Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Accepting Compliments

One of the interesting side effects of writing these daily thoughts is that I get to know new people. Much to my surprise strangers who read my writing sometimes want to meet me. I am not sure who they expect to meet and occasionally when I meet such a person or persons I wonder if they are disappointed with me. Do I meet their expectations? Some people think I am wiser than I am and when my very ordinary self shows up, it may be a letdown for them. I am not trying to be humble. Despite all the compliments I have received for my writing I still feel like a very ordinary guy. Sometimes I think there’s this “daily thoughts guy” and then there’s me. Yesterday, for example, I had lunch with three people who are “fans” of my writing. One of them I was meeting for the first time. Sitting there in the restaurant, quietly eating my turkey club sandwich, I wondered what this new person expected to experience. They were all from our corporate office and they looked the part. I showed up in my Tilley hat and jeans looking like a farmer. It’s usually difficult to live up to an image and other’s expectations. In such situations I try to be as unpretentious as possible. One thing I have learned from such encounters is to be more accepting of compliments. I think most people are uncomfortable with compliments. I believe it was Nelson Mandela who wrote a speech where he said that most people are afraid of their own greatness. Most of us are insecure about who we are. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela, “who are we to think that we are beautiful and talented”? Why should I doubt that three educated people from our corporate office think I am talented? I am who I am. How I got to be who I am is still something of a mystery. I am also who I am for a reason. Perhaps part of my reason for being is to spread my message with three people from our corporate office while I eat a turkey club sandwich. At the very least I have three new friends.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chloe's Baptism

Yesterday my wife and I drove to Elizabethtown for Chloe’s Baptism. The event was extra special because she was baptized by my son. The Baptism took place at St. James Parish where Nick is assigned for the summer. In a few weeks he will return to the seminary for his last year of school before being ordained a priest in the spring of 2013. Last April when Nick was ordained a Deacon, Chloe was very disappointed that she couldn’t go to communion. In the Catholic Church, as with most churches, you can’t doing anything unless you’re baptized. I took it upon myself to start pulling the strings to make yesterday’s Baptism take place. Although she wants to go to communion, Chloe was not thrilled with the idea of being baptized. She was resistant up until the last minute. I believe she thought we were going to take her down to the river and perform a total submersion. She probably saw that in a movie somewhere. My biggest fear was that we would get in the church and she would throw a tantrum. The good news is that it all went smoothly. Chloe was well behaving, my son the Deacon, was very professional, and Chloe is now baptized. Her Baptism was my son’s first official Baptism.

Pictured above are my two sons, Chloe, and me.

Friday, July 27, 2012

My Practices

Driving to work this morning I couldn’t decide on one single topic for today so this morning’s thought will be me rambling a bit. There are several things that are important to me regarding how I live my life. The first two are the practice of kindness and compassion. Kindness is basically just being nice. Why would anyone want to be a jerk? Amazingly, some people seem to do it on purpose. I strive to treat every person, regardless of who they are or what they do, with kindness. I also strive to always be compassionate with everyone who crosses my path. Compassion is having the ability to feel another person’s pain and also having the desire to lesson that pain. Compassion is closely related to kindness. I believe that what we put into the world comes back to us. Be kind and compassionate, and you will be on the receiving end of kindness and compassion someday when you need it.  Another thing important to me is contentment. I don’t think I have too much of anything but I believe I have enough of everything. I live a comfortable life but it’s not so comfortable that I can take it for granted. I have enough struggles and challenges to make me appreciate all the good things I have. Count your blessings and don’t take them for granted.  Be kind, be compassionate, and be content. 

My granddaughter recently received her "Yellow Belt" from her martial arts school.  Attached is a picture showing how happy and proud she was.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cow Barn Spirituality

I always try to be totally honest in my writing. The stories I tell are true and I believe in the things I write about. I do try to practice what I preach. However, the values and ideas that I write about do not come easily to me. I struggle as much as anyone. Some days my goals are no more lofty than just getting through the day and getting back home. I am not always living in the Zen aura that some people imagine surrounds my being. Some days I am tired and tired of it. Some days I am bored. Some days I am just trying to fill an emptiness that is within me.  Thinking of this reminded me of my distant past. When I was a very young novice living in a monastery one of the older monks caught me reading “The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross”.  St. John of the Cross was a 16th century Spanish mystic. The older monk looked at me and said, “Brother Dominic, you can learn more about spirituality by working in the cow barn”. Let me tell you something about dairy cows. They generate a lot more than milk. I did end up working in the cow barn and I learned a lot from the experience. Life can often feel like you are working a cow barn all the time and all you can see is manure. The cow barn, however, was also full of life. Often in life we get overwhelmed with the manure and we think that’s all there is. Manure, however, is also fertilizer. At the monastery we gathered the manure and spread it in the surrounding fields. When these fields were ready to be harvested, they were a thing of beauty. There will be days when my Zen aura is replaced with the aroma of manure, but it’s all part of the cycle of life. Life can still be beautiful even when you are standing in manure.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What's Not Wrong?

If you ask the question “What’s wrong”?, most people would have little difficulty providing you with a laundry list of their problems, issues, concerns, and complaints. I would like to challenge you to take a different approach to your life. It’s safe to assume that everyone has problems, issues, concerns, and complaints. Sooner or later, however, you will wear out the people around you if it’s all you talk about. I would like you to change the question to “What’s not wrong”? Start focusing on all the things in your life that aren’t wrong. We should always be grateful for the good things in our lives. We should also be grateful for the bad things that aren’t in our lives. In others words, we should be grateful most of the time. It seems to be human nature to completely blow out of proportion any negative experiences in life and to quickly forget all the positive experiences. Even negative experiences, however, have a positive side. They remind us to be grateful. When life is good we can become complacent and forget to be grateful. We earthlings are a fickle species. Life is good and we don’t always appreciate it. We have a bad experience and we think life is always bad. To paraphrase the words of Thomas Merton, we are all walking around shining like the sun and we don’t even realize it. What’s not wrong? Almost everything most of the time. When you are waking up, opening your eyes, and looking for joy, you are likely to trip over it. Joy can be like the lost glasses that are sitting upon your nose.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Joy Happens

I once read a book titled Living A Beautiful Life. I admit this is not the kind of book that most men would read. The book was generally about the little things we can do for ourselves to make life seem beautiful and special. For example, I would only drink bad coffee from a Styrofoam cup in the most extreme of circumstances. I am more likely to drink “special” coffee from a beautiful mug. On one of my recent trips to Gatlinburg I bought a coffee mug from a local potter. On the side of the mug it says “Paw Paw”. The mug is a thing of beauty. I thought about this today when I was reading a chapter in Thich Nhat Hahn's Peace Is Every Step.   It is a book about the practice of mindfulness and the chapter was about joy.  How much real joy do you have in your life? What gives you joy? Are you awake enough in your life to recognize moments that give you joy? A few things that give me joy, in no particular order, are my granddaughter, hummingbirds, great coffee, music, a cool breeze, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, anything with cinnamon on it, friends, laughter, moments of oneness with the universe, a great nap, weekends, anytime I feel good, books, an ice cold import beer, movies that touch my heart and soul, and on and on and on. We all know that life is hard and at times can be very challenging. Much of life can be depressing and discouraging. Life is often unfair and unpredictable. People talk about love all the time but it often seems scarce and many people feel unloved.  Joy can be the antidote for all in life that does not uplift our spirits. Be awake today. Open your eyes. Joy happens!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tedeschi Trucks Band

I went to the Iroquois Amphitheater last night to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band. This is a big band led by the husband/wife team of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. Susan has been described as a younger version of Bonnie Raitt. Derek Trucks is proof of reincarnation. Some people, including Gregg Allman, believe he is the reincarnation of legendary slide guitar player Duane Allman. Duane was the older brother of Gregg and the original founder and leader of the Allman Brothers Band.  Derek Trucks now plays  lead guitar in the Allman Brothers Band.  A few years ago a friend and I met Derek when he did a gig in Louisville with his personal band. At that same gig his wife, Susan, was the opening act. Now “married with children”, they have combined their individual bands into the Tedeschi Trucks Band. My friend and I also saw their debut in Chicago in 2010 when they were part of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. The Tedeschi Trucks Band plays soul, funk, jazz, blues, reggae, and good old rock and roll. I call them a “big band” because they have eleven members playing guitar, bass, drums, horns, flute, keyboards, and back up singing. In some ways they are more of a revue than a simple band. Last night's show was quite an experience.  I had not been to this venue in over 40 years.  The last time I was there has become the stuff of legend.  Along with my long time friend and rock and roll companion, Tom, I saw NRBQ in a performance that was greatly enhanced by the chemical alteration of our young hippie minds.  We still talk about it to this day.  I drove to last night's show not completely sure where the venue was.  As I pulled into the parking lot it began to rain.  Before long there was a torrential downpour with some very scary lightening.  I huddled with some other brave souls under an overhang by the will call box office.  It poured down rain for about an hour making life difficult for all those trying to get into the show.  Eventually my friend Tom arrived and we headed into the amphitheater to find our seats as well as the closest beer vendor.  The opening act was already playing and everything was wet.  Fortunately the ushers were handing out paper towels and soon we sitting in our seats enjoying some music.  During the break, while the roadies were setting up for the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the skies once again opened up and the rain came pouring down.  Because of the lightening the second half of the show was delayed for about thirty minutes.   When the show finally continued it was worth all the hassle and delay.  The Tedeschi Trucks Band did not disappoint.  They played an awesome show with lots of highlights.  Over the course of the night they received several standing ovations.  I love to be with serious music fans seeing serious and talented musicians playing truly great music.  When I am in such an enviroment I am truly in my element.  I came home tired, slightly wet, and very satisfied.

Breathing in, I rock!

Breathing out, I roll!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Inner Knots

According to a book I am reading by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, whenever we have a bad experience or we feel negative emotions, we can create inner knots within ourselves. If we don’t get past the experience or over the emotion these knots just get tighter and harder. If we continue to have bad experiences or negative emotions we begin to accumulate these inner knots and they start affecting our entire lives. Thich Nhat Hahn suggests mindfulness as a way to loosen and untie these knots. By being mindful, and with some practice, we can learn to step outside our experiences and emotions and look at them more objectively. We can ask ourselves such questions as “Why was this such a bad experience for me”? or “Why do I feel this way”? When we can look at our reactions and emotions more objectively we can begin to understand them. The more we understand our own behavior, especially bad behavior or negative emotions, the more we can prevent it. I am at a point in my life where I can often see my dysfunctional self coming down the road a mile away. When I see him coming I take steps to prevent his arrival. I am more successful now than when I was younger. Age has also taught me other lessons. I prevent many inner knots from forming because I realize now that life is too short. I have learned to not take things too personally and to let many things go. I have learned to build bridges rather than burn them. I know what it’s like to struggle with life so I cut other people some slack whenever possible. True to my nature, I am a peacemaker. There is enough pain in this world. Why would I want to create more? There are too many negative feelings and emotions. If I can do anything to make another person’s life better, or to loosen their inner knots, why would I not want to do that? Choose goodness. Be a light in the darkness. Loosen the knots within yourself and don’t create them within others.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Enneagram

Most of my adult life I have been a little obsessed with trying to understand what makes me tick. I have wondered why I think and act as I do. Why am I who I am? One of the great things that has helped me in my understanding of myself, and others, is called the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a personality system, similar to the Myers-Briggs, that have given me much insight into my own behavior. In this system, there are nine basic personality types. Each has their positive and negative traits. Typically one finds their type from the somewhat painful acceptance of their negative or dark side. In terms of the positive traits of each type, it is usually easy to identify with all of them since most of us have exaggerated images of ourselves. Here is a brief description of the nine types. Of course, it’s more complicated than these simple descriptions and there are many subtle dynamics involved. However, some of you may quickly see yourself in one of these types. I am a Type Nine.

1. The Perfectionist-Motivated by the need to be right.

2. The Helper-Motivated by the need to be loved and to serve.

3. The Achiever-Motivated by the need to be successful.

4. The Romantic-Motivated by the need to be special and different.

5. The Observer-Motivated by the need to know.

6. The Questioner-Motivated by the need to be certain.

7. The Adventurer-Motivated by the need to avoid pain.

8. The Asserter-Motivated by the need to be against.

9. The Peacemaker-Motivated by the need to avoid everything, especially conflict.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Living Deliberately

Here’s one of my favorite passages from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.

Who of us really lives deliberately? Most of the time I feel like I am living accidently as a reaction to everything that happens to me in my daily life. There are few days where I feel I am really doing what I want to do. Most days I feel like I am doing what everyone else wants me to do. How does one live deliberately in a world that is always making demands on you. I know that for me there are two things that help. The first is to just learn to say no. The second thing is to stop being so passive. Too many times in life I have said yes when I really wanted to say no. Because of my passive nature I often do what others want, rather than rocking the boat, and then I am unhappy about it. It is difficult for me to be assertive about my own will. I hate conflict and making other people unhappy. Of course, by making other being happy, I have often made myself unhappy. The older I get the more assertive I am becoming about my own will. I am not talking about inflicting my will on everyone around me. I am talking about not always giving in to the demands of others. My own happiness is important to me and if being more assertive about my own needs annoys others, they can get over it. I can be assertive about my own needs and still care about other people’s needs. This is how I try to live more deliberately. You don’t have to live a solitary life in the woods to live deliberately although it would be easier doing it in solitude than doing it when a lot of other people are making demands on you.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Yesterday I finally took my employer's Vitality Health Assessment. There’s bad news and there’s good news. The bad news is that I am “older” than I think I am. The good news is that based on my Vitality age I now qualify for my full Social Security benefits. I can retire as soon as I finish these thoughts. The truth is that I often feel as old as the assessment says I am. I am starting to have the experience of many older people who think they are a young person trapped in an old person’s body. When most older people have this experience they think, “What the hell happened”? My real age is 61. My Vitality Health Assessment age is 69. My mental age is 25. Inside my somewhat rundown body is a young man saying, “More wine for me and my friends! Bring more food! Where are the women?” Alas, the mind and the spirit are willing but the flesh is weak. I can no longer stay up all night, howl at the moon, and watch the sun rise as I drive home. Now I crave sleep. I have to be careful of what I eat. I not only worry about my weight, I must monitor my blood sugar, and not upset my fragile intestinal track. I can doze off with Led Zeppelin music cranking out on my sound system. When my granddaughter is around she exhausts me. I still have a rock and roll mentality but I can’t jump around as much. Sometimes instead of going to an actual concert I just wait for the DVD to come out so I can watch it from the comfort of my Lazy Boy chair and I can pause it whenever I make a trip to the bathroom. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones first concert. Their real age matches my Vitality age. However, Mick Jagger and I are on the same page. We know it’s only Rock and roll but we like it. We also agree on another Rolling Stone song lyric that goes, “What a drag it is getting old”!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Zen Moments

Many times I have described Zen as being where you are and doing what you are doing. On one level we are always where we are and we are always doing what we are doing whether we realize it or not. What makes an ordinary moment a Zen moment? A Zen moment is a moment when we are aware that we are where we are and we are doing what we are doing. How do you be aware of the moment? You become aware of the moments of your day through the practice of mindfulness. What helps me be mindful throughout my day is to be conscious of my breathing.

Breathing in, I am aware of the moment.
Breathing out, I am grounded in the moment.

Zen moments are not extraordinary moments. They are the ordinary stuff of everyday life. Yesterday evening, for example, I got home from work. I went into my backyard to get my recycle bin ready for today’s weekly pickup. I noticed my bird bath was totally dry so I filled it with water. Then I remembered I had some stale bread so I got it out of the kitchen and I put it out for the birds and squirrels. I gazed around my yard and prayed for rain. I was in the moment and I was aware that I was in the moment. It was an ordinary moment made extraordinary because I was present to it through my awareness of it. Zen is this simple and this hard. Today I want you to practice your awareness. From time to time remind yourself to be aware. In you state of awareness, notice where you are and what you are

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Too Much Talking/Life With Chloe

I was a little late for work this morning. Why? Well, my granddaughter made an un-scheduled overnight visit. My wife and I are not used to having to get a child out of bed and ready for school. At this stage of our life, it’s all we can do to get ourselves out of bed and off to work. I am feeling a little weary today. By the end of yesterday I was tired of the sound of my own voice. I gave five presentations on well-being to five different groups yesterday. Although I enjoyed doing such things, it’s exhausting for me. On a normal day I don't talk much. Giving five presentations is more talking than I would normally do in a month. By the end of the day I was eagerly anticipating going home and talking a nap. Late in the day, however, I received a text message informing me that my granddaughter would be spending the night. I’m always thrilled to see her but I knew immediately that my nap would never materialize as I anticipated.  I took the opportunity last night  to introduce Chloe to the movie “King Kong”. Every time I introduce her to anything she becomes obsessed with it.  Hopefully she won’t become obsessed with King Kong and expect me to buy her a gorilla suit and a model of the Empire State Building that she can climb up. She’ll be back again on Friday night so we can go to the movies on Saturday. Depending on the mood of the day we’ll either be seeing “Brave”, “Ice Age”, or “Madagascar”. I better get my naps in before Friday night.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Mid Summer Mini Vacation

My mid-summer, mini-vacation seems like a blur to me now. It was restful but also busy. July 4th was a quiet day. In the evening my family celebrated Chloe’s 8th birthday. She received several gifts related to Michael Jackson. My family blamed me for her total obsession with all things Michael since I am the one who introduced her to Michael's "Beat It", "Billie Jean", and "Thriller" videos.  Thursday was a another quiet day at home where I spent most of the day reading a book on the history of the blues while blues music played in the background.  Much of Friday morning was spent at the eye doctor where my eyes were dilated and I was told I have cataracts. I was also told my droopy eyelids will start to impair my vision.  I thought I was going to completely burn my eyes out when I walked out of the office into the bright midday sun. When I finally got home I stayed in a dark room the rest of the afternoon. I used my multi-tasking skills to make good use of this time by also taking a nap. Saturday was spent in Bardstown attending the seminarian picnic with the Archbishop. I cornered him a couple of time which I’m sure made my newly ordained Deacon son nervous. Yesterday I went to the monastery for another picnic. Thankfully it was indoors and we didn’t have to suffer in the heat. I sat next to Brother Frederic who is pushing 90 years old. His mind is sharper than mine. I spent much of the afternoon making him laugh. It was difficult to get back in the work mode today but I need some structure in my life.  By the end of the day I was back in my normal workday rhythm.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

My Day Today

I was awakened at 3:00 AM this morning because the window air conditioning unit in my bedroom tripped a breaker and power in my bedroom went out.  My overheated wife woke up in a frenzy.  This was complicated by her menopause induced night sweats.  I could have survived the few hours until dawn but she demanded I go outside in the middle of the night to fix it.  I don't like to go outside in the middle of the night because you never know when you will encounter an alien, serial killer, or monster.

Later in the morning, on our commute to work,  my wife complained about her job the entire way. I was tempted to jump out my car window and leap into the path of an 18 wheel semi truck.

One hour after arriving at work my entire building...thousands of people...were evacuated due to a suspected gas leak.  I sat in the park across the street from my office cooling my jets for over an hour and then spent approximately 30 more minutes, when the crisis was over, trying to get back to the 12th floor.

During my lunch hour I drove to the post office near my home to pick up a package from England that contained a Michael Jackson “Beat It” costume for my granddaughter's birthday party.  The costume is for her.  I am not dressing up as Michael Jackson to entertain her and the rest of the guests.  Since I was close to home I stopped there for a quick lunch that consisted of a bowl of Cherrios.

On my drive back to the office I felt so stressed out that I listened to Jimmy Buffett music to calm down. In my mind I was dreaming of margaritas and cheeseburgers in paradise.

I am glad this day is over.

A Little Bit Of Everything

Here’s a lesson on mindfulness from Winnie the Pooh. Winnie is taking a walk with his friend, Piglet.

“What day is it”? asked Pooh.
“It’s today”, squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day”! said Pooh.

I have a young friend in my office who everyone jokes is my lost love child. He is so much like me that sometimes I wonder if it’s true. He certainly seems more like me than my two real sons. He recently asked me what kind of music I was going to listen to on the 4th of July. I shared a memory that is seared into my brain. On the 4th of July, 1970, along with 400,000 other hippies, I saw Jimi Hendrix at an event called “The Atlanta Pop Festival”. It was my Woodstock. What made the day memorable was that Jimi Hendrix played late at night and one of the songs he performed was his legendary version of “The Star Spangled Banner”. As he played, fireworks exploded in the background and filled the night sky. I can remember it like it was yesterday although many other memories from that era have been lost in the mists of time. My faithful buddy, Tom, and my then girlfriend, Katie, were with me. Forty two years later both of them are still my friends. We’re not quite the young flower children that we were then but I think all of us retain that hippie spirit and we still have a rebellious streak. Admittedly, if I was in the middle of 400,000 people of any kind today, I would have a serious panic attack.

I’ve always been an under-achiever. It’s nothing I’ve done intentionally. Yesterday I was talking with a co-worker about “climbing the ladder”. We both agreed that we’ve afraid of heights and most of the time we didn’t even know where the ladder was. Thinking of the relationship between mindfulness and ambition, I said, “When you’re always focused on the moment, you never think about tomorrow”. In terms of a career, I feel that I peaked early and have been on a holding pattern ever since. In recent years, however, I have received a lot of praise for my writing. This praise is one of the few things in my life that has felt like personal success. Most of the other things I have done often felt unfulfilling, unappreciated, or unnoticed. I suppose that success is in the eye of the beholder. The famous singer/songwriter Bob Dylan says that “If from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed you are doing what you want, then you are successful”. I don’t know. What do you think? Do you feel successful in life?

Monday, July 02, 2012

What Has Influenced You?

All of us are like a bowl of gumbo or perhaps an unfinished sculpture. Whoever we are today is the result of every influence and experience, good and bad, that we’ve had up to this point. Like a sculpture, every new influence and experience will continue to reveal the person we are becoming. If you talk to a sculptor, most will tell you that they don’t really create an image so much as they bring to the surface the image hidden within the block of wood or rock. I think within each one of us is our essence. How this essence is manifested in who we become is dependent on the ingredients of our personal gumbo or how our block or wood or stone is struck. Think about your life experience so far. What influences or experiences have shaped you. I am the first born child in my family of origin. That makes a difference. I am also a child of the sixties. That makes a difference. I once lived in a monastery that changed the way I look at life. That makes a difference. I have lived most of my life with a wife and children. That makes a difference. I’ve had many good teachers and mentors. That makes a difference. Look at who you admire. My primary influences have been Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, and the Dalai Lama to name a few. Notice that I didn’t include any rock stars or other entertainment types. Although I may love their art, I am rarely influenced by their personal lives. I have read thousands of books. That makes a difference. I have not chased after money or worldly possessions. That makes a difference. I have spent many hours deep in thought and meditation. That makes a difference. I have tried to be a good man who is kind and compassionate. That makes a difference. Who or what has seasoned your gumbo? What influences or experiences, good or bad, has helped to reveal the image within your personal sculpture?