Friday, September 30, 2011

On Holiday

I am taking next week off from work. When you tell people you are going on vacation the first thing they usually ask is “Where are you going”? Europeans don’t take vacations. They “go on holiday”. I like the idea of being on holiday. Here is what I am doing and where I am going. I am going to sleep in everyday until my body tells me to get up. I am going to drink my favorite coffees and read the morning newspaper in the morning instead of in the evening like I do on workdays. I am going to begin reading “The Land of Painted Caves” by Jean Auel. It is the sixth book in a series that I began reading about twenty years ago with a classic called “The Clan of the Cave Bear”. I am going to listen to lots of music. I am going to fill up my bird feeder, sit on my back porch, and watch the different species of birds that come in my back yard. I am going to take naps whenever I feel like it. I will do this in the spirit of a Spanish proverb that says “Isn’t it nice to do nothing and then to rest afterwards”? I am going to run from anything resembling a “Honeydew” list. My goal is to have nowhere to go and all day to get there. I may wear the same Grateful Dead tee shirt every day. I may watch all of David Letterman instead of just the opening monologue. Most of my “vacations” usually involve family trips that are enjoyable but exhausting. This week of vacation will be very low key and hopefully rejuvenating. I’ll be “on holiday” in my mind without ever leaving my home.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pessimists And Optimists

Let me share three quotes. One by a man named Guillaume Appollnaire, one by my granddaughter, and one by my wife.

Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.
-Guillaume Appollnaire

My wife likes to watch the Home Shopping Network and QVC, especially when they are featuring jewelry. Last weekend my granddaughter, Chloe, made the following comment to her.

Meemo (my wife), you can go watch jewelry. Paw Paw and I are going to play the game.

Another time, after discussing some family gossip, my wife made the following comment.

You know, the grass is not always greener on the other side. In fact, it’s actually brown everywhere.

Each of these quotes present teachable moments. Too often we are focused on the search for happiness and can’t see the forest for the trees. Many times in life what we are looking for is right in front of us. It’s what some Zen Masters refer to as “looking for the spectacles that are sitting upon our nose”. Every time my granddaughter stays at my home she teaches me in very real and practical ways how to be in the moment. Children are natural Zen Masters. Chloe reminds me how much I need to unlearn. My wife is a little more challenging than my granddaughter. She and I have opposing worldviews. I hope she was joking with her quote but the reality is that she is a self-proclaimed pessimist who sees the glass as half empty. I am an eternal optimist who sees the glass as half full. Pessimists think optimists are people who are in denial about reality. Optimists think pessimists have no appreciation for all the goodness in life. Pessimists almost always think in negative terms and optimists almost always think in positive terms. Optimists are not always happy. We know life is not perfect but we live in hope. Pessimists seem to never be happy and always seem to be in waiting for the next crisis. Whenever possible they will even turn a blessing into a problem. Personally, in today’s world, where it sometimes seems that all of society is falling apart, I think optimists should be given medals for bravery.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Thoughts Fill Your Head?

What thoughts fill your head? Many of our thoughts are related to our survival. We all think and worry about our jobs, paying the bills, putting food on the table, and taking care of our families. When you are not in survival mode and you have some moments when you can reflect, what do you think about? Sometimes, especially when I am awake, rested, and my awareness is more keen, I think deep thoughts. I think about the meaning of life, my purpose, the quality of my emotional life, where I am on my spiritual journey, and whether or not I am listening to that “inner voice” which guides my actions. When I am tired and feeling spent, my thoughts are usually not so deep. I may be striving to simply maintain basic life support functions or to stay awake until bed time. I may be obsessing about whether or not my CD’s are in alphabetical and chronological order. I usually stay away from heavy reading on work nights and may opt for lighter reading. During the work day I am usually absorbed with thoughts related to work but even in the busyness of the workplace I try to find quiet moments out in the park or while I am walking to think about my life. We must all think about those things that are basic to our needs and our survival. However, I think it is also important to think about the deeper meaning of life. The Dalai Lama thinks the purpose of life is to be happy. Of course, happiness does not generally come easy. In order to be happy and feel happy most people find it necessary to have a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Sometimes we need to stop and reflect on whether we have these things in our life.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Roads Less Traveled

In the coarse of my life some people have strongly told me to “never look back”. I understand why they say that. The past is past and you can’t re-live it. However, I basically disagree with this point of view. I think it’s a good thing to sometimes look back, not with regret or longing, but in order to remember. Sometimes you have to look back to figure out how you got where you are and why you are there. Maybe there were times in our lives when we turned left and it took us down a particular path. If we had turned right we would have ended us in a different place. Depending on the paths we choose we encountered people who impacted our lives in positive and negative ways. The early experiences of our lives may have set us on paths that brought us where we are today. What were the experiences that guided your choices? Perhaps you are feeling a little burned out or unfulfilled in your present circumstances. Looking back may remind you why you made the choices you made, why you fell in love with a certain person or why you were passionate about a particular cause. I think it is inevitable that as you get older you may feel a little weary on the journey of life, especially if you’ve been faithful for many years to people, commitments, and your work. We all run out of gas sometimes. Looking back can remind us, and re-energize us, about why we made the choices we did, why we choose the people in our lives, and why we walk the path we do. The following poem by Robert Frost says a lot to me about all of this.

The Road Less Traveled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Storms Of Life

There is an old saying of unknown origin that goes “When it rains, it pours”. It definitely rained last night in my part of the world and depending on where you live it may have really poured. The weatherman said we got anywhere from 3-5 inches. I had a difficult time falling asleep last night and it seemed like whenever I did a clap of thunder woke me up and lightening lit up my bedroom. I had at least one power surge during the night so clocks all over my house were flashing when my alarm clock went off. I had to reset them all when I got home tonight. The storms of life disrupt our sleep, throw our electronic devices into a frenzy, and in some cases, like with my computer, completely shut them down. Weather related storms are a part of life. Metaphorical storms, as evidenced by the challenges and disruptions of daily life, can also disrupt our sleep, throw us into a frenzy, and occasionally make us feel like we have no option but to shut down. These storms, too, are a part of life. Many of them we see coming and we can be prepared. Some of them, however, blow up unexpectedly and we are not always prepared. Like with natural weather related storms the best thing we can do while it is happening is to find a place of safety. Family and friends provide us with the best shelter. When the storm is over, come out of your shelter, take a deep breath, and survey the damage. Sometimes it looks worse than it is. I think this is the case most of the time. It’s all a matter of perspective. Some of the storms of my life, which seemed huge at the time, are mere bumps in the road in retrospect.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Friends You Choose

Earlier this week my telephone rang. I looked at my caller id and it said “Abbey of Gethsemani”. That doesn’t happen every day. I answered the phone and it was one of the monks. He told me that he and another monk would be in Louisville on business and they wondered if I would be available for lunch. Fortunately my calendar was open so I eagerly accepted the invitation. I’m sure some of you are wondering what it would be like to eat lunch with a couple of monks. One of them isn't too much older than me and we have similar personalities. The other one is in his late 80’s. Don’t let his age fool you. He uses a walker but his mind is sharp as a tack. I have to be on my toes to keep up with him. This aged monk actually interviewed me almost 40 years ago when I was a young, single, spiritual seeker who wanted to live in the monastery. Even though they have both been monks for a very long time, our lunch was not overly serious. We discussed some serious topics but we also laughed a lot. I love it that I have a diverse circle of friends. My mother used to say that “you are what you hang with.” Throughout my life I have always tried to hang with good people. I have tried to surround myself with intelligent, educated, sensitive, and artistic people. I have also tried to surround myself with positive thinkers, people who laugh a lot, music freaks, and a few party animals so I don’t stay too serious. I have been influenced by all of them in a variety of ways. Choose your friends wisely.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who We Really Are

Most people are judged by what they do for a living. For example, society thinks you’re more successful if you are a doctor than if you are a plumber. However, if your toilet backs up the plumber out ranks the surgeon. If you go to a party and meet strangers the first questions you usually get are “What do you do for a living and where do you work?” In addition to what we do we are often identified as someone’s spouse, someone’s father, or someone’s son or daughter. The truth is that our work and our roles are not who we are. We have to get past a lot of assumptions, activities, and roles to find ourselves. I think a good way to get in touch with our true selves is to observe how we act and what we do when we are alone. When we are alone we don’t have to wear any masks, play any roles, or do anything to meet someone else’s expectations. We can relax and be who we are. If you have a day off from all your roles and responsibilities, and you can spend the day with yourself, what do you do with the time? Even in the busy times of your life when you are working and taking care of your families, are you who you are? If not, you may want to introduce yourself to yourself.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Making Yourself Crazy

Do you ever make yourself crazy? Sometimes I find it exhausting to be me. Do you ever feel that way about yourself? I wonder why I act the way I do. For example, why I am so passive? Why can’t I be more assertive about my needs and more ambitious about my life? My wife thinks I should be running my employer's company by now but I really don't want to do so. I'm told that I procrastinate. Do I really procrastinate all the time? Maybe I do but I always get everything done on time. Does my sometimes compulsive behavior indicate a touch of OCD? Is my over active mind nothing more than ADD? Why do I find most people exhausting but my granddaughter melts my heart? Why do I prefer solitude to parties? Why do I appear so calm on the surface and yet feel so much turmoil inside? Do I really care about other people’s feelings as much as they think I do? Why am I such a perfectionist? What’s up with that? Why do I often feel unloved and unhappy when I know for a fact that I have a good life and many people care deeply for me. Oddly enough, many of the things that drive me crazy about myself seem to be what many other people like about me. Many people think I am calm and centered and relaxed all the time. Many people think I am always full of wisdom and serenity. People seem to see things in me that I don't always see or feel within myself. I seem to make more sense to others than I do to myself. I guess many people have such thoughts about themselves. I don’t know why I am who I am or why I act like I do. I am all of the negative things I describe above and I hope I'm half the positive things many think I am. I guess I am who I am for a reason. If other people see something in me that I don’t see or feel myself, there must be a reason. I guess the challenge of our lives is to allow ourselves to be who we are, and to allow our individual goodness to do what it does even if we don’t comprehend or understand it ourselves. All of us are here for a reason and most of the time we are where we belong.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What We Believe

Yesterday afternoon I had a spirited conversation with some co-workers about our beliefs. Beliefs are a very personal thing. Some of us have absolute certitude about what we belief. Others, like me, have beliefs peppered with some doubt and lots of questions. Some of us believe because we “know”. Others of us know because we “believe”. I have been a spiritual seeker my entire life. I grew up in a strict religious tradition, I have attended the seminary, and I lived a year of my life in a Trappist monastery. I have studied theology and philosophy. I have read many books and I have sat in silence waiting for enlightenment. Still, I struggle with doubt and I am often unsure what I believe. I often wonder if any of us really knows anything for sure. What’s a pilgrim to do? I figure I’m safe and will have all the bases covered if I simply practice kindness and compassion to all living things. Both kindness and compassion imply love. If I find it difficult to love then I follow another of the Dalai Lama’s teachings where he says, “If you can’t love someone, at least don’t hurt them.” If I can do these simple but difficult practices I think I will be OK.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Flow

Psychologists use the term “flow” to describe the experience of being so totally into whatever you are doing that you lose all sense of time and space. This is mindfulness at its best. I have had this experience many times. It has happened to me while listening to music, when I am reading a very good book, when I have been standing on my back porch during a heavy rainfall, looking out my window watching snow fall while sipping a mug of hot chocolate, sitting on a bench in the early morning outside an ancient church in France, and in many quiet moments at the Abbey of Gethsemani. It has even happened to me at work when I am working on a project that is interesting to me. When you are “flowing” you are truly one with life and the universe. These moments in time provide us with a clarity that is often hidden from us in the more demanding or mundane tasks of life. You can’t plan such moments and may not even be full aware of them until you stop and take a breath. What are some moments in your life when you have had this experience?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Playing The Game

I am my granddaughter’s favorite toy. Whenever she comes over to my house she says, “Paw Paw, let’s play the game.” What is the “the game?” The game is both of us sitting on the floor surrounded by her stuffed animals, dolls, and other assorted creatures. Children never want an adult to be comfortable. I can never “play the game” while sitting in my Lazy Boy chair. I once complained to her that sitting on the floor hurt my butt. She immediately brought me a pillow. Let me assure all of my readers that sitting on the floor is easy if you are seven years old and a little more challenging if you are sixty. Once my granddaughter and I are established on the floor we begin “the game”. The game is basically Chloe’s stream of consciousness imagination going full blast. I am usually the voice of my Jerry Garcia doll. If I accidentally slip into my “Paw Paw” role she calls me out and tells me that I’m not in the game. It’s very important to stay in character. Playing with my granddaughter is like being in a movie and she is the Director. If I screw up she yells “Cut!” in so many words and I have to do the scene over. She is constantly re-writing the script and telling me what my new lines are. It’s exhausting for me to be a seven year old! Still, no matter how much my legs ache or my back hurts, I tell myself this is one of the best parts of my life. It won’t be too many more years before Paw Paw has to take a backseat to other boys who want her attention. That is, of course, assuming these other boys get past her Dad and me.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Weekend of Sadness

I must admit the weekend was full of sadness. I joined other members of my family in the Alzheimer’s Memory Walk on Saturday in memory of my father. As I walked around Waterfront Park and along the river I thought of my Dad and all the other people who lived with this disease. Most of Sunday was spent watching the memorials and documentaries about the events of September 11th, 2001. It was like re-living the entire experience. The morning of September 11, 2001 I was here at work like so many people that day. It was an eerie experience when all of us began to realize the magnitude of what was happening. Our senior leaders gave us the option of going home to be with our loved ones and most people took advantage of that. That morning felt like the Pearl Harbor of our generation. I know it sounds clich├ęd but nothing has ever been the same since then. My granddaughter attended the Memory Walk with me and I was with her much of the weekend. When I look at her I am reminded that our hope for the future is with our children and grandchildren. What kind of world will they inherit from us? I hope it is one where people do not lose their past and their memories from the disease pf Alzheimer's and where people of all faiths, countries, and ethnic backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Alzheimer's Memory Walk

Workers love Fridays. It’s the end of the traditional work week for most people. I don’t know anyone who has an easy job. It doesn’t matter if you are making minimal wage at McDonald’s or $100,000 in a corporate position. If you have a job you are earning your money. Since everyone who is fortunate to have a job generally earns every penny of their salary, weekends and time off are highly valued commodities by the average worker. It’s OK to love your weekends and time off. Work is an important part of life but it’s not usually the most important part of life. I personally place a great deal of value on leisure and enjoying the people and things that make me happy.

My granddaughter is coming over this evening to spend the night. We will get up early on Saturday morning and drive downtown to join many other members of my extended family to participate in the annual Alzheimer’s Memory Walk. We do this in memory of my father who passed away in 2009. He had Alzheimer’s. Chloe and I, along with my 81 year old mother, my brothers and sisters, my nieces and nephews, and some in laws, outlaws, boyfiends and girlfriends, will walk around Waterfront Park and think of my Dad and others who have suffered from this disease. If you would like to donate to the cause you can do so at the following link. At the very least you can see a picture of my Mom and Dad if you click on it.

http://walktoendalz2011.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=454687&lis=1&kntae454687=D36683E0178641CE91BDD91CEE33B9B1&supId=0&team=4280566

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Change

People have been telling me my entire life that change is good. Most of the time I have pretended to believe them. I’m really not against change but I have suffered through too many changes that have no obvious point. I once told someone that I am not against change, I just prefer stability. I guess that statement would be expected from a person like me who values routine and consistency. However, sometimes I do like change. Today, for example, I have a new work home. I’ve lost track of how many times I have moved and changed my work location. I have been working in the same building for 20 years. It has twelve floors. I have worked on seven of these floors and some of them more than once. Amazingly, I’ve pretty much had the same job the entire time. However, I digress. Moving forces me to de-clutter, clean, and re-organize. Each time I move I try to simplify my stuff and get closer to only keeping the basics and the essential. As one goes through life and work you tend to accumulate a lot of clutter. Do I really need hard copies of a year’s worth of production reports? Do I really need to keep those business related books that I am never going to read? I should probably take the boxes that need to be unpacked and simply throw them in the garbage to see if I miss or need anything in them. My life would be so much simpler if I only kept the essential. I wonder how much that I hauled up here that is really necessary.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Seasons Of Life

I’m loving the current weather in my part of the world. After another brutal summer the cooler temperatures are more than welcome and the breezes blowing in the open windows of my home are quite refreshing. Autumn is my favorite time of the year and it always has been. I feel like I come to life in autumn. This is ironic since autumn is a time of dying. Of course, this time of dying is also a time of harvest. I am already looking forward to taking my granddaughter to Huber’s Orchard to wander through the pumpkin fields. I also feel a sense of oneness with autumn. It is easy for me to see my life as a reflection of the seasons. As a sixty year old I feel like I am in the autumn of my life. Don’t misunderstand me or think that I am obsessed with death. I love life and I don’t feel like I am dying even though the poet/songwriter Bob Dylan sings, “Those not busy being born are busy dying.” Autumn is a time when the fullness and lushness of summer recedes in preparation for the coming winter months. In terms of my life autumn is more a season of harvest. After many years of living and the passing of many seasons I believe I am closer than ever to being able to look in the mirror and see the person I really am and not just a reflection of who I think I am or who I want to be. The harvest is good and I like who I see in the mirror. In the time of harvest we reap our true self from the seeds of false selves and illusions planted in the spring of our lives. What is the season of your life?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Living With Uncertainty And Mystery

One of the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani once said that “almost nothing is any of my business.” This monk was not advocating living in ignorant bliss. I believe it is not important, or even necessary, to know everything. I also agree with the good brother that "almost nothing is any of my business." Ignorance, however, can sometimes be a good thing and sometimes a bad thing. I don’t need to know everything that is going on with every other person in my life. I don’t need to know all the office or family gossip. At the same time I do want to know about the things that are true and important. I want to know about things that affect me. Sometimes we want to know everything because we feel it is absolutely necessary to live our lives our lives with absolute certitude and to minimize doubt. We feel like we not only want to know everything, we need to know everything. Sometimes that might be nice but then too much knowledge can be a bad thing. For example, I really don’t want to know the date I am going to die. Now this may be an extreme example but I prefer to live with the unknown and the mystery. I like living with some doubt and uncertainty. I like to know that each day is an open book full of possibilities. So, while it might be true that most things are none of my business, I also believe that even the things that are my business don’t need to be laid out in front of me in perfect order and with complete certitude. Give me a little mystery so life can be full of surprises.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Work

Since we are starting the long Labor Day weekend let me attempt a few words about work. For most people work is work. Give them a winning lottery ticket and the first thing they do is quit their jobs. Someone once said, “If you love what you do you will never work another day in your life.” Let’s be honest. Most people don’t love what they do. In spite of that most also don’t hate what they do. For most people work is a fairly enjoyable but mandatory experience. We all have to pay the bills and put food on the table. Work at its best is a creative, intellectual, or physical activity that gives a person a sense of worth and usually meets a practical need that has a point. At its worse work is a meaningless activity that bores the mind, kills the spirit, and has no obvious point. This is usually what some people call busy work. Whatever you do, and however you feel about it, we can all find encouragement in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Even if you are a street sweeper, then be the best street sweeper you can be.” Some of the work I do is mundane. Some is boring. Sometimes I think it has no point. However, I try to still have the mindset of Martin Luther King and when I do that well I find opportunities within the mundane to touch people’s live in a positive and uplifting way. Like most things in life it’s not so much what you do as how you do it.



Thursday, September 01, 2011

Living Intentionally

The Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. I agree with him. Whether you are young or old I believe it is essential to routinely reflect on the quality of your life. I am not talking about taking an inventory of how much stuff you have or how much money is in your 401K. I am talking about your spiritual, emotional, and psychological well-being. I am talking about whether you are happy and content with your life, I am talking about evaluating the quality of your relationships with family and friends, I am talking about if there are people you love and who love you, I am talking about whether or not you have a moral consciousness that forms a set of guidelines for the way you live your life, and I am talking about whether or not you have a spiritual awareness of the deeper realities of life. Contemplative living supports the examined life. A contemplative person is someone who is awake. Some of you are thinking, “Well, I wake up every morning and go to work”. Yes, your body may wake up and your mind may drag it in to the office everyday but in reality many of us live our entire lives asleep. We are zombies simply going through the motions. The examined life, the contemplative life, is a life of awareness and wakefulness where life is lived intentionally and not accidentally.