Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Son Becomes A Pastor

As many of you know, my youngest son is a Catholic priest.  For the last year he has been working solo as the acting pastor of three small parishes in southern Kentucky.  In this part of Kentucky Catholics are few and far between so some consider this area as the “Southern Kentucky Missions”.  For the first year that you are “flying solo” you are considered an Administrator.  My son has successfully been the “acting” pastor for the last year so he is now being formally made the Pastor.  It’s a big deal so this weekend my wife and I, along with Chloe, are going there to attend the formal ceremonies that accompany this change.  Archbishop Kurtz will be there as well to make it official.  Technically the Archbishop is my son’s boss.  The Archbishop’s boss is Pope Francis.  I still remember the day, a little over ten years ago, when Nick came to me and told me he wanted to be a priest.  At the time it kind of blew me away because I did not see it coming.  Despite my own background of going to the seminary and living in a monastery I can honestly say I never did anything intentionally to encourage Nick in this direction.  Some things in life are a calling.  After he went through the rigorous process of being accepted into the seminary, my wife and I drove him to Indianapolis to attend Marian College.  Within the college there is a seminary program for men who need to complete their undergraduate degree before doing graduate level work in theology.  Nick did his graduate level theological studies at St. Meinrad School of Theology and now has a Master’s Degree.  I enjoyed those four years because the school is only about 75 miles away and is run by Benedictine monks.  For obvious reasons I always enjoyed visiting there.  The day we  first drove Nick to Marian College it must have been 95 degrees.  We found the seminary residence hall and it had no air conditioning.  The poor priest who was the seminary Rector was sweating profusely as he tried to get everyone to their assigned rooms.  When my wife and I finally said goodbye and left Nick, I wondered how it would all turn out and if he would be happy.  Ten years later and four years as a priest he is very happy.  He loves his current assignment and he especially likes being in a small town and rural environment.  By all appearances, he seems to be happy and thriving.  Whether your son is a priest or a plumber, isn’t this what all parents want for a child?            

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Unresolved Questions & Issues

In Zen, we don’t find the answers.  We lose the questions”.
-Zen saying
Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue”.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
As I have said before, I am a very introspective person.  I am always thinking and pondering and musing and contemplating.  It’s part of who I am.  All of these activities can be done too much with the possible exception of contemplation which is a kind of restful gaze into the universe or God, whichever you prefer.  However, even contemplatives need to stand up once in a while and take out the trash or perform some other chore.  The point is that we all have questions or other unresolved issues in our hearts, many of which will never be resolved.  This is true for every person.  I know some people think I have all the answers.  I might have a few.  I, too, have issues and most of them go back to my childhood which is where most issues begin for many people.  Over and above any childhood baggage we carry, we have other experiences on the path of life that may have hurt us.  Sometime we can let these experiences go and move on with our life.  Other times we carry them with us and we continually ask “Why did this happen to me”?  Many times these questions are never answered.  If we are lucky we move on and we lose the questions.  Sometimes we are broken but other times we are healed.  Even with healing there is often a scar.  I once read that gray hair and scars mean that you have survived every challenge so far in your life.  I have grey hair and scars.  You are not weak for having struggles.  You are strong for having survived.     

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My U2 Experience

Sometimes I am impulsive, like when a concert is announced six months in advance.  I am ready to jump in feet first.  I work out the financial plan and then I purchase the tickets.  The closer the concert gets the more I anxious I become, especially if it is being held in an arena or stadium.  At this stage of my rock and roll life I am better suited for intimate concerts in small venues like the Louisville Palace or the Brown Theater.  In my younger days, when I was in my forties, I made a lot of road trips to Cincinnati or Indianapolis.  If I did that today I would have to stay overnight in a hotel.  In days of old I would come to work the next day.  This past Friday I went to see U2 at Papa John’s Stadium, a place I had never been.  I went with my son the priest.  Going with a priest had its benefits.  There is a Catholic church across the street from the stadium so we had convenient and free parking for the concert.  Although the stadium was across the street from the church it was still quite a hike to get to the entrance.  At that time it was approximately 87 degrees.  I began to have serious doubts about the wisdom of attending an outdoor concert in a big stadium on a very hot day.  Once we got past security and into the stadium, we were able to hang out in a shady spot until the opening act hit the stage.  Unfortunately, our seats were on the sunny side of the stadium in the nose bleed section.  The air is a little thin up there too.  My brilliant son gets out his iPhone and goes to the Ticketmaster website.  A few minutes later he says, “Follow me, Dad”.  He takes me to two seats on the end of a row that were much better than our reserved seats.  What did he do?  He simply looked for seats that hadn’t been sold.  Brilliant!  I never would have thought of that.  The concert itself far exceeded my expectations.  The sun was finally setting as U2 took the stage.  It was a powerful concert and they played most of their iconic songs including the entire “Joshua Tree” album.  Music is more than entertainment for me.  It is often a deeply emotional experience.  Several times I was moved to tears, especially when Bono sang “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, song about Martin Luther King, Jr.  U2 is very political but in a positive way.  Their songs are deep and personal, yet universal.  After the show my son and I maintained a tradition I began many years ago after I had taken him to see the Rolling Stones when he was a teen-ager.  We ate at the Waffle House with all the other creatures of the night.  Much to my surprise I ran into someone from my office but what happens at the Waffle House stays at the Waffle House.  When I finally got home I looked at my Fitbit and I had walked over 40,000 steps!  It wasn’t until Sunday that I felt the pain.  The good news is that I’m still out there getting it done!  Old guys rock!       

Saturday, June 17, 2017


In one of his early journals, the monk and writer Thomas Merton describes the experience of lying in his cell at night wide awake due to his insomnia.  In those days monks did not have private rooms.  They slept in dormitories where each monk had a “cell”.  A cell was little more than a small bed with partitions around it.  When I was a young man in the monastery one of the jobs I had was being part of the construction crew assigned to replacing these cells with actual private bedrooms.  Yes, believe it or not I once worked in construction.  Merton goes on to describe the experience of lying in his cell listening to the snoring of all the monks around him while being able to calculate exactly how much sleep he was losing based on the ringing of the monastery bells.  In today’s world individual monks have private rooms and the bells do not ring all night.  They do ring at 3:00 AM to awaken the monks for night vigils in the church.  Whenever I have stayed at the monastery I usually got up with the monks.  The time after these night vigils is my favorite time in the monastic day.  However, I digress.  Sometimes I think I, too, suffer from insomnia.  I actually hate going to bed because I know it will be a struggle to fall asleep.  Sometimes I complicate the problem with evening naps and an overactive mind.  When I go home after a day’s work I usually feel brain dead and exhausted.  It doesn’t matter whether I’ve had a tough day or an easy one.  The only way to not take a nap is to remain continuously busy with chores of some type.  If my mind or body is not engaged it’s off to La La Land.  Thursday morning I woke up at 4:30 AM to heed nature’s call.  I returned to my bed happy that I still had an hour and a half of sleep before my alarm would go off in order to go to work.  I tossed and I turned.  I started hearing rumbles of thunder and seeing flashes of light as a storm approached.  I think I finally fell asleep at 5:59 AM.  My alarm went off at 6:00 AM.  I was not a happy man.  Does anyone else have a problem sleeping at night?  Is this a pattern for older people? 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Is This It? Maybe....

Two Buddhist monks are sitting side by side while meditating on the side of a river.  The older and wiser monk finally says to the younger monk, who has a look of dismay on his face, “Nothing else happens.  This is it.”
I have already lived a longer life than many people and I am hoping it will be even longer.  One of the ironies of life is that even if it is tough, people still cling to it and few let go of it without a fight.  Since I was a young man I have been very introspective.  It is part of my nature.  Anyone who spends a lot of time in introspection routinely wonders “Is this it”?  Since life can often seem like little more than toil and struggle we are sometimes afraid “this is it”.  What gives meaning and purpose to our lives?  Many people would say love but there are many people who don’t feel a lot of love in their lives and sometimes the people we do love drive us crazy.  Other people would say a sense of purpose is what gives meaning to our lives.  Most people would say that working takes up much of their time.  Does your work give you a sense of purpose and meaning?  Would you do what you do if there was no paycheck attached to it?  I didn’t think so.  I don’t know about the rest of you but I think my problem is that I am an idealist and my expectations of life are so high that I am constantly disappointed.  My advice is to have low expectations.  If you do you will be surprised more than you will be disappointed.  In spite of some disappointment, I still love life and I do have great moments.  When they come I try not to cling to them.  I try to enjoy them for as long as they last.  However, just all bad things eventually pass, good things pass as well.  Even when life seems boring and uneventful or you're happy and content, it is always changing.  Often the changes of life are so subtle we don’t notice them until we suddenly realize we are five years down the road.  I have spent a lifetime searching and being on a quest.  I’m sorry to report that I still do not have the answers to the meaning of life.  It is very possible that nothing else happens.  We'll see....   

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Addiction To Smart Phones

Yesterday I read an article about how software designers are programming apps to make us addicted to our Smartphones.  I think it is true.  Before I had a Smartphone I was constantly amazed at how much time people spent on their phones.  After I bought my first Smartphone I found myself becoming one of those people.  I slowly found myself constantly checking personal emails, text messages, the Weather Channel, CNN, Facebook, and more.  Some of my co-workers are even worse because they have an app that allows them to read work related emails on their personal Smartphones.  So far I have resisted that temptation and I am resistant to being told I must do it.  In all fairness my Smartphone is great for staying in touch with important people in my life.  I love it that I can text my granddaughter and other distant friends.  There are also some amazing and helpful apps that I like.  One example is my Amazon app that allows me to order a book or a CD during a staff meeting when my manager thinks I am paying attention to the group conversation.  Another is my Fitbit app that allows me to see how many steps I am walking in a day.  One of my favorite is a meditation app that rings a Tibetan gong to let me know when a meditation session is complete.  I also have a Mindfulness bell that rings periodically throughout the day to remind me to breathe.  Admittedly I have turned that one off during work hours because it freaked out my co-workers and occasionally made them jump.  Did I mention my tip calculator?  One final app called WAZE alerts me to traffic conditions wherever I am.  Having all these tools at your fingertips is very helpful at times but I think it is the social media stuff that is truly addictive.  Why?  I think many of us are lonelier than we care to admit and we have a primal need to feel connected to others no matter how distant or causal the relationship may be.  Let’s be honest about “friends” and even family.  I have approximately 350 Facebook friends, including extended family members, but only a handful of them are true friends.  I think part of the social media addiction is also related to our egos.  Most of us, if we are honest, love to put stuff out there and have other people react to it.  How many “likes” did we get and who actually liked it?  I fell into this trap with my blog which tracks how many people read it and where they are.  At last count it was 58,317 people from countries all over the world.  Some people in other countries have written nice emails to me and now we are Facebook friends.   When I think of modern communication technology I am sometimes reminded that I went through my high school and college years without a beeper or a cell phone.  My generation still managed to connect with one another and it was always in person.  Today I have friends I have never actually met.    

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Is In Front Of Us

To develop this mind state of compassion is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception”.
-Sharon Salzman
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, once said that if you can’t feed the world, then feed one person.  I think I have a better than average awareness of what is going on in the world.  The world is full of war, famine, poverty, and corruption.  I know my middle class life is very comfortable compared to much of the world’s population.  In my heart I feel empathy and sympathy for all the suffering in the world.  I also feel overwhelmed by it.  Sometimes I get what I call compassion fatigue.  I have heard it said that each of us is called to deal with whatever is in front of us.  This is the work of life and we are called to share in it.  When I was young I never imagined my life as it is today.  Though nowhere near as difficult as many other people’s lives, I’ve had some share in the curve balls that life can throw you.  My own needs are few.  I am usually content with whatever is.  When I am not I try to not complain.  If I do complain I get over it quickly.  In all fairness I do not usually seek out people or situations that require intervention although I know there are many good people in the world who live to serve others.  Their lives are dedicated to serve the needs of mankind.  My youngest son has dedicated his life to the spiritual and material needs of others.  In my own small way, I try to never turn away from others.  Sometimes this doesn’t get beyond family.  Others times it may include friends, co-workers, or strangers.  If I can help I try to do so.  If you have capacity to help others, you should do so too.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Some Thoughts On Empathy

The act of compassion begins with full attention, just as rapport does.  You have to really see the person.  If you see the person, then naturally empathy  arises.  If you tune into the other person, you feel with them, you want to help them, and that begins as a compassionate act”.
-Daniel Goleman

I recently read an article about people who have empathy.  What is empathy?  It is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  When I took a test called “Strength Finders” empathy came out as my number one strength.  I have found this to be both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand it is a blessing because I generally know and understand how other people feel.  Knowing how people feel makes it easier to be compassionate.  On the other hand I sometimes find it exhausting to absorb the feelings of other people around me, especially when they are troubled or in pain.  The article I read about empathy focused on the fatigue that empathetic people often feel.  We tend to be sponges for other people’s feelings and it can sometimes be a heavy load to carry.  Since I am an empathic person let me clarify a few things.  Just because I understand your feelings doesn’t necessarily mean I care or that I feel sorry for you.  Empathy and sympathy are not the same thing.  Sympathy is when you have feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.  It is possible to understand another person’s feelings without feeling pity or sorrow for them.  You can also feel pity and sorrow for them and have absolutely no idea how they feel.  Whether you understand people’s feelings or feel sympathy for their experience, you can still show compassion for them.  The first step in being a compassionate person is to simply be a kind person.  We can all be kind.  Kindness is more of an attitude than a strength although some people seem to be especially gifted when it comes to showing kindness.  Whatever your strength or gift, you need to realize that everyone is carrying some kind of burden.  No one is without challenges. 

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Losing Our Minds

Sometimes I think my wife and I are both losing our minds.  We met one of our sons for dinner on Monday night.  While sitting in the restaurant I noticed the clouds were very dark and a storm was brewing.  As we left the restaurant it was starting to sprinkle.  As soon as we pulled our car out into the traffic my wife shouted, “O my God!  Where’s my glasses”?  She has this bad habit of taking her glasses off and setting them on the table in restaurants.  By this time we are in rush hour traffic but close to home.  Since she couldn’t remember if she had even wore them to the restaurant, we decided to drive home and see if her glasses were there.  Naturally, they were not at home so we headed back to the restaurant.  By the time we got to the end of our street it was raining so hard I could barely see the front of my car.  It was a little scary so I decided to drive around the block and go back home.  By this time it was also hailing.  We pulled into the driveway and my wife grabbed her umbrella and ran into the house.  I then jumped out of the car and also ran into the house.  The rain felt like ice water being poured down my back.  Once in the house I looked outside and wondered why my car lights weren’t turning off.  I then realized I didn’t have my car keys.  Apparently I jumped out of the car and left it running in the driveway.  Back into the cold rain I went to turn off the car.  I guess losing your glasses and leaving your car running in the driveway are part of the aging process.  My father in law once left his car running all night in the parking lot of a restaurant.  He had been drinking so he decided to take a cab home.  Unfortunately he forgot to turn off his car first.  My mother in law was not happy with him the next morning when they went to pick up his car and it was still running.  As far as my wife’s glasses, it turned out the glasses had been left at the restaurant so we had to stop there on the way to work Tuesday morning to pick them up.  Dear God…. 

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Living In The Light Of Eternity

“I have been reading all day, confined to my room, and I feel tired.  I raise the screen and face the broad daylight.  I move the chair on the veranda and look at the blue mountains.  I draw a long breath, fill my lungs with fresh air and feel entirely refreshed.  I make tea and drink a cup or two of it.  Who would say I am not living in the light of eternity?
-D.T. Suzuki
This is one of my favorite quotes and I believe it perfectly describes what I would call a Zen moment.  We all spend a great deal of our lives in a frenzy.  The demands of life pull us in many directions, often at the same time.  It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find those quiet moments in our day when we can “live in the light of eternity”.  I start my work days by quietly sitting for about 20 minutes being one with eternity and my morning coffee.  When my work day is over and I am finally back home, I sit in my chair once again and I breathe.  Recently at work I was happy to discover that Building Management had scattered soft and comfortable chairs in various parts of the building so individuals can have quiet moments for reading, reflecting, or simply staring into space.  Sometimes after a walk outside, I spent some time in one of these chairs before heading back upstairs to my desk.  We all need to find these moments in our day or we will lose our sanity.  Most people have never lived in a monastery like I once did.  However, we can all find our “inner monk” and spend some time in silence and solitude.  Even if you are an extrovert, I think you will like it.  Spend some time finding your stillpoint and go there whenever you can.  It is the pause that refreshes.   

Friday, June 02, 2017

The Maintenence Of Life

Earlier this week I went to my dentist for my routine teeth cleaning.  The woman who cleaned my teeth is 80 years old.  I found out later that she told my wife I was way too young to even think about retirement.  Anyway, while I was in the dentist’s chair trying to be a man and not kick out the ceiling lights with my feet, I could not help but think how much of life is maintenance.  When something is full, we empty it.  When some things are empty, we fill them.  We wash and dry our clothes before we fold them and put them away.  As soon as they are all in drawers or closets, we start wearing them again and start the process over.  We clean the bathroom and vacuum the floors.  The grass needs to be mowed and the trash taken out.  Did I mention the weekly recycle bin?  Don’t even get me started on the maintenance of a 66 year old body.  One of my least favorite chores is going to the grocery store.  Have you have realized how many times you touch your grocery items before they actually end up in your pantry or refrigerator?  Let me break it down for you…..

Take items off the shelf or out of the case and put them in your grocery cart.

Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps because the store is constantly re-organizing and moving stuff and you are always a little lost.

Take everything out of your grocery cart and put it on the checkout conveyer so it can be scanned. 

Hold your breath in anticipation for the final bill.

Put everything into bags and re-load your grocery cart.

Unload your grocery cart into the trunk of your car.

Unload the trunk of your car and carry all the bags into your house.

Pile everything on your kitchen table.

Unload the bags and sort your groceries for their appropriate final destination, i.e. cabinets, pantry in the laundry room, or refrigerator.

Put all the plastic grocery bags into your re-cycle bin.

Drink one of the beers you bought at the grocery that night.   

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wake Up Call

I had a medical emergency last week.  My blood pressure went haywire and spiked unexpectedly.  This never happened to me before so I wasn’t sure what was going on.  I have taken blood pressure medication for years.  After a visit with my doctor he determined it was time to adjust my dosage.  I am feeling fine now but I must admit I had a few moments of panic and couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to that great gig in the sky.  I also had a few moments of anger because I had tickets to a Roger Waters concert at the Yum Center on Sunday night and I didn’t want to miss the show because I was in the hospital or worse.  The good news is that I made the concert with two old friends that I have known since we were teen-agers.  After the concert we hung out at my house and actually stayed up till 2:00 AM.  That alone should have killed all three of us.  We’re not too old to rock and roll and still too young to die but we do need our sleep.  Thank God Monday was a holiday and I got to sleep in.  On a more serious note, a brush with possible death is a wakeup call.  I am at the age when dying wouldn’t be a total shock even if it was unexpected.  Last week was a reminder to live well and enjoy every moment.  It was also a reminder not to be stupid and to take care of my health.  I rarely get sick enough to miss work but I do have some ongoing health issues.  Whether you are young or old, take care of yourself and pay attention to how you feel.  If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right and needs to be checked out.  Better safe than sorry.  For the next few weeks I will be extra vigilant because I have tickets to a U2 concert and Bono is expecting me to be in the audience.       

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Road To Success Is Paved With Work

Wanderer, your footsteps are the road and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking”.
Antonio Machado
“Power is the capacity to translate intention into reality and then sustain it”.
-Warren Bennis
In my life I have noticed that everyone wants to know the way.  Everyone wants to know how to get somewhere.  Everyone wants to know the secret to success.  The way to get anywhere is to get going.  Don’t look for a path.  Rather, make your own path.  Rarely does anything good or valuable come easy.  You have to know what you want and then translate your intention and goal into reality.  Once achieved it must be maintained and sustained.  I’ve had some success in life and I have a comfortable lifestyle.  No one gave it to me.  I started working when I was 16 years old bagging groceries in a small mom and pop grocery store.  I worked after school and often on weekends.  Quite frankly, it was the only way I could keep up with my rich friends.  When I received my first paycheck I bought a pair of shoes that were too expensive for my parents to buy for me.  It took almost my entire paycheck.  Eventually I bought my first car and even paid my own car insurance.  That first car was a 1962 VW Beetle that cost $900.  It drove me and my hippie friends to all kinds of places our parents never knew about.  My wife and I have been getting out of bed and heading to our respective jobs for 42+ years.  Many days neither of us wanted to do it but we were mature enough to use whatever power reserves we had to “translate intention into reality and then sustain it”.  Our intention is to stay employed so we can continue to have a comfortable life.  The older we get the less we want to do this.  I am certainly no super human.  I am often unmotivated, lazy, resistant, rebellious, and lacking in direction.  I am what some people would call an under achiever.  However, my wife and I had hard working parents who gave us a strong work ethic.  You don’t have to be a superstar to be successful in life.  You do, however, have to get up and show up.  The road you need to make by walking is the road to work.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Treat Every Moment As Your Last

Treat every moment as your last.  It is not a preparation for something else.  Wherever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars you see.  You are one with everything.  This is more true than I can say and more true than you can hear.
-Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.
Empty handed I entered the world.
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going,
Two simple happenings that got entangled.
I really like these quotes.  It is not because I am closer to the end of my life than I am to the beginning.  Shunryu Suzuki reminds us that every moment of our lives is important.  Most of us waste much of our lives in pursuits that are often frivolous or unnecessary.  Others spend their entire life preparing for the future and they never truly live in the present.  Just recently I used a strong metaphor in a conversation with my wife.  I told her she is always loading her gun but she never pulls the trigger.  What I was saying is that we have to quit talking all the time about what we are going to do and just do it.  I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that said “Life is short.  Buy the damn concert tickets”!   Whether we are young or old we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis “What are we waiting for”?  Yes, sometimes you have to plan but don’t spend your entire life planning.  Sooner or later, and preferably sooner, you have to implement your dreams.  Originally I thought I would be retired by now.  When I decided to keep working for a while I told my wife that if I was going to continue working, and now that I have more money than I’ve ever had, I am going to do more.  If I want something I will buy it.  I will go on nicer vacations and take them more often.  I’m running out of days so the time for more action is now.  I was out walking the other day while at work.  Each day now there are food trucks everywhere.  People seem to love them.  One of the food trucks had a funny slogan painted on it.  It said, “I don’t want to look back some day and think I could have eaten that”!  We are all given a finite period of time in this life.  Some get more than others and no one knows how long they will be given.  I have already been given much more than many.  Empty handed I entered this world and barefoot I will leave it.  In the time between I want to be one with the clouds and the sun and the stars.  I’m going to the damn concerts too!         

Thursday, May 18, 2017

My Oldest Son

Today is the 39th birthday of my oldest son who is also the father of Chloe and my namesake.  Although he has my name, the truth is that he’s more like his mother.  That’s a whole different daily thought.  When I began working at Humana he was only seven years old and in the first grade.  Now he is knocking on the door of middle age and has a few gray hairs to prove it.  He is a single Dad and although Chloe may disagree some days, he’s a very good Dad who works hard.  I found it touching that this past weekend Chloe told my wife and me that she wanted to get her Dad a Mother’s Day card.  We stopped at Walgreen’s where she picked out a card and a few of his favorite snacks.  When my son was born in 1978 I was only 27 years old and married only four years.  This was pre-Humana so at the time I was working for a Heating and Air Conditioning Wholesale company where I waited on customers and unloaded semi-trucks full of air conditioners and furnaces.  Becoming a parent changed my life as it does for most people.  Once you become a parent it never really ends.  The midnight feedings and diaper changes turn into sleepless nights wondering where your teen-ager is and what they doing.  Before you realize it they grow up and leave home for their own life.  Eventually they have a crisis or two and realize they are lucky their parents are still around to help.  It is also a good thing if their parents have a bigger bank account.  Once my son called me in the middle of my evening nap and asked if I could watch Chloe for a few hours.  I responded that I could and asked him where he was.  He replied, “I’m in your driveway”.  Four years after my oldest son was born, his brother came along.  I think both of them would agree they had a pretty good life growing up.  There were lots of Saturday afternoon movies, attending professional wrestling matches, going to the circus, and being on vacations.  Santa Claus never missed a Christmas either.  I never had a daughter but now I have a very special granddaughter.  Sons and daughters and grandchildren grow up quickly so use some of that Zen I am always talking about and enjoy every moment while you can.

The Sound Of Our Own Wheels

“Try dying every day to your old self so that you emerge renewed and young again as the tired mind sheds its load”.
-Kristen Zambucka
Let’s be honest.  Aren’t we all just a little tired in ways that have nothing to do with a lack of sleep?  I call it being psychically tired.  It’s part being physically tired.  It’s part being emotionally tired. It’s part being spiritually tired.  Life is hard for all of us even if we have lives that many would consider very nice.  Life is sometimes harder for us as individuals because of our own dysfunctional behavior patterns.  The rock band “The Eagles” have a song lyric that goes “Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy”.  This is what many of us do.  If life isn’t challenging enough we drive ourselves crazy with the sound of our own wheels.  In my mind the “sound of our own wheels” is our dysfunctional behavior.  After many years I have realized that people don’t really change much and they are who they are.  This is certainly true with people within my own family, people in the workplace, and with myself.  I can help guide behavior but I can rarely change it in others.  It is the same with me as a person and a leader.  My strengths are my strengths and my weaknesses are my weaknesses.  My weaknesses will never be my strengths.  Our personalities never really change.  We just become older and hopefully better versions of ourselves.  When I had only been married a short period of time, my wife complained to my mother that I was obsessed with music.  My mother told her to relax because I would get over it when I grew up.  42 years later at age 66 I have a music collection that probably contains 3,000 CD’s.  They take up an entire wall of my room at home.  In the next month I will be attending two major rock concerts.  I am still a hippie and still a little rebellious.  We are what we are.  Having said all of this, sometimes I wear myself out with my dysfunctions, my obsessions, and the sound of my own wheels.  Know what I mean?  I would like to sometimes wake up to a new and renewed version of myself.  By the way, my mother is now 87 years old and probably still waiting for me to grow up.        

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Can You Be Present Every Moment?

The solution to our mood problems may not require heroic attempts to change our inner feeling world or the outer world of people, places, and jobs.  Rather, it may simply involve a shift in the way we pay attention to all of them”.
-Mark Williams
The little things we do in life may not seem to have a direct bearing on spirituality; maybe they seem quite unspiritual.  Nevertheless, it is your world you are dealing with; it is your environment.  So the things you are doing should be felt fully rather than rushed through”.
-Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche
As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are.  Otherwise you will miss most of your life.”
As simple as all of this sounds I find it very challenging to do on a day to day basis.  When I think of presence, I think of being totally focused on the moment and the event.  I then ponder, “When has 100% of me ever been anywhere and doing one thing at the same time”?  I often feel like I am going in ten directions and parts of me are trying to catch up with other parts of me.  Most days I have less sleep than I need, so I am often tired, and there seems to be places I need to go and things I need to accomplish.  By the time I get home at the end of the day I feel exhausted from trying to be present all day at work.  My evenings are generally free and unencumbered but I know many of you have child care responsibilities, part time jobs, or school obligations.  I don’t know that I can be conscious or truly present every minute of the day.  Consciousness or presence is a lot like meditation.  When one sits in meditation you strive to be present to the moment and most meditators focus on their breath or a mantra to stay focused.  When you realize that you are drifting you come back to your breath or your mantra in order to return to your center.  You really have to do the same thing when living a busy life.  When you realize that you are chasing your tail or meeting yourself coming and going, pause for a few moments and just breathe.  If you can, stop what you are doing  and use a mantra or a prayer word to refocus and re-enter your own center.  In other words, get your bearings and let your inner GPS re-direct itself.  Ironically, consciousness can be the awareness that you aren’t conscious!  When you are truly in the moment you probably aren’t aware of it.  Some psychologists refer to unconscious consciousness as “flow”.  Flow is when you are no longer aware of time or space.         

Sunday, May 14, 2017

All Of Life Is A Teacher

The entire world is an open book, a scripture.  Read it.  Learn while digging a pit or chopping some wood or cooking some food.  If you can’t learn from your daily activities, how are you going to understand the scriptures”?
-Swami Satchidananda
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water”.
-Zen saying
You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.”
-St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Most of you reading this have probably never dug a pit, chopped wood, or carried water.  I assume everyone has prepared a meal if only for themselves.  Any of you who are old hippies like me probably know that Swami Satchidananda appeared at the original Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 and was also featured in the Woodstock documentary film.  He was a Hindu guru and died just a few years ago.  Today’s Zen quote is a famous one.  It is basically telling us that before or after we may attain some level of enlightenment we will still have the chores of everyday life.  What will change is our attitude and view of these chores.  Most of us in America live like Kings and Queens compared to most of the world.  The reality is that many people chop wood and carry water everyday just to survive.  I believe this quote is also telling us that if we aren’t finding what we are looking for in the tasks of everyday life we aren’t likely to find them in a church or temple or mosque.  St. Bernard is a Christian monk who lived near the end of the 10th century in France.  Clairvaux is a small town in France where he founded a monastery and lived much of his life.  I have been to Clairvaux, France and while there I visited a spring in a forest where St. Bernard is believed to have meditated and inspired to write the words quoted above.  St. Bernard was one of the early teachers and monks in the order of monks that came to be known as Cistercians.  The monastery where I lived as a young man was a Cistercian monastery.  I am reminded of a time I was in the monastery and feeling ill.  I was in the infirmary and reading “The Complete Works of St. John of the Cross”.  John of the Cross was a 16th century Spanish mystic.  His books would be considered “heavy”.  An older monk came to see how I was feeling.  When he saw the book I was reading he said, “Brother Dominic, you would learn more about God working in the cow barn than reading that book”.  The works of John of the Cross are spiritual classics but the older monk was right.  I learned more about God working at the cow barn and taking walks in the woods where the trees and the stones were my teachers than I ever learned in church.  There is nothing wrong with going to church but all of life can and should be your teacher.   

Thursday, May 11, 2017

You Are Responsible For Your Own Decisions

Distracting yourself away from your problems doesn’t help you.  Your problems will always return.  Acknowledging your problems is the first step to dealing with them”.
We live in a society where many people feel they are victims.  Some people truly are victims of circumstances that are beyond their control.  Many other people are just looking for an excuse or someone to blame for their problems.  Whenever I talk to my granddaughter about her school work, a bad grade is always her teachers fault.  Occasionally I speak with an adult who is still blaming their parents for their life.  Sooner or later we all have to own our problems and our lives.  You can play the blame game or you can just deal with your situation which may or may not be your own fault.  Most of our lives are the results of our own good and bad decisions.  I think we all have the power to make our lives what we want them to be.  This doesn’t mean that our lives always turn out the way we want them to do.  I truly think most people’s lives are accidental in the sense that they turn out the way they do without much actual planning.  How many of you who are reading these thoughts have the life you wanted?  How many of you think the circumstances of your life are exactly what you thought they should be?  Even if a life is accidental, that doesn’t mean it turned out badly.  Are you happy with the life you have?  If so, you may be proof that an accidental life can be a happy life.  On the other hand, some people achieve a life they think they wanted only to find out it makes them miserable.  Many of us try to make the best of our situation regardless of how we got there.  Look at the life you have.  How did you get there?  What decisions good or bad have you made?  If you are happy, be grateful.  If you are not, what are your options?  Sometimes we get so far down a road it is difficult or impossible to turn back and start over.  For others it is never too late to start over.  We are always at a crossroads.         

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Finding Balance

It’s not so much that we are afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear.  It’s like being between trapezes”.
-Marilyn Ferguson
There is no such thing as work-life balance.  Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life”.
Alain de Botton
To slave away on the pointless business of mundane life, and then to come out empty is a tragic error”.
-Tibetan Book of the Dead
Whenever I know or think my life is on the verge of change, I like to think “maybe this will be a good thing”.  This is the optimist in me.  I tend to believe that even when bad things happen some good will come from it.  It is only human, however, to have moments of doubt or fear while you are swinging through the air hoping your timing and your grasp are perfect when the next trapeze appears.  Much of my life has been a quest for balance.  I always wanted a little of this and a little that while not having too much of either.  The one job I had that created an unbalance in my life was also my favorite job and one of the few from which I was fired.  It’s been a while since my life felt unbalanced.  The last time was probably during my child rearing years.  I had two children and was working a lot of overtime at a new job while also going to night classes at a local college.  I was also experiencing the early stages of what became a health crisis.  I got through it all but in retrospect I prefer a balanced life over a crazy life.  These days I mostly have balance but sometimes it feels unbalanced because some things feel out of proportion to other things.  For example, at this stage of my life I don’t mind working but I would prefer working less.  I don’t have the energy I used to have so three days of work per week would be preferable to my current five days a week.  I need more sleep and I want more leisure.  Sooner or later this will work itself out.  I guess the bottom line is that our lives will feel differently at different stages.  When I was younger and more energetic I could handle a lot more.  Now that I am older and less energetic, I prefer more rest and down time.  With most of the labors of life I have done my time and paid my dues.  Now it is time for more books, more music, more daydreaming, more staring out the window, and less slaving away on the sometimes pointless and mundane business of life.  Been there, done that.        

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Life In The Slow Lane

Patience may seem like a superficial virtue, but actually it embodies a deep insight into the nature of things.  They’re intertwining, messy, and usually not about you”.
-Rick Hanson
“Patience has all the time it needs”.
-Allan Lokos
I am always amazed at the impatience of people.  People like the guy who honks at you the split second after the light turns green or the guy that tailgates you when you are already 15 miles an hour over the speed limit.  Everyone seems to always be in a hurry.  For what, I have no idea.  My children laugh at me when I say, “The journey is the destination”.  This summer I have a trip planned to the ocean.  I have decided to drive because I hate flying.  I have no fear of flying but I find the whole experience stressful.  A lot of that is dealing with impatient people.  I am going to a part of the country I have never been to and I want to see the land and scenery along the way.  As Gandhi once said, “there is more to life than increasing it’s speed”.  Over the weekend I saw a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about a television show in Norway called “Slow TV”.  One of the shows was nothing but watching logs burning in a fireplace.  Another show was a train ride through the Norwegian countryside.  They put a camera on the front of the train and the show lasted for eight hours.  It was like you were the engineer of the train. Imagine C-Span in nature.  I am all about slowing life down.  This past weekend was a very rare weekend without my granddaughter staying at my home.  Admittedly I missed her.  I didn’t leave the house the entire weekend.  I slept late, drank a pot of coffee, listened to a lot of music, read from a new book, took a few naps, and walked in my back yard.  Many people would consider this a very boring weekend.  I was in hog heaven.  It was an introverts dream.  I had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and all day to get there.  I definitely wasn’t in a hurry.  It was my own channel on “Slow TV”.               

Friday, May 05, 2017

It's A Zen Thing

Enlightenment is the result of the daily practice of mindfulness”.
-Shinjo Ito
The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows. There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand ; I take a book from the other side of the desk ; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighboring wood: — in all these I am practicing Zen, I am living Zen. No wordy discussions is necessary, nor any explanation. I do not know why — and there is no need of explaining, but when the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss. If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.”
D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
Perhaps there is after all nothing mysterious in Zen. Everything is open to your full view. If you eat your food and keep yourself cleanly dressed and work on the farm to raise your rice or vegetables, you are doing all that is required of you on this earth, and the infinite is realized in you.”
D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism
I am not a real Zen Master although I play one in the office where I work.  I first heard of Zen from the writings of the Christian monk, Thomas Merton.  I was immediately drawn to it.  I’ve read a fair amount of books about it but I think it basically boils down to being where you are and doing what you are doing.  Zen is about presence.  Whatever you are doing, just do it.  When I go outside for a walk, I walk.  When the wind blows, I feel the wind.  When I walk by the food trucks lined up on the curb every day, I smell the aromas of the food being cooked.  This is all the stuff of life.  The more I practice Zen the more I catch life as it flows.  Sometimes our lives may feel small as we go about our daily routines but there is a big world out there.  Zen opens our eyes.  It helps me to appreciate the wonders of life.   When I am fully part of the flow of life I am being mindful.  When I am present I am enlightened.  As you go through your day use your eyes and ears and nostrils.  Feel the wind on your face and the warmth of the sun on your neck.  When you eat, taste your food.  Use all of your senses and become more aware. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

The Only Constant Is Change

It isn’t enough to appreciate change from afar, or only in the abstract, or as something that can happen to other people but not to you.  We need to create change for ourselves, in a workable way, as part of our everyday lives”.
-Sharon Salzberg
Don’t try to rush things, for the cup to run over, it must first be filled”.
-Antonio Machado
My feelings about change can change on a daily basis.  Some change feels good and some change hurts.  One thing I have learned is that the only constant in life is change.  It will happen whether you like it or not.  Change happens to all of us.  In my cubicle is a picture of me taken the year I started working at Humana.  It is a picture of a young man with brown hair and a brown beard.  That young man is now an old man with soon to be white hair and beard.  On a daily basis I didn’t notice the transformation.  However, each day for the last 30+ years my body has aged and I became the man you see today.  As I have gotten older everyone around me seems to have gotten younger.  The good news is that the older man who writes these thoughts is a lot wiser than the young man in the picture.  The change of getting older is not a bad thing if you do right.  I have a fondness for the young version of myself but I am also very comfortable with the old man he has become.  There’s a lot about getting older that I really like.  For one thing I am a lot more relaxed.  There isn’t much that stresses me out anymore.  I feel good where I am.  Change is often good regardless of how it may occasionally feel.  Change will happen at its own pace so there is no need to rush it.  I got to where I am now one day at a time.  Believe it or not, most older people don’t want to be young again and have to re-live all the challenges of their youth.  I do not wish to re-live the labors of my youth.  My cup has filled up over time and now my cup runneth over. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Space For Grace

While we’re talking, envious time is fleeing.  Seize the day, put no trust in the future”.
Stop allowing your day to day life to be clouded by busy nothingness”.
-Steve Maraboli
I tend to think that time is like an endlessly flowing river.  Each of us is in the river for a relatively short period of time even if we reach our perception of old age.  When we are gone the river keeps flowing.  It takes some effort to stay afloat in the river but by and large the less we resist the easier the ride.  One needs to flow with life, not fight it.  Time and life are the same thing to me until I experience otherwise.  We should seize the day and live in the moment even though I know from personal experience this is not always as easy as it sounds.  Time occasionally slips through my fingers and once gone it cannot be recovered.  I saw a meme the other night that said, “I always knew I would get old but I never thought it would happen this fast”.  It gets your attention when you realize that some of your best memories are now fifty years old. 
One of the best ways to slow down your life is by avoiding unnecessary busyness.  Our culture runs us ragged.  I often reflect on how I thought my life would be much less busy at this stage.  However, it feels as busy as ever.  It seems like there is always somewhere to go or something to do.  I thought by this time of my life I would be sitting in the sun watching the grass grow.  When you are tempted to do something because you feel like you should, ask yourself, “Is this really necessary”?  It may be your own compulsive behavior making you think it is necessary.  Just because your mother did something doesn’t mean you have to do it too.  A friend of mine runs a retreat house in the country.  He advertises it as “a space for grace”.  People have many different understandings of the meaning of grace.  When I use to teach a religion class to teenagers back in the 80’s, I compared grace to “The Force”.  This was shortly after the Star Wars movies first appeared.  Think of grace as life.  Find time and space in your life for just being alive.  Let the chores wait.  Do something you love.  Read a book, listen to a symphony, write in a journal, etc.  A “space for grace” can be a space to breathe, use the “Force” and become a Jedi Knight.  My apologies to anyone who have never watched a Star Wars movie.    

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Finding Yourself & Forgetting Yourself

True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of oneself; but the point is not only to get out, you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand”.
-Henry James
Without giving up hope that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be, we will never relax with where we are or who we are”.
-Pema Chodron
Don’t let a day go by without asking who you are”.
-Deepak Chopra
Some of you will remember my friend, Father Dennis.  He was a dear friend who lived near the monastery.  I used to take off one Friday every month to spend the day with him.  We met as young men.  Over the years we occasionally lost track of one another but when he retired to live near the monastery we reconnected.  He died suddenly about four years ago and I miss him terribly.  My priest son concelebrated his funeral mass along with the Archbishop.  Dennis is buried at the monastery.  When Dennis retired he bought two puppies.  He told me he did it in part because he needed to not think only of himself and his own needs.  I spent the night at Dennis’s home on occasion and trust me when I say these dogs ran the show and determined the schedule.  There was no need for an alarm clock.  When the dogs woke up, everyone woke up.  This is an example of an errand that gets you out of yourself and keeps you there.
I have always been a little obsessed with knowing who I am, why I am the way I am, and why I think and act like I do.  Even after 66 years I still occasionally have a new insight into who I am.  Sometimes the best understandings of who we are is when we face those parts of ourselves that may be a little hard to accept.  We are who we are for all kinds of reasons.  It starts with our family of origin and our place in that family.  It continues with our education and personality development.  Our origin and our development are further formed by our experiences whether they be good or bad or a little bit of both.  Some people let nature take its course and expect the rest of the world to deal with them.  Others study their own personality and work to be the best version of who and what they are.  We are all a little different but none of us are stuck into any particular patterns.  Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.  Know yourself better by daily asking yourself who you are.           

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Discovering Your Purpose

Keep on beginning and failing.  Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose.  It may not be the one you began with but one you’ll be glad to remember”.
-Anne Sullivan
If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes.  If you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes”.
-Senegalese proverb
I have been working for the same company for over 30 years.  Most of this time I have been in leadership roles but I started out as a claims adjuster.  At the time I was just thrilled to get the job and I felt very fortunate to be hired.  Before I came here I had never worked in an office or gotten remotely close to a computer.  I use the term computer loosely.  My first ten years at Humana were before the internet was created or anyone had personal computers.  What we used were basically terminals linked directly to a mainframe system.  I knew I had been given a great opportunity when I was hired so I tried to make the best of the situation.  Two years after I began my employment I was encouraged to apply for a leadership position.  Although I don’t feel like I have failed a lot in my life, I have made mistakes and I tried to learned from them.  When I came to this place I had no idea I would become the person I am today.  In the beginning I was just happy to get a paycheck and be able to support my family.  Somewhere along the line I realized I made a difference in some people’s lives.  Everything I wanted to be before I came here, I started to become while I was here.  Personality tests related to careers always indicated I was best suited to become a minister, writer, teacher or counselor.  Most of the leadership skills I possess and the management style I have are basically me being all of these things.  My original purpose for coming here was to be employed and bring home a paycheck.  That is still important but my greater purposes are ministering to people, writing inspirational thoughts, teaching, mentoring young people as well as a few old people, and listening to people’s problems while trying to help them.  None of this occurred to me when I started my first day of training as a claims adjuster.  I am one example of a person beginning with one purpose and ending up with many other purposes I discovered on the journey.     

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Chasing Your Dreams

The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend”.
-Henri Louis Bergson
The purpose of a life is to have a life of purpose”.
-Robert Byrne
The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live”.
-Flora Whittemore
My granddaughter hates school except for her social life activities.  She is very bright but sees little purpose with most of what the school tries to teach.  As a doting grandfather I can see her talent and passions.  My wife and I, along with her father, struggle with how to get her through school without breaking her spirit.  How many times can you take her phone away or lock up the video games?  I think many of us as children had our spirits broken and we ended up as adults living lives that do not fulfill us or make us happy.  The “system” often squashes our dreams and we end up feeling, if I can quote a Pink Floyd song, like “Another Brick in the Wall”.  Many children cannot see the value of school because their minds are not prepared to comprehend what is being taught or why some things need to be learned.  I want my granddaughter to live a life of purpose where she is fueled by her passions to live her dreams.  When we are growing up we open and close doors, and often doors are slammed in our faces.  What we see in life, what we comprehend in life, what doors are opened and what doors are closed play a part in determining our life and who we become.  Of course, so do the choices we make and the chances we take.  If we are strong and determined, we can kick down the doors that are closed.  Some people seek their dreams and some people chase them.     

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How To Succeed In Life

How To Succeed In Life
1.     Get up.
2.     Show Up.
3.     Be on time.
4.     Be dependable.  
5.     Be honest.
6.     Be kind.
7.     Be compassionate.
8.     Be humble.
9.     Spend some time in solitude.
10.   Spend some time in silence.
11.   Take care of your family.
12.   Educate yourself.
13.   Don’t be a jerk.
14.   Have a work/life balance.
15.   Get enough sleep.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Contemplative Leisure

Western laziness consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues”.
-Sogyal Rinpoch
In my monastery days we had a lot of leisure time.  At the time there were approximately one hundred monks in the monastery so most of the community only worked in the morning.  Of course there were chores like cooking meals or milking and feeding the cows that required more time.  Because I was a young man with a lot more energy than I have now I often volunteered for additional work.  I especially like working at the cow barn and on the farm.  The leisure time of most monks was spent in study or contemplation.  When the weather was nice I enjoyed wandering in the woods and fields of the monastery’s 2000 acres.  Most of my life, however, I have been a married man with a wife and family.  True leisure was often very difficult to find.  There’s an obscure scripture passage that says, “God made man and rested.  God made woman and no one has rested since”.  OK, I made that up but it’s not too far from the truth.  Sometimes I will be resting in my contemplative leisure and my wife will sit down on my sofa and say, “I should be doing something”.  I usually look at her and say, “Why”?  Our culture has little appreciation for contemplative leisure.  In a culture of doing, I have always preferred being.  I have been much more successful in my being than in my doing.  Just because I prefer to "be" doesn’t mean I am lazy.  I just limit my doing to what is necessary.  I abhor busywork that has no point or purpose.  It is only in leisure that we can confront the real issues inside us.    

Friday, April 21, 2017

What We All Really Want

Remind yourself that what everyone wants is happiness and peace.  That includes you.  Everything else is just stuff that obscures this reality
I believe this quote captures the reality of what most people want when they are really honest with themselves.  I have been young and now I am getting old.  I have been poor and now I am comfortable.  I have been in great health and I have been in terrible health.  I have been stressed out and I have been calm.  I have been angry and I have been joyful.  I have raised children and now I live in a nest for two.  Whatever I have been experiencing throughout my life all I really wanted in my heart was to be happy and to live a peaceful life.  I have accumulated lots of stuff but it only gave me temporary and fleeting happiness.  No matter what I had there was always more singing its siren song to me.  In the best of times and the worst of times it has always been the simple things that gave me the most happiness and peace.  Life is hard for all of us and we will always have challenges.  Do not let them overwhelm you.  As I have preached many, many times, be present and awake to your life and pay attention to the moments.  It is in these moments that you will find the greatest happiness and peace.  It may be as simple as a really great cup of coffee as you watch the sunrise or as you follow the sun at dusk as it slips under the horizon.  I have been more blessed than many and I know that.  Every day I am grateful for what I have and also for what I don’t have.  Don’t let your happiness and peace be clouded by the stuff that obscures the reality of what you really want deep in your heart.     

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Right Mindfulness/Right Concentration

Let’s wrap this up.  Today you get two thoughts for the price of one…
The last two steps on the Nobel Eightfold Path are “Right Mindfulness” and “Right Concentration”.  In my mind these are very similar in nature.  Right Mindfulness is being present to life as we should and Right Concentration is paying attention as we should.  How is one present to life?  You are present to life when you are where you are and you are doing what you are doing.  It’s this simple and it’s this challenging.  It is often difficult to be where you are.  For example, as I was beginning these thoughts my son called and asked if I could pick up my granddaughter when I get off work.  Although I am still at work my mind has shot ahead several hours to the route I will drive and what restaurant I should take her to for dinner.  This kind of thing happens to all of us all day long.  When we are one place, something will grab our attention and take us somewhere else.  It’s virtually impossible to not do this.  However, what you can do is learn to bounce back to the present moment.  As soon as you realize you are no longer where you actually are, bring yourself back to the moment.  In a few hours when I am with my granddaughter my task will be being present to her, especially when she shares with me the drama of her school day.  When you are where you are and you are doing what you are doing, be mindful, not mindless.  Right Concentration is very similar.  I think this is more about paying attention and noticing things.  Wherever you are, pay attention and notice things.  When you are outside taking a “Zen Walk” what are you experiencing?  Do you feel the warmth of the sun or the coolness of a breeze?  Are you noticing the flowers growing or the trees budding?  What about that homeless person walking down the street?  Perhaps you notice the aroma coming from the restaurants near the office.  Sometimes when I am with my granddaughter and I am listening to her stories I try to also pick up on the subtleties and nuances of her personality or mood.  Occasionally when I am doing this I realize how much she is like her father who I have been listening to for almost 39 years.  The bottom line is to not go through your life asleep.  Be present, be awake, and be aware.  There’s more to life than meets the eye and you will miss it if you are one of the walking dead.   
All of my thoughts on the Noble Eightfold Path were very basic and my own interpretations.  If you found any of them remotely interesting and want to learn more I recommend the following book.
The Beginner’s Guide To Walking The Buddha’s Eightfold Path by Jean Smith            


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Right Effort

We’re almost at the end of the path….
The 6th step of the Noble Eightfold Path is “Right Effort”.  Are we giving our tasks the effort they deserve?  Are we giving our life the effort it deserves?  Everything in life does not need to be done intensely but some things do require more effort than other things.  Most of my marriage I have felt like nothing I do is ever quite up to my wife’s standards.  If I cleaned the kitchen it was never clean enough.  I thought I had given it the effort it deserved but she thought my effort was unacceptable.  Whatever.  I tend to base my effort on how important I think a task is.  I generally think the kitchen is clean enough most of the time.  However, if we were doing open heart surgeries in the kitchen it would require a deeper cleaning.  When I am at work I try to do everything the best I can.  However, even at work some things are more important than other things and so the amount of effort I put into daily tasks is not equally distributed.  One of the challenges of “Right Effort” is that the importance of a thing is often in the eye of the beholder.  My wife’s idea of a clean kitchen is different than mine.  My bosses idea of which tasks are most important may be different than mine.  We need to look at what we do, why we are doing it, and perhaps who we are doing it for.  “Right Effort” is a judgment call in many cases.  As we acquire wisdom we learn the value of things and as we understand what has true value we learn the amount of effort it deserves.                  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Right Livelihood

The fifth step of the Noble Eightfold Path is “Right Livelihood”.  This is a tough one.  Most of the people I know, including me, feel as though they have a job that is not necessarily a career or a calling.  I believe “Right Livelihood” is achieved when you are doing what you were born to do.  Most of us had dreams in our youth of saving the world or at least changing it.  In our adulthood many of us are just trying to get through the day.   However, all is not lost.  Even if you are not able to earn money or make a living doing what you were born to do, you can still achieve Right Livelihood.  We all do many things to make money and support ourselves.  Beyond just making money, we can still do whatever we were born to do wherever we are.  Some people think I was born to write my daily thoughts.  Who would have ever predicted I would best be known at Humana for my writing?  I started writing daily thoughts at work for whoever reported to me at the time and it grew from there.  I now have hundreds of followers at Humana, on Twitter, and with my blogs.  My thoughts are syndicated and I have heard from people all over the world.  People have been after me for years to compile a book.  Hopefully, I will finally accomplish this if I ever really retire.  These days I am too busy and too tired.  For most of us Right Livelihood is more about finding your calling than simply getting paid for something you love or do well.       

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Right Action

The fourth step of the Noble Eightfold Path is “Right Action”.  There is a popular saying that when a butterfly unfurls its wings in China, it eventually causes a windstorm in New England.  One of the laws of physics tells us that for every action there is a reaction.  These thoughts encourage us to ponder the impact of our actions and the effects, good or bad, they generate.  I have often told people in the work place that the reason we have so many rules and guidelines is that there have been so many actions that created unrest or difficulty that we’ve had to establish rules and guidelines to keep some sense of order.  If one person calls in sick, it is generally not a problem.  If ten people call in sick it can be a huge problem.  Many of us believe that our individual actions make little difference.  This might be true.  However, the combined actions of many people can make quite a difference.  If you don’t believe this ask any wildlife expert if individuals releasing pet boa constrictors into the Everglades has made a difference.  One snake may have quietly lived its life and died an unnoticed death.  The reality, however, is that the Everglades National Park is currently overrun with giant pythons that are killing and eating all the indigenous animal life including the alligators.  The thoughtless release of pet snakes, not indigenous to the Everglades, over time has wreaked havoc on the entire area.  What impact do your personal choices have on the landscape of your life?  Do your actions create goodness and harmony or do they create chaos, unhappiness, and problems?  Are an even deeper level, are your actions based on a deeply formed moral consciousness?  Do you do what you do because you have to do so or because it is the right thing to do?  Do you stop at a red light to avoid a ticket or because it protects your fellow man from harm?  Right Action is doing the right thing for the right reasons.  Right Action builds life.  It doesn’t tear it down.