Sunday, May 19, 2024

Both Ends Of The Rainbow

This past weekend I had hoped to experience both ends of the rainbow.  What do I mean?  Like most people I am a collection of contradictions and seemingly conflicting characteristics.  If you know me personally you are aware I love visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani where silence and solitude abide in plenty.  My plans were to get up Saturday morning and drive to the monastery to meet with friends, including monks, for what I find stimulating discussion about spirituality and the contemplative life. This was going to be the front end of my rainbow experience.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  Friday evening, I was cleaning up my kitchen when I discovered that I had no hot water.  I wondered why.  The hot water was flowing fine earlier in the day.  I went to check my water heater and it was leaking badly.  The floor in my furnace room was all wet.  I immediately knew I had a big problem.  It was late in the day but I managed to have a plumber come to my house.  He turned off the water to the heater to stop the leaking.  You must know that I am not a mechanical person by nature, and I am generally a failure as a handyman.  After some discussion we agreed the heater must be replaced but it couldn't be replaced until Saturday morning.  This of course clashed with my plains to go to the monastery so I had to cancel those plans.  The good news is that I now have new water heater and plenty of hot water.  The bad news is that it came at a substantial cost.

The other side of my personality is an aging hippie who loves rock and roll.  Yes, I understand that my inner monk/aging hippie personality seems like an unlikely pairing.  Somehow it works for me.  Originally, I was going to spend Saturday morning at the monastery and then attend a rock concert with my best friend on Saturday night.  He had won two free tickets from a radio station.  The bad news was that they were in the nosebleed section of a very large arena.  It is difficult to argue about free tickets, especially when the bands are Cheap Trick and Heart.  I first saw both of these bands in the 70's.  We drove to the venue and parked in the same parking garage where I parked in my working days. I had a minor heart attack when the attendant told me the parking fee was $25!  Once inside the venue I would discover the $14 beers.  My friend and I had already decided that we weren't going to sit in the nosebleed section and that we would simply find two unsold seats and then move around as needed.  As we were entering the venue I saw a sign that said the nosebleed section was closed and if you had tickets there you would be given a seat upgrade.  Hooray!  Believe it or not we were given a significant upgrade to seats three rows off the floor.  I couldn't believe it!  They were the best seats I've ever had in this venue.  Did I mention they were free?

Both of these bands are close to me in age so they are not youngsters.  Cheap Trick and Heart both kicked ass.  I thoroughly enjoyed their performances and they played most of the songs I wanted to hear.  When the show was over I miraculously slipped out of the venue and parking garage for quick access to the highway and soon was on my way home.  It was a perfect night and I had a wonderful time.  Long live rock and roll!  However, I still love the silence and solitude of the monastery.          

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Slip Slidin' Away...


Earlier this week I saw Paul Simon on a late-night television show and much to my surprise he performed one of his older songs.  I was expecting something new.  If memory serves me well, he sang "Slip Slidin' Away".  Looking back, it seems appropriate because it perfectly describes how this week has felt so far.  Last week when I decided to start writing again, I was hoping to write something every day.  If you are paying attention, you can see that I haven't written anything since last Sunday.  Today is Thursday.  

On Mother's Day my family gathered at my son's home for a very nice dinner.  On a side note, regarding food in general, I am a little upset with myself.  I have diabetes but generally I keep it under control.  After a couple of visits to my doctor it's apparent that I've fallen off the wagon.  I have gained some weight and my A1C is higher than normal.  I need to be more vigilant about what I eat.  Goodbye ice cream and chocolate chip cookies!

On Monday I discovered a leaky pipe in my bathroom.  This required a plumber installing a new pipe under my sink.  Getting this repair scheduled and completed took most of Tuesday.

Wednesday was grocery shopping day.  A few other errands were also included.  I strived to buy healthier food and snacks.  Grocery shopping is exhausting for me, and I am usually shot for the rest of the day whenever I do it.

I was looking forward to going to the cinema today with my wife and son to see the new Planet of the Apes movie.  My son has been busy, so we've rescheduled this event several times.  It looks like we will be rescheduling again because now my wife is sick, and I will be taking her to the doctor this afternoon.  We've all been looking forward to this movie for quite a while.  I have been a fan of the franchise since the 60's when my stoner friends and I saw the first movie with Charlton Heston as "Taylor".  Those were the good old days.

It is challenging to live a quiet and peaceful life.  All plans are subject to change without notice.  Even my mood and abilities have been tested lately as I deal with some foot issues that can be painful.  I thought I might have gout, but bloodwork indicates that I do not.  This might sound strange but I am almost disappointed.  At least gout would have explained some of my symptoms.  If I do not have gout, what do I have?  Arthritis?  Who knows?  One tends to acquire multiples aches and pains at my age, so the journey continues.    

It's time to breathe, ring my bell, and regain my inner peace.  All daily challenges are part of life.  There is never a time when life remains peaceful and calm all the time.  Change is always happening.  It can be annoying or challenging but you have to roll with it.

I need to be mindful of the moment which is currently peaceful.  



Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Long And Winding Road


Last night I watched Peter Jackson's restored and cleaned up version of the Beatles original 1970 film "Let It Be".  When the film was released, I didn't care much for it and didn't think it was the Beatles best work.  The music from the film has grown on me over the years.  As I write these thoughts songs from "Let It Be" and "Abbey Road" play in the background.

It's been a long and winding road for the Beatles and me.

In 1964 I was a 12 year old boy glued to my parent's black and white television when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I was immediately a fan and I have remained one my entire life.  Despite my lengthy concert resume I never got to see the Beatles live.  In the early 2000's I did finally see Paul McCartney and his performance brought tears to my eyes.  

The Beatles were definitely the soundtrack of my teenage years and to be honest they have remained part of the soundtrack of my life even in my old age.  I never tire of them.  When John Lennon was killed, I cried.  I still miss George Harrison too.  As long as I am alive the Beatles will continue to live as well.

It's a beautiful day today.  It is Mother's Day in America.  My own mother passed away the week I retired.  She has been gone six years now.  I was her first child.  Five more siblings came after me.  My mother was a decent person, but we weren't very close.  Our relationship wasn't antagonistic or estranged but I just never really connected with her or my father either for that matter.  I never really knew what either one of them really thought of me or how I turned out.  In spite of this I tried to be a good son and I always showed them respect and honor.  In my old age, with my own awareness of my personal issues, I understand my parents had their own issues and trauma.  I assume they did they best they could just as I have tried to do with my own children.       

Later today I will gather with my own family for a meal and Mother's Day celebration.  We will also acknowledge my oldest son's 46th birthday.  My youngest son is 42.  It's sometimes difficult to accept that my children are now middle-aged adults.  Even my granddaughter is growing up at an alarming pace.  She will be 20 years old in a few months.  

Wherever you are in the world I hope you have a good day.  I hesitate to say "great" or "wonderful" because for millions of people even a "good" day seems like an impossible goal.  Sometimes it's enough to have a day that doesn't suck.  I am happy to just have days when nothing bad or annoying happens.

I want everyone to be reasonably happy, fed, safe, and content.        

Saturday, May 11, 2024

My Second Cup Of Coffee


Yesterday I posted on Facebook that I felt the time was here for me to start writing again.  The response was positive and overwhelming.  I knew many people liked what I wrote in the past but it seems I didn't realize how much.  One friend suggested I discipline myself to write first thing in the morning while I am fresh and before the day demands my attention in other ways.  For example my wife has already told me I need to go outside and spray some weeds with weed killer.  I promised her I would do it just so she will quit bringing it up.  I hate yard work and always have.  Why?  I think it's because my father was an avid gardener and he loved it.  Unfortunately I was often forced to pull weeds, cut grass and perform other kinds of manual labor when I really wanted to ride my bike all over God's creation.    

It's Saturday morning and I am on my second cup of coffee.  I had a rough night so I am moving a little slow this morning.  It's cloudy, cool, and overcast at the moment.  The good news is that it should be sunny and warmer later in the day.  In the background music from the folk singer Donovan fills the room.  Donovan turned 78 years old yesterday.  My generation is now in their 70's and 80's.  I began listening to Donovan as a teenager.  I still love his songs and it makes me happy to listen to them.  

Another one of my friends suggested that I avoid complaining about growing old.  Growing older is a reality for all of us and we just have to deal with it.  The good news is that inside my 73 year old body a young boy still resides.  He moves a little slower and more carefully but he still dreams.  It is my goal to write without complaining.  I hope to focus on the positive, the humorous, and occasionally the absurd.  I am not a novelist.  My writing is mostly stream of consciousness.  Often when I sit down to write I have no idea what I am going to say.  At this moment I feel a little rusty and apprehensive.  I am also feeling a little bit of pressure.  Yesterday's overwhelmingly positive feedback and hopeful expectations make me wonder "What the hell was I thinking"?

I need another cup of coffee before I go outside and kill the weeds.  The chore is not really difficult.  I have spent more time bitching about it than it will take me to actually do it.  The young boy in me stills hates to be told what to do.  However, I dislike conflict so I will go outside and destroy every living plant that is growing where it shouldn't.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you who are mothers.  

Friday, May 10, 2024

Dipping My Toe Back Into The Water

 Greetings to anyone who is reading this blog for the first time as well as anyone who may have followed me in the past.  It's been a while since I have written on a regular basis and to be honest I miss doing it.  I began writing during my working days.  Most of what I wrote was intended for co-workers and friends using an ever growing email distribution list.  I originally created this blog in 2006.  Everything I have written from then till now is still available for anyone who wants to read reflections I wrote in the past.

Why do I want to start writing again?

I worked almost every day for approximately 50 years.  32 of those years were for the same company.  Most of these years were with the same people.  Many of us began working together when we were young and many of us stayed until we were old.  I finally retired in 2018.       

Retirement has been a mixed bag for me.  I believe retirement is overrated.  As I like to say, being retired is not the same thing as being on vacation.  Vacation is concentrated time when you have prepared to be carefree and adventurous.  It is also of a usually short duration.  Retirement for most people is normal daily life with many new and old challenges usually faced with a lot less money.  In the time I have been retired I feel as though I have aged significantly.  I also feel as though my life and my world became much smaller and less fulfilling.  I think like many people I didn't realize how important the work environment was to me.  Let me clarify that I do not miss the "work".  What I miss are the people and the social interactions I had with people.  I also miss the sense of purpose I felt and the many affirmations I received.  

In the time I have been retired I feel as though I've been withering on the vine.  I have felt lost with no sense of direction.  However, it hasn't been all bad.  I enjoy sleeping till 8:00 AM every day.  I love my leisurely mornings, afternoon naps, and occasional lunches with friends.  I love the freedom to do or not to do in most cases.  All of this is great for a day or a week or even a month but for years?  Let me also correct a misconception that many young people have about retirement.  Retirement doesn't make you wealthy.  Most people don't have the resources to travel the world extensively.  Life doesn't get cheaper for older people.  If you haven't spent your working years saving money for retirement you may not even be able to retire.           

 I want to write more but not to simply complain about life.  Life is always hard.  I can't really remember a time when life was easy.

My goal is to write regularly.  The contents will hopefully be positive observations and reflections about the more meaningful experiences of my life and life in general.

Wish me luck!  If you have been a fan of mine over the years, I sincerely appreciate your support.

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.