Thursday, December 31, 2015

Random Thoughts

Here are some quotes that I would like to share with you.
Somebody’s boring me.  I think it’s me”.
-Dylan Thomas
The problem is not that there are problems.  The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem”.
-Unknown but sent to me by a fellow thinker.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t think I have some good qualities.  If you could separate the world into good guys and bad guys, I know I am one of the good guys.  I am at an age and a time in my life when I am starting to experience some self-actualization.  In other words, I have a sense of self, what I am worth, and why I am here.  Having said this, sometimes I drive myself crazy.  I tend to be a thinker who spends a lot of time in philosophical discourse with myself while trying to develop a personal theology and understanding of the meaning of life…well, at least my life.  Sometimes I wear myself out doing this and, as Dylan Thomas suggests, I bore myself with myself.  Sometimes I wish I could just relax, chill out, and not feel the need to understand the universe. 
As far as the second quote goes, why are we always surprised when life is problematic?  Who told us that all of life is a walk in the park on a beautiful spring morning?  OK, sometimes life is a walk in the park on a beautiful spring morning.  However, it is also at times a walk under overcast skies in the pouring rain.  This is where most of us fall into the dualistic thinking where we assume a sunny day is better than a rainy day.  Both are simply weather.  Some people think problems are stumbling blocks while others see problems as challenges.  Try not to see anything as a problem.  It’s an over-used phrase but life, and what happens in life, “is what it is”.  There are changes in the weather and there are seasons in life.  However, it’s all life.      

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Is Life And What Does It Mean?

In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his or her life and for ‘finding themselves’.  If they persist in shifting their responsibility to someone else, they fail to find out the meaning of their own existence.
-Thomas Merton
Living your own life is not as easy as it sounds and finding yourself can be like looking for buried treasure.  It involves walking down quite a few false trails, digging a lot of holes, and moving tons of dirt.  I have been walking, digging, and moving quite a bit of dirt for a very long time now and I’m a little weary.  However, this is a task that only I can do for myself.  I cannot outsource it.  No one else can walk my path, dig my holes, or move my dirt.  For as long as there’s been people, individuals have wondered “what is life and what does it mean”?  I devoted quite a few weeks to watching a television show called Cosmos.  It was the story of the universe from a scientific point of view.  I can’t decide if I am  blown away by the magnificence of the galaxies, the star systems, and the complexity of outer space, or if I now feel totally insignificant in the great scheme of life.  When the world as we know it has taken billions of years to form, does it really matter that I came to work today?  In cosmic time am I just a miniscule, sub-atomic particle in the continued evolution of all that life is?  Do I really matter?  On a similar vein, a friend once shared his thoughts that within a few generations most of us will be completely forgotten, even by our descendants.  We are all star dust and to dust we shall return.  What do we do in our current configuration?  How do we find ourselves and the meaning of our current existence?  Let me quickly admit that I don’t really know or I would have already done it.  I don’t know if my life matters or not.  What I do know is that I am a consciousness aware of itself.  As a living being with a consciousness, I am motivated to move and grow and expand myself.  My senses take in data and react appropriately or at least as programmed.  Like a machine that evolves into artificial intelligence, I evolve into whatever I become.  Along the way I rub shoulders with other beings, I form relationships, I experience happiness, and, if lucky, I feel loved and worthwhile to everyone and everything around me.  I become one with my world.  No one else can do any of this for me although they may walk a similar path and be going in the same direction.  Ultimately we are all on our own although life may give companions on the journey.        

Monday, December 28, 2015


“Acedia” is a monastic term that describes a kind of boredom with your life.  We all have things we dread, procrastinate about, or simply do not want to do.  Acedia is more than that.  It is the sense that everything is a chore, everything is exhausting, everything is meaningless.  Whenever I feel like this, and it seems to happen more and more frequently, I have that “I’m over it” feeling.  As my wife often says, “I’m tired and I’m tired of it”.  I know I am feeling this way when I have a sense of fatigue that goes far beyond a lack of sleep.  It is a mental, psychological, and spiritual weariness.  I think everyone, except for the most extremely positive and optimistic people, sometimes feel like this.  So what does one do about it?   The first step is to simply recognize it.  The second step is to remind yourself that your feelings are like the weather, always changing, and that your feelings are often a poor representation of reality.  I also find it helpful to change my routines as much as I can.  I know I am a creature of habit and routine.  Sometimes I take comfort in that.  However, I also know that my routines can sometimes create a rut that brings on these feelings of acedia.  Sometimes we all need a break from our lives and responsibilities.  Sometimes we need a “me” day.  Sometimes we need a good nap or perhaps a night out with friends.  From time to time I need to go out to the monastery for a weekend and make a retreat.  As I think about it I realize it has been way too long since I have done this.  We all need someone or something to periodically give us a boost or sense of renewal.  We all sometimes need to re-charge our batteries so that life does not overwhelm us or totally drain us of all zest for living.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Some Help For The Holidays

I’ve read many books about meditation and have spent many hours practicing it.  The practice involves trying to spend time each day just being quiet and still.  Way back in the 70’s I studied Transcendental Meditation.  It was introduced into the United States by a Hindu monk named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Later in the 80’s I learned a Christian version of meditation called “Centering Prayer”.  Both of these types of meditation are very similar in their technique.  They basically involve the use of a mantra or prayer word in coordination with your breath.  They don’t require total silence or isolation but it is best to not be disturbed while you are doing them.  I have done them on airplanes.  Typically these types of meditation would be done for about 20 minutes twice a day.  It is more challenging than you probably imagine finding 20 minutes twice a day to be quiet and to be still.  The biggest obstacle to meditation is your own mind.  Most of us have over active minds.  We have what the Buddhists call “monkey minds”.  Imagine a tree full of monkeys.  They’re making all kinds of noise and chatter while jumping from limb to limb.  Our minds are often like a tree full of monkey’s.  No one can turn off their mind.  However, certain types of meditation, especially one’s that use a mantra or prayer word, can help us control our thoughts somewhat or at least learn to let them go.  These types of meditation also help us to feel a sense of calm in our bodies.  The mantra or prayer word acts like an anchor.  In addition to the tree full of monkeys, our minds could be compared to a busy river where there is lots of activity.  When we let our thoughts run rampant it’s like we are on the surface of the river and we feel the wake caused by all the movement of the many boats around us as they go about their business.  A mantra or prayer word acts like an anchor that pulls us down to the bottom of the river where everything is calm.  When we realize that we are thinking and floating back to the top of the river, our mantra or prayer word can anchor us and bring us back to our inner stillness at the bottom of the river.  By the way, there are apps out there to facilitate meditation sessions.  If you are interested, send me an email and I will point you in the right direction.  When you can live your life with this inner stillness, you are what some would call “a centered person”.  In the midst of all the Christmas hustle and bustle may you experience a quiet mind and inner stillness.  If nothing else, when you feel frazzled or stressed, just breathe.  Stop what you are doing and spend a few moments paying attention your breathe.  This is a very simple and a very effective technique.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Live In Each Season As It Passes

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each”.
-Henry David Thoreau
I have been in a few conversations about people, how they act, their attitudes about life, and how so many of us see the same things so differently.  I quickly get worn out by negative and pessimistic people who always see the worst of everything.  Drama Kings and Queens often have the same effect on me.  These people are chronically unhappy and nothing ever seems to give them joy.  I am an optimist.  I see the glass as not only half full but often overflowing.  A pessimist once told me that an optimist is a person out of touch with reality.  If your reality is always negative, pessimistic, and full of drama, then I hope to always be out of touch with it.  I know that a lot of life is just trying to survive but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed.  The above quote by Thoreau is a very good definition of Zen.  Living in the season means being one with it.  Whatever the season, it is full of life.  Breathe in life.  Drink life.  Taste it’s fruits.  Let the goodness of life permeate your bones.  Life does change but that is not necessarily good or bad.  Life just is.  Our opinions of life are based on personal judgments which can be terribly skewed.  Thinking that life is always either good or bad is dualistic thinking.  Life is both good and bad.  The Zen way, the contemplative way, is to not judge it but to simply be present to it.  Often, joy happens when we least expect it. 
If you’ve never read Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau, I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Connecting The Dots

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something…your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”.
-Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs changed the world.  I would think he is a great man if all he did was invent the iPod.  I have always been reflective and introspective.  It’s part of my nature.  I don’t dwell in the past and I am not in mourning over its passing.  However, I do sometimes re-live great memories in my mind.  Much of the time my life does not make sense to me while I am living it.  It is when I look back at previous events or people who crossed my path, that I can begin to make sense of the present moment.  I can see now when things that felt like failures were really successes and they made me who I am today.  I agree with Steve Jobs that it is only in retrospect that we can connect the dots of our life.  Life never goes in a straight line.  My personal blog is called “Stumbling along the Spiritual Path”.  The use of the word “stumbling” was very intentional.  The path of my life has gone in many directions.  My path has sometimes seemed overgrown with weeds.  It has gone up and down and all around.  Sometimes I could not tell if I was going North, South, East, or West.  A few times when I wasn’t paying attention I was figuratively wacked in the eye with a tree branch.  Many times I have stumbled and occasionally I have fallen down.  This convoluted path, however, has been my path.  It has taken me through some pretty interesting and unique experiences.  It has brought me to where I am today and has also made me who I am today.  These thoughts make me think of a favorite poem by Robert Frost. 
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Life Is Our Greatest Teacher

My daily thoughts are syndicated in the spirituality section of a website called “Before It’s News”.  Sometimes I get emails front people who either like what I have written or they disagree with me.  One person wrote to me and said, “I don’t want this garbage.  I want the news”!  He actually used a stronger word than garbage but I can’t print it here.  Once I received an email from a woman who disagreed with some of my thoughts are education.  I had written that education gives your knowledge but life gives you wisdom.  Her point of view, and one that I would agree with, is that much of our formal education is useless knowledge that does little to prepare us for real life.  As someone who has lived real life for almost 65 years I am not sure there is anything that can prepare you for everything that life throws at you.  As I have gotten older and the work force has gotten younger I have sometimes felt like a teacher of Life 101 rather than a supervisor.  I started off in life as ignorant as anyone.  For example, I got married when I was 23 years old and I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.  After 40+ years of marriage and family life I am a little smarter.  Some people think I am wise.  Any wisdom I have acquired has been learned through my own ignorance, mistakes, and the rare occasion where I get something right.  In other words, wisdom does not come easily.  The woman who wrote to me also mentioned how little information most of us are given to deal with the basic realities of life, i.e., how to manage your money, how to make informed decisions, how to avoid stupid mistakes, how to prepare for a career, how to plan ahead, and other similar demands of life.  My wife and I were blessed with good parents who raised us well.  In addition, I have always had mentors who helped me understand what is important in life.  Acquired spirituality from study and experience has also been a firm foundation for my life.  Mystics have often said “Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom”.  This self-knowledge, usually acquired from personal introspection, is part of the process of growing up and acquiring maturity.  All of life is a classroom.  Everyone around you is a teacher.  Some teachers should be followed and others avoided.  Learn from life.  Surround yourself with wise and intelligent people who will help you find your way.  Think before you act.  The greatest education is your own life experience. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

We Are Who We Are

Be weird.  Be random.  Be who you are.  Because you never know who would love the person you are.
-from the “Hippie Peace Freaks” page on Facebook
When most people are young they will do whatever it takes to be accepted as part of a group.  Being accepted is very important to young people.  They do not want to be left out.  Most people grow out of this mentality but some maintain it their entire life.  I did this when I was young.  I wanted to have friends and to be popular.  I didn’t want to spend any Friday nights being alone.  I now realize that I am not really a group guy.  It is no longer important for me to be accepted by most other people.  Yes, I like to have friendships and to know people with whom I have something in common but a desire for popularity and acceptance is no longer a driving force in my life.  Some people think I am weird.  Some people think I am different.  In some cases this is a compliment and in other cases people probably look at me and shake their head.  Like Popeye the sailor man, “I am who I am and that’s all that I am”.  Since I really have no other choice but to be who I am, I am happy doing so.  With me what you see is what you get.  I may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I try to be an authentic person.  I have noticed that people who like me REALLY like me and people who don’t, just don’t.  It is not mandatory to be weird but I encourage you to be real.  Be who you are unless you’re a jerk.  In that case a little self- improvement may be in order.  Assuming you’re not a jerk, don’t be someone else’s version of who they think you should be.  If you don’t know who you are, maybe it’s time for a voyage of self-discovery.  You don’t need the people who won’t accept the real you.  You may experience a few bumps and scrapes along the way but “to thy own self be true” as the character Polonius says in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  The world is full of fake people, posers, and charlatans.  Be real even if you aren’t perfect because authenticity doesn’t require perfection.  We are all works in progress. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Boomerang Effect

I believe in karma and something called the “Law of Attraction”.  What do these things mean?  You often hear people say “what goes around, comes around”.  This is the belief that you get what you deserve.  If you put positivity and goodness into the world, that’s what will come back to you.  If you’re a bad person who does bad things and you enjoy making others unhappy or you enjoy wreaking havoc in their lives, you’ll get yours in the end.  This is the basic understanding for most people of karma.  The “Law of Attraction” is the belief that what you think about is what happens to you.  If you are always negative and pessimistic, don’t be surprised if nothing ever seems to go your way and that bad things always seem to happen to you.  On the other hand, if you are positive and optimistic, you will find that things usually go your way.  Most of the time I am a positive and optimistic person.  Yes, I am an imperfect human being and sometimes I am tired and grumpy.  In spite of the occasional down day, most things in life go my way.  Although I am not a perfect person, and my life is not perfect, I am very blessed and I have been the recipient of much kindness and many good things in my life.  I try to be grateful for all of it, whether it be my granddaughter’s laughter and smile, a Zen moment when I am one with something bigger than myself, or maybe something as simple as a really good sandwich.  Let me share a couple of really good quotes that re-enforce what I am saying.  Wayne Dyer, who wrote a book about the Tao, says, “Change your thinking and change your life”.  Another of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain who said, “I’ve lived through some really terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”.  Put nothing but goodness and love into the world, think positively, and be optimistic and hopeful.  I truly believe that if you do these things, your life will change for the better.     

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Most Of Us Are Ordinary

The older I get the more tolerant I think I have become.  This is due in large part to an increased awareness of my own imperfections.  If one is honest about one’s personal weaknesses it is difficult to be judgmental and intolerant of others.  I believe that most people are like me in the sense that they’re doing the best they can.  Work is only one thing in most people’s lives.  People also have family concerns, personal issues, emotional struggles, worries about their health, and perhaps they also struggle on a spiritual level.  In addition, there are the chores of everyday life that one must do to simply live.  At age sixty four I simply don’t have the energy that I used to have.  It is difficult to come to work every day like I am playing in the Super Bowl.  To be totally honest, I was never a driven or ambitious dynamo.  In a world of pressure cookers, I have always been more of a crock pot.  We all like to think we’re superstars but the reality is that most of us aren’t.  Most of us are ordinary despite how great our parents may have told us we are.  Most of us are “salt of the earth” types who keep the world running even if we aren’t always recognized for our efforts.  Most of us labor in relative obscurity and do so most of our lives.  This does not mean that we are poor performers who have little value.  We’re not just bricks in the wall or part of a mindless herd.  Personally, I don’t need, or even want, to be in the spotlight.  I certainly don’t need to be number one.  I’m happy to be part of a team of people cooperating with one another to achieve a goal, whether it’s within my family at home or my family at work.  When I do this, I sleep well at night and I am at peace.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Rainy Days And Mondays....

Today is Monday and it is raining....

Imagine a mountain.  Every day the mountain experiences some type of weather.  Some days are bright and sunny and beautiful.  Some days are cloudy and overcast.  Occasionally some days are stormy with heavy rain, thunder, and lightening.  Other days the mountain gets buried in snow.  Our moods and feelings are like the weather.  They come and go and change all the time, often on the same day.  People have a tendency to think their moods and feeling are who they are.  We are not our moods and feelings any more than a mountain is the weather it experiences.  The reality is that each of us is the mountain.  Sometimes I am in a bad mood and I can’t come up with a reason for feeling that way.  Some days I am just in a funk.  When I feel like that I try to remind myself about the weather and I try to just wait out my funk, much like I would wait out a storm.  Others days, again for no particular reason, I feel happy, life is beautiful, and I am walking on air.  On days like that I really try to just enjoy the moment and get lost in it.  I don’t wonder why I am happy or if I deserve to be.  I just thank the universe.  One of my favorite jazz bands is called “Weather Report”.  They picked that name because their music, like the weather, is always changing.  However you’re feeling today, just acknowledge it, and let it go.  If today’s a sunny day, enjoy the warmth on your soul.  If it’s a stormy day, just hunker down until it passes.  If it’s overcast, be patient.  The sun will shine again.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On Being An Introvert

I’ve never kept it a secret that I am an extreme introvert.  I love my privacy and solitude.  This doesn’t mean I hate people.  I like people but as an introvert I often find people exhausting and my experience is that most people are best enjoyed in small doses.  Group activities are often very stressful for me.  I don’t apologize for any of this.  It’s who I am and it’s the way I am hard wired.  As an introvert I am not anti-social.  I am just very comfortable with myself and I am happiest in my own little world, a world that is mostly inside of me.  There are a lot more people like me than many people realize, especially extroverts.  Extroverts tend to think everyone is an extrovert.  Introverts don’t always get noticed.  Our quietness sometimes makes other people think we are standoffish or mad about something.  I also think introverts are sometimes perceived as weak.  I am generally quiet and non-confrontational.  However, I am also very passionate and can put up quite a fight when provoked.  If introverts are the kind of people that hate to be the center of attention, extroverts are the kind of people that seem to demand attention.  Where other people often exhaust me, extroverts get their energy from being around others.  A crowded club or bar would be hell for me.  In general, extroverts usually hate to be alone.  Introverts tend to be introspective thinkers.  That doesn’t mean we are smarter than everyone else although I tend to think we are (smile).  Introverts usually think before they talk.  Extroverts often talk before they think.  I hate it when my cubicle is out in the open, especially in a high traffic area.  Whenever possible I try to be in a corner cubicle with as much privacy and solitude as I can find.  I am much more productive and a lot happier.  We live in an extroverted world so there is not always an understanding or appreciation for people who prefer a quieter, lower stimulation environment.  When I am sitting alone in my cubicle, with a cup of coffee and some good music, I am as content as a pig wallowing in the mud.  These thoughts remind me of a favorite quote by a musician named Robert Fripp that goes “Me and a book is a party.  Me and a book and a cup of coffee is an orgy”.  Yeah, I know I sound boring.  I don’t care.  Just leave me alone and take your party somewhere else.  You’re invading my personal space. (smile)    

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What Is My True Essence?

Sometimes I find myself asking the question "How do you know when you have become who you are"?   The journey of life is basically a journey to return to your original essence and to become who you really are.  We are born pure and innocent and then we acquire our personalities and other defense mechanisms that we use to shield and protect ourselves from life.  The second half of our life journey, if we are on the path to enlightenment, is spent attempting to take off these masks and to remove the armor that we have acquired in order to rediscover our purity and innocence.  The Buddhists call this "discovering the face we had before we were born".   When I look in the mirror, and during moments of introspection, I wonder how far along I am on this journey of re-discovering who I am.  What is my true essence?  What is my original nature?  It is nearly impossible to know this when you are young.  In our youth it is far more important for us to fit in, to be like others, and find acceptance from others.  We are also too busy building our lives to worry too much about who we are.  This is considerably less important when you get older.  I am still trying to get from behind the masks I wear and to break through the armor I have created to find the real me.  I don't think I completely know who I am yet but I hope I am making progress.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

The Fear Of Not Measuring Up

Once a friend sent me some thoughts about something called the "fear of not measuring up".  In a competitive and driven society such as ours, we all suffer from this fear to some degree.  There are a million ways for it to manifest itself.  It's the fear that you aren't smart enough or aren't pretty enough or aren't successful enough.  It's the fear of not being able to "keep up with the Joneses", that you don't drive the right kind of car or don't live in the right neighborhood, that you didn't go to the right school or you're not a supermom and on and on and on.  It's the fear of being inadequate.  Let's be honest.  Some people are smarter, more successful, and better looking than the rest of us.  That's called "Life's Not Fair".  However, the rest of us are not doomed.  I think we all have unlimited potential if we have the drive and initiative to take advantage of the opportunities given us.  On the other hand I am someone who believes in the idea of contentment.  I always want to be the best possible version of myself but, quite frankly, sometimes I am not.  I have more stuff than many people but much less than many others.  I can honestly say that I am very content with my standard of living.  I have everything I need to live comfortably and to be happy.  At this point in my life I think more about how I can do with less than with always wanting more.   I'm not a genius but I am far from stupid.  I am happy with who I am and I don't feel inferior to anyone.  I am not perfect but I know I am a good person.  I don't have to beat everyone else in order to feel like I am successful.  It really all boils down to these few questions.  Are you happy?  Is there love in your life?  Are there people and things you care about and other people who care about you?  Are your basic needs being met?  If yes, what more do you want?

Monday, December 07, 2015

Let Us Rise Up And Be Thankful

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die.  So let us all be thankful.
-The Buddha
These words of the Buddha probably do a good job of summing up most of the days in our lives as well as remind us to always be thankful.  Of course, whenever we look back we can remember reasons to be happy and reasons to be sad.  Every year we experience new births, rebirths, conversions, transformations, and new ways of seeing things.  Most of us also experience some type of loss.  Relationships can change and sometimes fall apart.  People we care about leave our lives or sometimes die.  Some of us are better off materially and financially and some of us are worse off.  Some of us are in the spring or summer of our lives and others are in the autumn or winter of their lives.  Some of us are gathering in the harvest of our lives while others are letting go and simplifying their life.  Doors close and windows open.  The unfolding of life, year by year, is the great mystery in which we all live.  Each morning is the threshold of a new day with new possibilities.  If yesterday wasn't so great for you, today can be a time of new hope.  A few years ago I saw the Rolling Stones perform at Churchill Downs.  Keith Richards, a member of the band and a guy who should have died ten times by now, looked out on the crowd and said, "It's really nice to be here.  It's really nice to be anywhere"!  I share his sentiments.  I'm really happy to still be here and I try to remind myself that these are the good old days and the best days of my life are still ahead of me.  Begin the rest of your life now by seizing the day and living with a grateful heart.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Are You A Contemplative?

I have sometimes referred to myself as a contemplative.  What is a contemplative?  I am not an expert on contemplation but here's my perspective.  People who know me well know I am very introverted and introspective.  Although I think you can learn to be contemplative, I believe some personality types are naturally contemplative.  I hesitate to call it a skill but as a behavior and a way of being one can practice it even if it does seem to go against your nature.  In all the major religions there are contemplative traditions but I also think you can be a contemplative person without necessarily being a religious person or someone who goes to church every Sunday.  In my mind a contemplative person is one who takes the time to stand back or step away from the fast pace of life and simply breathe.  The contemplative is someone who likes life in the slow lane.  It's about being awake enough and present enough to not only notice the flowers but also be willing to stop and smell them.  It's being present to life in all its details.  Some also call this mindfulness.  I believe contemplation and mindfulness go hand in hand.  For those who are spiritually inclined it can also be about having an awareness of God's presence in life.  Perhaps you have read the story of the prophet Elijah in the Book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures.  He had challenged the prophets of the god Baal to a duel.  To make a long story short, Elijah’s God won so the guys that lost ran Elijah out of town.  He hid in a cave on a mountain.  In the story there was thunder and lightning and earthquakes and all that kind of scary stuff but God was not present in these things.  Finally, there was a small whispering sound like a gentle breeze.  Elijah hid his face and turned away for in the gentle breeze God was present.  The contemplative person is one who has achieved an interior quiet that allows him to notice the small whispering sounds in life where God is often present.  If you are constantly running through life, busy all the time, stressed out, and meeting yourself coming and going, you will miss such opportunities.  I don't think you can truly be a contemplative person if you are running through your life like your hair is on fire.  

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Where Have All The People Gone?

Do you ever wonder where people have gone and what has happened to them?  Think of all the people who have gathered together at different times in history.  Where have they gone?  What are they doing now?  Where are all the people who stood and attentively listened to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963?  Obviously, many of them have now passed.  Where are all the hippies that gathered on Max Yasgur's farm for the first Woodstock in 1969?  Contrary to popular belief I was not one of them.  Those that were are now senior citizens.  Where are all the Occupy Wall Street people now?  What is it that gathers people together in unity only to allow them to float away from one another over time?  On a much smaller level, where are all the people who have passed through our lives over the years?  In the thirty years I have worked for Humana, I have seen hundreds come and go.  Where are all the friends that have been a part of our lives only to eventually drift away?  Thinking of your life and history, what causes, events, or people have stayed with you and continue to influence who you are?  What were the life changing and life sustaining events in your life?  Who are the people that have remained part of your life?  Who hasn't drifted or floated away from your life?  Life changes whether we like it or not but beneath the change are elements of stability that keep us grounded.  What has kept you grounded during the changes in your life?  Who or what can you rely on?  What values do you hold dear? 

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Education And Wisdom

Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom.  Many of the people I have interviewed for jobs and some of the people who work with me now are better educated than I am.   Their education, however, is just a starting point.  It is the foundation on which their life experience will build.  I am a strong advocate of education.  I think it separates people more than anything, including race or gender.  I wish now that I had given my education more attention when I was younger.  The experience of life hopefully makes us wiser but that is not guaranteed.  Not all older people are wise and not all younger people naive.  Wisdom chooses its home.  In the Rule of St Benedict, a 1500 year old guidebook for monasteries, the old are told to listen to the young for God often speaks through them.  Likewise, the young are told to treat their elders with respect.  Those of us who are a little older can learn from the young.  It happens to me almost every day at work.  Those who are younger should realize that their parents and other older people are not clueless.  We've been down many roads in our lives and we have experienced many things that might prove helpful for those who have not yet had these experiences.  The bottom line is that you should never should stop learning.  To be a truly educated person, you must be open to everything that books and life teaches you and you must remember that education is also more than just having a skill.  An educated person is a thinking person who can see the connectedness of life and knowledge.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

What The Planet Really Needs

The planet does not need more successful people.  The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”
-The Dalai Lama
I have been fortunate enough to see the Dalai Lama in person on two different occasions.  Everyone wants to be successful but not everyone agrees on the definition of success.  The world measures success by the size of your paycheck, the power you wield, the title you have, the square footage of your office, and who dies with the most toys.  Most religions would measure success by how good you are and how much you love those around you.  I reject the world’s view and I mostly agree with success being measured by one’s goodness and love in action.  I would also add that part of success is being the best version of who you are.  We are all unique, we all have something to give, and we all have a part in the great drama of life.  Shakespeare said that “all the world’s a stage” and that we are all actors.  Success, however, is not acting.  Success is being real and true.  Being real and being true to who we are is a lifelong journey.  Our true selves are often buried deep within us.  The journey of life is to uncover who we really are and to be that person.  Imagine a world where most people were real and true.  It would be a world with more cooperation and less competition.  It would be a world with more love and less hate.  It would be a world with more peace and less war.  It is our obsession with power, prestige, and possessions that creates most of the disharmony in the world.  If you are not already being a peacemaker, healer, restorer, storyteller, or a person motivated by love, begin today.  Along the way you will find yourself and make the world a better place at the same time.        

Monday, November 30, 2015

What Excites You?

Make a list of things that excite you.  What kind of person would you be if you could sustain this level of excitement more often?  What steps can you take to become more like that person.
I must admit that I am a person that doesn’t get excited easily.  I am cynical by nature, more reserved than I care to admit, and my true emotions rarely show.  As a leader one of my weaknesses is an inability to be a cheerleader type of person.  There are certainly people and things that give me joy.  My granddaughter and music come to mind.  However, I don’t think joy and excitement are the same thing.  I think what excites me is when I can be who I really am and do what I do best.  Occasionally this happens but not with a great deal of frequency.  Many people find it difficult to be who they are because they don’t know who they are.  I have a fairly good idea of my identity because I’ve had a long life so far to figure it out.  Many people also don’t know what they do best because they haven’t found their gift yet.  Excitement is a difficult emotion for me.  When I actually feel excitement it is almost uncomfortable.  I suppose the strongest emotion I feel is passion.  Passion, however, is a double edged sword.  On the positive side I can feel passion for something I truly believe in, on the negative side my passion is occasionally repressed anger that has found its way to the surface of my feelings.  Today I will try to meditate on things that excite me and ways that I can nurture this feeling within myself.  I want to live a life where my experiences, thoughts, and actions excite me.  Excitement, like joy, is a wonderful feeling.  I avoid all negative feelings and most of the time I am positive, although not excited.  What about you?    

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Live Life, Breathe, & Feel The Wind

This is not a hermitage, it is a house. ("Who was that hermitage I seen you with last night?") What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe. Who said Zen? Wash out your mouth if you said Zen. If you see a meditation going by, shoot it. Who said "Love?" Love is in the movies. The spiritual life is something that people worry about when they are so busy with something else they think they ought to be spiritual. Spiritual life is guilt. Up here in the woods is seen the New Testament: that is to say, the wind comes through the trees and you breathe it.  
-Thomas Merton from his essay Day of a Stranger.
This is a quote from one of my favorite Thomas Merton essays.  For those that do not know, Thomas Merton was a monk, priest, and prolific spiritual writer.  He is also the biggest reason I started writing my own thoughts.  Merton lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani which is the same monastery where I lived as a young man although we were not there at the same time.  He spent the last few years of his life as a hermit living in the woods near the monastery.  I have spent a couple of weekends in this hermitage by myself and they were profound experiences for me.  I think the basic message here, and one I need to hear on a regular basis, is to stop trying so hard to be spiritual, deep, and profound.  Wear your pants, live your life, feel the wind, and don’t forget to breathe.  All of life is spiritual so you don’t have to do spiritual things to make life sacred.  Life is sacred and spiritual by itself.  Spiritual practices and beliefs are fine too, and they can enhance your experience of life, but they are not for everyone.  I once read that one should not have to search for meaning in life.  The meaning in life should be obvious.  I must admit that it is not always obvious to me.  Life can seem like a series of random events that have no particular meaning or connection.  I often feel as though I am simply going through the motions of living.  Perhaps I can’t see the forest for the trees.  Today I will try to breathe, relax, and try not to obsess over things.  Maybe, without realizing it, I will simply live my life, breathe, and feel the wind on my face.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Right Kind Of Shoes

During our lifetime we walk down many different roads.  We start in one place and end up in another place.  When one road ends, another one begins.  As Tom Hanks declared in the movie Forrest Gump, “I’ve worn lots of shoes”.  In all of the journeys down all of the roads we have traveled in our lives we’ve all worn lots of shoes.  I have an old pair of sneakers with tie dyed shoe strings that are completely worn out but I have kept them because they have taken me to many rock and roll concerts in my life.  The shoes, and the journeys on which I wore them, have many memories for me.  I hope my wife doesn’t pitch them when I am not looking.  Often when we are walking down one of life’s roads we have no idea where it will end or where it will intersect another road.  We don’t always know where we are and it is only by looking in our rear view mirror that we know where we’ve been.  If we know where we are going we have a better idea about what kind of shoes to wear.  I once visited France and spent a week with people from twelve different countries and several continents.  Our hosts took a bunch of us on a bus trip to a local shrine in a forest.  After we all got off the bus, the bus left us.  Most of us didn’t realize that part of the experience was to hike back to where we began.  The hike back was through the forest.  It was beautiful but there were hills to climb, creeks to cross, and occasional mud.  Some of the ladies and a few of the men were not prepared for such a hike.  I wasn’t wearing my rock and roll shoes but I did have on some shoes appropriate for a hike in the forest.  As you walk down the roads of your life, including the occasional side trip through a forest, be sure you have on the right kind of shoes.    

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wake Up Call

I cannot remember turning 30 years old.  It was 1981.  Who remembers 1981?  Without the use of Google can you tell me one significant event of that year?  I do remember turning 40, 50, and 60.  Each of those birthdays seemed significant.  I suppose the beginning of any new decade in your life is a significant event.  In the spring I will be 65 years old.  Yes, I know it is trendy to say “65 years young” but who are we kidding here?  In anticipation of turning 65 my wife and I attended a Medicare seminar on Monday night.  The room was full of old people.  I jokingly asked my wife if I looked as old as the other people in the room.  She seriously responded, “Have you looked in the mirror lately”?  Much of what you have heard about growing older is true.  Inside of every old person is a young person wondering what the heck happened.  I am being serious when I tell people, especially younger people, that I am 30 in my mind.  However, as the song goes, “Don’t make a promise with your mind that your body can’t keep”.  Turning 65 will be a significant birthday and a bit of a wakeup call.  Sometimes I ask myself, “How many wakeup calls do you need in your life”?  Any significant experience is an opportunity to evaluate your life.  People my age are very conscious of time.  When you know you are running out of it, it increases in value and becomes a precious commodity.  My wife and I would rather have vacation days than pay increases.  Time is an eternally flowing river and I have been swimming in it longer than many and I hope to continue for many more years.  However, even if I make it to 80 or 90 there will still be that 30 year old young person inside me wondering what the heck happened.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Journey Of Remembering

I believe part of the spiritual journey is trying to remember everything we have forgotten.  We are born perfect but begin to lose our true nature as we “mature”.  In a manner of speaking the spiritual journey is a return to the self.  As we grow older we feel like we learn new things.  I don’t think it is a learning so much as it is a remembering.  As we remember who and what we are, we re-discover our true self, the self that is often hidden by our personalities.  As I have shared before, our different personalities are nothing more than defense mechanisms we have unconsciously created as our way to deal with the world around us and also as a way to get love, i.e. if I am perfect people will love me more.  Since we have not all had the same experience of life, we do not all have the same personality.  I know my own personality well.  It has been studied and tested by me on a number of occasions.  I am programmed by my life’s experience to act a certain way.  Many of us even try to look a certain way.  I was asked once if I had a beard so I look “wiser”.  Seriously, the challenge of the spiritual journey, and the return to the self, often pushes us to act the opposite of the way we want to act or think we should act.  On some levels we are all frauds and imposters.  We maintain our illusions of ourselves because we are afraid of who we might really be.  If we are born perfect, a return to our true self cannot be scary.  The real fear should be living an illusion.  People sometimes ask me, “How can I have inner peace”?  Inner peace is not the result of having no conflict or challenges in your life.  Inner peace comes from being who you are, accepting who you are, and being OK with who you are.  If you are doing these things you are on your way to being your true self and experiencing inner peace.  Now if I can just remember to do this….   

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

No Expectations

In whatever you so, don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood.  Do it for the joy of doing it, or otherwise it is just another ego trip.
Most of us are good people who try to do good things and who generally care about others.  We give our best and do what we can and much of it goes unnoticed or seems unappreciated.  Sooner or later we realize that we must do what we do simply because it gives us joy or because it is the right thing to do even if we never get any credit, recognition, or appreciation.  Ego is a big thing in our lives.  The desire to be loved and appreciated is equally huge.  Hopefully, we do feel loved and appreciated most of the time whether it be from family, co-workers, friends, or strangers.  Follow your bliss and all that gives you joy.  As St. Augustine once said, way back in the 5th century, “Love and do what you will”.  Do good works and even if there is no immediate gratification, I believe your goodness will come back to you.  History is full of famous people who changed the world.  Many others labor day after day with little recognition.  Some plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.  What’s the point?  I think we should all strive to do what is good and right even if no one else knows we are doing it.  I think many of us will be remembered more from our eventual absence than by our current presence.  We all want attention.  We all want to be noticed.  We all want to be appreciated.  However, you may not get any of these things so don’t depend on them for your happiness.  How you act in secret, when there is no spotlight, says more about your character than most public acts. 

Friday, November 13, 2015


Contemplation is part of the human experience that is overlooked by many as they rush through life.  We all need to have moments in our lives where we can breathe and bask in the wonder of life.  This is not complicated or so esoteric that it is beyond the average person.  Admittedly I grew up with the idea that the contemplative experience was rare and few received the gift.  I have since learned that we all have the capacity for contemplation.  It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to gaze at a full moon  or a beautiful sunset.  It can be a moment of silence in a busy day or a weekend on a retreat.  To be contemplative the only basic requirements are to be awake and aware.  A big part of being contemplative is having a sense of wonder.  When you can no longer be impressed, when you have lost your sense of awe, when nothing makes you go “wow”!, it is time to re-evaluate your life.  Wonder, awe, gratitude, and being “wowed” from time to time should be a regular part of your life.  There is much in life that is ugly.  There is much to make us cynical and pessimistic.  Contemplation is the antidote for these things.  It is the quiet moments of life that give us what we need to deal with all the other moments that may test us or make us crazy.  Many of us do not have the luxury of going on an extended retreat, or even having a weekend to ourselves, but we all have moments in our day when we can take a few minutes for the pause that refreshes.  I encourage all of you to be on lookout for such moments and to take advantage of them.  If you do I believe you will begin to experience a sense of calm in your life that you may not have now.  Let me share some words taken from Psalm 46 that may help you to find this calm.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

You Must Leave The Cave

We are all on a journey.  I know this sounds like a cliché but it is true nevertheless.  Often in our lives we feel like we are standing still but we are not.  Journeys and life involve movement.  If we are not moving ourselves, life will move us.  Movement is part of life and there are no journeys that allow us to stand still.  The journey of life is hopefully a long journey with lots of interesting side trips.  Our movement through life may not always be pleasant but if we are lucky it is interesting.  All journeys give us experience and many journeys fill us with wisdom.  The first time we go down a path we may be lost and not know our way.  With each additional trip the path becomes more familiar and we may walk the path multiple time just because we enjoy it.  Other paths may be treacherous and if we survive them we make every effort to never go down that path again.  Some paths are rocky or slippery and we must be careful with every step.  Other paths are like a super highway where we can turn on the cruise control and enjoy the scenery.  We often end up on many paths where we have no idea where they will end.  Occasionally they are dead ends but sometimes they take us to the places of our dreams.  I once saw a movie with my granddaughter called “The Croods”.  It was story of a prehistoric family who dwell in a cave.  The father is always reminding the children of his cardinal rule.  The rule is “Never leave the cave”.  Of course, he has a daughter who wants to leave the cave more than anything.  Circumstances finally force the entire family to leave the cave and by doing so, they discover a world full of wonder.  This can also happen to you so get out of your cave and begin your journey.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

All Things Must Pass

All Things Must Pass.
-A song and album by George Harrison
Back in 1970, George Harrison, one of the Beatles, released a major album called “All Things Must Pass” after years of being overshadowed by his Beatle band mates, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  It is a very spiritual album influenced by Hinduism, George’s religion of choice.  The most famous song on the album was “My Sweet Lord”.  It has been my experience in life that all things truly do pass.  In the time I have been on this planet many people, places, and things have passed through and from my life.  The idea that all things pass is bittersweet.  Although bad things pass, good things are also transitory.  Life is always in flux even though it’s movement is not always discernible in the moments of our lives.  We often feel like nothing ever changes and then we wake up and ten years has passed.  It is a comfort to know that the storms of our lives won’t last forever but the impermanence of life should also remind us to enjoy life when it is sweet.  Life is like the weather.  Some days are stormy and overcast.  Other days are sunny with blue skies and cool breezes.  Sometimes the weather slows us down and other days it energizes us.  We must also remember that we, too, will pass.  As we go through our lives we need to ask ourselves what impact are we having on the world around us.  Are we doing good and positive things with our lives?  Are we a sunny day for others or are we seen as a storm that others hope will pass quickly?  

Monday, November 09, 2015

Time To Move On?

If you’re the smartest person in your group, your group is too small. Find people who will challenge you to stretch to the next level and become everything you can be.
In my working career I have attended many meetings.  Sometimes in these meetings I thought I was either the smartest person in the room or the dumbest.  There have been other groups and situations that I was involved in where I eventually felt the need to leave.  In some cases I felt like I no longer fit in or the group no longer met my needs.  There have also been situations where I just felt that I had no more to give.  Most of us like our comfort zones and to be honest I hate when people tell me I need to get out of my comfort zone.  Yeah, I know that if you are not being challenged you are probably not growing but I prefer to live and grow on my own schedule and not based on other people’s expectations, desires, and timetables.  Life is always pushing you into new territory whether you like it or not.  There is a saying that goes “when the fruit is ripe it will fall to the ground”.  Another saying that I like is “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.  I think I am self-aware enough to know when the fruit of my own life is ripe or when I am ready for a new teacher.  One must always look for signs…and warnings…that it is time to move on.  Good self- awareness also alerts us to our own stagnations and this also prompts us to move on.  Life tends to unfold at its own pace and in ways that are appropriate for us as individuals.  I see my whole life as a journey.  There have been milestones and accomplishments and times where I just stayed put for a while.  Marriage and family life have given me an outer stability in my life but internally I have always been on the move and in search of my ultimate destiny.  

Friday, November 06, 2015

Leadership As Ministry

I once shared with someone that I see leadership as ministry.  I joke that the people who report to me are my flock and I am their pastor.  I listen to their problems and I help them when I can.  If they make a mistake I forgive them.  When necessary I strive to point them in a more positive direction.  Perhaps most importantly, I truly care about each of them.  Some people are more work than others but I try to give each person what they need.  I have never seen leadership as me being a policeman or a prison guard.  However, this thought is not really about leadership.  It is about looking around at your co-workers and realizing that every single one of them is dealing with something in their lives.  Empathy happens to be my number one strength.  I generally understand how most people feel and I care about their feelings.  I am glad that I am empathetic person although it is sometimes exhausting.  Whether you are an empathetic person or not, I encourage you to be tolerant, patient, kind, and compassionate to those around you.  You see that guy that is always joking around?  His laughter may be hiding a great deal of sadness.  That girl that seems unfriendly may have some physical pain that she is hiding.  The person who doesn’t join in team lunches may simply not have the money.  That moody person in the next aisle may have recently had their heart broken.  We all have something in our lives that causes us pain.  We all have a part of ourselves that we try to hide from others because we don’t want to show our fears, weaknesses, or insecurities.  No one has a perfect life.  Think about these things the next time you feel judgmental towards others.  I have never regretted being kind or compassionate and I don’t think you will either.  Try it because sooner or later you will need to be on the receiving end of someone else’s caring and compassion.   

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Your Strengths Are Also Your Weaknesses

Your strengths are your weaknesses.
-From a teaching on the Enneagram (
We have all taken tests that show our personalities, our preferences, our comfort zones, our strengths, and our weaknesses.  It seems logical that we would exploit our strengths and the best parts of who we are.  In general this is true.  However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.  I am a nice person but sometimes I am too nice.  There are times when I need to be less accommodating and to assert my own will by not always giving in to what other people want.  I am an analytical person but sometimes I over analyze things.  I am a perfectionist but sometimes this is taken to extreme and is little more than anal retention.  I am usually calm, laid back, and centered but sometimes I need to be more assertive and pro-active with a greater sense of urgency.  We need to look at our strengths to see how we may overuse them.  One thing that helps me is a daily thought I receive for my particular personality.  Some days this thought tells me I need to remember my strengths and to use them.  Other days the daily thought warns me about some of my dysfunctional tendencies and encourages me to do the opposite of what I usually do.  I believe all of us need to be more self-aware and to understand our behavior.  I know myself well enough to usually see when I am at my best, when I am at my worst, and when I am feeling stressed.  We all have patterns of behavior for better or worse that are closely tied to our personalities.  Most people believe their personalities are who they are.  This is not true.  Your personality is actually a defense mechanism that you created early in your life as a way to protect yourself from the world around you and to help you get what you thought you needed in life which is primarily love.  I am nice, accommodating, and calm most of the time because sometime in my childhood I received the message that I needed to be this way in order to be loved.  Each of you received your own message and much of who you are today and how you act is the result of those messages.     

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Be Who You Are

Be weird.  Be random.  Be who you are.  Because you never know who would love the person you are.
-from the “Hippie Peace Freaks” page on Facebook
When most people are young they will do whatever it takes to be accepted as part of a group.  Being accepted is very important to young people.  They do not want to be left out.  Most people grow out of this mentality but some maintain it their entire life.  I did this when I was young.  I wanted to have friends and to be popular.  I didn’t want to spend any Friday nights being alone.  I now realize that I am not really a group guy.  It is no longer important for me to be accepted by most other people.  Yes, I like to have friendships and to know people with whom I have something in common but a desire for popularity and acceptance is no longer a driving force in my life.  Some people think I am weird.  Some people think I am different.  In some cases this is a compliment and in other cases people probably look at me and shake their head.  Like Popeye the sailor man, “I am who I am and that’s all that I am”.  Since I really have no other choice but to be who I am, I am happy doing so.  With me what you see is what you get.  I may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I try to be an authentic person.  I have noticed that people who like me REALLY like me and people who don’t, just don’t.  It is not mandatory to be weird but I encourage you to be real.  Don’t be someone else’s version of who they think you should be.  If you don’t know who you are, maybe it’s time for a voyage of self-discovery.  You don’t need the people who won’t accept the real you.  You may experience a few bumps and scrapes along the way but “to thy own self be true” as the character Polonius says in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  The world is full of fake people, posers, and charlatans.  Be real even if you aren’t perfect.  Being real doesn’t demand that you be perfect.  We are all works in progress. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


I learned that one can never go back, that one should not ever try to go back, and that the essence of life is to go forward.  Life is really a one way street.
-Writer Agatha Christie
Did you ever see the movie called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons”?  It starred Brad Pitt as a man who was born old and who got younger the longer he lived.  I won’t tell you how it ends but I will tell you that growing younger as everyone around you grows older is not as great as it sounds.  In real life there is also a curious thing that happens.  As we grow older and our body’s age, we often grow younger in spirit.  Have you ever been around a really old person who has a twinkle in their eye, a smile on their face, and laughter in their heart?  I hope to grow into such a person.  They aren’t childish in an immature way.  They are childlike in a positive way with their zest for life, their sense of wonder, and their openness to whatever is happening around them.  While such people may be dealing with the pain and discomfort of an aging body, their spirit is indomitable.  They are a joy to be around.  Life may be a one way street in the sense that we cannot remain youthful in body or childish in our thinking.  Of course, there are those who do remain immature their entire life and that is sad.  The one way street of life should lead us forward to a point where we have been transformed into the best version of ourselves.  The transformational process of life, whether it be a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly or a young person growing into a really great old person, is really the whole point of life and certainly the point of the spiritual side of our lives.  If going forward and transforming is not the point of life, why are we here?

Monday, November 02, 2015

What Is It That You Really Want?

Nothing except possibly love and death are of importance, and even the importance of death is somewhat ephemeral, as no one has yet faxed back a reliable report.
-Naturalist /Writer Gerald Durrell
I once received an email from a friend telling me about a Zen retreat he had made.  When he arrived at the retreat the Zen Master asked the participants what they wanted.  He did not ask what they expected.  He asked what they wanted.  He asked a second time, “What is it you really want”?  He wasn’t referring just to the retreat.  He was also asking it in the context of their total lives.  Looking at your own life and dreams, what is it that you really want?  What is really important to you?  I think all of us want love in our life.  We want someone to love and we also want someone to love us.  If you don’t have love in your life everything else loses much of its meaning.  The common understanding of success is not a universal desire.  Most of us cannot even agree on what success is.  Is success based on the size of your paycheck or the happiness and contentment of your life?  If the answer is the latter, there are many very successful people with simple lives, minimal possessions, and average paychecks.  As most of us live our lives we often get hung up on incidentals that aren’t really important in the great scheme of life.  I’ve spent much of my work life dealing with people who are upset about something.  I’ve talked a lot of people off the ledge.  What are really grains of sand and bumps in the road are often seen as boulders and craters.  Sometimes we need to stop, breathe, and put things in perspective.  There’s not a hidden agenda behind every circumstance in life.  More often than not, life is just life.  Things happen.  A lot of the time they are good things even if we don’t recognize them as such.  Occasionally bad things happen.  They are not always fair or deserved and usually they are not part of a conspiracy that life is perpetrating against us.  Take some time to reflect on what has real value and importance in your life and focus on that.  Everyone has problems and heartache.  We all have disappointments and things that annoy us.  Most of it we need to let go.  Our energy needs to be spent on what we value and consider truly important.   

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thirty Years

On Tuesday I was recognized for 30 years of service to Humana.  It is difficult to believe how much time has passed and how quickly it has gone by.  I began with Humana in 1985 as a claims adjuster.  This was the first year that Humana was in the insurance business.  I was the 295th claims adjuster that was hired.  I worked here 10-12 years before there was an internet or anyone had heard of an excel spreadsheet.  In those days everything was paper.  Each team had a clerk who spent their day picking up and delivering claims and referrals to and from “in” and “out” boxes.  Sometimes I feel like I have been on a 30 year episode of Survivor.  I have outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted many people.  It wasn’t quite that nefarious but I have seen many people and things come and go.  On the positive side it has enabled me to change and adapt better than most people give me credit.  On the downside it has contributed to some of my cynicism.  Overall Humana has been very good to me and I have known, managed, and worked with some wonderful people.  There were a few I would have voted off the island.  Most of them left on their own but some had their torches snuffed at a Tribal Counsel.  I have done things in the last 30 years that make me proud.  I have also done things I never thought I could do.  I have learned skills, developed talent, and tried to be a mentor to others.  It makes me happy that many people I have supervised over the years have gone on to bigger and better things.  Working at Humana has also developed my own sense of worth and self-esteem.  I have had to deal with many kinds of people and situations and I have done it successfully.  I am a well-known advocate for introverts but I know I can step up, put myself out there, and take charge when it is needed.  Thank you Humana for keeping me employed for 30 years.  My career, however, is winding down.  When it is over I hope I am remembered as someone who cared for people and worked to make everything a little better.  If I have raised some people’s consciousness along the way by teaching what I know about Zen, mindfulness, and contemplation, all the better.       

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

You Can't Please Everyone

I cannot give you the formula for success but I can give you the formula for failure which is try to please everyone.
-Editor Herbert Bayard Swope
Everywhere you turn there is someone who has expectations of you.  Even a robust attempt to please everyone will end up mostly in failure.  I am not sure I have ever totally pleased anyone.  I’ve tried to be a good son, good brother, good husband, good father, good employee, and good leader.  The only thing I am confident I have done really well is being a grandfather.  I also try to be a good writer since writing is the closest I have ever come to having a gift.  At this point in my life I have an attitude that many may find difficult or unacceptable.  My current attitude is that I am doing the best I can and if it’s not good enough for you, too bad.  I believe most people, including myself, are generally doing the best they can to be all they should be.  I don’t expect perfection in myself or others.  The older I get, the more tolerant I am of human weakness.  Life is difficult, those around us often expect a lot, and our ability to deliver can vary wildly on any given day.  Abraham Lincoln supposedly once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time”.  These are wise words from a wise man.  I try to put my best self out there as much as I can with the hope I will make a positive difference in the world.  Sometimes my less than best self makes an appearance and I hope that he does no harm.  My advice is to not worry about pleasing people.  I encourage you to focus on doing good.  If you do good things you will please more people than you annoy.  Actually I think annoying some people is a good thing and I occasionally I take pleasure in doing that.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Do No Harm

I once read a very good book entitled called Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  It is a book about mindfulness.  One thought in the book is the idea of doing no harm.  If you don’t know what to do, at least do no harm.  This is a good mantra for those who find it difficult to actually practice love, kindness, and compassion.  It is similar to the Dalai Lama’s teaching that if you can’t love everyone, at least don’t hurt them.  I think the idea of doing no harm is a great default mantra when love, kindness, and compassion seem beyond our ability.  I like to believe that myself and most other people are driven by idealistic motives.  However, my experience is that being optimistic, positive, and caring takes a lot of energy.  It is energy well spent but it does take a lot of effort to be a good person.  Doing no harm may seem like a negative way to live but I think it can only have positive results.  By doing no harm we keep ourselves from unleashing negative energy into the world.  The laws of karma would say that by doing no harm, no harm will be done to you.  In a perfect world we would all be driven and motivated by care for others and doing good things.  In the real world it is challenging to always do these things.  I still hope to practice love, kindness, and compassion as much as possible and whenever possible.  However, I also know that some days it seems beyond my ability.  When I am feeling less than charitable, I hope my backup plan of doing no harm kicks in and keeps me from saying or doing things I will regret later.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Finding Your Gift

In my many years as a leader I have supervised hundreds of people.  It has been my experience that most are hard-working, dedicated, salt of the earth types that always strive to do a good job.  There is a small percentage that are driven and ambitious.  There is another small percentage that are unfocused, immature, lazy, and who have a lot to learn about life.  Talent is not always found in the ambitious and it is not always lacking in the low performers.  There are truly exceptional people and there are ordinary people who think they are exceptional.  I have also seen extraordinary people who think they are ordinary.  Sometimes there are hidden diamonds among those who seem unexceptional.  When they find their gift or purpose in life they often blossom.  One of the most difficult things for most people to accept is that they are ordinary.  However, in my experience, even the ordinary have gifts and purpose.  Maybe you aren’t the greatest at what you do but you can still be a great person.  Maybe you are not the smartest person in the room but you can still offer your opinion and insight.  Maybe you will never get an award for your productivity but you can still be a positive influence and morale booster to those around you.  All of my life I have been an ordinary person.  I got average or poor grades in grammar school and high school.  I did, however, perform significantly better when I took college classes.  When I was young and played sports I never made the All Star team.  When I graduated from high school I was not “Best Looking”, “Most Likely To Succeed”, or “Most Popular”.  Much of my life I have felt ordinary.  It wasn’t until I was 50 years old that I realized and accepted that I have a talent for writing.  Even though I still feel very ordinary, people tell me I’m an excellent writer with a lot of insight about life.  If any of this is true, I wish I could inspire myself as much as I inspire others.  If I have a talent, I don’t know how it happened.  Some talents are simply a gift.  It is not something I learned to do.  It is simply something I can do.  Most of us are ordinary people but do not let that keep you from doing great things.  I know I have touched and even changed some people through my words.  You can do good things too.  The first step is to discover your talent, find your gift, and then figure out how you can share that with those around you.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is Youth Nothing But Pre-Mature Old Age?

At eighty I believe I am a far more cheerful person than I was at twenty or thirty.  I most definitely would not want to be a teenager again.  Youth may be glorious but it is also painful to endure.  Moreover, what is called youth is not youth; it is rather something like premature old age.
-Writer Henry Miller
I am not yet eighty but I am a long way from twenty or thirty.  I don’t know if I am happier in my sixties than I was in my twenties or thirties.  I have always found happiness elusive.  Usually the best I can do is to feel reasonably content.  I can say one thing with a fair amount of certainty.  I would rather be sixty than twenty.  Looking back there were too many parts of my life I found difficult and I would not like to relive them.  In my current age I feel a sense of relief that many of life’s challenges are behind me.  Daily life is still challenging and I don’t know what lies ahead but in general I am more relaxed and more comfortable in my own skin.  When one gets older you think more and more about less and less.  You have a greater appreciation for life’s simple joys and it doesn’t take much to make you happy.  You are past the stage where you want to build an empire and most would rather have less.  A simple life has great appeal.  Perhaps it is in this simplicity, when you spend more time letting go than gathering, that people find the greatest happiness.  Occasionally I do wish I had my sixty four year old life experience and wisdom in a twenty year old body.  However, that might be a dangerous combination.  You cannot experience old age without doing time as a young person.  In all fairness, every stage of life has it’s joys and sorrows, it’s challenges and rewards, and it’s pros and cons.  If you are lucky you will experience them all.  Some of us have old souls when we are young while others are young at heart in bodies that are falling apart.  Happiness and age are in the mind and in our attitudes.  As I once said in a previous daily thought, “When we are young our bodies drag our minds around, when we are old our minds drag our bodies around”.  Think about it.  If you are young I advise you to live well now while you still have the energy.   

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


I don’t care, frankly, what people think.  I do what I like.
-Chef Julia Child
I don’t believe this quote means that we should have no concern whatsoever about other people and that we should just do whatever we want regardless of the impact on those around us.  Unless you’re a hermit, and you have little contact with the rest of the human race, we do have to live our lives with some degree of cooperation and tolerance of others.  I think what this quote tells us is that you can’t live your whole life trying to please other people, trying to impress them, or comparing yourself to them.  Each of us has been given one life and we have to live it the best way we can.  We will go through different stages of growth, immaturity, pain, and awareness until we have achieved some level of self-actualization.  What is self-actualization?  I believe it is that point in our lives, usually when we are past our middle age, when we become who we really are and we begin to realize our true potential and personal power.  Self-actualization is at the top of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”.  You will never be who you are meant to be if you spend your entire live trying to please others or meet their expectations.  I think Julia Child is saying that pleasing yourself is not inappropriate, or selfish, and that each of us must walk down the path that calls us.  In her case, it was the call to learn French cooking so  that anyone could cook like a chef with a little effort.  Each of us is more than someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s mother or father, or someone’s husband or wife.  We may be one or more of all these things but self-actualization is when we discover our true essence and our true self.  Do not confuse identity with roles.  Doing what you like may seem selfish but it can also be the path to your self-awareness.       

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Time Is Now

There are dreams of love, life, and adventure in all of us.  But we are also sadly filled with reasons why we shouldn’t try.  These reasons seem to protect us but in truth they imprison us.  They hold life at a distance.  Life will be over sooner than we think.  If we have bikes to ride and people to love, now is the time. 
-Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
For those who may not be familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she is most famous for her groundbreaking work with the dying.  It seems appropriate and good that someone who has spent a great deal of time studying the end of life would also be someone who encourages us to not waste a minute of life and to live it to the fullest.  I have often grown weary of my own maturity, responsibility, and dependability.  There are times I get so tired of being the guy who always does the right thing in sacrifice of love, life and adventure.  However, I am also aware that some people actually admire me for these rather boring traits.  Since most of my life has not been spent sailing the high seas, flying around the world in a hot air balloon, or climbing the highest mountains, I have tried to get the most out of a quieter life that seems more ordinary than extraordinary.  Still, even those of us who live ordinary lives, doing mostly ordinary things, can have an attitude of yes to life’s possibilities.  If you are young, and even if you are old, I encourage you to say yes more than no.  If there’s an opportunity to do something, then do it.  If there’s an opportunity to be something, then be it.  When something new is knocking at the door, do not turn off the lights and pretend that you are not at home.  More importantly, don’t assume you will have time to do something in the future.  The time to do something is now.