Sunday, February 25, 2018

Attention To The Universe!

The last time I visited my mother in the nursing home while she was still coherent I arrived while she was getting some physical therapy.  I waited for her to finish.  When the therapist brought her out in a wheel chair I followed behind them.  The therapist said, "Mrs. Brown, you have a visitor".  I said, "Hello, mom, how are you today"?  She replied, "This is my retired son".  I think I am the first person in my family to retire since my father retired 22 years before his death 9 years ago.  At some point during my visit with my mother she asked, "What are you going to do with yourself?  You can only read so many books".  Boy, did she hit the nail on the head!  Reading and listening to music were two of my favorite activities when I didn't have much time to do them.  Now that I have endless hours to do both, I have an attention span of about five minutes.  Sometimes I walk around my own home as though I were lost.  That is usually when I head to the park.  Physical activity does help my often negative mood.

I need to figure out what I can do with my time that doesn't feel like a job.  One of my fellow retirees recently said to me, "I want to volunteer at the soup kitchen but not every day"!  Another friend who is still working, and who is a former co-worker, sent me an email and said, "You have a passion for leading and teaching.  It's a natural, God given talent.  Stop focusing on the retired Michael and focus on the teaching Michael and I think your journey will open itself to you". 😊

My friend makes a very good point.  Whatever opens itself up to me is not something I will find at home.

Attention to the Universe!  I am listening.  My ears and heart are on high alert.  Point me in the right direction for Phase Two of my life.  Sometimes you have to take a step before you see the path.  At this moment I am not sure what step one is but I will try to figure it out if it doesn't reveal itself to me.  

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Need For Authentic Friendships

I have not been myself lately.  The change is apparent to me so I have been wondering what is happening.   Retirement has been a major lifestyle change for me and I don't need to tell my regular readers that it has not been going smoothly.  I have been kind of wandering around without a sense of direction. Some friends have reached out to me with lunch invitations, book suggestions, and even a Zig Ziglar YouTube video.  I am sure other friends are tired of me talking about it but I can't seem to get motivated or over the hump.  I have never been an over-achiever and some would question my assertiveness, so I am struggling over what steps I need to take.  One friend counseled "baby steps".  The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, right?  Anyway, I decided to research how I have been feeling since I retired.  I am definitely not in a vacation frame of mind.  I've come to the conclusion that I am depressed.  Here is how I have been feelings for weeks.
  • A depressed mood most of the day (feeling sad, empty, emotional, etc.)
  • A loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed (music, reading)
  • Difficulty sleeping, being tired, waking up throughout the night, etc.
  • Overthinking.
  • Restlessness, anxiety, with occasional feelings of panic.
  • Feeling lost and without direction.
  • Lonely and isolated.
I share this, not to get attention, but to let other people who may feel like me know they are not alone.

These feelings are a new experience for me.  Yes, I have often felt melancholy but I think that is part of my personality, i.e., the Dreamer and Romantic type.  The truth is that I have always been a strong person.  Other people come to me with their problems.  I am almost never the guy with a problem.  

Friends have given me two copies of a book called How To Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski.  I had started reading it before I retired but never finished it.  Upon receiving a friend's concerned email, and the recommendation of the book, I once again picked it up.  I had left off right before a chapter on the importance of friendship.  I realize now that I have not done a very good job of having the kind of friendships that would be needed in a retired life.  With all due respect, spouses are not always our best friends.  Many spouses are complete opposites and you don't necessarily have a lot in common.  Additionally, many people retire while their spouse or significant other continues to work.  Like many people, most of my friendships were in the workplace and not all of them were true friendships.  Most were acquaintances.  My career was managing other people all day so at the end of a typical workday the last thing I wanted was to be with a bunch of people.  I am not involved in a church or other organization, sports don't interest me, and I do like and need some time alone.  The problem is that now I have too much solitude and no people that make me want to be alone.  It's a new and weird lack of balance in my life  The book says all of us need friendships that aren't work related.  I have few of those and now I realize it.  Going forward I need to work on renewing friendships as well as creating new ones with people I like, who have something in common, and who can help make my new life something to enjoy.

I am deeply appreciative of those of you who have reached out to me with concern or advice in recent weeks.

Next week I have having lunch with two faithful friends and I am even going into the office to meet with my former boss.  Because of the way my career ended on a day with a winter storm and a closed office we never had professional or personal closure.  She wants to "pick my brain".  I am not telling anyone that I am coming in so no one will know unless they read this blog.  We'll see how it goes. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Mixed Emotions

A family member told me that one of my recent blogs was kind of sad and pathetic.  I am sure this is because I have not been writing much about the joys of retirement.  I have written more about the struggle I am having making this transition.  I have already admitted that I didn't see this challenge coming.  I truly thought it would be easier.  As long as I have been writing publically I have always tried to be honest about whatever I am feeling.  What I have been feeling in recent weeks is mixed emotions.  As someone who thinks too much and who analyses my life endlessly, I have spent much time trying to figure out why this has been so difficult for me.  I wouldn't say I am going through the Five Stages Of Grief but I think I am experiencing a sense of loss.  My former life, for better or worse, was my life for a very long time.  It was a life style.  To be honest, I haven't thought one minute about the actual work I did.  I have thought a lot about the people I worked with every day.  Some of them were people I interacted with for many years but were not necessarily close friends.  A few had become close friends.  I know what some of you are thinking.  They can still be my friends.  That is true but when you lose sharing a common experience, work friendships can be difficult to maintain.  There is also the reality of how relationships are perceived by individuals.  The value of a relationship can be seen differently by the people in the relationship.  I may have valued some relationships more than other people valued them.  If someone valued me, what was the reason?  Was it my role in the workplace or me as a person?  A big part of my life has slipped away from me and my world has gotten much smaller.  My former life may have been more important to me than I realized.

Having said all of this....

In approximately one month I will be 67 years old.  I never expected to work until I dropped dead.  If I hadn't retired when I did it wouldn't have been too much longer anyway.  It is a life changing event.  It is now late winter.  I am reminded that when the season is about to change it is never a smooth transition.  Earlier this week it was sunny and 80 degrees. The next day it was in the 40's with heavy rain and now my city is experiencing flooding.  It might be spring one day and winter the next day.  It could still snow again before it is all over.

Writing is how I process my life and my feelings.  Maybe some days I am sad and pathetic.  I am a human being too.  The famous baseball player Yogi Berra once said, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it".  At this stage of my life I was at a fork in the road so I took it.  Maybe I am a little lost.  Maybe I took the wrong fork.  Who knows?  Either way, some bridges are burned so I must find my way ahead.  There is another saying that goes something like, "If you can't find the path, make a new one".

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A New Day

I apologize to any of my readers who read my last blog and wondered if they should contact my mental health provider for an immediate intervention.  It was an honest and truthful blog.  There are aspects of transitioning from being a full time worker to a full time retiree that I find challenging.  It is challenging to jump from a lifetime of daily 9-5 office life with hundreds of other people in the same rat race to a life of no major responsibilities all alone in your home.  OK, I do take care of all the laundry and grocery shopping now.  If my wife and I cook, I do the cooking.

Don't feel too sorry for me.  In a little while I will be going to the Post Office to mail in my passport renewal application so I can go on a cruise to the Grand Cayman Islands and Cozumel.  Now you can hate me for more than the fact that I no longer have to work unless I get really, really bored and I do it for fun or as a service to the world community.  I actually have some thoughts about volunteering but I have no acted on them yet.  All in due time.

Some of you know me personally and some only by my writing.  Let me assure everyone that I am fine.  I have received emails, Facebook messages, and other communications concerned with my well-being.  I have also received great feedback and suggestions from other retirees.

I will find my way in this brave, new world.  I have nowhere to go in particular and the rest of my life to get there.  Part of my personal challenge is that I tend to be a solitary and withdrawn person so it takes extra effort on my part to put myself "out there".  When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  Many see me as a teacher but now I am a student.

 I love to hear from people whether I know you personally or not.  Some of my current friends are people I have never met.  These friendships began when people contacted me because they liked something I wrote.  I try to respond to as many people as I can.

I am a little behind schedule this morning.  It's time to be still and do my morning meditation.

I wish peace and good things for all of you. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Some Thoughts On My Retirement

This past Friday I had lunch with a former co-worker.  In the course of our conversation she told me that another co-worker remarked that my absence from the workplace felt like a death.  Someone I was very close to would stand up to talk to me over the wall that separated us and then realize I wasn't there.  It almost made me cry to hear this.  I told my friend that my retirement kind of felt like a death on my end too.  Tomorrow I begin my sixth week of retirement and I must admit I am starting to struggle with it to the point of having some anxiety over it.  I do think I needed to get away from the work environment.  If I had my way I would not have left it completely.  I would have just reduced the number of hours I spent at work.  I was burned out after so many years of being a leader.  Although there were good things about the work environment there was also a lot of pettiness and what I call corporate BS.  However, I am starting to realize how much the social aspect of working in an office contributed to my well-being.  I was a well liked and popular person.  Even if some aspects of the work experience were driving me crazy, most of my co-workers enjoyed my presence.  I apparently did not realize how much I enjoyed their presence or how important the social aspect of work was to me.

I must admit that I am feeling lonely, a little forgotten, and completely lacking in purpose.  There was once a movie I really liked with Bruce Willis called "The Sixth Sense".  It was basically the story of a man who dies but he didn't realize it for a long time.  He thought he was living but was actually invisible to everyone else.  They were simply going about their lives and he was no longer a part of those lives.  Without sounding too dramatic I am starting to feel like this man.  All my former co-workers, and even my own family, are still living the lives they were living before I retired.  I, on the other hand, feel like the invisible man.  Even when I go to the park or to a store I feel like no one sees me.  I am completely alone a great deal of the time.  As an extreme introvert it is difficult for me to join groups and make new friends.  I have never been much of a group person and always preferred more one on one relationships.

I need to make some changes but am not yet sure what these changes need to be.  I need a reason to get out of bed besides taking my wife to work.

Admittedly, it is not all doom and gloom.  I do love my early mornings at home when I can have some quality alone time.  The struggles seem to begin with what we used to call in the monastery the "noonday devil".  I may feel bored and a little sorry for myself.  Then I start thinking too much and these thoughts often turn to anxiety when I wonder, "Is this what I have to look forward to for the rest of my life"?

Since my life seems to have come to a screeching halt, I do have a better understanding of other people's sadness and why many old people get tired of living.  Whether you work or not, you need other human relationships, a sense of purpose, and something to do that makes you happy.  I need to restore some balance in my life.  It has gotten lopsided.           

Thursday, February 15, 2018


I read two quotes this morning that made me think about relationships.

"Don't force someone to make time for you.  If they really want to, they will".

"Rule #1:  Never expect anything from anybody".

I recently read that the number one reason relationships end is due to unmet expectations.

Life seems to be a Zen koan.  It doesn't work well or make you happy unless your expectations are met, yet we are told to have no expectations.  Another bit of wisdom I once came upon said that expectations are nothing but planned disappointments.

In my old age I am starting to think I am not very good at relationships with anyone.  Most people seem to like me and some even think I am more than I am.  However, I am a man with no intimate relationships of any kind.  I am not sure if it is that I don't put enough effort into my relationships or if I expect too much from relationships.  People I want to be in my life don't always seem to want me in their life on an equal basis.  Others want more from me than I am able to give or want to give.  I generally have no interest in shallow and superficial relationships.  The world is full of casual acquaintances.  Kindred spirits are what I seek and need.

I find relationships exhausting.  This may be why I love my solitude.  Solitude is easy for me.  Too often when I attempted relationships with people, I felt like I did all the work.  Some would say that all relationships are work.  However, if they feel like nothing but work, they won't last for long or they will make you chronically unhappy.

Of course, we all have needs and wants, many of which we cannot even articulate because we don't have the words.  I've always had a fear of being or seeming needy.  The fact that I often feel inadequate or lacking doesn't help.  I think many people probably feel this way.  Perhaps part of the problem is our difficulty communicating our needs and desires.  None of us like to appear vulnerable or weak.  We don't like to admit our loneliness.  We all want to not only be loved by others but, more importantly, we all need to feel loved and valued by others.

Relationships!  You can't live with them but you also can't live without them.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Nervous Breakdown

Today started out well enough or at least normal.  I took my wife to work, came home and did my morning meditation, and then watched a video of the Dalai Lama from his visit to Louisville in 2013.

A little while ago I suddenly felt like I was having a nervous breakdown so I went to the park for a walk.  The park was cold, dreary, and lonely.  I saw one or two other people but mostly it was just the ducks, geese, and me.

When I got home there was a letter in my mail box encouraging me to plan my cremation now in order to beat future price increases.

What set off my momentary breakdown?  I can't find my passport.  In 2005 I went to France and had to get a passport for the first time.  I haven't needed it since so I stashed it somewhere and now I can't find it.  I think I gave it to my wife a couple of years ago when we were thinking of going to Mexico.  However, she won't own up to that so today I once again looked for it.  I have hundreds of books, containers full of pictures from my entire life, boxes of letters I have received over the years, and a number of hand written journals.  In other words I have personal possessions from my entire life stashed in closets, drawers, and possibly within the pages of books.  I seem to have everything except my passport.  I tell myself that all geniuses have clutter.  Someday when my granddaughter or someone else writes my biography they will appreciate all this documentation.

Today it has been one month since I retired.  The time has flown by.  I feel like I should be more productive but as I look around, the house seems trashed and I don't have the energy to do anything about it.  I really want to take a nap.  I would also like the sun to shine and the temperature to warm up.  I don't recommend retiring in the dead of winter.  My original plan was to do it in the spring.

I know today's anxiety will pass.  I didn't sleep well last night and this may all be due to that.  I think I will take that nap now....

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Struggles Of Life

As I read from the journals of Thomas Merton I am reminded of his daily struggles as he lived his life.  I began reading the books of Thomas Merton when I was 19 years old.  Even as a young man I quickly felt a connection with him and his words seemed to often reflect my own feelings.  In later years I realized we had similar personalities and that many of his struggles were also my struggles.

We all struggle although some people are unaware of their own struggles.  They plow through life and don't reflect too much on their experience.  Those of us who are more introspective types often tie ourselves up in knots as we constantly ruminate on the meaning, or lack of meaning, in our lives.  The writings of Richard Rohr have taught me that whoever and whatever we are only gets deeper and more intense as we get older.  Today I am more who I am than I was ten years ago.  Unfortunately this also means that many of my insecurities are more ingrained.

Much of my life I thought I was "normal" until I realized there was no such thing as normal.  Although I have never thought I was better than anyone else, I have always felt different than most other people.  Over time I've come to believe and understand that all lives are complex even if an individual doesn't realize or accept their own complexity.

What are my struggles?  Like Merton I've always had a longing for the "other".  On a spiritual level I suppose this is a longing for God.  It could also be a longing for meaning.  As I have gotten older the idea of God has gotten very blurry for me.  Who or what is God?  I no longer know.  The pious spirituality of my childhood doesn't work for me anymore.  Another struggle is that something about me seems lacking.  I never feel as though I am enough as I am.  Why have I not been more successful in life?  I am not talking about job titles or paychecks.  For me true success is about happiness, contentment, and feeling valued and loved by others.  I probably should feel all of these things but most days I simply don't.  I also have a fear of being ordinary and not making a difference.  I have a strong need to matter and not be taken for granted.  In addition, retirement has added a fear of being forgotten.  All of this makes me think I am much more insecure that I ever thought.  I have always thought I was a strong person because I have been able to deal with the true challenges in my life and I've had patience with life's inconveniences.  I get impatient with people who are emotionally fragile and unable to deal with things.

In spite of my struggles I do have the capacity to recognize those Zen moments where life is perfect, if only for a brief time.  We all sometimes want to scream, as depicted in the famous Edvark Munch painting shown above.  I think much of the challenge of dealing with our personal struggles is because they are usually invisible to other people.  How we appear to others on the outside is not always how we really are on the inside.        

Friday, February 09, 2018

The Gift Of Time

Most of my life time seemed like the enemy.  I lived by the clock.  It seemed every decision I made was based on what time it was.  Time often held me prisoner.  In these early days of my retirement time now seems like a gift.  I haven't worn my watch since I stopped working.  Many have used the analogy that time is like a river.  If this is true then I am now swimming with the current.  Most of my life I felt as though I was swimming against the current.  Instead of feeling constricted by time I now feel as though I am living in the spaciousness of time.  

I now have time to breathe.  I now have sacred leisure.  My meditation practice is back on track.  Books are getting read.  Music is being listened to and enjoyed.  Walks are being taken.  Chores are getting completed without being stressed out or exhausted.  I now can sit in coffee shops and visit bookstores.  This morning I was in awe of a beautiful sunrise.

My newfound gift of time also includes the gift of solitude.  Most of my days I am alone.  I can think and be more contemplative.  I sometimes feel as though I am back in the monastery.  More than ever I am living the kind of life I want and need.

I am happy to be back into writing on a daily basis.  While still working I was getting to a point where I was brain dead and only had the energy to maintain basic life support functions.  Now I find myself with more and more ideas that I can write about.  I hope there are people who enjoy what I write, or who can identify with the thoughts I am sharing.  I love it when people enjoy my writing.  Of course, I write as much for myself as for other people.  Writing is how I process my thoughts and feelings.  I can be more honest and open now though not as honest and open as I would sometimes like to be.

My thanks to Salvador Dali for the painting called "The Persistence Of Memory".  It conveys the idea for me of time melting away.  It seems ironic to me that as the days of my life are closer to the end than to the beginning, the days of my life seem more like a gift. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Reclining Buddha

One of my favorite Thomas Merton reflections comes from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton.  It recounts his visit to the reclining Buddha located in what was then called Polonnaruwa, Ceylon.  This is also one of my favorite images of Buddha.

Merton writes in his journal.....

"I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand.  Then the silence of the extraordinary faces.  The great faces.  The great smiles.  Huge and yet subtle.  Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamike, of sumyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything...without refutation...without establishing some other argument.

Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious".  

Isn't this what we all want to experience?  As we go through our lives trying to make sense of the world and our own experience of life, don't we deeply long for the experience of being "jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things"?  Is there ever a point in life when we know the truth of things?  Is there ever a point where we have an inner clearness and clarity and life makes sense?

My entire life has felt like I have been doing nothing but stumbling along whatever path I am on.  In many ways I've had a good life and some wonderful experiences.  However, I would be lying to myself and to you if I said my own life made sense to me.  I have more that I need or want of many things and little of what I want or need in other things.  I have tried to be content but often feel I have just settled for what is.  Life at 66 doesn't make any more sense than it did at 26.  Perhaps some day before I leave the planet I will experience a "Great Awakening" that will open my eyes, my mind, and my heart and I will be "jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things".   

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Now having the time to pursue some of my interests, I am reminded how much I enjoy reading from the journals of Thomas Merton.  My interest in Merton began as a young man when I was living in a Franciscan community in 1970.  One of the friars gave me a copy of Merton's The Sign Of Jonas.  It was the first Thomas Merton book I ever read.  It was a journal of approximately five years in Merton's life that also described in vivid detail the life of the monastery in the late 1940's and early 1950's.  It began for me a life long love affair with monastic life, a life that I still find attractive 45 years after leaving it.  The Sign Of Jonas was the reason I left the Franciscan community and entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, the same monastery where Merton lived and wrote The Sign Of Jonas.

These days I am also reminded that I like classical music.  As I write these notes Beethoven's "Brandenburg Concerto's" plays in the background.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am loving these early morning hours that retirement allows me to have.  I have always been a morning person, even when I was working full time.  Morning's have always seemed sacred to me.  I am still getting up early and once I am alone the first thing I do is sit in silence for 20 minutes.  I am usually holding my favorite coffee mug and the hot coffee warms my hands.  My meditation is followed by some serious reading and often some classical music in the background.  Later in the day when I might be feeling a little sluggish, I will listen to some rock and roll or go to the park for a walk.  At some point in the afternoon I try to get in another meditation session.  Yesterday I attended an introduction to meditation session at the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center.  They are offering a 10 week course that I am considering.

As soon as Beethoven is finished I need to do some chores.  Each day I try to do something that might be considered constructive.  I am resistant to retiring from one employer to become an employee of my wife but my new freedom does make it easier to do some chores that previously needed to be done...or not done...around my full time work schedule.

Even with this gift of time that retirement has given me, the hours and the days seem to be flying by at an alarming rate.  The perception that time seems to increase in speed the older you get is very real. My meditation is centered on the practice of mindfulness.  Among other benefits, mindfulness can help to slow down time.  Being in the moment seems to make the moment last.  Like Maxwell House coffee, I want each moment of my life to be "good to the last drop".

Thursday, February 01, 2018


In approximately two months I will be 67 years old.  I have the body to prove it.  Besides the normal wear and tear, I was diagnosed with diabetes 15 years old and I've suffered with significant intestinal issues most of my adult life.  I rarely get sick but I do feel the aches and pains of aging.  If my body could be sold, you could probably get it for 50% off at a scratch and dent sale.  I lean towards passive activities like reading, listening to music, watching films, and being what some people call a "couch potato".  I was an active child who played sports and rode many miles on my bicycle but as I got older I grew more sedentary.  Working in an office for over 30 years did not help.  When I received my diabetes diagnoses I began to take my health more seriously.  I watched my diet, lost a lot of weight, and tried to walk as much as I could.  When I say walk, I do not mean hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I mean walking around my office, the streets of downtown, and now a local park.  My walks are not strenuous but I am out of my chair and moving.

I happened upon a small book by Henry David Thoreau called Walking.  My idea of a walk and Thoreau's idea of a walk are two different things.

"If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk".

I am just a recently retired man with some time on his hands who wants to take a walk in the park every day in order to get some exercise, breathe some fresh air, loosen my stiff joints, and get my blood pumping.

Yesterday as I walked in the park I remembered times when I lived in a Trappist monastery as a young man.  The monastery had 2,000 acres of fields, lakes, and woods.  Hiking was recreation.  I spent much of my free time, and monks had lots of free time, walking in the woods, around the lakes, and up and down the hills.  I did have one scary experience with another monk when we got very lost. It was nearly dark when we found our way back to the monastery.  We barely made it on time for evening Vespers.  This reminds me of some favorite quotes....

"I have never been lost.  I was, however, confused once for about two weeks".
-Daniel Boone

"All who wander are not lost".
-J.R.R. Tolkien

If it doesn't rain, as it is supposed to do today, I will be back in the park, doing what Thoreau also calls "sauntering".