Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be Grounded?

A friend once asked me to write something about what it means to be “grounded”.  Here’s what I got when I Googled the question “What does it mean to be grounded”?
 
Being grounded means being fully conscious and fully present in the NOW moment.....being very, very aware of what is happening to us in the present. When we are conscious and aware of our SELF and grounded in the NOW we are able to ground the love and light from our higher self. This means that no matter what is going on, we stay balanced, centered and aligned with our soul and higher self and we are able to control our reactive, knee jerk, defensive behavioral patterns of our ego and shadow consciousness.  Being grounded is a very, very difficult task because we have an ego centered mind that likes to take us into the future of “What If’s” and into the past of should of, could of, would of....... regrets, blame and victim consciousness. When our consciousness is fully in the present moment we are very, very aware of everything happening within and around our being NOW, even the core sensations in the body.
 
This is a very good answer but let me add a few of my own thoughts to it.  In addition to what is written above, I feel grounded when my mind, body, and spirit are in balance and in harmony with one another.  My mind is my biggest challenge because I often suffer what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”.  Monkey mind is when you have a thousand conversations going on in your head and the chatter is similar to the noise generated by a tree full of monkeys.  My aging body is also a challenge because it has a lot of mileage on it and it is not always cooperative.  Finally, my spirit is restless at this time of my life.  One of the challenges of aging is that ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and childhood faith may not work for you like they once did.  Of course, every age has its own challenges.  When I can calm my mind, when my body is cooperative, and when my restlessness finds some comfort in the eternal NOW, I feel grounded.  I think being grounded also means knowing who you are, what you value in terms of beliefs and morality, and feeling strong in your convictions.  In some ways being grounded means having integrity and a moral compass.  People of integrity are always grounded people.  Ungrounded people go whatever way the wind blows and they have few convictions.      

Monday, September 29, 2014

Don't Be Afraid Of The Simple

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 year.  He was a rock and roll legend who was 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.    

Friday, September 26, 2014

Catching Watermelons

Once when I was in high school, after a night of drinking with my friends, I went to my job at a mom and pop grocery store.  As soon as I got to work, slightly hung over, the boss tells me I need to go to the front of the store because a local farmer was delivering a truck load of watermelons.  My job was to catch the watermelons when the farmer threw them to me.  I’m not sure what a typical watermelon weighs but let me tell you this.  It about did me in before the truck was unloaded.  Sometimes it can feel like life is throwing you watermelons and they are coming at you very quickly.  My first piece of advice is avoid having to catch watermelons when you are hung over.  Assuming you are not a physical wreck like I currently am, it’s a lot easier to catch watermelons when you are sober and alert.  This story is all a lead in to today’s topic which is balance.  The secret to catching watermelons, sober or hung over, is balance.  If your feet aren’t balanced and a twenty pound watermelon comes flying your way, you are going to get knocked over and the watermelon won’t end up too well either.  When one is balanced you can take on the characteristics of a deeply rooted oak tree.  The winds of life can blow and no matter what they bring, you remain standing.  Another word often associated with balance is centeredness.  Centeredness is basically knowing who you are, knowing what you believe, and practicing your values and beliefs.  Centeredness and balance, working in harmony, will get you through just about anything in life.    

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Makes You Who You Are?

What is your personal vision in life?  What drives and motivates you to think and do what you do?  In my 60+ years of life many influences and experiences have formed me into who I am.  In addition to these outside forces that have formed me, I have also tried to form myself into a certain kind of person.  My personal vision for the kind of person I want to be and for the way I try to act is rooted in spirituality.  I have found teachings in both western and eastern spirituality that I believe in and which I strive to incorporate into my daily life.  These are basically love, kindness, and compassion.  It is not always easy to practice and live these virtues.  One way in which I try to re-calibrate myself each day is meditation.  I generally do this in the mornings when I am more awake and alert.  These meditations are not complicated.  It does not involve a mental checklist of all my successes and failures.  My morning meditations involve silence, stillness, focus on my breathing, and a little reading.  The purpose of this time goes beyond just having a few minutes of peacefulness before I begin my day.  Meditation and other spiritual practices are like physical exercise.  You don’t necessarily enjoy the experience.  However, the daily experience, over time, gets you into shape for the demands of daily living.  The basic intent of my daily meditation is to keep me awake.  When I am awake, I am aware.  When I am aware, I am alert.  When I am alert, I can intentionally practice love, kindness, and compassion.  When I am not awake, aware, or alert, I will not always do these things.  Meditation keeps my personal vision alive and on the job.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stop Beating Yourself Up

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have been told our entire lives that we aren't good enough.  Our life has been filled with messages telling us that we are inadequate and imperfect.  Most of the messages were unintentional but real none the less.  They have been from our parents, our teachers, our spouses, our significant others, our children, our relatives, our friends, and our employers.  We don't measure up, we disappoint, or we don't meet someone else's standards or expectations.  I, too, have heard these messages my entire life.  A friend once recommended a book to me that took me a while to read.  I would have read it sooner but, of course, I am imperfect and lazy or so I have been told.  We all receive negatives messages.  Sometime they are from ourselves.  They don't always come from others.  We are often our own biggest critic.  The name of the book is Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe.....There is Nothing Wrong With You by Cheri Huber.  It is sub-titled "Going Beyond Self-Hate, A Compassionate Process for Learning to Accept Yourself Exactly as You Are".  The book begins with a list of all the messages all of us received in our early childhoods.  I was amazed how many I had heard, how many I said to my own children, and how many I have said to my granddaughter who I love more than anything in the world.  According to psychologists most of these messages become part of our psyche and are set in concrete before we reach age seven.  I know this may all sound terribly negative but it is not meant to be.  Consider it an eye opener and a wakeup call stop listening to the voices around you.  Today is the day to start loving yourself.  Quit trying to improve yourself.  Quit thinking you're inadequate.  Quit thinking you're imperfect.  Quit thinking you’re not smart enough or beautiful enough.  You're perfect the way you are.   

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Living A Simple Life

A friend sent me the following quote.
 
It's also helpful to realize that this body that we have, this very body that's sitting here right now in this room, this very body that perhaps aches, and this mind that we have at this very moment, are exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, and fully alive."
-Pema Chodron
 
I also recently read the this quote.
 
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!  I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen.  In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksand’s and the thousand and one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.  Simplify, Simplify!”
-Henry David Thoreau from Walden
 
It is a great challenge to keep life simple in such complicated times.  It is easier if you are a single person who doesn’t need to get the approval of others in terms of how you live your life.  It is more challenging if you are married with a family or living with others, especially if they do not have the same values or desire for simplicity.  Each person must decide for themselves what is essential for living and what takes their time.  With my particular personality and needs, I have determined that what is essential is also minimal.  I could live in one room as long as it was filled with books, music, a comfortable chair and bed, a coffee pot, a small stove to cook, and basic plumbing.  As a married man with children and a granddaughter, my two story, four bedroom home hasn’t seemed  enough at times.  I have a lot of stuff that someone will have to deal with someday.  I have simplified my life in other ways.  I have minimized my activities.  I am not over-extended in any way.  Instead of wanting more I think in terms of needing less.  I say no more than I say yes.  I strive to do less and be more.  I spend more time looking within and less time wandering outside myself.  In my mind, if not in my body, I live on Walden Pond with the attitude of Thoreau.  My mantra is “less is more” and I have come to realize that “this very body that perhaps aches, and this mind that I have at this very moment, are exactly what I need to be fully human, fully awake, and fully alive."      

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Impact Of Enviroment

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 of you show for family, friends, and causes dear to your heart 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 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.   

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Voluntary Simplicity

There is a chapter in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book titled Wherever You Go, There You Are about voluntary simplicity.  Most people think that voluntary simplicity is simply about having less stuff.  That is certainly part of it.  It is also choosing a less complicated life and learning to say no.  A simple life also has a Zen element to it because one is able to be more present to their life because there is less life in which to be present.  When one attempts to live a simple life one strives to avoid distractions.  When you eat a bowl of cereal, you simply eat the bowl of cereal.   A distracted life is when you eat a bowl of cereal and while you are eating it you are also reading the list of ingredients listed on the side of the box.  The challenge of a simple life is to discern what is truly essential and what is not.  Think about all the things to do each day.  Many of these things are done in a mindless, not mindful way.  What is truly essential in life often gets out of whack because much of what we do is not really essential.  Much of what we do is the byproduct of our personal agendas which may or may not have any real meaning for us and, most certainly, not for others.  Today I challenge you to think about how you can simplify your life.  Pay attention to what you are choosing to do.  Is it really essential?  Does it have a meaningful purpose?  I understand that many of us have to do things that are created by other people’s agendas and we often to not have a choice about it.  Sometimes we just have to accept this.  However, as much as you can, minimize your own life by choosing to live simply, without clutter, and without unnecessary complication or distraction.    

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Engaged From The Heart

People are sick and tired of managers and business analysts taking about efficiency, waste, and compliance.  They want to be engaged from the heart.
-Jeremy Scrivens
 
It is virtually impossible to work for a large corporation and not hear about efficiency, waste, and compliance.  Inefficiency, waste, and being out of compliance can translate into millions of dollars of lost profit.  This is not pocket change.  How can we care about these necessities of modern business and still be “engaged from the heart”.  Many people, especially in the workplace, are driven by their intellect.  Others, less conspicuous, are driven by their hearts.  Generally the intellect driven people are focused on the bottom line, profits, compliance, technology, and staying competitive.  The heart driven people are usually more concerned about the needs of the customers and employees.  How can we balance these two needs?  A company that doesn’t care will eventually go out of business.  A company that cares too much, to the point of being impudent about basic business decisions, will also go out of business.  We need a balance of the intellect and the heart.  There is no doubt in my mind that my company has some of the smartest people in the world.  We also have some of the most caring people in the world.  Having said this, I think we place too much emphasis on numbers based performance over caring which is more challenging to measure.  Somehow we need to gauge how much our associates, and especially our leaders, are “engaged from the heart”.  We need to take care of business or we will have no business.  However, we also need to develop some authentic practices that promote the engagement of the heart within our business practices.  We need to place as much value on caring as we do on productivity.  Everyone has been evaluated at one time or another over numbers.  Have any of us ever been evaluated on how much we care and how much we are engaged from the heart?   

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spiritual Amnesia

In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr uses a great analogy for the spiritual life.  He says that “it’s like we are all born with amnesia and we spend the rest of our lives trying to remember who we are”.  I think this is a great analogy.  It really changes my whole perspective.  Most of my life I have felt like I have to change in order to become who I am.  The word transformation is often tossed around in spiritual conversations.  Maybe we don’t need to change at all.  It’s been said that we are born perfect.  Who doesn’t think a newborn baby isn’t perfect?  Perhaps all we need to do is remember who we are.  Most of what we show to others, and most of what they see, is not at all who we are.  I’ve always thought that the purest picture of who we are is who we are when we are alone.  How do you act when no one is looking?  What do you do when you can do anything you want?  Imagine that you really do have amnesia.  As you try to unravel the mystery of who you are, what connections do you make?  What feels right and natural?  It’s not always clear.  Amnesia has a cousin and their name is confusion.  We spend much of our life feeling confused and then in moment of light and clarity we feel a connection and we have a little better idea of who we are.  We begin to remember.  This remembering, this peeling away of the many layers of the onion, is a life long journey.        

Monday, September 15, 2014

We Are All Interdependent

One of my top five strengths, according to the Strength Finder test, is “connectedness”.  I wasn’t surprised when I discovered this.  My basic understanding of this strength is that I usually have the ability to see the big picture and to connect the dots.  It is easy for me to understand and to see how everything in life is connected and interdependent.  This way of seeing life is very Buddhist so now I also understand why I am so attracted to Buddhist ways.  The reality is that none of us are truly independent.  We are connected and we need one another to survive.  I could not survive in life purely on my own talents and resources.  There are people who take care of me and there are people that I take care of in many ways big and small.  We are all part of a giant mosaic.  Each one of us is a chip.  One chip by itself can seem insignificant.  All the chips together, working in harmony, can create a mural of great beauty.  We should all think more about the connectedness of life, our total interdependence with one another, and how none of us can survive without this awareness and acceptance.  Of course, we are more than worker bees in the great beehive of life.  We all have the ability to be great and to bring our greatness to life for the benefit of all.  Although we may be connected and dependent on one enough, our individuality can bring everything up a notch or two for all the people that we feel most connected to in our daily lives. 
 
Breathing in, I am connected to everyone else.
 
Breathing out, everyone else is connected to me.
 
Breathing in, I am connected to all of life.
 
Breathing out, all of life is connected to me.    

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Respect

My mother is almost 85 years old.  She’s mellowing in her old age but most of her life she hasn’t held back telling me what she thinks.  Much of the time I haven’t liked what she said, especially if it was criticism of me, but I held my tongue and even bit it a few times.  Why did I do that when my natural tendency is to fight back?  I do it because she’s my mother and I respect her even when I disagree with her or think she’s clueless.  There are young people in my office who insist on calling me Mr. Brown.  I believe they do it out of respect for my age since I am one of the older people in a work area dominated by much younger people.  Of course, respect is not just about age.  I personally believe young people should respect older people who have been around the block a few times.  There is a level of cordial respect that seems to be eroding in our society.  Deep respect, however, must be earned.  In my mind anyone who is continuously disrespectful of others is immature and ignorant.  Depending on the nature of the relationship they may also be ungrateful.  This all goes back to my basic belief about karma.  What you put out there comes back to you.  Be disrespectful to others and you will be disrespected.  Treat others with the dignity they deserve and you will be given the dignity you deserve.  If you are pompous and arrogant, don’t expect a lot of love in return.  If you’re loving and kind and respectful, you will receive love, kindness, and respect in return.      
 
I like the following thought from George Washington Carver.  What he describes is really what respect is all about.
 
How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Perspective

I once saw a picture of our galaxy.  The picture showed thousands, if not millions, of stars and planets.  There was a large arrow pointing to a tiny dot with the caption, “You are here”.  Keep in mind that each of us is a tiny dot on the tiny dot.  It took hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years to create our galaxy.  The average lifespan of a human being is approximately 75 years.  I am not telling you this to make you feel insignificant.  I am telling you this to make a point about the value of perspective.  The poet Robert Frost summarizes the meaning of life when he wrote that “it goes on”.  Time waits for no one.  Most days I hear at least one person, and sometimes it’s me, complain about how their day is just dragging.  Many of us seem to experience this on a regular basis.  Then you wake up one day and ten years of your life is gone.  The perception of time can widely vary from person to person.  However, I digress.  Let’s get back to perspective.  Considering that each of us is a collection of particles and that we are dots within a dot on a map of our galaxy, maybe we need to stop taking ourselves so seriously.  Maybe we need to re-evaluate the importance of some of the things we do along with how we spent our time.  This is not to say that our lives are not important.  Many people do many good and important things.  Lots of people make a difference in our lives regardless of how much we affect the entire galaxy.  Scientists believe that all of the particles that make up each of us will continue to be part of the cosmos even when we die.  Some believe that everyone who ever lived is still part of everything that is around us.  Particles just keep rearranging themselves.  The mysteries of the galaxy and of life are more than I can comprehend.  Maybe we’re just supposed to enjoy it?         

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

See The Ordinary And Be Stunned

See the ordinary and be stunned.
-Unknown
 
When was the last time that everyday life impressed you?  When was the last time anything impressed you?  In my old age I have become a little cynical and jaded.  In all honesty, I am not easily impressed.  However, despite my daily struggle with cynicism I can still be stunned by the ordinary, the unexpected and the beautiful.  Additionally, to use the words of the writer C. S. Lewis, I can be “surprised by joy”.  For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the extraordinary can be found in the ordinary.  You just have to pay attention.  We all get so caught up in our daily routines and struggles that we miss most of life.  In many ways most of us are the walking dead as we live our lives.  For example, who among you has noticed the Harvest moon in the night sky?  When I walked out of the office on Monday night through the park behind our building, I knew something was radically different.  I asked myself, “What am I not seeing?”  I knew something had changed.  I could not see what was not there.  I finally realized that some of the trees had been completely removed and the trees that remained had been significantly trimmed back.  The park looked completely different.  My eyes were open the entire time but they didn’t see what should have been obvious.  We tend to live our entire lives this way.  To see the ordinary and be stunned, we need to not only open our eyes but to also actually see the life in front of us.  The nature of human existence is struggle.  The challenges and struggles can seem overwhelming or at the very least exhausting.  Don’t lose hope. Be ready to be stunned by the ordinary, the unexpected gifts of life, and the beauty around you.  It’s a wonderful feeling to be surprised by joy.       

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Be Not Afraid

The first words that John Paul II, now St. John Paul, spoke to the thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square after he was elected Pope in 1978 were “Be not afraid”.  I think he was on to something.  There is too much fear in our lives.  Admittedly, some fear is a good thing.  It was fear of saber tooth tigers that kept many prehistoric men and women alive.  The one guy that tried to pet one didn’t make it.  Why are we so afraid?  The truth is that most of the things we worry ourselves to death over never happen.   Our time has been called the “Age of Anxiety”.  We are an anxious, fearful generation.  I have read that some personality types are fear based and that the majority of our population is made up of these types.  These types of personalities tend to live “in their heads”.  One author deduced that this indicates that fear is mostly in our heads.  Even for the rest of us I don’t think our brains are hard wired to comfort us.  I read somewhere that if we don’t intentionally think positive thoughts our brains automatically revert to negative thinking.  I am also of the belief that much of our fear and anxiety is caused by the media.  Because of this belief I now minimize the amount of news that I watch.  At one point the news, especially the local news, made me so anxious that I couldn’t take the trash out after dark without wondering if there was a serial killer waiting for me in my back yard.  Let me reinforce the words of St. John Paul and countless other teachers.  Do not be afraid!  Quit worrying so much!  Do things for yourself that bring calm into your life.  Relax and live.  Be happy!  Enjoy every minute of the day.      

Monday, September 08, 2014

Some Thoughts From Lao-Tzu

In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present. When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.
- Lao-Tzu
 
This is great wisdom from an ancient Chinese philosopher.  In thinking, keep to the simple.  This is so difficult.  My weakness is to have imaginary conversations in my head and to obsess over them.  In conflict, be fair and generous.  I hate conflict and I avoid it.  It literally makes me feel sick.  When I am in control, and that is very rare, I always try to be fair.  I am not as generous as I should be or want to be.  In spite of this I try to help people whenever I can.  As a leader I am not a control freak.  Well, maybe I am a little.  I do avoid as much as possible being a micro-manager.  As far as work goes, I enjoy much of what I do and who am I doing it with.  However, I cannot tell a lie.  I don’t enjoy everything or everyone.  I have been a family man most of my adult life but it was often very difficult because of my withdrawn and solitary nature.  Raising children was challenging because they always seemed to need or want something and this forced me to come out of my cave.  My wife and I are now empty nesters and after 40 years of marriage we have achieved a nice balance of time alone and time together.  I am now reasonably content in my life and it feels good.  I don’t compare  myself to others and, to be honest, I generally don’t care what other people think of me.  I am happy with myself, I am not competing with anyone, and if I don’t meet everyone’s expectations of me, well, that’s just too bad.  I am generally happy with myself and as my father-in-law once said, “I approve of everything I do”.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A Beautiful Morning And A Quiet Day

I always sleep a little later on the weekends than I do on a workday.  Like on most weekends I slept until about 8:30 AM today.  After brushing my teeth, washing my face, and taking my daily diabetes meds, I came downstairs.  I cooked some bacon, the aroma of which would eventually waft up the stairs and awaken my wife.  When I was done, I put on some monastic chants from the Benedictine monks of Christ in the Desert monastery in New Mexico.  I read a daily thought from Thomas Keating's Daily Reader for Contemplative Living and I began my morning meditation.   Soon after I was finished my wife appeared.  We got our breakfast together, poured our coffee, and together watched CBS Sunday Morning, my favorite news show.  It might be my favorite news show because it actually has very little news on it.  Its stories are mostly about art and drama and beauty and life.  In other words it is life affirming.  99% of most newscasts depress me.  When my wife eventually went off to do her thing, I opened a window, poured more coffee into my mug, and I watched an excellent concert on DVD.  Steve Hackett, the guitar player for the band Genesis throughout the 70's, has put together an excellent band called Genesis Revisited.  They beautifully recreate classic Genesis songs in a way that 1970's era technology could not do live.  The recreations of these classic songs are exquisite and thing of beauty.  They move me deeply.  This morning the weather has been very fall like.  Until the heat of the day finally appeared there was a cool breeze coming in my window.  Although it is technically still summer in my part of the world, in my mind it is now autumn.  Now all is quiet here, except for some music in the background, so it seems a good time for a nap before I rise to cook some dinner.  I love the leisurely life.  My work career, however, is not quite over so tomorrow begins another work week.  In a couple of years my entire life will be a life of leisure.      

Friday, September 05, 2014

Falling Upward

I once read a very good book called Falling Upward…A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr.  It’s an intriguing book regardless of which half of life you are in.  I have learned from Richard, a friend and former teacher of mine, that the first half of life is about building and gathering and the second half of life is about letting go.  This “letting go” is not the same as giving up.  Richard contends that the second half of life also has purpose.  In the second half of life we discover who we really are.  The Buddhists call this “discovering the face you had before you were born”.  If the first half of life could be compared to weaving and living inside a cocoon, the second half of life is when we morph into a butterfly.  In many ways the end of life is the beginning of life.  Our entire life is a journey.  Within the journey, however, is another journey.  The outer journey may take us many places.  The inner journey will take us even further.  When we are young we build careers, make families, and collect our possessions.  When we are older, we may lose a job or begin retirement.  Our children grow up and a spouse may die.  Our possessions become too much baggage so we start to give them away.  These changes in our lives prompt us to do new things.  Hopefully, these new things open our eyes to new possibilities.  We discover that the scripts of our early lives no longer work so we write new ones.  These new scripts can be very enlightening.  The person we thought we were, good or bad, falls away and the true self begins to emerge.  We leave the cocoon of our early lives and, perhaps, for the first time we begin to fly.  

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Plant The Seeds Of Kindness

There are several things that are important to me with how I live my life.   Two of them 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 or what they are, with kindness.  I also strive to always be compassionate with everyone who crosses my path.  Empathy is having the ability to feel another person’s pain but compassion is having the desire to lesson that pain.  Kindness and compassion go hand in hand.  I believe that any success I’ve had in life, whether it’s receiving good service in a restaurant, or getting something accomplished at work, is basically due to me being kind.  It seems so much easier to be kind rather than to be a jerk.  In fact, now that I think about it, the only people I really don’t like are jerks.  I don’t care if you’re male or female, black or white, gay or straight, young or old, or whatever.  None of those things matter to me.  What does matter is how you act.  I like anyone who is a kind person.  In my own life I always try to be kind to everyone that crosses my path, whether it’s the tired waitress at Waffle House who has worked a twenty hour shift, or a co-worker who needs my help.  I try to spread kindness like Johnny Appleseed spread apple seeds.  Some of you may need to Google “Johnny Appleseed.”  Plant kindness wherever you go and it will spring up wherever you are.  Today I challenge everyone who reads these thoughts to practice kindness.  Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, with everyone you encounter, be kind.  As I’ve said many times, I believe in karma.  I truly believe that what you put into the world comes back to you.  Be kind and you will receive kindness.  Be compassionate and you will receive compassion.  I assume that most people want to be good people.  I assume most people want to be happy.  I assume most people want to minimize pain and suffering in their own lives and the lives of others.  A simple way to be good and happy is to be kind.  I am not na├»ve about life.  I know that sometimes our kindness is not appreciated.  There are jerks in the world who will cross our paths.  Be kind but don’t be weak.  Being kind doesn’t mean being a doormat.  In the end I think kindness wins and even if it’s not always appreciated, I will continue planting its seeds.  

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Life Is Full Of Manure

I always try to be honest in my writing, at least as honest as I can be without hurting anyone’s feelings.  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 real or imagined.  Thinking of this reminded me of my distant past.  When I was a very young novice monk living in a monastery one of the older monks caught me reading “The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross”.  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 in a cow barn all the time.  Life is full of 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 are days when my Zen aura is replaced with the aroma of manure, but it’s all part of the cycle of life.  Life can be beautiful and meaningful even when you’re standing in manure.     

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

We Are All The Same

Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or nonbelieving, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.”
-  Dalai Lama XIV, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together
 
We are all just people.  It is the beginning a new work week.  Most of us are dragging.  Some of us may not feel good.  We all have some worries and problems.  I imagine that many of you sat at home last night and said, “I wish I had just one more day off.”  I know my wife and I get up most work day mornings and say, “I’m just not feeling it today.”  However, most of us are here now and the day and the week loom large on the horizon.  Let’s work together to achieve the goals we have been given.  Let’s support one another.  Let’s encouragement one another.  Let us free one another from anxiety.  Whoever and whatever we are, we are all physically, emotionally, and mentally equal.  We share many of the same needs and want many of the same things.  Let us remember this today as we work together to achieve whatever tasks and goals we have been given.