival. After the show I met Billy Cox and told him that I had seen him play with Jimi Hendrix in 1970 at the Atlanta Pop Festival. I also remembered last night that my friend Tom and I saw the original Jimi Hendrix Experience almost 40 years ago on November 15th, 1968 at the Cincinnati Gardens. We were 17 years old at the time. I still have the ticket stub showing the $5.00 price tag. The ticket for last night's "experience" cost $65.00! Still, it was worth every penny! I got to see Eric Gales, Eric Johnson, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Sheperd, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, Chris Layton, who played drums for Stevie Ray Vaughn, Cesar Rojas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Hubert Sumlin, who played lead guitar for Howlin Wolf, and the always incredible Buddy Guy. Let me tell you, folks, there was some incredible guitar playing going on last night. The combination of musical virtuosity and all the memories generated by the great songs that have been part of my life made for a most enjoyable evening. The picture of the musician's tour bus was taken by my friend Bridget.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Finally....A Truly Restful Weekend!

This weekend, and especially today, have been truly restful. There were no little people in my house this weekend. Other than visiting my Dad yesterday, I had nothing that I needed to do. I slept in both days. I had nowhere to go and all day to get there. This morning I got out of bed at a decent hour, came downstairs, and brewed some Seattle's Best coffee. While it was brewing I walked outside for my Sunday newspaper. It was a cool morning and I knew there was promise of a beautiful day. At some point I put yesterday's chili back in the crock pot because chili is always better the second time around. I also did a few loads of laundry. Some people hate doing laundry. I actually enjoy it. While the chili simmered and the washing machine hummed, I read a few chapters from "Surprised by Joy" by C.S. Lewis. It was a very old edition, published in 1955 and had a price on the cover of $2.95. Where can you find books that cheap anymore? The early part of the book deals with Lewis's childhood and the forces and events that formed him. I found all this very interesting as I have an acute curiosity bordering on obsession with the circumstances of my own childhood and formative years. I've had a lifelong interest in unraveling the mystery of who I am and why I act and think the way I do. As the day got long, and the shadows lengthened outside my window, I decided on a rest from the rock and roll I was listening to and I simply sat in my chair, staring out the window, while Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" lifted my soul with its odes to Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. My son, Nick, also called this afternoon. He arrived safely in Washington D.C. He's there to visit some graduate level colleges in the Washington and Baltimore areas. Next year he will likely continue his seminary training at either Catholic University in Washington or St Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thomas Merton And The Dalai Lama

Anyone who has read my thoughts for any length of time knows what an influence Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama have been on my life and thinking. In Louisville there is a famous intersection where Merton had an epiphany and spiritual awakening that changed his whole way of looking at the world. There is an historical marker near the intersection commemorating the event. Less than a block away, near the Cathedral of the Assumption, a banner has been permanently displayed to commemorate another significant event in Merton's life. Shortly before his death in 1968, Merton met a then young Dalai Lama. There is a famous photo of this meeting that has been circulating for years. The banner that has been displayed is an enlargement of this photo. Earlier this week was a small dedication ceremony for this new memorial. I checked it out on Friday and it was great to see two of my spiritual mentors starring down at me.

Saturday With My Father

I have just returned home from visiting my father in his nursing home. Even though much of my life I have not had an especially close relationship with my father, I want to honor him in his old age and visit him on a regular basis, along with my siblings, so he does not feel forgotten. Regular visits from the family also keeps the nursing home on its toes. They never know when we will be there. I must admit, however, that whenever I am there the staff is very nice and seem to be attentive to the needs of the patients. As I walk around, I observe everything. In my opinion, the majority of people who work as caregivers for the elderly are saints. The elderly can be very trying at times. Today my father was in a fairly good mood but there was also a fair amount of complaining, i.e., he had been in bed too long, the nurses were too slow, dinner wasn't very good, he was "cramped", he had some diaper rash or other irritation, and his fingers on one hand were drawing up on him. Some of these were legitimate complaints and others were merely perceptions of time exasperated by some impatience. I did my best to comfort his mind and reassure him everything would be fine. I made sure the nursing staff attended to his physical concerns. While waiting for the nurses to check him out and get him back in bed, I walked in the hallway and prayed for Dad and all the other patients in the home. Theirs is not a happy existence and the thought of having the experience myself fills me with dread.

Although I will visit my father in the nursing home as long as he lives, I must admit that I hate going there. It is a sad and exhausting experience. Whenever I do it I am wiped out by the time I leave. On the way home today I stopped for a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke. I simply sat in my car with the windows down, letting the cool autumn air revive me. The drive home was beautiful. The leaves are changing colors and the trees are still full. The air is cool and the sun is bright. Sitting here in my room at my tiny desk, the house smells of the chili that is simmering in the crock pot. It is a beautiful day.

Pictures From The David Byrne Concert

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Total Strangers

My day today did not turn out exactly like I planned. Do they ever? Originally I was expecting my son to pick up my car and have it serviced. He works at the dealership where I purchased the car. Well, he got busy and pressed for time, so he asked if I could drive to the dealership and simply wait while it was serviced. I really didn't mind but it was unplanned. One of the things I had planned to do while he had the car was make some homemade chicken soup. As a result of having to take the car myself, my plans were accelerated. I quickly cooked the chicken and got the stock and noodles ready so I could throw it all in the crock pot before I left home. When I arrived at the car dealer I realized that much of it was being renovated. The customer waiting room was actually a trailer in the parking lot. In a short period of time I found myself with a very friendly and diverse group of fellow customers, most of whom were very talkative. There was an elderly white man who was the same age as my father, an African American attorney about my age, an openly gay man who proclaimed that he had been in a committed relationship for the last 29 years, a young man of Philippine descent who was a doctor, a quiet, elderly African American woman who never spoke but sometimes smiled at the conversation, an older African American man who could have been Morgan Freeman's twin brother, and me, the middle aged white man who had rock and rolled the night before. I spent most of two hours with these total strangers. We had wonderful conversation and the time went quickly. Even with all our obvious differences, we all seemed very much alike with many of the same concerns about life. I don't think I ever enjoyed waiting for an oil change so much.

David Byrne...Once In A Lifetime

My eyes opened today about two minutes before my alarm clock went off. I couldn't believe it was already morning. As a sense of dread was coming on, I had the wonderful realization that I didn't have to go to work. Joy welled up inside of me. I must admit that I am feeling sore and I'm moving a little slow this morning. Why? Last night my friend Tom and I went to a concert by David Byrne of theTalking Heads. It was a fantastic show! In the last 40 years or so I have seen just about every major rock and roll band from the Allman Brothers Band to Frank Zappa. However, David Byrne and the Talking Heads have eluded me. David is a solo artist now but in addition to some of his solo work, he also played a generous helping of classic Talking Heads music. When he played the fast tempo stuff, even an old, dance impaired white boy like me had to get up and dance. Some psychologists talk of "flow". I was definitely in the moment and in the flow. I highly recommend the DVD and CD entitled "Stop Making Sense". My son will be here any moment to pick up my car and take it for an oil change and a few other things. When that happens I will be happily stranded at home in my quiet neighborhood. That makes me happy beyond words. I look forward to my day of solitude.

Monday, October 20, 2008

All Things Are Impermanent

Today was a beautiful day. It started out cold and dark but turned into a sunny, but cool, day. Several times throughout my workday, I ventured outside for quiet intervals, walking and sitting in the small park outside my office. I was busy all day but the day seemed long.

Tonight my wife and I were sitting in a Dairy Queen restaurant having a fast food dinner before going to the grocery store. The pantry was bare, we were both tired, and neither of us wanted to go. Going to the grocery isn't really that difficult but it can seem daunting on a work night after a long day. We both talked about how tired we are that there always seems to be something to do. Both of us agreed that at this time in our lives we are over just about everything. We've had many years of marriage, family life, and work, with all the demands that accompany them. We're tired of working and tired of many of our obligations. Life is so busy and non stop that we never feel truly rested. Besides my stumbling along the spiritual path, the two of us go through much of life in a haze of fatigue. I am taking a vacation day on Wednesday. Can I simply have a day with nothing to do and no obligations? Of course not! My car needs an oil change and my Dad needs a visit.

Today was my first work day in approximately five years where I did not send out my daily thoughts to hundreds of people via email. I felt a sense of sadness and relief. Although I enjoy writing, there have been times where people's expectations that I provide them with inspiration and occasional humor stressed me out. It just seemed to be the right time to stop it. As one of my friend's said in a email to me today, "It's Buddhism 101: All Things are Impermanent". I agree. It was time for a change. Now I can focus on this blog and hopefully the people who really want to read my writings will find the time and the energy to read them here. It will be a change for many people as well as me. I know some are disappointed that I stopped the old format. Many liked the convenience and timing of finding my daily thoughts waiting for them each morning in their email inbox. It was an effort I could no longer sustain.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two Children Lost In Wonder

Although Chloe sometimes wears me out and occasionally tries my patience, she is one of the greatest joys of my life. Here we are on a beautiful Sunday morning feeding the ducks and walking in the park. These pictures represent some of life's finest moments.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Feeding The Ducks With Chloe

Last week when my family went to Huber's Farm to find a pumpkin for Halloween, we also visited one of their lakes so my granddaughter, Chloe, could feed the ducks. Later today, when Chloe comes over for a weekend visit, we plan to visit a nearby park to feed more ducks. Afterwards, we'll pick up my mother in law and take her out to dinner. Today is a perfect autumn day. The sky is blue, the leaves are changing color and it a cool 61 degrees. Life is good!

Friday, October 17, 2008

For Those Who Have Been On My Email Distribution List

It is with much regret that I have come to the decision to discontinue my daily thoughts via the email format that I have been using for a number of years. My daily thoughts are a victim of their own success. There are hundreds of people in my company and outside of it who have been receiving my daily emails. There is not a week that goes by where I do not receive several requests for names to be added to my list. Considering the fact that I send out daily thoughts five days a week, the number of emails I shoot into cyber space is staggering. Although I generally write my daily thoughts at home, I am using my employers email system for distribution. I am at a point where I am no longer comfortable sending out so many emails. My daily thoughts started out very small. Originally I sent a few quotes to a small group of co-workers. At some point I started writing my personal thoughts and reflections and they became very popular. My daily thoughts took on a life of their own. Eventually I started posting them on this blog. Now I don't even know many of the people who receive them. I very much enjoy writing them and I will continue doing so. However, if you wish to continue reading them, I must ask that you visit my blog. I believe the blog is set up so you can subscribe to it and you will receive an email whenever I post something. The other option is simply going to the blog and reading it online. I have enjoyed sharing my life and thoughts with you. I believe I have done some good things and I know I have touched many people's lives in a positive way. I appreciate all the kind, affirming, and complimentary emails you have sent me. I am humbled that so many like what I write and that some of you have shared your own struggles and dreams with me. If I have learned nothing else from writing the daily thoughts, I know now how many people there are besides me who hunger for a meaningful and authentic life. I have also learned how much alike all of us are regardless of our gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, lifestyles, or age.

Thank you very much for letting me share my life with you. I'm not really going away....stay tuned!

Getting Older

The weather is finally cool again and one more time I have turned off the air conditioning and opened all the windows of my house. I love it when the weather conditions are moderate enough to have fresh air circulating in the house. It has been a good week but I am glad it's Friday. I look forward to a relaxing weekend. I'm sure most of you do as well.

Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend who will soon turn 40 years old. When you start a new decade in your life it can be traumatic for some people. My oldest son turned 30 this year and he thinks that is old. My next decade begins with age 60. When I told my friend I will be 58 on my next birthday she said, "Boy, you are OLD"! She followed that remark with "But you act 25"! I'm pretty sure she was complimenting me. Age really is a state of mind. Certainly, all of our bodies age. I have the aches and pains appropriate for a man my age. However, on the inside we are as old as we want to be. I have known much younger people who are much older than me in their minds. Many of you have heard the joke that inside every old person is a young person wondering what the heck happened. I think I am a mature man, and when the occasion calls for it, I can "act my age". Of course, I think that having a granddaughter, my own children, and friends and co-workers who are younger than me, keeps me young. I think the desire to be young, at least in our mind, is a big part of why my generation still loves rock and roll even as we approach, and, in some cases, reach Medicare and Social Security age. The Rolling Stones, and many other musicians of my generation, are in their mid to upper 60's! The biggest challenge for me these days is to stay awake long enough to act young.

We are all born to do something and it doesn't always make sense. For some, the call is mysterious and can't always be understood with a worldly mind. My own life path has not always made sense to me. It still doesn't sometimes. It is only in retrospect that I can understand the significance of some choices and other "accidents" of my life. Somehow I think we all end up being where we are supposed to be and doing what we are supposed to be doing. Life is like a river and it is always moving along. Although it might feel like it, we are really never in the same place for long. The scenery of your life is changing even when you don't realize it. You are always moving forward even when you seem to be standing still. When you least expect it, you suddenly realize you are in a different space. Most of my life I never saw coming. As ordinary as it sometimes seems, I could never have predicted some of the experiences along the way. All of our lives are a mystery that only we can unravel. Enjoy the mystery and flow of your life. Before it's over, you will hopefully enjoy where it has taken you.

Ordinary Days

Lately my days have felt very ordinary. They have not been without activity but in a way I can't totally explain or understand, life seems slower. In our lives there are special days like holidays, holy days, birthdays, and anniversaries. These kinds of days bring attention to special remembrances or celebrations. Most of our lives, however, are made up of ordinary days. Depending on where we are in life and what we are doing, ordinary will mean different things to different people. For me ordinary means days that are basically simple and uncomplicated. They are days where the routines and rituals of my life keep me going when nothing else is pushing or pulling me along. I am generally a happy guy. My life is not perfect and everything doesn't go my way but I am happy more than I am sad. In fact, I don't think I am ever sad. A bad day for me is when I feel bored. My happiness doesn't come from having low expectations about life. My expectations are actually quite high. It may not be apparent to everyone, even those close to me, but I am a dreamer and a romantic. I am usually imaging life as it can be rather than as it usually is most days. I am an optimist and I always believe life will be better even when it isn't. The most dependable source of happiness for me is appreciation and gratitude for the simple and joyful things in life. I like a cool breeze coming in my bedroom window while I sleep. I like early morning when stars fill the sky and there's a full moon while I walk down my driveway for the morning paper. I like sitting in silence and sipping my first cup of coffee. I like the multi colored sky as a new day is beginning and I am walking through the park to my office. I like the laughter of co-workers and lunch with friends. I like the end of my workday when I get in my car, breath a sigh of relief, and turn the ignition key. I like crossing the threshold of my home at the end of a work day. After a shower or a bath, and a change of clothes, I enjoy the solitude of my music room when sounds fill the air and I read my morning paper. I like to make my granddaughter, Chloe, laugh. All these things and more make me happy. They are simple things, ordinary things, and mostly free. Of course, I realize that some of my happiness comes from being older and not having to deal with a lot of things that once filled my life. When I appreciate these simple things and I am grateful for all the good things in my life, I am living well and in the moment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What Is Contemplation?

In my part of the world it is finally starting to look like autumn. This past weekend was very hot but this coming weekend promises to feel like 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 months, when the winter arrives, the seeds of next spring will be germinating within nature and within ourselves.

What is contemplation? There is mystical theology that speaks of "infused" contemplation. This refers to a direct experience of God that can best be compared to looking into the sun. It's a bright flash that can burn you. It's an experience that can be sweet and painful at the same time. As scripture says, "No man can look at God and live". This type of experience is very rare and I do not think it has ever happened to me. I am certainly not conscious of any such experience. I am a simple person and my understanding of contemplation is a little less mystical. Contemplative moments for me are experiences of gratitude, appreciation, and wonder. I have had many of these experiences. They can happen anywhere and anytime. You don't have to be in a church or the monastery. They can be part of ordinary life. They have happened to me in all areas of my life, i.e. being at the monastery, playing with Chloe, listening to music, staring out the window while at work, doing the family laundry, or being with a friend. You don't have to be sitting in a cave on a mountain in Tibet although I would like to do that, too. Living with a grateful heart opens you to the possibility of such moments throughout your day. The potential for them is always just a breath or a heartbeat away. They come upon you unannounced and sometimes take your breath away as the joy of the moment wells up inside of you. These moments don't always feel spiritual and you may or may not associate them with God. However, any person of faith would most likely see God's hand in such moments. Perhaps I have been so lucky because I generally have an optimistic and positive attitude about life. I tend to always see the good in everything. I can be critical of things I think are stupid but I'm usually not negative. I think people with my attitude are more likely to be grateful than those who always see what's missing in life or who are continually pessimistic about life's potential.

Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen. To know that the mind is empty is to see the Buddha...Using the mind to look for reality is delusion. Not using the mind to look for reality is awareness. Freeing oneself from words is liberation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some Days Are Just Ordinary

By all accounts yesterday was a typical Monday. I quietly proceeded through my workday. Nothing went wrong. I wasn't thrilled it was Monday but I wasn't in a bad mood either. It was like a thousand Mondays I've had in my life. At the end of the day, however, I felt extremely weary and my mind seemed empty. Near the end of the workday when I had some quiet moments I wondered what kind of daily thoughts I could write. Absolutely no creative or imaginative ideas emerged from my darkened mind. I drove to my wife's office and sat in a daze in my car until she arrived. We then drove to a restaurant to meet my son for dinner. He heads back to the seminary in Indianapolis today. We won't see him again until Thanksgiving. In two week he is flying to Washington, D.C. to visit Catholic University and Baltimore, Maryland to visit St. Mary's Seminary. Next year he moves to the next level of seminary training. My wife will be very upset that he's so far away. When I finally got home last night I bathed, changed my clothes, read the morning paper, and then immediately fell into a deep sleep in my chair. When I woke up I felt better, if a little groggy. Some days are like this.

I read a short section in Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now entitled "Nothing Exists Outside of the Now". The author wonders why so many of us have a difficult time grasping this idea. He asks, "Have you ever experienced, done, thought, or felt anything outside the Now"? It is possible for anything to happen or be outside the Now? Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now. When you think of the past, you are thinking of a former Now. When you think of the future, you are thinking of an imagined Now. When the future arrives, it will be a Now. In a few weeks I am going to see a musician named David Byrne, He was the leader of a band called Talking Heads. He has a new solo CD entitled "Everything that is going to happen is going to happen today". He must be reading the same Eckhart Tolle book as me.

Here's a few thoughts from a book entitled 365 Tao.

What is close at hand must first appear on the horizon. What is cast upon us always has a source". Those who follow the Tao position themselves on high vantage points. Life never surprises them. Whatever is in their lives today, they saw many days before. Whatever they see on the horizon, they take the time to prepare for. Such people are considered wise, not because they have special gifts, but because they take the time to view things from a high place. All phenomena have a source. We can understand such phenomena clearly if we stand at a place where we can see it coming. This is all another way of saying "Stay awake and be aware".
Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us be thankful.
-The Buddha

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pumpkins And A Visit With Dad

It was a beautiful autumn weekend. The only problem was that it felt like summer with temperatures in the high 80's. As I sit here on Sunday evening around 6:00 PM, it is still 86 degrees! I am ready for a frost anytime! In spite of the heat it was a good weekend. I woke up on Saturday morning after a full nights sleep and enjoyed a quiet morning. Eventually my wife, son, and I drove to southern Indiana to the land of pumpkin fields. Chloe and her parents met us there. After a $25 lunch that actually cost about $50 we hopped on one of the farm wagons and rode out to one of the pumpkin fields. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of bright orange pumpkins laying all over the fields. For you city folk, pumpkins grow on the ground, not in trees. Wow! Imagine a pumpkin tree! I'm not sure I would want to sit under a pumpkin tree! Chloe was in her glory exploring all the different pumpkins and wandering around in the field. I enjoyed it, too, although I think I got some sunburn on my bald head. After picking out a pumpkin and a few gourds, we headed back. Our last stop was down to the lake to feed the fish, ducks, and swans. Chloe and I sat as close to the water as we could without falling in.

I went to visit my Dad on Sunday. He has Alzheimer's but is still sharp enough to know I didn't visit him last week. I received the greeting that all grown children occasionally get from their parents, "Well, Hello Stranger"! I apologized for being away and then proceeded to help the nurse get him out of the bed. That is quite an ordeal and he hates its. Eventually we found our way to the dining room. I was wheeling him to the room where we ate the last time I was there and he corrected me. He was now in a larger dining area. I sat down with him and waited for his lunch to be served. He them proceeded to tell me that the man across from us was in the wrong seat and, sure enough, he got moved. After lunch, we went out for a short walk. I don't think he trusted my ability to push a wheel chair and asked that we head back to the front area of the home so we could simply sit in the sun. After a while we headed back in and faced the ordeal of getting back in the bed. Just getting up for meals is exhausting to him. I must admit that spending two hours with Dad is exhausting for me as well. I certainly admire those individuals who make a career out of being a caregiver. Of course, visiting the nursing home is a life lesson on many levels. Everything is in slow motion so everything requires patience. Seeing all of the elderly folks in their advanced age and dependent states is definitely a reminder of one's mortality. I often wonder how my Dad and the others deal with it everyday. If I ever get to the same condition as my Dad, it will be a great cross for me to bear to be so helpless and dependent on others. I am fiercely independent as I am sure many of the residents were in their younger and healthier days.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What is Prayer?

Once the morning fog lifted yesterday, it turned into a beautiful day. My company gave everyone in my building a free lunch so after getting my plate of food I headed outdoors to quietly sit in the sun and eat a solitary meal. I wasn't being unsociable. The moment was unplanned and spontaneous. As you can imagine feeding a couple of thousand people is a monumental task. However, it all went very well. The food was tasty, the lines moved quickly, and everything was managed well. The only challenge was getting back up to the 11th floor. We have a computerized elevator system that must have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Although I walk down all eleven flights of stairs several times a day, I can't walk up eleven flights easily. When I reach the 4th floor, the heavy breathing starts. Around the 5th floor I think I am having a heart attack. When I reach the 6th floor I sit down and dial 911 so emergency medical services can come and treat me for the pain in my chest and the uncontrollable shaking of my legs. All right, I'm kidding! Well, not completely. What I actually did was walk over to the adjoining building and take the elevator to the 6th floor. When I got there I took the crosswalk to the 5th floor of my building. I then climbed three flights of stairs and caught an elevator for the last three flights. It was quite an adventure. Shortly after returning to my home on the 11th floor I had the realization that I needed to go back downstairs to take my turn serving the masses!

My son, Nick, is home from the seminary for a long weekend. Besides a family trip to pumpkinland tomorrow, my son, wife, and I will have a TV marathon sometime over the weekend to watch the complete Season Four of "The Office".

Now for a few serious thoughts.....

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. 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 and 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". The hardest thing about any of this is making yourself take the time to sit still and be quiet. It's tough to do in our busy lives. However, if you can add this discipline to your life, you will eventually get to the point where you really miss it if you can't do it. I admit that I struggle doing this myself. I am often undisciplined, weary, or just plain lazy.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What Are We Called To Be?

When I drove to work this morning I was in a fog....literally. As I drove along the Interstate through downtown I could barely see the silhouette of my building. I like deep fog, heavy snow, and heavy rain, especially when I am at home. It creates a natural barrier of solitude. What I don't like is when my mind is in a fog as it is some days.

Most people at some point in their lives have goals. These goals usually represent our desires and what we hope to accomplish or to experience in life. Sometimes these goals are not meant to be achieved. Sometimes these goals are not in sync with who we are. Too often we think about what we want to do or what we want to be and we do not spend enough time trying to understanding who we are. Should we be driven by the goals of what we want to be or what we want to do or should we listen more closely to our inner voice that may be calling us to something different? Have you ever, in a quiet moment, asked yourself, "What is it that life is calling me to be or to do"? More often than not, I think our "calling" is something different than our desires. We sometimes choose careers or lifestyles because we think that's what's expected of us. I think most of us would not like to admit how many of our personal choices have been influenced by other's expectations more than a deeply felt personal calling. Too often we are more concerned with achievement rather than self-actualization. Too often we are more concerned with recognition than being who we are. Many people achieve great worldly success or recognition and have no idea who they are looking at in a mirror. They have no idea who they are. The "success" may even feel empty. They are strangers to themselves. Certainly there is nothing wrong with success or recognition but is it in line with who and what you are called to be? Are you being who you are? If your life doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. In my life it seems the older I get, the more I become myself. I am without great worldly achievement but I am very comfortable in my own skin, I recognize the man in the mirror, and in quiet ways I believe I am becoming what I was called to be. I believe my calling is not so much to a profession as it is a calling to a way of being. I think my calling is to be a contemplative person and to share that experience with others. I write about what I hear and see and experience and I try to enlighten others to their own spiritual potential while trying to point the way to a more "awakened" approach to living. If I can influence others to see life a different way, with grateful hearts and a sense of wonder, than I have achieved something in my life.

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, folk, Indian sitar music, 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 naturally. 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 57, 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. We need our lawn chairs. The rock band Jethro Tull has a song called "Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die". I would challenge the lyricist on this. My title would be, "Never Too Old to Rock and as long as I schedule a vacation day the next day"!

I have never been lost. I will admit to being confused once for a few weeks.
-Daniel Boone

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My Future Security

I love the early morning quietness that fills my home as my body awakens and my mind is serene.

I also love it when one of my favorite rock and roll songs plays on the radio as I drive from my wife's office to mine. This morning it was "Jessica" by the Allman Brothers Band. It took me back to a time when I literally sat at the feet of the man who wrote the song. I had an out of body experience as he dazzled me with his guitar virtuosity. I was in heaven.

My favorite Zen koan from last nights Presidential debate was "What is it that you don't know and how are you going to learn it"?

Yesterday it was unusually cool in the office so I took my lunch outside and sat alone in the sun. It was a beautiful day. I quietly ate my sandwich while enjoying the warm sunlight and the cool breezes. It was very enjoyable and I could have sat there all afternoon. Eventually, reality jerked me out of my Zen daze and I came back upstairs. That wasn't so bad. I was having a quiet day and the rest of the afternoon was uneventful as well. I spent part of the afternoon listening to a live seminar on the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. It blows my mind that words written thousands of years ago are so applicable to events of today.

On Monday, after the stock market dropped another 800 points, I told a friend I was going down to the first floor of my office and jumping out the window. I was joking, of course, but since all of this financial mess in the United States began earlier in the year my 401K has lost about 21% of it's value. It's a substantial amount of money. Retirement was not in my immediate future anyway unless Human Resources knows something I don't know. However, like most people I would like to retire someday from the need to work so I can spend my time in voluntary work and other pursuits. It would also be nice to just do nothing if that's what I wanted to do. Am I worried about the future? Not really. I try to live my life without regrets about the past and without worry about the future. I don't think 401K's are without merit and in general it is wise to prepare something for the future. However, one shouldn't put all their efforts into preparing for a future you may never have. With all due respect to faith and spiritual beliefs, we live in the Now. Sometimes I wonder why people of faith feel the need to prepare materially for the future. Do we have doubts that our needs will be met? Honestly, in good times and bad, I have always survived and my needs have always been met one way or another. Was I just lucky? I can't change any of the decisions I have made in the past although I hope I have learned from many of my mistakes. I also don't believe one should rob the present to prepare for a future that is not promised to any of us. The future is totally unknown so what are we preparing for? Some of you may think I have a fatalistic "let's eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may be dead" mentality. This is not true. I try to live in the present, and enjoy it for all it's worth, but I also have hope that the Now in which I am living lasts a very long time. I will continue to work and I will continue to save but as long as I have what I need for today...which is nothing more than the eternal NOW...I will be happy and content. So far, in my experience, life takes care of itself and it has taken care of me. It just doesn't always do it according to my plans.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Meeting Other's Expectations

Today's thoughts may seem a little negative to some. Other's may wonder if I am in a bad mood. I don't intend them to be negative and I am actually in a very good mood. Sometimes when people write to me they say things like, "Your writing often expresses exactly how I feel but I didn't know how to articulate". Hopefully, this is also true of today's thoughts. One of the things I am trying to do in my life is not feel guilty about anything. I am not always successful in this endeavor. Life and other people make many demands on us. There is always something to do or someone that expects something. I can't do everything and I can't meet everyone's expectations. I believe I am speaking for many people when I say "I'm doing the best I can"! I'm sorry if I am not always the perfect spouse, the perfect father, the perfect son, the perfect brother, the perfect friend, the perfect boss, the perfect employee or the perfect co-worker. The one area where I feel I am probably meeting all expectations is being Chloe's Pa Paw. I am also sorry if I am not always enthusiastic about everything. Sometimes I am just tired, other times I would just like to be left alone, once in a while I am just trying to get through the day, and, on a rare occasion, I really don't care. None of us can be all things to all people all the time. I am at a point in my life where I am tired of trying to make everyone happy or to meet everyone's expectations. This is probably a symptom of getting older. I am as good as I'm probably ever going to be. Once I told a co-worker, "You know, I've had about 20 annual performance reviews. Guess what? I'm still the same person. My strengths are still my strengths and my weaknesses are still my weaknesses". Having said all of this, I am still trying to allow myself to be spiritually transformed into a more loving and caring person. I'm not completely happy with the kind of person I am. Like all of you I am a work in progress. Even if I was at my peak as a human being, it would not please everyone. Once President Lyndon Johnson told a group of people, "If I could walk across the Potomac River, the next day the newspaper headline would read "President can't swim". I understand how he felt. Although I do occasionally give in to human weakness and criticize other people, I try not to do it very often because I believe everyone else probably feels like I do. In other words, they are doing the best they can with the circumstances that life has given them. There's an old Native American saying that goes, "Don't criticize your neighbor until you have walked a mile in their moccasins". So, let's assume we are all doing the best we can. Let's quit making one another feel inadequate. Lets quit criticizing one another. Rather, let's focus on what we're all doing well.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Stirring The Embers

Compared to the cool weather we've been having lately, today is going to be a hot day with temperatures in the high 80's. I am not happy about it. I console myself knowing it won't last. It was another busy weekend. After running a few errands on Saturday morning my wife and I headed to my mother in laws retirement home. It was time for the annual Octoberfest which is the social event of the year for all the elderly people who live there. When we arrived my poor mother in law was still in bed and totally unaware of the event. We got her up and dressed and then preceded to wheel her across the street to where the festivities would be held. We were joined there by Chloe and her parents as well as one of my sister in laws. It was a nice affair and many people seemed to enjoy it. Occasionally my mother in law would smile or talk but most of the time she was staring into space. She and my Dad remind me of a fire that has been reduced to glowing embers. There's no flame but there is still some warmth. If you stir the embers you might get a little flame but you will never get a big fire again. There was a time my mother in law could have put on the Octoberfest. It is difficult for children to see their parents in their decline. The rest of the weekend I had a little girl named Chloe at my house. She's the other end of the spectrum. As our parent's lights seem to dim, Chloe's burns brighter all the time. She is so full of life that my wife and I can barely keep up. She is full of wonder and imagination and she's a master of mindfulness. She is present to the moment in a way that makes me look like an amateur. She's also quite the conversationalist. She tells me stories of her Mom and Dad, her dog, Cosmo, her friends at school and SpongeBob Squarepants. During many of the stories she's laughing to the point she can barely get the story out. During one storytelling session in bed on Saturday night, Granny finally yelled at both of us and told us to get to sleep. Trust me, you don't want to be around the Queen if she hasn't had her sleep. Eventually Chloe and I quieted down and went to sleep. We started up again at 7:30 AM on Sunday when she woke me up and told me it was time for coffee.

Admittedly, I have been scattered in my reading. One of the downfalls of being a lover of books is that you are easily seduced by new books. I have three or four going at the time but one of them is still the Tao Te Ching. Here's the 25th verse.

There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born. It is serene, empty, solitary, unchanging, infinite, and eternally present. For lack of a better name, I call it Tao. I call it great. Great is boundless; boundless is eternally flowing; ever flowing, it is constantly returning.Therefore the Way is great, heaven is great, earth is great, people are great. Thus, to know humanity, understand earth.To know earth, understand heaven.To know heaven, understand the Way.To know the way, understand the great within yourself.

One of the things that Lao-tzu is teaching us is to trust in our own greatness. You are not the body you occupy, which is temporary and on its way back to the nowhere from which it came. You are pure greatness, precisely the same greatness that creates all of life. Greatness attracts greatness. The Tao Te Ching gives us the following affirmation: I come from greatness. I attract greatness. I am greatness. We must change our attitudes from "It probably won't happen to me" to "It is on it's way". You get what you think about, whether you want it or not. Finally, this verse of the Tao Te Ching tells us "I must be like what I came from. I will never abandon my belief in my greatness or the greatness of others". Make this your daily mantra.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Spirituality And Balance

I read a thought in Thomas Merton's, "The Inner Experience" that went like this. The "inner work" of the Spirit cannot be done if you are pre-occupied with the "outer work" of the Self. The thought is actually traditional mystical theology. I understand the meaning of the thought but I believe it needs some clarification. The life of the spirit cannot be separated from our daily lives. Certainly we can be so pre-occupied with the demands of our lives to the point that we neglect our inner life. However, in reality, there is no separation. We have one life and when we live it in a balanced way, there is a unity of Spirit and Self. Spirituality is the way we allow the Spirit to act in our reality. If you break the word down you have Spirit-into-reality.....Spirituality. I think some of us who grew up in the Catholic tradition with "Saints" struggle with this. When I was a child saints were often portrayed as exceptional men or women who didn't seem to do much except kneel in a room, stare at a holy image, and wait for God to give them some type of mystical experience. They did not seem to be real people with real lives and almost none of them were lay people and definitely not married people with children and secular jobs. I don't recall any of them having a four year old granddaughter named Chloe. They seemed to have nothing else to do but try to be holy. I know in reality this was not true. They were real men and women with real struggles and for most holiness did not come easily. It's really all about balance. We need to do those things that life demands of us but we also need to stop and pause everyday for moments of reflection and simple contemplation. Contemplation is a big word that is often misunderstood. It is not complicated. Contemplation is found in moments of repose where we stop what we are doing, enter into the silence of our lives, be still, and allow ourselves to experience the wonder and awe of life. It can be in church, while taking a quiet walk in your neighborhood, or playing with your granddaughter. Being open to such moments in the busyness of our lives can give us the balance that will unify our inner selves with the activity of our daily lives.

This is what it means to seek God perfectly: to withdraw from illusion and pleasure, from worldly anxieties and desires, from the works that God does not want, from a glory that is only human display; to keep my mind free from confusion in order that my liberty may be always at the disposal of his will; to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God. And then to wait in peace and emptiness and oblivion of all things.
-Thomas Merton in "New Seeds of Contemplation"

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Day Of Gifts

Yesterday seemed like my birthday or maybe Christmas. I got all kinds of gifts from people I work with. Once during a food day I commented on how much I liked some Philippine rolls that remind one of egg rolls. Yesterday one of my co-workers brought me a whole plateful of them with dipping sauce. Another co-worker just returned to this country from the Ukraine with gifts of a religious Icon, chocolates, and one of those beautiful Russian figurines where you open it and there's a smaller doll, and another smaller doll, etc. I'm sure they must have an official name for these but I am not sure what it is. Finally, another co-worker sent me home with freshly made Zucchini bread. Life is good, people are generous, and I am very fortunate to have such caring people in my life.

We are having great weather. I am sleeping at night with the windows open and the cool night air blows through my bedroom. Yesterday it was cool enough in the early morning for a sweater. While I was waiting for my coffee to finish brewing I went outside and walked to the end of my driveway for the morning paper. At this time of year it is dark except for the glow of the street light. The air was fresh and invigorating. The sky was clear and the stars sparkled like tiny diamonds set deep in a dark velvet sky. In such moments I can become totally lost in the moment. Autumn is just beginning and the best is yet to come. In a couple of weeks my son, Nick, will be home from the seminary. I haven't seen him for two months and I miss him. Even though I gave him to God doesn't mean I don't want him back once in a while. While he is home the family will make our annual trek across the river to the pumpkin fields of southern Indiana. Although Chloe is the smallest person in the family she is a very large presence. She will laugh and talk my ear off as we sit together on the farm trailer and ride out to the pumpkin patch. I can hear her now, "What about this one, Pa Paw"? Here's what it might look like on the way to pumpkin land.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Legacy We Leave Behind

Last week the older brother of a very good friend died. He was only four years older than my friend and me. At the monastery this past weekend we had a memorial service for another friend that recently died unexpectedly. Both of these deaths reminded me how precious life is and that it can end anytime. At the memorial service many kind and wonderful things were said and my friend's legacy was applauded. It got me wondering, "If I died unexpectedly right now, what would people say about me? What is my legacy? How would I be remembered"? Regardless of our individual ages and life styles, each day we are building our legacies. Although we are all misunderstood some of the time, we own our reputations and contribute to them by the way we live. We are responsible for the perceptions that others have of us. Everything we say, everything we do, how we love, how we live, who are friends are, how we spend our time, along with many other things, all contribute to our legacy. As one gets older, death seems to visit more frequently. It is not uncommon for an elderly person to say, "All I do is go to funerals". In our society it is a sad reality that too many funerals are for the young. Life is a precious gift. It should not be squandered or wasted. As I have said before in my thoughts, "Focus on what is really important. Let go of worry and needless concern. Travel light. Hold no grudges. Forgive everything. Love much. Harm no one. Smell the flowers. Feel the wind. Dance to the music". Someday we will all die. We do not know the time or place. Until that time, live well and live in a manner that inspires those around you. When we die, all those that love us, and maybe a few that don't, will gather and remember us. In my case, I hope the room is full of laughter and not too many tears. I hope my life was one that touched others in positive ways and that I am remembered with fondness. When people walk out of my funeral, I hope they are thinking, "His was a life lived well. The world and my life are better because of him". Then I hope they go have a party.