Thursday, March 22, 2018

Being Productive

I spent nearly half my life working for a major corporation.  Most of that time I was in management.  The most commonly heard word over the years was productivity.  At the end of the day it was all about the numbers.  Some numbers were too high while other numbers were too low.  Daily life was a juggling act to balance the numbers appropriately.  I actually had a reputation with many people as a numbers guy.  There was also talk about the need to develop people and help them to grow but the underlying intent was to make them more productive.  The image of Lucy and Ethel working on the candy wrapping assembly line is not too far from the truth.

Nearly three months into my retirement I still feel the need and pressure to be productive.  I need to read more books, do more meditation, watch more documentaries, play more music, take more walks, do more chores, write more "Daily Thoughts", etc.  It is difficult to break the cycle of a lifetime of constant pressure to be productive.  Most days my wife asks me "What did you do today"?

Theoretically, I believe in leisure.  There is even a school of thought that considers leisure as a sacred thing.  However, it is challenging to do nothing and still feel like you are doing something of value with your time.  I know that wasting time is not necessarily a bad thing but the reality is that so far in my retirement I have yet to spend a day doing nothing.  Would the world stop spinning if I didn't take a walk in the park?

I do not want to spend the rest of my life sitting in a chair and staring out my window.  I also do not want to spend the rest of my life driven to fill my day with endless activities.  At my age do I really need to feel a sense of accomplishment?  Are the primary tasks of my life not already accomplished?  I became an adult, got married, stayed married, started and finished a career, raised my children, and saved my money.  What else has to be done?  What else is truly necessary?  When do I get to finally relax?  Even though I am retired, I am not yet relaxed.

My Buddhist knowledge tells me I need to just let everything go and focus my attention on what is essential.  This is challenging because it is not always easy to determine who and what is truly essential.

Life demands movement.  Movement demands action.  Action usually involves a task.  A task is something that needs to be accomplished and accomplishments require some level of productivity.

I guess it all gets back to balance.  When I find the balance, I will feel the relaxation.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Greatest Mystery

The greatest mystery in the universe is women.  Even Stephen Hawking was stumped when asked about women. 

I don't have a particular issue or question at the moment but I do think about this from time to time. 

Are women really from Venus and men from Mars?

A male friend, who is gay, once told me he had a problem with women.  I said, "Dude, I'm straight and I have a problem with women".

Most of my career I mostly managed women.  It was like having twenty wives at a time.  With the men, nothing was ever a big deal.  With most of the women, everything was a big deal.

I was walking through a book store once and I saw a book lying on a table of discounted books.  One caught my eye and it was titled Everything I Know About Women.  It was written by a man.  I opened up the book and all the pages were blank.  I am not making this up.

Who knows what women want?  I have misunderstood or misinterpreted almost everything any woman I have ever know has ever said or done.  To be fair, maybe I am the problem.

In all honesty, I love women.  I prefer the company of women over men.  Women seem to like me.  However, I still don't understand women.  Even my dearly loved granddaughter is becoming more and more of a mystery to me.

I guess some mysteries are never meant to be solved.     

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Getting Out Of The House

I am trying to get out of the house at least once a day for some exercise. 

Admittedly, I tend to prefer passive activities like reading, listening to music, or watching films. 

This week I have begun watching Ken Burns massive documentary on the Vietnam war.  It is not something you can binge watch.  I can only watch one or two discs per day.  At times it is difficult viewing.  Although I was not in the military, Vietnam looms large in my consciousness.  In my youth there was still a draft and many of my generation, including me, protested the war.

I have many new books to read but cannot seem to muster the focus to read them.

As much as I love music, I do not blast rock and roll all day.  My early mornings are mostly silent.

Although today is the first day of Spring, and yesterday the temperature was in the low 60's, we now have a winter storm watch and may get as much as five inches of snow tonight.  We may also get zero inches of snow.  Weather is very unpredictable in my part of the world.

Most days the weather is overcast and cold.  On such days the park can be a lonely and bleak place.  This week I have been opting for walking at the Mall.  There are not many people there except the shop keepers and older people like me trying to get some exercise.  It is warm, bright, and seemingly full of life.  It lifts my mood.  If you want you can take a break at Starbucks or on one of many benches.  So far I have successfully walked past the Cinnabon store.

When I left the Mall I went to Barnes & Noble to look for a CD that I didn't find.  I decided to grab a bite to eat at the Starbucks within the store.  I ordered a panini sandwich.  My advice to Starbucks is to focus on coffee.  Sandwiches are not their strength.

My last stop was a pop in at Kroger for some trash bags and butter before gassing up the car.

This is my life now.  Try not to be too envious.

Time for a nap before I take a shower....

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Question Of Balance

I am now into my third month of retirement and finally getting used to it.  The first two months were difficult and included bouts of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and boredom.  It was also a time when I felt forgotten even if that really wasn't the case.  Occasional lunches with friends and a couple of visits to my former workplace have helped.  My visit to the monastery last week was a major boost to my mood, so much so that I may go out there once a month just to breathe.  I realize there are some parts of my pre-retirement past that I need to let go.  However, there are other aspects, particularly with people and relationships, where I am not ready to say farewell yet.  Some will fall away naturally but others I hope never do.

Earlier I felt bored so I went outside and sat in the sun.  It is a beautiful day and the sun was warm.  I meditated for about twenty minutes before feeling compelled to sit at my desk and write these thoughts.

When I was a working man I lived for the weekends.  Now I dislike them.  The weekends now throw off all sense of balance and routine.  My wife has been home for three days but she is where I used to be and I am no longer there.  My granddaughter hasn't been with us this weekend either.  She is at my house 99% of the time on weekends and brings energy and life...sometimes too my life.  There's nothing like a teenager to keep two old people alive.  Monday through Friday is now my personal weekend.  I am slowly developing a routine for myself.  I learned a long time ago that I need some routine and structure in my life in order to have a sense of balance.  This is why I didn't take advantage of working at home when I was still in the rat race of work.  If I had to work, I needed the discipline and structure of having to go into the office.  It sometimes felt like a prison but I needed it while I was a working man.  Part of my retirement struggle has been due to the lack of a disciplined and structured life.

Tomorrow is a new week and aside from a couple of scheduled lunches my plate is mostly empty.  This week I want to be more disciplined about getting out of the house.  I have yet to make it to the park five days in a row.  If it rains I will strive to make myself go to the Mall to walk.  It has become very evident to me that when I sit around too much I feel physically bad and I often think myself into depression.  The more active I am the better I feel physically and mentally.  I think I will soon seriously consider some volunteer opportunities.  However, I admit I have a fear of becoming overly committed to something.  I am free for the first time in my adult life and I can't go back to a life of no freedom.

Once again the word is balance.

On a side note, this weekend I received my DNA results from  I always thought I was mostly of an Irish background but it turns out that my DNA is 69% British, 10% Western European, 8% Irish/Scottish/Welsh and the rest from a variety of regions.  I am not sure what I think about all of this yet.  It is another piece of the puzzle that is my identity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Just People Trying To Get Through The Day

Yesterday on my way to the monastery I visited Small Town, USA.  All small towns look the same to me.  I stopped at a fast food restaurant for some breakfast.  My guess is that I was the only person in the restaurant who didn't vote for Donald Trump.  Every man in the restaurant looked like a "good ole boy".  They were all wearing baseball hats.  I was the only man wearing a knitted, multi-colored hat that I bought at Earthbound.  No one could see my long hair or the Buddhist medallion I was wearing.  My progressive, liberal views were not on display but I was definitely feeling like an outsider.

I started up a conversation with a man standing next to me.  We disclosed that we were both retired.  He told me that he retired from General Electric when he was 55 years old.  He asked about my retirement so I told him I had retired after 32 years with Humana.  He responded, "Humana?  You must have had one of them good jobs".  I know he assumed I was some kind of executive or management person.  He had a pension.  I have a 401K.

If I had "one of them good jobs", why did this man get to retire at the relatively young age of 55 and I had to work until I was 66 years old?

The conversation was actually kind of enjoyable.  I know that if we got into politics we would probably have many disagreements.  Yesterday, however, we were just two retired guys trying to get some breakfast and hoping we got our senior citizen discount.

It is my experience that whenever I have random and unplanned conversations with other human beings, we are just people trying to get through the day.  America is a very divided country right now.  This divide is maintained because leaders on both sides of the divide are constantly stirring the pot of hatred and mistrust.  I am not discounting the reality that there are some serious issues in our culture and society.  However, the temperature of our discourses could be lowered significantly if we just shared a biscuit and a cup of coffee and talked to one another.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Visit To The Monastery

Early this morning I left Louisville in darkness and drove into the light.  The morning rush hour on I-65 was very intense as I left downtown.  An accident in the northbound lane had traffic backed up for many miles.  Thankfully, I was driving south.  Everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere.  I was in a hurry to get nowhere.  Soon I got off at the Bardstown exit and had a more enjoyable drive.  When I got to Bardstown I stopped for some breakfast and had a conversation with another retiree about how glad we were not to be in charge of baking the morning biscuits at Hardee's.  As we talked the place was just buzzing with activity.  I was happy to get back into my car to continue my solitary drive to the monastery.  The countryside was beautiful since much of it was still covered in a light snowfall.

When I got to the monastery the sun was fully risen and the day was cold.  The monastery retreat house is closed for renovation so there were virtually no people anywhere.  Later in the morning while I was meditating in the church I did see Brother Luke who seemed to be preparing for the next prayer service.  He is the primary organist at the monastery.

After visiting the gravesite of my dear friend, Dennis, I decided to take a walk to the site of the old and now demolished cow barn.  When I was a novice monk at the monastery the cow barn was a place of great activity.  At that time the monastery had a very large herd of Holstein milking cows.  The milk was used to make the famous Trappist cheese.  Almost every afternoon one of my jobs was to feed the cows.  I did this with Brother Alban, Brother Columban, and the very dear Brother Ferdinand.  Brother Ferdinand was an older and very holy monk that kind of took me under his wing.  I can still remember his slight embarrassment when I asked him to explain to me...a city boy...the difference between a cow and a heifer.

After finishing my walk I visited the gift shop.  I walked out with a new coffee mug, three jars of Trappist jelly, two bars of French soap, and a book on the life of Dom James Fox, a former abbot and a towering figure in the story of Thomas Merton.  When I was in the monastery, Dom James was living in a hermitage up in the knobs.  I was fortunate to visit him there a few times when Brother Norbert will drive there on Sunday mornings to bring Dom James to the monastery for Sunday mass and a good meal.  I also remember one private one on one meeting with him.  Dom James was a big part of the history of Gethsemani.

I had a pleasant drive home on the scenic route.  However, at one point my GPS said I was driving in the middle of a field when I know I was on a highway!

Now I am home and it is time for a nap...

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Inner Journey

For all it's ups and downs so far, retirement has been a reflective time.  Much of my time has been spent ruminating on the question "Who am I now"?  Whatever purpose I had in the workplace is gone now.  What is my new purpose?

In the book How To Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski  I recently read "retirement is not a time to sleep, but a time to awaken to the beauty of the world around you".  This doesn't necessarily mean beauty to be found in some faraway land.  It could be the beauty of your own neighborhood which you may not have noticed when you were living a busier and more frantic life.

Some driven types go from the busyness of a career to the busyness of new activities in retirement.  They hardly miss a beat.  Others go from a full schedule to a life of relative emptiness as the phones stop ringing and the emails stop flowing.

"Happiness is not a matter events; it depends on the tides of the mind".
-Alice Meynell

I also like this bit of wisdom from Seneca.

"The gradually declining years are among the sweetest in a man's life".

I am not sure I have found this sweetness yet but I look forward to finding it.

A man named Howard Salzman says, "Retirement is a time to make the inner journey".

I think one of the dangers of retirement is to think you need to retire in the same manner as every other retired person.  Retirement, like all of life, is very personal.  Thomas Merton, in the last public appearance he made, at a conference in Bangkok, Thailand, said, "It's time for everyone to stand on their own two feet".  In other words, you can't always depend on other people or the "system" to support you.  Retirement is a time to discover who you were meant to be now that what you did has come to an end.  Most of us spend much of our lives thinking our identity is based on what we do, not on who we are.

The inner journey is a journey of self-discovery and letting go.  Some people and things are relatively easy to let go.  Others are more painful.

"The greater part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, and not on our circumstances.
-Martha Washington

Friday, March 09, 2018

Who And What Gets Our Attention?

We should not expect anything from anyone.  Most people, including me, are just trying to get through the day.  Expectations are planned disappointments.  I am not saying that all people are undependable.  Everyone is making choices based on what is important to them.  We all have only 24 hours a day.  Who and what is important to us can be determined by how much time we give them or it.  The value of our time is determined by who and what gets our attention.  If someone or something is important to me, I will find time for them or it.  Everyone and everything cannot be important to me.  There is simply not enough time for everyone and everything.  Life must be prioritized.  If you want another person in your life but you have to beg for their attention, it is simply not going to happen.  You also cannot do everything available in the world.  There are simply not enough hours in the day or years in a lifetime.  Each of us has a slightly different, or possibly a radically different, view of life and who and what is important to us.  We live our lives based on how we see life and who or what is important to us.  It could be our work or our families.  It could our relationships or the hobbies we pursue.  It could be travel or quality time at home.  Of course, all quality time is in the eye of the beholder.  Someone else's quality time might be my hell.  Whoever we are, we will not be a high priority on everyone else's list.  Sometimes responsibilities take much of our time and we cannot pursue activities of importance to us.  We want to own our time but too often our time owns us.  The bottom line is that who or what gets your attention determines who and what is really important to you. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Filling Up Your Time

Yesterday, while sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office, I started up a casual conversation with a stranger.  I mentioned I was a recent retiree and he told me that he was too.  He was also a former employee of Humana and a lifer like me.  It turned out that our paths had probably crossed unknowingly and that we knew many of the same people.  On his way out of the waiting room he said, "I have some retirement advice for you.  Don't be too quick to fill up your time.  It will fill up for you".  

Over the years whenever I have talked to someone who was retired, whether they wanted to be or not, most of them told me that in retirement they were busier than ever.  I guess their time filled up for them.

In recent days I am feeling more comfortable with retirement.  I am calm and peaceful.  This may not be a direct result of retirement.  I think it is more a result of the renewed practice of meditation.  At least one a day, and usually twice a day, I sit for twenty minutes and simply breathe.  My walks in the park enjoying nature also help.  I am more relaxed, calmer, and less prone to anxiety and depression.  I guess my psyche is settling down after nearly two months of living a simpler life.

Slowly my days are finding a balance between solitude, activity, and taking care of daily chores.  Occasionally I have lunch with a friend.  The downtime does not feel as overwhelming as it initially felt.  I stretch things out so that no one day is nonstop activity.  The picture above is not recent but it does reflect the ease I am starting to feel in my life.  I expect nothing and strive to appreciate everything as it is.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Money Isn't Everything

Today I spent two hours crunching numbers and making decisions with my financial consultant.

I am not a wealthy person by any stretch of the imagination but I am a long way from poor.  When I was working I saved as much money as I could, I paid off my home, and I have no debt other than my monthly expenses.  I feel lucky that I was able to retire when the opportunity presented itself.  However, there is more to life and retirement than money although financial planning and saving are essential.  If you are nearing retirement, or perhaps recently retired, there are other things you need to think about besides money.  In retrospect it seems like all I ever heard about retirement while I was working was to prepare yourself financially.  As I stated, I did that to the best of my ability.  What I did not prepare for adequately was the loss of friends, community, and purpose.  I suddenly found myself without these things and I felt kind of lost.  Two months into retirement I am still wandering in the desert looking for the promised land of retirement happiness and a sense of direction.

Not being what I would call a social butterfly, most of my social interactions and friendships were in the workplace.  Many of these interactions were superficial and most people were acquaintances instead of true friends.  However, even those I felt closer to now seem far away and distant since the shared experience of getting through the workday no longer exists.  I get it.  I have not had a single thought about many of my former co-workers.  Why would I think everyone left in the workplace would think about me every day?

At a recent lunch with two friends one asked me, "Don't you need to feel part of a community"?  Once again, the workplace filled my need to feel part of a community.  I am not part of a faith community or any civic organization.  Up until now the daily workplace experience met those needs so I was happy to come home each day to my solitude to recharge and rest.  I was not out every night doing volunteer work at the church or any other place.

In the workplace I was a leader and my sense of purpose was to minister to the needs of co-workers and people who were part of my team.  I always saw leadership as me not being someone's boss but rather me as someone who saw my work as a ministry to people.  I am no longer a leader in the workplace and I no longer have a team of people reporting to me with a wide variety of needs.  In other words, there's lot of office ministry no longer being done, at least not by me.

Save your money for your old age and retirement but also consider how these other needs will be met.  If you don't you will have days like I have been having where you are lonely, a little depressed, and wondering what you should now be doing with your life to give it a sense of purpose and meaning.     

Friday, March 02, 2018

The Love Of Music

There were several times yesterday when music generated an emotional reaction from me.  The songs were not related to a specific time, feeling, person, or event.  They were just songs that caused an unexpected emotional response.  Music often stirs up memories.  As I write this I am listening to a recording of one of the best concerts I ever saw with Neil Young & Crazy Horse from the early 90's.  I cannot listen to this concert without thinking of that time in my life and the people who attended the show with me.  It also reminds this soon to be 67 year old hippie that I was a young fortysomething at that time.  I was still dangerous.

I received my first transistor radio in the early 1960's.  In those days no one had the fancy and sometimes expensive ear buds of today.  Most music was heard in mono so you only had one ear plug.  I would go to sleep at night listening to AM radio and the hits of the day.  If my friends and I spent the night together on a Friday night we always listened to the weekly Top 40 countdown.  It was on one such night that I heard the Beatles for the first time.

Around this same time period the older, teenage sister of one of my childhood friends took us to my first concert.  It was the original Beach Boys and they were a huge act at the time.  When they came out on stage with their matching outfits and guitars I was hooked for life.  It began a lifetime of attending live concert events that continues to this day, though I admit it doesn't happen as frequently as it used to happen.  A few bands have eluded me but over the years I have seen most of the greatest musical acts of my generation including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Doors.  The bands I have seen the most are the Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead, Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd.  There were also many other artists and bands I saw multiple times.

All in all, music has been the best and most reliable friend I ever had.  Music has been there for me in good times and bad.  If I am sad, it can make me happy.  If I am happy, it can make me happier.  Sometimes it can be an out of body experience that transcends time and space.  As David Crosby once sang, "Music Is Love".

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Walking On Sunshine

Driving home this morning, after taking my granddaughter to school and my wife to work, I suddenly felt a lightness of being that I haven't felt since I retired.  It was like walking on sunshine.

It was actually dark, overcast, and raining...

It helped that one of my favorite songs was playing on the radio.  It's called "Scarlet Begonias" and it's by the Grateful Dead, who are one of my favorite bands of all time.  It is a song that you cannot listen to and be sad.  It has wonderful lyrics and a beat that makes even me want to dance.

I ain't often right but I've never been wrong, it seldom turns out the way it does in the song.  Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.  The wind in the willows played tea for two, the sky was yellow and the sun was blue.  Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand, everybody was playing in the Heart of Gold band...

Yesterday I visited my former workplace for the first time since I retired.  Since my last day of work was kind of a disaster because of bad weather and the office being closed, I offered to come in to clarify a few things and tie up some loose ends.  I quickly realized that I did not miss work at all.  When I left I was happy to leave the problems behind.  What I did realize is that any sadness I felt about retiring was because of people.  My former co-workers seemed genuinely happy to see me.  I was feeling the love.  Most people said I looked well rested and stress free.  Someone I almost fired even gave me a hug.  I had lunch with my former boss and others who now are just friends.  Some people who saw me in the office were shocked that I was there.  I told them I wasn't real but that I was a hologram installed by Humana to improve morale.  Although I may go back for occasional visits, I think I can let work go.  It is the relationships I want to maintain.