Friday, July 08, 2011

Stumbling along the Spiritual Path


Last night I was around some children that I did not really know. It quickly became apparent to me that they needed some attention. My granddaughter introduced me as her Paw Paw so they started calling me that too. Near the end of the night, after all the neighborhood fireworks, one of the little boys asked me if he could sit in my lap. When I sat down to accommodate his request he grabbed a pillow and his blanket and hopped in my lap. Before yesterday I was a complete stranger to him. What I thought about, however, is how we all just want to be loved and if we can be held too, all the better. It also made me think how important men are to children. This particular child did not really have a strong male presence in his life. Mothers are great, and we all know they carry most of the responsibility for child rearing, but you cannot underestimate the importance of a father as well. I have not always been the world’s greatest father but I was always there for my children. I am still there even though they are adults now. You don’t have to be perfect but you do have to be there.

Happy Birthday to my granddaughter, Chloe, age 7, and also to the Dalai Lama who is 76 years old today. They are both living Buddha’s in my mind. Chloe wanted Pee Wee Herman for his birthday. Even Paw Paw couldn’t produce the real Pee Wee so my wife and I did the best we could. I am attaching a picture to show the results.

Recently I received an email from a friend of mine who is a retired priest living as a hermit near the Abbey of Gethsemani. His email simply read, “I think it is time for another spiritual encounter”. Periodically I drive out to his house and we spend the day together. I’m the oldest sibling in my family so I never had a big brother. This friend has become my surrogate big brother. I called him and we agreed on a date to get together. On that day I will get up early and drive the country roads to his house. I love these solitary drives. After I get to his house we will go out for breakfast at some small restaurant that can only be found in a rural area. Later in the day we will probably visit the monastery and try not to buy more books from their bookstore. I probably should completely avoid the bookstore since I recently gave away many of my books. Throughout the day we will talk of God, life, my family, our spiritual lives, and the joy of long friendships. We first met 40 years ago when we were both much younger. Sometimes when we are together I think of the Simon and Garfunkel song “Old Friends”.

Old friends, old friends sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blowing through the grass
Falls on the round toes of the high shoes of the old friends
Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears.

My friend is in his early seventies now and I’ll be there soon enough.

I have always found the study of psychology and personality types to be fascinating. I was in my early thirties when I found out my Myers-Briggs type. At the time I was taking an intense nine month course on spiritual direction. When I was in my early forties I discovered another well of self-knowledge called the Enneagram. These two schools of thought, along with Strength Finders, have provided me with much enlightenment about myself. All of them together paint a very accurate portrait of who I am. I believe that when we are young we think it is very important to fit in with everyone else. Most people are living in their false self when they are young because it is more important to fit in and be accepted. When you start approaching middle age you realize you can’t play all those games anymore and you start discovering who you really are. When you discover your true self, and embrace it, it is a major milestone in your life. At this point in my life I know who I am. I know my gifts and I know my weaknesses and I am OK with both. The discovery and acceptance of who you really are is the beginning of the journey from the false self to your true self. This journey is what the spiritual life is all about. You transform into your true self and are the best version of who you are. Do you know who you are? Have you begun the journey of transformation? Are you one with your true self?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
— Aristotle

"Our life is what our thoughts make of it."
— Marcus Aurelius

I think these two quotes are related. We are what we think. What thoughts occupy your mind throughout the day? Obviously some of our thoughts are focused on the tasks we must accomplish each day. However, in between these tasks in our leisurely moments what fills our minds? I have read that our brains are hard wired to think negatively unless we intentionally think positive thoughts. I believe this is true. Therefore I strive to always think positive thoughts. I do not always accomplish this. When I am not applying my mind to a task I am usually thinking about people I care about, ideas that intrigue me, my love of music, some philosophical discussion I am having with myself, how to be more present to the moment, or what I can do to improve myself or change the world that day. I think when your mind is mostly engaged with ideas and less with brooding over some slight or injustice that you perceive as happening to you, you are at least striving to live a life of excellence. If you do this every day, excellence and living well become a habit

2 comments:

Manjusha said...

I'm at this very point in my spiritual path. Trying to accept who I am and the uniqueness of my path without comparing and hoping for it to be like others. It was a pleasure finding your blog. I look forward to reading the content and hope you make check out mines as well lightofmanjusha.blogspot.com

Michael Brown said...

Manjusha, I visited your blog and liked it enough to follow your future writing. Thank you for visiting my blog and for sharing yours with me. +Michael