Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Workday Naps

Yesterday I started running out of gas at approximately the same time that I do every work day. Some of this is my own fault. I stay up too late, get up too early, and most evenings I take a nap whether I want to or not. When I take these early evening naps it often makes falling asleep later a difficult chore. In order to revive myself I decided to go outside for some fresh air. When I am at work I tend to keep my nose to the grindstone. Work ethic aside, I need to get out of my chair at least once an hour to stretch and get the blood pumping. If I don’t I feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz in search of his oil can. What I really want to talk about, however, is how much I would love to take an afternoon power nap for about 15-20 minutes during my afternoon work break. Such a nap would be greatly enhanced if there was anywhere in my building where I could sit in a soft chair and be undisturbed. Unless they are hidden away in offices somewhere there are no soft chairs available to the average worker. My desk chair needs a pillow for my under-padded behind, the break room chairs are hard, and the benches in our park are made of century old bricks. My vision would be a room kind of like the teacher’s lounge back in my high school days. It would be a room with about ten Lazy Boy chairs and lots of silence. You could go in there on your breaks and lunches, sit in peace, and close your eyes for 15-20 minutes. Of course, we would probably need bouncers to throw out people exceeding their time limit. It’s a proven fact that afternoon siesta’s improve afternoon productivity. If this perk cannot be provided to me by my company then I need them to provide free and unlimited Starbuck’s Dark Roast coffee with the occasional sugar free vanilla latte thrown in just to show they really do want to enhance my well-being and productivity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Discipline

Yesterday I wrote a little about the idea of “showing up” and being faithful to the demands of your life. Showing up and being faithful requires discipline. I am generally not a disciplined person. I’ve never been able to get myself to exercise or meditate on a regular basis and I still have a weakness for chocolate donuts. However, I am a creature of habit and I do best when I have specific routines in my life. I guess auto-pilot can be a form of discipline. Some of my co-workers work at home and there are many days I wish I did the same. However, my lack of discipline and the fact that I am easily distracted makes me realize that I need some structure in my life so it’s a good thing for me to come into the office every day. I have to show up physically as well as mentally.

As far as my writing goes, I try to write thoughts that are good and hopefully meaningful to people. Most of the time I am not satisfied with them. When I think they’re great, no one seems to agree. Some days I am even hesitant to send them out to friends or publish them on this blog. However, sometimes I get emails like the following that I received last week. One person wrote, “Michael, these were the best words you’ve ever written.” Another made me laugh as I read, “You write with such brilliance! Why can’t you be my therapist?” Finally, another friend wrote, “Your words are so dead on.” Writing is a discipline for me and I like the challenge of trying to write something that others will find worth reading. I rarely know if I am successful because most of the time people don’t write back to me. I just put it out there and hope it touches someone in a positive way. The important thing for me is to keep trying, to maintain the discipline of writing something every day, and to try not to judge it’s value. I now believe that writing is part of who I am so I need to keep “showing up” to a blank page every day and to maintain the discipline to be faithful to it. The same goes for you. Keep showing up to something.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Showing Up

Someone once told me that 80% of success is showing up. What does that mean? I think “showing up” means being faithful to the commitments, obligations, and demands of your daily life. Admittedly, showing up is sometimes all I can do. Today, for example, is a another Monday. After a weekend of sleeping in, being with my granddaughter, chilling out, taking naps, and doing only what I wanted, I’m not full of enthusiasm for another work week. However, I’ve been showing up at my office most Mondays for the last 25 years. In addition, I’ve awakened every morning for the last 37 years and seen the same face on the other side of the bed. In many other ways I have strived to be successful in life by dealing with whatever is in front of me at any particular moment. It might be an unhappy co-worker, a granddaughter who wants me to get on the floor and play with her even though my legs are stiff and my back hurts, a chore that I don’t want to do, someone invading my personal space, or any myriad of things. I wish success in life was just as simple as showing up and being faithful. A big part of life is also dealing with doubt. Sometimes I wonder, “Do I even want to show up?” Other times I think, “I’m tired of all these people and their demands and needs. I wish people would just leave me alone.” I’ve learned that success is not only showing up when it’s fun or enjoyable. It's also showing up when you don't want to or when your mind is full of doubt.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Yin and Yang of Life

The folksinger Arlo Guthrie once said, “You can’t really appreciate a light unless you have a dark place to put it in.” Life is all about balance. It’s yin and yang. Tonight my wife and I went to the grocery store because our pantry is empty. We needed to fill it back up. When the garbage can is full I need to empty it. When my gas tank is empty, I need to fill it. A good meal satisfies my hunger but I will get hungry again. Vacations are great because I am still working. If I ever retire I will probably be looking for something to do because being on vacation everyday might get boring. Balance seems to be found in the tension of opposites. I recently saw a news segment on television about how so many people are complaining about the summer heat. The reporter then flashed back to last winter and showed all the people complaining about the cold. It turns out there’s only about a ten degree range in temperature where people are comfortable. It’s a narrow range where it’s not really hot but not cold either. It seems that we can only be happy and balanced when we live in that tension of opposites. We sleep well in darkness but it’s nice to have that lamp on the nightstand. Don’t wait until the pantry is bare before going to the grocery. Don’t wait until your low fuel light comes on before filling the tank. You get the point…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Too Much Thinking

My mind is usually very active. I am always thinking about something. Sometimes this drives me crazy. Instead of always trying to figure everything out I wish I could just live in ignorant bliss. A couple of nights ago I watched the movie “Forest Gump”. It’s one of my favorite movies and it also has a fantastic soundtrack. Sometimes I would like to be more like Forest. He was a simple man who didn’t over think everything. Instead of trying to understand all the mysteries of the universe, he simply lived. By not trying to live a meaningful life, he lived a very meaningful life by default. Sometimes I think I observe life more than I live it. Introspection is a good thing but you can get lost in it. Because I am self-aware enough to know that I sometimes over think things, I try to balance this out by practicing mindfulness. Sometimes I try to not think and simply be in the moment. Instead of thinking too much about what brand of coffee I want to drink, I try to just smell the coffee, drink the coffee, and taste the coffee. In the world of Zen you walk when you walk, you eat when you eat, you sleep when you sleep. When you are present to what you are doing, you are not thinking about it, you are one with it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

When Are You At Your Best?

As I was taking my daily walk yesterday I was looking at all the displays in my office promoting our new corporate brand. One of them said, “When are you at your best?” I thought about this question for the rest of my walk. I think I am at my best when all the different parts of who I am are in balance and working in harmony with whatever I am doing. What do I mean by this? My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFP. I am an introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver. This type is also known as “The Dreamer” or “The Idealist”. My Enneagram type is Nine, also known as “The Peacemaker.” My top five strengths according to the Strength Finder book that is popular in many companies now are Empathy, Intellection, Connectedness, Developer, and Communication. When I can dream, pursue my idealism, create peacefulness for myself and others, feel empathy, expand my intellect through the joy of thinking, see the connectedness of all of life, teach others what I have learned in life, and communicate well, I am at my best. Most days I am happy if I successfully do any of this but when I am hitting on all cylinders and effortlessly doing it all, I am the best version of who I am. Of course, each of us has our own particular blend of personality traits, talents, skills, and strengths so the best version of who you are will be something different from who I am. This diversity of potential is what makes the world go round.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Music We Love

Recently a co-worker gave me a little sign that she said reminded her of me. The sign read, “I may be old but I got to see all the cool bands.” This is a true statement about me. I’m definitely getting older and I did get to see all the cool bands, especially when I was a young hippie. I grew up in the sixties. I saw performers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Doors with Jim Morrison, and many other classic rock acts. I’ve been to huge music festivals and smoky blues bars. Music is a very important part of my life. Music is more than entertainment for me. Music is a part of my lifestyle. In many ways music is a kind of religion for me. In my home my entire “man cave” is dedicated to music. I read somewhere that whatever music you listened to between the ages of 15-20 is probably what you will listen to for the rest of your life. Although I am open to new artists and styles of music, I do find myself lost in the musical landscape of the late 60’s and early 70’s most of the time. During that time I heard the music and saw most of the artists whose music and lyrics became part of the soundtrack of my life. These songs are still part of my life and I suspect will be forever. These were the formative years where I left childhood behind and I started the long journey of becoming who I am today. I have a deep emotional bond with the music of that era. What about you? Do you feel this way about whatever music you love? How important is music to you? What role does it play in your life?



Monday, August 22, 2011

Living Small

Life is difficult. The world can be depressing. The evening news is usually bad. When I am waiting for an elevator in my office on Monday morning I am not seeing, and sometimes not feeling, a lot of enthusiasm foe life. This makes me wonder what motivates people to get out of bed besides a need to make, living, pay the bills, and put food on the table. What fills you with joy? What makes you happy? What makes life worth living? I must assume that despite its difficulty most of us love life and living. Something pumps us up, something gives up juice, and something fills us with the energy to live life. Certainly I am motivated by the people in my life who I love and care about. I want them to be happy and I want them to have good, fulfilling lives. I am motivated by my own desire to be happy. Some people speak of “living large”. I don’t live large. In many ways I live small. What I mean by that is that I try to appreciate the small things in life, i.e., my morning coffee, a cool day, a great sandwich, an engaging book, the laughter of my granddaughter, music, a green light when I am in a hurry, etc. The world at large can get me down. When I focus on the world in front of me, the world in which I live my daily life, I find more to appreciate and less to depress me. My happiness is mostly found in simple things that can easily be taken for granted. I take nothing for granted because I know from experience that all things are passing and everything is impermanent. Knowing this I try to always appreciate all the good things in my life while trying not to be overwhelmed by any challenges or suffering. How about you?



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Husbands and Wives

My wife and I are very different. My head is in the clouds although I believe my feet are planted firmly on the ground. I’m a dreamer and idealist but I've learned to be practical and logical when I need to be. My wife is like a project manager. She is practical and down to earth. She always has a “to do” list going and is never without an agenda. She’s a detail oriented person who, in her words, “likes to keep her finger on the button”. She totally manages our family and tries to manage me. Once I told her she should cultivate some deeper thoughts. I told her that "those who sail their ship in deep water will never run aground". She replied that "people who stay in the shallow water never drown". When our youngest son decided that he wanted to be a priest my wife and I had dinner with the priest who was handling our son’s application. Before he met us he asked our son what we were like. My son replied, “My Dad will want to talk about spirituality and my Mom will want to know how much it will cost for me to become a priest”. When our children need something, they go to their mother. When they want to know something they come to me. I sometimes wish she would lighten up and she wishes I would get real. Somehow it all works and we have now been married 37 years. There’s many kinds of people in the world and we often end up with people in our lives who are very different from ourselves. Either someone in the universe is playing a cosmic joke on all of us by pairing us up the way they do or there’s a master plan most of us don’t understand.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How We See The World

What is your worldview? I’ve recently read that how you see the world at large depends on how you think and act, what your image of God is, and what you think of the world. If you are a positive, optimistic person you will tend to see the world in a positive and optimistic way. If you are a negative and critical person, I doubt there’s much in the world that pleases you. If you see God as a loving and compassionate God, you will tend to love the world and feel compassion for its people. If you see God as judgmental and punishing, you will tend to be judgmental and unforgiving of the world around you. If you think the world in general is a beautiful place with beautiful people you will tend to notice the beauty of nature and other things, the goodness of people, and the potential for greatness in the things that mankind attempts. If you see the world as a dirty, unforgiving, and hostile place, you will likely be blind to its beauty and goodness. In other words, who we are is what the world will seem to us. Change the way you see things and you change the way they are. One person sees a pile of garbage and another person sees potential for art. One person thinks the world is going to hell in a hand basket and another person sees opportunities for greatness. One person condemns and another forgives. One turns away with a blind eye and another shows compassion. What do you do?

-Today's thoughts are based on reading from a book called “Hope Against Darkness” by Richard Rohr.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gethsemani Notes



Friday Afternoon

I am now at the monastery after enduring the morning rush hour in Louisville. While driving here I was joyful to be alone and to be alive. It was just one of those mornings when it seemed great to be alive. Perhaps it was the anticipation of spending a few days in the monastery. I love the monastery and I had not been here for an overnight retreat in far too long. It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed my solitary drive along the country roads. On my way here I stopped to see my friend, Father Dennis, a retired priest now living as a hermit near the monastery. We went to breakfast in a small country restaurant where every man there looked like a farmer. Dennis and I fit right in. Over many cups of coffee we solved the problems of the world and shared our spiritual ups and downs. Dennis is a friend of 40+ years who is really more like an older brother.

When I arrived at the monastery my room wasn't quite ready so I sat in the guesthouse garden and quietly meditated. The air was cool and the sun was warm but not hot. I was full of gratitude for being able to spend some time in the silence and solitude of this Trappist monastery. Soon I was pulled into an awareness of the time as the Abbey bells announced the noon hour. It was time to leave the garden and head for church. The monks formally pray seven times a day and it was time for Sext, the prayer for the middle of the day. Afterwards I walked in procession with the other guests to the dining room for our lunch. When lunch was over I got settled in my room and soon was asleep and full of dreams.

I slept through the mid afternoon prayer and woke up feeling very refreshed. I headed back to the dining room for some afternoon coffee to give me some caffeine fueled motivation. I headed back outside with "The Big Book of Christian Mysticism" by Carl McColman. Sitting in the silence I tried my best to read but more often than not found myself distracted by the birds.

Friday Evening

I am sitting in my room in the south wing of the monastery. When I made my reservation over the phone Father Carlos said, "I'll have to put you in the south wing where there's no air conditioning". At the time it was hot as hell with high humidity. This weekend, however, God has smiled on me and the temperature is in the low 80's with little humidity. Earlier I attended a lecture by Father Damien, the former Abbot and now Guestmaster of the monastery. He also showed a short film of the monastery which I've seen before but always enjoy. I actually saw a glimpse of myself in the video from one of my previous visits. Tonight's Compline, the last prayer of the monk's day, was as beautiful as ever and seems to have never changed from the first time I heard it so many years ago. As I sit here the sun has set. It is cooler but still warm in my room. From my room, directly over the guest chapel, I can see St. Joseph's hill as well as the walkway into the Abbey church. Much of the day I was restless as I always am when I first arrive here. The monastic pace is much slower than my usual pace in the world. At this hour it is very quiet and peaceful. Each moment my mind becomes a little more quiet and the peace of this place enters my soul.

Saturday Morning

This is not the morning I planned. About 2:00 AM I awakened sensing that my blood sugar was too low. I am a diabetic. When this happens I feel faint and I need to eat something. My room was a long way from the dining room and I had not brought any snacks with me. Nervous that I might faint along the way and not be found until morning, I gingerly made my way to the dining room. When I arrived there I ate like a man who hasn't seen food in days. Feeling somewhat revived I made it back to my room and collapsed back into bed. If being diabetic is not difficult enough, I also have an intestinal system that is like a delicate eco-system that much be carefully maintained and controlled. It was doing flip flops and I prayed my weekend wouldn't revolve around my medical issues. All of this caused me to miss the night prayer called "Vigils" that happens at 3:15 AM. I know it seems crazy to voluntarily get up at this hour, on a weekend no less, but in a monastery these pre-dawn hours are the best. By the time the morning prayer called "Lauds" arrived at 5:45 AM my body started cooperating. "Lauds" was followed by mass and breakfast. As I always do when I am at the monastery, I thoroughly enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal with lots of brown sugar. Afterwards I sat in the garden, watched the birds, and reflected on my spiritual journey of the last 40+ years. The sky was overcast and rain seemed likely at any moment.

Another book that I brought with me was "Into The Silent Land" by Martin Laird. It is subtitled "A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation". It is a great companion book to "The Big Book of Mysticism". My attempts to read and go into the silent land were ambushed by a woodpecker, some brightly colored finches, and a hummingbird. In this moment contemplation was to be found in nature, not in a book. I went back in the dining room for coffee and saw my friend, Brother Columban. He recently returned to Gethsemani after several months at St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass. He's a funny guy. We used to work together when I was a young novice monk in the early 70's.

There is still no rain.

Feeling the need to get up and move a little I walked to the monastery gift shop. I overcame the temptation to buy more books but I was seduced by a stoneware coffee mug and some chocolate chip cookies made by Trappistine nuns in another monastery. Being in the monastery and having time to sit and read made me think of two favorite quotes.

"Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit".
-Unknown

"Me and a book is a party. Me and a book and a cup of coffee is an orgy".
-Robert Fripp

I'm slowing down but still feel restless. I need to be still...

Some thoughts after reading from "Into the Silent Land"...

When attempting to meditate with a prayer word or mantra, you must pass through three doors. At the first door you become aware of thoughts and are bothered by them. When you get through this door and arrive at the second door, you are aware you are having thoughts but it doesn't upset you. You let them go and continue meditating. When you arrive at the third door, you become aware of your awareness. Like a man sitting on a riverbank you see your thoughts go by like ships passing up and down the river. You see them but you are not distracted by them. When you arrive at this stage you feel a oneness and you become part of the flame. I sometimes call these Zen moments. Psychologists might call these "flow". Your thoughts are more like white noise than distractions.

It is once again the noon hour. I am joining the monks for their midday prayer.

Today's lunch is scrambled eggs, steak fries, cream of broccoli soup, and fruitcake for dessert. Only in a monastery would you get such a meal. I eat it like it's a great feast. Since my arrival here I've eaten Trappist cheese, Trappist fudge,and Trappist fruitcake.

Still no rain and now it looks like it will not happen today. The sun is bright and the heat has returned.

Saturday Afternoon

I avoided the afternoon heat but took too long of a nap. It could be a long night if I can't get to sleep later.

Today's "Vespers", or evening prayer, was followed by a lousy meal. The kind of meal that makes you wish there was a McDonald's at the monastery. Afterwards I sat in the garden with coffee as thunder rumbled in the distance. Soon a light rain began to fall. It turned into a lovely summer downpour. I watched and listened to it from the balcony of the guesthouse. While sitting there I met a nice fellow from Virginia. We talked until the bells announced Compline and we headed for church. One of the nice parts of Compline is the blessing that all the monks and guests receive from the Abbot. We march two by two, bow before him, and he blesses you with holy water. It's the official end of the day.

I am thinking of my granddaughter, Chloe, who is at my home while I am here. I look forward to returning home and seeing her.

Sunday after Vigils

Last night was a repeat of the previous night. I woke up at 1:30 AM feeling like I do when my blood sugar drops. Fortunately I had the small bag of chocolate chip cookies that I had bought earlier. Unfortunately my stomach was once again doing flip flops. I need to get back home to my regular diet.

Sunday Vigils are long. In spite of my physical problems I managed to attend. Afterwards I sat in the dark dining room with coffee and a bowl of Cherrios. I went back to my room anticipating the pre-dawn hours. After about an hour I felt very tired and I went back to sleep for a while. When I awoke I took a shower and attended the end of morning prayer with the monks. After breakfast I attended another lecture with Father Damien before joining the monastery's Lay Associates for a discussion. Shortly after that I packed my belongings, got my sheets and towels together for the cleaning people, and I headed home.

Home

On the way home my wife called me and informed me that the gentle storm I encountered at the monastery was not so gentle at home. When I arrived home there was no power. However, when I stepped out of my car I heard the voice of my granddaughter yelling out the window. "Paw Paw"! When I saw her I didn't care that the power was out. There's no place like home and there's nothing like a granddaugher.





Flowing With Life

While I was at the monastery one of the monks gave a talk where he shared that most people living in the world try to control everything in their lives when in fact they can control almost nothing. The reality is that the only thing that we can control all of the time is our own reaction to what happens to us and around us. Our inability to control everything in our lives is a source of great suffering for many people. The monks, being spiritual men, would say that only God can control everything and our greatest happiness and contentment is found when our will is in line with God’s will. For the less spiritually minded we can also find greater peace of mind by flowing with life instead of fighting it all the time. We can find greater peace in the events of our daily lives by changing the way we see things. When I got home from the monastery to discover the power was out at my house, I also discovered that my wife was in a total frenzy because she couldn’t do anything she wanted to do. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do either but I wasn’t in a frenzy. OK, maybe it was because I was in a mellow mood from a weekend at the monastery and she’s a 58 year old woman with frequent hot flashes. However, I think the real difference between my wife’s reaction and mine was our attitude. Instead of focusing on the negative I was grateful that it was a cool day and that it wasn’t 98 degrees with high humidity. I couldn’t control the wind and the rain. What I could control was my reaction to it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Into the Silence

I spent the weekend at the monastery. It was time well spent. While I was there I thought of one of my favorite quotes. I don’t know who said it but it goes like this, “Sometimes I sit and think, other times I just sit”. I did a lot of both over the weekend. It’s a good thing to break out of your normal routines and do something different, if only for a weekend. Even though people who know me think I am very laid back fellow, when I go to the monastery I often feel restless until the silence of the place slows me down. Be silent is a good thing. Avoiding noise is a good thing. Combining both with being still is a better thing. Saturday evening there was a really enjoyable summer rain. I had no idea this same rain had combined with wind to create havoc at home. When I arrived home on Sunday afternoon there was no power. I knew it had gone out because my wife had called me and told me to bring home some batteries. As enjoyable as my weekend was, my arriving home was better. Why? Well, first of all there’s no place like home. Secondly, when I pulled into the driveway and got out of my car I heard a little girl shout through the window screen, “Paw Paw”! I quickly was transformed from a weekend monk to a child’s toy. I was cool with that because my granddaughter once told her mother that I was her favorite toy. With all due respect to the wisdom of my wise monastic friends, my granddaughter has been my greatest teacher.

I will soon publish some journal notes that I kept while on retreat. At this time they are still scribbled notes in a booklet. I need to decipher, edit, and type them up.





Thursday, August 11, 2011

Retreat


When I was a young man, and still in the honeymoon stage of marriage, I was once complaining to my father in law about work. He looked at me and said, “Wait until you have been doing it for forty years”. At the time I wasn’t impressed with his response. However, now that I have been working for forty years I finally understand what he meant. When you have been faithful to the demands of your life, whether it be a few years or forty years, you sometimes need a break from everything. If you are fortunate like me you can sometimes go off by yourself and make a retreat. In war soldiers sometimes retreat when they are losing a battle so they can live to fight another day. Most of us aren’t in military style battle but life can still sometimes feel like a battle and we can become very weary. Tomorrow I am taking the day off from work and I am driving to the Abbey of Gethsemani for a weekend retreat. I have been going to the Abbey for over 40 years but haven’t had an overnight visit for a few years. I am long overdue to share in the monk’s silence and solitude. It is a beautiful place. When I am there I usually follow the monk’s schedule so that means I will be rising with them at 3:00 AM each day. I will join them in their chant and sit in early morning darkness. Afterwards I will drink coffee and eat toasted wheat bread. Before dawn I will go outside, find a good place to sit, and meditate while the sun rises. Later inn the morning I may take a walk in the woods or simply find a quiet place to sit and read. At some point I will take at least one world class nap because some of the best naps I've had were within the monastery. When I wake up I feel like Rip Van Winkle. I will do all of this or less depending on how the Spirit moves me. I will relax and unwind from the pace of my normal life. I will escape the noise of the city and hopefully the noise in my head will also become quiet. This is a time to refresh and renew myself.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We Are Not Our Personalities

Sooner or later when you study psychology and personality types, especially from a spiritual perspective, you will learn that we are not our personalities. When I look at myself and others around me, and I think about this, I find myself wondering, “If we are not our personalities, then who are we? Our different personalities are nothing more than a personal defense system that we have created to protect ourselves from the world around us. We have different personalities because we’ve had different life experiences. What we see in others, and what we project to others, are really masks. Sometime in our life, usually in childhood, we’ve had experiences that have made us cautious, fearful, or untrusting. In worst case scenarios we've suffered some type of emotional trauma. As a result we have created, subconsciously, our personalities which are really nothing more than our false selves. If our personalities are a mask, hiding who we really are, as well as an illusion of who we think we are, who are we in reality? What is our true self? This is one of the great mysteries of our lives and the reason behind all our different spiritual journeys. Our true self is who we are in God. Our true self is our essence. Our spiritual journeys are lifelong explorations where we peel away the layers of the onion which hide our true selves. It is only by stripping away the layers of masks and illusions that we can discover our true selves. In a nutshell, we are born perfect, we become imperfect, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to regain our original perfection. It doesn’t matter if you are spiritual or religious, all of us do this and all of us must do our inner work to discover, as the Buddhists say, "the face we had before our parents were born.



Tuesday, August 09, 2011

What a Beautiful Morning!

I woke up this morning with so many thoughts that I found it difficult to focus on any one of them. When I went outside to get my morning newspaper I thought about how low the humidity was and how the fresh and relatively cool morning air was invigorating. While I was doing my morning reading, and drinking my first cup of coffee, I reflected on a prayer of St. Francis. In the early days of his conversion he prayed over and over, “Who are you God? Who am I”? I realized I have been praying this same prayer all of my life even thought I did not realize it until today. Driving my morning commute into my office I wondered why I was ahead of schedule. Was I experiencing a time/space anomaly? Had I been transported through a wormhole from my home to the downtown area in an instant? After dropping my wife off at her office I switched my radio over to the Grateful Dead station on Sirius and thought about how much I love music. My wife would never go for the Grateful Dead on our morning commute so I have to wait until I drop her off to kick it up a notch. When she's in the car we listen to new age music in the mornings. Rock and roll gets my blood pumping. I also wondered what cool music I could share with Denise, my co-worker, who has the same taste in music that I do. Walking into my office I was thinking what a beautiful morning it was as the sun rose in the eastern sky. All of this reminded me again, even though I don’t think I need a reminder, that life is good, there are many wonderful moments, and I should never complain about anything. I should just enjoy what life brings me and be present to it.


Monday, August 08, 2011

The Reading of Books

Saturday was National Reading Day. I love books so I spent much of the day reading. I did, however, take a break long enough to go see the new Planet of the Apes movie. I've seen all the Planet of the Apes movies and I have even read the original novel by Pierre Boule. I’ve been reading books since a child. In those days, when I wasn't outside playing with the other kids in the neighborhood, I had my nose in a book. In those days the library had a fleet of bookmobiles that drove through the various neighborhoods, especially during the summertime when we did not have access to our school libraries. Of course, in those days there was no Internet or Amazon.com. Books have taught me many things and taken me to places my body will never go. What I lacked in formal education has been compensated for by my love of books and reading. People have sometimes asked me how I learned to write as I do. With all due respect to all my English teachers, I usually reply that I learned to write from all the hundreds of books that I've read in my lifetime. When you read good books you quickly learn the beauty of language and what a well turned phrase looks and sounds like. I think many people don’t write well today because they never read books. With all due respect to Kindle’s and other electronic ways to read, I mourn the loss of books and bookstores. Books have not only provided me with knowledge and information, they have given me many ideas to reflect upon. Much of who I am is because of my ruminations over the writings of such people as Thomas Merton and Henry David Thoreau. I don't care how many degrees you have, if you don't read books on a regular basis you are not truly an educated person. Let me close with one of my favorite quotes related to books.

"Me and a book is a party. Me and a book and a cup of coffee is an orgy."
-Robert Fripp

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Middle Path

Life is tough. There’s a lot of responsibilities, challenges, and aggravations. Most days I cope with all of this fairly well. I believe the secret to handling life’s challenges with grace is being centered within oneself. Most of the time I am able to do this because I strive to have a contemplative attitude. What does this mean? For me it means walking what some call the middle path. Many people think there are only two approaches to life’s challenges. You can fight them or you can run away from them. When you walk the middle path you do neither. People who walk the middle path strive to be awake, aware, and present to what is going on. They flow with life and strive to respond to life rather than react to it. They strive to be one with their surroundings. In my life I strive to be the eye of the hurricane often going on around me. In many ways the middle path is also the slow lane. Many people are driven and always running through life. Not only do they sometimes knock other people down, they miss a lot of life as they dart in and out of life’s traffic. The middle path is the way of contemplation. Contemplatives notice things. They not only see the flowers, they stop and smell them. The Dalai Lama is a contemplative leader although he’s one of the busiest people on the world stage. In the midst of leading India’s fight for independence from the British, Gandhi spent one day a week in silence and seclusion. We all need to breathe. We all need to slow down. We all need to smell the flowers, play with our children and grandchildren, notice sunrises, feel cool breezes, taste our food, and be centered within ourselves by noticing and paying attention to life. The middle path, the contemplative way, is the way of Zen. Zen is being where you are and doing what you are doing. Simply put, it’s presence.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Losing Confidence

Yesterday I found myself feeling like a pessimist. This is out of character for me. Normally I am the eternal optimist even when nothing in life seems to support that viewpoint. Pessimists think optimists are na├»ve. What brought on this pessimism? Partial blame goes to the news. I’m tired of hearing about the debt ceiling and I’m frustrated with the gridlock of our government. Part of it was something I read in a book called “Hope Against Darkness” by Richard Rohr. I can’t summarize the entire book now but he says that you can’t have a great country without being a confident people and many people today have little confidence in any of our institutions. I have little confidence in our government and politicians. Even though I have a son who will be a priest I have shaken confidence in the institutional church in which I was raised. I think few of the problems that we currently have with our school system existed when I was a student. While I am thinking about it, why isn’t graduation from high school mandatory? Kentucky’s graduation rate for high school is 76%. Every institution seems to be broken and in chaos, both structurally and financially. Everyone is broke and no one knows how to pay for anything. I’m one of 75,000,000 baby boomers who wonders if I will have to work till I drop. Did I mention the health care crisis? What’s going to happen to our health care systems when there are 75,000,000 old people? Did you know that since January 1st, 2011, ten thousand baby boomers turn 65 years old every day and that this will continue for the next 19 years? It’s a little scary. We need some great leaders to give us hope and to restore our confidence so we can once again be a confident people that believes they can do great things.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Wedding Anniversary

Today I have been married 37 years. I admit that it is a little disconcerting that almost everything in my life is now measured in decades. When I got married in 1974 I was a very naive 23 year old and my wife was a 21 year old. We were married four years before our first child came along. Once a young co-worker said to me, “you and your wife were actually married before you had children”? Yes, we were married without children for four years. Our first goal was to own a home. 37 years is a long time. A lot of water has flowed over the dam. It’s mostly been good. We’ve been financially comfortable and we have struggled to pay our bills. We were young when we started but now we sometimes get senior citizen discounts at local restaurants. Life has beaten us up a lot and we’re a little worse for the wear. Our health is not as good as it once was and we now make monthly trips with a wheelbarrow to the Kroger Pharmacy. We’ve raised two good sons and buried three good parents. We don’t think we’re losing our minds but our children think we are. We’re both moving a little slower. I don’t go to as many rock concerts as I did in my youthful 40’s when I attended a lot of Grateful Dead shows. Most of my rocking is now done in my Lazy Boy chair. Sometimes I fall asleep with Led Zeppelin blaring from my stereo system. To be honest my wife and I are rarely out after dark, especially on a work night. My granddaughter wears me out when she spends the night but I love being her “Paw Paw”. My wife doesn’t complain when I buy too many CD’s although she sometimes tells me to turn down my music. I don’t count her shoes or ask her why she has to have the same style in so many different colors. She's a high maintenance "fancy" girl who gets her hair styled and her nails, jewelry, and clothes are always color coordinated. I'm still a tie dyed hippie. Admittedly, the long hair of my past is long gone. We're as different as day and night. However, I can still make her laugh so hard she wets her pants.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Raising Children

Many people that I know have young children. As they struggle with the day to day responsibilities and challenges of raising these children they sometimes wonder if the children will ever grow up and whether they as parents will survive it all. The short answer is that the children will grow up and the parents will survive these years. However, their role as parents will always exist even when today's children are tomorrow's adults. I have two sons who are “thirtyish”. My oldest son drove me crazy when he was a teenager. However, he has turned out much better than expected. He is a good son. After he was blindsided with his now ex wife's request for a divorce, I think he has really stepped up to the plate as a parent with my only granddaughter. My oldest son and I are very different but he and his mother are like two peas from the same pod. He and I often butted heads in the past but now we get along very well. My other son is a clone of me although he would probably never admit that. He is two years away from being a Catholic priest and just recently completed a summer internship at a local hospital in their pastoral care office. Most of the summer he’s had to deal with some very sensitive life experiences, like death, and to provide comfort to people in pain. Now he gets to lay around my house, eat my food, and play video games for the next month before returning to school for his third year of theological studies. Prior to beginning his studies four years ago there was no indication whatsoever that he might want to be a priest. What’s the point of all this? Well, it’s to give you some hope with your own children especially if you are finding parenthood a real struggle and you wonder how your children will turn out. Most children turn out fine despite our own weaknesses and failures. I think I screwed up a lot as a parent but I did try to instill some positive values and guidelines in my children. All I really wanted them to be is who they are and, hopefully, decent human beings. It appears I have been successful although neither of them ever voluntarily took out the garbage.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Compassion Fatigue

I try to keep myself informed about what is going on in the world around me. I watch the news, read newspapers, and get on the Internet daily. There’s gridlock in Washington, political acrimony, the possibility of world wide economic collapse, famine in Africa, murders, child abuse that is difficult to fathom, political unrest, the instability of the stock market, unemployment, war, and natural disasters. I am a very empathetic person and I truly care about people and their lives. I certainly cannot fix all the problems of the world but I try not to live in a bubble of uncaring and denial. However, sometimes I am overwhelmed with all of it. There is so much to care about and so many people suffer and are in some kind of need. As a result I often suffer from compassion fatigue. The cares of the world at large, and even the cares of my own personal world, sometimes wear me out. I think this has a lot to do with my frequent feelings of physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and spiritual dryness. I simply can’t walk around pretending that all of life is beautiful when so much of it is not. Still, I refuse to give in to it. Hope is always alive. I do what I can with whatever challenges I have in my life and in my limited worldview. I feel empathy,and I attempt to show compassion as much as I can. I remain an optimist about life even when nothing seems to justify it. I live believing that everything will get better even when it never seems to do so. I try to live in the moment, not to escape anything, but to become more aware of the extraordinary and good that is sometimes hidden from view. The world is full of darkness but I refuse to let my light, no matter how small, be extinguished.