Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Simple Day Doing Simple Things

Yesterday I took a day off from work in the office so I could spend a day doing work at home. Although most of my day involved various chores, it was a very enjoyable day. I woke up at my usual workday time and got out of bed. After spending a brief period of time reading the newspaper and drinking my morning coffee, I started on my chores. For many years I have wanted to replace all my cheap bookshelves and CD racks with something of a better quality and substance. With all of the work going on at my house, getting some new shelves was one of my few personal requests. The son of my brother in law is a carpenter. I gave him a basic design and he built me some beautiful solid oak shelves. They were delivered and installed on Monday and are everything I hoped they would be. Part of my day yesterday was spent putting my very large music collection and a lot of my books on these shelves. Since I am a little OCD all of my CD's are in alphabetical and chronological order. For me it was a labor of love. When my sons were boys they would sometimes take one of my CD's and put it out of place just to annoy me. Sometimes it would take me weeks or months to even notice and occasionally I would think it had mysteriously gotten lost. As I have said many times, I am a classic introvert. Give me my own space and fill it with books, music, a comfortable chair, a nice view, fresh coffee, and I am as happy as I can be. Sometimes I am so happy in my solitude that I feel a little guilty. I also accomplished a few other tasks so I was not very happy when my wife came home and said, "I can't see where you've done anything". Comments like this help me to understand the high rate of divorce in this country. Prior to her comment, I was having a very good day. It was a simple day doing simple things that gave me a lot of simple joy. I stayed focused throughout the day and this is a challenge for me. When I was tired, I took short breaks. When I was hungry, I ate something. When I was done doing all I was going to do, I rested. A day home alone is always enjoyable for me.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Audio Version Of My Talk At Gethsemani

A week or so ago I spoke to the monks of Gethsemani. I didn't know it at the time but it was recorded. If you would like to listen to it, click on this link and it will take you to another link where you can listen to the talk. This also includes a presentation by my friend, Kathleen Ellison, who presented another talk the same night, and a question and answer session with the monks. I hope you enjoy the talks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Awesome Things Volume X

Enjoying your life. When I was a schoolboy I used to long for summer vacations. As an adult I often get up on Mondays and dream of Fridays. Sometimes I leave home in the morning and can't wait for the evening. My mother used to call this "wishing your life away". A song by one of my favorite rock bands...The Who...has a chorus that goes "and I love every minute of the day". I really try to think like this even though some days I am not very successful. I want to enjoy my life in general and every minute in particular. Do you feel like life is passing you by? It may be if you are always trying to fast forward it. Slow your life down and enjoy every minute of your day. You won't regret it.

Being happy. Here's something from the archives that I wrote a few years ago.

Why are some people happy and others not? First of all, I believe it is a choice. Some people choose to be happy despite what goes on around them and to them. Others think they can't be happy until everything is perfect in their lives. Many more always see the glass as half empty instead of half full. It's all a matter of choice and perspective. I do think it helps to have a balanced life. Here are the things I think are important. Every individual must work out how to have and balance these things in their life. For me, they represent the essentials of a happy, balanced, and fulfilling life.

The Six Essentials of a Balanced and Happy Life

Mind. Develop your intellect. Read a book. Learn a new skill. Be open to new things. If you don't use it, you lose it. Rediscover the enthusiasm and curiosity you had as child to learn and discover new things.

Body. Practice wellness. Begin to live a healthy life now. Take care of your body. It is your vehicle through life. Some people take better care of their cars than their own bodies. Don't wait till the damage is done.

Spirit. Be in touch with something bigger than yourself. Have a belief system and a personal code of ethics. Church is great for some but for others it's not. You can still explore the teachings of the great spiritual masters. Check out Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, and others. If nothing else, the golden rule works for everyone. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Practice the religion of kindness, compassion, and tolerance.

Work. Give work what it needs and requires. Being a workaholic and working hard are not the same things. Look for work that is satisfying, not only to your bank account, but to your spirit. Work is one of the ways we can share in the creative process of life. Elevate it, in whatever way you can, to something more than just a mundane routine.

Family. Being part of a family who loves you is one of life's greatest gifts. Appreciate it. Strive to make those in your families feel appreciated and loved. Celebrate your family bonds! There's an old saying that goes, "Home is where they have to take you in." Be the kind of person that someone wants to take in.

Self. Take time for yourself. Balance time and activity with others with silence and solitude for yourself. Be your own best friend. Enjoy your own company. Look in the mirror and know who you see.

Give all of these things time in your life. Too much or too little of any of them creates an imbalance which can be a source of stress for many people. When our life is in balance, we are at ease with living and happiness finds us.

Learning to be silent and still. Recently a co-worker asked me about Zen and meditation. Zen is basically being where you are and doing what you are doing. It's that simple and it's that hard. Meditation is similar. There are no complicated methods. There's a form of Christian meditation called "Centering Prayer" that involves a prayer word/mantra and two 20 minute sitting sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening. Zen Buddhist meditation is referred to as Zazen and basically involves just sitting and being still, often using an object to focus your attention. The positive effects of meditation come from regular practice. None of this is magic. It's like exercise. One trip to the gym doesn't get you in shape. The Christian monk, Thomas Merton, often wrote about being in touch with "the ground of our being". He was basically writing about meditation and being in touch with the sacred. Think about your life. How often are you silent and still?

Thinking. According to the book "StrengthsFinder" one of my strengths is Intellection. This doesn't mean I am smarter than everyone else. It simply means I like to think. I always enjoy quiet moments in my day when I can stare into space and let my mind wander. Sometimes my mind is going so many places at the same time I can wear myself out. I admit that I sometimes think too much. There's a song by The Moody Blues called "Thinking is the Best Way to Travel". Like books, thinking can take your mind places your body will never go. When thinking creates an idea and the idea is implemented in a practical way, it is very satisfying. Our brains, like the rest of our bodies, need exercise. Take your brain out for a walk.

Getting older. Today is my birthday. I am 59 years old although in my mind I am still 25. Lots of people complain about getting older. I never complain about it because it sure beats the alternative. I am very aware that I have more years behind me than I do in front of me but I like being the age I am. The old body isn't what it used to be but I think I am smarter and wiser than I have ever been. I am also much calmer, more patience, and not much upsets me. I have survived a lot and it has made me stronger. I am still a passionate person and the fire in my belly has not gone cold. We "Baby Boomers" get old like everyone else but we fight it kicking and screaming. I'm not quite ready for permanent residence in a rocking chair, especially since I am still rocking at music concerts. When I am confined to my rocking chair I will be listening to the Grateful Dead on my ipod. I am enjoying my life and I hope for many more years.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What I Am Reading

I am trying to get back on the reading bandwagon. Some friends have recently recommended books to me so I have purchased a few and now they are stacked on my table. Here's what I am currently reading.

Since January 1st I have been reading a daily thought from "A Year with Thomas Merton, Daily Meditations from His Journals", edited by Jonathan Montaldo.
This morning I started "Into The Silent Land, A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation" by Martin Laird. This was recommended to me by one of my friends who is a monk of Gethsemani.

In the next day or so I will spend come of my evenings reading "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson. This was recommended to me by my dear friend, Katie. She recently sent me an email recommending it and saying "the whole time I was reading it I thought of you". I will be interested in knowing why....

Finally, I am reading a revised and updated version of "The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective" by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. Richard is a friend and former teacher of mine.

I'm not ready to review these books for you but it's very likely that any wisdom I gleam from them will find it's way into my writing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reflections On The Beatitudes

The following thoughts were written by a woman named Christine Valters Paintner. Check out her website at www.Abbeyof the

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Where are the places you are poor in spirit - longing to surrender yourself to something much bigger than your own ego? Where are the places where you feel like an exile in the world?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted

Grief tells us that we loved deeply, that we are passionate. Where in your heart do you experience a grief that lingers, that is calling for some attention?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth

To be meek, means to have softened what is rigid within; to be like the fertile soil which receives its nourishment from the rain, allowing it to seep down into its substance. Is there a place within you that is longing to soften and yield? Is there a tender place longing to emerge and be expressed?

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy

Those who are merciful are the ones who extend grace, they also receive grace in return. Where in your heart do you experience the longing for grace and mercy? Where is the part of yourself that offers mercy and grace?

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God

To be pure in heart means to live in congruity between your inner life and your outer life, it means to live from an awareness of the sacred pulsing in your own heart moment by moment and in the world around you. Where in your life do you have a longing for integrity and for seeing God?

Blessed are the Peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God

The peacemakers are those who seek to bring peace to their own hearts so that their interactions with others come from a place of peace, who extend the practice of shalom into the world. Where in your heart do you experience the longing to make peace? What are you feeling in conflict with?

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.

What are the quiet voices within you which have been persecuted? How have you shut out the wisdom of these smaller selves? How might you begin to make more room for them to emerge?

Living A Balanced Life

What does it mean to be balanced? In the past I've had the thought that "balance is found in the tension of opposites". However, this seems to imply that where there is balance, there is always tension. Being balanced is not like walking a tightrope in a tug of war. I've come to believe that being balanced is more about living a life that does not have too much or too little of those things essential for life and happiness. If you have too much food, you can become gluttonous and fat. If you have too little food, you become hungry and lethargic. If you have too much sleep you become lazy and dull. If you have too little sleep, you become fatigued and less able to think clearly and logically. If you spend too much time with people, you can forget who you are. If you spend too much time alone, you can become isolated and out of touch. If you work too much you can become stressed and obsessed with achievement. If you work too little, you can have financial difficulties and lack a sense of purpose. I'm not sure you can have too much love in your life but most of us have at some time experienced what it feels like to have too little. Of course, in all of these things, balance will be different from one person to another. I am reminded of a sign at a food buffet that read, "Take all you want but eat all you take". The Beatles said, "The love you take is equal to the love you make". Balance is also found by giving in measure to what you are taking.

In today's reading from the Tao we hear the following....

Before emptying, there must be fullness.
Before shrinking, there must be expanding.
Before falling , there must be ascent.
To destroy something, lead it to it's extreme.
To preserve something, keep to the middle.

The commentary says, "Whenever any phenomenon reaches it's extreme, it will change towards it's opposite, just as the darkest night begins to change towards dawn, and the coldest winter is followed by a glorious spring".

The middle path is the path of wisdom, balance, and happiness.

The Daffodils are blooming!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Awesome Things Volume IX

A really good rock and roll concert. I went to Freedom Hall last Saturday night to see a John Mayer concert. He's been in the press lately for giving a really bad interview in Playboy magazine. However, he can be a great musician. Saturday he proved it. He put on a great show that really highlighted his guitar virtuosity. I will be seeing him again this summer at a music festival in Chicago. Even the opening act, Michael Franti and Spearhead, put on a great show. They are a reggae influenced band that one friend said reminded him of the Black Eyed Peas. They were so good that the headliner, John Mayer, was under a lot of pressure to upstage them. All in all it was a great night out with friends. The music rocked, everyone had fun, and my musical addiction was temporarily satisfied. Even better, it was a Saturday night and I got to sleep in on Sunday.

My Keurig coffee maker. A few months ago my wife bought me a new coffee maker. The Kuerig coffee maker is the current rage for coffee lovers. It only makes one cup at a time but it is a perfect cup. I am enjoying a cup as I write this. It also can make tea and hot chocolate. I have a basket at home with a collection of different medium and dark roast coffees, a variety of teas, and hot chocolate. I wish I had another one of these coffee makers on my desk at work. I could really use a cup of strong, dark roast at this moment. Of course, if I had one on my desk there would probably be a line of people each morning waiting for the daily dose of java.

Spring! Saturday is the first day of spring. I doubt if there is anyone who is not looking forward to this change of seasons. This past winter had more snow and cold days than I can remember in recent years. By Kentucky standards it has been a tough winter. The bulbs that I have planted in my yard have already begun to bloom. Any day now I expect to see the daffodils out on the interstate. There are already buds on the trees in the park. Soon, when I least expect it, I will have a moment of awareness when I suddenly realize that the natural world around me is slowly turning green as it does every year at this time. I'm sure there are people who are already chomping at the bit to load up their cars and trucks with mulch, flowers and grass seed.

Renewal and Remodeling. After living in my home for 23 years, and raising two children from boys to men, my home is getting a much needed updating and remodeling. I live in the house that my wife was raised in. The first time I went on a date with her, way back in 1973, she was living in this house with her parents. The house is approximately 50 years old so my house and my body are in equal states of decline. Thanks to the generosity of my wife's parents, who are deceased, we can now afford to do the things we are doing. I have lived in this house longer than I have lived anywhere else. It is good to see it fixed up. When all the work is completed I will feel like I have a new house and that is something I have never had. When the house is finished maybe I can move on to my body and get hair transplants, lasik surgery on my eyes, a hip replacement and new knees.

My granddaughter. Chloe never fails to bring a smile to my face. When I got home from the monastery last night my wife informed me that Chloe's teacher wrote a note to my son and daughter in law. Chloe's class was supposed to draw a picture related to St. Patrick's Day. Apparently Chloe turned in a picture of a Leprechaun with a vagina. How can I not love this child?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Presentation At Gethsemani

Earlier this evening I gave a presentation to the monks of Gethsemani. Below is the basic content of my talk.

Lay Cistercian Presentation
Abbey of Gethsemani
March 18th, 2010

Good evening, Brothers!

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you tonight. My name is Michael Brown and I am one of the founders of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani. Some of you remember me as a younger, thinner, clean shaven, very angelic novice named Br. Dominic. I entered the community under Fr. Flavian. Fr Timothy was my Novice Master. I received the novice habit with Fr. Francis Kline and spent some time in the novitiate with Br. Luke and Br. Christian. I did a variety of jobs around here but mostly I worked with Fr. Anastasius and Br. Gerlac in the Steel Building or doing construction, Br. Thomas in the kitchen, and with Br. Alban and Br. Ferdinand at the old cow barn in the afternoons. I also enjoyed summer afternoons picking up bales of hay out in the fields or putting pecans on fruitcakes under the watchful eye of Fr. Vianney. My memories of being part of the community are all very good and although my time here was relatively short, it had a great impact on the person I am today.

Tonight I want to give you an overview and history of the Lay Cistercians in general and what is happening here at Gethsemani in particular. Let me start by giving you what I believe was the intent of those who founded the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani. When I think back to the founding of the group, I ask myself, "What were we looking for? To what did we think we were being called"? I think it's safe to say that those of us in the original group felt a desire for the contemplative life, a longing for the experience of God, and a need for the transformation of our own hearts. In a sense we were also looking for a home and we found it at Gethsemani. We felt the Holy Spirit called us together to support one another in this endeavor with the Rule of St Benedict and the Cistercian charisms as our guides. If you use the term "the spirit of the founders", I believe I have just described it.

Even though I entered Gethsemani after Vatican II, I grew up in an era when many people believed the spiritually minded entered the priesthood or religious life and everyone else got married. Since the time of Vatican II, the Church and lay people in particular have realized that everyone is called to holiness regardless of their state of life. After I left the monastery I desired to maintain something of the prayer life I learned and practiced here. As much as possible I tried to make the Liturgy of the Hours and other prayer practices part of my life. I still came to Gethsemani for yearly retreats and I still felt attracted to different aspects of the monastic life.

In the late 1980’s I became aware of others like myself who felt called to live a contemplative life in the world. Through the efforts of Fr. Michael, six of us came to Gethsemani, shared our stories, and began what is now the Lay Cistercians. In those early years we wrote a Plan of Life that has stood the test of time. It was written with lay people in mind, pulling from the Rule of St. Benedict and our understanding of the Cistercian charisms. Eventually Fr. Michael also contributed a document that offered specific and practical applications and suggestions for living out the Plan of Life using his monastic experience but applying it to lay people living busy lives in the world.

Here’s where I believe we need to be clear about one important thing. Lay Cistercians feel called to a contemplative life in the world. We do not feel called to the monastic life, nor do we try to replicate some kind of a lay version of the life you live together in community. My life has always been, and continues to be, a very middle class family life. I have been married for 35 years. I have two sons. One is married and the other is studying for the priesthood at St. Meinrad. I told you I used to be Br. Dominic. Now I am Pa Paw to a five year granddaughter. Trust me. My life is not monastic. I did think that once I left the monastery I would no longer have to get up for Vigils. Then my wife and I had a child. One night I was sitting on the end of my bed, holding my oldest son while giving him a bottle. I looked at my clock. It was 3:15 AM.

Early on the lay group at Gethsemani thought we were the only ones doing what we were doing. Eventually, however, we became aware of a similar group at Conyers. We invited them to Gethsemani and met with them. Over the years we became aware of other groups at other Cistercian monasteries. Some of the early members of our group eventually founded other lay groups at Berryville and Spencer. In the last 20 years or so I have attended and participated in regional meetings at Conyers, Genesee, and Gethsemani for representatives of all the lay groups in the United States. I have also attended two international meetings that included lay representatives from all over the world as well as your previous Abbot General, Dom Bernardo, and other monks and nuns. It was a personal highlight of my Lay Cistercian life to attend one of these gatherings in Clairvaux, France that also allowed me to visit the Abbey of Citeaux. Sitting in the Abbey church and walking on that holy ground, I did find myself thinking, “Wow! How did I get here”? In 2008 two of our members, Mike Johnson and Bob Johnson, attended another international gathering in Spain. During that meeting they helped finalize a document entitled “Lay Cistercian Identity”. This document was created from input submitted by Lay Cistercians around the world and was presented to your General Chapter for review and study.

So what is happening today at Gethsemani? We have two groups that meet here once a month. The reason we have two groups is to accommodate the needs and busy schedules of our members. One meets on the first Sunday of the month and the other meets on the 3rd Saturday of the month. Fr. Michael, Br. Frederic, and Br. Christian often join us but they have no official responsibilities within the group. Each month we meet to discuss some aspect of Cistercian spirituality. On Sundays we also join the monastic community for Mass. In addition to the groups that meet at Gethsemani, we have groups that meet in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Columbus, Chicago, Michigan, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. We have approximately 250 people who are part of these groups. Leaders and other representatives of the different local groups get together approximately twice a year as an advisory committee to discuss common needs and concerns. We will be meeting here at Gethsemani in April. We also have a website, a discussion listserv for email, and a newsletter. Our future plans are for greater exchange of spiritual resources such as talks, books, articles, videos, etc. Once a year we offer group retreats to all members. Last year we had to start having two retreats to accommodate those who could attend. It is no longer possible for everyone to be here at the same time. We are a very diverse group and we are not without challenges. Adequate and appropriate formation is an ongoing concern. Growing in our understanding of what it means to be a Lay Cistercian is an ongoing process. We sometimes struggle with commitment levels and community building. Because we are such a large and diverse group we have some challenges in terms of organizational structure. Despite these ongoing struggles, I believe we are following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I believe the times we live in demand a contemplative response. I don’t know where all this will go. We’ve come a long way in twenty years. The Order now invites us to your General Chapters so a dialog is taking place. My hope is that the Lay Cistercians and the monastic communities walk side by side, in mutual respect, as we each continue to discern our individual paths in the Cistercian way. In a sense the monks and nuns are our older brothers and sisters. As laypeople, we are still finding our way in our understanding of how the Cistercian charisms can be lived in the world and in marriage, family life, or the single life. We look to you for friendship and guidance. Seeking your support, we also offer ours to you, not only spiritually but practically. Many Lay Cistercians have skills and talents that could possibly meet a need within the monastery. I’m sure most of us could pack cheese and fruitcake during the busy Christmas season. We can pray for one another and have meaningful and supportive friendships. We should not be strangers to one another. All of this can be done without compromising any of the distinct characteristics of our individual vocations including your contemplative and cloistered community life. Let us continue our shared journey and individual responses to the call that we both hear. Together we can continue the discernment process and find out what God’s plan is for all of us.

Michael Brown
Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani
March 18, 2010

The Worst Concept Ever Is Time

"The worst concept ever is time".
-One of my younger co-workers

I have a co-worker who is young enough to be one of my children. In spite of our age difference we have become friends because of a common love of music. Though not of my generation, he loves the music of my generation. I share my knowledge of music history with him as well as my music collection. Since I am at least as old as his parents, if not older, he thinks I'm a really cool guy because I have seen most of the musicians that he admires so much. Today I shared with him that Phil Lesh, bass player for the Grateful Dead, turned 70 years old on March 15th. He was blown away and found it difficult to believe. I also shared my view that the "Baby Boomers" are rapidly becoming the senior citizens of our society. His response was "The worst concept ever is time". I thought that was a rather poignant remark from a young person. Most young people, including my own generation when we were "young", think they will live forever and that their time will never run out. Although I am keenly aware of the passage of time, I try to make a conscientious effort to live in the eternal Now. One of my friends who is a monk once told me that "sometimes you have to slow down to see how fast life is really going". He continued by saying, "The only way to slow life down is to be in the moment". It is difficult not to think about time and age. One look in the mirror reveals to me the aging and decline of my body. My granddaughter thinks I am "old" because my hair is gray and my skin is wrinkled. However you judge me, based on the condition of my body, I still believe my mind and heart are youthful. I think there is a lot of truth to the joke that inside every old person is a young person wondering what the hell happened. I told a friend this past Saturday night, while we were attending a rock and roll concert, that "in my youth my body seemed to be in charge and took my mind places it didn't necessarily want to go. Now it is my mind dragging my body around". There's no doubt that my body isn't what it used to be and I don't move as quickly as I used to do. However, I strive for my mind and heart to be timeless. Time is eternal even though our bodies may not be. Even when my body is gone, I hope all that is me remains one way or another. If time is a river, I hope to flow with it forever.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Great Night Of Rock And Roll

This past weekend I went to a John Mayer concert. I had never seen him before but was very impressed with his guitar playing. After I purchased my tickets weeks ago an interview with John Mayer appeared in Playboy magazine. His remarks were very controversial and he's been doing damage control ever since. I went to the concert thinking "I hope he just focuses on the music and doesn't talk trash". He did exactly what I wanted. After a very energetic and impressive opening set by Michael Franti and Spearhead, John Mayer hit the stage. He, too, provided a strong set full of great songs and searing guitar work. The arena had more teenyboppers than I am used to seeing, but after hearing John Mayer live, and being totally into his guitar solos, I can see why he can hang out with the likes of Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy. All in all it was a great show and I look forward to seeing John Mayer again this summer at the Crossroads Festival in Chicago.

The Need For Solitude

I have a need for privacy and solitude but I am not anti-social. I enjoy people and I believe people enjoy me. It is well known that I am an introvert. Much of what I have read states that our childhood is the biggest influence on the kind of person we are. My childhood was mostly great but I did grow up as part of a large family and we lived in a small home. I shared a bedroom with three brothers. It wasn't until I was almost 20 years old that I had my own private room. I think the lack of privacy in my early years is the primary reason why I value and need it so much now. In my youth the only way I could be alone was to retreat within myself. In my current home I have two rooms that are basically mine. Sometimes I struggle at work from a lack of privacy. I do not have an office. I work in a cubicle so most of the time I feel like a drone on a Borg spaceship. I have absolutely no privacy. One of the ways I deal with it is to wear headphones all day. Part of the reason I do that is because I love music and I am allowed to listen to it while working at my desk. Another reason is that it gives me a sense of privacy when I can shut out everything around me. I don't think well when I am distracted by activity around me. I think best when I am alone. Sometimes I wear my headphones even when I am not listening to music. As an introvert I spend much of my time in my own inner world, my own private space. It's best when I am physically alone but I have trained myself to be alone even in the middle of a large crowd. Solitude can be a state of mind when one cannot be physically apart from others.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Awesome Things Volume VIII

Being ordinary. We all want to be great. So much so that 90% of all people think they are in the top 10%. The truth is that most of us are ordinary despite what our parents tell us. The good news is that being ordinary is OK. Ordinary people are the "salt of the earth". It's ordinary people who show up for work everyday. It's ordinary people who get the job done. Being ordinary is not the same as being second class. Ordinary people can still be all they can be. Ordinary people can still do great things. They may not change the world is such a way that gets them in the history books. What they do is usually more subtle but no less effective.

Sitting cross legged in the grass, under the warm sun, practicing Zen with my granddaughter. Like most children, my granddaughter is full of energy and a little hyper. I've been teaching her to focus and to be still. Last Sunday we sat in my front yard like two Buddhas. Such moments are what make being a Pa Paw so great.

Sunshine and warmth. It's been great to have some sunshine and warmth. You can open the windows and get some fresh air in the house. You can go for a walk. The birds are singing. Spring is in the air.

Rain. It's going to rain this week. You may as well accept it. We need a good soaking rain to wash away all the salt from this winter's snows.

Pizza. Pizza is my favorite junk food. I have loved it since I was a child, especially a really hot, fresh pizza right out of the oven. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

Books! I love books. When people ask me how I learned to write so well, or how I happen to know something, my usual answer is that I have read hundreds of books in my life. If you ask my granddaughter what I want for Christmas or my birthday, she'll say "Books and CD's". Book stores are struggling these days. I fear that books are going the way of many things and may disappear. I haven't bought into the new electronic books. I like the smell and the feel of a real book. Books not only educate us but they can take our minds and imaginations places our bodies will never go. I don't care how many degrees you have, if you don't read on a regular basis you are not really educated.

A really good sandwich. This past Wednesday I went to the restaurant across the street from my office. One of the specials was a "beef and cheddar panini with lettuce, tomato, and horsey sauce". I decided to give it a try and it was very good. When singer/songwriter Warren Zevon was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was asked what he was going to do. He replied, "Enjoy every sandwich". His response is a good mantra for life. Life is not something to be endured. It is something to be enjoyed and having a great sandwich for lunch is one small way to enjoy and savor life.

Artistic Expression. Yesterday, after I returned to the office from my daily walk, I stopped in the lobby of my office and checked out the employee art on display for this years "Fund for the Arts" campaign. Most of it was very good. I think there is an artist in all of us just dying to get out and find expression. I did not write for public consumption until I was 50 years old. I started sharing "daily thoughts" with co-workers via email and when I stopped I had almost 600 people on my distribution list. Now I have a blog and people all over the world read it. As of yesterday I've had almost 11,000 people from approximately 20 countries visit it. Until I started writing and discovered that lots of people enjoy what I write, I never thought I had any talent. Everyone needs to find their gift. All of us have one.

Sleeping in. Nothing feels like a Friday. Like most people I am sleep deprived. I am not the kind of person who goes to bed early. I stay up late and my alarm goes off every workday at 6:00 AM. Most nights I only get about six hours of sleep. I know what you are thinking. You've read somewhere that old people don't need that much sleep. Very funny. By the end of the work week I think I have lost the equivalent of a complete nights sleep. I am dragging on Friday nights. In my youth I would go out every Friday night, party, and howl at the moon. Now I just look forward to going to bed with the knowledge that my alarm is turned off and I can sleep in on Saturday morning. I don't sleep the day away. Usually I get up about 8:30 AM when my body feels rested. It is one of life's simple joys to wake up naturally. However, this doesn't happen if my granddaughter spends the night. She will wake me up early, raise the blinds and say, "See, Pa Paw, it's light outside. Time to get up and make your coffee".

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Path To The Temple

Chilly morning,stone steps.
The path to the temple is steep.
We may stumble at times,
but we must always get up again.

These words from the Tao are meant to be a metaphor for the spiritual journey. However, since all of life is spiritual and all of life is a journey, I believe these words are meant for all parts of our lives. My granddaughter thinks I am very old because my hair and beard are gray and my skin is wrinkled. My friends in their 80's think I am still a boy. Either way I feel like I have been long on the journey of life. In a few weeks I will be 59 years, or 21,550 days, old. If I am honest, and I always try to be, many mornings are chilly and the path to the temple seems steep. I stumble a lot. There's a reason this blog is titled "Stumbling along the Spiritual Path". I am not great nor heroic. The success of my life is due to my ability to regain my balance from the missteps I have taken and that whenever I have completely fallen, I get back up. Most days aren't so dramatic. These days it's mostly a matter of doing what I need to do when I would rather not. The most challenging thing for me at this time of my life is a sense of fatigue that never goes away. It is not always a matter of sleep. It's a weariness caused by doing many things for a long time mixed with an occasional sense of boredom. An analogy for how I often feel is the experience of being near the end of a long drive. You are going down the highway and you see a sign that tells you home is only 30 more miles. You feel some excitement but that last 30 miles feels like a hundred miles. All you want to do is get home and fall asleep in your bed. In case some of you are concerned, my bed is not a metaphor for death. If anything, it's probably a metaphor for retirement! I am happy and my life is good. I am just anxious to get to the end of the path leading to the temple. I'm a little tired of the journey and I want to sit in the temple, next to a warm fire, and simply rest.

Yesterday, I wasn't exactly in the temple but I sat cross legged in the grass of my front yard, under the warm sun, practicing Zen with my granddaughter. Like most children, my granddaughter is full of energy and a little hyper. I've been teaching her how to focus and to be still. Yesterday we sat in my front yard like two Buddhas. Such moments are what make being a Pa Paw so great.

This afternoon I was sitting in my car, waiting for my wife, while listening to "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" from jazz great, Miles Davis. My eyes were closed and I must have been in that twilight state just before falling asleep. The next thing I know my wife is beating on the window. It scared the crap out of me! Talk about a wake up call! It was like the temple gong had been hit with a big wooden mallet.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Awesome Things Volume VII

Doing nothing. Last Sunday I had a rare opportunity to do absolutely nothing. I took advantage of this opportunity and spent most of the day sitting in my chair looking out my window. Most of our lives, even our personal lives, are spent under pressure to be productive, always doing something, spending every waking hour working on a never ending to do list. Beside those things that demand attention, there seems to also be never ending list of tasks or things we want to do that don't really need to be done. We are restless and hyper. Even I am a driven person. My reputation as a laid back and passive person isn't totally true. I have an overactive mind. I, too, struggle with being still, being quiet, and simply being. Yesterday I overcame my restlessness and accomplished nothing. I am very proud of myself.

Taking a day off from your normal routine. I took Tuesday off from work. It wasn't exactly a vacation day in the sense that I got to sleep in and lay on the couch all day watching old movies. I still got up early, waited for the cable guy, took my car to the dealer for a minor repair, got a haircut, and visited my 80 year old mother. Still, even with the busyness, it was a good day. It good to sometimes break your routine and have a day that different from the majority of your days. I am a creature of habit so routine is a big thing in my life. Routine can be boring but it's also the safety net of middle aged forgetfulness. Now what was I doing before I started typing this?

Seeing the reality around us. We've all heard the expression, "That person doesn't have a clue". Hopefully, none of us are "that person". I found the following thought in a book of Chinese philosophy: "All that we experience is subjective. There is no sensation without interpretation. We create the world and ourselves; only when we stop do we see the truth". The world we create in our minds and the opinions we have about it are not necessarily reality. It is difficult to see true reality through the filters and prejudices we all have. I've always liked the statement, "It is what it is". Unfortunately, what we think we see is not always what is. To see "reality", we need clarity of vision and this is tough to have all the time. When you have such a moment, it's called an epiphany. An epiphany is a sudden insight, a moment of awareness, a sense of clarity. The lens that most of us look through are cloudy and so is our perception of reality. Why do you think we disagree so much?

Mindfulness. What is Zen? What is mindfulness? Books have been written about these things but it all boils down to this: Mindfulness is being where you are and doing what you are doing. It is being in the moment. Most of the time our minds and our bodies are not in the same place. The practice of mindfulness is an attempt to unite our mind with our body. Being where you are and doing what you are doing is not as easy as it sounds. Yesterday on the way to work I missed two turns because my mind was in a different place and time zone than my body. Mindfulness is challenging in a world that demands multitasking. Most of us probably have at least a touch of attention deficit disorder. Today's challenge is to be where you are, doing what you are doing.

My granddaughter's imagination. Chloe thinks my wife and I have a magic closet in our house. Why? Well, if we know she is coming over we will put a small gift in the closet. As soon as she gets in my house she immediately runs to the closet to see "what's in the magic closet". Are we spoiling this child? You bet your life we are. She's my only grandchild and she lights up my life. A small and inexpensive gift in a "magic closet" is a small price to pay for the happiness she gives me.

Taking a walk outside on a beautiful day. We got sunshine today! As I walked around the park outside my office I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face and my shadow accompanied me most of the way. The sky was deep blue and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. Lately the days have been cold and gray and overcast. The sunlight was rejuvenating.

The cheesy biscuits I ate tonight at Red Lobster. The shrimp scampi and stuffed flounder weren't too bad either!