Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Experience Of God

Even though there were a few brief moments yesterday where I felt like I was experiencing the China Syndrome within myself, I am not really going to talk about that. However, for those that are not familiar with the China Syndrome, it is when a nuclear reactor is overheating and beginning the meltdown process. When I started feeling the heat of the workday, I simply followed some of my own advice and took a short walk in the sunlight with the cool air of a February afternoon blowing on my face. The catastrophe was avoided and I have lived to see another day.

What is the experience of God like? One of the best descriptions I have ever heard is that it's like a face to face encounter in the dark. Everything you have ever heard about God or tried to express about God is an analogy. No one can say anything about God that doesn't begin with "God is like......" We like to believe that all the warm fuzzy feelings we may experience in church or in prayer are God. In most cases those feelings can be attributed to an overheated room. You can never really judge the experience of God. Sometimes when God seems very far away, He/She is closest. I wish we had a pronoun in the English language that wasn't masculine or feminine and could be used for God! Actually, regardless of how we may feel, God is always present. He/She is never far away. How do I know this? I don't know this in any intellectual way. I can't explain God or prove the existence of God but I believe there is a God. Like everyone else who ever tried, I can only describe my own experience of God in analogies. There have been fleeting moments in my life where I believed the presence of God was so strong that it made me think of the poetry of the 16th century Spanish mystic, John of the Cross, when he said, "Break the web, O Lord, of this sweet encounter"! It's the feeling that you must either die or be thrown back into your life. The experience of God is like looking at the sun. You can only take it for a moment or you'll go blind. Well, I'm not sure how I went from the China Syndrome to the experience of God but I guess they're not as different as they seem. I guess if we're going to meltdown, it should be from the experience of God and not the demands of a workday.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


One of the distinguishing characteristics of the monastic life is it's balanced schedule. It is based on the Rule of St Benedict. Benedict was a 6th century man with great skill in organization. At that time in history many who called themselves monks were disorganized and, in some cases, running amuck. Benedict's rule organized the monks of western Europe, saved civilization in the dark ages, and is still used today in modern monasteries. What does it have to teach modern man? Well, if the whole rule had to be summarized into one word, that word would be balance. Most everyday stress is caused by lives that are out of balance. Depending on the day we might have too much work, too many deadlines, too many expectations, limited resources, or too little time. It is for every individual to decide which of these problems, and the many I have not listed, applies to them. One of the ways I try to have balance in my life is to have realistic expectations about what I can or cannot accomplish in a limited amount of time. I try to always have my Zen approach to work. I focus on one thing at a time as best I can. I try to complete one project before moving on to another. Rome wasn't built in a day and most problems don't occur overnight, so it's not likely that every problem can be fixed immediately or even in one day. Working in a focused manner and striving for balance in one's life goes a long way towards have some peace of mind and less stress. Modern men and women need to relax and breathe. We all can't be supermen and superwomen everyday. At this stage of my life I do not even pretend to be a superman. There's only so much a normal human being can do. Life is not a race. Relax, focus, seek balance, try to stay on one task at a time, set a course and stay with it. Some days the wind will be in your sails and other days you may have to paddle but if you follow your Zen compass, you will reach your destination.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Happy Birthday, Nick!

Whew, it's already Monday again! By the end of the week we will be in the month of March!

My granddaughter, Chloe, didn't spend the night this weekend but I did see her twice at the beginning and end of the weekend. We were together at dinner Friday night with the rest of my family. Throughout the meal she kept looking at me saying, "I want to drive"! I had no idea what she was talking about. Finally, I said, "Show me"! Her little hand grabbed my hand and the next thing I know we were in the video game arcade. She wanted to play one of the games where you drove cars. I couldn't believe it. She's not even three years old and already wanting to play video games. I've never quite gotten the whole video game obsession. When I was a boy they didn't exist. We actually had to go outside and play with little but our imagination.

Today is my youngest son's 25th birthday. I can't believe that Nick is 25. One of my best memories, in retrospect, is a six month period of unemployment when he was around two years old. I stayed home and took care of him full time. He was about the age that Chloe is now. At that time his older brother, Chloe's father, was six years old and beginning the first grade. Nick, Mikey(he doesn't like to be called Mikey now), and I would get up, get dressed and then Nick and I would walk Mikey to the school bus stop. After Mikey was headed for school, I would put Nick on my shoulders and we would walk back home. I was a pretty good house husband in those days. Money was tight due to my unemployment but life was good in many other ways. That time together probably has a lot to do with the closeness that Nick and I now have.

Happy Birthday, Nick! Don't forget to clean up the kitchen!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lost In The Ozone Again

I have literally spent most of today staring out the window. I got out of bed about 9:30 AM. Since my son was coming over to do some painting, my wife suggested I go and get some donuts. After I did that and returned home, I got a cup of coffee, grabbed the morning paper and sat in my chair. I have moved very little since. I feel lethargic and unmotivated. I sat in my chair, listened to music, looked out the window and let my mind wander. A myriad of thoughts has passed through my brain. I've thought about family and friends, work and relationships, music and spirituality. Sometimes I thought about nothing and all my brain did was maintain my life support functions. All in all, though, it hasn't been a bad day. I have stayed in my Fortress of Solitude while my son and wife put primer paint on the living room walls. They are close to one another so they've had all day to bond and I got out of painting. I am feeling too decrepit to climb up and down ladders and to do painting all day. This has not gotten me any nominations for husband of the year. As I write this the day is nearly over. I have not sure what the evening will bring. The living room, where evenings are normally spent, is trashed. My daze must have been deeper than I thought. It now appears to be raining. I like all the seasons here in Kentucky but I think I am ready for spring.

Friday, February 23, 2007

How Can I Be Centered?

Yesterday I received the following email from someone who receives my daily thoughts.

I was wondering if you could recommend a good read for finding some personal centeredness. Lately I feel like my days don't really belong to me. I feel like I'm just getting through them to get me to the weekend, so I can sleep in. I guess I'm feeling disconnected. I usually read for entertainment, but now I am wanting something a little more thought evoking.

Here is my response..... Welcome to the club! Most of us feel like you do at least some of the time. In the monastic life they even have a name for it. They call it "acedia". It's basically a boredom with the mundane routine of daily life. I am nearly 56 years old and I often feel like you do now. There are meditation and prayer techniques that if practiced over a period of time will bring a calming effect to a person. One such type is called Centering Prayer. Such meditation, however, is not intended as a relaxation technique although over time it will have that effect. You can find out more about this way of praying at

I don't know you really well so I'm not 100% sure if you're an introvert or an extrovert. Well, I am an off the chart introvert so I frequently withdraw into myself. Some people actually imagine a secret place, like a garden, within themselves where they can go to be refreshed and renewed. Sometimes I must simply find some solitude where I can be alone and get away from the demands of everyday life. Even Jesus had to do this once in a while.

Modern life poses many challenges. Some of my recent daily thoughts describe my own struggles. Modern life is hectic and many of us feel frazzled. We are all trying to find meaning and significance in the things we do. I recently recommended a book to someone else entitled Discovering the Enneagram. It is written by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. The Enneagram is a fascinating dynamic that has helped me tremendously in my life. When I realized who I really was and why I act the way I do it was an epiphany. I now have a better sense of when I am acting in a dysfunctional way. Some of our personal angst is because of who and what we are and the ways we react to life. Along with this book, you might want to check out the information also available at

Finally, I would recommend a book by Dianne Aprile entitled Finding a Heart for God. It is a book about what it's like to make a retreat in a monastery. Although I didn't write this book I am proud of it because I am in the book. There are no magic bullets for being centered. There are a lot of things that help me stay centered. These were a few.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Evaluating Oneself

Yesterday I had to do my personal self evaluation for my annual performance review. I dislike evaluating myself. It's very difficult to be objective. If you praise your performance, it seems arrogant. If you downplay your accomplishments, it can be false humility. I've never been very good at blowing my own horn. I prefer to be judged by others based on what they see or hear. It's like these daily thoughts. I often talk about spiritual things. Am I really spiritual? Am I holy? It's not for me to decide. Hopefully, we are what we present to the world. I think we are responsible for the perceptions that we give others. Once I decided to stop by my church for a quiet visit on the way home from work. I encountered my parish priest in the parking lot. I said, "Oops! You caught me going to church!" I really wasn't doing it to impress him. It just seemed like the right thing to do on that day. Was he impressed? Maybe. Every day of my life I get out of bed hoping to do the right things that day, whatever they turn out to be. Am I consciously trying to impress anyone? Not really. Do I impress anyone? Well, I hope so once in a while. However, there will be days where I impress no one. There will be days I do the right things and no one will see any of them. Those are the days where maybe I am being a little holy without realizing it. Who we truly are is who we are when no one is looking.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Modern Work

There is a deep fog this morning. Fog always reminds me of the classic 14th century spiritual treatise entitled "The Cloud of Unknowing".

It would be an understatement to say that my days have been a bit hectic. Even when I took my lunch break in our office breakroom yesterday, I felt like I was in the middle of a riot. My favorite times of day at work are the early morning and the late afternoon. These are the times when it is quietest and I am most able to be centered. During the middle part of the day I sometimes feel like one of the steel balls in a pinball machine. I can deal with it and I can handle it but I am probably not at my best. During these times I must constantly re-focus and try to remain centered. My office is no different than most modern workplaces. Everyone I know who works in an office environment finds them chaotic, fast paced, and routinely frustrating. I think it's because there's rarely time to breathe. I am not sure why modern work must be this way. Even white water rafting has periods of calm. I have never white water rafted but I know that rapids are rated based on their intensity. If the scale for rating rapids is 1-5, many workdays feel like you approach the river with your canoe and immediately hit the level five rapids and they do not diminish until you exit the river. I guess this is exciting for some but I wonder if we all shouldn't try a little to influence this by trying to bring some calm to the workplace. Everything can't be urgent and everything can't be on fire. If it is, we're doing something wrong. Craftsmen, such as silversmiths or carpenters, tend to be calm and focused in their work, often creating things of beauty and durability. In the frenetic way that most modern office workers and others tend to work, I wonder what we are creating that is beautiful or lasting?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is There Anyone Out There?

I am not sure if anyone reads this blog. I have gotten very few replies or comments from anyone. I don't know if that really matters. At this point of my life I feel compelled to write. Most of what appears on this blog goes out to a fairly large readership through email. I guess the bad thing about blogs is that you have to take the initiative to read them. Besides writing my own stuff, I only keep up with two other blogs. Admittedly, I don't always comment on other blogs either. Anyway, if you do read my stuff, I would love to occasionally hear from you!

Fat Tuesday

Today is Fat Tuesday. People are gathered in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras. Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. In the Christian tradition, it is a time of penance and prayer in preparation for Easter. This is a serious time although it doesn't have to be grim. Whether you spend the time giving up something like smoking or chocolate, or prefer a more positive approach by attempting to do something new and extra like spending more time in silence and solitude, it is a good time to reflect on your life. Sometimes I feel good about my life and sometimes I don't. Every life has many dynamics involved. The demands on our lives can change from day to day. Sometimes we get older and our ability to adapt gets more challenging. People are in and out of our lives and relationships change. We are all plagued by a worldly busyness that is difficult to avoid. Sometimes it is all I can do to get through the day with some measure of sanity. On days like that I wonder how well I am living. Lent is a time where we try, as best we can, to retreat and pull back enough that we can have some perspective on how well and faithfully we are living. It is a challenging thing to do in today's fast paced, ever changing, life with all its many demands. As best I can in the coming weeks, I am going to pull back, slow down, resist the pull of the world, and reflect. I may schedule a few vacation days just to be alone. You should all do the same.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Finally...A Decent Snow/Chloe & Pa Paw Spend The Day Together

Today has been a great day. It has been snowing all day. The accumulation has not been great but all the trees and bushes and the ground are covered. Driving home from my son's home this evening I had to drive slow because I could barely see.

The day began early with my granddaughter, Chloe, waking up about 6:00 AM wanting to talk. After discussing quantum physics and a few other lighter subjects, she drifted back into her dreams. We managed a couple more hours of sleep. Eventually, we got up, had some breakfast, and began watching cartoons. Later in the morning we danced in my music room to the beat of the Beach Boys. Afterwards, Chloe and I went to visit my parents while my wife stayed home to steam off old wallpaper....a task I wished to avoid. She is repainting the living room and replacing all the furniture. Now there is even more chaos in my life. My home is topsy turvy. While Chloe and I were at my parents, we spent some time playing in the snow and watching the birds eat the wild birdseed my mother puts out for them.

I've never had the problem of anyone loving me too much. Chloe, however, is crazy about her "Pa Paw". She adores me and I adore her. The problem is that once she is with me, she doesn't want to be out of my sight or go home to her parents. Tonight, after I took her home, she cried and cried when I left. It's wonderful to be so loved but it breaks my heart to see her so upset.

Chaos And Order

I've got to be honest. I dislike chaos. I am a person who likes harmony so I am forever trying to make things harmonious. When I am in any chaotic situation, and assuming I have any control over it, my first order of business is to bring about some order and calmness. I can't help it. It's who I am. Trying to be open minded, I guess all chaos isn't a bad thing. If you think about the big bang that supposedly created the universe we live in, that was a very chaotic event but life was born from the chaos. However, at some point, the chaos that created the universe evolved into order. Whether you believe in a purely scientific explanation for life or the version about creation found in the Bible, you can't deny there's order in the universe. Personally, I see no conflict between science and the scriptural view about creation and life. I believe in science and I believe in God. Why do we make everything an either/or question? Why can't people accept the fact that God is the brains behind science? I love sunrises and sunsets and the beauty attached to them. Everything about a sunrise or sunset can be explained scientifically. At the same time I have no problem giving God the credit for being the artist behind the magic. Perhaps chaos begets the order of the universe and order begets beauty.

Speaking of chaos and beauty. Chloe is coming over tonight. By the end of the night my living room will look like the big bang has repeated itself. But I don't care because Chloe is beautiful and being her Pa Paw has brought a sense of order into my life.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Do What You Are

If I could start my life over again, knowing what I know now, I think some things would be different. The only big change I think I would make is how I make a living. There's nothing wrong with what I am doing now. However, when I was young I didn't know enough about myself to know how best to live my life and what my life's "work" would be. Like many people much of my life seems to be an accident. Is that really true or do most of us end up exactly where we need to be in spite of ourselves? My life has never been entered into Microsoft Project with all its deadlines, milestones, and goals. I was reading a book once about the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. The book was called Do What You Are by Paul and Barbara Tieger. The book suggested the best professions for all the different personalities. It said my personality type should be a priest, writer, or counselor, among other things. Of course, when I was young I had no idea what my personality type was. I was too busy trying to fit in. I had no interest in being unique. I wanted to be like others. What I find interesting now is that although I am none of these things officially or professionally, I have done and continue to do "work" that all these professions do. I am not a priest but I am a spiritual guide for some people. I am not a writer by profession but I do get encouragement to publish my daily thoughts. Finally, I am not a therapist or social worker but many have come to me over the years for advice or counseling. Maybe, despite whatever we do to make a living and earn our bread, our real "work" is simply to be who we are, trusting that God has put us exactly where we are needed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Living Up To The Hype

It is really cold this morning. The wind chill is 2 degrees. My car doors were frozen shut and my beard was starting to freeze as I walked into my office from the parking garage.

I may have created a monster with my daily thoughts. I have shared so many thoughts about my life and myself that some people think I am more than I am. I believe some think I am the poster child for all I believe and strive to live. It is occasionally difficult to live up to my reputation. A couple of years ago there was an article about me in the newspaper. I was flattered but it was also embarrassing. Since I share stories about my family life, some imagine it is perfect. It's not perfect. I still can't get my 25 year old son to load the dishwasher. My wife still thinks that because I am a man I should be a master of all tools and that I am the only one capable of taking out the trash. After 30+ years of marriage I still can't fix the toilet. I love the teachings of the Buddha and the Dalai Lama but I am not a real Zen Master. One of my new co-workers thought that working with me would be one continuous Zen experience. She's probably disappointed. I am not always at peace with myself or the world and I do not walk around in a continuous state of bliss. Don't confuse the daze I am sometimes in with Zen bliss. Sometimes I am angry and frustrated and yes, occasionally I swear. I love and appreciate life but I also have moments where I feel empty and uninspired. Some of my best friends are monks, priests, and other holy types but I am still not as spiritual as I would like to be. I suppose I am a good enough person but like everyone else I have my flaws and it is a never ending battle to overcome some of them. If I have any wisdom, it the wisdom to recognize wisdom. I think I know what's important in life but I, too, sometimes get lost along the way. We are all flawed and we are all wounded. I am no different. So, if you encounter me in your life, please remember that the Michael Brown of the daily thoughts is just a person like you. I have mostly good days but some are less than stellar. Some days I want to be like my granddaughter and "choose not to participate in group activities" that are also known as life. I want to stay home, be alone, and play rock and roll music all day. How deep is that?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dancing With God

The alarm goes off at 6:15 AM in my house. This is followed by a gentle nudge from my wife. When she woke me this morning I was in the middle of a dream where I was rescuing some stranded motorists whose car was on top of a Ferris wheel. What's up with that???

Here's something from the Persian poet Hafiz.

"We should make all spiritual talk simple today. God is trying to sell you something, but you don't want to buy. This is what your suffering is! Your fantastic haggling, your manic screaming over the price"!

This reminds me of something else I listened to recently. I have a friend who does a lot of preaching and retreat work. In one of his talks he speaks of God being like a dance. In the spiritual life God invites us into the dance. We must allow ourselves to be pulled into the dance. Unlike many things in life you can't buy your way in. However, some still try to buy their way in. ...haggling and screaming over the price.... and thus they suffer.

Here are a few thought's from the Dalai Lama's book I am reading on "Compassion".

"A change of heart is a change of mind".

"Developing wisdom is a process of bringing our minds in accordance with the way things really are".

Yesterday I forgot to mention two comments that were on my granddaughter's report card from the day care center.

"Chloe is the most articulate child in her age group".

"Chloe sometimes chooses not to participate in group activities."

She sounds a little bit like her Grandpa.

Monday, February 12, 2007

In The Wake Of Chloe

I was almost glad to return to work today. I needed the rest. After my granddaughter spends the night at my house I sometimes feel like I have been beaten up. Don't get me wrong. I love her dearly and enjoy her presence. The marathon began on Saturday afternoon. I went to my son's home to pick up Chloe. When I got there she was asleep. When she woke up she showed me her newly painted room and we played with her toys. Afterwards we went to dinner with the entire family, including my mother in law. Chloe was doing back flips in the restaurant trying to attain her freedom from the seat next to me. The next 24 hours was a never ending rotation of getting up and down, playing on the floor, and being a beast of burden while she rode on my back. If she said "Pa Paw" once, she said it a thousand times. We talked about many things. We drank punch flavored juice and ate popcorn. Whenever I awoke through the night, we were nose to nose. It is, however, very enjoyable to wake up with Chloe in the bed. She sits up and immediately begins a conversation. When we finally decided to get up, we went downstairs for some milk and donuts. When she went home I was left with a joyful exhaustion. I can't wait until her next visit.

Here are some notes from Chloe's last report card from the day care.

"Chloe is the most articulate child in her class".

"Chloe sometimes chooses not to participate in group activities".

Hmmmm.....sounds a bit like her grandfather!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Saturday Morning And Home Alone

It's a cold Saturday morning. Outside my window it is 20 degrees. The room I am in was 57 degrees when I arrived. With my little electric heater going it is now up to 61 degrees. I am home alone with my cat. My wife left earlier to run some errands. I was still in my dreams when she left and did not hear her leaving. My son is at work. Later today we will go pick up Chloe and have a family dinner that will include my mother in law. Till then I will enjoy my solitude. I love Saturday mornings. Usually I get some extra sleep. Reading the morning paper and sipping hot coffee is a simple joy that I do not have on a workday. It doesn't take much to make me happy. I am a man who enjoys simple things. Soon I will leave this cold room and go to a warmer spot. I will sit in my cozy chair and watch an Eric Clapton concert on DVD. On April 6th I will get to see Eric Clapton live in Columbus, Ohio. Once I am with all the family later today there will be no more alone time or rest. When my granddaughter, Chloe, arrives there will be lots of activity. I still get excited everytime I know she will be here but like most toddlers she is very curious and demands a watchful eye. She definitely has more energy than me. Still, I love to see her and when she leaves I am filled with a happy exhaustion.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Hope For The Flowers

I was sitting in McDonald's this morning drinking a cup of coffee and eating some breakfast. CNN was on the television. Parts of upstate New York have seven feet of lake effect snow. Here is Louisville the best we can get is a dusting! I know New Yorkers have more than they want but I wish we would get at least a few inches.

The morning temperature is still in the teens. The trees are bare and the ground is brown. Along the roads and walkways there appears to be a layer of frost that never melts. It's actually the residue of salt and brine spread by the city workers in anticipation of snow and ice that usually doesn't appear. In general the landscape is bleak and gray. In spite of the present reality of gray and overcast days, I have faith and trust that in a few months we will have bright yellow daffodils blooming along them. These same seemingly dead trees will bud and shoot forth green leaves. Spring rains will wash away all the salt. The grass will begin to grow and the barren land will be an explosion of new life. Once again, as it has been doing for eons, life will be born again and the continuous cycle of life to death to life will continue. It's further proof that no matter how bleak life may seem, if you just hold on and have faith, things will get better.

It will be a busy weekend. My taxes must get filed. My wife will run some errands with her elderly mother. Princess Chloe will come for a visit. Somewhere in the schedule will be a trip to the grocery to refill our barren pantry. Sometimes it seems as if working people must cram their entire personal lives into the 48 hours of the weekend. Even the weekends are hectic and busy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Household Chores and Spinning Tops

These mornings sure do come around quickly, don't they? I was in a semi state of consciousness during my morning commute. It's still very cold outside. Inside the car it was warm and the new age music was spacing me out. I am not sure one should listen to Steven Halpern early in the morning. If the sun roof had been open I would have floated up into the sky. Thinking about the sky, the last time I picked up Chloe at the daycare she made an interesting request. As we were walking to the car and talking about the sunset, she asked me to stop so she could touch the sky. She kept reaching upward even though I tried to explain it was beyond our grasp. It was a difficult concept to explain to a toddler!

I had a quiet evening last night. I cleaned up the kitchen and did the laundry. After having some days at work where I feel like a spinning top, it is enjoyable to do such simple tasks. The dishwasher was running, the washing machine was spinning, and the dryer was gently humming. During the different cycles I would read or be on my computer until the dryer buzzer would prompt me to stop and reload whatever was necessary.

Today will be another busy day. I hope I can escape that spinning top feeling. I must be calm and centered. I must focus on the task at hand and be mindful. I must do what I am doing and be where I am. Breathe, Michael!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Buddhism And Christianity

Much to my disappointment we did not receive yesterday's forecasted snow. What is it with the local weather people? They have millions of dollars worth of Doppler radar and are still wrong most of the time. When I was in high school, the local weatherman had a simple map of the United States and a magic marker. He was almost always correct in his predictions.

I've been thinking the last few days about how everything we are is a result of every experience we've had in life so far. Ironically, not every good experience produces good and not every bad experience produces bad. This morning I was reading another chapter from my Dalai Lama book on compassion. Buddhists, of course, believe in reincarnation. Unlike the Christian belief where life is a one shot, pass/fail kind of scenario, in Buddhism the belief is that you are continually born again into new lives. If you live a good life, you are born into a better life. This will keep happening until you reach an enlightened state called "Nirvana". The interesting thought I read this morning which is part of Buddhist belief is that there are behaviors, similar to the Christian idea of sin, that are to be avoided. The belief is that if you steal in this life, you will likely suffer poverty or want in your next life. If you are violent in this life, you will likely be a victim of violence in your next life. It's not quite as simple as I make it but you get the point. The message here, whether we have one life or many lives to live, is that our daily actions effect the quality of our lives and the lives of others. I do believe in karma. What you put out will return to you. Do good and good will come back to you. If you are blessed, be grateful and not self centered and selfish. If you've had some tough times in your life, you don't have to have a victim mentality forever. I know these thoughts are a little all over the place and could be developed much more. I hope I've said enough to give you some food for thought.

The first morning I had breakfast in France, I went into the dining hall looking for a coffee cup. None were to be found. How could a country famous for French roast coffee not have coffee cups??? I looked around and saw people pouring their coffee into what I thought were cereal bowls. Well....when in Rome....I mean as the French do. I poured my coffee into a bowl. It was a cold morning. I soon realized how comforting the warm bowl was to my cold hands. I thought about this the other night when my wife and I were drinking coffee in a restaurant. Chloe was with us and wanting to hold one of the coffee cups. My wife let Chloe put her little hands around the cup. She looked at my wife and said, "This feels good!"

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Point Of The Spiritual Life

It is still cold with temperatures in the teens this morning. I don't mind the cold and I am simply giddy over the prospect of 2-3 inches of snow this afternoon.

Yesterday was Monday and it felt like Monday all day long. I felt like I was stuck in first gear. I tried throughout the day to shift into a higher gear but it seemed that my internal clutch was broken. Maybe it was the gray and stark winter day. We are at that point in the season where people are starting to long for some green in their lives. Life underground is still dormant but in a few months it will burst forth.

Recently I was discussing the spiritual life with a friend. We were talking about how the spiritual life for many people is all about doing things or fulfilling obligations. Some people are always saying prayers or going to church but they never seem to change. I believe these things are good but if nothing is going on internally, it's all fluff. The whole point of the spiritual life is an inner transformation that causes a change of heart. The Greek word for this change is "metanoia". The prophet Ezekiel talks about turning a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. This change of heart, this inner transformation, this stripping away of the false self to find the true self that we are in God is the whole point of the spiritual life. If this isn't happening, you are missing the boat. This transformation is what makes us into more loving people. If there is a final exam before entering whatever Heaven is, it will only have one question. The question will be "How much did you love"?

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Quiet Weekend At Home

It is a very cold morning with single digit temperatures and below zero wind chills. Brrrrrrr! The walk into my office building was bone chilling. I am grateful for the warmth of my office and for the hot coffee I will soon be drinking.

It was a mostly quiet weekend. By the end of work on Friday I was more than ready for the weekend. An unexpected surprise was getting to pick up my granddaughter, Chloe, from her daycare on Friday. It was just what I needed and I love to surprise her with my presence. She's really a lot more fun now that she can talk. We have some wonderful conversations. She is very playful and full of joy.

I was supposed to go to the monastery yesterday but I had to decline. Part of my afternoon was spent making chicken soup and trying to stay warm. The room where I spend most of my alone time at home is the coldest room in the house. It's what used to be a one car garage. When I am there on a really cold day it is like camping out. I accept the cold as the price of solitude.

Stay warm. Relax and live!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

We Are All Called To Be Vessels

It is another beautiful morning. It snowed a little more last night. It was quiet and peaceful as I brushed the snow from my cars under the glow of the street light. Then the peacefulness was shattered when a man walked by with a four pound poodle who thought he was a pit bull. It was still snowing lightly as I walked into my building this morning. Snow is wonderful.

I am having one of those moments where I don't know what to say. It's difficult to be inspirational everyday. I have been doing these personal daily thoughts almost everyday for two and a half years via email for my friends, family, and co workers. There's not much I haven't talked about. Occasionally I receive emails with suggested subject matter for my thoughts. I am not trying to be humble when I say that some of you really overrate me. I am not as bright as some of you imagine. If there are days when I seem to have an enlightened view on some aspect of living, it can only come from God and I am being used as a vessel to speak something that someone needs to hear. That doesn't make me special. All of you are called to do the same thing. You may not do daily thoughts like me but in your interactions with family, friends, co-workers and strangers, you may be used to speak a word of kindness or encouragement to another person. The Christian Gospel is often called the "Good News". I love a saying of Francis of Assisi that goes "Preach the Good News everywhere you go. If necessary, use words". The "Good News" is basically and simply about loving God and your neighbor. Who is your neighbor? Look around you. It's everyone you see, even the ones that drive you crazy or act a little weird. You don't have to be well educated or smart to love. Chloe hasn't been to school a day in her life but she loves greatly. You don't have to have a degree to be kind. My buddy the Dalai Lama says, "If you can't love everybody, at least don't hurt them." Imagine if we all really tried to live like this! What a different world it would be. I don't do this perfectly. I can say, however, that all the good I have ever done, no matter how small or large the act, has returned to me a thousandfold in my life.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Making Lemonade And Dancing With Chloe

Hooray! It snowed last night. It wasn't much but it did cover my neighborhood like a thin white blanket.

All of my life I have heard the saying, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade". If lemons represent the challenges of life, they may be the most readily available fruit for most people. In today's challenging world, life can often seem more sour than sweet. Most people can't eat a lemon straight like they would a fresh piece of ripened and sweet cantaloupe. Lemons are best used as a catalyst for other things like iced tea or baked fish with lemon butter. I think this saying is teaching us that most anything can be put to good purposes. Disappointments, frustrations, and things that are sour can be turned around or used to create some sweet. It is a rare person who goes through a day or a week or a month without some things that are not going their way. Disappointment and frustration are part of life and it is these challenges that test us and make us strong. When options are limited, we are compelled to be creative and make the most of our available resources. Remember that Tom Hanks movie called "Castaway"? I have sometimes imagined myself in his position. How resourceful would I be if I landed on a deserted island? Could I survive for a long period of time? I am not an outdoorsman although I love nature. Of course, Tom Hank's character wasn't an outdoorsman either. The question is this. How well can we do with our own wits and creativity when we need to move ahead without everything we think we must have to survive? Do we even know how to make lemonade?

My daily thoughts are written spontaneously in a stream of consciousness style of writing. 99% of the time I start with a simple thought and I have no idea where it will go. Some days I hit a home run and I actually produce something meaningful. Other days they are so so. I can rarely predict the impact on others. What I think is great gets little or no response. When I am not as happy with what I have written, someone else loves it. Go figure!

I want my granddaughter to grow up to be a woman of culture and sophistication. I try to help this along by introducing her to the classics. This past weekend it was a 1976 New Year's Eve concert by the Grateful Dead. We played maracas and I taught her air guitar. She can also dance the patented Deadhead "twirl". She insisted that I do it with her so we held hands and twirled in a circle until she was dizzy and I was having chest pains. We danced like no one was watching.