Friday, February 25, 2011

Random Thoughts Volume XX


I received a telephone call last Friday afternoon telling me that Father Matthew Kelty, aged 95, and one of the monks at Gethsemani, had passed away. He was a wonderful and very holy man. I did not know him well on a personal level but I had several encounters with him over the years. He used to do poetry readings and talks at the monastery whenever I was there. His death made me ponder how few truly holy people there seem to be in the world. Father Matthew was a man who was one with God. Father Matthew was buried in the monastic cemetary with all the other monks who have lived and died at the monastery since 1848. There's a whole section of the cemetery where monks I once knew lie buried. When I was a very young novice monk these were the men I lived with and who inspired me.

My granddaughter woke me up last Sunday morning at the crack of dawn, telling me she was ready to go downstairs and cook breakfast. On her previous visit I had taught her how to scramble eggs. First we cooked some bacon in the microwave. The we pulled a chair up to the range, cracked the eggs, and cooked them until they were done. This simple act of standing side by side with my six year old granddaughter, scrambling eggs, was more fulfilling to me than 99% of all the other tasks I must perform in my life. I was one with her, she was one with me, and both of us were one with the moment. Then we sat on the kitchen floor and ate our meal pretending we were camping out.

Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It's lovely to be silly at the right moment.
-Horace

I think I am a serious person who has a sense of humor. At this stage of my life I believe I know what is important and what is not. I would love to publish my list of what I believe deserves seriousness and what does not but I'm sure I would offend someone. I don't mind laughing at myself when I do something stupid. I probably take some things very seriously that are unimportant to others and I'm sure that many things that are important to others are not taken seriously by me. One thing that really drives me crazy is people who take themselves too seriously. Whether you are like me or not I think what is important is that you find some kind of balance in your life between seriousness and silliness. In the great moments of life, I know how to be serious and how to act. Too much seriousness, however, is too much for me. I can't be an adult all the time. When I go out to lunch with my friends, or to dinner with my wife and children, we laugh about everything. One of my favorite sayings is "Sacred cows make great hamburgers". The world is full of people and ideas that are taken way too seriously. I don't trust anyone that never laughs at life or themselves. I don't want to die of seriousness. I would rather laugh myself to death. Life is too short to be serious all the time.

Some wise man whose name escapes me at the moment once said that "self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom". I believe there is much truth to this. Typically when we are young we have no clue who we are. We just know who we want to be. In many cases we don't become who we want to be because it's not who we are. If we are lucky, and honest, we acquire inner peace later in our life when we accept who we are. This acceptance requires the sometimes difficult acknowledgement of how special we are. Many people find it difficult to accept their own giftedness. It also requires the acceptance of those parts of ourselves that might drive other people crazy and may drive ourselves crazy as well. Self-knowledge goes hand in hand with self-acceptance. I know I am a good person and that I have integrity and character. I also know I can be lazy, arrogant, obsessive, and a perfectionist. Did I mention that my wife also thinks procrastination would be a step forward for me? I have a personality that generally is peaceful and easy going but I also fight life on a daily basis even when I know it would be easier and less stressful to just "let it go". These seemingly more negative qualities I refer to as my "dark side". In each of us is a side that faces the light and another one which is our "dark side". If you are growing as a person you get to a point where you can see your "dark side" coming from a mile away. When you are really self aware you can head yourself off at the pass and keep this side of you from appearing in public. Both sides are who we are but the goal of our life's journey is to be our best self as much as we can.

In today's reading from the Tao, a book of Chinese philosophy, Deng Ming-Dao says "Problems cannot be resolved at once. Slowly untie knots and divide to conquer". Most problems, whether they be situations or our own personal behavior, do not come into being overnight. Most problems, bad habits, and behaviors build up over time. Yet most of us get very frustrated when they cannot be changed or resolved immediately. I think it was Albert Einstein who said, "The logic that created a problem cannot be used to solve the problem". Fixing problems or changing our behavior often takes time. To avoid the logic that created our problems or the actions that created our behavior, we must think differently or take small steps to change our behavior. Sometimes we keep running into a wall over and over before we finally realize that if we move over a little bit we will find a door. In yesterday's thoughts I admitted to some of my behavior that reflects what I called my "dark side". I have been struggling with these behaviors my entire life and will likely do so for the rest of my life. You will do the same with your own behavior. Hopefully as we go through our lives we get a little smarter and wiser and we avoid the thinking and behavior that has caused us problems in our past or present. At some point we even start to realize that our parents aren't as stupid as we thought they were. My sons, who are 30ish, even seek my counsel these days. Occasionally they take my advice so they don't have to untie a knot later.

A friend and I were reminiscing about a wonderful experience we had together. We made a last minute decision to go to a concert. Much to our delight the tickets were half price. It was a perfect summer evening with no humidity and a cool breeze that was not normal for the middle of summer. The concert was outdoors and the performer was in top form. All the planets were in perfect alignment with the sun and life was good. I refer to such moments or experiences as "Zen Moments". They're brief times in our lives where everything is perfect if only for a moment. In such times you are happy and one with the universe. You cannot plan such moments or re-create them. They just happen and are a gift. I like to think that the possibility of such moments is great and the potential is all around us. I also think we miss most of them because we are distracted and not present to the moment. One must be awake enough to recognize them. I sure that for many people who attended the same concert as my friend and me, it was just a concert. It may have been enjoyable but nothing special. How one felt about the experience depended on one's wakefulness and perception.

1 comment:

Avril said...

Thanks to God for the Zen moments in our lives. Must be on the lookout for more!