Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Enjoy Every Minute Of The Day

I think there is something to be enjoyed about all the different times of the day. Each moment has its own feel. When I rise there is a struggle as I crawl out from under the warm blankets and leave my soft bed. It's a slow walk to the bathroom but my morning shower feels great. A hot shower is one of life's simple joys. By the time I am dressed I am feeling pretty good. In the mornings I am usually rested and feeling fresh. I am alert and aware. Mornings are my best time of day. I am definitely a morning person. With my current schedule I have some quiet time for reading before I leave for work. The drive to work is peaceful. I listen to quiet music as I flow with the morning traffic. As soon as I drop my wife off at her office I switch to the classic rock station on my satellite radio. I also crank it up. It has the same effect as a double espresso. When I arrive at work, I like the cold walk into the building. My workday is usually pleasant, always busy, and rarely bad. I don't mind coming to work but I don't mind leaving at the end of the day either. After a day of being with people I enjoy my momentary solitude driving to my wife's office and waiting for her. Arriving home after a good day at work is a great feeling. It feels good to bathe and change my clothes. I look forward to an evening of relaxing. Most evenings I am free and have no commitments. I read the daily news, listen to music, play on my computer a bit and maybe read a little depending on my fatigue level. At some point I will watch some television. When my day is over, it feels great to return to the bed I left at the beginning of the day. A day in the life can be a metaphor for our entire lives. The different stages and times of our lives have their own feel. At my current age, the body does not always feel good but the heart is happy and the mind is calm. Enjoy every minute of your day. These minutes add up to your life.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Our Aging Society

After reading the story of my wife and I being in the emergency room for six hours with my mother in law in my Monday thoughts, someone asked me my feelings about caring for the elderly. I am no expert on this subject but I do have some thoughts and concerns. One of the Ten Commandments is "Honor thy Father and thy Mother". Perhaps in today's world and certainly in the not too distant future it should be changed to "Take care of thy Father and thy Mother". As my generation starts to approach old age, I think we are on the verge of a huge medical crisis. Even now, when most men and women work full time, and our parents become elderly, my generation is stressed. Baby boomers are also called the "Sandwich Generation". We are caught in the middle. Our children and grandchildren have needs and our elderly parents have needs. We are expected to meet them all. My wife and I have three living parents from age 77 to 82. Two of them are at some stage of dementia/senility. We have brothers and sisters who share in their care. Some are able to do more than others. I am concerned about the time when my wife and I are as old as our parents are now. We are part of the largest generation in history. Who will take care of all the elderly and sick baby boomers? I have talked to some young people who want to become doctors. None of them want to go into geriatrics. Old people can be demanding and difficult to deal with sometimes. All of our heathcare systems will be stressed. Geriatrics is probably not as much fun as pediatrics. Yet, in twenty or thirty years when I am 75 to 85 years old, and much of the population is the same age, who will care for us? Many baby boomers only have one or two children so our care could be a much bigger burden to our children than our parents are to us. I don't know the answer but we better start thinking about it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Weekend Rest? What Rest?

This morning was a very cold morning. The electronic bank sign said it was 13 degrees and my car themostat said it was 18 degrees so in reality is was probably about 15 degrees. I had a very busy three day weekend. This past Thursday night my wife and I spent nearly six hours in the emergency room with my mother in law. She had fallen and received a nasty cut. She's going to be fine but it was 2:00 AM before we got home. The next day I drove to the monastery on four hours of sleep. It was a beautiful and pleasant day. I'm sure the monks were impressed with me when they saw me in church. I appeared to be in deep meditation. The reality was that I was falling asleep every time I closed my eyes during mass. Afterwards, my friend, Fr Dennis, and I went out for breakfast. We had some great conversation and we talked of many things. Because of our sleep deprivation, my wife left work early on Friday and after I picked her up at her office, we went home and took a three hour nap. I did get to sleep in a little on Saturday but my granddaughter, Princess Chloe, joined us two hours earlier than I expected. Once she is on the scene, there's no rest. She's never really bad but she is very active. I love her deeply but she definitely has more energy than me and I wear out before she does. I did take her with me on a field trip to the music store on Sunday. She insisted on wearing my hat the entire time. Sunday was also busy. My wife was out shopping for new furniture for our living room. She went with Chloe's parents. When they returned home I fed everyone my homemade pizza. Afterwards, Chloe and her parents went to their home. Whew! It was good to get back to work where I can rest.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Founders Day

Today I went to the Abbey of Gethsemani for Founders Day. It was the feast of Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen. It was these three monks who led a group of other monks away from their monastery to Citeaux, France in 1098. This was the beginning of the Cistercian order. I was blessed to visit Citeaux in 2005. The drive to and from the monastery was beautiful. The morning sun was a burning orange sphere that made driving difficult at times. I stopped at the home of my friend, Fr Dennis, for coffee and muffins before the two of us headed to Gethsemani. It was a sparse crowd in the Abbey church. In spite of the big feast, it was a quiet affair which is exactly what I like. After mass, Fr Dennis and I went to breakfast and had some good food and great conversation. Before heading home I visited the monastery bookstore which is always a treat and sometimes a frustration because there are so many books I would like to buy. The whole day, including the weather, was great. The sun shone brightly, the air was cool, and the skies were clear and bright. If the day had a downside it was that I was very tired. Last night my wife and I spent nearly six hours in the emergency room with my 82 year old mother in law. She had fallen and cut herself. She is fine and will be OK but it was 2:00 AM before we got to bed. My day at the monastery was a little blurry because I was doing it on four hours of sleep. As I type this I have just awakened from a three hour nap.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Light And Breezes

Every time I announce that I am taking a day off from work I receive emails saying, "What about the daily thoughts? I look forward to them and my day doesn't get off to a good start without them". I am very flattered and grateful that so many of you find these thoughts enjoyable. I enjoy writing and sharing my musings and life with you. Back in September I started this online blog. It needed to have a title so I called it Stumbling Down the Spiritual Path. I share my ups and downs and occasional spiritual insights as a dim light for others who are also attempting to walk a spiritual path in the midst of their daily lives. My journey has been enjoyable and meaningful for me most of the time. However, as the title to my blog implies, it often feels like I am stumbling down the spiritual path. It is not always a steady and upright walk in the park. Like some of my friends who are monks and perhaps many of you, some days I am just trying to get through the day. I am not always full of enthusiasm for the journey. However, a wonderful woman from 16th century Spain, Teresa of Avila, once said, "You must remember in darkness what you once experienced in the light". What I have experienced and what I hopefully have made all of you aware is that we all have moments of light in our lives. It does, however, take a spiritual awareness to see the light in our lives. If you are rushing around, working too much and too hard, overextended, stressed out, frazzled, and always tired, you will miss the moments of light in your life. God is the light and in my experience He/She does not beat you over the head to get your attention. God is usually quiet and He/She weaves in and out of your daily lives. It is only through an interior quietness and by being presence to the moments in our lives that we can notice God's presence. God's presence is more like a gentle breeze than a hurricane.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Day In The Life

Whew! It's been a hectic and busy day. It has not been a bad day but I am feeling a little frazzled and tired. My daughter in law works in my building. A little while ago I left her a note asking if I could go pick up Chloe at the day care. I am missing her. If I don't see her at least once a week, I feel a sense of emptiness. She's a little person but she fills up a lot of space in my life. I have a good life but it would be less good if she didn't exist. Chloe will soon be in the Guiness Book of World Records for being able to completely trash a room faster than any other person I know. She's a whirlwind of activity, curiosity, and unbounded wonder. She's so cute! If you are not a grandparent, I probably sound a little hokey sometimes. However, I believe grandchildren are the reward for all the work and occasional pain of raising your own children. After picking Chloe up at the daycare, we shared a feast of chicken tenders, french fries, and a banana split. Unfortunately, I dripped ice cream on one of my new sweaters.

I was really mad when I got home from work this past Friday. In my mailbox was a citation and fine for $100 for parking my own car on my own lawn. This was not a car with no doors sitting on bricks. It's a nice car and I thought I was being considerate of my neighbors by not parking it on the street and blocking the road. Anyway, I was fired up and I was ready to give someone a piece of my mind. Today I called the agency to complain and possibly be a jerk. My better self kicked in and the person I talked to turned out to be a nice and reasonable guy. In the end, he waived the fine and I was extremely pleased. Sometimes you just need to be calm and talk things out in a reasonable manner. It was a win-win for both of us. I am now informed about an obscure law (his win) and I do not have to pay the fine (my win).

Sometimes I feel like I am not as spiritual as I used to be. I do not seem to be doing as many "spiritual things" as I used to do. From a Zen perspective where up is sometimes down and down is up, I do not know if this is necessarily a bad thing. Are spiritual practices like training wheels on a bike and when you no longer need some of them to stay balanced, you quit using them? Can our spiritual practices be internalized into regular day to day living so that you are no longer consciously aware of them? If everything I have ever read about prayer is true, you can get to a point where you are no longer aware that you are praying. This is the prayer of the heart. Have I actually progressed in the spiritual life? It's not for me to judge. It's for God and others to decide. If I answer my own question and say yes, I will be humbled by the end of the day.

It finally snowed enough last night to cover the ground where I live. My normally gray and bleak looking neighborhood was transformed into a place of beauty. The ground and every tree and bush were covered with about an inch of snow. As I stood on my front porch, the snow was beautiful as it glistened and sparkled from the light coming from the streetlight. It was another perfect moment.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I have a new co-worker. She began working with me yesterday. Last Friday she loaned me a book by the Dalai Lama entitled "An Open Heart". The book is about practicing compassion in everyday life. I read part of the first chapter before I came to work today. It was about happiness. Happiness is basically a choice and an attitude. You can have everything in the world and not be happy while some people who have little in terms of material things are supremely happy. I consider myself to be a happy person. Is my life perfect? No. Does everything go my way? No. Do I have everything I want? No. Is my body perfect? Are you kidding? If I started with my head and went to my feet, I could easily list 25 imperfections with my body. Even my granddaughter Chloe notices that my hair is "all gone". I am happy because I am content. If I don't have too much of somethings, I have enough. My life is comfortable if not perfect. There's lots of love in my life. I have a roof over my head and I never go hungry. I am part of a good family and I have lots of friends. I am not a genius but I have a good mind. I don't feel special but I am not without talent. I can't run a marathon but I can walk. I know how to appreciate a good moment. I'm actually having one right now. There are many reasons to be happy. Sometimes we just have to stop and think about it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Snow That Wasn't

I went to bed last night hopeful that the weatherman's prediction of one to three inches of snow overnight would come true. I slept in till daylight and then rose in anticipation of a neighborhood covered in snow. When I looked out my window all I could see was a combination of sleet and ice hanging on the tree limbs. A light rain was falling. It was a supreme disappointment. Snow on the gound would have made this a perfect morning. It is Sunday and I have no where to go. How nice it would have been to get up early, see snow on the gound, make coffee, sit in solitude with the blinds open, and read the Sunday paper as I listen to music. Instead, the weather is dreary and overcast with a periodic light rain. The morning has not been a waste. With the exception of the snow, I enjoyed everything else that is part of a perfect Sunday morning.

Friday, January 19, 2007


This week has flown by! I am not complaining. Weekends are always good. Other than attending a graduation party for one of my nieces, I have a totally free weekend. It seems like it has been a long time since I had a weekend where I could just chill out and do what I want to do. Maybe I will have breakfast on Saturday at a local bagel shop and take in a movie. I am way behind in seeing all the films I would like to see.

Yesterday I visited a training class where I work to introduce myself and to answer questions. I received the usual questions and I believe I was able to answer them to their satisfaction. The question that caught me off guard was from the trainer. She asked "Are you still a poet"? Poet? Was I ever a poet? Well, I have written some poetry and this trainer has some poems that I wrote years ago. I really haven't kept up with writing poetry since I now prefer the kind of writing I do in these daily thoughts.

My wife and I are in our mid fifties. It is a time of life where we are not on the same page about the actual room temperature in our home. I am always cold and she is always hot. 70 degrees for me is 90 degrees for her. In her world it is always summer. Sleeping in our bedroom is like camping out. The window is open and the ceiling fan is about to shoot off into space because it is twirling so fast. She is covered with a sheet and I have my electric blanket on high. I jokingly tell friends and family that I wear a hat and gloves to bed. I am actually thinking about going to a sporting goods store and buying one of those bright orange pup tents that mountain climbers use when they camp out on the side of a mountain during raging snow storms. I think they make them small enough to fit on my side of the bed. Maybe I will also spring for one of those small kerosene heaters.

Yesterday a co-worker sent me the following article. When you get to the end, you will understand why.

I Thought I Was Too Old to Fall in Love Again by Jack D. Minzey

I never believed in love at first sight until, most unexpectedly and bewilderingly, it happened to me. From the moment I first saw her, it was as though her eyes entered my heart and pierced clear through my soul. What else could it be but love? She should have known that I was a happily married, contentedly middle-aged man. But she was beautiful and, oh, how she knew it - and she used that beauty to overwhelm me. I tried to ignore the feelings she stirred in me, but with each day that passed, I knew I was becoming a captive to her charm. I was under her spell completely. She has so many enchanting moods: She was happy, sad, sweet, cute, pouty, serious, funny, and flirtatious. Each mood followed the other in dizzying succession. And each was effective - helplessly I reacted to each in exactly the manner she expected. I tried to appear blase about our relationship; however, that was clearly a facade, and my friends saw through it instantly. Even my wife became aware of the new object of my affections. Surprisingly, she was more tolerant about what was happening than I would have expected. She even seemed to share my excitement over this new woman in my life. This, I might add, immediately gave our marriage a whole new dimension. Where will it all lead? It's hard to say. I thought the thrill of this new relationship would be soon gone. And yet, a year has passed since she first entered my life, and I am still helplessly smitten. Each time I see her she is more bewitching, and each time she finds a new way to claim my heart. It used to be just a shy glance or a gesture. Now she is bolder and offers me a touch with her little hand, a hug, an occasional kiss on the cheek. I would gladly giver her the world at such moments. I guess it's possible that our relationship is just a figment of my imagination, as she has never spoken to me of love. And yet, when I look at that pretty, dimpled face, when I gaze into her shining eyes, I know in my heart that she is thinking "I love you, Grandpa."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Zen And Work

Yesterday was a hectic and busy day. Such days challenge my Zen approach to life. It was a day that pulled me out of my comfort zone in the sense that I was not always able to work as I prefer or to keep the balance that I strive to have. I admit that I am a creature of habit and I prefer some routine in my day. I do not like to work in a manner that makes me feel like my hair is on fire. No bald jokes, please! The daily routines I have for myself provide a framework on which I hang all the other activities of my day. As much as I tried to be faithful to this framework yesterday, I kept getting pulled away and distracted. Such is life some days. I accept it when it happens and I deal with it. These days, however, are more exhausting for me than other days. Routines are not a bad thing but we can be too attached to them. If everyday went like I would seemingly prefer, I would soon feel like Bill Murray in the movie "Groundhog Day" where you feel like you are living the same day over and over again. Like the Bill Murray character, however, we can eventually realize that by changing our behavior we can wake up each new day and correct the mistakes from the previous day. Routine helps me to stay focused but I must also have an openness to the surprises and other unexpected things that happen to me. This openness, coupled with a faithfulness to some routine that keeps you "centered" will do much to keep your hair from bursting into flames.

Zen at Work

One way in which you can integrate Zen practice into your job is to focus on a single task at a time. These days there is a lot of pressure on employees to multitask and many people get quite good at it. The problem is that when you multitask, you scatter your energies. Resolve to stop doing more than one thing at a time. We all know how hard it is to get something done properly when we are distracted. This does not mean that you have to finish one task completely before beginning another one; simply that when you are working on something, you should bring your undivided attention to it. If you are filing, file; if you are answering calls, then answer calls. If you are processing claims, process claims. Be where you are and do what you are doing.

Be like water. Flow around obstacles.

Control your emotions or they will control you.

Recognize the inherent harmony of everyday life. Seek balance in your life between work and home, work and family, work and yourself.

Recognize the priceless irreplaceability of the present moment.

Empty your cup and fill it with today's lessons. You are getting feedback every moment of everyday...use it.

Focus on process, not product. If you attend to your present work properly, you will meet your goals.

Train yourself to respond unconsciously, not intellectually. Simple things, including most "people skills", are most effective when they spring, unforced, from your true nature.

Most of our fears are about the future, which hasn't happened yet and isn't real. Fear drains energy from the present moment.

Allow yourself pauses. It is the rest that refreshes. Without the pause, all you have is noise.

Make time to clear your mind, because only a clear mind can act, and react, effectively.
Remove distractions and free your mind. The aim is to make your work environment reflect a calm and still state of mind, uncluttered by distractions. The undistracted mind is more efficient and free to react quickly to all circumstances.

Zen encourages graceful flow and movement.

"It goes without saying that as soon as one cherishes the thought of winning the contest or displaying one's skill in technique, swordsmanship is doomed."
-Takano Shigeyoshi

These thoughts on Zen at Work are from the book entitled "Zen in 10 Simple Lessons" by Anthony Man-Tu-Lee and David Wei

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All Of Life Is Sacred

I am enjoying these quiet January days. There is a peacefulness in their ordinariness. Most of our lives are made up of such days. Ordinary time is the space between holidays and holy days. They connect the special days and moments of our lives. Of course, ordinary days can still be extraordinary. These are the days when the extraordinary can sneak up on us because we do not expect it. It can be as simple as lunch with a friend that ends with new possibilities. It is in ordinary time that I realize there is no difference between sacred time and secular time. The older I get, the more these two concepts become one for me. My spiritual life is not separate or different from my secular life "in the world". I have one life and all of it is sacred. Sometimes I celebrate the sacredness of life by being in a church or going to the monastery. Most of the time, however, I celebrate the sacredness of life by simply living it the best I can where I exist and by being open to those moments of transcendence that surprise me in the least expected times or places. The world is my church and the sacred is found everywhere. For me, there's no difference between sitting in silence at the monastery or being at home doing the laundry or cleaning up the kitchen. God is in all things.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Life Is Full Of Ups And Downs

Life is full of ups and downs. Some days all is great and wonderful and beautiful. Other days are not so great, maybe the weather stinks, and you don't feel particularly good. How does one deal with it all? I suppose there's no one way to deal with it. Over the years my spirit has calmed down and mellowed to the point that my mood level doesn't vary much in either direction. On the surface I may seem to have little emotional reaction to anything. Yes, I have a rebellious nature and I sometimes struggle with suppressing my anger but 98% of the time I am able to simply respond to life as it comes to me. When everything is great, I enjoy it. When life is not so great, I deal with it and move on. I can't remember being depressed and I rarely worry. In his book entitled The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama says, "Why worry? Nothing was ever solved by worrying about it. Instead of worrying, use that energy to solve the problem". Most stress, for the average person, is not a direct result of what is happening. It is a result of our reaction to what is happening. I have been making a personal effort to not react or overreact to what happens to me or goes on around me. These days I am trying to respond rather than react or overreact. A response is a less emotional but thought out reply. Our human emotions are wonderful feelings but they can often get the best of us and occasionally cause us trouble. I don't know if this is a dysfunctional coping strategy or not but sometimes when things aren't going my way, I just wait it out. In my life I have out waited many unpleasant experiences. I call it patience but some just think I am stubborn.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Middle Way

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I was only 12 years old when he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Since then I have heard and seen the speech many times. It is one of the great speeches of history. A few years ago I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. One of the places I went was the Lincoln Memorial. I walked out of the memorial and down the stairs to a spot where I thought Martin Luther King may have stood when he gave his speech. I closed my eyes and imagined all the thousands of people who were there that day and all of the hope that his words must have given them. Since my visit, a plaque has been placed on the exact spot on which he stood.

Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I am free at last! -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I recently learned something new about my personality type. I am always learning some new twist into what makes me tick. I've always know I have a rebellious nature. That's not uncommon for those of us who were part of the sixties counter culture. In a book I read recently I learned that people of my personality type are angry with themselves if they don't rebel but are also afraid when they do. Sometimes I feel like the one member of the Alpha Omega fraternity in the movie "Animal House". I realize that some of you are too young to remember the movie and others won't admit that they saw it and liked it. Anyway, there's this one scene where a character is in a position to make a choice. On one shoulder there is a small angel encouraging him to be strong. On the other shoulder is a small devil tempting him to take advantage of the situation. Some days I feel like these characters are riding around on my shoulders. There are days I want to reform the world and make everything better. Other days I want to rebel against everything that's part of the establishment. Sacred cows make wonderful hamburgers. I deal with this tension within myself by trying to walk the middle way. The middle way is the contemplative life. It is the spiritual path. It is the examined life that helps me to not just react to everything but rather make intelligent and appropriate responses to what is happening around me. All of our personalities are a little different. Your tension and my tension may not be the same. The balance that is necessary for contemplation is found in the tension of opposites. It is sometimes a tightrope walk and occasionally I fall off. When I do, I just climb back up on that rope and begin again.

My granddaughter Chloe recently learned a valuable life lesson. Don't let your Grandmother trim your bangs when she is tired....and don't move your head!

Chloe decided at 7:30 AM on Sunday that it was time to get up. She and I discussed it for a few minutes but I was losing the battle. I knew Granny was hugging her side of the bed pretending to be asleep. So Chloe and I got up and went downstairs. We found her baby doll, turned on the Disney channel and then all three of us sat in my chair and covered up. Yes, it was early and I was still tired. However, in these early morning hours with the rain pouring down outside, it was a special moment. We snuggled with her baby doll and one another. How can one not cherish such moments?

Friday, January 12, 2007


I doubt there is any person whose mother has not said to them at one time or another, "You are what you hang with". There's a lot of truth in that statement. I am not as smart or well educated as some people imagine that I am. However, most of my life I have hung out with people who are smarter and more educated than me. Don't get me wrong. I am no idiot and one can be very educated without necessarily having a degree. In addition, I have known many well schooled people who were not educated at all. My point is that I have been very lucky to have crossed paths with people who were able to mentor me and teach me about life. I have had good teachers and other friends who have influenced me greatly and who have helped shape me into the person I am today. At the same time, I have not just sat around while others poured knowledge into my head. Most of my life I have been a voracious reader. Sadly, these days I am often too tired or busy to read like I used to do. In addition to what I have learned in school or from mentors and friends, I am a student of life. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I am observing everything around me and taking it all it. Sometimes I just sit and wonder. I try to learn from the "hard knocks" that life has sometimes given me. Although I am not necessarily the smartest person in the room, I guess I am intellectual in the sense that I am always thinking and pondering. This is part of my introspective nature. I think all the reading, observations, conversations, retreats, mistakes, and intellectual pursuits have made me educated. All of this, whether I realized it or not, was part of my awakening process. There must be a sense of wakefulness in order to have any awareness and awareness is a big part of education.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My Workplace

As I was merging onto the interstate this morning it seemed like I was entering a river of life. The red glow from the thousands of brake lights and the weaving nature of the road itself seemed like the bloodstream of a very large being and that being is the city. Soon enough I was part of the ebb and flow. I was carried along until I reached my destination. I don't admit it too often but secretly I sometimes enjoy coming to work. Yes, I often daydream about a time when I no longer have the need or commitment to work. The reality of that daydream is not as far away as it used to be. These days, however, when the river of life drops me off at my office, I am feeling pretty good. I park on the roof of my parking garage. When I get out of my car, I have a great view. It is a new day. I pause for a moment to take in the beauty of the morning sky. The morning air is refreshing. The sometimes cold walk through the park is invigorating. Admittedly, when I arrive in the building I am occasionally frustrated with the wait for an elevator. It is a good moment to practice patience. When I get to my floor I am happy. I am working with a great group of people. The floor is warm and inviting. Even though it is a workplace, it is also a very comfortable place to be, at least for me. A person I interviewed for a job yesterday asked me what kind of work environment we had. I responded that as a Supervisor I tried to create an environment that I wanted to be in. Assuming we all are here because we need to make a living and support our families, I believe everyone else wants the same thing as me in terms of environment. Who wants to work in a place that you hate or dread being in everyday? If I have to work...and I do...I want to be in an enjoyable place where the work gets done but people are smiling and laughter sometimes fills the air. The workplace is part of the stream of life so I do my best to make it a healthy place.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Exchange Of Energy

I read once that in every human encounter is an exchange of energy. I believe this is true. In my experience I usually feel good or bad after an exchange with another person. Some people are full of life and positive energy. When I walk away from them I feel better. Other people are draining and full of negative energy. When I walk away from them I feel like I lost a pint of blood. These experiences make me wonder how I affect others. Do people find me life giving or life draining? Do I attract people or do people avoid me? Am I someone that others want to be with or do I take the sunshine right out of their day? In the work environment we sometimes joke about "heavy maintenance" people. These are the people that always have a problem or issue. Some of my peers joke that they spend 80% of their time dealing with 20% of their people. I know what they mean and I have also shared their experience at times. The question here is this. What kind of person are you? Do you brighten other's days? Do you lift their spirits? Do you ease their pain? Are you life giving and life affirming? Do you lighten someone's load or add to it? When people see you, do they smile? Life is hard and often a struggle. Wouldn't it be so much easier and enjoyable if we competed with one another to see who could be most kind and thoughtful? Practice random acts of kindness. Be more giving and less needy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ora Et Labora

When I was at the monastery on Sunday, Fr Michael, one of the monks, gave a short presentation on "Ora et Labora". This is a Latin phrase that means prayer and work. It's at the heart of the monastic life. Since most of us in the room were not monks, the discussion centered around being contemplative people who live and work in the world. Based on conversations I have had with people, most of us work in fast paced, often hectic, and sometime chaotic work environments. How does one stay centered? How does one remain calm? How does one return to the center and the calm when you are pulled out of it? How do we function as the eye of the hurricane when events and other people around us seem to be spinning out of control? It is not easy and it is often challenging. It is even difficult for me and I am a calm, relaxed person by nature. Some days it is a continuous battle to control my day instead of it controlling me. There are no magic solutions. I try to practice mindfulness...doing one thing at a time and being where you are...but this is difficult in a world that demands multi tasking. I still work at it, however, and it does help. Sometimes I just stop and breathe. Other times I stare at some of the nature photos on my calendar. Nature calms me. I imagine myself in the place I am looking at. On my window sill, I have a small Zen garden with a tiny rake. Occasionally, I turn around in my chair and gently rake the sand. Other time I may listen to a nature CD. People think I am working but I am really visiting the rainforest in my mind. Depending on the weather I may go outside for some fresh air, silence, and solitude. I may simply sit on one of the benches and watch the water bubbling in the fountain. I guess the bottom line is we must open ourselves to some calming rituals. Almost everything I have described is free but the payoff is worth a great deal. I can't remember the exact quote but a holy person said something like this. Everyone needs one hour of silence each day. If you are really busy, make it two hours. Monks refer to their heart as a cell. "Cell" is a monastic term for room. We all have the ability to enter the cell of our heart whenever we wish. This is our quiet place and it is with us wherever we go. If you haven't been there in a while, I recommend a visit.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Resistance Is Futile?

Is it January? Here in Kentucky you would think it's spring. The nights and early morning are cool but the days are warm. This morning it is 65 degrees! I wouldn't be surprised to seeing buds on the trees or flowers sprouting from the ground.

A few months ago I received several books of poetry from a friend. I haven't made much progress reading them. Like most working people I am too tired on work nights and too busy on weekends. Well, I finally started reading one of the books last night. I was intrigued with the title. It's called "I Heard God Laughing". It's a collection of poems by the Persian poet Hafiz. Persia was an ancient country located in what is now modern day Iran and Iraq. Anyway, here's poem that I liked.

I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness,
The astonishing light of your own being!

I have always been a Star Trek fan. Mr Spock, in particular, was a favorite character of mine. In fact, I cried when he died in "The Wrath of Khan" movie. Thank goodness he was resurrected in "The Search for Spock". In later Star Trek shows a new alien threat was introduced that was even worse than the Klingons. They were the Borg. They flew in spaceships that were cubes. In time, they turned out to be my favorite bad guys in the annals of space travel. The Borg were mostly machine beings but had some biological parts. Their goal was to assimilate all other species. When they were attacking another species, they would say with their group mind, "We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated". Star Trek is fictional but sometimes I think the Borg are real and they are disguised as the world. Sometimes it feels like something is trying to assimilate all of us into a collective mind in a generic world. This goes against my grain. I don't want to be part of a group mind or a generic world. I will always be resistant to the group mind and any attempts to make me less than I am. I want my own mind with my own thoughts. I don't want a generic world. I want diversity and choice and variety. I truly believe, as Henry David Thoreau says, "Some people march to the beat of a different drummer." I reserve the right to be unique and so should you. Be different. Be unique. Be yourself. Don't let the world assimilate you. Well, I hear my drum beating. See you soon.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 Comes To An End

Over the weekend I watched news coverage on President Ford, Saddam Hussein, and James Brown. What a way to end 2006! The year ended with the death of a former president that history is now treating more kindly, the death of a dictator that history will never treat kindly, and finally, the death of the Godfather of Soul, a man loved by many. I will miss James Brown. I always loved his music, style, and showmanship plus he was a great, if flawed, human being. Sadly, he's a performer that I never saw live although I have been listening to him since the sixties. Wow! What a groove that man had! I will always remember him bent over, leaving the stage with one of the Fabulous Flames, his backup singers, putting a cape over his shoulders. Then those feet would start moving and he would fling the cape off and get back to the microphone. He was the Godfather of soul...and funk.

The death of President Ford recalled one of my memories from high school. In 1969(?) President Eisenhower died and his body was taken across the country on a funeral train. My good friend Tom and I, along with our girlfriends of the time (Patty and Jennifer?) cut school and drove to a small town somewhere in Indiana where the train would be stopping. We weren't fans of President Eisenhower. It was just a moment in history and we wanted to be there. We made it to the town and saw President Eisenhower's casket, drapped in the American flag, inside the passenger car of the train. Before that, my most vivid memory of a presidential death was in 1963, when I was 12 years old, and President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember watching it on black and white television like it was yesterday.

Building Management confiscated my personal coffee pot yesterday. I was told it was a safety violation and fire hazard. I wish they had told me that in 1989 when I brought it to work. I have mixed emotions. I don't know whether I am angry that I can no longer enjoy the aroma of freshly brewed coffee blends of my choice or happy that it took them so long to catch me. It was a wild chase through parts of three decades, two buildings, eight floors, and more job responsibilities than I can remember. Mr. Coffee leaves behind a partially filled container of ground coffee, some Coffeemate Lite, and a stack of four cup mini filters. Mr. Coffee R.I.P. 1989-2007