Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Let Your Light Brighten The World

Softly and kindly remind yourself, I cannot own anything”.
-Wayne Dyer
The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
-Pema Chodron
We all own things.  In general I am not a materialistic person but I love my music and book collection.  Books and music have been my solace in life.  Here’s the rub.  While owning things is not wrong, when those things own you it can be a problem.  There are material things to which I am very attached.  It would be difficult to let them go as if they had no importance to me.  Like most married men I only control about 10% of my home.  My wife controls the other 90%.  Of course, this does not include the kitchen or the laundry room.  She has no interest in either of those rooms so those rooms are part of my kingdom.  Most of what I care about, and to which I am attached, is in my man cave.  It is my Fortress of Solitude and it’s where all my stuff is.
I have often written that most people overrate themselves.  Who can accept their own reality?  Who can look at a flawed person in the bathroom mirror and think, “I’m good with him or her”?  Age often brings honesty.  By the time most people are my age they know who and what they are.  There are parts of who I am that are very good.  There are other parts of who and what I am that need a lot of work.  I believe all people are basically good but we are also flawed and broken.  We have all been hurt and we have all been scarred from life.  It is challenging to face your own brokenness.  It can even be more challenging to admit your pain.  However, on the flip side, most of us are slow to admit that we are also “walking around shining like the sun”, to use the words of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who has been a great influence on me.  Today happens to be his birthday.  Own your pain but also own your greatness.  Don’t be weighed down by attachments and don’t be discouraged because of your brokenness.  Let your light brighten the world around you.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Live Every Day Slowly

Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life”.

-Marcus Aurelius


Restore your attention or bring it to a new level by dramatically slowing down whatever you are doing”.

-Sharon Salzberg


I don’t think Marcus Aurelius is telling us that we need to live every day of our lives intensely or even urgently.  I think he is telling us we should live our lives intentionally.  In other words, whatever you are doing, do it on purpose and with intention.  Don’t bounce around like a man in a life boat in the middle of the ocean during a storm.  I sometimes wonder what I would do if I found out I had a terminal illness and death was imminent.  First of all, all our days are numbered.  We just don’t know what the number is.  As Bob Dylan once sang, “Those not busy being born are busy dying”.  Every day in the newspaper I see notices of people’s deaths who are much younger than me.  It makes me feel grateful that I have made it this long.  Whether you end up with a short life or a long one, live each day on purpose and with intention.  Replace the idea of “someday” with now.  In a world that seems to be moving faster all the time, how do we maintain our sense of presence and equilibrium?  One of my friends in the monastery once said that “being in the moment is how I slow down my life”.  It may seem amusing to some of you that a monk feels the need to slow down their life when most people would go stir crazy if they had to spend a week in a monastery.  I know real monks and even some of them are stressed out.  Monasteries don’t run themselves.  Some monks feel over burdened with responsibilities like most of us.  The bottom line is that all of us need to slow down, live intentionally, and do what we do with meaning and purpose as much as possible.  For what it is worth, if I thought today was my last day I would be logging off this computer immediately and taking the rest of the day off.  I would bust my granddaughter out of school and go get some ice cream.        


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Only Think When Really Necessary

Some random quotes…


Thinking is just like not thinking.  So I don’t have to think anymore”.

-Jack Kerouac


Slight not what is near through aiming at what’s far”.



Jack Kerouac wrote what is considered a Beatnik/Hippie primer with his famous book On The Road.  It inspired the Beat poets of the late fifties and early sixties and planted the seeds of what became the hippie movement.  This pre-dates me a little bit but I eventually became one of those hippies.  Much to my amazement and bewilderment, this summer is the 50th anniversary of the so called “Summer Of Love” when every runaway in America found their way to San Francisco.  Yes, they were all wearing flowers in their hair.  Most of them don’t have hair anymore although I am making an effort to keep the torch lit.  I think my family would like to take that torch and set my hair on fire.  The revolution continues….


In some ways the Summer of Love was about living free and easy and in the moment.  When we think it’s time to grow up we often feel the need to plan our life and set goals for the future.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but what happens to most people is that they forget to live in the moment.  They are future oriented and they begin to not only slight what is near but also to become totally unaware of the present.  The only moment that exists is the one you are in.  Yesterday is over.  Tomorrow is not promised.  If you are not in the moment, technically you are nowhere.  While you are in the moment, only think when it is necessary.  Too much thinking creates unhappiness and often fear.  Imagination is the home of creativity but too much thinking just complicates our lives.  Don’t over think everything.  Think only when it is really necessary.      


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

There Is Joy In Being

“What often matters more than the activity we’re doing at a moment in time is how we feel about it”.

-Brigid Schulte


I always try to be as honest as I can without hurting other people’s feelings.  However, I can never reveal all my deepest thoughts and feelings  because not everyone would like them.  When I think about how I feel about whatever I am doing, I sometimes feel like I am doing many things in my life that I don’t really want to do for people who don’t always care or appreciate it.  Like many people I have seldom felt in control of my own life.  Yesterday I wrote about spending less time thinking of ourselves and more time thinking about others.  This type of thinking is certainly noble.  However, giving of yourself is different than having yourself taken.  Other people’s demands and expectations can be overwhelming at times.  Sometimes when people ask me what I want for my birthday, Father’s Day, or Christmas I say, “I would like an entire day when I can only do what I want to do and I do not have to meet someone else’s needs or expectations”.  Am I being selfish?  My wife recently brought up the subject of a vacation.  She expressed what she wanted to do.  In recent years I have gone on family vacations to Universal Studios and Disney World.  Both of these experiences were exhausting and I thought I was going to die a few times.  For me personally a week alone in a monastery would be the perfect vacation.  However, I tried to have an open mind with my wife so I stated that I would be happy to go on another family vacation as long as it wasn’t a working vacation that included non-stop activities.  I want to go somewhere and do nothing.  Even at a time in my life when I thought my life would be a lot easier, my life usually feels like nonstop activity from morning to night.  There is always something to do or somewhere to go.  How do I feel about these activities?  I feel frazzled and exhausted.  Many activities are unavoidable but some are unnecessary.  Few are my choice.  As the great Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There is more to life than increasing it’s speed”.  As the not so great Michael Brown once said, “There is more to life than busyness”.  There is such a thing as sacred leisure.  There is value in non-doing.  There is joy in just being.   


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Others More, Self Less

There needs to be a shift in emphasis from self to non-self.  How?  Get your mind off yourself.”

-Norman Vincent Peale


We all like to think we are selfless and that we always put others first.  I certainly don’t like to think I am a selfish person but I have recently come to the painful realization that I am stingy on some levels. I am very protective of my personal time and space.  I don’t give my time or my energy away easily.  Although I would never turn down a person in need I rarely look for opportunities to help others.  My own needs often consume me.  I won’t list all of my personal faults, because it would take too long, but I think about myself more than I should.  It usually begins with how I feel physically.  I am getting old and my body is like an old car with many thousands of miles on the odometer.  It still gets me where I need to go but the ride is not always smooth.  The next stage of self-absorption is how I think and feel emotionally.  How I think is often based on how I feel.  If I am not feeling good, I am probably a little grumpy and my patience with others is likely to be thin.  Occasionally I just feel sorry for myself.  It is very easy to be consumed with thoughts about our own physical challenges, our emotional mood swings, and our worries.  When your focus is on the self, the needs of others can seem secondary or may not even be part of our consciousness.  I once heard a simple teaching that went “Others more, self less”.  I am not saying it is unimportant or wrong to think about your own well-being.  If you are suffering in mind, body, or spirit, it is difficult to be caring about others.  On good days, however, I notice that the less I am self-absorbed and focused on myself, the better I feel in my mind, body and spirit.    


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Leaps Of Faith

I came upon some great quotes yesterday while wondering what I could write about…..
Stop resisting your problems so furiously in your mind.  Stop struggling to solve them.  If you do that, a great sense of peace following by a great sense of power will come to you”.
-Norman Vincent Peale
Do you have patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?  Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”
-Lao Tzu
You cannot control the results, only your actions”.
-Allen Lokos
God and the Universe have always given me what I need and I have always been OK.  I think this will remain true and whatever I have not be able to attain for myself will still come to me one way or another.  There are people in this world who have problems for every solution.  They believe that if they smell flowers there must be a funeral home nearby.   There are also people in this world who want a disaster plan for every potential crisis that could happen even if the reality is that most of our fears never actually occur.  You cannot have a contingency plan for everything in life.  When your water is clear, other people will often try to stir up the mud and makes everything cloudy.  Nothing in life is certain and all things are impermanent.  My point is that sometimes in life you have to just take a chance and make a leap of faith.  Most of our lives, regardless of our age, are leaps of faith into the darkness.  God laughs at our plans.  Sometimes you just have to take a chance and wing it!  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Life With My Granddaughter

This past Friday I spent much of the day packing away Christmas decorations.  My wife filled the bins and I carried them out to the storage shed.  It was a stark reminder that I am not as young as I used to be.  Even my wife is finally coming to the realization that we can’t continue to do everything that we’ve done in the past.  After a shower and a nap I drove to my granddaughter’s home to pick her up for the weekend.  She is a bundle of energy and a joy to be around.  My home is certainly a livelier place when she is there.  On Saturday we went to see a wonderful film called “Hidden Figures”.  Like all boys who grew up in the early 60’s I loved astronauts and found the events surrounding the first space travel exciting.  I used to have a poster on my bedroom wall of the original seven astronauts.  What I did not know until recently was that a group of brilliant African American female mathematicians played a huge part in the early successes of the space program.  This was before computers were part of our daily lives and very complex mathematical equations were done by hand on a chalkboard.  It is a very inspirational story that I highly recommend everyone see.  Keep in mind that these events occurred in the south during the early days of the civil rights movement.  On Sunday I took Chloe to her math tutoring.  While she was being tutored I was at a nearly Heine Brothers drinking coffee and eating a cinnamon streusel scone.  When I picked her up I asked, “Well, are you ready to become a mathematician at NASA”?   The answer was a big, fat NO!  I enjoy my one on one time with Chloe because we have some very deep and intellectual conversations.  She may struggle with math but she is informed and knowledgeable well beyond her years.  Prior to election day she was lecturing her father about Donald Trump.  He finally called my wife and said, “What the heck is Dad telling Chloe”?  Chloe thinks I am the only person that really understands her.  Her Dad and Granny are often on her case about one thing or another.  I am not.  When we are together she can discuss things that some adults can’t articulate.  She recently gave herself the Myers-Briggs Personality Test.  Guess what?  She came out with the same personality type as me.  Big surprise!  She even has my blog on her Smartphone and she actually reads my thoughts!  Chloe and I have had a close bond since the day she was born and I held her for the first time.  That seems so long ago….     

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Retirement Is Easier Said Than Done

It is a rare day when someone doesn’t ask me how many days I have left until I retire.  I do have a strong desire to retire from the work I am currently doing so I have more time to do other things including doing nothing at all.  I am running out of gas.  Unless you are near or at the typical retirement age you probably have no idea what it means to retire.  You don’t give your employer notice and two weeks later wake up on the beach in Key West with $1,000,000 in a Swiss bank account.  For many people it simply means you quit your job.  Of course, you can do that at any age.  It’s really not about age as much as it is about money.  It occurred to me recently that retirement is like Obamacare.  You shouldn’t repeal your current source of income until you have a another income in place.  The average person is not given a pension or a healthcare plan unless you are in a union.  You definitely do not get a “Golden Parachute” like most overpaid executives.  In my situation you can collect your social security benefits, supplement that with whatever money you have saved in 401K’s or other accounts, and possibly work a less stressful, part time job.  Another shock for some people is that Medicare is not free.  A Medicare plan with a supplement and drug plan can cost you approximately $300 a month and this comes right off the top of your social security check.  Another thing to consider is how you want and expect to live.  Most people are happy if they can continue to live as they have been much of their life.  If you are happy with your current standard of living you need to ask yourself how much it costs every month to live that way.  If you quit your job do you have enough other sources of income to sustain that lifestyle?  Another part of the equation that is very difficult to estimate is how long you will live.  I could keel over today with no warning and never get to retire at all.  My father, on the other hand, retired at age 62 with a pension, and was retired for 22 years when he died at age 84.  Once he retired from 40 years at the Louisville Gas & Electric Company he never worked another day in his life except in his garden.  I could end up as a Walmart greeter (God forbid!).  The bottom line here is that you can’t save too much money and it is never too soon or too late to start.  If you have a spouse or significant other, it also helps if they are on board and you are both on the same page.  As I have told people many times, I was only 34 years old when I started working at Humana and I will soon be 66 years old.  Life moves quickly as Ferris Bueller once said.  Getting old happens more quickly than you think it will.  I do not have a definite date that I expect to leave here but I am trying to get all my ducks in a row so I can retire eventually.       

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Looking At Ourselves Honestly

It is the time of year in the workplace when we start thinking about performance reviews.  I am reminded of something I once read that said 90% of all people think they are in the top 10%.  If this was true there would be no problems in the world or the workplace.  It has been my experience over many, many years that people are what they are.  This includes me.  I don’t think I am any better or any worse than I was twenty years ago in terms of being a human being or a leader.  I am what I am.  There are things I do well and things I do poorly.  Some days I want to change the world and other days I don’t even want to leave my cave.  Overall, I think I am as good as I am ever going to be.  I know more about myself than ever before but that doesn’t make it any easier to always perform at my best.  I am a mature person but I still occasionally have temper tantrums.  I think the same is true of many people.  Most people are just trying to get through the day in circumstances that are often challenging.  We all have different amounts of drive, ambition, talent, skill, and overall abilities.  These things have not been distributed equally.  Some people think I am wise but don’t ask me to fix your toilet or build a deck on the back of your house.  I wouldn’t know where to start.  However, if you want to discuss philosophy, I might be your guy.  Average workers are often great people.  Great workers are sometimes difficult people.  Most of us are ordinary and are doing the best we can.  Most of us do not see ourselves honestly.  We have an opinion of how we think we are that is usually inflated.  There is a perception by others of how we are that is often incorrect.  To be honest, I think I am overrated by many people and under-valued by some.  Finally, there is the reality of how we are and it sometimes takes a lifetime to see that honestly.  There is nothing wrong with being average.  The vast majority of us are.  I mean, look around you.  There is also nothing wrong with being talented.  If you are, it is a gift and you should be humble about it.  Gifted people are not necessarily better people and less talented people are not necessarily lesser people.  Whatever you are, accept it, and do the best you can to improve the world around you.        

Friday, January 06, 2017

My Well-Being

This was written spontaneously yesterday as a response to a friend and co-worker’s email.  They were concerned about my current well-being.  I was reminded me that I do make a positive difference in some people’s lives.
I think it is in my nature to be a bit melancholy and angst ridden.  At the moment I am buoyed by the falling snow as I look out the window.  I wish I was on retreat at the monastery!  I would be out walking in the woods enjoying the snowfall.  I still remember being on a retreat many, many years ago as I prepared to become Br. Dominic.  Fr. Timothy, my Novice Master, sent me and another fellow out to the woods to chop down some trees.  It was late November or early December.  We were out there and it suddenly began to snow furiously.  We were so overwhelmed with the beauty of it that we just stood there in silence.  It has now been 45 years since I entered the monastery and I still think I am temperamentally a monk.  If you are a deeply feeling type person as I am, you are not only sensitive to beauty but also to pain.  I have always been a “sensitive” man contrary to what some people may think.  It is who I am but sometimes I am too sensitive and I know I expect too much out of life sometimes.  When your expectations are very high you are often disappointed.  I once asked a friend how he managed to be so happy all of the time.  Most people would say you are happy in proportion to how much you are grateful.  His response was, “I have no expectations of anything or anyone and therefore I am never disappointed”.  Buddha says that all pain and suffering are caused by desire.  By having no desires or expectations, you will have no pain or disappointment.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  For all those who care about me, be assured that I am fine and most likely suffering from little more than winter blues.   

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Wandering In The Desert

Over the weekend some family and friends posted on Facebook that 2016 was the greatest year of their lives.  I couldn’t help but wonder if they had lived in the same year as me.  Although nothing terrible happened to me personally last year, nothing great happened either.  Remaining alive seems to be the only goal I accomplished.  I am still distraught over the presidential election and I am anxious about the future, not just for me, but for the entire country.  No prior election in my lifetime, even when my candidate lost, has ever made me feel this way.  I find myself another year older with an uncertain future.  Of course, I guess all of our futures are uncertain.  As someone who will turn 66 in a few months I can’t help but feel like I am at the beginning of the end of my life.  I am not depressed about this but I am not in denial either concerning my mortality.  I think part of my problem is that I have lost a sense of direction and purpose in my life.  My life seems to be nothing but working and going to the grocery store.  Occasionally I accidently go to Kroger on senior citizen day and that can be very scary.  Working and grocery shopping seem to consume 98% of my energy and I seem to have little left for anything else.  Most evenings it is all I can do to maintain minimum life support systems within myself.  I am too tired to even be and anyone who knows me well knows I prefer to be than to do.  Fatigue is more than just physical.  It’s that, too, but it can also be emotional and spiritual.  A sense of purpose may energize me but then I wonder where I would find the energy for a sense of purpose.  It is time to find new meaning in my life.  Too much of life seems like nothing but chores and life should be about more than just making a living.  It is seriously time to re-think my life and find some activities that engage and energize me and not just annoy me.  I know I am a grumpy old man sometimes but it is not what I want to be.  Like most people I once had dreams of making a difference and living a meaningful life.  These days I feel a little lost and I need to find myself again although at this point I am not sure where to look because I don’t know where I am.  Where’s an imbedded GPS device when you need it?  The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years but they eventually found their way out and entered the promised land.  I am ready to do the same.  Occasionally I see some of you out there in the desert with me.  However, you shouldn't follow me because I am lost.