Saturday, April 30, 2016

What Has Formed Me? Part One

I have been reading a book about retirement called "How To Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" by Ernie J. Zelinski.  The author speaks of retirement as a time to be who you really are.  I found myself thinking about who I really am as well as who and what has shaped me into the person I am.  Most of my influences have been spiritual.  My childhood was spend in a very Catholic environment.  Many priests and religious sisters influenced me in very positive ways.  I have no horror stories of being abused by priests or smacked with rulers by mean nuns.  It was quite the opposite.  I wanted to be like them.  They were heroes to me.  I went off to the seminary at the tender young age of 14 to be a Franciscan priest.  Two of my earliest influences were Jesus and Francis of Assisi. The minor seminary did not work out for me and I returned to my home town.  The next major influence on me was the whole counter-cultural movement of the late 1960's.  I became a hippie and today at the tender age of 65, I remain something of a flower child.  As the sixties were winding down I began to have a new spiritual awakening.  I found myself thinking of my Franciscan past and soon enough I joined them for the second time.  It was during this time that I was introduced to two more major influences in my life.  One of the friars introduced me to the writings of Thomas Merton.  I quickly fell in love with the monastic and contemplative life.  Before I left the Franciscans for the second time, I had the great fortune to live with a newly ordained priest named Richard Rohr.  He was impressive even then and he remains a friend and teacher.  Today he is highly regarded all over the world as a speaker and spiritual master.  One of the great things I have learned from Richard is the Enneagram.  The Enneagram taught me who I really am.  When I realized I was a Type Nine on the Enneagram, it was a real moment of spiritual awakening for me.  It was also during this time that I began having serious thoughts of becoming a Trappist monk in the same monastery where Thomas Merton had followed his call.  I made it into the monastery and my time there proved to be a major influence on the kind of person I am today.  It was during the time I lived in the monastery that I learned the meaning of contemplation and I began living with a sense of wonder.

To be continued.....       

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Spiritual Life

“One doesn’t have to be religious to lead a moral life or attain wisdom.”
-Allan Lokos
This quote can generate some differing opinions among people.  Many people of my generation describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious”.  Many people have a problem with organized religion and who can blame them?  There are people that never go to church who are very spiritual and there are people who go to church every Sunday and have not changed one thing about themselves.  The spiritual life, whether you regularly attend church or not, is about inner transformation.  It is not about sitting in the front pew hoping to be seen by everyone else or being the biggest contributor to the parish collection plate.  It is not outward appearances that are important.  It is the inner transformation or change of heart a person attains.  This inner transformation or change of heart is found in service to others.  Service involves everyday life and everyone you encounter.  It is not just volunteering once a week at the soup kitchen although that might be part of how you serve.  Everyone should be a servant to others, especially if you are in a leadership position.      

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Moment Is Forever Changing

Mindfulness isn’t about trying to grasp onto this moment.  It is about recognizing that life is made up of constantly changing moments.”
Buddha says that all things are impermanent.  Mr. Spock, in the first Star Trek movie, explained a painting of the Garden of Eden to Captain Kirk as a reminder that all things end.  However, when one thing ends, another thing begins.  In Kentucky we say that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.  You can literally experience all four seasons in the same week.  We often talk about mindfulness as being in the moment.  This does not mean that we are standing still whenever we practice mindfulness.  The moment is constantly changing.  The same person cannot enter the same river twice.  Each time you enter the river it is a different river and you are a different person.  Sometimes I wonder why we physically age if our bodies are constantly re-generating new cells.  Maybe we are really just recycling old cells and eventually they just wear out.  When we practice mindfulness we are in a moment that is constantly changing and moving.  Maybe this is why I sometimes get dizzy.    It may be more appropriate to speak of mindfulness as flowing with life.  If life is a river, mindfulness is grabbing your inner tube, jumping in, and going with the flow.  Life does not stand still.  Life is movement.  If you don’t move with it, it may knock you down. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

It's All In Your Head

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their lives, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
-William James
Everything in life is attitude.  Change your thinking and you can change your life.  I can remember times in my childhood when I was complaining about something and an adult would say something like “That’s all in your head, Michael”.  Buddha has a similar teaching when he says that all of our suffering is within our own minds.  Of course, he is speaking of emotional suffering, not physical pain.  One person’s Hell is another person’s Heaven.  Every time I complain about working, an unemployed friend tells me how much he wishes he had a job.  Some days I do have a bad attitude.  It is usually due to fatigue, not feeling good, or it’s just a day when nothing seems to go right.  On those days I try to remind myself that a bad day is not a bad life.  Most of the time I try to live my life with gratitude.  This past Wednesday night my wife and I had dinner with her sister and my brother-in-law.  He is a little older than me and retired a few years ago.  Retirement has been a smooth transition for him.  He told me how much he enjoys sleeping in every day.  I told him that every time I wake up, and I see by the alarm clock that it is not yet time to get up for work, I gratefully thank God that I can sleep some more before I have to get up.  When I do have to finally get up I am grateful for another day of life, even if it is a work day.  True gratitude begins with the little things in life.  If you aren’t grateful for the little things, you probably won’t really appreciate the big things either.  A good attitude, positive thinking, gratitude, and perspective are what will bring you happiness and contentment.  Please note that none of these traits are things.  It is not what you have the makes you happy.  It is how you live.        

Signs Of Intelligence

The sign of intelligent people is their ability to control emotions by the application of reason.”
-Marya Mannes
With all due respect, the world is full of ignorant people.  If there was ever any doubt, the Internet has brought this to light.  Everyone and their brother has an opinion about everything and most of these opinions are not based on facts, logic, or intellectual discernment.  Those with the loudest voices seem to be mostly driven by their emotions.  Emotions are not a bad thing.  Emotions at their best evolve into passion.  Passion at its best is the fuel for positive change.  Emotions and passion need to be guided by the intellect.  Emotions and passion need to be balanced with reason.  An intelligent person can listen to an opposing view and not feel threatened.  An intelligent person does not need to shout.  An intelligent person’s first response is not fear or anger.  An intelligent person listens deeply before forming their response and their response is based on logic or experience.  The current political season is an example of people unable to control their emotions.  It is also an example of people using emotions to prey on people’s fears.  Everyone thinks their point of view is the only correct way to think.  It is the same old problem with dualistic thinking.  It’s the belief that it has to be one way of thinking or the other, i.e., the Democratic point of view or the Republican point of view.  All of these supposedly intelligent leaders and few of them can see things in a non-dualistic way.  Why can’t we take the best of each point of view?  Emotions need to be controlled with the application of reason but also by the willingness to see both sides of an issue and be willing to meet in the middle.  This is called compromise.  It seems to be a lost art in today’s political arena.             

Listening To The Silence

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself in crystal clearness.  Our life is a long and arduous quest after truth.”
-Mahatma Gandhi
As I have written before, we live in a noisy world.  Most of you have heard the expression “I can’t hear myself think”.  I know that many people have requested to work at home because they find the office too noisy and distracting.  They want to work in a quieter place.  My home and my entire neighborhood are very quiet places during the work week.  On weekends, however, you are more likely to hear leaf blowers, lawn mowers, or even chainsaws.  Prolonged noise, in whatever form it takes, is not good for the human spirit.  When I lived in a monastery as a young man, we got out of bed at 3:00 AM and began the day with prayer and meditation at 3:15 AM.  At first it was a shock to my system, and it never got easy, but after I got used to it, it became my favorite part of my day.  I especially liked the time after group prayer when each monk could go off on his own to a solitary place and simply become one with the approaching dawn.  It was a wonderful thing to sit on the porch during a pre-dawn rainstorm or to watch the sun rise through the trees and across the fields.  The silence was soothing and healing.  Any time I have visited the monastery over the years I have always looked forward to re-experiencing these things.  The first thing I noticed after leaving the monastery was the noise and the speed of life in the city.  It was a shock to the system.  I am afraid that most of us have become de-sensitized to it.  Many people are equally shocked when they encounter silence.  You cannot hear well or listen deeply when you are immersed in noise.  You can’t hear physically and you can’t hear spiritually.  When I finally retire and I no longer have the pressure of my morning alarm clock and the need to come to work, I hope to spend more time listening to the silence in my early mornings or even in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep.  Sometimes tells me, however, that sleeping won’t be a problem in retirement.  Some of the best sleep I ever had was in the silence of the monastery.  My best thoughts also seem to come to me in silence as well.          

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Relaxation Is The Opposite Of Stress

Relaxation means releasing all concerns and tension and letting the natural order of life flow through one’s being.”
-Donald Curtis
In some ways relaxation is the opposite of stress.  If stress makes us feel uptight and tense, relaxation makes us feel loose and light hearted.  I have been told by friends that when they get a full body massage they can barely walk out of the spa because they are so relaxed.  They feel like they could float and be carried away by the wind.  When one learns to create balance in life, and you are able to make time to breathe, one can attain a general sense of relaxation as you go about your day.  Some people who are spiritually inclined call this being centered.  When you are centered and rooted within yourself, it creates a stability where very little ruffles your feathers.  When you are centered and rooted within yourself, concerns and tension are minimized and the natural order of life flows within you.  Instead of having emotional responses to everything, you learn to simply deal with whatever happens.  I don’t always do this very well.  I do get upset sometimes and it usually blows everything out of proportion.  My favorite Star Trek character was always the Vulcan, Mr. Spock.  I envied how cool, calm, and collected he was no matter the situation.  He responded to the challenge of the moment intellectually, logically, and without emotion.  He never lost it.  Alas, I am not a Vulcan.  I am an emotional human being from planet Earth.  The best I can do is try to breathe and remain calm.  When I am able to do this I can relax and release all my concerns and tension and let the natural order of life flow through my being.             

Monday, April 18, 2016

Stress Is The Trash Of Modern Life

“Stress is the trash of modern life.  We all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly it will pile up and overtake your life.”
-Terri Guillemets
Everyone is stressed out even if they don’t realize it.  This includes children as well as adults.  I feel certain my granddaughter is stressed out.  It’s tough being an eleven year girl in today’s world.  This is why she likes coming to my home.  It is a stress free zone with no rules.  This is what grandparents do for grandchildren.  Most of the time I don’t feel stressed emotionally but sometimes I can feel stress in my body.  All those aches and pains are not always from walking too much.  My childhood was in the 1950’s.  Looking back it seemed like a much simpler time.  Believe it or not, divorce was extremely rare and 99% of the mothers stayed home with their children full time.  I can only remember one mom with an outside job and my mother watched her child.  I know the adults probably had their share of worries but for me it was a mostly calm and peaceful time.  It did get a little crazier when I became a rebellious teen-ager in the 1960’s.  Most of what I own now did not exist in my youth.  We have technology that was the stuff of fantasy in my younger days.  Although I have more stuff today and the stuff I have is wonderful I don’t think the overall quality of life now is as good as it was in my youth.  There is too much of everything and the pace of modern life is frantic and exhausting.  The traffic alone is enough to make you crazy.  Work has taken over many people’s lives and with the Internet and smart phones many people can never disconnect.  Life is out of balance.  The various parts of our lives bleed over into all the other parts.  It is like our lives are open windows without screens.  All of this creates stress.  Sooner or later, by choice or when we have a breakdown, we must create some balance and separation in our lives.  There needs to be boundaries and safe zones for children and adults.  We need to have the option of occasionally not participating in life.  The planet will keep spinning around the sun and life can go on without us for a day or two.      

Sunday, April 17, 2016

All The World's A Stage

Usually, when we feel anger, we become angry.  We are anger itself.  When we feel depressed, we are depression.  When we feel greedy, we are greed.  It’s easy to see ourselves in the emotional ‘guise du jour’ and mistake this costume for who we really are beneath it”.
-Marc Gilson
Shakespeare was correct when he said all the world’s a stage and all of us are actors.  Although I strive to be the same person wherever I am, I cannot deny that some parts of my life are acting.  Certain situations force me to act a certain way.  Much to the consternation of some of the directors who guide the plays of life, I don’t always stay on script.  Generally when we are acting, we are playing a character that may or may not be anything like who we really are.  I am sure many of you have favorite movie stars who play a character that you like.  More often than not, the actor is nothing like the character they are playing.  In a similar vein, when we are experiencing various emotions and feelings, they are generally not who we really are.  Who we really are is what some people call our true selves or our essence.   When you strip away the feelings, the armor, the acting, and the defense mechanisms we all show to those around us, what is left is the real person.  The goal of life is to find the real person that we are.  As we journey through life we must discard the many false selves to reveal our true essence.  For some this is a natural, often unconscious process that happens as we age.  For others it is an intentional way of life.  Those who purposely seek their true selves are often those people that others see as spiritual seekers.  When one begins to achieve this awareness of self, it brings a sense of peace, calm, and acceptance that you are who you are meant to be and you are where you are meant to be.   

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Who Are You?

Tension is who you think you should be.  Relaxation is who you are”.
-Chinese Proverb
I am not proud of it but I was on the verge of losing it at work yesterday.  If I had been at home with my granddaughter she would have said, “Paw Paw, are you flailing”?  It was more a moment of frustration.  Security was not needed and no actual screaming took place.  People like me, who are usually cool, calm, and collected when other people are losing it, can sometimes have our own meltdowns.  In my psychology studies I have learned that my personality type has a constant below the surface simmering anger, usually directed at life in general, that may occasionally rear its ugly head.  When it happens people are often shocked.  Much of my daily exhaustion is likely from using up so much energy trying to remain calm.  Sigmund Freud would say I repress my feelings.  I would agree that I do this, especially with what I consider negative emotions.  I think the point of the quote is that our tension is often a result of trying to be who or what we think we should be.  To be perfectly honest, I am most tense when I am at work and it is because I am trying to please so many people.  The “real” me is the guy who goes home at the end of the work day, lets his hair down (literally), puts on a pair of shorts and a Grateful Dead tee shirt, and relaxes in his solitude while his wife occasionally yells at him to turn the music down and quit playing Led Zeppelin so loud.  I turn up the music because I am going deaf.  I am going deaf because I keep turning up the music.  Anyway, I believe we are most our true selves when we are alone and no one is watching us or making demands on us.  In solitude, we can be who we are and we can dance like no one is looking.  Trust me.  You don’t want to see me dance.      

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Dangers Of Multi-Tasking

Mindfulness is not about creating a pleasant experience, but about being in the present, taking things one moment at a time, and being aware of whatever arises”.
-Some old guy that looks like me sitting in a cave in Nepal”.
“Smile, breathe & go slowly…”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
What is something that every person working and taking care of family needs does every day?  We all multi-task and although it might be a necessary evil in modern life, it is also the bane of our existence.  I think there is an epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder, in children and adults, that is due, in part, to the reality that most of us are trying to do ten things at a time most of the day, seven days a week.  As chilled out and laid back as most people think I am, I sometimes find it difficult to relax because I am often wired from trying to do all the things expected of me.  In all honesty, it is difficult and challenging to live a mindful life when we are meeting ourselves coming and going all day long.  If you are lucky enough to get some downtime it is can be difficult and challenging to turn everything off, disconnect, and just breathe.  I haven’t stayed at a monastery in a while but on most of the visits I’ve ever made, the first day or two I felt anxious as I tried to put the brakes on my psyche.  Unfortunately, just when I started to feel calm it was time to go home and jump back in the rat race.  What is a person to do?  First of all, quit trying to be Superman or Wonder Woman.  If you don’t, you may end up feeling more like the Hulk.  As much as possible, try to do only one thing at a time and finish it before you move to the next thing.  As far as it is in your control, don’t over commit yourself.  Learn to say no.  Don’t give your own needs the lowest priority on your to do list.  Even if it is only ten minutes a day, seek out some solitary moments when you can be quiet.  Be aware of your day as you experience it.  Learn to recognize the moments when you need to stop, breathe, and refocus.         

Monday, April 11, 2016

If Life Offers You A Gift...Take It.

“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance.  Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom”.
-Shakyamuni Buddha
I must admit that I have a personality that tends to be withdrawn and disengaged.  My preference is to be a hermit living in my cave.  This is not all bad but it can limit your possibilities.  From time to time I try to make myself live intentionally with the attitude of Yes!  What I mean by this is that I try to make myself take advantage of every opportunity.  You cannot grow and develop as a person if you are constantly saying no to life.  When life offers you a gift, take it.  When life presents you with an opportunity, seize it.  When life gives you a challenge, don’t run away from it.  If your life is not expanding, you are not really living.  There are times when we all need to disengage and withdraw and it is fine to do that.  Sometimes even the best of us need to rest and heal.  Life is demanding and it can be occasionally brutal.  Say yes to life and it will gift you with wisdom.  Most things in life will not come to you.  You have to leave the cave.  Some of us are more eager to do this because we have an adventurous spirit.  Others are a little more apprehension or even afraid.  However, I recently read that everything we want is on the other side of our fears.       

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

What Is Enlightenment?

The purpose of meditation practice is not enlightenment; it is to pay attention even at unextraordinary times, to be of the present, nothing but the present, to bear this mindfulness of now into each event of ordinary life”.
-Peter Matthiessen
On conscious and unconscious levels I have been seeking enlightenment my entire life without really knowing what it even is.  I have always believed there is more to life than meets the eye.  Perhaps this is based on my personal need to believe I am more than just a random collection of star dust living a meaningless life that matters little now and will matter even less when I am gone.  If I am not yet enlightened I am at least a being conscious of its own existence.  Enlightenment may be nothing more than an expansion of one’s own consciousness.  The more conscious I am the more aware I am.  The more aware that I am the more I see.  The more I see, the more that is revealed to me.  Maybe the equation is Consciousness + Awareness + Seeing = Enlightenment.  When I am conscious, aware, and seeing with an expanded gaze, I am able to see the extraordinary within the seemingly ordinary.  In these moments I am truly present in the eternal Now.  I know this all sounds very esoteric but it is really the stuff of everyday life when life is lived consciously.  We are more than star dust and life is more than random collection of events that fill our days.    

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Compassion Versus Irritation

Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves”.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
I “practice” compassion in my life because I want to be a compassionate person.  I do not “practice” irritation although some days I am more irritated than compassionate.  Sometimes I can be extremely patient while other times I have a very short fuse.  What I try to understand is why I am so patient some of the time and so irritable others times.  It is relatively easy for me to be compassionate with the weak, the needy, and anyone with a legitimate need.  I am quickly irritated with fools, anyone who is pompous, or people who are just annoying.  As I once read, “I love mankind!  It’s people I can’t stand”!  I like myself better when I am compassionate and in my heart I know I should even be compassionate with fools, pompous people, and those who annoy me.  However, I am still a work in progress so I sometimes have to be compassionate with myself as well.  I once saw a cartoon of God making the world.  God was pictured as a chef and the world was a stew or a gumbo that God was making in a kettle.  In God’s hand is what appears to be a salt or pepper shaker but it is labeled “Jerks”.  While God is adding this “seasoning” to the world he is saying “Just to make it interesting”!  There will always be people or situations that test us.  When we are at our best we will be compassionate or at least patient.  When we are feeling irritated, it is an opportunity to learn the true meaning of compassionate.  That which tests us can be our greatest teacher.