Monday, August 23, 2021

Am I A Buddhist?

A few days ago a woman living in Australia wrote to me and asked if I was a Buddhist.  I have been thinking about her question.  Am I a Buddhist?  What is a Buddhist?  Is there a formal process for becoming a Buddhist or does an individual simply take up the practice by incorporating Buddhist thought and practice into their lives?  I have not gone through any formal process for being a Buddhist.  I have simply tried to live like one.

Oddly enough I first learned about Buddhism, Zen, and the Dalai Lama while living in a Catholic monastery.  Although we were not there at the same time, it was the same monastery where Thomas Merton lived for 27 years.  I have been blessed to see and hear the Dalai Lama twice in person.

Over the course of my life I have become more and more attracted to the Buddhist way of living.  I find the various teachings and philosophy very comfortable.

How do I live as a Buddhist?

Although I am not always successful I strive to always practice kindness.  The Dalai Lama himself once said "My religion is kindness".  I also strive to practice mindfulness.  What does that mean?  For me it means striving to be where I am and to do what I am doing.  As Ram Dass says, "Be here now".  In other words, be where you are and do what you are doing.  I have a personality that is often lost in day dreams.  I am a thinker who probably spends too much time in introspection and reflecting.  There's nothing wrong with either of these things but you shouldn't do them every minute of the day.  Even now as I write these thoughts I am struggling to stay focused on what I am doing.  To make it even more challenging I believe I have a touch of ADD.  Staying present and focused is challenging for me.  The writings and teachings of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh have been very helpful to me.  Along with striving to be kind and present, with mind and body in the same place at the same time, I strive to always be grateful.  Although I sometimes struggle with depression, I know I am very blessed and privileged to have the life I have.  

Whenever I can I also try to study "The Four Noble Truths" and the Buddha's "Eightfold Path".

I would like to quote from a small book called The Buddha Way.  

"To study the Buddha way is to study the self.  To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.  To be enlightened by all things is to be freed from one's body and mind and those of others.  No trace of enlightenment remains and this traceless enlightenment is continued forever".

The Four Noble Truths are as follows....

  1. The Truth of Suffering
  2. The Truth of the Origen of Suffering
  3. The Truth of Cessation
  4. The Truth of the Path
Our suffering is basically caused by our longing and desire for things to be other than they are.  Most of us are not content and we want what we do not have and we want to be somewhere other than where we are.  We suffer because we are constantly longing for something we do not have and may never have.

Just my personal opinion but I believe that being spiritually enlightened is not the same time as being politically "woke".  

Finally, let me just share the Buddha's "Eightfold Path".

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Thought
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration
In a nutshell I think the "Eightfold Path" is telling us to understand reality as it is and to not believe everything we think.  Speak only good words and only do what your heart tells you is right.  Let your work be for a good cause.  Do no evil and cause no harm.  Give everything the effort it deserves and whatever it is you are doing, be there while you are doing it.  Let your mind and body be together in the same place at the same time.

Whatever your religion is, I think you can follow these teachings.  A Christian, Jew, or Muslim can live like this and still be faithful to their faith tradition.   

This is how I strive to live.  Am I a Buddhist?  I hope so..... 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Enjoying A Rainy Day

It's been raining all day.  I love to be home on rainy days.  Bob Dylan music plays in the background.  I am still celebrating Dylan's 80th birthday.  Earlier I did leave my house long enough to go to the bank and get a haircut.  The rain has cooled things down enough that I have opened a window.  The rain is slow and steady at the moment but occasionally we get a burst of intense rain.  

As I look at today's date I realize that I haven't written anything in almost two weeks.  I had hoped to write every day or at least a few times a week.  My excuse is an emptiness of things to write about.  Life for me is mostly quiet, solitary, and even a little boring.  What can I say about this that anyone would want to read?  In my opinion, nothing.

One recent highlight for me was a video chat with a friend living in Brussels, Belgium.  Many years ago when I first started this blog I wrote that "my words were like seeds thrown into the wind".  You never knew where they landed.  A stranger wrote to me that some of my "seeds" had landed in Cambridge, England.  We are now friends.  It was great to finally have a live, face to face conversation via our computers.  We talked for over an hour.  

As of yesterday my youngest son has been a priest for eight years.  His older brother recently turned 43 years old and yesterday he moved into a new home.  It is weird for me to acknowledge that I am now 70 years old.  It is even weirder to realize that my children are middle aged.  What happened to my little boys?    

It is not quite summer in my part of the world but we have already had daily temperatures in the low 90's.  When the heat and humidity become oppressive I remember that summer is my least favorite time of the year.  Doing anything on hot days is challenging for me.  Intense heat creates another kind of isolation for me.  If I am going to be homebound and isolated I would prefer to do it on a cold, wintry, snowy day.

I own enough music for ten lifetimes.  Since I spend most of my time at home I am trying to systemically listen to as much music as I can.  It makes me happy and I love doing it.  This week I have been focusing on Bob Dylan, Traffic, Steve Hillage of Gong, and the Steve Miller Band.  I am also distracted most days with music I see posted on Facebook or Twitter.  Today I am reminded of "Absolutely Free" which was my introduction to the music and genius of Frank Zappa.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are also in play since it's the 50th anniversary of their masterpiece "Deju Vu".  The Grateful Dead, of course, are always in play.  I cannot imagine my life without music.  It is the air I breathe.

As far as the pandemic is concerned I am fully vaccinated.  Life is slowly loosening up and people are emerging from their bunkers to eat in restaurants and drink in bars.  Movie theaters are barely functioning and live music still struggles.

My goal is to return to a routine of walking.  I have gotten lazy about leaving the house.  It may be all in my mind but it does seem that since I received my Covid-19 vaccinations I have felt lethargic.  Please don't ask me for any energy because I have none to spare.

I hope whoever reads this is safe, happy, and well.    

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Day In My Life

It's a beautiful day in my part of the world.  Spring in Kentucky is a battle between a winter that doesn't want to leave and a spring that is ready to take root.  A few weeks ago we received two inches of snow.  Nights and early morning are still cool but today is gloriously sunny and warm.  I feel a little guilty because I am home and not walking in the park.  I've been having such an enjoyable morning at home that I haven't been able to make myself venture into the world.  My neighborhood is generally quiet and my inner hermit seeks to avoid contact with the busyness and stress of mingling with other people.  Camaldolese hermits each have a small house and garden where they spend their personal time when not gathered with other hermits for prayer.  Unlike the hermits I share a house with a wife.  However, I am fortunate to have a wife who is also an introvert like me.  Most of the day we are each in our own world.  We occasionally meet in the kitchen.  When the day ends we will spend more time together as we watch a movie or some other entertainment.  Getting back to the hermits, I have a small back yard that is surrounded by a six foot tall privacy fence.  Over time I have strived to simplify the yard and move out anything unnecessary in order to give it a Zen garden feel.  On days such as today I often walk in my backyard basking in the warmth of the sun.  In other words, it is very easy for me to stay at home and as much as I love the park I sometimes struggle to make myself leave my home in order to go there. 

Yesterday I did venture from my solitude.  I got up early, had a quick cup of coffee at home, and then met a friend for breakfast.  I don't see this friend as often as I would like.  She is a "snowbird" which means she spends the winter months in Florida in true retirement bliss.  When it gets too hot in Florida she comes back to Kentucky for the summer months.  I met my friend many years ago when we both began our careers.  She was the friend of another co-worker who happened to be in the same new employee training class as me.  We all meet and interact with many people over the course of our life's journey.  Certainly for me, and I hope for everyone, there are certain people with whom we feel a deep and sometimes unexplainable connection.  For whatever reason you just click with some people in a way that you don't with others.

I did have a really nice surprise at the restaurant where I met my friend.  I bumped into the priest that performed my marriage ceremony.  After I left the monastery many years ago I was offered a place to live until I figured out what I was going to do with my life.  I lived with three priests and I worked at a parish.  Ironically, not only did one of these priests perform my wedding, he ended up being a mentor for my son who is also a priest.  When we met he was 35 years old and I was a somewhat lost 22 year old.  He is now 83 years old and I am a youthful 70 year old.

Usually after spending time with anyone, no matter how much I like them, I am ready for a little alone time to recharge my battery.  Yesterday this time was delayed.  As I was driving home from breakfast my telephone rang and it was my oldest son.  He asked me if I could pick up my granddaughter and her friend and take them to his house.  I can never say no.  I picked them up at school and they immediately asked if we could go to McDonald's.  Of course I said yes.  As soon as we got to McDonald's Chloe's friend began screaming.  Apparently there was a spider in the back seat of my car and she has arachnophobia.  We survived the incident and I finally got them home.  Why are seventeen year old girls so loud?  I was in the driver's seat feeling like a chaffeur as they carried on with all their teenage "Princesses Of Sadness" woes.  Needless to say, I was happy to drive home alone and, yes, I did take a nap when I finally got there!  

Monday, May 03, 2021

When Nothing Much Is Happening

It has been a quiet few days.  On Saturday, while many local people were focused on the Kentucky Derby, I finally made it back to the park after what seemed like a very long time.  I enjoy walking in the park but I easily talk myself out of it or it's raining or I have other things to do or I am simply being lazy.

When I was walking in the park I could help but notice all the new life.  All the trees and bushes are in full bloom and there are baby ducks and geese everywhere.  Right after I took the pictures above one of the parents came after me.  I guess I was a little too close for their comfort.

On Saturday night I picked my granddaughter up after she finished working.  She has a part time job bagging groceries at a local supermarket.  Like most teenagers she sometimes complains about it but like most of us she loves the money.  Every time she spends the night we take a journey to Middle Earth.  This weekend we watched the second Hobbit film "The Desolation Of Smaug".

Finally, and probably of no interest to anyone, I have recently updated some of the personal technology I use.  After many years of using Android phones, I made the transition to an Apple iPhone.  The primary reason I did this was to consolidate the digital music I have on iTunes and Amazon music into one place.  Anyone who knows me even casually knows I am a music fanatic.  The updated iPhone also allows me to make maximum use of  blue tooth capabilities in my car, with my Bose ear buds, and now my Dr. Dre "beatspill+" portable speaker.  For many years I have been using a "Classic" iPod that is now 16 years old.  I lived in fear of it dying without notice. 

This post gives you a glimpse of how simple and boring my life really is at this time.  I'm sure a few of you can relate.  Maybe my next post will be a little more exciting.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Coffee With A Friend

Today is going to be a beautiful day but yesterday was another day of all day rain.  When I got out of bed, however, I received a text from an old friend and former co-worker that I haven't seen in over three years.  She asked me if I was available for a cup of coffee.  I quickly said yes and we agreed on a time and a place.  We had a lot of catching up to do.  We ended up talking for over two hours.  I think most of us have a friend or two that no matter how much time passes between visits it is though it's been no time at all when we finally see them.  A few years ago I met a friend for breakfast that I hadn't seen in over forty years.  She was my high school love and I dated her for a long time.  We quickly fell into a comfortable conversation.  We had a nice breakfast and then took a long walk across a walking bridge that connects Kentucky with Indiana.  Now we are best friends again.  

I love it when other people think of me.  Sometimes when you are retired from an active and busy life you can quickly feel forgotten.  I really love it when friends reach out to me for a coffee date, lunch, or just to see if I am doing okay.  As an introvert I am not very outgoing so my social life is very limited.  I don't like being with a lot of people.  In my working days I hated team lunches.  My preference was going out to lunch with one person.  I really enjoy a one on one interaction, especially with a person I feel a connection with or who shares some of my interests.  In most cases the one on one encounter allows you to have a deeper and more intimate interaction.  If you want me to die in front of you make me engage in small talk or "chit chat".  I absolutely loathe these types of social interaction.  Most people think I am a quiet person because in group settings I tend to say very little.  However, if I am with one, or maybe two, people that I really like and feel comfortable with I can be very extroverted and talkative.

If you miss someone, reach out to them.  It will probably make their day.  Unless, of course, they owe you money.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Sugar Mountain


It's been a quiet day at home. Outside my window is a gentle spring rain. It was coming down much harder just a little while ago. I love these ordinary days. In the background Neil Young sings the song whose lyrics are below. Today, at least metaphorically, I have been on Sugar Mountain. You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain but you can be seventy.

I love when I can drink my coffee, listen to my music, look out my window and be lost in the moment. Don't tell anyone but I used to do this all the time in the office when I worked. Now, of course, my time is mine and doing this at home is now my job.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain

With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon
It's so noisy at the fair
But all your friends are there
And the candy floss you had
And your mother and your dad

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

There's a girl just down the aisle
Oh, to turn and see her smile
You can hear the words she wrote
As you read the hidden note

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

Now you're underneath the stairs
And you're givin' back some glares
To the people who you met
And it's your first cigarette
Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

Now you say you're leavin' home
'Cause you want to be alone
Ain't it funny how you feel
When you're findin' out it's real

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons
You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you're thinking that you're leaving there too soon
You're leaving there too soon

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Re-Connecting While On The Run

My usual morning routine of leisurely drinking coffee with my wife, watching the news, and reading the newspaper didn't happen today.  Instead I had the unusual experience of having to wake up with an alarm clock so my wife could go to an early morning doctor appointment.  I actually like to get up early although I generally sleep in till about 9:00 AM.  I know that might sound late to those of you still in the workforce.  These days I tend to stay up late and then allow my body to wake up naturally.  I don't want to rub it in but it's one of the joys of retirement.  

We had a few errands to run this morning.  After the doctor appointment we stopped at a local McDonald's for coffee and a biscuit before heading to a local fruit market.  After getting what we needed, and dropping some of it off at our home, we headed out to visit son #2 with a gift of fresh fruit.  He thinks we come to his home to visit with him but we actually go there to visit with his two cats, Callie and Belle.  They have actually become quite attached to us.  Well, at least as attached as cats get attached to any humans.  Son #2, a.k.a Father Nick, is a Catholic priest and pastor of a parish in my hometown.  Callie and Belle are Zen Masters.

A very pleasant side effect of publishing some thoughts the last few days is that people from my past are contacting me as a result.  Some of them are people I actually know and some are strangers to me.  Since I began this blog I have made friends with a few people in other countries who I now consider dear friends.  Perhaps someday I might actually get to meet these friends face to face.  As a result of re-connecting with one friend and former co-worker I learned that another friend and former co-worker had retired.  This is someone I hadn't communicated with in quite a while so I texted them and congratulated them.  I was very happy to hear back from them.

My far...ended with son # 1 and my granddaughter stopping by for a visit on their way home.  Their life is a frenzy right now with both working jobs, my granddaughter finishing up her junior year of high school, and both of them preparing to move from one home to another one.  Their new house will be about half the distance from my house as the old house.   

Today was what a retired person considers a busy day.  Sometimes I wonder how I lived my life when my wife and I both worked full time.  

Now I need a nap.