Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ramblings In My Mind Vol. VII

Last weekend was another weekend that went by in a flash. I stayed home on Friday and continued to sort through piles of memories, books, and assorted other stuff, trying to decide which ones were worth keeping. It is difficult to part with things that have had meaning in your life. Bright and early on Saturday morning, when Paw Paw was still in bed, a little girl appeared at my house. It was an earlier start to my day than I had hoped for. Of course, it all seemed good as we both ate Cocoa Puffs out on the back porch while the birds sang and the day began. On Sunday my wife went to one of those mysterious female events called a “Wedding Shower” for one of my nieces. While she was away the sky grew dark, the rains came, and I was out like a light on my couch.

I appreciated the positive thoughts of another co-worker today because I wasn’t feeling it. Generally I am a positive person but I don’t feel positive when I am tired, feeling overwhelmed, or don’t have enough quality “downtime”. I thought my life would be slower at this stage but it sometimes seems busier than ever. Over the last year or so my wife and I have been doing or overseeing a lot of work on our house. I am definitely over the chaos of the house being in disarray and the hassle of dealing with contractors. I am also tired of every vacation day being filled with chores and every weekend with activity. It’s no secret that I am an introvert. We require lots of quiet and solitude to be happy and positive. Constant activity and interaction with people, including families, is exhausting. In most of our lives there is not enough leisure and few get enough sleep. Life can often seem like a never ending to do list. I want to always be positive but sometimes fatigue makes me feel grumpy.

As is typical, last night’s storm and high winds hit as I was trying to load and unload groceries from my shopping basket into my car. It never fails to rain when I go to the grocery. The downpour did motivate me to move a little faster. Have you ever committed to something and then when the time came to do it you asked yourself, “What the heck was I thinking when I agreed to this”? Sometimes this happens to me even when I have committed to doing something that should be fun. The idea of something is often better than the doing of it. I find this especially true as I get older. Young people often hate the thought of getting older but as an older person I rarely wish I was still young. There are so many things I do not want to go through again. I did, however, have a recent conversation where a friend and I discussed what was one of the best times in our lives. For me it was a time when I was quite young compared to now. It was the summer of 1970 and I was nineteen years old. This was time when I had a lot of freedom, enough money to do what I wanted, no real responsibilities or commitments, a wonderful girlfriend, lots of live rock and roll music, and I was a free spirit. What was one of the best times in your life?

Here’s a great quote that I read yesterday.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.

Watch your words; they become actions.

Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch you habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes destiny.
-Frank Outlaw

I suppose that part of who we are is beyond our control. We do inherit DNA from our parents and ancestors. However, this only forms the foundation of who we are. I believe the rest of who we become is personal choice. How much effort do you put forth to become the best version of who you are? How much thought do you put into how you think and act? Is self-improvement a conscious act for you? It is said that self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. I have spent many years trying to understand what makes me tick and why I am the way I am. I have realized there is much about me that is good and there’s also stuff about me that is annoying to others and even to me at times. I have tried to maximize the best of me and minimize the worst of me. I take personal responsibility for my thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and destiny. I might look the way I do because of the DNA I inherited but everything else has been a choice. My parents gave me life, my actions have been my choices, and to some extent life has created my destiny. I am who I am and where I am for a reason. The challenge of life is to unravel that mystery.

Only the educated are free.

I hate ignorance whether it is in myself or others. Education, whether it is formally acquired through schooling, or knowledge acquired in the school of life, broadens our minds and, hopefully, expands our hearts. A complete education would include formal training as well as learning acquired from its application in the real world. Formal education by itself only gives us knowledge. Education combined with life experience gives us wisdom. I also believe that learning never stops even if you’ve received many diplomas. Admittedly, the world is full of educated fools. Somewhere along the line they acquired knowledge, but not an open mind, and they also failed to acquire wisdom. A truly educated and wise person has an open mind that is always receptive to new ideas and concepts. A closed mind is open to nothing new.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Card I Received

Recently I found a card that someone once sent me. I loved the thoughtfulness and I can only hope the card truly describes me. Here's what it said.

You are a lover of words. One day you will write a book.

People turn to you because you give voice to dreams, notice little things, and make otherwise impossible imaginings appear real. You are a rare bird who thinks the world is beautiful enough to try to figure it out, who has the courage to dive into your wild mind and go swimming there. You are someone who still believes in cloud watching, people watching, daydreaming, tomorrow, favorite colors, silver clouds, dandelions, and sorrow. Be sacred. Be cool. Be wild. Go far. Words do more than plant miracle seeds. With you writing them, they can change the world.

I don't think I have lived up to these words lately but I will keep trying.

Thank you, Paula. You know who you are.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ramblings In My Mind Volume VI

Around noon last Thursday I started to feel some numbness in my upper lip. I wasn’t sure why, and it didn’t seem like a big deal, so I kept going through my daily work routine. Within two hours my upper lip was at least twice its size. I decided to make my first visit to our onsite clinic. The nurse asked the usual questions related to allergic reactions, i.e., had I done or eaten anything out of the ordinary, etc. I told her my life was very boring and there was never anything out of the ordinary. She then asked me if I took a specific medication which I do happen to take. She told me the worst case scenario was that I needed a shot before she called an ambulance. Fortunately she thought that was an overreaction so we didn’t go down that path. I got out of the clinic with my life and a dose of Benadryl. It did take about two days for the swelling to go down. I’m still not sure what happened. I’m starting to think it was a bug bite but I have no memory of being bitten. Anyway, I am fine. I am back to my normal size lips and I no longer resemble Donald Duck.

After 60 years of living I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are not truly happy. Many feel an emptiness or sense of longing. I sometimes feel this way myself. It takes more than money or having things go your way to be happy. I think I have narrowed it down to a few important areas. Basically, I think it’s all about having some balance in your life so here are a few possible ways to achieve this balance.

It helps to feel well physically. If you constantly feel bad and out of sorts it is difficult to be happy.

You need to have satisfying relationships with friends, family, or significant others. Everyone needs and wants to be loved even if they never say it. Beyond the need for food, shelter, and safety, I think this is our most basic human need. Many people suffer from a lack of meaningful love in their lives. They may be loved but they are not getting the love they need.

In addition to feeling and being loved, we need to strive for overall emotional wellness. Many people seem to be filled with negative or unhealthy emotions. These are not people just having a bad day. They have deep seeded and often unhealthy emotions that may need therapy. If you have uncontrollable, conflicting, or frequent negative emotions it is nearly impossible to be happy.

I think it’s helpful to have some sense of spirituality. It doesn’t necessarily require church attendance, although that’s helpful for many people. Spirituality is whatever helps you to have a sense of connection with a higher power or the deeper aspects of life and living. A sense of spirituality can give meaning to your life in ways that most daily activities can’t.

It’s Tuesday afternoon and I am staring at a blank screen. All of my commitments for the day are behind me. I have some time on my hands. I am struggling to come up with a daily thought. I am hoping that one appears before I run out of time. Recently, in my housecleaning and downsizing I found several binders filled with all the daily thoughts I have written in the last 6-7 years. I have also found five or six hand written journals that I filled with whatever events or angst filled my life at the time they were written. In addition to these binders I have posted about 850 entries on my blog since the fall of 2006 and they have been viewed by approximately 17,500 people around the world. Sitting here now with my empty mind I wonder where all the motivation and inspiration came from to write so many things. Even more incredulous to me are the number of fans I have acquired along the way. Most of my life I have felt quite ordinary and even now I don’t feel all that special. What I try to do is live authentically and intentionally. Somewhere along the way I realized I can articulate my journey and thoughts in a way that others can identify with. Except for those early journals, inspired by John Boy Walton from the old TV show “The Walton’s”, and Thomas Merton, and only written for myself, I didn’t begin write on a regular basis and never for public consumption until I was 50 years old. It’s never too late to start something, discover a gift, or to find yourself. If you’re not consciously on a personal journey of self-discovery, you can begin today. By the way, I am still hoping that Chloe grows up to be a book publisher and that Paw Paw’s thoughts are the first book she publishes.

What is contemplative living? Contemplation is a big word that many people often associate with mystical spiritual experiences. Yes, it can be that but it is also something much more down to earth. I think all people can be contemplative although it seems that some personality types are more prone to be contemplative than others. Type A personalities are generally not contemplative. I believe that to be contemplative you must be willing to live at least some of your life in the slow lane. A contemplative person is reflective, awake to what’s going on around them, comfortable being silent and still, and not usually caught up in the rat race of life. A contemplative notices flowers and takes the time to smell them. Contemplative people are usually spiritual but don’t necessarily sit in the front pew at church. They are sensitive to beauty and usually love nature. Most walk what some call “The Middle Path”. Their life is usually balanced with not too much or too little of anything. More often than not they like the simple life and it doesn’t take much to make them happy. Whatever is available is usually enough for them. It is a life that is intentional, full of wonder, and present to the moment.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ramblings In My Mind Volume V

I read a passage from the Tao recently. The last line simply stated "Give up unnecessary things". Many of the activities that we perform that would fall under the category of "unnecessary things" are part of our personal agendas or the agendas of others. I admit that I sometimes do things that are important to me but most other people would probably care less about them because these activities have no value to them. When I think about this I sometimes wonder why I do these things. On the other hand is there anyone who hasn't had to do something at work at one time or another that they thought was completely stupid and had no apparent reason beyond being part of someone else's agenda? Sometimes I can drive myself crazy doing what are unnecessary things that are probably no more than symptoms of personal OCD. Spending your time doing unnecessary things, sometimes with people who are unnecessary to your life, is a waste of time and effort. The older I get the more appealing I find a simple life and simple living. Sometimes my mantra is "Seek an uncluttered and uncomplicated life". Giving up unnecessary things or activities is a way to simplify your life. We should only do what is essential, good, and enjoyable.

It is better to do nothing than to be busy doing nothing.
-Zen saying

My granddaughter came to my house at 7:30 AM last Saturday. At 9:00 AM the carpet guys showed up to install carpet in two bedrooms. As you can imagine there was total chaos in my house. Thank God that Chloe brought over her collection of "Pee Wee Herman's Playhouse" DVD's. She loves his shows. A few weeks ago I introduced her to the movie "Pee Wee's Big Adventure". Admittedly, Pee Wee Herman is a little difficult to explain to a six year old, especially a very smart six year old. I love my granddaughter very much. She never fails to bring a smile to my face. I love all our conversations and trying to answer all of her questions as she grows up and discovers the world around her. As a 60 year old it is very easy to be cynical and jaded about life. The perspective of a child can bring us back to our own childlike sense of wonder. For example, while out on my back porch we caught a salamander. You would have thought that we made the world's greatest discovery. Whenever my granddaughter is around my old and tired eyes often see the world in a new and fresh way. I have known quite a few spiritual masters in my life but at this time my granddaughter is my greatest teacher. Is it a coincidence that she has the same birthday as the Dalai Lama?

I had biometric testing done on my way into work this morning. I am not in perfect health but overall I was pleased with my numbers. One number that did get my attention is my height. I appear to be shrinking. Of course, I have noticed in my life that old people tend to shrink. I guess we keep shrinking until we completely disappear. My gradual shrinking and eventual total disappearance works well with one of my other goals which is to be invisible. I usually try to be invisible wherever I am. Sometimes when I take a day off to be with myself I might go to the Mall, or a bookstore, or a restaurant. When I do this I feel like I am invisible because no one appears to notice me. However, there are other times when I want to be noticed and I end up feeling like the character in the movie "The Sixth Sense" who doesn't realize until the end of the movie that he's been dead all along and he really is invisible to everyone. Seriously, I am glad my numbers show that my sometimes weak and erratic efforts to practice healthy living and wellness are showing results.

Thursday was my Friday. I'm taking off today to stay home and attempt to put a room back together. It was emptied out last week to prepare for the new carpet. Naturally, everything that came out of the room will not be returning. As I have mentioned before I am trying to simplify my life and get rid of things I no longer want or need. Tomorrow I will be boxing up books that I will never read again. I once read that my personality type likes to collect things. It is true. I have collections large and small that include books, CD's, Gnomes, dinosaurs,, not bongs....and rock and roll memorabilia. I even have a few rocks that I have picked up in various places over the years. Some of these things are actually valuable while others only have sentimental value. What I keep telling my wife, who continually wonders why I keep all this stuff, is that it all represents who I am. If you came into my home and looked at all my personal stuff, you would know a lot about me without ever meeting me. We are our stuff. I know I can't take all my stuff with me when I leave this world but I can enjoy it while I am here and I can also give it away once in a while for others to enjoy. Chloe already has most of my dinosaur collection. She took them home one dinosaur at a time. All she had to do was say, "Paw Paw, can I take this one home"?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Ramblings In My Mind Volume IV

I found the following list when emptying my bookshelves recently. Even if you don't understand Zen, these are great guidelines.

Ten Principles of Zen Behavior

1.Find balance and harmony in all things.
2.All things are born, live, and die.
3.You are imperfect and still learning.
4.Lead by example.
5.Know your place.
6.Let your goodness shine through.
8.Come to term with restrictions.
9.Practice simplicity.
10.Keep an open mind and a watchful eye.

My brain is a little water logged as I write these notes. Remember last summer's drought? Remember how many people were praying for rain? Well, all of those prayers have been answered. This month is now the wettest April on record. I looked down at the Great Lawn this morning as I was driving along I-64 and all I saw was water. I had a flashback to a very hot July 4th when I sat in the middle of the Great Lawn, which is now a lake, for a Joe Cocker concert. I had another flashback from this past winter when I took a solitary walk along the river in the midst of a couple of hundred ducks gathered on the lawn. Life is like the weather. It's always changing and you never know what will happen. Unfortunately there's no Dopler radar to forecast life and to warn us what's coming our way. This is another reason to always be awake and aware.

Joy happens. Life can seem rather bleak at times, especially with the kind of weather we've been having lately. However, sometimes the sun breaks through and joy happens. I recently had a few days off from work and my usual routines. That is always a nice change. Much of the world was captivated last weekend with the royal wedding of William and Kate and the beatification of Pope John Paul II. I love all the pomp and circumstance of such events. It was great to see the happy couple and the joy of the people during the celebration and I believe Pope John Paul II was truly a holy man. In a different kind of way I think there is joy among many that Osama bin Laden is now dead. The world has been liberated from another person who did nothing but bring heartache, pain, and sadness to millions. So even though it is raining again as I write this note, there is cause for joy.

I believe that everything in life is inter-dependent and connected. When I took the Strength Finder test I was happy that "Connectedness" was one of my strengths. I have always interpreted this strength as having the ability to see the big picture, to be able to connect the dots, as well as having the ability to understand how everything relates to everything else. I can usually do this with relative ease. The down side for me is that I am not a detail person. That strength belongs to others. On a much more cosmic level, the Buddhists believe that everything in life affects everything else, that every action has a re-action, and nothing is really independent of anything else. Some people also call this karma. If you practice good karma, goodness will come back to you. If you put out bad karma, bad karma will come back to you. If I am in a bad mood, my co-workers are affected to some degree. This could manifest itself through a lack of patience on my part when they call me or some intentional sarcasm in an email. If I am happy, they may call me and I will be very comforting or understanding about whatever is bothering them. My moods do not exist independently from the experience my co-workers have of me. The same is true in reverse. My work experience is affected by all of their moods. I recently acquired two bracelets. One was sent to me by a friend who received it from a Tibetan student. This friend was a total stranger to me at one time. I met him while sitting on a bench in Gatlinburg. When I mentioned I was from Kentucky, he asked me if I was "familiar with that monastery in Kentucky". I smiled and said, "Familiar? I used to live there"! How's that for karma? The other bracelet I bought for myself to help me stay centered. Hopefully both bracelets will help me remember the inter-dependence and connectedness of life. We are all dependent on one another and connected to one another whether we like it or not.

The Greek philosopher, Socrates, said "The unexamined life is not worth living". You may have heard this quote in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure". I agree with Socrates. My wife is a self-proclaimed member of the "Shallow People of the World Society". I once said to her, "Do you ever have a deep thought? You know, Denise, if you sail your ship in deep water you will never run aground". She looked at me and said, "Yes, Mike, but if you stay in the shallow water you will never drown". OK, good point. However, I still believe that introspection and serious reflection have value. Most of my life, even as a young child, has been a search for meaning. I never see life as meaningless or only having surface value. I believe in karma, that there's an order to the universe, and that everything happens for a reason. I have spent a lot of my life trying to figure all of this out as well as my place in the universe and my reason for existence. I encourage all of you to find time in your life for silence, solitude, and reflection. Sure, it's OK to sometimes be in the shallow end of the pool but isn't that mostly for children? Don't live an unexamined life by just going through the motions. Wake up, be aware, reflect, and live in a meaningful way.

When I am very busy and feel a little stressed by time constraints I sometimes lose my sense of being balanced and centered. When this happens I feel like a person with an inner ear infection. I feel dizzy and wonder if I am going to fall down. A continuing theme in my messages to others is to encourage people to strive for balance in their lives and to be centered within themselves. When you are balanced and centered you are like a oak tree with deep roots. Only the most violent of winds can knock you over. When I am balanced and centered I am operating from a position of strength. It's a kind of inner martial arts. People who are always stressed and in a frenzy are not operating from a position of strength. It doesn't take much of a breeze to knock them over. Their root system is fragile and near the surface. What does it mean to be centered? I guess it could mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For me it means being confident and sure of myself. It means following my inner compass in terms of values and moral consciousness. It means having a belief system that guides my actions. It means having courage when I am afraid and have to take a stand. All of these things together act as an inner anchor that keeps me from running aground on the sandbars and rocky shorelines of life. A balanced life is a life that has just enough, but not too much, of everything. It is a life not lacking in necessities but not too easy either. It is a life with enough sleep but not too much to be lethargic. It is a life with work but not so much that I am stressed and exhausted. It is a life with enough leisure to feel relaxed but not lazy. It is a life with enough time to expand my intellect but have time to play. You get the point....I hope.

Last night I dreamed I met the Dalai Lama. He was running a souvenir shop in India where I happened to be for some reason.