Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Thoughts/New Beginnings

Today is the last day of my Christmas break and my only true day off. It is barely a day off since I am doing laundry before the new work week begins. A little bit of time has also been spent helping my wife gathering up Christmas decorations for the most depressing aspect of Christmas which is putting in all back in the crates for transport to my storage shed. My family and I were very blessed this year. My wife did a wonderful job of magically giving everyone what they wanted, what they forgot they wanted, and what they didn't realize they needed. My granddaughter exclaimed, "Christmas is a happy time". I took Christmas Eve off from work so I was able to sleep in and have plenty of time to get everything together for the Christmas Eve tour. We began at my mother's house where most of my brothers and sisters and other family members gathered. In a quiet moment I thought of my Dad. This was the first Christmas since his death. Still, it was a happy night. I am part of a very large extended family. Like all families there are many personalities but we get along remarkably well. It is the same on my wife's side of the family. We are blessed to be part of two good families that have minimum drama. I got to bed rather late on Christmas Eve and morning came quickly. My wife and I had to get up early to prepare a big breakfast for our family. I may need to rethink this next year. It's a lot of work, a lot of food, and this year, a lot of leftovers. Of course, one aspect of Christmas morning that I really like is that I get to stay home. Since my wife and I have grown children and have been promoted to the rank of grandparents, we now celebrate Christmas Day at our house. Most of our life we had to go to our parents or aunts and uncles. It's good to be PaPaw. It never ceases to amaze me how so much time and effort spent on preparing for Christmas is wiped out in a matter of a few hours on Christmas morning. Christmas is over so fast it's like falling off a cliff. You hit the ground very fast and hard. Next weekend we will attempt to get the house back to normal before resuming the remodeling that has been going on in the background the last few weeks. Soon my "music room" will undergo a major renovation that will create a lot of personal chaos for me. However, I can see the finished product in my mind and it will be very nice. Like every year, I look forward to the nothingness of January and, hopefully, some snowfalls. I would love to be in a place like the one pictured above. If I am lucky, and I can find the time, I hope to schedule a weekend in one of the hermitages at Bethany Springs, a retreat center near the monastery. I have been negligent of my spiritual life and some silence and solitude are sorely needed. Hopefully, I can find some early in the new year and get off on the right track as 2010 arrives.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Walking On A Cold Day

I love to take walks outside on cold days. A few days ago I was feeling very tired and I wasn't in a great mood so I decided to take a walk during my lunch break. I walked beside the Great Lawn adjacent to my office and along the river. At one point I passed a Christmas tree lot where the aroma of evergreen was in the air. Nearby a towboat was pushing a large barge beneath the bridge and down the river. The sky was blue and clear. The air was crisp. I could see planes coming from the north and heading towards the airport. They were probably coming from Chicago. On past trips from Chicago I was always happy when I looked out the window and recognized the Ohio River and downtown Louisville. I could see some cars and trucks crossing the bridge between Louisville and Southern Indiana and others driving along the I-64 Interstate highway. I always wonder, "Who are these people and where are they going"? I often walk alone but sometimes I walk with a friend. Usually when we walk, we also talk. Sometimes, however, we will stop and just sit on a bench in silence. If you have a friendship that doesn't require conversation, you have a good friend. This day, however, I was alone with my own thoughts. By the time I got back indoors I was refreshed, awake, and in a much better mood.

Things My Body Wants For Christmas

  1. Hair Transplants
  2. A Case of Grecian Formula 44
  3. Lasik Surgery
  4. Braces
  5. A complete replacement of everything that is part of my intestinal system.
  6. A Hip Replacement
  7. New Knees

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Is Near

It is Wednesday night. Christmas Eve is a week from tomorrow. At my house 99% of the work is done thanks to my wife. My biggest Christmas chore is fixing the family a big breakfast on Christmas morning. I have five more work days before a four day Christmas break. The holidays are something you see coming from far in the distance yet they continually surprise you with their sudden appearance. The autumn and early winter seem to be on an accelerated schedule. Once Halloween arrives, the rest of the year is a blur. The busyness and general excess of the Christmas season are something I kind of enjoy but I also long for it to be over. Even now, before one present has been opened, I look forward to the simplicity and nothingness of January. Still, it would be wrong for me to complain too much. At this time my family is blessed and life is good. Circumstances are allowing my wife and me to be generous to others as we enjoy good times. I am acutely aware that many are not as blessed as I am and for many this is a difficult time. The economy is still challenging for millions of people and Christmas is a stressful time for many. Every time I listen to the traditional Christmas carols I think what an impossible portrait they paint. They present us with a vision and ideal of Christmas that no one can achieve. I think for most people the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is a more realistic portrayal. Christmas, at its best, is financially and emotionally stressful, to say nothing of its busyness and sometimes overwhelming demands. Still, most people, including me, look forward to it every year and we do tend to be more thoughtful and caring than we normally are. Of course, for me, having a young child in the family makes it all better. Her excitement lifts my sometimes dragging spirit. Yes, Christmas is near. Bring it on!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Living In A Busy Time

Like all people affected by the holiday season, my life seems very busy right now. Here I sit on another Sunday night wondering where the weekend went. By the time I got home on Friday night I was wiped out. I did not have a bad work week, I just felt unusually tired and bed time couldn't come fast enough. I did have the luxury of sleeping in on Saturday morning although I crawled out of my bed after nine hours of sleep. I wanted to enjoy a morning without work and some solitude before my granddaughter arrived for an overnighter. She arrived in the early afternoon and soon afterwards became engaged in baking cookies and making candy with Grandma. After all the sugar cookies were baked and decorated, and the chocolate was melted in a double boiler to be poured into candy molds, Chloe looked at me and said, "This is a lot of work"! In order to avoid diabetic comas, my wife and I sent most of the treats home with her. Last night before going to bed we watched the Curious George and Shrek Christmas movies. Today, as is her custom, Chloe woke me up at the first sign of daylight. "Pa Paw, do you know what I would like to do after we make your coffee? No, Chloe, I don't. What would you like to do? I want you to take me outside and teach me how to catch squirrels. Well, Chloe, that's very hard to do. Squirrels are very fast. But I want to pet one"! Of course, by the time we got down the stairs, the squirrels were long forgotten and were safe from an inquisitive little granddaughter. Soon enough we were sitting side by side at the kitchen table eating our bowls of Lucky Charms.

Today I had a very enjoyable brunch with three of my siblings and my mother. Last week my mother turned 80 years old. My siblings and I took her out today to a restaurant where I had never been. The building used to be a tavern where my underage friends and I used to purchase beer illegally in our youth. Today it looks the same on the outside but the inside has been transformed into a restaurant. Everything was very nice and the food was great, especially the New Orleans style sugar coated donuts, whose proper name I cannot recall, and the bourbon flavored bread pudding we had for dessert. Two other really nice touches were the real wood fireplace and the string quartet that played Christmas carols. It was my kind of off the beaten path, one of a kind, classy restaurant.

Christmas approaches with alarming speed. By my count it will be here in twelve days. Thank God I am not using the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as my shopping guide. As I have said before, I may look a little like Santa, especially when my beard is long, but my wife is Mrs. Claus. She makes it happen for my family and this year she has been at the top of her game.

Now I need to go back downstairs where the oven is self cleaning itself, the washing machine is swishing, the dry is humming. A man's work is never done. (smile)

Monday, December 07, 2009

There's Nothing New Under The Sun

Today we had the first official snowfall of the season. It wasn't much but it did offer a glimpse of what hopefully lies ahead in the colder months of winter.

Sooner or later a reading from the Tao always finds its way into my blog. Here is a reading for today.

There's nothing to paint anymore.
We've seen everything from the classical to the absurd.
There's nothing to write anymore.
As many books are shredded as read.
There's nothing to sing anymore.
The once avant-garde is now background music.

As someone once said, "There's nothing new under the sun".

I often ask myself why I continue to write and why I publish my thoughts on this blog for friends and strangers near and far to read. What could I possibly say that is new? In all likelihood, nothing. Still, each man or woman, each generation, strives to find their voice even if the basic experience of living and being alive is a process that has repeated itself over and over many billions of times throughout the history of mankind. Even if the process of being born, of living, and of dying haven't changed much, if at all, life never seems the same for each new generation as they begin their life's journey. All new generations think their experience of life will be different. However, this is something of an illusion. Even if the world my granddaughter was born into in 2004 is not the same world as I was born into in 1951, her experience of being human will be essentially the same as mine. Each generation will struggle to paint their paintings, to write their books, and create their music as an attempt to understand the experience of their life and times. Each generation will have their own ideas about the meaning of their lives and these ideas will come out in their art. However, when it is all said and done, the human experience has changed very little. Life is like a play from Shakespeare. You can change the scenery and the context but the dialogue is the same. Human emotions and personalities have not changed. The only real change is the time in history and the circumstances into which one is born. Each generation has different scenery and stage props but the dialogue of mankind...the human experience...seems to repeat itself over and over as one generation passes away and another takes it's place.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chloe Visits With Santa Claus

The Early Arrival Of Winter

I woke up naturally about 6:00 AM this morning as I do most days. I wanted to stay in bed but I had plans to go to the monastery. I slowly got out of bed before the alarm went off and headed for the shower. After showering and getting dressed I went downstairs to gather my things and hit the road. Going outside was a shock. When I got out of the city and in the country, the temperature was in the teens. We are still about two weeks away from winter but no one told nature. It was very cold and I had a heavy frost on my car. It took a little while to get the car warm and the windshield scraped. Of course, I needed gas so I had to stop and freeze my butt off while I filled the tank. I then went across the street to a convenience store for some coffee and muffins. Inside the store I walked into an argument between two clerks because one was accusing the other of drinking on the job. When the man referred to the woman as "honey", she said "How would you like a sexual harassment complaint too"! I decided to get out of there before the guns came out and they shot one another. Soon I was on the road with hot coffee, a warm car, and the countrified sounds of Levon Helm.

The early hour and frigid morning must have kept many people in their beds. Traffic was sparse and soon I was on a peaceful journey to the home of my friend, Fr. Dennis. After I got off the interstate highway the sun began to rise. One of the payoffs for being up and out early on a winter's morning are the beautiful sunrises. As I approached Dennis's home I could see the twinkling of Christmas tree lights. Inside the house and the hospitality were warm.

When I got to the monastery I felt a sense of peace that often overcomes me when I am there. I met with a group of friends and had some good discussion before joining the monks in church for today's mass for the 2nd Sunday of Advent. I love the austerity of the Cistercian architecture, especially when the abbey church is full of the sounds of their wonderful pipe organ and the aroma of incense wafts through the air. I am always reminded of the Psalmist words, "Let my prayer, O Lord, rise before you like incense"! After mass we had a wonderful lunch where I ate too much while having a great discussion with a monk visiting from Rome.

The drive home was rough in spite of the fresh cup of coffee I had with me. I was very fatigued. As soon as I got home I immediately took a nap and slept until I went out to dinner with my wife and son before he headed back to the seminary. My trips to the monastery are always anticipated and enjoyed but for reasons I don't understand they are also exhausting. However, I will continue to go as long as I can still find my way out there.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Living In The Flow

When I returned to work yesterday after ten days of vacation I felt terrible. I was tired and didn't feel very well. Time moved at a glacier pace and I just wasn't into anything I did. The first day back to work after a period of vacation is always a downer. Today was quite the opposite. I wasn't thrilled about getting out of bed in the dark, knowing it was cold outside, but once I was up and showered and dressed I felt pretty good. I felt even better after a couple of cups of java in my coffee mug. After I got to work I was in a light hearted mood and was enjoying myself as much as possible when you are at work. Later in the day I realized that I had become lost in the sensation known as "flow". Flow is when you are so into whatever you are doing that you lose all sense of time and space. I was deep into a self created project, running reports and crunching numbers, to prove a point that I had deep concern over. When I finally looked at the clock on the wall that usually seems stuck in the moment, I was amazed that several hours had passed and I was near the end of my day. This experience was wonderful on several levels. I was able to prove my point with data, I thoroughly enjoyed being lost in the moment, and I felt like I accomplished something worthwhile. It is a joy living in the flow of life. It's so much better than feeling like you are stuck in a dead zone of meaningless chores and time killing activity.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Am Back

My new PC is finally up and running. I have been without a personal PC for a few weeks. This is my excuse for a lack of writing. In addition to the lack of a PC I have been on vacation and my house is in chaos from home improvements and decorating for Christmas. I was also out of town for a few days on our annual family trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I haven't worked for ten days. In that time I have become addicted to getting eight hours of sleep each night. Tomorrow morning I will re-enter the rehab of daily work and less sleep. I will miss my leisurely mornings of drinking coffee and reading the morning news. The time off has been good. The trip to the mountains was enjoyable. The town of Gatlinburg was full of Christmas lights and decorations and it was a good start to getting me in the mood for Christmas. Thanksgiving was another pleasant holiday although it was difficult not to think of the challenging days we had last year at this time with my unplanned hospitalization and my mother in law's death. The night before this year's Thanksgiving I gathered with my old gang from my high school days for an evening of beer drinking and the telling of war stories from our now faraway youth. A little while ago my wife and I had one more dinner with our youngest son before he headed backed to the seminary. I don't think he was anxious to go but I gave him a little pep talk and hopefully he will quickly be back in the swing of things at St. Meinrad.

This past weekend my granddaughter spent the night. Last night as we were lying in bed and talking, after the second or third reprimand from Grandma, Chloe looked at me and said, "I love you, Pa Paw. Don't go to Heaven". She is a very loving child and she worships me. I knew what she was saying to me. She was saying, "Pa Paw, don't leave me". Although she is only five years old, she knows what going to heaven means. She understands that the "Old Grandma" is now in Heaven and she doesn't want me to join her there. I know someday I will make her very sad when I do leave this world but I hope that is a long time from now. I hope I live long enough to watch Chloe grow into a young woman. If I "go to Heaven" and that separates me from Chloe, then it wouldn't really be Heaven for me. Minimum requirements for Heaven are the people I love and good music.

Tomorrow it is back to my regular routine and my "normal" life. Vacation is always great but it must be balanced with not being on vacation. As Arlo Guthrie once said, "You can't really appreciate a light unless you have a dark place to put it in".

It was eight years ago today that George Harrison left the planet. Today I played some of his music in his memory. One line of a song really moved me. I will end these thoughts with this thought from George.

"If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there".
-George Harrison

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where Have I been?

I am still without a personal computer at home. This is the primary reason I only posted thoughts one day last week. A new computer hard drive is on order and I am waiting for it's delivery. After it's arrival I will be back into my usual inconsistent but more regular posts.

Christmas, painting, and some general handyman repairs are in full swing at my house. A list of repairs and painting needs that has been accumulating for a while are now getting done. Why the sudden accomplishment? My wife is the project manager and she is paying someone else to do them and the work is not dependent on my effort or skill. In general, I have little skill with tools and repairs and even less desire or energy to do them. What I have right now, for the first time in my life, is a little extra money. It is wonderful to come home everyday and see things accomplished through no effort of my own. I envy the skill of men and women who are able to fix things or build them. Some people admire my writing skills but I admire the skills of carpenters, painters, electricians, and others who create and fix.

My granddaughter came over this weekend. One of the things my wife and I did with her help is begin the massive undertaking of bringing all the Christmas decorations into the house. They are now everywhere and my home resembles Santa's workshop or, perhaps, his garage. Because of the painting and other work being done, all the decorations cannot be put up yet. Most of that will be accomplished next week while my wife and I are on vacation. The best way I can describe my current living situation is "absolute chaos". Anyone who knows me well understands how much I hate chaos. I believe there is an order to the universe and I desire that order to reach into my life and my home. For better or worse, I like order and balance. Right now both of these are nonexistent in my home and it causes me some personal discomfort. However, when the work is done and the decorations completed, my wife and I will be very happy, the house will be beautiful, and Chloe's eyes will be filled with excitement over the pending visit by Santa Claus. I had to explain to her on Sunday morning that it wasn't Christmas Day...yet.

Another thing my granddaughter and I did over the weekend was watch the Wizard of Oz twice. When I found out she liked it, I bought one of the new remastered and restored 70th anniversary editions on DVD. Chloe's favorite character is the Scarecrow. This movie came out in 1939, twelve years before I was born in 1951. I was probably Chloe's age when I watched it the first time. Since then I have watched it countless times myself and now I get to enjoy watching it with her. In twelve more years I, too, will be 70 years old. When that happens I wonder if I will be remastered and restored?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bare Trees And Christmas Past

My computer crashed a few days ago so I have been somewhat hampered in my writing. Sometimes when I have a quiet moment I can write at work on a break or during lunch. In the evenings I have been borrowing my wife's laptop just to check my emails. I have to do this when she isn't using it. She is in the process of full throttle Christmas shopping so she is burning up her keyboard and her laptop is smoking. So far our bank account hasn't exploded. No one can say my wife isn't doing her part to stimulate the economy. Maybe she's the reason the Dow is over 10,000.

This past weekend we officially started getting into the holiday spirit. My whole family went to see the new 3-D animated version of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol". I thought it was very good. Jim Carrey was a great Ebenezer Scrooge though it may have been overkill for him to also portray the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The animators did a great job of creating Victorian London and the 3-D effects were occasionally mesmerizing. My granddaughter, Chloe, sat on my lap throughout the movie and she sometimes reached out and tried to grasp the snowflakes that appeared to be falling right before our eyes. A few intense scenes, and several of the 3-D effects, caused her to jump a few times but she seemed to enjoy the movie especially the scenes where Scrooge was flying over London with one of his nocturnal visitors.

On this early November day many of the trees are now bare. A few hearty leaves still cling to branches but most lawns and side streets are accumulating their annual piles of leaves. Still, enough leaves are hanging on to create a colorful mural of autumn's beauty. I so love this time of year. This past weekend was warmer than normal for this time of year but nearly as perfect as one could ever want. One must slow down and enjoy these moments. Soon enough the cold winds of winter will be upon us. I don't really dread those days because I think winter also has it's own beauty. When the first snowfall appears I will be giddy with joy, especially if it happens on a weekend right after I have been to the grocery store!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Zen Of Ordinary Days

Let me start with a couple of quotes from the famous Zen Master, D.T. Suzuki, who was a big influence on Thomas Merton's understanding of Zen.

"The truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one's hum drum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity".

"Life, according to Zen, ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air or as a fish swims in the water".

These days my life is flowing rather gently although there is some increased activity due to the upcoming holiday season and some mysterious rumblings in the air at my workplace. Most of my days are filled with routine, the daily chores of living, the occasional boredom of work, and the never ending longing for rest and freedom that is occasionally satisfied with a weekend or a good nap. It would be difficult on any level to think of my life as exciting or artistic, full of "genuine inner creativity". Some kind souls may think of my writing as creative but for me it is just a way to process my thoughts and feelings with the hope that maybe it also helps others to do the same with their own thoughts and feelings. My understanding of Zen has always been a rather simple one. When asked, I reply, "Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are". When I do this successfully my life is "lived as a bird flies through the air or as a fish swims in the water". When I am present to what I am doing and I am where I am, then my life seems to flow, and, if not artistic, it at least has a natural beauty. When birds fly, they don't think about flying. When fish swim, they don't think about swimming. When you are doing what you are doing, you're not thinking about what you are doing. When you are where you are, you're not thinking about where you are. Zen is not about thinking. Zen is not about doing. Zen is being. Zen is about "flow". Flow is the sensation of being lost in space and time. In a sense, Zen and "flow" are being so aware that you're not even aware that you're aware. There's nothing ordinary about that!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Remembering Dad

Tonight I attended a memorial mass at the church where I grew up as a child and where my father's funeral mass was held on Valentine's Day of this year. On November 2nd of every year the Catholic Church celebrates what is called All Souls Day. It's a day where all those who have died are remembered. Tonight was especially dedicated to all those who have died in the last year. My mother, most of my siblings, some of my nieces, and a brother in law and sister in law were also there tonight. It was good to remember Dad in a special way. Thinking of Dad and looking around at members of my extended family reminded me how lucky I am to be part of such a good family. I am equally blessed on my wife's side of the family. The picture above was taken during the last year of my Dad's life. Along with Dad are my brother, Bob, and sister, Carolyn. In addition to them I have two more brothers and one more sister. I am the oldest sibling. Dad, I hope all is well and that you are looking out for all of us.

Who Is The "I" in "Me"?

When I use the pronoun "I", who is the "I" that I am referring to? The person that is "me" is just one example of a human being and the older I get the more I am amazed at all the subtle and not so subtle forces that form and shape me into the "me" that is represented when I refer to myself using the pronoun "I". I began thinking about this today after reading a selection from Thomas Merton's "The Inner Experience". Over the years I have learned much about the characteristics that make up my personality. The Myers-Briggs (MBTI) taught me that I am an introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver. The Enneagram taught me that I am a Sexual Nine with a One wing. My personality, like all personalities, certainly has its strengths and gifts. I am not blind to my own goodness. Equally true, however, is that my personality has a shadow side that is less charming to many and often annoying to me. I love order and hate chaos. In general, I think there is a right way and a wrong way to do most things. I am a perfectionist and I drive myself crazy with my obsessive need for order, perfection, and completeness. Along with this I think I am also a little obsessive/ compulsive. I am a creature of habit and routine and I don't like to change the ways I do certain things or the order in which I do them. If perfectionism and OCD are not enough, I think I also have some level of Attention Deficit Disorder. Going from Point A to Point B can be a journey of a thousand miles for me. Why? It is because I am easily distracted. I often struggle with being focused, especially when I have little interest in what I am doing. On the other hand, when I am really into what I am doing, I can be what one person called "hyper-focused". Some psychologists also call this "flow". So, who is the "me" that I am referencing when I use the pronoun "I" ? I am a collection of good and bad tendencies with strengths and weaknesses. I can be a highly functioning individual but I can also easily slip into totally dysfunctional behavior. I have a loving heart and a gentle soul but I can occasionally be a completely annoying person. The good news is that most of the time, and the older I get, the best of me is what people usually see even if I am not consciously try to display it. The best of who all of us are will usually burst forth and those around us will usually accept our imperfections as a small price to pay for what is good.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Another Sunday Night

Another Sunday night, and a new month, has rolled around. It's been an enjoyable weekend. Saturday began as an overcast and cold day. In the afternoon, however, the sun came out and it turned into a glorious autumn day. Soon after the sun set the trick or treaters started arriving. There were not a lot of them. I live in an older neighborhood with mostly older people so there are not a lot of young children living around me. More and more will eventually move into the neighborhood and there will be yet another renewal and rebirth. One young child, dressed as a Ladybug, did show up at my house and she was still here this morning. It was my dearly loved granddaughter, Chloe, who brings much joy to my life. I discovered during her visit that she had recently seen the classic "Wizard of Oz" movie and she loved it. After we went to bed, during our usual bedtime conversation, I had her cracking up with my imitations of the various characters. Chloe especially liked my imitations of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. After she left today I went to the bookstore and bought a DVD of the movie so we can watch it together during her next visit. While at the book store I was seduced by the CD cover and concept behind the new CD by Sting. It's called "If On A Winter's Night..." It's not exactly a Christmas CD. According to the liner notes, it's "Inspired by Sting's favorite season. It's a collection of lullabies, carols, and other songs that celebrate the many facets of winter". It's very good and relaxing. It plays in the background as I write these notes. After my wife and I took Chloe home, and shopped at the bookstore, we had a quiet and relaxing afternoon. After dinner at a local deli, we are back home to enjoy the rest of our day before beginning a new work week. Tomorrow will be a busy day for me. I am going to the University of Louisville for a luncheon and a talk. After I finish my workday I am attending a memorial mass for my Dad tomorrow night. In a few months he will already be gone a year. A year ago this week I began a difficult November with a trip to the hospital due to a staph infection that coincided with the hospitalization and subsequent death of my wife's mother. Those were difficult and sad days but now times are much happier and life is very good.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breaking Down The Walls

If I break down the walls, I will be surrounded by the garden.
If I break the levee, water will inundate me.
Meditation is not to be separated from life.

Today's Tao commentary says "Do we continue to meditate once we come to this understanding? We still do but it is no longer a solitary and isolated activity. It is part of life, as natural as breathing. When you can bring yourself to the understanding that there is no difference between you and Tao and that there is no difference between meditation and ordinary activities, then you are well on your way to being one with Tao".

When I was typing the above commentary I had something of a Freudian slip. Originally I typed "Do we continue to medicate once we come to this understanding"? Many of us spend much of our lives medicating ourselves one way or another from the pain and difficulties of life. We do this in many ways. Some do it with drugs and alcohol. Others do it through a non stop frenzy to accumulate more stuff. We are always trying to find ways to avoid some aspects of reality. Certainly some parts of reality are painful for everyone and I know some people have more than their fair share of pain. Most of us, however, if we break down the walls we have built, will discover that we are surrounded by a garden. Having said all this, I know today's Tao reading is not really about this. These thoughts just occurred to me when I made the Freudian slip and used "medicate" instead of "meditate".

Today's Tao reading is really about breaking down the wall between spirituality and life. It's about living a non dualistic life. Most people think of their spiritual life as separate from the rest of their life. Spirituality for many is simply the prayers they say, the church services they attend, or other spiritual practices and disciplines they may have incorporated into our lives. All of these are certainly good things and I encourage them. However, I like what Thomas Merton wrote in his article entitled "Day of a Stranger". Highly regarded as a Spiritual Master, he wrote, "How I pray is breathe, what I wear is pants". In other words his prayer and "spiritual" life were becoming indistinguishable from his normal day to day life after he left the structured environment of the monastery and he began living alone in his hermitage. At some point our spiritual practices should become more than things we do. They should become things we are. Our spirituality, like the water that flows over a broken levee, should inundate our lives to the point where it can no longer be distinguished from the rest of our lives. The sacred and the secular become one.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chloe Carves Her Pumpkin

A Walk In The Park

Autumn is my favorite time of the year. The days are so beautiful now that I find myself going outside several times a day while at work. Behind my office building is a small park the size of a city block. When I first started working in my current building this park was the site of an abandoned warehouse. At some point it was imploded and my employer had the vision to turn the site into a park. It's a great blessing to my co-workers and me. Depending on the weather I like to go out there on my breaks and lunches. I usually walk a couple of laps and then sit on one of the stone benches that were made from parts of the old warehouse. If it is a cool day I sit in the sun and absorb its warmth. If it is a hot day I sit in the cool of a shady spot. When I am walking it clears the cobwebs from my mind and loosens the stiff muscles in my aging body. Quietly sitting on one of the benches I sometimes pray. Usually it is a prayer of gratitude for all that is good in my life. My prayers are usually thanksgiving and gratitude and rarely petition unless someone has requested my prayers. So sometimes I sit and pray, other times I just sit. Across the street from my little park is a place called the Great Lawn. It is a large open space where occasionally there are large gatherings of people. The largest gathering is usually the annual Derby event called "Thunder Over Louisville". Supposedly it is the largest fireworks show in America. My best memory of the Great Lawn, however, is from a very hot 4th of July where I sat in my lawn chair with thousands of other people for a free concert by Koko Taylor and Joe Cocker. At the edge of the Great Lawn is the mighty Ohio River. Sometimes I sit on a bench along the waterfront and I watch the barges going up and down the river. Somewhere near this spot they have recently dedicated a new statue of Abraham Lincoln created by a local artist. I may go find it soon. The point of all this is to say that sometimes it is a good thing to get away from the demands and worries of life and go outside for a simple walk. It doesn't have to be a death march through a mountain pass. It can be simple stroll through a city park or a quiet moment on a bench by the river. Sometimes we all need to get away for a moment of refreshment and a breath of fresh air. Solitude is healing. Sometimes the rest of the world needs to function without us for a little while.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sometimes All A Person Needs Is A Little Perspective

A friend and co-worker recently loaned me a book titled "The Noticer" by Andy Andrews. I have been reading it over the weekend and enjoying it very much. Although I am by nature a very introspective person, even I do not always have perspective about my own life. This book has given me much to think about and I have more than half the book to go. Here's a few highlights so far.

Four Ways of Showing and Needing Love
  1. Spoken Words of Approval
  2. Favors and Deeds
  3. Physical Contact
  4. Quality Time
The book goes on to say that the way we show love is usually the way we need love expressed to us in order for us to feel loved. If love in your life is expressed in every way but the way you need it, the chances are that you will not feel loved. If all you do to show love is favors and deeds for someone who needs physical contact, your overtures of love are not likely hitting home. If all you do is say "I love you" but you never spend quality time with someone that craves your presence, the "I love you's" are falling on deaf ears.

The book also talks about fear and worry. Some people spend all of their time and energy worrying and being afraid. In the story one of the characters says the following. In my life I have found this to be true.
  • 40% of the things you worry about will never happen.
  • 30% of the things you worry about have already happened. It's pointless to continue worrying about them.
  • 12% of our worrying is needless imaginings about our health. Every ache and pain is not an indication of cancer.
  • 10% of our worrying is about what other people think and we have no control about what other people think.
  • 8% of our worries are for legitimate concerns and most of these can actually be dealt with. If we eliminate the unnecessary worry in our lives we can channel that energy towards the legitimate concerns of our lives.
The chapter on fear and worry ends with the recommendation that each day when we wake up we should write down all the things we are grateful for in our life. These don't have to be big things. It can be as simple as being grateful for a warm bed, morning coffee, a beautiful sunrise, or mostly green lights on the commute to work. Everyday we should practice gratitude and focus our minds on all the good things in our lives and quit worrying so much about things that we most likely never happen. It's all about perspective.

Chloe Visits The Great Pumpkin Patch

Tranquil As The Buddha

It is high noon on a peaceful Saturday. There is no sun in sight. The day is overcast and cool. The leaves in my neighborhood are beautiful. When a gust of wind blows through the trees some lose their grasp and they float around on pillows of wind until they finally hit the ground. It's the kind of day when I love to be home with little to do except enjoy the moment. Although I not sitting in the Lotus position, I am tranquil as the Buddha today. The washing machine is humming, the oven is baking, music is playing, and I have a stack of books on my table. My whole day is open and free although I will likely venture out this evening for dinner with my wife and son. Although I am being somewhat active and I am doing a few things, I also feel still and in the moment. My life is not as busy as many other people's lives but I still often feel as though I am doing and doing and running and running. Doing and running are not necessarily bad. Both are part of modern life. However, most of the running and doing in my life seems to be imposed on me by others. The lack of personal freedom and control over my own life sometimes bothers me. That's why days like today are so wonderful. Yes, I am doing my son's laundry and my cooking is for the family but I am choosing to do these things. I prefer my activity to come from a stance of giving rather than as a response to demands. Today everything is in it's proper and preferred alignment. I have solitude, tranquility, being, doing from the heart, and true rest.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

21,395 Days

I have been alive for 21,395 days. Theoretically I have slept 1/3rd of these days so I have been awake 14,079 days. No wonder I am so tired! As the Grateful Dead used to sing, "What a long strange trip it's been". I found myself laughing and singing to a Grateful Dead song playing on my car radio on the way home today. It was the end of the work day and I was liberated. Jerry Garcia was singing a song called "Liberty". Here's some of the lyrics....

If I was the sun, I'd look for shade,
If I was a bed, I would stay unmade,
If I was a river I'd run uphill,
and if you call me you know I will.
Leave me alone to find my own way home.

If I was an eagle I'd dress like a duck,
crawl like a lizard and honk like a truck.
If I get a notion I'll climb this tree
or chop it down and you can't stop me.
Leave me alone to find my own way home.

Today I certainly wouldn't want to chop any trees down. The fall colors are beautiful and autumn is reaching its peak in my corner of the world. I am loving this weather and all of nature's beauty. I didn't take the picture shown above but it is a good representation of how things look in my neighborhood.

Tonight I have been home alone and unsupervised. My wife is out having dinner with friends. Although I did slip into dreamland for a little while, most of the night I have been listening to a recording of the Allman Brothers Band with special guest Eric Clapton. It was recorded at the Beacon Theater in New York City earlier this year. After that was over I hopped in my musical time machine and now I am enjoying Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" live at the Fillmore East. At the moment it is temporarily the weekend of March 27th-28th, 1970. I love how recorded music can transport you through space and time.

I guess I will go to bed soon and get some sleep so I'll be ready tomorrow to fully live day #21,396 of my life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't Just Do Something! Sit There!

Cat sits in the sun.
Dog sits in the grass.
Turtle sits on a rock.
Frog sits on the lily pad.
Why aren't people so smart?
-The Tao

Enough said. No commentary needed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keeping The Water Flowing

Today's reading from the Tao is very timely for me at this time of my life.

A moving door hinge never corrodes.
Flowing water never grows stagnant.

In the commentary we read that even in the autumn of your life, a time of life in which I find myself in the eternal Now, you cannot give up growth. If you do, you only invite decline. All the different aspects of a person...body, mind, and spirit...have one curious quality: If they cease to be exercised, they stop growing. Once they stop growing, they begin to atrophy. That is why, no matter how much you have accomplished and no matter how old you are, you must keep exercising all parts of yourself. The way of challenging oneself is also a valid but difficult path. Sometimes Tao chooses the difficult over the easy.

I am at a time in my life where I often feel tired. It is more than a physical fatigue. It might be called a fatigue of the spirit. As my wife likes to say, "I'm tired and I'm tired of it". It is not a fatigue based in negativity. It's the fatigue one accumulates when one has been "long on the journey". It might also be called the fatigue of faithfulness. I am getting very close to being 60 years old. I have been working for 40+ years. I've been married for 35+ years. I have been a parent for 30+ years. I have been faithful to all my commitments. When the alarm clock goes off each morning I get out of the bed and I do all the things I am supposed to do. If I say I will do something, I do it. If I say I will be somewhere, I will be there. I am as dependable as the rising and setting of the sun. On a good day, I am faithful. On an average day, I am on auto-pilot. On a bad day I am resentful of the expectations and demands made of me. The fuel that energizes me is a never ending desire and striving to sharpen my mind and renew my spirit. Admittedly, I haven't given enough time to renew and energize my body. I am sometimes physically lazy but I try to not be intellectually lazy. I try to be informed and educated through reading and dialogue. Although I have strayed a bit from organized religion, my trips to the monastery are not to document what kind of gas mileage I get on my car. The silence of that holy place feeds my spirit. I don't push myself as hard as some do, but I do try to have the mentality that life is a never ending opportunity to learn, to grow, and to become something new. I never want to retire just so I can sit in my chair all day and look out the window. Admittedly, a little time for such daydreaming would be nice. Until my last breath, I want to live as fully as I can. It doesn't come easy. The law of physics is correct when it says a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. I fight the urge to give in to rest. I hope my body, mind, and spirit are always in motion and moving forward so the hinges of my being do not corrode and the waters of my life do not become stagnant.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chloe And Pa Paw With A Couple of Friends

My granddaughter spent the weekend with my wife and me. It was the usual journey into the Land of Imagination where sponges become little boys and my Jerry Garcia doll comes alive. It's also Halloween time so green, disembodied hands grab you when you try to take candy out of a bowl. Now it is Sunday afternoon and my home is once again quiet. It's still amazing to me how much a five year old child can rock your world. Today is an absolutely beautiful autumn day. It's cool, the sun is shining bright, and the fall colors are really starting to burst forth. Life is good and beautiful.

My Extended Family

This is a picture of my extended family that includes my mother, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, brother in law's, sister in law's, boyfriends and girlfriends. Seated in the middle, holding a water bottle, is my mother who will soon be 80 years old. This picture was taken about a month ago at the annual Alzheimer's Memory walk. I was unable to participate this year but I hope to never miss it again. On the back of everyone's team shirt is a picture of my father. I miss him more than I ever thought I would. With Dad gone, I am now the patriarch of the family.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Shutting Out The Noise

When I woke up this morning it was dark, cold, and a light rain was falling. On top of this I didn't feel very well. I was up a couple of times during the night visiting the bathroom. My intestinal tract is like a delicate Eco system that must be carefully maintained. It doesn't take much to wreak havoc on it and throw everything out of balance. My desire and plan was to go to the monastery this morning. For a brief moment I considered staying home but, happily, I talked myself out of that idea. I took my normal route there and was frustrated with all the road construction. Three different highways had road repairs and narrowed lanes that caused some traffic backup even on a Saturday morning. I made a mental note to take a different route on the way home. When I got to the monastery another group had taken the room where we normally meet so we had to regroup a little. There was a nice group that showed up for our gathering and we had some really good discussion about how the lives and spirituality of the monks had and continues to impact our lives in the midst of family life, work life, and life "in the world". Part of the discussion dealt with the daily challenge of shutting out the noise in our lives. This is not only the physical noise perceived by our ears but also the noise in our over active and over stimulated minds that can result from the barrage of sounds and images and voices most of us experience in our daily lives. The quieting of the mind can be much more difficult than simply finding a quiet place. Before leaving the monastery I made a brief stop in the bookstore where I bought a book on the founders of the monastic order to which the monks of Gethsemani are descendants. Also, in order to add a little sweetness to my life, I bought some strawberry and blackberry preserves made by the monks. On the way home I took highway US 31E and it was a beautiful drive as the fall colors are beginning to emerge. Soon my granddaughter will arrive so I better stop and get in a brief nap while I can. I need to get prepared to switch mental gears from St. Benedict to SpongeBob Squarepants.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Learning From Snails

Here's something from that I wish I had written. It's very good and sums up well much of what I believe.

Enjoying a Snail's Pace
Doing Things Slowly

Life can often feel like it’s zipping by in fast forward. We feel obliged to accelerate our own speed along with it, until our productivity turns into frenzied accomplishment. We find ourselves cramming as much activity as possible into the shortest periods of time. We disregard our natural rhythms because it seems we have to just to keep up. In truth, rushing never gets you anywhere but on to the next activity or goal.

Slowing down allows you to not only savor your experiences, but also it allows you to fully focus your attention and energy on the task at hand. Moving at a slower place lets you get things done more efficiently, while rushing diminishes the quality of your work and your relationships. Slowing down also lets you be more mindful, deliberate, and fully present. When we slow down, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves to our natural rhythms. We let go of the “fast forward” stress, and allow our bodies to remain centered and grounded. Slowing down is inherent to fully savoring anything in life. Rushing to take a bath can feel like an uncomfortable dunk in hot water, while taking a slow hot bath can be luxuriant and relaxing. A student cramming for a test will often feel tired and unsure, whereas someone who really absorbs the information will be more confident and relaxed. Cooking, eating, reading, and writing can become pleasurable when done slowly. ! Slowing down lets you become more absorbed in whatever it is you are doing. The food you eat tastes better, and the stories you read become more alive.

Slowing down allows you to disconnect from the frenzied pace buzzing around you so you can begin moving at your own pace. The moments we choose to live in fast forward motion then become a conscious choice rather than an involuntary action. Learning to slow down in our fast-moving world can take practice, but if you slow down long enough to try it, you may surprise yourself with how natural and organic living at this pace can be.

Simple Pleasures...And A Few That Are Guilty

I love to go to the Mall. I love the sights and sounds and smells. I especially like going there on a work night when the crowds are thin and I have a little money in my pocket. My wife and I decided to give ourselves a little bonus and mine immediately started burning a hole in my pocket so off to the Mall we went. We started off with a gourmet meal at the food court. Even now, after my evening insulin shot, my blood sugar is buzzing from the orange chicken I got on the Chinese buffet. I should have avoided it and opted for the bourbon chicken. After dinner we parted ways and each of us headed out to indulge in whatever pleasures our money would buy us. I made a bee line for the music store where I quickly unloaded some of my cash. I completed my collection of all the Rolling Stones remasters along with an excellent Return to Forever jazz fusion anthology. Afterwards I went to Starbucks for a pound of fresh Guatemala Antigua and a sugar free Cinnamon Latte. I then proceeded to one of the benches designated as a husband waiting area. It's where all married men gather to wait for their soon to be arriving, shopping bag overloaded, wives. I quietly and peacefully sat there, sipping my latte and watching people walking around. A large majority of the people I observed were talking on their phones or checking their text messages and emails even if they were with other people. How did we live before cell phones? I think this obsession with staying connected to other people electronically is a thinly veiled indicator of everyone's basic loneliness and deep need to feel connected to others and to be thought of by others. We have a deep fear of losing our connectedness and being alone. I, too, feel this to some degree although it is not an obsession for me. Sometimes I think the more we communicate and the more we are electronically connected, the lonelier we get and the more isolated we feel. What most of us really need is less cell phone time and more face to face human interaction and affection. Let's face it. All most of us want is to be loved by others. That's more important than being "connected". I sometimes joke about Facebook. I tell friends it is a way for me to feel connected while also allowing me to be socially isolated. It's sad, and maybe funny, but true. The individualism of people in our society, the social isolation, and over dependence on electronic connections, creates much of the loneliness so may people feel. The Mall may be a place to spend your money and avoid your loneliness. It may be a place for people to gather in shared loneliness. At it's best, however, it is a place to be with people, have a good meal, drink a latte, talk to an old person sitting on a bench, buy something that makes you happy, and get a Cinnabon to take home for later.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another Slice of Woodstock

Just when I thought all the musical surprises were over from this past summer's 40th anniversary of the original Woodstock Music Festival, along comes the joy of Joe Cocker's complete performance. Quite unexpectedly it's been released on CD. Most of the last 40 years we've had to content ourselves with his classic performance of "With a Little Help from my Friends" in the Woodstock movie and a few other bits and pieces released here and there. Now we get it all exactly as it went down on that Sunday afternoon in August 1969. Immediately after this performance thousands of dirty hippies got a communal shower from a major summer thunderstorm. In another Woodstock recording that actually includes part of the thunderstorm you can hear a young girl shout "Hey Joe Cocker! Isn't the rain beautiful"! The spirit of Woodstock lives on in the musical performances.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The End Of Another Weekend

It is now Sunday evening. I've had to close my window against the evening chill. It's been a simply gorgeous autumn weekend with cold mornings and warm days. Driving home from dinner tonight there was a noticeable degree of color creeping into the leaves that still cling to the trees. Over the next few weeks I hope they will be even more colorful, not only in my neighborhood, but out on the open road. Next weekend I will be driving to the monastery as well as across the river into southern Indiana where I will be taking my granddaughter out to the pumpkin patches. In a few weeks I will also be traveling along I-64 West to visit my son at St. Meinrad Archabbey and soon after that down I-75 South to eastern Tennessee, home of the Great Smoky Mountains. All of these trips should be in perfect alignment with the ever changing and multi-colored rainbows of autumn in my part of the world.

It's been a quiet and mostly enjoyable weekend. Weekends are always quiet when my granddaughter is not here. I like the quiet and the rest but I always miss her when she is not around. Yesterday was a little frustrating because of some dealings with a home warranty company. I seem to have a home repair warranty that doesn't actually cover any repairs. Every problem I have seems to be an exception to the actual warranty. My warranty doesn't cover repairs unless the problem is caused by solar flares, weapons of mass destruction, nuclear radiation, or an attack by aliens from another planet. I checked the contract and sure enough this was all specified in the small print.

Today I got out of bed about 9:00 AM which is a perfect time on a weekend. I made some coffee, walked outside for my morning paper, and listened to a concert by the progressive rock band called Yes. It was recorded in Amsterdam in 2001 with a full orchestra. Later, throughout the day, I listened to my newly acquired Beatles CD's. I think the Beatles are the greatest and most influential band of all time. Finally in the afternoon I finished a few chores, i.e., laundry, clean up the kitchen, carry some crates to the shed, and pick up some yard waste. My son was home this weekend but now he's back on the road to the seminary so once again the nest is empty. Another work week starts tomorrow...

Pictured above are some of the seasonal decorations in my home courtesy of my wife.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Being In The Moment

Eckhart Tolle, in his book The Power of Now states "The whole essence of Zen is walking on the razor's edge of be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.

Being in the moment requires what may appear as opposite energies working together. To be in the moment one needs focus along with the ability to let go. Being in the moment requires us to focus on the Now while letting go of attachments to the past or daydreams of a perfect future. So many of us are filled with regrets about bad behavior or poor choices that we made in our youth or even in our recent lives. Often it is difficult to let go and leave behind the mistakes of the past. Equally difficult at times is letting go of a romanticized version of the past that never really happened as we think we remember it. In general, life has never been as easy or simple as we thought it was. Looking at my life 30 years ago, when I was 28 years old, with my now 58 year old eyes distorts the reality of how challenging life really was as young, naive, and often financially challenged parent. Even now, as a wiser and older person, I must also let go of my daydreams of a perfect future when today's troubles are behind me, when I no longer have to work, when I have no money problems, when I can do whatever I want whenever I want. Hopefully, I will have some of this but it's not likely to be perfect. Today's troubles will be replaced with tomorrow's challenges. I may be free of today's work grind but I still may need to work a little to supplement my income. It's not likely that my health will get better as I age. I may become one of those retired people who are busier than they have ever been. Life is uncertain so tomorrow's dreams may never happen. The point is that we cannot relive the past and the future is uncertain. What we can do is live well now. Make the most of every moment. Live life as fully as the moment allows. Grab on to the joy of the moment. Today, for example, is about as beautiful as a day can be. I went outside earlier to feel the coolness of the wind and the warmth of the sun. It energized me and I felt one with the moment and with life. As the author Ram Dass says, "Be here now"! Today will be tomorrow's yesterday and we can then let it go. The Now is inexhaustible and will continuously replenish itself. By living in the moment our joy may also be inexhaustible and continuously replenished.

Precious Moments

The combination of busyness and fatigue have prevented me from writing. My granddaughter spent the weekend with my wife and me. One of our activities was getting our Halloween decorations out of my shed. Chloe is a very active, and, from what I am told, a typical five year old. When she is around everything revolves around her. She is a dynamo of activity. If my wife has her attention I can usually sneak away for a moment's rest. When I have her attention, my wife can do the same. Most of the time, however, she prefers my company, especially at the crack of dawn on Sunday mornings. She did go home with her parents on Sunday night but I was back at her house early on Monday morning. There was no school so I volunteered to pick her up and spend the day with her. We had a wonderful time. Most of the morning she sat in my lap and we watched SpongeBob Squarepants and Mickey Mouse on television. We also went out for lunch at McDonald's and played outside in the yard. I love my granddaughter very much and enjoy spending time with her. Although it can be exhausting for a 58 year old man to go toe to toe with the energy and imagination of a five year old I consider every moment with her to be precious. I have a Zen saying on my computer that reads, "What, at this moment, is lacking"? When I am with Chloe, the answer is "nothing". She lives in the Now and when I am with her, love fills up all the space in the Now of my life.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Ego

I don't have any personal reflections tonight but here's something good from the dailyom website.

Serving the Higher Self
The Ego

In most spiritual circles, the ego gets a pretty bad rap. The reason for this is that the ego, to some extent, is the principle in our psyches that separates us from one another, while spirit is the principle that shows us that no such separation exists. Sometimes the ego is depicted as an almost demonic figure that keeps us from realizing our true nature. But at its most basic, the ego is simply a tool that helps us organize the various aspects of our personality so that we can function in the world. In this sense, the ego is simply a way for us to understand and attend to ourselves at the same time as we understand and attend to the world around us. The ego is a tool that we use to navigate the world.

Perhaps the problem is that the ego sometimes gets out of control. This happens when the higher self loses control of the psyche. The psyche then falls under the leadership of the ego, an entity that was never meant to lead. The ego is meant to be definitively in the service of the higher self. When this relationship is functioning, the ego is a useful intermediary representing the whole self but not thinking that it is the whole self. Then, it is almost as if the ego is the self playfully pretending to be the separate entity called "I." Like an actor, the ego plays the roles that the world asks us to play in order to be part of the program. In this way, the ego can be a tool enabling us to be in the world but not of it.

As long as we are in touch with our higher selves, our egos are not a threat. They are simply useful tools in the service of spirit. We keep our egos in check when we continually nurture our awareness of who we really are. Then our egos are free to serve without trying ineffectually to rule. It is healthy to have ego, but like all things in life, ego functions best when it is in balance and harmony with your whole se

Thursday, October 01, 2009

This Is It. Nothing Else Happens

There are no ancients before me, no followers behind,
only the vastness of heaven and earth on this mountain terrace.
Though heaven may know the ultimate, joy or sorrow is our own will.

Today's Tao commentary basically says "We stand alone in this life. No one lives our life for us. Neither drug nor sorcery can remove us, even for a moment, from our own life. We are here alone to engage every precious moment according to our wills. Accept who you are. Be who you are. The future is yet to be made. Let us go forth and make it but let us make it as beautifully as we can. The degree of elegance is determined by our will and the perfection of our own personalities. Therefore, do not sigh over misfortune or adversity. Whether you are happy or sad is entirely up to you".

The first thing I thought of when I read all of this is a story about two monks meditating side by side. One was an old, seasoned monk and the other a young novice. They both sat in silence with their eyes closed. Occasionally, the young novice would open an eye and peek at the older monk. Eventually, the older monk opens his eyes and smiles at the young novice. He gently says, "This is it. Nothing else happens".

A friend of mine, who was formerly one of my teachers, once said, "The moment is as perfect as it can be".

Our lives are as good as they can be in this moment based on our wills and the perfection of our own personalities. Each of us has the power to make the moment as beautiful as we can. One man's hell is another man's heaven. More often than not, the quality of the moment is a perception within our own mind. Whatever is happening is what is happening. How we react and how we perceive it is a matter of our own will. The moment is as perfect as we make it. Some enlightened individuals found beauty even within the confines of a concentration camp. Others can't see beauty even when standing in front of a field of flowers. This moment, whatever is happening, is your life. Whether you are happy or sad is entirely up to you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Spiritual Journey...What Is Real And What Is Imaginary?

Here's another reading from the Tao.

Writings about the Tao are purposefully obscure.

Why? Because the writers cherish Tao.
The path is difficult to ensure worthiness.
The lazy look elsewhere,
The persevering find riches.

Today's commentary states, "The writers of the Tao only want knowledge of the Tao to go to those who will appreciate it. They do not want to pollute Tao by exposing it to the mildly curious. The secrets of life are already written repeatedly in all the holy books. They are only secrets because we do not take the time to truly read".

Many people, including me, are always searching for something but they often don't know what it is that they are searching for. Some type of inner voice is always calling them to what one friend calls "the distant shore". We may feel there's a void within us that is a kind of "inner ocean". We don't know what's on the other side but still we have a longing to go there. Our lives are restless and we may be nomadic in the sense that we are always on a journey even if our physical geography rarely changes. I think there are many people like this.

My musical hero, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, once said something to the effect that he was intrigued by the statistics that stated there were many mentally ill people walking around in public who seemed reasonably happy and content. This makes me think about all the people living their lives who could care less about spiritual journeys, inner landscapes, finding themselves, self improvement, or whether or not there is a God. Many happy and fulfilled people could care less about these things. They feel that nothing is lacking in their lives from the absence of "meaning" found in what others call the "spiritual journey". It makes me wonder sometimes if the "spiritual journey" is real or imaginary or if the "path that is difficult to ensure worthiness" is a path at all. What is real and what is imaginary? Honestly, I don't know. Is there an inner voice that calls me forward or is this "voice" a figment of my own imagination? It is impossible to know what is real and true in matters of the Spirit. Spiritual people are often very troubled and unspiritual people can be very happy. Some live in faith, some in doubt, and others seem to live in a kind of blissful ignorance that I sometime envy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What A Beautiful Day!

Last night it got cool enough to turn off the A/C and sleep with the windows open. I was sleeping deeply until about 3:00 AM when my eyes shot open and I was instantly wide awake. The next three hours, until my alarm went off at 6:15 AM, were spent tossing and turning, falling in and out of dreams. Now my work day is over and I am sitting here with a very cool breeze blowing in my window. Today was a beautiful autumn day. The morning started off cool and the day didn't get much warmer. The noon sky was dark blue with only whispers of clouds drifting in the heavens. If you were in the shade it was cool even in the middle of the day. The sun was bright and warm but not hot. I went outside for a few moments around noon and I soon found myself lost in it all. If I had been in a comfortable spot, without afternoon obligations, I could have remained there for hours. Now, as the sun sets, and the day begins to wind down, the beauty continues and I am refreshed by the cool breezes. In spite of this refreshment, I would quickly fall asleep if I sat in my comfortable chair, with the blanket my friend Wendy brought me from Mexico, and the cool breeze conjoling me into an altered state of consciousness. It is with great joy that I welcome autumn, cool days, open windows, sleep inducing breezes, and a kalaidoscope of colors as the leaves begin their death dance before letting go and continuing the cycle of life.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Weekend Of Doing Nothing In Particular

This has been the kind of weekend I was needing. I passed on a retreat at the monastery. Most would think a weekend at the monastery would be a great way to get away from it all. However, it would have been a group retreat. In other words I would have been getting away from the "all" of my normal life to the "all" of a group retreat. The kind of retreat that I really need is a private retreat where no one recognizes me, I am truly alone, and, for all intent and purposes, invisible. Instead, I have spent most of the weekend in my home with my wife and son. All three of us are introverts so we are happy to be alone together. I have only ventured out for evening meals in nearby restaurants. Much of the weekend I have been "on the bus" with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. A young friend at work loaned me a copy of Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test". According to my friend it is his "all time favorite book" after Jack Kerouac's "On The Road". It is certainly an entertaining book and brings back memories of my own psychedelic adventures in the late 60's. I was no Merry Prankster but I was no saint either. Tomorrow morning I will return to my other extreme which is quiet reflections from Thomas Merton's "A Vow of Conversation". Those familiar with Merton and monastic life will see the irony in this title since most people think the monks take a vow of silence. They don't. They just choose silence.

I am not widely traveled. There is much of the United States I have not seen and I've only been abroad once when I went to France. However, most of my life I have been a traveler and a seeker. It's just that most of my journey has been internal. Some dream of outer space. I have explored my inner space. In my youth it involved the hippie life and experimenting with drugs. Most of my life, however, it has been more of a spiritual journey. In some ways I cannot define what this means. The word spiritual has come to mean many things to many people. My own awareness has become less dependent on religion but does not reject it. My attempts to be awake and aware are primarily my efforts to live in the moment through mindfulness and to live in wonder through contemplation. I know for some this may all sound like a lot of BS. However, through my life experiences, the personality these experiences have created, and the influences that have touched and formed me, I have attained a certain ability to live in the moment and to be present to the "hidden wholeness" that is part of all life. In the Tom Wolfe book I am reading this weekend Ken Kesey says, "Be in your own movie". Each of us is on a personal journey whether we recognize this fact or not. Each of us is in our own movie whether we are aware of it or not. We cannot be in one another's movies. I cannot see through your eyes. My movie is my journey and I must live it as it unfolds to me. Movies come in many types. Some are dramas, others are comedies. A few are grand adventures, while some are total fantasies. I do not think we get to choose our movies completely although we may interject a plot twist here and there. Whatever your personal movie is, the important thing is to be in it and not watch it from a distance.

A friend of mine went to San Francisco this past week. I told her to visit Haight-Asbury and think of me. She did exactly that and even took a picture for me! The famous intersection is shown above.