Friday, December 31, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume XII

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. Before I left work on Christmas Eve it had begun snowing downtown. I am a snow lover and the prospect of a white Christmas did make me a little giddy. When I got home my wife let me chill for a bit before she cracked the whip and implemented Operation Christmas Eve. I am busier on Christmas Eve than I am on Christmas Day. It was an enjoyable evening and I was reminded what a great extended family I have. By the time I got home, after a drive through the heavy snowfall, it was 1:30 AM. Thank God I didn't have to wait for my 28 year old son to fall asleep before making the final preparations for Christmas morning. The tradition in my family is for dear old Dad to get up and make breakfast for everyone. I was busy in the kitchen doing that when my oldest son and granddaughter arrived. It's wonderful to have a child in the family who totally believes in all the Christmas magic. Unfortunately she is a very bright young lady and she's starting to question the logic of some traditional beliefs. When we were together on Christmas Eve at my sister in law's she noticed the house had two fireplaces. She asked, "Which fireplace will Santa use to get in this house"? I suggested that he would probably use the one closest to the Christmas tree. At the same time she has never questioned what happens at my house which has no fireplace. She has also made the connection that anything in a J.C. Penny's red box is probably clothes. All in all it was another good Christmas and I have new music to play, new books to read, and some heavy socks to wear when I am taking naps in my favorite chair.

The recent Christmas snow is gone but I am sure we haven't seen the last of snow. We have a lot of winter ahead of us. For now, let me share my favorite poem about snow.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost.

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or we can rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.
-Abraham Lincoln

It's all about attitude and humor. With the right attitude you can make the best of any situation. With a bad attitude even the best situation is unsatisfactory. When I was at work last Sunday I joked with a co-worker that one advantage to working on a Sunday is that you get a great parking spot. She responded, "I'm glad you have a sense of humor about being here". If working on a Sunday, when I would normally be home chilling out or taking a nap, is a thorn bush, the rose is that I am employed and have a job. This year is rapidly coming to an end. In 2011 I will be starting a new decade of living. There is a lot about getting older that is a thorn bush. Physically I am not the man I used to be. I am not as strong, I don't have near the energy I had in my youth, and I have a lot of aches and pains. I am also acutely aware that I have more years behind me than in front of me. However, there are also roses associated with getting older. I think I am a lot wiser than I was as a young person. I am certainly a lot calmer and I rarely get angry. I get to be my granddaughter's Paw Paw and that has brought me great joy. I also have a greater appreciation for all of life. For the most part I have my life together and I have passed and survived the challenges of my youth including raising my own children. I guess what it all boils down to is finding and appreciating balance in your life. There will always be some challenges but there are always blessings, too. When you move a little slower, like I do now, you notice a lot more. For example, this past Monday night I noticed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever witnessed. I bet most of the people speeding down the road didn't even notice it. All they saw was the thorn bush of rush hour traffic. They missed the rose of the sunset.

This morning, on my way through the park next to my office building, I saw a rabbit! That's a first for me in the downtown area. No, he wasn't wearing a suit, or holding a watch, and he wasn't yelling "I'm late! I'm late"! If that doesn't make an sense to you, read "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll.

It seems to me that people are divided on many different levels. People are divided by race, gender, economic level, sexual preference, culture, and religion to name a few. What I think divides people the most, however, is education. There are many intelligent people walking around but they are not educated and they are often unsophisticated. A lack of education can make an intelligent person ignorant and closed minded. A lack of education can make an intelligent person "rough around the edges". One of the great things about a good education is that it gives you a deeper understanding of the world and all of our differences. Differences are not the same thing as divisions. With understanding comes tolerance, acceptance, and a true appreciation of diversity. The purpose of a good education is not just to help you get a better job. A good education is it's own reward. Too much of what some people consider education is simply job training. A good education expands your mind and you become a thinking person with an enlightened consciousness, not just someone who knows how to do something. The truly educated person never stops learning. They realize that all of life is a learning experience. A truly educated person not only has knowledge but they also acquire wisdom. You acquire knowledge in the classroom or the library. You acquire wisdom by applying you knowledge in the classroom life. A good education can never be taken away from you. By the way, a lack of opportunity or resources to attend college does not doom you to a life of ignorance. When was the last time you read a book?

Today is the last day of 2010. Looking back this year has been a blur. Way back in 1969 I was a senior in high school. About this same time of year my best friend and I went to the Showcase Cinema's to see the movie called "2001 A Space Odyssey". In the hazy daze of the late sixties I thought we would be flying around in spaceships by now. OK, I admit that in the late sixties there were a few times my best friend and I thought we were flying around in spaceships. In 1969 the time we are in now seemed so far into the future. Just a few weeks ago they bulldozed the Showcase Cinema's where I spent so many nights with a variety of girls watching the hit movies of the day. Many conveniences exist now that we didn't have in 1969 but I am not sure our quality of life is better. Most of what my children take for granted didn't exist when my wife and I got married. We have more stuff that is supposed to make our lives more convenient, yet we all complain that we don't have enough time. There are many people, and they are not all old, who yearn for a simpler and much slower life. Even when I go on vacation I return home needing a vacation from my vacation. In parts of Europe there is actually a movement to slow life down. I thought my life would naturally slow down once my children were raised and were out of my house. It hasn't happened so I have been taking steps to slow it down myself. I say no a lot more than I used to do. I have stopped doing some things. Currently I have no commitments other than working. When I am not at work I am usually at home doing what I want to do. What I want to do is whatever makes me happy or gives me joy. Unless it is something really necessary, if I don't want to do it, I don't do it. In 2011 what I want more than anything is more leisure time to do what I want to do and for my life in general to move a little slower. I also want world peace and for no one to go to bed hungry.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Being With Basil Pennington

One of the books I received for Christmas is called "As We Knew Him...Reflections on M. Basil Pennington". The book is a collection of various people's memories and stories of their encounters with Fr. Basil Pennington. For those that don't know, Basil Pennington was a world renowned monk, priest, author, and spiritual master. I first became acquainted with his writings in the early 1980's when the now famous Centering Prayer movement was getting started. I continued to follow his work and considered him a true mentor in my contemplative life and I admired him from afar. I wrote to him several times and he always responded. Once he sent me the gift of an Orthodox Prayer Cord used in the recitation of the Jesus Prayer. In the late 1980's I began my own contemplative work as a founding member of a lay associate group at the Abbey of Gethsemani. As I became more involved in this lay movement I traveled to several Trappist monasteries in the United States and abroad. The high point of my involvement was a trip in 2005 to Clairvaux, France for an international conference of monks, nuns, and lay people. On this trip I was also able to visit the still active Abbey of Citeaux, the original monastery of the Trappist/Cistercian order. As one of the founders of the Centering Prayer movement, it made perfect sense that Fr. Basil would also be a strong supporter of what became known as the lay Cistercian movement within the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. This is where our paths crossed. I went to a USA regional gathering in upstate New York at the Abbey of the Genesee and much to my joy Fr Basil was attending the same meeting. Anyone who ever met Fr Basil could not be unimpressed with him. He stood six feet, five inches tall and looked like Santa Claus dressed as a monk. Most people assume all monks are deep introverts. Fr. Basil was quite the opposite. He came across to me as a larger than life extrovert. It was quite an honor for me to meet him. During this first encounter I was able to spend most of a week interacting with him during discussions and meals. I was truly sitting at the feet of a spiritual master. I spent another week with him a few years later at a Cistercian gathering at Holy Spirit Monastery in Georgia. At that time he was the Abbot of Holy Spirit Monastery. My final encounter with him was at the Abbey of Gethsemani when we were both attending the Abbatial blessing of Fr. Damien Thompson. Sadly, Fr. Basil died in June of 2005 from injuries received in a car accident. I received news of his death while I was in France. I know that I was only one of thousands of people who encountered Fr. Basil in his lifetime. We certainly weren't intimate friends. However, I feel blessed to have personally met him and to have spent some casual but quality time in his presence. One of my cherished mementos is a picture of the two of us taken during our week together at Holy Spirit Monastery. It sits in an honored spot on my bookshelf.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume XII

Merry Christmas to all of you!

My granddaughter, Chloe, spent the night with my wife and me last Friday night. We watched the Christmas movie "Home Alone" and laughed a lot, especially when the little boy Kevin put the tarantula on the bad guy's face. Later in bed all three of us watched SpongBob Squarepants before falling asleep. As I expected Chloe and I got up early on Saturday morning because "only Paw Paw's like to get up early". We went downstairs, she helped me make coffee, and then we had a tea party with a snowman, my Jerry Garcia doll, some dinosaurs, and other assorted stuffed animals. When it was time for me to get ready for work we woke up my wife who was still in bed because "Memo's don't like to get up early". Much of life is difficult and trying. Many chores and obligations take a real effort. My granddaughter, however, is a source of real joy for me. Maybe it's because I never had a daughter. Maybe it's because being a Paw Paw is a reward for being a Dad. It doesn't really matter why. Speaking of being a Dad....My two sons have begun to collect what they call "Dadisms". These are things I say over and over, apparently in a very predictable fashion. My youngest son also does a very good imitation of me. I must admit that I find it all very funny because my wife and I did the same thing with our parents.

After three snowfalls, one ice storm, and some really cold days, this past Tuesday was the official start of winter. It was also the winter solstice which is the shortest day of the year. There's a reason that Christians celebrate Christmas at this time of year. No one knows for sure what day Jesus was born. The early Christians believed that Jesus Christ was the "Light of the World" so what better time to acknowledge his birth than during the darkest time of the year? The date for celebrating Christmas is more symbolic than historical. The idea of Santa Claus did not begin in America until the 17th Century. Here's a link that gives you a brief history of the man in the red suit.

Now that the winter solstice has arrived the days will slowly get longer until we reach the Summer Solstice on June 21st.

This past Monday night my son and I were having dinner at the Waffle House. If he's home from the seminary and my wife is doing something else, the two of us usually end up at the Waffle House. When he was a teenager I took him to a Rolling Stones concert in Indianapolis. On the way home we stopped at a Waffle House and I introduced him to hash browns. He's been hooked on them ever since. These thoughts are not really about the Rolling Stones or hash browns. They're about my faith in mankind being restored. While we were in the Waffle house there was only one other customer plus a cook, our waiter, and another waitress. While we were eating and talking about life the waitress came over to our table and said, "The stranger that just left paid for your dinner". I was shocked and said, "Are you kidding"? She assured me that she wasn't so I looked outside and saw the man getting into his truck. I gave him a thank you wave and he waved back. There's a philosophy that some people call "Pay It Forward". It means that when something is done for you, instead of paying back the person that did it for you, you "pay it forward" to someone else. I thought of this philosophy in the afterglow of the stranger's kindness. My first impulse was to over tip my waiter which I did. Going forward, however, I hope I don't forget the kindness shown to me and when the moment is right I hope I show such kindness to someone else.

A friend of mine sent me the following quote.

The reason acceptance isn't more popular is that in acceptance there is nothing to do. In acceptance there is nothing that needs to be changed, fixed, worked on, or otherwise improved. It is what it is!
-Cheri Huber

Acceptance is not the same thing as giving in or giving up. Acceptance is not allowing life to just toss you to and fro as though you were a small boat on the ocean during a storm. I think acceptance is more of a realization that you can't control or manipulate everything around you. It is realizing that sometimes we are powerless. There is a situation in my personal life right now that I would love to change but it is beyond my control. It is very difficult to simply accept it. I am not a control freak but I do like to fix what is broken. For some people the idea of acceptance is rooted in faith. Some people's attitude is "Let go and let God". Their acceptance is a sign of faith and hope that the situation will take care of itself and everything will turn out as it should. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn't. It is sometimes difficult to accept that some things in life are what they are and happen for a reason even if we cannot understand it logically. When we are in situations where acceptance is needed I think we still need to ask ourselves if we have done all we can or all we should because acceptance is not passivity.

The cosmic event known as Christmas really kicked in this week. Earlier this week I had a team breakfast with one set of co-workers followed by a team lunch with another set of co-workers. Most of that afternoon I sat in a stupor from too much eating in too short a time. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. After a few hours in the office I will begin family visits to my mother's and sister in law's where I will see brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, in-laws and outlaws, sister in law's and brother in laws, boyfriends and girlfriends, and a few that have no specific title yet. My granddaughter will be wild with excitement and I will be weary and eager for bed. God willing, however, I will rise early on Christmas morning to prepare a tasty breakfast for my immediate family when they come over to my house. By the time we eat breakfast, have the final exchange of gifts, and clean up the mess, I will be more than ready to have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. What the heck is a sugar plum anyway?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume XI

This past Sunday was a good day to stay indoors. Much of the day my granddaughter was with me and my son is home from the seminary for Christmas break. I enjoyed watching the snow fall throughout the day and occasionally having a cup of Cafe Mocha. In my mind it was a perfect day for being at home. It occurred to me that it is still officially fall and we have already had three measurable snowfalls. What will happen when winter really gets here?

The Elf is still on the loose....

In general God has blessed me with an optimistic and positive attitude about life. I can usually see the sunny side of everything. I admit there are occasions when I am cynical. It doesn't take any special skill to be cynical. The world is full of liars and charlatans who try their best to manipulate us regular folks. Sometimes these people are well disguised and we don't always immediately recognize their insincerity. When people or leaders turn out to be less than I thought they were, my cynicism rears it's ugly head. In spite of the existence of such people, I usually see life as a glass half full or over flowing rather than half empty. Because of my generally positive attitude I am usually able to make the best of most situations. The ability to be flexible and adaptable are great life skills. I know I am a creature of habit and routine and I can get stuck in them. Sometimes I am slow to change but more often than not, I am happy when I do so. One of my favorite sayings these days is "It is what it is". I try to avoid perceptions whether they are my own or other's. I try to deal with reality in a positive and optimistic way. It's too easy to be cynical and negative and both are life draining. If you are positive and optimistic you are filled with hope and hope is always life giving.

Last summer I went to Chicago and attended an all day rock, jazz, and blues music festival. That particular day the heat index was 105 degrees and I thought I was going to die of a heat stroke. I remember thinking, "I'll be so glad when colder weather gets here". Now the colder weather is here and the last few mornings I thought I was going to die walking from the parking garage. Autumn is my favorite time of the year and technically we are still in autumn. Why then have we had three measurable snowfalls, single digit temperatures, and below zero wind chills? I guess one should be careful what you ask for! I actually like winter with it's snowfalls and exquisite sunrises. Summer is a time of long days and much activity. Winter days are short and many of our outdoor activities are on hiatus. Winter is a time to get cozy, stay indoors, read books, watch movies, drink hot chocolate, and take naps. During winter I usually get into hibernation mode and I am happy to withdraw and slow down. Some people think I do this all the time. Of course we can't really hibernate or wait until spring before reappearing in public. At this time of year life is also anything but slow. There's lots of work and holiday demands. I still like it but I do hibernate as much as possible and after the holidays I always enjoy the nothingness of January.

On top of all the other winter weather there was an ice storm last night. When I was outside cleaning off my cars I did a triple backwards double axle in my driveway that probably qualifies me for the Olympics.

This is a time of year when I really try to be grateful for how blessed I am but the holidays are a strange time of year. There is so much material excess in terms of the commercial side of the holidays but there is also a much greater awareness of the poor and those in need. People's spending is usually out of control, and although this is good for the economy, it is usually bad for people's bank accounts. Regardless, at this time of the year people are more giving than at any other time of the year. As I sit here typing these thoughts I am grateful for many things. In general, I am grateful that I have a good life. Now a "good life" is a relative thing and what is a good life is often in the eye of the beholder. I think I am "middle class" yet the news would have me believe the middle class is disappearing. The last time I looked I was still here. I certainly don't think I am poor but I am also a long way from wealthy. However, when compared to much of the world I am wealthy and I live like a King. At this time of my life I have everything I need and most of what I want. I have food, shelter, employment, and enough creature comforts to satisfy me. More important than my material possessions are the people in my life. I have family and friends who are important to me and who care about me. Life is good and I am blessed with many good people and things in my life while also being spared many bad things. Sometimes we must also be grateful for what we don't have.

I was also grateful for the extra sleep I got this morning since my employer had a delayed opening and for the wonderful pumpkin bread that one of my co-workers brought to the office.

Most people are passionate about something. It might be their work or a hobby that gives them a creative outlet. Anyone who is truly artistic must be passionate about their art. A true artist would never be complacent about what they create. Some people are passionate about a political or spiritual cause. They will be activists for a political point of view or some social need they see in our society. Sometimes, however, our passions are just for things we enjoy. In my life there have been a few things I am passionate about. From my youth I have been passionate about books and music. I suppose I should be thankful to good teachers for giving me a love of books. Even though I was a typical boy who loved sports and riding my bike, I also loved when the bookmobile came through my neighborhood. I have also always loved music. I can still remember how thrilled I was to get my first transistor radio. It was the 1960's equivalent of today's ipod. I loved listening to the "Top 40" hits of the day and I went a little crazy when I went to my first rock concert and saw the original Beach Boys. I have been rocking and rolling for nearly 50 years now. I have seen most of the great musicians of my generation and I have the bad hearing to prove it. When I got about 50 years old I realized I had a talent for writing so now writing is a creative outlet that I must allow to happen. I started out writing for friends and co-workers. Eventually I created a blog. At this time over 15,000 people from all over the world have visited it. Because of this I've made several friends in foreign countries. The point of all this is to encourage all of you to find your passion and follow your bliss. It's who you are.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume X

You must be the change you want to see.
-Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was a nonviolent man who lead India to independence from British rule until he was killed by an assassin in 1947. He was the primary inspiration for Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights movement in America during the 1960's. It's our loss that we have few leaders like him today. The only one that comes to mind in recent times is Nelson Mandela. Gandhi was quite the revolutionary although he did it mostly on a spiritual level through his example and the gentle persuasion of his diplomacy. He is a real example for all of us. There is not a day of my life where I don't hear people complain about something. Occasionally I am the one doing the complaining. Gandhi urges us to be the change we want to see. If you don't like the way things are, if you think something is unjust or unfair, do something about it. If you think there is a problem, don't just whine about it. Suggest a solution. One person can make a difference. It may take some courage and persistence on your part. Even if you don't implement a change I think it's better to fail trying to do the right thing than to succeed at doing nothing but complaining.

A little while in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.

Rumi was a Persian poet who lived in the 13th century. He wrote beautiful poetry that was also filled with much wisdom. Have you been to the Mall lately? Do you like rush hour traffic? Have you ever gone to the grocery store when there's even a slight chance of snow falling? We live in an increasingly crowded world that moves at a very fast pace and it seems to do so 24 hours a day. Modern life is frantic and stressful and it can often feel like white water rafting. We are in our little boats and the river of life seems to just carry us along and we have no power to stop it. Rumi offers us a simple antidote. Make a little time in your day to be quiet and to be alone. If you have a personality like mine such time is mandatory for your mental health. Spending a little time each day in silence and solitude is the way I recharge my batteries after I deal with whatever life has asked of me that day. Everyone can benefit from such time and it can be a gift to yourself.

The journey is the destination.
-Zen saying

My youngest son makes fun of me because I have a tee shirt with this saying in the back. However, the joke is on him because the saying is true. In other thoughts I have talked about mindfulness and being in the moment. We often daydream about a past that wasn't as great as we imagine it was or we long for a future that may never be. We are so busy remembering the past or dreaming about the future that we miss everything in the middle. The middle is now and the journey is now. Our goal, our destination, is to be where we are now and to appreciate the moment. This doesn't mean we can't remember people or events in our past with fondness or that we can't have hopes and dreams that we hope to achieve someday. I think it means to enjoy the ride! I used to attend Grateful Dead concerts all the time. I can distinctly remember being at one and thinking, "Enjoy this moment. This won't last forever". Sure enough, a few years Jerry Garcia died and the Grateful Dead as I knew them ceased to exist. I dearly love my six year old granddaughter but sometimes she wears me out. I try to have the attitude "Enjoy this tea party, Paw Paw, because one day she will be all grown up and hanging out with Paw Paw won't be her top priority". Enjoy your life now because these are the good old days.

Yesterday, in the early afternoon, after delivering an unpopular message to my co-workers, I decided I needed some fresh air. I took a walk in Waterfront Park past the Christmas tree lot and along the river. The cold air was refreshing and the flowing of the river was calming. Christmas is a little over two weeks away. Work is demanding and the holiday schedules are crazy. It's a stressful time in the office. While I was out walking I thought about all of this. If your "hard times" are because you have to work a lot this holiday season, count your blessings. Remember that your sacrifices at work are benefiting your families. I saw on the news earlier this week that hundreds, maybe thousands, of people were applying for 1000 temporary jobs at Zappo's Shoe Company. These jobs will barely last two weeks and most of the people will be let go right after Christmas. The current unemployment average in this country still hovers around 10%. Most years during the holiday season I take time off because it's my favorite time of year. This year I am working more than I normally would. I made a conscious decision to not complain about it and to be grateful that I am working. Many people would love the opportunity that has been given to me and my co-workers. I know some of them are not happy and I understand. However, I have realized in my life that my happiness is in direct proportion to my gratefulness. Employment is something for which I am very grateful. I can take time off later when life and work is not so crazy.

It has been a beautiful morning. I don't normally start my workday in late morning but I did today. The change was pleasant because it gave me three solitary and wonderful hours at home. I got out of my bed at my usual time so I could enjoy the morning. The change in hours will seem a little less pleasant when it's 4:00 PM today and I realize I have to work three more hours.

Today is my mother's 81st birthday. I am her oldest child but five more children came after me. It is also the anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk and spiritual writer who has been a great influence on my thinking and living. In 2005 I was asked to give a talk at the Cathedral of the Assumption here in Louisville about the influence Merton has had on my life. It was a great honor for me.

I am looking forward to this weekend. My granddaughter will be around and it is the only weekend I will be off work for the rest of the month. It is also going to snow again so I look forward with giddiness to the thought of snowflakes filling the air and covering the ground.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume IX

Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.
-Mark Twain

There is an order to the universe that I find very comforting. I can depend on the rising and the setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons. On the other hand, I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said, "The only thing you can depend on is death and taxes". However, within the framework of the truly dependable, and the many things we can predict with reasonable accuracy, there are many, many things that we do not see coming. Sometimes they are good things and sometimes they are bad things. Sometimes they are neither and they are just things that happen. One time I found a $50 bill lying on the sidewalk. Another time I was knocked unconscious in a car accident that I never saw coming. Occasionally I have been "surprised by joy" with no warning or reason. Buddha says that all things are impermanent. The downside of that is that all good things will come to an end eventually. The upside of that is that bad things do not last forever either. Each day is full of new possibilities. Yes, I know that sounds like a cliche but it is true. As an aging hippie I am a believer in good vibes and karma. I believe that sooner or later you will get what you deserve. If you put out good vibes, good things will come your way eventually. If you are constantly negative or hostile, I believe you will eventually experience negativity and hostility. All things are possible but much of what happens to us we bring to ourselves. What do you want to happen today?

My wife recently bought a book titled "The Elf on the Shelf". It is a children's Christmas book and it comes with a small toy elf. The real elves are all working overtime at the North Pole in preparation for Christmas. The point of the story is that the elf on the shelf was sent by Santa to see if a child is being naughty or nice. The book explains that a child may talk to the elf but can never touch it or the elf will lose it's magic. In addition, the elf will listen to the child but never speak to the child. The fun part for the parents....or moving the elf around the room when the child or grandchild is not around. My wife and I have been doing this and it's making my granddaughter crazy with excitement and wonder. Remember, she already thinks my house is magic. This past weekend we took the elf over to her house when we took her home. When she wasn't looking we put the elf on a shelf in her kitchen. When she saw the elf in her own house she really freaked. It's a wonderful thing to see the joy and excitement on a child's face during this time of year.

Avoid the crowd. Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.
-Ralph Charell

Speaking from my own experience, it seems that when we are young it is very important to feel part of a group. No one wants to be an outsider and we all want to be accepted by those we consider important. As I have gotten older this has become less important to me. The older I get the more independent, and even rebellious, I get. I don't need acceptance from everyone and I am happy to walk my own path. I've never been a control freak and I hate when others try to control me. One of the gifts of aging is that most people acquire a renewed desire to live their own life rather than have it controlled by others. I am not advocating being anti-social. I like people and generally they like me. Friendships and relationships with other people are important to me. What I am saying, and what I think the author of today's quote is saying, is that the goal of your life is to become self-actualized as a person. If you are growing, you are becoming who you are meant to be, and when you are all you can be, you have become self-actualized. This is the highest level of Abraham Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" in our psychological growth. It is a life long journey.

In old age nothing is better than a warm fire.
-Native American Saying

I think my age is catching up with me because this quote makes more and more sense to me all the time. When I was young I used to stay out half the night, running the streets, and howling at the moon. The older I get the more I just want to be at home. It is my favorite place to be. Home should be our refuge from the world and all it's demands. If we are fortunate our homes are also havens of peace where we can collect our thoughts and center our minds. I am a very introverted person and I realize more and more that my father's solitary nature is part of who I am. I also lived part of my youth in a monastery where solitude was part of the training. In spite of my solitary nature I am not a real hermit. I have been married for 36 years. My wife, however, is also an introvert. I think we are still married because we have a nice balance of personal solitary time and time together so we don't drive one another crazy, at least not too much. Once my oldest son, during a time in his life when he was out half the night...or all night...and running wild in the streets, challenged my wife and I because we were no longer "out there". He told us we were living boring lives. We responded, "We were out there but now we prefer to be 'in here' (home). Plus, we don't want to be 'out there' because you're 'out there' and we don't want to run into you"! Whether you are introverted or extroverted, sooner or later you will appreciate the "warm fire" that is home.

I'm thinking more and more about less and less.
-Robert Hunter (lyricist for the Grateful Dead)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

It is a cold and very wet Thanksgiving night. By morning it will be much colder and we may have our first snow flurries of the season. Christmas Day is exactly one month from today. Like many people I am amazed that it is once again this time of year. It seems like it was only weeks ago when we were sweltering in 100 degree heat. In this moment I am sitting here with a hot cup of "Sleepytime" herbal tea while listening to the Band's famous 1976 Thanksgiving night concert they called "The Last Waltz". It was their farewell performance. It has been a good week, mainly because I have been on holiday the entire week. Last weekend I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee with my wife, two sons, and granddaughter. The town was very festive and decorated for the holidays. Above I am including a few photos from the trip. We had perfect weather. Admittedly I often felt exhausted and my real vacation, in terms of rest and relaxation, began when I returned home. It's been a while since I had any real time off so the last few days, when I could rise at my leisure and savor morning coffee while reading the morning paper and looking out my window, were real bliss for me. I love my solitude.

Today is a day to give thanks and to be grateful. I try not to judge my life by how I feel. I have slowly learned that my feelings are not always a good barometer of my life. Although happiness sometimes seems elusive, I know I am blessed in many ways. I am sitting here in a very nice house, with my own special room, on a cold and wet night. I am warm, dry, and well fed. My pantry is full and earlier today I shared in a great and traditional Thanksgiving feast at my sister in law's home. My refrigerator now has several containers of tasty leftovers. I was with family who have been part of my life for nearly forty years. Earlier this evening I had a visit from my granddaughter. She was very excited and full of questions because of the appearance of a Christmas Elf on a shelf in my living room. I told her he was sent here by Santa Claus and you can't touch him. This Elf will magically move around the house between her future visits. I just know that the first thing she will do every time she comes over here in the next few weeks before Christmas is look for the Elf. She already thinks my wife and I live in a magical house. Don't all children think that about their grandparents?

I did have a crisis earlier this evening when high winds from the rainstorm blew Santa and Rudolph off my front porch and into the bushes.

So on this Thanksgiving night in the year 2010, the 59th Thanksgiving of my life, I sit here as a content and reasonably happy man. There are people I love and people who love me. I have family and good friends in my life. I am surrounded by things I love. I have books to read, music to enjoy, and coffee to drink. I have a nice balance of solitude and time with others. My brain still works most of the time and I can still walk up and down stairs although my knees often hurt and if I sit too long I feel like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. To alleviate this problem, I always keep several oil cans around the house.

I hope all who read these notes have all you need and most of what you want. I hope you are able to live with grateful hearts and that you feel blessed. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume IX

I am dragging a little this morning. Some of it is because it is Monday. Much of it is because my granddaughter, who is six years old, appeared in my bed at 7:30 AM Saturday morning and she didn't go home until Sunday afternoon. When she comes over it's like a workout at the gym. She loves to play make believe and she never gets tired. She once said to me, "Paw Paw, your house is like magic. That's why I never get sleepy when I am here". Well, she may never get sleepy but Paw Paw does. I don't care because she's my only grandchild and I love her. Being her Paw Paw is my favorite thing to do.

I cannot give you the formula for success but I can give you the formula for failure...try to please everybody.
-Herbert Bayard Swope

This is one of the first things a person learns when he or she moves into a leadership position, whether it's in the family or in the office. Parents learn it with their children and employers learn it with their employees. Some people are happy with anything while others are happy with nothing. Abraham Lincoln learned early in his presidency that "you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you cannot please all of the people all of the time". I have a friend at work who began working there the same day as me. One day I encountered him on the street. He had a look of contentment on his face so I said, "You always seem to be happy. What's your secret"? He said, "I have no expectations about anything so I am never disappointed". There's a lot of wisdom in his words. My philosophy is similar. I strive to see everything in life as a gift and this enables me to have a grateful heart. It's been my experience that living with gratitude for everything makes even the little things seem special. When you appreciate the little things it is easy to be pleased.

The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.
-Zen Saying

I love Zen. What is Zen? Well, it's a way of seeing and experiencing life that has it's roots in Buddhism. A simple explanation of Zen is "being where you are and doing what you are doing". Sounds simple, doesn't it? Have you actually tried it? It's difficult. Even while I am typing these thoughts I am thinking about what I want to do when my workday is over, I am listening to music that takes me back to good memories of my past, and I am wondering what I need to do next after I send out this email. Basically, I am everywhere but where I am. I am not truly present to the moment that exists right now. My mind and my body are in different places. It is a never ending goal of mine to have my mind and my body together in the same place at the same time. Another name for this is "mindfulness". It is the ability to be fully present to the moment. When one is truly present to the moment you often lose track of time and space. Psychologists call this "flow". Children like my granddaughter are masters of mindfulness and flow. They are totally in the moment. Most adults in this world of multitasking and needing to be in multiple places at the same time are terrible at mindfulness. We are almost never where we are. The playful side of Zen has riddles called koans. Today's quote is such a riddle.

Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control. We can love and care for others but we cannot possess our children, lovers, family, or friends. We can assist them, pray for them, and wish them well, yet in the end their happiness and suffering depend on their thoughts and actions, not on our wishes.
-Ryan Burda

The older I get the more I realize how little I can control. It's been painful at times. I am not a control freak but I like to take care of people and help them avoid bad decisions. Many times this involved my own children. Like many children, it seemed like they never did anything I advised and, like many children, they would never admit that they actually listened to me and that I was a positive influence. Those of you who are parents know what I mean or you will someday. Once children get to a certain age you can only hope you did a good job of raising them. In all of life I have slowly learned that the only thing I can control is myself and my reactions to what happens to me and around me. It really is all about attitude. For example, I could complain about having to work in this department for six months and make myself and others miserable or I could embrace the change and make it a positive experience. I choose to do the latter. It's not what happens to you, it's how you respond. I am generally a positive person and an eternal optimist. I believe things happen for a reason and that good will come out of most situations. Much of our suffering is our own fault because of our own minds, our attitudes, and how we react to things. I admit that I did not learn this in one day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume VIII

It is in everybody's interest to seek those actions that lead to happiness and avoid those which lead to suffering. And because our interests are inextricably linked, we are compelled to accept ethics as the indispensable interface between my desire to be happy and yours.
-The Dalai Lama

There is one thing we all have in common. That is a desire to be happy. I've never met anyone who didn't want to be happy. Of course there are things even more basic than feeling happy. People need food, shelter, and acceptance as part of a family or community. Within our families and communities we also hope to find love. Love, however, is a mysterious thing because we may be loved but not feel loved. Hopefully, though, we all feel loved by someone. When our basic needs for survival are met, and we feel love and acceptance from our families, friends, and community, we hope this brings us happiness. When we don't have these things we often feel sadness. The Dalai Lama is saying that our chances for happiness are greater if we are also helping others to be happy. In fact, our chances for happiness are slim if we don't care about the happiness of others.

From stillness everything springs forth.

Life can be very difficult and there are many daily challenges and tasks that all of us must face and overcome. It has been my experience that all of this can be even more difficult if we are stressed out and in a frenzy. Every morning before I leave home to come to work I allow 10-15 minutes in my schedule where I just sit and be quiet. Usually I sip on my first cup of coffee and read a motivational or inspirational thought. This ritual calms my mind and allows me to become centered. When I finally walk out the door and face the world, I am ready for my day. Admittedly, sometimes my day gets crazy. There may be a traffic jam on the way to work. When I get to work, maybe the systems are down and I can't get on my computer. People may be yelling my name before I have even taken off my coat. Later in the day I may be pulled in ten different directions. The demands of the day may make me feel frazzled. When that happens I will sometimes go for a short walk or simply go outside to our park and I will sit on a bench. I will return to my inner stillness, regain my composure, and once again be centered. Then I am ready to jump back into the game. When I am still and calm on the inside I can deal much better with whatever is happening on the outside.

Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.
-Anne Frank (written in a Nazi concentration camp)

In various accounts I have read from survivors of concentration camps, many kept their hope alive by finding beauty in the midst of their suffering. It could have been as simple as a single flower growing in the dirt. We will probably never experience anything as horrible as the holocaust but daily life can be very stressful at times and sooner or later all of us will experience some kind of pain. The nightly news is filled with depressing stories about people doing horrible things to other people or someone's predictions of doom and gloom. I have to remind myself that most of life is not well represented by the news media. There is much beauty in life. It ranges from my granddaughter's smile to the splendor of nature during this time of year. The beauty of life is sometimes hidden from us if we aren't paying attention. Many of us go through our lives asleep even when we are walking around performing our daily activities. In the teachings of Buddha, an "awakened one" is someone who is fully alive and present to the moment. When you are alive and present to the moment, you notice things like beauty. When you sleepwalk your way through life, you miss most things unless they smack you in the head. Be where you are and pay attention. Beauty is everywhere.

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau is one of my favorite philosophers. He wrote a famous book called "Walden" that I think should be required reading for everyone. We live in a consumer driven culture where most people want more and more and bigger and better. If you don't believe me, think about cell phones, televisions, and SUV's. I admit that I have a comfortable life after many years of working and many years of being married to someone who has worked equally as long. Everyone wants to win the lottery. I would like to win the lottery, too. However, I don't want more money so I can buy more stuff. The more stuff you have the more worries you acquire. I would like the freedom that a big bank account could give me but rather than more stuff, I would prefer a simpler and less complicated life. A simple and uncomplicated life is what Thoreau was searching for when he lived in solitude next to Walden Pond outside of Boston in 1845. He came to the conclusion that being rich is not just about having lots of stuff. The richest people can be those with the fewest possessions. Of course, this is assuming you at least have the basic necessities of life. When one is young, you gather things in. When one gets older, you let things go. I think this is why most people seem more content as they age. You have a greater appreciation for life's intangibles and you learn that it's the little things that matter most.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume VII

Generosity is tough in hard times. Too often, however, people only think of generosity in terms of donating money. There are three basic wells that one can draw from in order to give. They are called time, talent, and treasure. All of us have something to give. I would like to add one more category. It is the gift of yourself. In my lifetime I have known many people who really didn't have much in terms of talent or wealth. However, what they had in abundance was personality and spirit. They were just a joy to be around. I need people like this around me because I tend to be withdrawn. I am an off the chart introvert. I need people and friends to stand outside my cave and yell, "Mikey, come out and play"! So maybe you have little time, talent, or treasure. Look in the mirror. Perhaps your most abundant gift to others is yourself.

"He who is outside the door has already got a good part of his journey behind him".
-Dutch proverb

The first step in any journey is usually the hardest. Once that first step is taken, the second one usually comes easier. Change is very similar. The idea of change can be more frightening than the actual change. I admit that I haven't always liked change. I am a creature of habit who likes his routines and the familiar. Once when I was accused of being resistant to chance I replied, "No, I'm not. I just prefer stability". Whether you love it or hate it, it's going to happen. In my 25 years with my employer the only constant has been change. The act of changing can be painful and uncomfortable but it can also be exciting. I have also learned over and over through the many changes I have gone through that today's newness is tomorrow's routine. I have lost count of all the change in my life to which I have adapted. There is only one thing in my life that hasn't changed. I still have the same wife after 36 years.

Most people don't want much. It's my experience that most people just want love and acceptance and a reasonable sense of security. I have never been ambitious in worldly terms. All I have ever wanted beyond what I just mentioned is a simple and uncomplicated life with a minimum of drama. It is very difficult to want so little and to actually get it. Forrest Gump was right. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. This reality can make one nervous. When life seems to good, you can find yourself wondering what will happen to mess that up. Everyone knows I admire the Buddha. He teaches that all things are impermanent. This is both comforting and disturbing. It means that good things probably won't last forever. However, it also means that bad things don't last forever either. What's the point? The point is that you should enjoy every moment of your life but be prepared for the impermanence of it. When a change occurs that you don't like, just hang on and wait for the goodness that is hidden within it. All things happen for a reason.

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind".
-Dr. Seuss

I don't think Dr. Seuss is encouraging us to tell everyone off. We all know that is not prudent. I think what he is saying is be true to who you are and speak from your heart. Earlier this week in my office many people attended some leadership training with our VP. Part of his message was to express his desire to eliminate fear in the workplace. Fear is counterproductive. I believe our VP wants to replace fear, and it's cousin, anxiety, with openness, cooperation, and mutual respect. I believe that good communication skills are very important in the elimination of fear and anxiety. I have long been a believer that it's not what you say but how you say it. The delivery is as important as the message. When the message is delivered poorly it is almost always misunderstood and when the message is insincere, everyone knows it. We must all speak the truth with integrity. The truth will set some people free and it will annoy others. That's what truth does.

Today is my last day in the department where I have worked for a long time. I am being loaned to another department for six months. I am sad to be leaving my department and I am especially sad to be leaving behind a great team of people that have reported to me. Many of us have worked together for a long time. I may not have always wanted to come to work but I never dreaded it either. I have tried to be who I am and to say what I feel. Some days I did that better than other days. I will continue doing this in my new department because I don't know how to be any other way. I have been a little emotionally overwhelmed this week. People sometimes say, "I'm not feeling the love". I cannot say that. I have definitely been feeling the love this week, especially from the people who report to me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume VI

I took my granddaughter to Huber's Orchard last Sunday as I do every year at this time. It looked like autumn and it smelled like autumn but it felt like the 4th of July. We're still breaking heat records in the summer that won't leave. Despite the heat we enjoyed riding the farm wagon out to the fields and walking among all the pumpkins. I think my granddaughter has artistic talent. She loves to draw and wants to write a book with me. She told me I can write the words and she will draw the pictures. We may actually do that someday. At the very least she may someday take all the daily musings I have written and get them published, hopefully with her drawings. Last night we wrote a short story together about Jack Skeleton, the main character in the Tim Burton movie called "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The next time she comes to my house I will surprise her with a copy of the movie. That's what grandparents do.

"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong, because someday you will have been all of these".
-George Washington Carver

I have always liked this quote and have strived to live this way. My life has provided me many opportunities to do these things. As a grandparent, who is more patient now than I was as a parent, I can be tender with my granddaughter. My Dad spent the last year and a half of his life in a nursing home so I was able to visit him, feed him, and occasionally show him compassion in moments that were probably embarrassing for him. As a supervisor I have dealt with individuals over the years who strived to excel but weren't always able to actually do it. In all areas of my life I have dealt with the low self esteem and fear the weak sometimes have as well as the sometimes bloated egos of the strong. As my life progresses I am no longer young and even now my children joke about me being "over the hill". In some areas where I was strong in my youth, I am weak in my middle age. If one is blessed to grow old, life comes full circle and youth is balanced with old age, strength is balanced with weakness, and, hopefully, compassion given is compassion received.

"We often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally".
-The Dalai Lama

This is a quote we all should take seriously. It's some of the best advice you will ever get. At the heart of Buddhist teaching is the idea that we are the cause of most of our own suffering because of the way we react to things. Most of our suffering is in our own heads. At one time or another all of us have probably been overly sensitive to a perceived slight. I know I have occasionally overreacted to things that were quite minor when viewed with the wisdom of hindsight. If you don't believe that people sometimes take things too seriously, ride up and down in the elevators of your office for a few hours and listen to the conversations. If I was allergic to complaining I would get sick most of the time when I ride the elevators in my office. Most days we all need to chill out. As a general rule we should not believe anything we hear and only half of what we see. Reality is almost always misunderstood.

"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow".

Most of us would not think of ourselves as courageous. I have never saved anyone's life nor put my own life in danger to help another. However, I hope I would be courageous if I needed to be. I've been thinking a lot about the miners in Chile and their long ordeal trapped underground. These were just regular guys doing their job on an ordinary day and then a cave in occurred. They've been underground since August 5th. It was over two weeks before anyone knew if they were even alive. They are now being lifted to safety as I write these thoughts. Hopefully, they will all be with their families by the time you read this. Courage, however, in not always this dramatic. I believe it also takes a kind of quiet courage just to be faithful to the demands of your life and to the people around you. Just like the miners took it one day at a time, living in faith and hope, we must also do the same. Life is tough. It can wear you out. At the end of a day we can feel quite weary in mind, body, and spirit. Still, most of us go to sleep thinking "I will try again tomorrow" and when morning comes we have the strength and quiet courage to meet the demands and challenges of our lives.

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest".
-Mark Twain, writer and humorist

I would add a few words to this quote to make it perfect. I would say, "Always do the right thing". How do you know what the right thing is? Well, in many things, like work, you need to use your intellect and data to make judgements and decisions. When it comes to people, however, intellect and data are not always the best criteria for decision making. Intellect and data have sometimes pointed me in one direction while my hear points me in another direction. I can be quite rational about work decisions. I understand numbers and the logic of numbers often tells me what needs to be done. Life gets much more complicated when dealing with human beings. Sometimes the right thing is in conflict with the rational thing. Our heads and our hearts often play a tug of war. In the end, whether we are at work or at home, our intuitive selves usually know what's the right thing to do. This intuitive self is supported by our own values and moral consciousness. I believe if you trust your inner voice you will "always do right".

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume V

In the Catholic Church we recognize holy men and women and call them saints. This past Monday we remembered St. Francis of Assisi who lived in the 12th century. He is the patron saint of animals and ecology and is my favorite holy man. Many churches had special services where people could bring their pets for a blessing. St Francis is the saint that many people have a statue of in their backyards or in their bird baths. He is also famous for the so called "Peace Prayer" that begins with "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love...." Another of his famous sayings, and one that I really like, is "Wherever you go preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words". Today, think about the earth and ecology, if you have a pet that you love, bless them, and remember that we often say more with our actions than we do with our words.

"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one heck of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult".
-E. B. White, writer and poet

Who doesn't want to change the world and enjoy yourself while doing it? Unfortunately the world often changes us. Life and the events that happen to us and around us are powerful forces. It takes a strong and centered person to resist the allures of the world and to turn a deaf ear to daily bombardment of negative and fearful messages. One must have a sense of self that is motivated more by our inner voice than the voices of those around us. The world is a tough place but there is also love and beauty and peace, though sometimes it takes a real effort to notice these things. Enjoy life but don't let it dictate your every move. Look within, find yourself, be who you are, change what you can, accept what you can't change, and have one heck of a good time along the way.

I was late for work today because I had to go to the doctor for blood work. I was also there yesterday afternoon to get poked and prodded. During these experiences I could not help but think how much our bodies are like our cars. They are our vehicle through life. At least on this side of the grave our consciousness and the essence of who we are cannot get around without a body. Like our cars they need maintenance and care. At age 59 my body has a lot of mileage on it and it doesn't run quite as well as it used to do. I am not sure I would go cross country in it. It doesn't have the endurance it once had. When was the last time you had a checkup and oil change?

"This is a very important practice. Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desires, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to yourself".
-Thich Nhat Hanh (2nd most famous Buddhist monk in the world after the Dalai Lama)

Who doesn't have worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desires? I am experiencing all of these feelings at this very moment. When I stop, breathe, and practice mindfulness, I become self aware of this. When I am self aware, I become awake. When I am awake and aware of my feelings, I can let them all go. Admittedly, the feelings often come back. Life is a continuous letting go. As far as feelings go, however, we are not what we feel. I am not what I worry about. I am not my fear. I am not what I crave. I am not what angers me. I am Michael and you are you. When I am Michael and not carried away by my feelings, I am who I am.

Yesterday I found a card on my desk from a co-worker that I interviewed and recommended for employment five years ago. She is still grateful and I am reminded that I sometimes have a positive impact on people's lives. We all do in ways that we don't even realize.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume IV

"In a world of pressure cookers, I am a crock pot"
-Michael Brown

How satisfying life is often depends on what you want from it. All I have ever wanted is a simple and uncomplicated life with enough money and things to be comfortable. I have never been, and I will never be, a driven, ambitious, over-achiever. When my life is simple and uncomplicated, I am happy and satisfied. What fills me with contentment might be seen by others as failure. Our culture is filled with driven, workaholic, overachieving, narcissistic people. I think they are on the road to nowhere. They think they are "successful". Each person has their own definition of success. My idea of success is the kind of life I described above surrounded by a lot of love. I don't have as much money or as many things as a lot of people do but I believe I am successful and success is in the eye of the beholder. Don't let others judge your success.

"Baby, I can't always act like we just met".
-lyrics to a country music song.

I thought this was a catchy lyric. What does it mean? I think it conveys the daily challenge of maintaining excitement and enthusiasm. One of the questions on a recent office survey was "When you come to work each day do you feel enthusiastic about what you do"? If I was completely honest I would have to say that most days I don't. However, that doesn't mean I hate what I do. I normally enjoy my workday even when I am chomping at the bit to go home. I have been married 36 years and I have been employed by my company for almost 25 years. I can't act like I am still on my honeymoon or that I just got hired last week. When one is long on the journey excitement and enthusiasm are often replaced with faithfulness and commitment. A faithful and committed partner has survived the ups and downs of a relationship and a long time employee has survived the inevitable change that occurs in the workplace. It's not that excitement and enthusiasm disappear. They simply change their appearance.

"The race is won by running slowly".
-Ian Anderson

This quote reminds me of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Conventional wisdom would bet on the hare to win the race. Tortoises move so slowly and hares are very fast. How could a tortoise beat a hare? Although the hare can move much faster, in the story the hare is often distracted and wastes a lot of time. It is the tortoise who wins the race. How could that be? Well, although slow, the tortoise never stops and never loses focus. The moral of the story is not that everyone should immediately slow down. The moral of the story is to pace yourself, remain focused, and keep your eye on the goal. Life is a long distance run, not a sprint.

"Fair is not always equal".
-Michael Brown

After many years of being in a leadership role I have probably supervised hundreds of people. During this time I have dealt with many people's professional and personal problems. It is very important to me to be fair. What does that mean? Does it mean always doing the same thing for every person and going by the book? I do not think so. I believe it means giving each person what they need...within reason. Certainly some people are needier than others. Some people come dangerously close to wearing you out and a few actually do so. However, all people have some level of need, including me, and although I strive to be fair, life does not do the same. Some people need little and others need a lot. Occasionally I have needed to give some people guidance on doing a better job of managing their life. In the end, however, I strive to be fair and to do the right thing by being understanding, compassionate, and reasonable. The process for doing this is called discernment.

My wife is two years younger than me. One day this week, late in the afternoon, I sent her an email telling her we could both retire on her birthday in 2018. Her reply was, "Dude, thanks for the update but I am just trying to get through the next hour".

"I have never been lost. I will, however, admit to being confused once for about two weeks".
-Daniel Boone, explorer

"All who wander are not lost".
-J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings

There are many paths in life. Some we walk intentionally. Many times, however, we find ourselves on paths where we didn't intend to go. A few are dead ends while others sometimes turn out to be the most interesting paths of all. It is a very rare person who gets on a path that remains straight for their whole life. My blog is called "Stumbling along the Spiritual Path". This title kind of sums up my journey so far. I think all of life is spiritual but the path of life is not easy. I often feel like I am stumbling along it. Sometimes it is a leisurely and enjoyable walk. Other times I trip over a pebble in the road or I get whacked in the eye by the branch of a tree. I occasionally lose my balance and fall down. So far I have always been able to get back up. Sometimes I am lost, often I am confused, once in a while I relax and enjoy the wandering. However I feel, I always keep walking.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume III

Last Sunday night my wife went to a concert and saw Frankie Valli. Some of you are probably thinking, "Who the heck is Frankie Valli"? In the early 60's, as part of the "Four Seasons", he was one of the biggest acts in pop music. The Four Seasons were the "Jersey Boys". A while back I read that whatever music a person listened to between the ages of 15-20 is most likely what they will listen to for the rest of their lives. For me this would be music from the years 1966-1971. This theory is very accurate because a lot of what's on my ipod and what I listen to at home is from this era. Most people love music, especially the music of their youth. A song can take us back to an era when we thought we were happier or more carefree. In reality the past was often not as happy or as simple as we imagine it in our daydreams. Still, most of us have happy memories and a song can take us back and remind us that life has been good. The music of our past can keep us young in our minds even if our bodies feel their age.

How do you feel right now? Happy? Sad? Tired? Are you ready to seize the day or are you counting the hours until the end of your workday? At one time or another I have had all these feelings. Some people think the purpose of meditation is to transcend their feelings and to escape them. Meditation does not create a blissful stupor. It actually does the opposite. It's purpose is to make us more awake and aware. Meditation stirs the pot of our emotions and enables us to embrace our feelings and to own them. Whatever you are feeling right now, ask yourself why you feel that way. Why are you happy or sad? Are you tired because you didn't get enough sleep last night or are you getting sick? Do you love life or is it an effort just to get through the day? Feelings are symptoms of what's going on in our lives. Meditation is a way to feel your feelings and to explore why you feel the way you do.

Yesterday I was feeling a little frazzled and I was being a little grumpy. I had some personal things on my mind and a few people and things at work were getting on my nerves. I have a reputation for being Mr. Calm but it is not always deserved. Don't tell anyone but I have one well hidden button that makes me quite hostile if you push it. A few times yesterday this hostility generating button was pushed. At times like this it is sometimes difficult to follow my own advice. Still, at the end of the day, when I was mostly alone and it was quiet around me, I took some time to breathe and be still. I regained my composure and felt at peace. I think it is important to sometimes stop whatever you are doing and be still. One of my favorites scripture passages is from Psalm 42. It simply says, "Be still and know that I am God". In stillness we find peace. The next time life seems a little crazy for you, go find a quiet and solitary place and be still for fifteen minutes. Ignore your cell phone, take off your headphones, stop texting all your friends and family, get off of Facebook, and let the world spin a few minutes without you. Breathe deeply, be still, and chill out.

I'm reading a booked entitled "Wherever You Go, There You Are" by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Most of my recent thoughts have developed from things I have read in this book. Recently I read, "not doing is not the same thing as doing nothing". This is a kind of Zen koan. A koan is a riddle. What does this statement mean? I think it means that we don't always have to push everything. We humans like to be in control and we want to make everything happen according to our desires and schedules. Sometimes you have to just let things happen naturally. In these kinds of situations "not doing" is not doing nothing. It is allowing life to unfold on it's own without our human manipulation. Example: For thousands of years mankind has manipulated the planet. There was a really intriguing show on the Discovery Channel called "Life Without People". Imagine if tomorrow there was no longer any human life on this planet but all our buildings and monuments and everything else created by mankind remained. How long would it take nature to reclaim the earth and return it to how it was before humans existed? This show answered that question based on scientific knowledge. According to the scientists and engineers, it would take approximately 10,000 years for the planet to erase all traces of human existence. The earth would take everything back by not doing anything but allowing the natural process to unfold.

I believe I have achieved the Buddhist state of "empty mind". Yesterday was a very busy day, I had another busy day today and I felt the usual Friday fatigue. I am looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow before I have a visit from a little munchkin girl who has stolen my heart. There will be no rest for Pa Paw this weekend. At the moment, however, my mind is totally blank. All my consciousness is being used to maintain minimum life support systems within my body. I have no deep thoughts today.

This afternoon I experienced a rare occurrence. It rained. It was not nearly enough and was mostly a tease. We are in a drought and on what Thomas Merton once called a "Fire Watch". It is very, very dry in my part of the world. I can't tell if the leaves are changing colors because it is now autumn or if they are simply dying from a lack of rain. I suspect it is a little of both.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume II

Sometimes people ask me how to meditate. They think I am the office Dalai Lama. The simplest way to meditate is to pay attention to your own breath. This can be done any time and any place. It requires no special posture or mantra. If you feel "scattered" or stressed and you want to center yourself, simply pay attention your breath as you breathe in and breathe out. If you do this I guarantee that you will become calm and focused. It's not magic but it does work.

Grandparents Day at my granddaughter's school was fun. I sat at a little table on a little chair. After some classroom activities I walked in single file to the cafeteria where I ate fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and chocolate milk with approximately 100 First graders.

The Alzheimer's Walk I participated in with my extended family was also successful. Together we raised several thousand dollars for Alzheimer's research.

Today's recommended classical music: Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons".

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

"The journey is the destination".
-Zen Saying

Most people are future oriented or living in the past. We daydream through our lives and think "someday" or we romanticize our past and imagine that it was better than it really was. If you really want to live be where you are now and enjoy the ride. These are the good old days. At some point in the future you will look back on these days with longing. The past, good or bad, is behind you. The future is not guaranteed. Yes, it is a good thing to put money in your 401K and prepare for the future but don't put all your energy and hope in the future. Live now and enjoy now. Seize the day. The journey really is the destination.

My granddaughter called me last night and asked me if I wanted to come over to her house and see her SpongeBob Squarepants collection. I'm not sure why she wasn't in bed. I had to decline but I promised her she could come over to my house this weekend and spend the night.

Buddha says that all life is suffering. Well, I don't completely agree with him. Certainly some suffering is part of life. What I would say is that life is hard. It's tough to be a child and it's tough to be an adult. One of the ironies of Buddhist teaching is the idea that life is suffering. This doesn't seem true when compared to the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness awakens us to the subtle and perfect moments of our lives. If life is suffering, how can there be so many perfect moments? Perfect moments like a telephone call from my six year old granddaughter wanting me to play with her SpongeBob Squarepants collection? If one is awake to the perfect moments of life, suffering will seem greatly minimized. If you fail to see the joy in life, all you will notice is the pain.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived".

"Only that day dawns to which we are awake".

Both of these quotes are from the book entitled Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I believe this book is an essential part of any one's education. I have read hundreds of books and this is one of the best. Thoreau lived from 1817-1862 but still has much to say to modern men and women about how to live. His deepest conviction was "To affect the quality of the day". He believed this was the "highest of arts". As you go through your day today ask yourself,
"Am I awake now"?

"You can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf".

I have never actually surfed but I know enough about it to understand that it's not really about strength or agility as much as it's about balance. Balance is important in life. Balance gives us stability. The waves of life are never ending and they come in a variety of sizes. Some of them are small and they may even be refreshing. Others can knock us down if we are not prepared for them. We can be prepared by having firm footing and balance. Maintaining a calm mind, while being awake and aware, will give us the balance and stability we need so we are not swept off our feet by the waves of life. You can't stop the waves, and sometimes one can feel surrounded by them. When that happens get on your surfboard and ride them out.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Grandparents Day

I have just returned home from Grandparents Day at my granddaughter's school. My wife and I were two of the last grandparents to arrive. As we walked down the hall to Chloe's classroom we could see her sitting at a small table looking rather dejected. I guess she wasn't sure if we were going to make it or not. When she saw us her whole face lit up. She showed me her usual affection. I've said it many times but I will say it again. No one in my entire life has ever showed me as much love as my granddaughter. I'm not sure what I do to be so loved. As soon as we got settled, the teacher, who looked like a college kid to me, read a story about grandparents. Then all the children worked with their grandparents to draw pictures of all the fun stuff they do with their grandparents. Chloe's picture included swimming in her "shark" pool, making pet rocks, pretending to be a Komodo dragon, and eating at McDonald's. The little kid next to me told me that his grandparents couldn't be there today because they were in Africa. He went on to explain to me that Africa was once part of Pangaea. Most adults don't know what Pangaea is but this six year old did. After all the classroom activities we had to march in single file to the cafeteria for lunch. I ate fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, chocolate milk, and a fudgesicle with approximately 100 first graders. I was happy to see such a diversity of students but saddened to realize that many of them live very far away from the school and have long bus rides each day. My granddaughter is one of the fortunate ones who lives in the same neighborhood as her school.

The most challenging part of the day was leaving. Chloe did not want me to leave and the teacher practically had to pull her off me. Finally the teacher took her by the hand and walked her back to her classroom. She looked so sad and it made me sad to see her that way. I knew from experience that she would get over it quickly and that she would get back into the routine of her day. As I write these notes she is probably back to normal, laughing and talking with her friends.

It's awesome being a grandparent.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume I

"In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins, not through strength but by perseverance".
-H. Jackson Brown

If at first you don't succeed, keep trying. There's a lot to be said for perseverance and consistent effort. You don't have to use a machete to get ahead in life. One of my former bosses once told me that "80% of success is showing up". So, persevere, keep trying, show up, and you will be successful. Now you have to ask yourself, "What is success"?

"A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest".
-A basic law of physics

I have noticed that on weekends when I have nothing to do I often feel like I am 90 years old. I sleep a few extra hours and when I get up I move in slow motion. I feel like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz before Dorothy found his oil can. On the other hand, if I am going on vacation I will spring out of bed at 5:00 AM and drive 200 miles before having breakfast. Maybe it's as simple as me needing a new mattress or the obvious thought that going on vacation is more fun than going to work. However, it's a little more basic than that. Action generates energy. Have you ever done chores late at night and then experienced a "second wind" that makes you want to stay up half the night? On weekends does it take you forever to get out of bed or off the couch? It's very difficult to do sometimes...because it is a mind game....but I know that if I am feeling lethargic the best thing to do is get off my ass and do something. Unfortunately, my ass usually wants to stay at rest. In the end it is mind over body.

"Age is mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter"
-Satchel Paige

Everyone suffers. For some it is an obvious physical ailment. Not so obvious is emotional and mental suffering. Buddha says that suffering is all in your head and that we are the cause of most of our own suffering. I know I have sometimes thought my mind was my biggest enemy. I am constantly playing head games with myself. I have read that if you don't intentionally think positive thoughts your mind is hard wired to think negative ones. Reality, like age, is a matter of perception. Some people think my office is a great place to work. A few think it is a concentration camp. Both views are a reaction to the same place. Why do they differ? The difference is perception and attitude. My mind thinks I am 25 years old. So why do I have to take a vacation day after every rock concert? Well, my body apparently perceives age differently than my mind.

I've come to the conclusion that life is like the four seasons. If you are lucky enough to live 80 years, you get approximately 20 years per season. Childhood and youth are spring. Young adulthood is summer. Middle age is fall. Old age is winter. I will soon be sixty so I am near the end of the autumn of my life. Winter is coming soon. Here's my question to you. Is there anyone else out there at my stage of life who feels like I do? How do I feel? In some ways I am at my intellectual and emotional peak. At the same time I feel like I don't know anything. I am also not sure how I feel about most things. Everything I thought I knew and everything I thought I felt seems to have left me. The irony of this is that I generally feel peaceful and content. This is not the same thing as being happy. I am also not sure what happy is. There are moments of joy but also many moments of emptiness and longing. How I need to be filled or what I long for is a mystery. I have one more season to figure it out...maybe. The seasons are not guaranteed.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Remembering My Dad

Some of you may remember that my father had Alzheimer's the last few years of his life. He passed away on February 11th, 2009. Since his original diagnoses my family has participated in the annual Walk for a Cure each September here in Louisville at Waterfront Park. We will be walking again on Saturday, September 11, 2010. I am soliciting pledges for Alzheimer's research. If any of you would like to make a pledge, please go to the following website to do so. All donations are greatly appreciated. Our team is the JYB's.

A Day In The Life

The song by the Beatles titled "A Day in the Life", from the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, was recently voted the #1 Beatles song. Great choice! It's a masterpiece.

It is a beautiful fall like morning. The official beginning of fall is several weeks away and later today it will feel like the middle of summer but for now it is beautiful and I am enjoying it. I have my window open until the day's heat and humidity force me to close it. Yesterday was the first day since May that the day time temperature has been below 80 degrees.

Earlier, while I was drinking my second cup of coffee, I sat in my chair and looked out my window watching the leaves from a neighbor's tree fall to the ground. It was a prelude to what will be happening soon everywhere in this part of the world. Today I think it is more from the drought like conditions than anything else. We are in great need of rain.

Today is Monday and a national holiday called Labor Day. It reminds me that I am very happy to be employed and that for many today is a reminder of their unemployment, as though they needed a reminder. At my age I am weary of working in spite of having a good job in a pleasant environment. Ironically, I feel at my best physically when I get up and go to the office. Today, a day where I slept in and can relax all day, I feel 90 years old. Part of this is due to a weekend visit from my granddaughter. When she is around I am like a piece of playground equipment. I get quite a workout from her. I don't mind because I love her dearly. She is the true light of my life.

Everyone who knows me is aware I dearly love music. Do you know how to tell if music is truly great? At this moment, as I type this blog, I have David Gilmour's "Live in Gdansk" playing in the background. Most people know that David Gilmour was the main singer and lead guitar player for Pink Floyd, one of my favorite bands. I know this is a great CD because I occasionally have to stop typing these notes because I am carried away by the music. This CD is simply too good to be background music.

I have been thinking a lot lately about my spiritual life, what I believe and what I struggle with, and whether or not my life has meaning or purpose. I think about mindfulness and Zen. Am I really alive and present to the moment? In some ways I have really kind of dropped out of life lately. I am enjoying it to a point but I also have doubts about it's value. My life has become mostly simple, and peaceful to some extent, but I find myself feeling melancholy and sometimes sad. Perhaps I have become too isolated and too withdrawn. At the same time the thought of activity and commitments wears me out just thinking about it.

Being informed and aware about what's going on in life has always been important to me. However, I am on the verge of beginning a news blackout. All news seems bad. The nightly news depresses me. No one gives me good news. It would seem that everyone suffers, the future is bleak, everything is hopeless, and my generation is totally screwed. This is the viewpoint that one will get from the media. It is very difficult for an eternal optimist like me to be constantly bombarded with these messages. What does one do? Hide under a rock or bury one's head in the sand? How does one live in hope and joy with so much suffering in the world, no to mention one's own loneliness and daily challenges?

I want to end this on a positive note. I am reminded of a Zen quote that goes, "What, at this moment, is lacking"? Well, at this moment, nothing is lacking except, perhaps the smile and laughter of my granddaughter. She is someone truly in the moment. Although I am the grandfather, she is the teacher most of the time. She really brings me back to basics. Later this week I will visit her at school because it will be "Grandparent's Day". When I go I will show my pride in her and she will show her excitement for me because, in her words, I am her "favorite toy" and what child doesn't like to bring their favorite toy to school?

It's time to sit back in my chair and watch more leaves fall from my neighbor's tree.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXX

Going to Huber's Orchard! As far as I am concerned it is the end of summer even though I'm sure there are more hot days ahead. In approximately six weeks people will begin their annual pilgrimage across the river to southern Indiana to Hubers's U Pick Farm and Orchard. This is ritual of fall for my family. With thoughts of apple cider and apple butter in our heads, not to mention grilled brats and baked bread, we will cross the bridge and head for pumpkin land. I love to go with my family, especially Chloe, out to the pumpkin fields. It's fun to ride on the farm wagon out to the fields where we will search for the perfect pumpkin. If we are lucky the skies will be clear and deep blue and a cool breeze will surround us. At the end of the day, with our cart full of pumpkins, bread, apple butter, and maybe a jug of cider, we will give all our money to the Huber's Children College Fund.

Free lunches. On Tuesday my co-workers and I received a free lunch compliments of our employer. When I was a child people rarely ate in restaurants. No one's mother worked outside of the home so we always had a home cooked meal every night. In my life it seems like most of my meals are eaten in restaurants. I have done a study over a long period of time and have determined that any meal that I do not have to cook or pay for always tastes very good.

Three day weekends. We are beginning a three day weekend. Monday is Labor Day, the "official" end of summer and a day we honor all those who labor. We celebrate labor by not working. I wish every weekend was three days long. That extra day makes all the difference in the world. Most of my weekends leave me exhausted and then I have to drag into work on Monday. After the busyness of a typical weekend, wouldn't it be great to have every Monday off to really chill out?

One of my rock and roll buddies contacted me yesterday and told me we now have tickets to see the Eagles at our new basketball arena in October. It will be the first event to happen there. Many big concerts sell out these days so I am always happy to score tickets to a show like this. I have been going to rock concerts for over 45 years. I think I was about 12 years old the first time I went to a rock concert and saw the Beach Boys. It's part of the reason I can't hear my wife when she asks me to do something. I admit that the work of attending a concert is getting more challenging as I get older. However, when the lights go down and the band walks on stage I still get excited. In October, when I am sitting in my seat and the Eagles start playing "Hotel California", I will feel chills going up and down my spine. Rock and Roll!

Simplicity. Yesterday's reading from the Tao talked about the value of simplicity. It described simplicity as "giving up unnecessary things". Have you ever questioned what is really necessary in your life, your family, or your work? I tend to think all of us have much in our lives that is unnecessary. I am not just talking about the accumulation of material things. Most of us also have personal agendas that we carry around with us. These agendas are almost always unimportant to other people. It is challenging to live a simple, uncomplicated life that is free of unnecessary things. It is challenging to let go of things and agendas. I have been reminded of this a lot in the last year with the renovation of my house. I also see it when I realize I am the only one who thinks something is important. When I am simple, when I do let go of the unnecessary, I feel a great lightness of spirit. The less you carry around in life, whether it is an accumulation of things or personal agendas, the easier it is to move around.

Grandparent's Day. Next week I will be attending my first Grandparents Day at Chloe's school. I'm sure she will be very excited to see me there. She will want to show me off because, according to her, I am her favorite toy.

This morning I saw a hearse in the McDonald's drive thru. I'm not sure if there was a body in the back but if there was they probably died from going through the McDonald's drive thru.

On my walk into the office this morning from the parking garage a young woman told me I smelled really great. That doesn't happen everyday.

Every Friday night I take all the "Awesome Things" I have written during the week and I post them on this blog. I have now done this for thirty weeks. In other words I have come up with at least 150 "Awesome Things". I am running out of ideas so this is the last volume of "Awesome Things". For those that actually enjoy these I will come up with something new beginning new week. I just won't limit myself to awesome things.