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.