Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Today is Christmas Eve.  I would like to take a moment and wish Christmas joy to everyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, to those who occasionally stop by, and to those who find it by accident.  I appreciate all of you!  Wherever you are in this world, have a blessed Christmas!    

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's Always Something!

As my wife is fond of saying, “It’s always something”.  I woke up Thursday morning like any other day, happy the work week was almost over, and happy that I am on vacation next week.  While in the shower washing my hair, I noticed that my lip was swollen.  Once before I had a similar experience that was an allergic reaction to one of my medications.  Yesterday history repeated itself.  I waited until I got to work to take a Benadryl tablet.  I knew it would make me sleepy and it is difficult enough to stay awake at work without taking medication that makes you sleepy.  I didn't feel sick but I looked I looked like Donald Duck or maybe a Hollywood starlet who took too much Botox.  Fortunately my untrimmed mustache hid most of the problem.  The last time this happened to me it took approximately 24 hours for my lip to get back to normal.  As the day went on, however, the swelling got worse and spread to my lower lip.  Fortunately my office has a clinic that is staffed by a doctor and several nurses.  I went downstairs, got examined by the doctor, and ended up receiving a shot of Benadryl.  I assumed that would take care of the problem and I went home with a sense of relief.  After I got home I took a nap and slept very deeply.  Much to my horror my lips were swollen even more when I woke up.  I was tempted to go to the ER because I felt like my lips might actually explode.  I took more Benadryl and watched a few episodes of "The Borgia's" to take my mind off my lips.  This morning my lips were still swollen but seemed better.  I stayed home from work and continued taking Benadryl every four hours or so.  I am happy to report that at this hour I am almost back to normal.  Life is often an experience of little irritations that seem to happen for no apparent reason except to annoy you or test your patience.  Of course, maybe this happened just so I could start my Christmas vacation one day early.  My lips and I actually had a very pleasant time being home alone today.

Traveling Through Time

One of my cousins sent me a cartoon depicting a grandfather talking with his grandchildren.  One of the boys says “Grandpa, tell us about the days when you had to buy the entire album even if you only wanted one song”.  As someone who grew up in the sixties I remember albums well.  Amazingly they are making a strong comeback as audiophiles debate the differences between analog and digital recordings.  In addition to giving me a laugh, the cartoon reminded me of all the changes I have lived through in my life.  Of course, these changes involved much more than technological advances.  There is a famous book by H.G. Wells called “The Time Machine”.  It has also been made into several movie versions.  In one scene the main character is sitting in the time machine advancing through time.  He and the time machine are not moving at all.  While he is sitting still time is changing all around him.  Sometimes this is how I feel in my life.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant when I say that I am the center of my universe.  My experience of life is based on who I am, what happens to me, who comes and goes, and what is going on around me.  Time is always moving on while I sit in my own time machine.  Sometimes I like the changes, sometimes I hate them, and occasionally they are scary.  Time and change doesn’t care.  Like most of you I have tried to adjust and adapt to all the changes in my life.  Sometimes I am resistance to change when it begins only to love it later when I have accepted it.  I used to have over a thousand albums, now I have thousands of CD’s and an iPod full of downloads.  Sometimes I take advantage of modern change and I only buy one song instead of the whole album.     

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some Things Are Priceless

Last weekend was very busy.  I woke up on Saturday morning at 7:30 AM to see my granddaughter standing next to my bed.  “Are you ready to get up, Paw Paw”?  She never goes to my wife’s side of the bed because “only Paw Paw’s like to get up early”.  Later in the morning we went to the movies.  Here’s a breakdown of that experience.
·         Three tickets to see “The Hobbit” in 3D and High Definition: $35
·         Popcorn, candy, and drinks: $18
·         Dinner at the Mall Food Court: $25
·         Time with my granddaughter: Priceless
After a full day that included hanging out with Dwarves, killing Orcs, and looking for dragons, Chloe went home about 11:00 PM.  Her Dad picked her up after his office Christmas party.
Yesterday my wife and I drove to Elizabethtown to attend our son’s mass and to hear him preach.  When he is functioning as a priest it is the only time he can preach to my wife and me.  Most of his life we have been preaching to him.  After mass we went to his home and had lunch.  It was a wonderful time but I was very tired by the time I got back home.  It has taken me several days to recover from my fatigue and to catch up with my chores at home.

Friday, December 13, 2013

You Are Not Inadequate

It sometimes seems there is always someone in our lives who makes us feel inadequate.  It can be a boss, a spouse, our children, our friends, or the world in general.  Just because I don’t meet another person’s every need does not make me inadequate.  I am at a point in my life where I am no longer apologizing for who I am.  If who I am is not your cup of tea, try another blend.  I am not saying that everyone has to like everything about me.  I know I am not everyone’s cup of tea.  I also know that some people think I am great just the way I am.  At my age I am probably not going to change much although I believe I am consistently trying to be the best version of who I am that I can be.  If I am not the perfect boss, employee, spouse, father, son, brother, co-worker, or wonder worker, that’s just the way it is.  In my mind I am more than all of these things anyway.  In fact, none of these things is who I am, they are merely what I am.  None of these things define me.  My being is more than what I am or what I do.  Don’t live your life based on what other people think.  Most of them won’t even be part of your life over the long haul.  Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not saying that we can all act anyway we want and other people just have to deal with us.  I am not encouraging anyone to be a jerk.  What I am saying is don’t let other people determine who you are.  Everyone else’s opinion is just a perception.  Look into your own heart and follow your own bliss.  Be the best person you know how to be and be grateful for who you are.  You will please some people and annoy others.  Some will love you and some will misunderstand you.  If you listen to your own inner voice your will know the path you should walk and along the way you will meet all kinds of people.  Some you will love, most you will accept, but some you will simply tolerate.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Does It Feel Like A Wonderful Life?

On the drive to work this morning I heard an excerpt on the radio from the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  I think most people are familiar with this movie.  It’s basically the story of a man who wonders if his life has any real value to those around him.  I think most of us wonder this from time to time.  Sometimes I receive very nice emails from people who read my daily thoughts and they tell me how much something I wrote means to them.  These emails are usually very timely because they often arrive on a day when I wonder why I ever bother to write at all.  The affirmation I receive from these emails gives me a boost.  There are many days, however, where I feel like I make little difference in the lives of family, friends, and co-workers.  Like the lead character in the movie I sometimes wonder, “Would anyone even notice if I wasn’t here”?  In my heart I know I make a difference in other people’s lives but it is easy to feel taken for granted.  Although I never took him for granted, the death of my dear friend back in the summer made me realize how truly important he was to me.  His absence has created a huge hole in my life.  If someone has a noticeable and positive impact on your life I encourage you to occasionally tell them.  Don’t assume they know.  All of us need to be needed.  All of us want to be needed.  All of us want to make a difference in the lives of others.  Quite frankly, if I am not here I want to be missed.  I’m sure many other people feel the same way.   

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Typical Worknight During The Holidays

Last night was a typical evening during the holiday season.  After picking my wife up at her office I did the following:
  • Went to Best Buys and bought “Despicable Me II” for my granddaughter.   I also slipped in the new Neil Young CD since it was on sale.  Women aren’t the only ones that can’t resist a good deal.
  • Drove across the street to the Mall and ate Chinese food at the Food Court.
  • Observed Santa Claus buying a cheeseburger on his lunch break.
  • Sat in the food court and watched people while my wife went shopping for her Secret Santa.   No one thought I was some creepy old guy staring at them because I am invisible in large crowds.
  • Left the Mall and drove to the Shelbyville Road Plaza so my wife could buy whatever she puts on her hair.  Wives and women in general are high maintenance.
  • Secretly shed a tear for the empty building where Border’s Books used to be.  Border’s Books was my favorite store and now all of them are gone.
  • I finally got home, cleaned myself up, changed my clothes, and then fell asleep listening to my new Neil Young CD.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Moments Of Our Lives

As Christmas approaches and the mornings are dark and cold, I start my work days at home, sitting in silence, coffee mug in hand, looking at the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree, and focusing on my breathing.  Whether it’s a work day or a holiday, I love the early morning.  I schedule my time, especially on work days, so that I have approximately twenty minutes each morning that can be devoted to meditation.  It gets my day off to a positive start and it helps me stay centered throughout my day.  I am not one to get up at the last possible minute so that I have to rush getting ready, then drive like a maniac in order to get to work on time.  Over my working career I’ve witnessed many people virtually running into the office, stressed out and frazzled, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of bed a little earlier.  I like to see the day coming and not be thrown into a day that started without me.  I not only love mornings, I love evenings as well.  I love the quietness of early morning and I like the feeling of crossing the threshold of my home after a good day at work.  Occasionally I struggle with the whole middle part of the day but I always try to enjoy every minute of my life.  There is no doubt that when one gets to the age I am you start to have a whole new appreciation for time.  I am not in a panic about time but I am realistic enough to understand that I have more time behind me than I do in front of me.  I urge you to make the effort to add quality to your time.  Savor the moments and avoid the mad rush of always being late for something.  Spend some time being with yourself and doing nothing.  When you get ready in the mornings, don’t gulp your coffee.  Feel the warmth of the mug in your hands.  Notice the aroma.  Enjoy the taste.  Life is made up of moments.  If you don’t pay attention, you will miss them and when you get to the end of your life, you’ll realize you missed your life too.    

Monday, December 09, 2013

Snowy Weekend

When I left the office on Friday the sleet and freezing rain were coming down heavily.  As I walked to the parking garage I stayed off the sidewalks as much as possible to avoid an Olympic level triple back flip.  I picked up my wife at her office and drove home through the Highlands.  As the rock band Foghat once sang, it was a “Slow Ride”.  We made one pit stop at Kroger for some medicine and fried chicken.  My total drive time from office to home was approximately ninety minutes.  I know that many people didn’t get home for hours.  Once I got home I did not leave it all weekend.  All in all it was a perfect weekend for me.  I loved the feeling of being snowed in.  My wife wrapped lots of presents while watching her favorite holiday movies.  I cooked all our meals, did the laundry, cleaned off the cars, and shoveled the sidewalk.  I took my time and worked slowly on the snow shoveling to avoid a heart attack.  Between my chores I read a little, jammed a little, and occasionally stepped outside my back door to feed the birds and squirrels.  I love these kinds of weekends.  It’s nice to stay home and not fight the madness of Malls, restaurants, and traffic.  I’m sure many people had a renewed sense of how important their home is after Friday’s difficult and long commute.  Crossing the threshold of one’s home can be one of life’s most comforting feelings.    

Friday, December 06, 2013

Four Stages Of Life For Men

 Four Stages of Life for a Man
1.       You believe in Santa
2.       You don’t believe in Santa.
3.       You are Santa.
4.       You look like Santa.
I am at the 4th stage of life for a man.  Little children think I am Santa.  I once wore a red coat and hat when picking up my granddaughter at the daycare center.  She was four or five years old at the time.  I was mobbed by all the children.  It upset Chloe.  She told everyone, “He’s my Paw Paw”!  The other children thought Chloe was a very lucky girl to have Santa for a Paw Paw.  I once played Santa, using a fake beard at the time, when Chloe’s Dad was a young child.  He sat on my lap and looked at me intensely.  His gaze said, “You look like Santa but you sound like my Dad”.  I think I could probably hire myself out for the rest of the month.  For those of you who may want to hire me I have one small caveat for you.  I am not always jolly even though my stomach does bounce around like a bowl full of Jell-O when I laugh.  I love it that children think I am Santa.  I enjoy them checking me out when they see me in Target.  I silently smile wondering if they are curious as to why Santa shops at Target.  Before I became Santa, during my Grateful Dead days and when I had shoulder length hair, people thought I was Jerry Garcia.  It is not a bad thing to be mistaken for Santa or Jerry Garcia since both people have been a source of joy for many people.       

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Winter Storm Is Coming!

I am aware that we have a winter storm watch for Friday and much of the weekend.  I eagerly await it since I am a snow lover.  Hopefully those of us who work in the office will get home on Friday before the worst of it hits.  This morning, however, I was not mentally prepared for the monsoon that I had to drive through to get to the office today.  I must have dozed off during that part of the weather report.  By the way, Weather Report is an awesome jazz fusion band but I digress.  The number one chore at my home this weekend is wrapping Christmas presents.  Admittedly this is something done primarily by my wife.  My job will be to move boxes and do whatever else she tells me to do.  Because of the sensitive nature of this undertaking, there will be no granddaughter over for the weekend.  The Elf on the shelf will get a break and probably won’t move from wherever he is currently sitting or hanging.  My wife has a personal tradition when wrapping presents.  While doing it she watches the classic Christmas movies “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas”.  With a little luck there will be snow on the ground this Saturday as my wife goes through her annual ritual.  I will be happy just to be home during a winter storm.  It’s my idea of a perfect weekend.  Hopefully, it will be a beautiful storm and not one that cause people a lot of problems.

The picture above was taken at work today.  There's a reason small children think I am Santa Claus.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Don't Miss The Simple Joys

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the lights.  Each morning as I sit at home drinking my coffee and eating my toast I bask in the warm glow of my Christmas tree lights.  When I pull off the Interstate I can see many of the downtown Christmas decorations.  As I walk into my office building there is a large, brightly lit, Christmas tree.  Last night as I was unloading groceries from my car a neighbor who was walking their dog complimented me on my home decorations.  Sooner or later my wife will suggest that we drive my granddaughter through some of the “rich” neighborhoods to see all of their Christmas lights.  Different people like different kinds of lights.  Some people like white lights while other people like blue lights.  I prefer the traditional multi-color lights.  In the hustle and bustle of the crazier side of Christmas, it can be a simple joy to just enjoy looking at all the lights.  A few blocks from my office is a Christmas tree lot.  I hope to go on at least one adventure during my lunch break to walk through the trees and take in the invigorating aroma of live evergreen trees.  I have some pleasant memories of working the Boy Scout Christmas tree sales at my church when my children were boys.  We often froze our butts off but it was a lot of fun.  Much of Christmas is crazy and out of control.  If you watched any of the news coverage of the shoppers on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, you know what I mean.  Sometimes lost in the madness are the simpler joys of such things as sparkling Christmas lights.      

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Another Year Is Nearly Over

The year 2013 is rapidly coming to an end.  Like most years it has had some joys and some sadness.  One of the best things about 2013 is that I am still alive and in reasonably good health.  This year I became eligible for social security benefits.  My youngest son was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and my oldest son got married.  I was able to attend a session with the Dalai Lama as well as re-connect with some old friends.  On a sad note my best friend died and I am still grieving his passing.  In a few months I will begin my 63rd year of living.  I am not everything I want to be and I don’t think I am everything I ought to be.  I'm certainly not everything I could be.  This morning fog covers much of the city in which I live.  This fog is a good metaphor for how I feel at this time of my life.  I feel like I am wandering in circles.  I am not completely sure where I am or where I am headed.  I can identify with the words of explorer Daniel Boone when he said, “I have never been lost.  I will, however, admit to being confused once for about two weeks”.  My life is like everyone else’s life in the sense that it has never been a straight path.  It has weaved along and gone in many directions.  It has not been a walk in a perfectly manicured park.  There is a reason this blog is called “Stumbling along the Spiritual Path”.  As I have walked the path of my life it has felt like I am stumbling most of the time.  The nice thing about not knowing where you are is that the possibilities for where you might end up are limitless.  As we go down the path of our lives we never know what’s around the bend.  It might be something scary but there’s at least an equal chance that it will be something wonderful.  As this year draws to a close, and a new year awaits us, may we all live with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm.  I'm tired of being tired and I am tired of stumbling along.         

Monday, December 02, 2013

Holiday Expectations

After Brown Thursday, Black Friday, Buy Local Saturday, and today’s Cyber Monday, the holiday season is in full swing for the next three weeks.  Let me come out of the closet.  I am no Clark Griswold but I am no Ebenezer Scrooge either.  What I am is a person who often find the holidays difficult.  More often than not, I find the holidays a little depressing.  I have no identifiable reason for this since I have never had a bad holiday experience.  I think what is difficult for me and many other people is what I consider the unreasonable expectations for the holidays.  On a very basic level, most people struggle financially all year long.  The pressure of gift buying only adds to this challenge.  Another pressure is the mandatory happiness and joy we are all expected to feel.  On top of this is the busyness of decorating, trips to the Mall, and family activities.  Whenever my granddaughter comes over my wife and I stress ourselves out moving the “Elf on a Shelf” around our house.  I am also a little sad because my granddaughter is growing up and I am not sure how much longer she will believe in Santa and little elves.  I think this year she is on the fence.  She does seem to get excited when the Elf moves from the shelf to the Christmas tree to riding bareback with one of the three Wise men.  Through all of this I try to put on a happy face and to be appreciative and grateful for everyone and everything in my life.  If you are also a person who struggles with the holiday expectations, know that you are not alone.  My advice is to do what I try to do all year long.  Be in the moment and be grateful.  The holidays are well intentioned even if the demands and expectations are usually unrealistic.  I read a holiday mantra recently that said, “Slow down.  Be in the moment.  Lower your expectations”.  Sounds like good advice to me.       

Friday, November 22, 2013

Memories Of November 22nd, 1963

50 years ago today, in the early afternoon, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  Like today it was a Friday.  I was a 12 year old Catholic boy attending St. Margaret Mary Catholic School.  Most of my teachers were nuns.  As soon as the news came over the school PA system, we stopped what we were doing and everyone got out their rosaries.  My teacher, Sister Charles Marion, lead us in prayer.  It was significant for us that President Kennedy was a Catholic.  I remember this day like it was yesterday.  Many people of my generation think this event was the end of our innocence.  It would be easy to think that much of life has gone downhill ever since that day in Dallas.  By the end of the sixties, President Kennedy’s brother, Robert, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. would also be assassinated.  That entire weekend most adults were glued to their televisions.  Since I was a boy I didn’t follow every minute of the news like I would now.  However, I remember seeing the news coverage all weekend on my parent’s black and white television.  It was a very sad time for most Americans.  One thing I remember in particular was the funeral and the lighting of an eternal flame at President Kennedy’s grave.  I can’t remember the year but I eventually went to Arlington National Cemetery and I visited the site where President Kennedy is buried.  It was a very emotional experience for me.  The country was in mourning for months after this tragic event.  In February of 1964 the sadness was lifted for millions of people when four young men from England, who called themselves the Beatles, came to America and appeared on the very popular Ed Sullivan show.  At the time it was one of the most watched events in television history.  I have never been the same since both of these events happened in my life.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Order In The Universe

I believe there is an order to the universe.  Everything in the natural world is on a schedule, it maintains a balance, and when left alone there is a minimum of disorder.  In the natural world it is almost always people that screw things up.  Most scientists would agree the universe as we know it began in the chaos of the “Big Bang”.  Although born in chaos, the results of the Big Bang began organizing into the worlds, galaxies, and universes that we have now and which we continue to find as we go deeper and deeper into space.  I generally dislike chaos.  When I am thrown into a chaotic situation, the first thing I try to do is create some sense of order.  This is where being a creature of habit and routine serves me well.  I believe that when there is order, balance, logic, and a certain kind of patience that allows things to flow naturally, everything is better.  The more you mess with order, the more likely you are to create chaos.  I realize that my point of view has a lot to do with my own personality.  One trait of my personality is that I am a perfectionist.  Perfectionists love order.  Disorder and chaos makes people like me crazy.  When perfectionism is taken to extreme it is called anal retention and occasionally I suffer from that trait as well.  More often than not my perfectionism, and the perfectionism of others, creates positive results.  When there is disorder and chaos, results can be difficult to achieve.  A sense of order increases your chances for positive results.  When you shoot from the hip, or work in a chaotic and disordered way, you frequently miss the target.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Perception Of Time

Each workday morning my alarm goes off at 5:45 AM.  This alarm is a warning shot that I have 15 more minutes to hug the sheets before I actually have to get out of my bed.  I usually thank God for the extra 15 minutes as though I had hours to go.  6:00 AM seems far away while at the same time my 15 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye.  Later in the day, when I am at work, the clocks seem to be frozen.  The last two hours of my day seem like eight hours.  Our perception of time can vary wildly.  I have my own theory of relativity.  I am no Albert Einstein but here’s what I think.  Time is like a loop.  I know some people say time is like a river but I think it is like a loop.  When you are a child or young person, the end of your life seems very far away.  The loop stretches a long distance and you have the perception that you have all the time in the world.  Remember when you were a child on summer vacation and the days seemed eternal?  As you get older and closer to the end of your life the time loop get smaller and your new perception is that the speed of your life has increased dramatically.  The smaller the loop, the faster life seems to pass by.  We all know that in reality life moves at the same pace all the time.  There are sixty seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and twenty four hours in a day.  However, the perception of minutes, hours, and days is vastly different for a child like my granddaughter and a sixty two year old man like me.  If life seems to be moving too fast for you, the best way to slow it down is to be more mindful and more conscious of the moments that make up your day.  Enjoy life as it unfolds and don’t “wish your life away” as my mother used to say to me.  Time is valuable.  Spend it wisely.          

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Simple Life

I have been writing daily thoughts for so long that I sometimes have writer’s block.  There are days I simply do not know what to write about.  My life is not glamorous or exciting.  On a good day it seems simple, on a bad day it feels boring.  At this stage of my life it is a lot less complicated.  My children are adults and my wife and I are empty nesters.  Most of our life consists in waking up, coming to work, and going back home.  Some weekends are Chloe weekends and some weekends are do nothing weekends.  Many of the things I have written about in the past involved various activities in which I was involved.  I have few activities in my life now beyond weekly trips to the grocery store.  The monthly day trips I used to make to make to visit my friend, Father Dennis, are greatly missed.  I think in the past I found much meaning in the activities that seemed to fill my life.  As life slows down and grows more simple, meaning can be harder to find.  This is not all bad.  When life is simpler it is easier to be in the moment because there isn’t much to pull you out of the moment.  The uncomplicated life can be a very peaceful life.  You can really enjoy a cup of coffee, a tasty dessert, some good music, and an interesting book.  There is time to feel the wind, notice the sky, and gaze upon a full moon.  In recent days I have been looking out my window and watching the neighborhood leaves falling from the trees and covering the ground.  I guess life doesn’t have to be complicated or busy to have meaning.  Perhaps a meaningful life is just knowing you are alive and being aware of your surroundings.    

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Holidays Have Arrived

My wife’s true calling is being a Project Manager.  She always has a legal pad by her side with an agenda and a never ending things to do list.  If I want any peace in my life I must do what she asks of me with a minimum of complaining.  To her credit not much would get accomplished in our life without her.  We are on vacation next week.  It will be a stay at home vacation.  We decided not to make our annual trip to Gatlinburg since we were just there in the summer for our son’s wedding.  Neither my wife nor me wants to spend our Thanksgiving vacation doing chores.  Because of this we moved our holiday schedule a week ahead.  Last weekend we had the annual “Bringing in the Bins” from the outdoor shed.  This weekend we began putting up the tree and setting out other decorations.  In all honesty my wife did 99% of the work.  I was just a beast of burden.  Chloe was around but she seems to have inherited my resistance to manual labor.  Much to my wife’s credit, she decided this was the year to simplify our usual Christmas excess.  We are passing on some of the shopping chores to the younger generation and much of our shopping is being done online.  As of result of these changes most of our shopping chores are completed although the wrapping of the gifts has not yet been completed.  As my wife told our children, “We just can’t keep up the pace of previous years”.  This is more about the physical labor involved than about money.  I am not the man I used to be.  This year we outsourced the “Bringing in the Bins” to our new step-grandson.  It was the best $20 we ever spent.  I am in some disbelief that Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is little more than a month away.  This time of year always seems to be in hyper-drive as the holidays draw nearer.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Monkey Mind

A few days ago I received a kind email from a total stranger who lives in New York and who somehow found my blog and daily thoughts.  His note made me smile because he said I was “the Jerry Seinfeld of spirituality and Zen”.  This made me smile because I am a huge Seinfeld fan.  He asked me for some advice about controlling his thoughts and over active mind.  The experience of receiving this email reminded of a daily thought I once wrote where I referred to my thoughts as “seeds tossed into the wind.  You never know where they will land or who they will touch”.  The following is my response to his inquiry.
You really can’t stop your thoughts.  Many of us, including me, have what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”.  They describe our minds as a tree full of chattering monkeys jumping from limb to limb.  All is not lost, however, as there are ways to deal with this.  The practice of mindfulness and paying attention to one’s breath works very well.  Zen is basically being where you are and doing what you are doing.  Mindfulness helps us to do this.  The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, is a master of mindfulness and has written several good books on the subject.  His approach is to focus on your breath.  Admittedly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be conscious of every breath.  However, when you feel yourself going in ten different directions or overwhelmed with your own thoughts, simply stop and focus on your breath.  Breathe in through your nose into your diaphragm and slowly exhale from your mouth.  Thich Nhat Hanh also recommends a mantra like “Breathing in, I am awake.  Breathing out, I am present”.  I find this works very well.  It also helps me if I am feeling anxious.  
Don’t be discouraged.  You are not alone in your struggles.  I don’t know your age.  All the things you think about and worry about might just be part of the stage of life you are currently experiencing.  When I was younger I had more worries and challenges than I do now that I am approaching senior citizen status.  As I tell my wife, who worries constantly, most of the things you worry about will probably never happen.  Life has a way of taking care of itself and us.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's Up With My Book?

Over the years many people have encouraged me to publish a book.  This is in the works.  It is a tedious and occasionally frustrating process because I never wrote anything with the intention of publishing a book some day.  In many ways the book is already written.  However, what I have is almost ten years of daily thoughts about everything from my granddaughter to Zen, from rock and roll to Buddhism, not to mention stories about my everyday life.  I have two generous friends who have been diligently reading through everything I have written in order to choose what they consider the “A List”.  To their credit they have occasionally tolerated my impatience with the process.  To their additional credit they are doing this voluntarily, without pay, because they believe in me.  At this point we have what they consider the best stuff I have written.  The current challenge is to organize it into chapters or themes.  My assignment is to go through their selections and assign titles for each piece.  I am taking the day off tomorrow to work on this.  Since I am also on vacation during Thanksgiving week, I hope to finish my assignment by the end of the month.  After that we can begin the final organization of the writings and do the grammatical corrections and editing required.  When we have a final, complete, and finished manuscript we can then work on how the book will look in its final form.  If this book is successful all the profits I make are going into the Chloe College Fund.  For those of you who have been encouraging me and waiting patiently, hang in there.  This is more work than most people realize, and no one is working on it full time.  However, it is going to happen eventually.  I hope it is worth the wait for those who are eager to see it.     

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Voice Within

Sometimes I wonder if all the spiritual books I’ve completed, all the meditation I have done, and all the prayers I have said have made any difference whatsoever in my life or in anyone else's.  I also wonder this about all the things I have written.  Why do I put myself out there with attempts to find meaning in life?  If I am honest I would have to say that most of my life I have wrestled with angels and fought with God.  Some days I think it would be easier if I did none of these things.  I wonder why some people go to the gym every day when the reality is that even healthy people eventually die.  Why do people go to college and rack up massive debt in student loans only to often end up in unsatisfying, low paying jobs?  I think we all do these things because there is something within us that drives us and makes us long for some kind of fullness and completion.  We feel incomplete so we spend our lives trying to fill our emptiness.  I think this is human nature.  Despite my own lack of spiritual consolations, I think our emptiness, our hunger, and our desire for some kind of fullness is really a desire for God, whatever and whoever God is for individuals.  We do many things in our lives, often without any sense of instant gratification, because we are all trying to follow whatever inner voice we hear.  Something within us, something mysterious, drives us to long for and seek the other shore across the ocean of our lives.  Sometimes I wish my inner voice would shut up.  However, I also hope I continue to hear my inner voice even if it is barely a whisper.       

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Long Employment

Today I have been with my employer, Humana, for 28 years.  In many ways it seems like it was just yesterday when I starting working here.  In other ways it has been a long journey.  I have learned much, endured much, survived much, and grown much.  Most of my time has been in leadership roles.  I have supervised a variety of processes and hundreds, maybe millions, of people.  I have learned what I do well and what is best left to others.  More often than not being here has brought out the best in me.  I have learned I have some real strengths as well as some real weaknesses.  I have learned I am a natural leader that many people will follow even though I have little desire to be in charge of anything.  I have learned I am an off the chart introvert who hates to be in the spotlight and that my favorite role model is the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.  I have learned that my greatest skill is dealing with people.  Along the way I have also discovered a gift for writing.  I don’t think I have changed Humana much although I have tried to change minds and hearts by raising people’s consciousness.  When I leave here in a few years I doubt if anyone remembers any of the work I did.  I hope, however, that people remember how I treated them.  I hope I have touched lives in a positive way.  I hope I have inspired people to do good and to always take the high road in their dealings with others.  If I have a legacy it is probably in all the things I have written and shared over the years.  I often cannot live up to my own expectations but the real me is best found in my written thoughts.  Twenty eight years is a long time to be anywhere but I am happy I have made it this long.  Humana has been good to me and I think I have also been good to Humana.  

Friday, November 08, 2013

Remembering Jimi Hendrix

Last night on PBS I watched an American Master’s documentary on the life of Jimi Hendrix.  He is one of my favorite musicians and, in my opinion, the greatest guitar player who ever lived.  In 1968, when I was 17 years , my best friend and I, along with our teenage girlfriends, cut school and drove to the Cincinnati Gardens in my 1962 VW Beetle, to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  The tickets were $5.00.  I still have my ticket stub.  Our parents weren’t too happy but we became legendary in our high school.   Two years later we saw Jimi Hendrix again at the largest concert event I have ever attended.  It was called the Atlanta Pop Festival and there were approximately 500,000 people in attendance.  Hendrix played in the middle of the night on the 4th of July.  He played his famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner while fireworks went off in the sky and in my head.  It was a night burned into my memory.  More than forty years later I still listen to Jimi Hendrix music on a regular basis.  In my world, music has brought me more joy and happiness than just about anything.  Music brings people together.  If you are at a musical event where everyone is really in tune with the musicians and the music, it is a powerful experience.  Many music fanatics like me often joke about concert experiences where they “saw God”.  I understand this feeling.  Music can be a very spiritual experience.  I dearly love music and I could not live without it.  It fills my days and all the empty places in my life.     

Thursday, November 07, 2013

You Get What You Give

I know I have a personality that has a strong need to feel peaceful and to live in a harmonious environment.  I also know this is not always possible.  On a good day life is challenging and some days life just sucks.  However, I can’t imagine anyone not having a preference for a happy life with a minimum of suffering and stress.  Believing this, I try my best to optimize other people’s happiness and to do what I can to minimize suffering and stress for them.  Obviously I can’t control everything in life but I do the best I can whenever I can.  It is difficult for me to understand why everyone doesn’t do this.  Some people seem to have no concern whatsoever for the welfare of others.  This blows my mind.  I have shared many times my basic values of being kind and compassionate to others.  How different life would be if everyone did this.  I think a big problem with people who don’t practice kindness and compassion is their ego-centric personalities.  People who don’t practice kindness and compassion are almost always more concerned with their own personal agendas and needs.  We all have egos but not everyone lets ego run their life.  The less I think about myself the happier I am.  The more I think about myself the unhappier I am.  Whatever kindness and compassion that grace has allowed me to show to others has come back to me a thousand times.  I believe in Karma.  What goes around comes around.  Put goodness into the world and it will come back to you.  Obsession with one’s own ego based needs, to the detriment of others, will also come back to you.  Sooner or later you will receive what you give.    

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Being Our Best

From my archive....
"When people are at their very best, that's who they really are."
-Rev. Alfred Horrigan 
Yesterday morning I was not at my best.  It usually takes me a few days to adjust to the time change.  When I arrived at work I suddenly felt like I was running on fumes.  It was a hectic morning and I was a little grumpy.  I wasn’t demonstrating my usual patience and everything was getting on my nerves.  People who are around me most days know I don’t normally act like this.  Later in the day I realized that one reason I felt so depleted was that I spent much of my weekend with my granddaughter.  We went to a movie but that was the easy part.  We also played on the floor and she rode on my shoulders like Queen Cleopatra riding her barge down the Nile river.  Although these physical activities can be tough for a man in his sixties, a deeper truth is that one of the ways I am at my very best is when I am in my Paw Paw role.  When I am tired, feeling overwhelmed, and it seems like I am being assaulted from every direction, I am not always at my best.  When I feel this way the best thing for me to do is step back, breathe, and regain my center.  I don’t like to feel this way.  I don’t enjoy being grumpy.  However, and probably to the amazement of some people who think I walk on water, I am a human being like the rest of you.  I try to be the best version of who I am but some days it just isn’t happening.  I assume everyone else is trying too so when they are not at their best I try to cut them some slack.  I believe we are all doing the best we can but we’re not successful 100% of the time.  This is why the Dalai Lama continuously preaches the message of kindness and compassion.  We all need it sometimes and we should practice it all of the time.         

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Finding Balance In Life

When you are washing the dishes, just wash the dishes.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Our minds are very fragmented.  We are usually multi-tasking and going in ten different directions at the same time.  While doing this we often worry about real and imaginary fears.  We speculate about everything that can go wrong in our life.  Our fears play games with us.  Wouldn’t it be nice if when we are washing the dishes all we are doing is washing the dishes?  Being where we are and doing what we are doing is Zen.  It is also mindfulness.  Being present to the moment can calm our fears and bring us peace.  In the great demands of life sometimes we just need to breathe.  Fragmentation and dissipation weakens us and depletes our strength.  A focused mind, in the moment, is a strong mind.  When you feel yourself spinning out of control, and you think you are losing it, stop.  Take a deep breath.  Be in the moment and chill out.  I know life is not simple.  The demands of modern culture, and the workplace, are great.  It takes effort, training, and persistence to live in the moment.  However, we can all do it if we try.  A person who learns to breathe and who learns to be in the moment is a centered person.  A centered person has found balance in their life.  A person who is balanced is not easily knocked over by the storms of life

Monday, November 04, 2013

Remembering My Father In Law

There was a beautiful sunrise this morning as I stood at the gas pump freezing my behind off.  It was a great way to start my day.  I thought this weekend was a perfect autumn weekend, perhaps the best of the season so far.  The days were cool and the evenings cold. There was lots of sunshine, blue skies, and the leaf color was at its peak.  I did a lot of driving around this weekend and everywhere I drove was beautiful.
Today is the 10th anniversary of my father-in-law's death.  He was the first of the parents to go.  We did not know it at the time of his death but Chloe was on her way and she arrived in the summer of 2004.  I was with my father-in-law when he died and I gave the eulogy at his funeral.  We could not have been more different.  He was a man of his times, a conservative Republican, and he lived and worked in a “Mad Men” kind of world.  He was probably not very impressed when his oldest daughter brought me home for dinner.  Despite our differences we grew to have a mutual respect for one another.  He knew I was a bleeding heart liberal.  We frequently discussed politics and sometimes we did this after too many glasses of wine.  Even though we frequently disagreed, he always accepted me as I am, and I know he believed I had character.  I was blessed with a wonderful father in law and mother in law.  They were like parents to me and they treated me like a son.  They taught me everything I know about sophistication.  My father-in-law once looked at me after an expensive family meal and said, “I should never have told you about wine and shrimp”!  He and my mother in law were wonderful people and I still miss them very much.           

Friday, November 01, 2013

Some Chloe Time

I slept through whatever windstorm passed through my neighborhood last night.  When I went outside this morning to retrieve my newspaper my garbage can was turned over and in my neighbor’s yard.  Most of my Halloween decorations were blown off my front porch.  On  a sadder note I did not have one single zombie or princess ring my doorbell. 
My granddaughter has not been to my house for two weeks.  I miss her.  The past two weekends my wife and I were able to sleep in until we wanted to get out of bed and we were able to go to the movies and see “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips”.  Tomorrow will be different.  I expect Chloe to run up my stairs and jump in my bed at the crack of dawn after her Dad drops her off on his way to work.  She will wake me up and drag me out of bed so I can go downstairs, cook some bacon, make some cinnamon toast, and pour her a big glass of chocolate milk.  Unfortunately I also will have a plumber visiting my house because my washing machine is backing up when it drains.  In the afternoon it will be movie time at the Mall.  This week I will not be in space or out on the ocean.  I will be trying to save turkeys from becoming someone’s Thanksgiving meal.  The movie is called “Free Birds”.  I don’t know if the Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Free Bird” will be part of the soundtrack.  I do know that popcorn, candy, and soda’s will be part of the movie.  I think we are at the beginning of the end for such childhood moments.  Chloe is growing up way too fast.  Instead of sitting on the floor with me and a pile of stuffed animals, she now prefers video games.  Either way, though, she loves her Paw Paw and her Paw Paw loves her.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Our Dysfunctional Selves

I have always loved the study of psychology and personality types.  In my early 30’s I took my first Myers-Briggs test and I learned about the Enneagram in my 40’s.  A few years ago I took the Strength Finders test.  In addition to the tests I have read many books on all the various personality types.  As a result of all of this I know myself very well.  These tests did a very good job of revealing to me who I am, what I am, how I think, and how I act.  One of the biggest benefits of such self-knowledge is the ability to recognize my own dysfunctional behavior.  More often than not I act in a mature way, appropriate for my age and temperament.  Occasionally, however, I can see my dysfunctional self looming on the horizon.  Knowing myself very well, I can usually head myself off at the pass and prevent or minimize my dysfunctional self from making an appearance.  All personality types have a healthy side to them as well as an unhealthy side.  All behavior is a manifestation of who a person is.  When a person is at their best, they are a manifestation of their redeemed or healthy self.  When a person is at their worst and their behavior is bad or foolish, it is almost always an indicator of deeper issues.  Our general behavior and how we deal with the demands of life is an strong indicator of one’s psychological health.  We are who we are and many forces and influences have shaped us into the people we are.  Most people learn from their experiences, grow from them, and over time develop into mature people and the best version of who they are.  Some people, however, never move forward.  They become trapped in their own dysfunctional behavior.  They may not even realize what they act the way they do.  Such people need to take a closer look at their behavior.  Some people need outside help to get a more objective view of themselves.  All of us have to take responsibility for our own emotional intelligence and behavior.  Occasionally that means facing a part of ourselves that we may not like.    

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Some Thoughts On Acedia

I don’t have a new daily thought today so I am sharing one I wrote exactly one year ago today.
As I pulled into my parking garage this morning the song “I Just Want To Celebrate Another Day Of Living” was blasting on my radio.  As soon as I got out of my car my mindfulness bell on my telephone went off reminding me to be in the moment.  Within a minute I had two reminders to get out of my current funk.  Yesterday one of my former teachers wrote me an email saying, “What’s this obsession with aging?  I’m older than you are and I feel young”.  All of this reminded me of something called “Acedia”.  Acedia is a monastic term that describes a kind of boredom with one’s routines.  It is an easy rut for monks and everyone else to fall into.  My life is very routine.  I wake up at the same time every morning.  I leave home at the same time every day and I arrive at work at the same time every day.  While at work I do the same things every day and more often than not I do them in the same order.  I take my breaks and go on my walks at the same time most days.  When I leave work I have the same routines for going home and for things I do at home.  Most days I am on auto-pilot and I don’t even realize it.  One can quickly and regularly become bored with such regularity and not even realize it until it manifests itself as a funk.  Now I am not expecting any significant changes in my life anytime soon.  Most of my routines revolve around my responsibilities so I can’t discard most of them even though I can be on the lookout for signs of obsessive-compulsiveness.  If I can’t change most of my routines, perhaps I can strive to change my ways of things so that I am in a better mindset to “celebrate another day of living”.  Who wants to be in the moment if you’re bored with the moment?  I will look for ways big and small to celebrate living.  I encourage you to do the same.    

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One Chord Can Be Enough

“One chord is fine.  Two chords are pushing it.  Three chords and you’re into jazz”
-Lou Reed
The author of the above quote died this past weekend.  He was a rock and roll legend most famous for founding a group called the Velvet Underground.  In the peace and love, flower power days of the late sixties the Velvet Underground were an anomaly.  They were the opposite of the prevailing hippie vibe.  Instead of tie dye, they were more likely to wear black and their songs were often about the seedier side of life on the streets.  I love the above quote, not because of its musical references, but because of what it says about simplicity and over complication.  I  dislike anything that is complicated, especially when it doesn’t need to be.  Although I have often been accused of living in my own little private world, I am not out of touch with reality.  I know life and the world can sometimes be complicated.  I have noticed, however, that many people are suspect of anything that is simple and there is often a belief that only the complicated has value.  Perhaps some people equate simple with easy and easy is never appropriate in their minds.  I’ve actually heard people say, “Nothing is that simple”.  Albert Einstein, who many people believe to be one of the smartest human beings that ever lived, once said that if the answers to the mysteries of the universe are not simple, they are probably the wrong answers.  Simple is not always easy.  It is often just more direct.  Complicated can have you going in circles.  Jazz, with its three or more chords, is much more complicated than most rock and roll but I’ve seen rock and roll guitar players whip a crowd into a frenzy with only one or two chords.  Don’t be afraid of the simple.    

Monday, October 28, 2013

I'm Moving A Little Slow Today

The comedienne George Carlin once said, “I’m not really sick, I just don’t feel good”.  This kind of describes me this morning.  Since it is Monday I woke up with my usual sense of dread for the coming week and I also felt a little stressed for no particular reason.  As far as I know I have nothing to dread or be stressed about.  Admittedly the work week engine can be a little difficult to start on a Monday morning.  However, once it does start it usually runs pretty well the whole week.  All of this reminds me of how much our feelings can affect our moods.  Although some of our feelings are deep and real, many of them are like the weather.  They change frequently and without notice.  Some days are hot and other days are cold.  Once in a while you have a perfect day.  I try to ignore most of my moods and feelings because our perceptions are not always a true mirror of reality.  Many days that started with a sense of dread have turned out to be very pleasant days.  On a rare occasion there have also been days that I expected to be good but then I got blindsided by something.  I guess one should always expect the unexpected although most days are routine and uneventful.  If you are feeling like me this morning, hang in there.  Go drink a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke.  If we can make it through the next few hours, we’ll be fine.  Before we know it the work day will once again be over and we can return to the comfort of our homes.  However, don’t get too comfortable.  We have to do this again tomorrow.     

Friday, October 25, 2013

Home Is Where I Want To Be

When got to the office this morning one of the first things I heard was a young person making plans for the weekend.  Most young people want to be “out there”.  They like to run with the herd.  I understand this because I did the same thing when I was young.  I now realize that being out there and running with the herd is against my nature.  I am a more solitary person and I have no desire to run with any herd.  As the Talking Heads sing in one of my favorite songs, “Home is where I want to be”.  This morning is the first hard freeze of the season.  It is cold outside.  I am eager to get through my workday so I can return to the warmth and solitude of my home.  I will sit in my chair, listen to some music, sip a cappuccino, and bask in the glow of my fake wood burning stove.  There is a Native American saying that goes “In old age nothing is better than a warm fire”.  I know I am not elderly yet but I am not a thirty year old either.  I understand the attraction of a warm fire.  One of the things I enjoy about getting older is the calm that comes into your life.  I didn’t like the rat race when I was young and I like it even less now that I am older.  A quiet, calm, peaceful life is what I desire.  Young people may think such a life is boring.  Someday they will understand and desire it for themselves.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Joy Of Not Thinking

Some people like that I am an introspective and contemplative person because many of my thoughts turn into something I share in my writing.  People have told me, and I now accept, that I have a gift for self-expression.  I have been told I do a great job of articulating the feelings and experiences that many of us share in life.  I am happy to have such a gift but gifts can also be a burden.  Being a thinking type person is occasionally overrated.  The constant flow of thoughts and ideas in my brain is sometimes exhausting.  It can be a wonderful experience to not think.  Being able to turn off the white water rapids of constant thought and achieve the peaceful serenity of a calm lake or pond is very desirable to me.  Years of meditation, as well as all I have learned from study and reflection, has taught me that we cannot really control our thoughts.  What we can do is learn to let them go and not obsess over them.  Some of my thoughts are worthy of extended reflection and development.  Other thoughts I try to let go and I hope they float away.  Thinking is a form of doing and not thinking is a form of being.  You cannot live a life of non-stop doing nor can most people live a life of non-stop being.  One must achieve a balance of thinking and not thinking.  This balance may not be 50/50 but when you achieve it you will know it.  In a song by the Beatles written by John Lennon, we are urged to “Turn off our minds, relax, and float downstream”.  I don’t actually recommend that you do this on the river because you may get hit by a barge.  However, I do encourage you to find some time in your day when you can turn off your mind, not think, and simply be in the moment.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Don't Be Afraid Of Failure

Everyone wants to be successful in life however that success is defined on an individual level.  No one wants to fail.  Failure, however, is also part of life.  Failure, and how we deal with it, forms us as much as our successes.  Our failures may be the jobs we didn’t get, the relationships that didn’t work out, the love that was unrequited, or a myriad of other goals and dreams that were not achieved.  Some failures will seem as nothing more than bumps in the road when we look back with the advantage of age and wisdom.  Other failures may leave a bruise that never heals.  As you look at those around you remember this and keep in mind that we are all wounded in one way or another.  Some more than others.  Life isn’t for sissies.  I would list all my failures and unrealized dreams to make my point but such a list would make this thought too long.  Do not let your failures discourage you.  Today’s failure may be tomorrow’s dream realized.  Never stop dreaming or living with the belief that anything is possible.  I know it is a clique to say this but life is a journey.  Our hopes, dreams, and goals drive us to move forward.  Our failures sometimes knock us off track but they can also lead us down a path we were always meant to walk but may never have found without the failure.  As we used to say back in the sixties “Keep On Truckin”.  Whatever happens to you on your personal journey, follow your bliss and keep moving forward.  Let nothing discourage you.  Somehow in the great mystery of life we all eventually up where we are meant to be.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

On Being An Aging Rock And Roller

Why am I here?  No, I am not having my weekly episode of existential angst.  I am wondering why I am in the office since I went to a concert last night.  Usually when I go to a concert on a school night I take the next day off, not because I need to, but because I can.  This time I decided to tough it out and come to work.  The good news is that my concert was in the city and state where I live.  In my younger days, as a forty something in a mid-life crisis, I sometimes went to concerts in other cities and states and still came to work the next day.  As a sixty something rock and roller, I would now need to get a hotel room, spend the night, and drive home the next morning.  Last night’s concert was the third show I’ve seen in recent months.  I've seen Yes and the Moody Blues.  The person I saw last night was Steve Winwood.  He is probably unknown to some of you but he is huge in the history of the rock and roll music I love.  I saw him for the first time in 2006 with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and again in 2010 with Eric Clapton.  Steve Winwood is most famous for the band known as “Traffic”.  If you ever listen to classic rock radio you have probably heard Steve Winwood’s music.  He first came to public recognition as the teenaged lead singer of the Spencer Davis Group.  It will probably feel like a long work day so I can only hope it will at least be a quiet one.  I am already planning the nap I will take when I get home at the end of the day.  I am praying that my wife won’t drag me to the grocery store after work.   

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Autumn Of My Life

Over the weekend I enjoyed waking up in the chill of the early morning and enjoying my coffee while sitting in my warm house.  This is my favorite time of the natural year.  Just as each year has its seasons, at least in my corner of the world, so do our lives.  I know I am in the autumn of my life.  I have already lived through spring and summer and I know winter is ahead of me.  However, the cold wind and snows of winter have not yet arrived so I live in the beauty of the autumn of my life.  I have seen young people around me on the verge of depression because they have turned thirty years old.  They act as though their life is over.  Metaphorically speaking they are only in the early summer of their life.  I am twice thirty plus some and I love it.  There is no doubt I am moving slower, I have a few aches and pains, and I am in a stage where I am starting to let go of things that are no longer important or meaningful to me.  The autumn of life is the time to start shedding your leaves.  This letting go is very freeing and it gives one a sense of independence that was impossible during the gathering and building phase of life.  On a physical level I will continue to enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors that autumn brings.  I will drink pumpkin spice latte’s and smell the smoke of wood fires that escape from the chimneys of my neighbors.  I will dig my sweaters out of my closet and enjoy naps on my couch with cool breezes blowing in my window.  Soon I will hand out candy to the children who show up at my door on Halloween.  Before long the aromas of Thanksgiving dinner will waft in the air.  Yes, I will live and enjoy every moment of the autumn of life because winter is not yet here.         

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Reconnecting With My Past

Despite the rain and generally gloomy weather today I had a very enjoyable trip to the monastery.  I went there to visit with an old friend from my days with the Franciscans.  Several months ago he informed he would be on retreat this week so we decided meet and spend a day reconnecting and catching up.  I arrived there about 8:30 AM with a photograph album of pictures from the time we first met at Duns Scotus College outside of Detroit, Michigan way back in 1970.  I walked into the retreat house and there was my friend, Brother Brian, wearing his Franciscan habit and patiently waiting for me.  We gave one another a big hug because it has been many years since we have seen one another.  Our conversation soon turned to our mutual friend, Father Dennis, who we had both known for many years.  Brian asked me to show him where Dennis was buried so we walked outside in the drizzle to the small cemetery near the entrance of the monastery.  Much to my surprise and great relief there was a very nice monument over his grave.  I don't think Dennis really wanted a marker but one was purchased by another priest friend who is also the executor of Dennis's estate.  I found all of this out today quite by accident when I saw this priest in the monastery parking lot while Brother Brian and I were talking at the grave site.  He was there to meet a monk from Nigeria who was visiting the monastery.  The purpose of the meeting was to give this monk many of Dennis's priestly vestments and other religious items for use in his Nigerian monastery.  It is a monastery like Gethsemani but located in Africa.  I think Dennis would be pleased to know his things would continue to be used for the purposes for which they were made.

The morning went quickly and shortly after visiting Dennis's grave it was time for lunch.  Brian and I got our food and went to a small dining room where talking is allowed.  The people on retreat and the monks eat their meals in silence.  After lunch we met with another Franciscan who had come to Gethsemani with Brian and who I also knew.  We talked for an hour or so and shared many stories and much laughter.  Compared to the austerity that many people associate with Trappist monks, Franciscans have a reputation of being more joyful.  There is some truth to these perceptions.  Since my early formation was with the Franciscans I think when I was in the monastery I was sometimes perceived as being a little boisterous.

I could have stayed much longer because I was having a very pleasant visit.  However, the rain was picking up and I needed to get on the road to avoid the worst of the evening rush hour traffic.  It was great to see my old friends, to reconnect and update one another with our current lives, and to realize that through the ups and downs of the lives, we are all still "stumbling along the spiritual path".     

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Old Friends

Way back in the late summer of 1970 I bought a $5.00 ticket for a Greyhound bus and I headed to Detroit, Michigan.  My destination was a Franciscan college called Duns Scotus.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into that day.  The whole summer of 1970 I was living the hippie life while having a sense that God was chasing after me.  I was somewhat relieved when I arrived at the seminary and discovered there were other students with long hair and even some of the priests and brothers were hippies.  While I was there I became good friends with one of the brothers who was only a few years older than me.  We have been friends ever since although we have lost one another at times.  The recent death of my friend, Father Dennis, re-connected me with some of my friends from those days.  The young brother who befriended me in 1970 is at the monastery this week on a retreat.  Tomorrow I am driving there to spend a day with him.  Although we have corresponded over the years I think it’s been 25-30 years since we have actually seen one another.  1970 was 43 years ago so we are no longer young men at the beginning of our lives and spiritual journeys.  This friendship is one of many I have where years can go by, little communication can take place, and when you are once again reunited it is as though no time has passed at all.  When I arrive at the monastery tomorrow and we see one another, the years that have passed will seem as no more than a few days or weeks.  We have so much to talk about with one another.  I am sure it will be a day that we will both enjoy and remember for many years to come.  Old friendships should be treasured.  It is a comfort to have people in your life who have known you for a very long time and who accept you as your are.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Children And Grandchildren

Children and grandchildren are more than our replacements to keep human life going on this planet.  They are here to receive our love and, hopefully, to love us in return.  I think children are also part of God’s plan to make us think of something beyond ourselves.  Most of us are obsessed with ourselves, especially when we are young.  Nothing will change this obsession for most people quicker than a newborn.  I once made a foolish statement as a young man when I told someone that my newborn son would not change my life much.  I assumed he would adjust to my lifestyle.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to eat those words.  Having children radically changed my life.  Not only was I no longer number one in my life, I’m not sure I was number anything after my children were born.  In ways good and bad they became the total focus of my life.  You cannot be a good parent without giving up a large portion of your own life.  Grandchildren are not as demanding as children unless of course you have responsibility for their daily care.  My experience with my granddaughter is that being her Paw Paw is pure joy.  I’ve always thought grandchildren are the reward for being a parent.  I spent the entire weekend with my granddaughter and being a grandfather is totally different experience from being a parent.  Our children and grandchildren should be our number one priority in life.  When we bring them into this world we should consider it our greatest mission to form them into the best human beings that we can.  They are our replacements and our future and we should work to prepare them to do a better job of running the world than most of us who are currently adults have done.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Weekend

I’m glad it’s Friday.  Mikey is moving a little slow today.  This afternoon I went to my family doctor for a checkup and blood work.  I am expecting my numbers to look good because I have really been trying to live a healthier life.  In fact, yesterday I discovered that I have earned some points in my employers Vitality program.  This is a program that encourages and rewards healthy living.  As soon as I discovered this I taught myself how to spend the points.  I was very happy to learn that I could use them for iTunes gift cards.  I used up as many points as I could and made quite a haul.  When I got home last night I was like an unsupervised child in a candy store.  I almost blew up my computer.  I may be living healthier but my music addiction is as strong as ever.  Today I will be rocking and rolling.  That should help lower my blood sugar.
Tomorrow my wife and I will be taking our granddaughter to Huber’s Orchard for our annual frolic through the pumpkin fields.  It will be a little warmer than I like for this time of year but it is expected to be a beautiful day.  It is very enjoyable, especially with Chloe, to walk in a field that has thousands of pumpkins lying around it.  I also enjoy the bumpy ride on the farm wagon out to the fields.  This is my favorite time of the year. 
For now I will sit here in my solitude while listening to the Jerry Garcia Band and drinking a Mocha Latte.  The windows are open and it is a beautiful day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

People Skills

I have a lot of conversations with co-workers and others about leadership and people skills.  Recently I  read an article that said the most successful people are those with the best people skills.  The article said that people skills ultimately trump every other skill in the long run.  Certainly other skills are needed to be successful but I agree with this article.  I have survived in my work environment for nearly 28 years because of my people skills.  People skills are difficult to develop if you don’t naturally have them.  I have always been a people person despite the fact that people tend to wear me out.  I am an “NF” temperament on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator.  In the world of work and people “NF” types are described as the oil that keeps all the machinery running smoothly.  I like that analogy.  While having good people skills I also realize that my introverted nature is why I also find people so exhausting.  Sometimes there is irony in our individual personality traits.  Beyond the psychological aspects, what are people skills and what does it mean to be a people person?  I think the foundation of people skills is caring about people.  I’m no Mother Teresa but I do care about people.  I also have certain values in my life, regardless of where I am, that I try to practice.  My values are love, kindness, compassion, tolerance, patience, fairness, and acceptance.  I strive to apply these to every human being that I encounter in my life.  It may be a tired waitress in a restaurant, an overwhelmed clerk at the grocery store, a stranger on the street, or a co-worker in my office.  I like to believe that the person I am at work is the person I am everywhere else in my life.  It’s important that the values I listed above be authentic.  You can’t fake caring or people skills.     

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A Comfortable Life

My wife and I still have the loaner car from yesterday.  After getting into the car this morning my wife said, “Darn, this car doesn’t have heated seats”!  My first thought was “We are so spoiled”!  I thought about this all the way to work.  Am I spoiled because I have a good life?  Should I feel guilty that I have a good life?  My wife and I have been married almost 40 years and during that time we have consistently worked and had good jobs.  We have successfully raised two boys into good men.  We struggled in our younger days and made a lot of mistakes.  Fortunately we learned from our mistakes and kept trying.  We are now both in our sixties and life is not as much of a struggle as it used to be, at least on a financial and material level.  Now we struggle more on a physical level.  Some days it is tough to get out of bed and walk down the stairs.  Occasionally we don’t remember what we did, what we were supposed to do, where we are, or why we walked into another room..  There are many things in life that we are totally over.  Any of you who are older know what I am talking about.  Are we spoiled?  Yes, to some degree we are spoiled.  However, I don’t apologize because we have earned our comfort by getting out of bed five days a week, going to work, and doing it for many, many years.  We live within our means and no longer make really stupid decisions.  We both get everything we want within reason.  This is made easier because neither of us wants much more than we already have.  I’m basically a simple man.  Give me music, books, and good coffee and I am happy.  My wife is a little more complex.  However, more closet space usually meets her needs.  The moral of this story is that if you want to be spoiled in your old age and live a good life, get up and go to work every day.  I say this with all due respect to the unemployed and those whose struggles are not of their own making.  In all fairness, sometimes it is not enough just to work hard.  My wife and I have also been very lucky and blessed with abundance.    

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Unexpected

One thing you can always expect in life is the unexpected.  Yesterday I was driving home, happy the work day was over, when my engine light came on.  This is disturbing enough but my car also has warning bells which simulate the experience of a fire alarm going off in your car.  The warning light showed a car battery with a flashing lightning bolt on it.  I made it home but I admit these types of things stress me out.  I don’t want to be the guy who is stalled on the road making 50,000 other people mad because I am blocking their lane.  God is good so the car started this morning and I made it to the dealership before the warning light came on again.  I am fortunate because my oldest son works for the dealership and he always takes care of Mom and Dad.  I have two sons.  One is a priest and can he bless the car.  The other son can get the car fixed for the cheapest possible price.  He even gave me a loaner car so I didn’t have to wait on the repair.  Although the loaner car is very nice it stresses me out when I have to drive a strange car.  I don’t know how to adjust anything.  For example, I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the seat so I drove to work with my chin resting on my knee caps.  Meanwhile my wife, who is the Chief Financial Officer of the Brown Corporation, will be stressed all day worrying about how much it is going to cost to fix the car.  My biggest concern was remembering what the loaner car looked like so I could find it in the parking garage this afternoon.    

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Work Place

An increased sense of personal well-being at work, in real and practical ways, contributes to a positive and enjoyable work environment.  A pleasant environment filled with happy associates, coupled with feelings of team accomplishment and personal fulfillment, can contribute as much as anything to increased productivity, greater efficiency, and decreased absenteeism.  All of these things working together will affect the bottom line by contributing in positive ways to overall cost savings.  It is not enough to only look at process improvements and best practices.  The impact of environment cannot be underestimated.  I believe creating such an environment begins with the leaders.  How do you do it?  It begins with honesty, truth, caring, and transparency.  This is stuff you can’t fake.  If you try to do so your associates will see right through it.  We’ve got to do it and be real about it.  In order to be real we must be authentic.  Lance Secretan in his book One…The Art and Practice of Conscious Leadership actually suggests that leaders should love their people.  It probably would be helpful if they also loved one another.  In addition, it’s not enough for the leaders to care about their people.  The “people” need to care about their leaders.  We can’t treat one another like we are enemies.  The people who do the work and the people who manage the work are in a partnership.  It should not be an adversarial relationship.  This is where I would add trust to the mix.  I know that some of you probably think any talk about love and feelings is inappropriate in the workplace.  Some think we are here to get a job done, not love one another.  I’m not suggesting a phony and shallow pretending to care about one another.  I am suggesting the real deal.  Work is part of life and the caring that many people show for family, friends, and causes dear to their hearts should be expanded to include the work place.  What would the workplace be like if most people actually liked, or even loved, coming to work?  What would the workplace look like if we tried to outdo one another in kindness?  What would the workplace look like if there was more cooperation and less competition?  What would the workplace look like if there was less finger pointing or looking for someone to blame for mistakes?  What would it be like to ride the elevators and hear more laughter and less complaining?  What I am suggesting, and what Lance Secretan writes about, is a oneness and unity that will heal the separateness that too often exists. 
“You may say that I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”.
-John Lennon in the song Imagine.