Monday, October 24, 2016

It's All Life

Here are some nice 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 think 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.      

Finding Yourself

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”?  Last year I  watched a television show Cosmos.  It is 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, the complexity of outer space and beyond, 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 if 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 few months ago a friend 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 us companions on the journey.       

A Zest For Living

“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.  I had one yesterday in Red River Gorge State Park.  Sometimes we need a good nap or perhaps a night out with friends.  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, October 19, 2016

A Day At Red River Gorge

I spent Monday in an all-day seminar of intensive retirement training.  Two of my brothers and a nephew accompanied me to Red River Gorge.  It is a beautiful area located in the Daniel Boone National Forest near Lexington, Kentucky.  The fall colors were more intense than where I live and most of the morning was cool and breezy.  Being a Monday there were few other people around and at one point the only sound I was hearing was the wind blowing through the trees.  We eventually found our way to the Natural Bridge State Park Lodge where we enjoyed a delicious all you could eat buffet.  I especially liked the fried catfish and blackberry cobbler.  After lunch I rode on one of the most intense and scary ski lifts I’ve ever been on.  At times I was hundreds of feet off the ground.  The lift would stop and there I was just swinging in the sky.  I must admit that I said a few prayers and closed my eyes more than once.  Did I mention a fear of heights?  Near the end of the ride up the mountain you basically scale a shear wall of rock.  I felt like I was on the television show called “Running Wild with Bear Grylls”.  If you have never watched the show it involves a serious outdoorsman taking celebrities out to remote parts of nature and basically scaring the hell out of them.  Once you are on the natural bridge, there is no easy way back down except the ski lift.  When it was time to leave I took a deep breath, said another prayer, got in the chair and closed my eyes until I could open them without experiencing a full blown panic attack.  I am happy to report that I made it down the mountain alive.  The next time I think I will just walk in the woods and hope a bear doesn’t attack me. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Becoming A Centered Person

I’ve read many books about meditation.  Over the years I have tried 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 important not to be disturbed while you are doing them.  Typically these types of meditation would be done for about 20 minutes twice a day.  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.  Our minds could be compared to a busy river where there is lots of activity on the surface.  When we let our thoughts run rampant, it’s like we are on the river.  When we sit still and use a mantra or prayer word, it acts like an anchor that brings 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.  When you can live your life with this inner stillness, you are what some would call “a centered person”.    

Staying Young

The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.
-Comedian Lucille Ball
Lots of words have been written about staying young.  Some people say age is all about attitude.  This idea has been humorously captured by the famous baseball player, Satchel Paige, in his quote “Age is mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it don’t matter”.  Some people also talk about being “young at heart”.  I don’t think we should obsess about being young.  As Bob Dylan once sang, “Those not busy being born are busy dying”.  Sometimes our attempts to be young are little more than immature behavior.  There’s nothing more pathetic than a man or woman my age trying to act like they are twenty.  As we grow older we should trade our immaturity for wisdom.  If there is a quality we should strive for, it is not youthfulness, it is being childlike by living our life with a sense of wonder.  One of the pitfalls of aging is that we often become cynical and we can no longer be awed by anything.  If I end up physically old, wise, and with a childlike sense of wonder and awe, I will be happy with myself.  Never lose your openness to awe and wonder.  Fight your cynicism.  When nothing impresses you or causes you to be lost in the moment, you are already dead.  Life is tough and it can sometimes feel boring.  Every day there are the chores of life and the demands of making a living.  Don’t let making a living, however, replace having a life.  Be open to the extraordinary within the ordinary.  Pay attention and be present when moments of wonder and awe reveal themselves to you

Live In Each Season

“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
Recently 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.

Karma And The Law Of Attraction

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 karma.  I saw a cartoon once  for a place called the “Karma CafĂ©”.  It said there are no menu’s because you get what you deserve.  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.  Negative and pessimistic people also seem to worry about everything all the time.  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 but in general 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, my Zen moments where I am one with something bigger than myself, or maybe for 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, a book based on Chinese philosophy, 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.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Some People Walk In The Rain. Other People Just Get Wet.

In the beginning you will fall into the gaps in between thoughts.  After practicing for years, you become the gap.”
-J. Kleykamp 

Some people walk in the rain.  Other people just get wet.”
-Attributed to Bob Marley 

This is becoming easier for me as I age because the gaps between my coherent thoughts are growing by the day.  Someone once asked me how I walk in the rain without getting wet.  I told them I walk between the drops.  Life is full of thoughts and activities.  It can all be exhausting.  Two of my personal goals in life have been to have a quiet mind and to be invisible.  I have become relatively successful with both of these goals.  Meditation helps me quiet my mind.  For me meditation is basically being still, being silent, and breathing.  It doesn’t prevent thoughts but helps me let them go.  They keep coming but most of them I just wave at as they keep on moving.  Walking between raindrops takes some skill and one must be very nimble of foot.  Becoming the gap between thoughts and learning to walk between raindrops is all part of flowing with life instead of fighting it.  None of this come naturally to me.  I have a personality that tends to fight life.  I go back and forth between wanting to change and improve the world and wanting to rebel against it.  Some people also talk about the idea of fighting life or fleeing from it.  This is called “fight or flight”.  Becoming the gap and walking between the raindrops is different.  It is the middle path.  It is not fighting or fleeing.  It is being present to life.  When you are really good at this presence, you live in the gap and you never get wet. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

You've Got To Do Your Own Growing

You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
-Irish proverb
We are all on our own journeys.  My parents, grandparents, and other ancestors had their own journeys, struggles, and successes.  All of their DNA is part of me but my particular assortment of DNA is unique to me.  I hope the best of all of them is part of who I am but I also know the less than great tendencies of my ancestors also manifests itself in my looks and behavior.  I know from my younger brother’s ancestry research that there are a few skeletons in the closet.  Whatever is the best and the worst of my heritage, the future is on me.  I am now the grandfather to a 12 year old girl that I love dearly.  Every weekend I hear about her existential angst as she makes her way through middle school and heads full blast into her teenage years.  I hope I have many years ahead where I can share my life experience and wisdom with her so that her path is a little smoother than mine has been.  However, I know that I can’t fix everything for her or shield her from all pain.  She is on her own journey and she must walk her own path.  I will accompany her as long as the universe allows me but eventually I will only be in her memories.  Hopefully the best of me will live on in her and the journey will continue.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

I Do What I Like

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 be selfish but it can also be the path to your self-awareness.       

The Joy Of Aging

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 many older people 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 five 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 and 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 and the stamina.

Salt Of The Earth

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 and faith level.  On top of all this, there are the chores of everyday life that one must do to simply live.  At age sixty five 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.  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.    

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Rattling Cages

I found two quotes I like and I couldn’t decide on which one to use so I am using both of them…
People only get really interesting when they start to rattle the bars of their cages
-Alain de Botton
Half of your power lies in your sameness with others.  The other half lies in your uniqueness
-Alan Cohen
I am not a person who likes conflict.  I prefer to be a peacemaker.  Rarely do I start a fight.  However, I rarely back down from one either.  I don’t like to rebel just for the sake of rebelling.  However, when I think something is unfair or unjust, it is virtually impossible for me to stay silent.  I cannot fight all the world’s battles but I try to fight the ones I can.  More people should rattle more cages.  However, there are right ways to do this and wrong ways to do this.  Regardless of our gender, age, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference, we are more alike than different.  Diversity celebrates our sameness as well as our individual unique qualities.  I am older than I act and I am proud of this contradiction.  I refuse to act like an old person unless it gets me a senior citizen discount at a restaurant.  I am proud to be an aging hippie who still likes to rock and roll even if I can no longer jump around all over the place.  When I attend a concert these days I need a seat that provides proper lumbar support.  I love it that my wife yells at me for playing Led Zeppelin too loud.  I love it that my granddaughter thinks I’m a little weird and might possibly be a wizard.  I also like that I have a quiet, introspective side that is more like a Buddhist monk than a rock and roll star.  I like being an enigma to some people and I hope to die rattling my cage or someone else’s.  I am not Mr. Excitement but I don’t think anyone thinks I am boring.  Whoever you are, be unique and rattle a few cages along the way.  It’s good exercise.