Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Night In The Cold And Dark

On Tuesday night, as I was quietly doing the laundry and generally relaxing, a storm blew up. I vaguely recalled a weather forecast about "potentially high winds" but I didn't really think much about it. Later I realized that several tornadoes had touched down in Louisville. While I was in one room, my wife was in another watching a cable station not realizing there were weather alerts. It began to storm and the wind was blowing but it didn't seem that bad. Then, the lights dimmed and went out. They soon came back on but then went out again. They didn't come back on. We sat around in the dark for about an hour and then decided to just go to bed. I expected to wake up in the middle of the night with the television and every light in the house on. That didn't happen either. With no alarm clock, I didn't wake up until daylight. The temperature inside my house was 47 degrees. Thankfully, I have a gas hot water heater and was able to shower. I had none of my other usual creature comforts. Except for the hot shower, I felt like a homeless person living in an abandoned building. I have a whole new appreciation for electricity and heat. The local power company got the power back on around midday on Wednesday. I was very grateful.

On top of the no power crisis, my wife, who is also a diabetic, tested her blood sugar and it was off the chart. We debated whether she should go to the ER. Like all of us who are diabetics, she struggles with maintaining acceptable blood sugar limits. Lately it's been tough and she's been starving to death trying to get it down. Rather than risk going into a diabetic coma, we opted for the ER. After some tests, a $50 copay, and two hours of our time, she was diagnosed with a broken blood tester! Her blood sugar level was actually very acceptable. Better safe than sorry! (I didn't mind sitting in the ER. It was warmer than my home.)

On one of my past visits to the monastery, 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 sometimes seem to be spinning out of control? It is not easy and it is often challenging. It is 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. 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 in our park and pretend I am invisible. Sometimes we may need to incorporate some calming rituals into our lives. 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 business, 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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Meeting Myself Coming And Going

Yesterday was a hectic day. It started off with my cell phone ringing about 5:55 AM while I was still in bed. It turned out to be my oldest who was having some car problems. "Dad, can you come over and pick up Chloe and take her to the daycare"? By the time I got out of bed, drove to my son's house, picked up Chloe, dropped her off at the day care, dropped my wife off at her office and then proceeded to my own workplace, I felt like I had driven a thousand miles and been on every interstate highway in the surrounding area. I was relieved to get to my office although by the time I sat at my desk I felt like I had already put in a day's work. Later in the day I had to meet with the new Deacon at my church to discuss the schedule for the men's retreat weekend we will be leading in a few weeks. The suggested schedule for the weekend resembles most people's lives. It is crammed full with details and activities and driven by the clock. Both of us, as well as most of the team of which we are a part, are introverted and laid back. It was a general consensus that we needed to soften the schedule a bit, round off some of the rough edges, and allow some breathing room. Of course, this can only be done so much and still be faithful to the original intent of the program. I believe, however, that we can present the important content of the weekend as directed by the program and not feel like we've just participated in a triathlon. The life of the spirit cannot be too restricted. Discipline is important but there also needs to flexibility. It's really all about balance. I like a lot of space in a retreat. Other's need a lot of content. A happy medium is somewhere in the middle.

At the end of the day I basically reversed my morning experience. I had to pick up my wife at her office, drive back to the daycare, pick up Chloe, take her to my home, feed and bathe her, and hope her father wasn't too late picking her up. The pouring rain during the evening rush hour made all of this even more enjoyable as I moved along at a snail's pace in the bumper to bumper traffic. It's a good thing that I love Chloe as much as she loves me!

The icing on the cake of my day was a storm that knocked out my power. When I woke up this morning it was still out and the temperature in my house was 47 degrees!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Expressing Feelings

My granddaughter Chloe came over this weekend. In my mind Chloe is the purest being in the universe. She hadn't spent the night for a while so I was happy to have her over for a visit. From a pure energy point of view, Pa Paw is better able to deal with a visit on the weekends as opposed to a work night. In many ways she is much easier to deal with now that she's a little older. Of course, she's also a very busy and inquisitive little girl whose energy level runs circles around mine. One of the things I enjoy best is getting up with her in the morning. She wakes up very peacefully and quietly says "Pa Paw, are you awake"? We usually lie in bed and talk for a while before getting up. When we go downstairs and into the kitchen she insists on helping me make coffee. I sit her up on the counter. Her job is to scoop the coffee, level it out, and dump it into the coffee filter. I count the number of scoops. Then we pour the water and watch it brew. She finds it all very interesting and she knows that Pa Paw loves his coffee. After making the coffee we sat at the kitchen table and each of us had a bowl of Cheerios. We were eating our cereal and talking. I then looked up and she was staring at me with her big blue eyes. With a smile that just melts me, she said, "I love you, Pa Paw"! It makes me very happy that she's able to express her feelings so freely. I hope she never loses that gift. I grew up in a family where the expression of feelings did not come easily. I have always wondered why most of us have a difficult time telling those who are closest to us how we feel about them and how we feel about what they say or do to us. Certainly some families are emotionally close and expressive about their feelings. Other families, though not lacking in love, have a very difficult time saying what they feel or don't feel. Sometimes I feel like I have recreated within my own family the kind of family that I grew up in. It was not intentional. Both families are loving but not what I would call warm and fuzzy. Even though I am a very emotional person it is not always easy for me to say what I feel. The way I express myself the best and most honestly is through the written word. That would be great if all my communication with people was done through letters and email. As individuals, we are what we are, and there are reasons we are the way we are. I do not always understand my own emotional needs, or the circumstances that caused them, but I am aware of their existence. There's one thing for sure. When Chloe is around, I never feel unloved. She tells me she loves me on a regular basis.

In the long tradition of her rock and roll Pa Paw, Chloe has tickets to go see the Doodlebops at the same theater where I am going to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The Doodlebops are the Led Zeppelin of Chloe's generation. Rock on, Chloe!

Like many of you I work the typical five day a week, eight hour a day, 40 hour week kind of job. Most work nights I am weary and can do little but sit in my chair. At my age I can get away with that. During the 48 hours of the weekend, I often feel like I must cram all of my personal life and chores into two days. Monday morning arrives and I am exhausted from the weekend. I propose an additional two days off each week for real rest. These additional days off will need to be subtracted from the work week. So, how about we work Wednesday through Friday for our employers, we spend Saturday and Sunday completing personal business, and then take Monday and Tuesday for down time and rest. Of course, I still need to be paid my current annual salary and a little more would be nice. Would anyone out there support this proposal? Will you also take me in when I am fired for suggesting it?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Robert Plant And Alison Krauss

Friday was an important day for me. Tickets went on sale for the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss concert here in Louisville. This unlikely pair have made a CD together and are now on tour. Robert is the singer for Led Zeppelin and Alison's background is mainly bluegrass music. The first show of the tour is in Louisville. They are playing at the Palace Theater which is a rather small venue. My friend and I went to the box office on our lunch hour. There was already a line of about 80 people at 11:35 and tickets wouldn't go on sale until noon. We had hoped to be like bank robbers. I would drive the car and she would be the bag man. After getting the tickets for our other friends and us, she would hop into the car and I would speed away. It wasn't that easy. First of all, I had to park the car while she got in line. The temperature was in the low 20's and the wind chill was in the teens. We were freezing our behinds off as our hopes for tickets diminished. Being the ever proactive music lovers that we are, we both got on our cell phones and had other friends hopping on the Internet. Hope continued to fade. This was going to be a sell out and quickly. It ended up selling out in 25 minutes. People around us were already checking EBay and tickets were already being posted on there for sale! We thought, "This can't happen to us! We're professional music lovers and concert attendees"! Then, like a miracle, one of our friends scored two tickets on the Internet. We were in!!!!! Unfortunately, we wanted six tickets. Our other friends weren't going to make it. We felt badly but not guilty. We were the ones in line freezing to death. We've paid our rock and roll dues. Plus, for reasons we don't understand, the rock and roll gods always seem to smile on us. Afterwards we drove to another theater where we successfully got tickets for our other friends and us to see the Dan Tyminski Band. Dan is the guitar player for Alison Krauss's band "Union Station". He's also the fellow that really sang "A Man of Constant Sorrow" in the movie "O Brother, Where are thou"? It wasn't George Clooney! He was faking it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Road Trip Of Life

Yesterday was a quiet day. It started out with me freezing to death while pumping gas into my car. It was very windy and I felt like I was out on a prairie in the middle of winter trying to fix the wheel on my covered wagon so I could get through the next pass before the big snow. See, with my imagination I can even make the mundane experience of getting gas for the car seem like a great adventure! After I got to work I thought the highlight of my day would be going to the grocery store last night. The weekend was coming and the cupboard was bare. If for no other reason beyond my hunger we needed to pick up a few things because Chloe was coming over this weekend. One of her favorite things is Nestle's Strawberry milk. She calls it "pink chocolate milk". Then, unexpectedly, I received an email from my daughter in law wondering if I could pick up Chloe at the day care. When that happened I was ready to leave my office for the day, go get Chloe, and have some real fun. Alas, I had to finish the workday first but this new assignment gave me a sense of purpose in my life for the rest of the day. I hadn't seen Chloe for a couple of weeks and that seemed like an eternity. I was really missing her. Chloe has come a long way from the little infant that used to wrap her fingers around my thumb and use her other hand to tug on my beard. When I got to the day care, she yelled my name, ran towards me, and jumped in my arms. I received a very intense hug. Receiving such a reception is not a bad way to end your day!

Whenever I am on a road trip, it seems the closer I get to my destination the slower the miles seem to pass by. There's a music venue north of Indianapolis that my friends and I sometimes go to on warm summer nights to listen to live music. One problem with this place is that the area is on Central Standard Time and Louisville is on Eastern Standard Time. So, when the show is over and you have to drive home, you are already one hour behind. The drive is mostly on interstates and through rural areas. In the middle of the night you can feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and sometimes you really are. Eventually, you begin getting sleepy and the drive becomes really boring. When you see the sign that says "Louisville 30 Miles" you feel a sense of joy that you are almost home. The bad news is that this last 30 miles usually feels like 600 miles. At that point I think, "I will never do this again"! On a different level, on the road trip of my life, the closer I get to the end, the faster the miles seem to go by. The longer you live, the faster life seems to go. Of course, I think this might only be true while you are still living an active life. I think for people like my father or mother in law, who are elderly and in poor health, the days may seem like weeks. It's really all about perception since everyday, whether it's a great day or a bad day, there are only 24 hours. Our perception of time and life is controlled by our attitude. A good attitude, coupled with the practice of mindfulness, can make a great day seem eternal and a bad day seem to pass quickly. A bad attitude can be like a dark cloud that hides the sunlight and makes our days long and dreary and seemingly never ending. However long the road trip of life lasts, one should enjoy the journey as much as the arrival.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ordinary Life

Even though I am often at a loss for things to write about, I enjoy writing these daily thoughts. They are a good discipline for me and a great release for my ever active mind. Some people think I have the answers for everything but I don't. I am mostly full of questions. I'm really just an ordinary and average guy. I think my gift is the ability to articulate feelings that many ordinary people have. My life and my struggles are like the lives and struggles of many other people. When people read my daily thoughts they find comfort that another person feels like they do. My life does have some variety in it but it is certainly not exciting. If I wasn't able to find meaning in the ordinary events of my daily life I would probably think I have a very dull life. It would be easy to think that life is nothing more than a cycle of working and sleeping with little else in the mix. In my experience of life, happiness and meaning do not usually knock down the door of your life. Like most good things, you have to work for them and make them happen. In many ways I am a passive person but I believe I am usually assertive and proactive when it comes to finding happiness and meaning in my life. Hopefully we are all sometimes blessed with unexpected happiness and joy. Life is not all pain and struggle and I disagree a little with the Buddha when he says that all life is suffering. I don't understand the physiology of it but I read that our minds will automatically revert to negative thoughts if we don't intentionally think positive thoughts. Admittedly, sometimes I get weary of the more mundane aspects of daily living. Most people probably feel that way. We all have to do what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves and our families. It's not always exciting. That's why I think it is so important to be spiritually awake. We must always be awake and alert for the surprises of life and the deeper meaning that is often just below the surface of our daily lives. Everyone's heard the saying that "I can't see the forest for the trees"! In this case I think the "trees" are all the daily challenges and problems that we all have. We often let these things block our vision and then we can't see the "forest" which represents the beauty of life.

My Views Of Leadership

Yesterday someone asked me if I liked listening to snowfall. One of the neat things about snowfall is that it's usually silent. Unless it's a big storm, and those are rare in my world, falling snow quietly and gently covers the barren landscape of winter and turns it into something beautiful. Spring has its flowers but winter has the beauty of snow. I know that some of you live in places where snowfall is common and perhaps tiresome and annoying. In my part of the world, snow, especially heavy snow, is rare and therefore magical. I still think one of life's best experiences is to be home on a snowy and wintry day, reading a good book and looking out the window. Anyone who reads my daily thoughts knows I am also a great lover of solitude. A good snowfall can keep most of us in our homes and provide us with some solitude that keeps the world at bay for a day or two. Snowfall is God's way of saying "Slow down"! I've never seen a snowfall that I didn't like.

A few weeks ago I lamented how I sometimes get tired of myself. I may have been too tough on myself. I like it that I am a sensitive and emotional person although, at times, it can be tiresome. I realize that this part of me is something I probably inherited from my father. He is a very emotional man. One of the best compliments that you can get in the workplace, especially if you are a leader, is that you are a "real" person. What does it mean to be a "real" person? In my mind it simply means being a human being, and human beings are emotional. Human beings, at their best, are loving and caring creatures. In the workplace, if you are a "real" person, you don't hide these traits. You use them to lead, to comfort, to encourage, to support, to forgive, and, only rarely, to scold. People are the most important asset in the workplace and our most important function is to build them up and not discourage them. Life on a good day is challenging. Why go out of your way to make it harder? Admittedly, people are messy. More than once I have declared how people wear me out. Loving and caring are not necessarily easy. Most of my life I have been a leader whether I wanted to be or not. In a previous daily thoughts I talked about the different kinds of leaders. Attila the Hun was a leader but so was Mahatma Gandhi. You can scare people into following you or you can be compassionate, loving, and caring. Who among us has not needed another's compassion at some point? When people know they are cared for, and not just treated like machines that do work, they will follow you anywhere. True leaders serve the people by first genuinely caring about their people. On this foundation of caring, we then give them direction, support them in their efforts, provide the tools they need, and acknowledge their accomplishments. Happy workers are productive workers, so let's get "real" people!

I saw a fascinating show on the History Channel last night. It was called "Life after People". Basically, it was about how and how long it would take the earth to reclaim itself if all people ceased to exist. In 1000 years all man made construction will have fallen down. In 10,000 years there would be virtually no recognizable signs of human existence. It kind of puts all of today's worries in perspective. I highly recommend this show.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Is "The Truth"?

We are once again in the middle of a Kentucky snowstorm. So far we've had one inch of snow with reports of snow drifts up to two inches in some places. It's not much but its still beautiful.

Yesterday I received an email from a young woman who I believe lives in Europe. She asked for an explanation of "truth". I believe she was interested in the spiritual or metaphysical understanding of what truth is. Wow! That's quite a question. I don't know if I am smart enough to answer her question. If I remember correctly, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth"? and Jesus remained silent. I should probably do the same. I did respond to her, however, and my reply is below. My views may be upsetting to some of my fellow Christians but my mind and heart are open to truth in all of its manifestations.

I believe that God reveals truth in many ways and is not limited to any one method or religion. God, who is truth, is without limits. What is truth? What is "The Truth"? My philosophy background is a little weak so I do not know how Plato, Aristotle, or Socrates would answer this question. I don't know what "The Truth" is but it may be what God really is beyond what we think He/She is. Truth may be the reality that exists beyond all of our individual perceptions of reality. All religions think they have the "The Truth". If there is a God, and I believe there is, He/She is bigger than all religion. God does not belong to a particular religion. He/She doesn't care about theology or doctrine. The Dalai Lama says, "I don't think everyone should be a Buddhist but it works for me". Personally, I believe all legitimate religions, i.e., Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc, each have some truth in them. No one religion has a monopoly on truth. I have been a Roman Catholic since my birth but I find meaningful teachings in other religions as well. I love my spiritual heritage as a Roman Catholic but I am also very attracted to Buddhism and the mysticism of the Orthodox Church. I may also find meaningful truths in other traditions if I was exposed to them more. Some would accuse me of just picking and choosing the parts of each religion that I like and rejecting the parts that I don't like. There's probably some truth to that. My personal spirituality has elements of several belief systems. More than anything I think I like the simple statement of the Dalai Lama when he said, "My religion is kindness". I believe if you live a life of love and kindness and compassion, you will eventually understand what "The Truth" is. Perhaps "The Truth" is nothing more than the deep realization of the power of love and, if I am not mistaken, God is love. Of course, everything I say here, and everything I have ever said, are just my opinions or my understanding of things. I expect to be arrested by representatives of the Vatican as soon as these thoughts are circulated.

Yesterday a co-worker said, "You look like you've lost 30 pounds in the last week! What's different about you"? Well, first of all, I have all new clothes that actually fit. No one has noticed the new clothes. I have gone done four sizes in my pants. My hair is longer than usual and my beard is much shorter. Plus, I think my new navy blue sweater makes me look thinner. Dark colors do that for me. I've lost some weight but not 30 pounds in one week! If I lost 30 pounds per week I would completely disappear in approximately six or seven weeks. Since I am a diabetic I am always trying to manage my food habits and weight loss is a pleasant side effect. The rest is smoke and mirrors.

Zen chaser
Mystical seeker
I talk to the wind
It's just another day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Similarities Between Religions

Last Friday was my father's 83rd birthday. He received the best present that he could. He got to come home after approximately six weeks in hospital and nursing home care. I went to visit him yesterday and he was sleeping peacefully in his chair. There's no place like home.

It was the coldest weekend of this winter. It got down to 7 degrees on Saturday night with wind chills near zero. It was the kind of weather that makes you want to stay indoors as much as possible. The only time I ventured out on Saturday was to join my wife and mother in law for dinner. We were all glad to get back into our warm homes. When I went to bed I said a prayer of thanksgiving for having a home and a warm bed and for all the homeless and others affected by the frigid weather.

Later on Saturday night I watched a television show I had taped several weeks ago but never got a chance to watch. It was called "In God's Name". It was a documentary by the two brothers who made the award winning film about 9/11. Their experience of 9/11 caused them to reflect on the meaning of faith and its place in our lives. For this film, they followed some of the world's major religious leaders through a day in their lives. All major religions were represented. There were Christians, Buddhists, Hindu's, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, and Shinto's. There were interviews with the Pope, the Dalai Lama, the leader of the Southern Baptists, a Rabbi, several Muslims, and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. All of them gave their views on faith and doubt and the place of religion in the lives of people. I have seen shows like this before and I always walk away feeling the same. Yes, there are differences in theology and doctrine, but basically we are all the same. There are many common themes, not the least of which are the belief in the power of love and the desire for peace. There is no justification in any religion for hatred and war. No one believes that God approves of these things.

On a lighter note, Chloe went to the movies for the first time. She and her parents saw "Alvin and the Chipmunks". This opens up a whole new world for my wife and me. Now we have a new answer to the question, "What can we do to entertain Chloe"?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Complicated Lives

Even the simplest of us have complicated lives, especially if you are a parent with children. Our days are full of expectations, responsibilities, obligations, and duties. We get out of bed, often still weary, and we get ourselves, and our families ready for work, school, or the daycare. We fight the morning traffic and try to reach all of our destinations on schedule. Most work is demanding and many I know are genuinely stressed out by its expectations. We leave our offices weary and brain dead as we make our way back to our homes where the other demands of daily living and family life wait for us. There are practices or games to attend, or homework to do, not to mention the cookies or cake you must bake for your church, or the committee meeting you must attend. In today's world there is also at times the burden of a job that requires you to work or to be on call even at home. If you are lucky, you may get some time to relax or to sneak in six hours of sleep before the next day begins. I think this is a fair representation of modern life for many people. In the midst of all these demands and activities, how does one live in a meaningful way? My wife has one solution that she always suggests to me. She says, "Michael, just say no"! This can help if you are an easy mark for volunteering for everything. You can't say no, however, to everything but most of us need to learn to say no more often. Many of the demands of our life, however, cannot be refused. How does one stay centered in the midst of activity that is necessary and cannot be avoided? I once read of a man who had several businesses and many children. He always seemed present to the demand of the moment or each child individually. One of his children said, "Dad, how do you do it"? The dad responded, "Wherever I am, I am". What he is doing is practicing mindfulness. Zen and mindfulness are basically the same thing. It's being where you are and doing what you are doing. It's having your mind and body in the same place at the same time. It's much harder than it sounds. I try to do it all the time but when I am at work, or involved in something that doesn't interest me, my mind is sometimes in the Bahamas sitting on the beach with a bucket of ice cold Corona beers. When this happens I want my body to go be with my mind. Most of the time, however, I am trying to unite my mind with where my body is. The reality is that where your body is now, that is your life, and you need to be present in your own life. If you are fully present to the moment, then the moment can be present to you. When this happens, the magic of the moment can be revealed and what seems ordinary can become extraordinary. I know some of you are probably thinking, "Yeah, right, what are you smoking"? Well, I'm not smoking anything. I believe every moment of life has the potential for meaning and the extraordinary. It doesn't happen every moment but it can surprise you at any time. When it happens, I want to be there.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


We are in the midst of a Kentucky snowstorm. So far we've had approximately one inch of snow. It makes my day. When I went outside to get my morning paper, my neighborhood had a serene blanket of snow on the trees and bushes and lawn. It's not much but it is beautiful.

In the Catholic Church we have sacraments. One of the sacraments is called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the old days it was called "Confession" or "Penance". It is misunderstood by many Catholics and most non Catholics. In this sacrament, people go to a priest and confess their sins. When I was a boy this was a scary experience. We used to go into a "confessional", that was like being in a box, where there was a kneeler and a screen. On the other side of the screen was the priest. We always prayed that he didn't recognize our voices and know who we were and that we were lucky enough to get the nice young priest and not the older pastor. I never actually fainted in the confessional but I was always nervous. Later in life, when I was in the seminary, I was introduced to the "face to face" confession. Oddly enough, this wasn't nearly as frightening as the childhood experience of being in the confessional. It felt more like a counseling session and less like a proclamation of all my personal failings. In today's world Catholics don't seem to go to "Confession" as much as they used to do. I am one of those Catholics. In my childhood the Nuns marched us into church and made us go whether we wanted to go or not. Sometimes I ask myself why I don't go more often. The experience is often quite cathartic and cleansing. Now I am not a perfect person but I don't think I am on the highway to hell either. I find myself asking "What is sin"? Most of my "sins" seem little more than typical human weaknesses. Do I really need to confess these week after week or month after month? Last Saturday I attended a reconciliation service at my church. It included "Confession". I found myself wondering "What is my sin"? I thought about all the times I visited doctor's offices and had to fill out my medical history. If I filled out a "sin history", what condition would I be diagnosed with? What is my "illness"? Are our patterns of sin similar to our accumulated physical aches and pains? Is our sinfulness nothing more than symptoms of a more serious illness? Do we have spiritual sickness the same way we have physical sickness? If we add up and evaluate our symptoms of spiritual sickness, can we name our sin? I also find myself wondering about the relationship between sin, illness, and the way I relate to life. All of my adult life I have suffered with intestinal problems. My personality type is considered a "gut" type. Is there a connection? Is there a cause and effect relationship between our sinfulness, our bodies, and the way we react to life through our personalities? I don't know for sure but I suspect all these things are related.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


It is late in the day as I attempt to write these thoughts. It has been a busy day. I like when my day is full but not overwhelming. The most difficult days at work are when I have the least to do. Those days seem to last forever. At this moment my mind seems blank and I am at a loss for words. Maybe it is because most of my day has been spent meeting individually with members of my staff. All the conversations were pleasant but now I am talked out. On days like this I get tired of the sound of my own voice. Of course, one on one encounters with other human beings are what I do best. I have done public speaking and I am comfortable talking in front of groups but I prefer the intimacy of just being with one person or perhaps a small group. Normally after I have interacted with people all day, and that is most days, I run for solitude as fast as I can. I like solitude. It is the positive side of being alone. The negative side of being alone is loneliness. I find solitude refreshing and renewing. Just like some plants can't stand too much sunlight and must be planted in the shade, I am a person who can't be with people all of the time. I like sunlight and I like people but to grow and bloom I must have time in the shade of solitude. Solitude fills me with what I need to be a person that other people want to be around. Solitude fills up my gas tank and charges up my battery. Without it I am easily depleted and overcome with exhaustion.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Obsessed With Nostalgia?

There were snow flurries yesterday morning. Before I could get too excited they went away. It was quite cold but without some snow accumulation it's not really winter.

On the local television stations there is already talk of spring and the Kentucky Derby. Christmas was barely over and the stores were already stocking the shelves for Valentines Day. Before the roses wilt and the chocolate goes stale, people will be thinking about St Patrick's Day and green beer. Our society is always fast forwarding life. When I was a boy and I spoke of the weekend, or a coming holiday, or a school break, my mother would say, "Boy, you are wishing your life away"! It's a tough thing to balance anticipation for the future with being grounded in the present. Why do we seem to have such a lack of appreciation for the present moment? A few days ago I was reading an editorial in the newspaper. As part of the article there was a picture of the legendary rock band, Led Zeppelin, from their recent reunion concert in London. By the way, as a side note, tickets for this show were distributed through a lottery drawing. 20,000,000 people from around the world bid for the tickets. Yes, I said twenty million! OK, back to the point. The editorial writer was saying that the picture of Led Zeppelin represented everything that's wrong with my generation. He was lamenting the baby boomers obsession with nostalgia. I admit that I love Led Zeppelin and if I get a chance, I will go see them. Just because the music of the sixties and seventies still sounds good to me doesn't mean I want to go back to that time. When I listen to Bach I am not dreaming of the 1700's. I do have many fond memories of my youth and my past. Having said that, let me state that I have no desire to go back and be twenty years old again. At this point in my life I do have a few aches and pains consistent with my current age but I like being my age and I like most of what I am experiencing now. I don't daydream too much about the future but I am sometimes curious about what might be around the bend. I have no desire to fast forward life. If anything, I am trying to slow it down so I don't miss anything. As one gets older you can occasionally feel a sense of urgency about living but I am not in a panic. I do have a greater appreciation for life and I try to enjoy everyday for I will not pass this way again. In many ways I think I have a maturity that is befitting my age but I also try to be silly and act like a child a few times a day. In this regard, my granddaughter, Chloe, has been a great teacher for me. Life is serious but we don't have to be serious every moment. We are on this earth to be happy. How many opportunities for happiness do we miss everyday? O yeah, cranking up some Led Zeppelin gives me a lot of happiness!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is There Anybody Out There?

If a man writes a blog in the middle of the woods, and no one is there to read it, is there a blog?

Visiting My Dad

It was a busy weekend and it seemed I had little time to relax. I dislike it when my weekends are full of activity and they feel like a workday. Now it is already the start of a new week and another weekend seems far away. My son has gone back to the seminary in Indianapolis. Before leaving he received some exiting news. In April he will get to go to New York to see Pope Benedict XVI say mass at Yankee Stadium. Next weekend he is going to Washington, D.C. for some kind of march but at the moment I can't remember the cause. I hope the cause is middle aged men with memory lost. Needless to say, this has been a good year for Nick.

Yesterday I went to see my father in the nursing home. When I walked in his room, he was asleep in his chair. I gently woke him and we talked. When they brought his lunch I cut up his food and fed him. It seemed like a holy moment. He ate well and offered me his eclair. Against my better judgment, I ate it. I asked him if he wanted to get in his wheelchair and go for a walk. My father is six feet, two inches tall and weighs about 250 pounds. It was almost more than I could handle getting him out of his chair and into a wheelchair. Like most elderly people, he is terrified of falling. Eventually, we made it and I wheeled him around the home. He seemed to enjoy it. Even though he has Alzheimer's, and his mind moves slowly, he knew who I was, and that he has been away from home for quite a while. In my judgment, he is more affected by the Parkinson's. As I drove home in the rain, I found myself crying as I thought about him. It is painful to see him like this. My dad was always a very active and physical man. He loved his yard work and gardening. Weather permitting he spent more time outdoors than indoors. He is a simple man and reminds me of some of the old monks at the monastery. This coming Friday he will be 83 years old. He was 26 years old when I was born. In the evening my wife, son, and I took my soon to be 85 year old mother in law to dinner. Physically, she's better off than my father but not by much. Being around aging parents, one gets lessons in patience and compassion.

Here's a quote from my wife in response to last Friday's daily thoughts in which I mentioned my tendency to procrastinate.

"I hate to tell you this my dear. You make a procrastinator look like they have ADD".

Here's a quote from Chloe.

"Trees look like broccoli and cauliflower".

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Vacation From Myself

The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator says I am an INFP type. That is an introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver. The Enneagram says I am a type Nine, also called "The Peacemaker" . When I took a test at work to determine my strengths as a leader, the results indicated I have great empathy for people, I am intellectual, and I can usually see the connectedness of things. This ability to make connections is a Buddhist trait so it pleases me that I have that one. It also indicated that I like to develop people and that I have good communication skills. My basic nature is to be quiet and introspective. Much of who I am is good and I recognize that in myself. I am happy that I am basically a good person. Of course, none of us is perfect. I am also lazy and I tend to procrastinate. Sometimes my attitude is "Please just leave me alone". Occasionally I obsess about things and I turn them around in my head for hours or days. I can be a perfectionist and there are times when my inner passion bursts out in the rare temper tantrum. I have a strong work ethic but don't want to work most of the time. People tell me I am a "people person" but people wear me out. Some people think I am deep but that's mostly an illusion. I don't really know the meaning of life. Most of the time I am searching for answers like everyone else. I have a brain that can't turn itself off sometimes and my emotions are often all over the place. My life often feels like a treadmill that has no turn off switch. The point of all this is that the person who drives me the most crazy is myself. Sometimes I find it exhausting to be me. As Jerry Seinfeld once joked, "I need a vacation from myself"! If I do this to myself, I must surely drive others mad at times. If there's any consolation to all of this, I do not think I am alone. Most of us are not completely satisfied with who we are and we are not always comfortable in our own skins. If it's not challenging enough to live with others, we must also live with ourselves. Community living takes great patience at times. Perhaps we should save a little of that patience for ourselves. We are all works in progress.

My first musical event of 2008 is now on the calendar. On February 18th, my good buddy and fellow music lover, Tom, and I will be seeing Bela Fleck and Chick Corea. Both are jazz artists. Bela is famous as a very unique banjo player and for his band the "Flecktones". Chick is a pianist who was part of a jazz fusion group in the early 70's called "Return to Forever". It should be an interesting combination and I am looking forward to the sounds they make together.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Feelings Of Longing And Emptiness

Most people, in spite of their desire and efforts to be positive, optimistic, and grateful, sometimes feel bored, down in the dumps, empty or even lonely and unloved. These feelings can come upon us even when all of life appears well on the surface. Why do we sometimes feel this way? I believe it is part of the human experience. The important thing is not allow ourselves to overwhelmed by these feelings. I tend to believe that all of life has some kind of spiritual logic or meaning behind it. There's a mistaken tendency, however, to believe that anything spiritual must also feel good. I believe that many of our negative feelings, such as the ones I have mentioned above, exist because we all have an emptiness that can never be filled completely in this life. Even if we don't believe or recognize this, it still exists. The restlessness and longing we feel, but don't always understand, cannot be satisfied with more things or more activities. Sometimes our overwhelming desire for material goods, status, power, or even relationships, masks a spiritual hunger and longing. The ironic thing is that even though I know this and can even write about it, I can't always escape it. Like all people, I sometimes feel bored with life, empty of any zest for living, or lonely and unloved. Even more ironic, when I feel like this I can look around and find many reasons why I should not to feel this way. When you feel this way and you can't "snap out of it" within a few days, it might be time to step back, take a day or two off, get out of your normal routine, and refresh yourself. We all occasionally need renewal in our lives. Our souls may need spiritual food, our bodies need rest, and our minds need cleansing. Some people call this a retreat. To retreat does not mean to give up. It means to step back, regain your strength, perhaps pool your inner resources, and start fresh on another day. The monastery is a place that helps me do this but a quiet day home alone does the same. Another alternative for me is a few hours with my granddaughter. Don't feel alone if you sometimes feel like this. I think it happens to all of us.

As I sit here drinking my coffee and typing these words, I am distracted by the photo on my calendar. It is a photo of a small log cabin nestled in the woods of the Great Smoky Mountains. The barren landscape and trees are covered with a light snow. I would like to be in that cabin right now. I would have a warm fire going in the fireplace. My rocking chair would be facing the fire as I stare at the flames and drink my coffee. Soon I would go out for a walk in the woods, hoping a hungry bear isn't doing the same thing. When I get cold I would head back to the warmth of the cabin, pour some more coffee, and pick out a good book. I would get lost in the silence and the solitude. Whew....I really drifted off for a moment. I am actually in a cubicle in an office building in downtown Louisville. It's not quite as romantic but I'm feeling kind of cozy in spite of the fact that I have no fireplace in my cubicle.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Music And Spirituality

It's January but yesterday I went for a walk in the park wearing a short sleeve shirt and no jacket. We had a chance of breaking a previous weather record when the temperature was 72 degrees on this date. I'm so glad I didn't get a sled for Christmas. Before and after my walk, while working at my desk, I listened to a Miles Davis album entitled "Kind of Blue". This is considered the greatest jazz album in the history of jazz. Even if you think you don't like jazz, you would like this. I even played it for my mother once and she liked it. "Kind of Blue" is what I consider traditional jazz. It was recorded in 1959 with a band of legendary jazz musicians that included John Coltrane, another giant in the world of jazz. Admittedly, I am more of a rock and roller but when I used to go to Grateful Dead concerts, they played Miles Davis over the PA system during breaks and many of their jams where inspired by his music, especially his "Sketches of Spain album. Miles is a legendary figure who, sadly, died back in the 90's. He was...and favorite jazz musician. Check this out in your leisure time>

Once, one of my music friends, knowing my interest in spirituality, asked me, "Do you think music is spiritual"? My answer? Absolutely! I think music, and art in general, are deeply spiritual. If religion could generate as much emotional feeling, enthusiasm, and joy as most concerts, the churches would be packed. I have listened to almost every kind of music, and I have attended many live concerts in my life. Sometimes it was just entertainment and a pleasant evening. Many other times, though, it was a religious experience. It wasn't just my ears that were affected. My heart and my soul and my entire emotional being was moved. I felt that way this past Sunday when I was lost in the music of a solo cello player. I have felt like this in the group mind experience of a Grateful Dead concert. I have listened to poets with guitars whose words deeply moved me. I have sat in monastery churches where the sounds of flutes, harps, trumpets, and huge pipe organs sounded heavenly. I got misty eyed at a Paul McCartney concert as I called to mind how important and meaningful the music of the Beatles was during my coming of age years. I know I am not alone when I say that the right music in the right place at the right time with the right people can touch and move every part of me. Although different people of different ages and maybe with different cultural backgrounds may enjoy different kinds of music, I have never seen anything in life that can bring people together like music. How can that not be spiritual?

Here's a poem by a spiritual guru named Sri Chinmoy.

His soulful music expressed His aspiration,
His realisation and his oneness with the Universal Consciousness.
God's favourite sound is the sound of His inner Music.
This inner Music Is the music of earth's transformation and humanity's life-perfection.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Epiphany At The Monastery

I did not sleep well on Saturday night. When I was finally in the zone and enjoying some REM sleep, the alarm clock went off. It was just after 6:00 AM and I wasn't too thrilled. Wearily I got out of the bed. Yesterday was Epiphany Sunday and I have been going to a yearly gathering of friends and monks at the monastery for many years. There have been times in the past where winter weather has prevented me from making the trip. Yesterday, however, we had unseasonably warm weather. The temperature was in the mid 60's. The sun didn't shine but who cared, it is January! The drive down was as pleasant as always in the solitary and early morning darkness. As I exited the interstate it began to get light and I could see the silhouettes of the surrounding hills and bare trees. I quietly sipped my coffee as I anticipated meeting my friend, Father Dennis, for breakfast. We always have the best time together as we laugh and talk. Our conversations can go from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again many times over within a single meal. When I finally got to the monastery and walked into the church I had another experience of the sublime. The abbey church is very large and has wonderful acoustics for music. The church was filled with the quiet sounds of Br Luke playing the pipe organ accompanied by a single cello player. The combined sound was wrapped in the sweet aroma of incense as it wafted through the nave of the church. I sat quietly and took it all in.

After mass, my friends and I gathered across the highway in what is called the family guesthouse for a pot luck lunch. This is a place where the families of the monks stay whenever they visit. We had an abundance of delightful dishes and our plates were filled with a wide variety of food. After we ate, and much to my delight, the man who had earlier played the cello in the abbey church, gave us an impromptu concert. The gentleman was named Carlos and he originally hails from Mexico. He retired from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra last year. He played selections from Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi to name a few, while also educating us on the history of the selections he played. In addition to being a wonderful musician, he was a great storyteller. I sat a mere three feet in front of him and I was entranced watching his fingers and the delicate maneuverings of his hand and he gently ran the bow across the strings. He put me in a trance as I listened and the dreariness of the afternoon was filled with light. Music is truly transcendent. Most months when I go to the monastery, my friends and I talk about the spiritual life. Listening to Carlos play his cello, I felt like we were listening to the spiritual life. We finished off the afternoon with some poetry by my friend, Brother Paul. He is an accomplished poet and recently did a reading in Louisville at a club called the Jazz Factory. Some of his poetry, with jazz accompaniment, will soon be out on CD. All in all it was a wonderful day and I drove home in high spirits. It was worth getting out of bed so early on a Sunday morning.

Friday, January 04, 2008

An Afternoon With Chloe

I had to leave work early yesterday because Chloe was sick and no one else could easily pick her up. It was Pa Paw to the rescue. When I arrived at the daycare all was dark. All the little kids were on their cots and lost in their dreams. Chloe was out like a light so I gently got on my hands and knees to wake her. Even illness didn't hide her joy that I was there to get her. We gathered her things and headed out the door. Now even a Pa Paw's love doesn't reduce a fever so we needed to stop at the drug store for some medicine. Every store is a nightmare if you have a child. Candy and toys seem to be everywhere you turn. This time is was small cars that got her attention. I steered her towards the blue VW Beetle with the flowers all over it. It reminded me of my first car back in the sixties. Unfortunately, Chloe showed yuppie rather than hippie tendencies. She chose the very flashy, bright yellow, Audi Sport Coupe. We eventually made it home where we had a major disagreement over the value of medicine when you are sick. As many of you parents know, it is virtually impossible to give a child medicine alone if they really don't want it. Chloe is no different. I could not hold her down with one hand while dispensing the medicine with the other. OK, I thought. I'm supposed to be the smart one here. What can I do? Well, a teaspoon of medicine mixes well with a shot glass full of chocolate milk. Down the hatch it went! Feel free to use this method with your own children or grandchildren.

My wife and I received a new alarm clock for Christmas. We can't seem to get the hang of it. It's one of those clocks that shines the time on the ceiling in red numbers large enough for me to see without having my glasses on. Chloe, however, found this a bit scary and we had to turn it off when she spent the night on New Year's eve. I believe she thinks the numbers are a door that opens into an alternate universe on the other side of the ceiling. My wife can't seem to get the alarm properly set. It seems to go off whenever it pleases plus it has changing volume and intensities. Here are the four random stages that it appears to go through.
  1. Awaken, my darling love, it is a new day.
  2. My precious one, it is time to get up.
  3. Are you going to get up or what????
  4. GET YOUR ASS OUT OF THE BED NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

No New Year's Resolutions For Me

Brrrr! It's another very cold morning with temperatures in the teens. There's a very light dusting of snow. I could feel my beard freezing as I walked into the office. It's good to be in my warm little cubicle home.

I received several emails wanting to know the answer to Chloe's question, "Where do elephants pee"? The answer is "anywhere they want". You can probably guess for yourself what her follow up question was.

Here's a New Year's thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us".

It is a new year, the 57th of my life. Even though this time of year is a time when people traditionally make New Year's resolutions, I have quit doing that. Many years of sometimes painfully acquired self knowledge have taught me I will never exercise enough, loose enough weight, pray enough, or be more assertive. As I have said before, I am a crock pot in a pressure cooker world. I will never be an ambitious overachiever. I'm not perfect but I believe I am a pretty good person that way I am. I have also learned I will never please everyone or meet their expectations of me. Too often the success of goals we set for ourselves are measured against the achievements or expectations of others. I am no longer making judgements about myself in comparison with other people. My daily goal for as long as I live is to be truer to myself and who I am. Some day I may actually find my true self. As the saying goes, "God doesn't make any junk". I am not as great as some people or as bad as others. At this point in my life I probably look like I am supposed to look. I must admit that I am feeling my age and the signs of growing older are becoming more and more evident. My body will never feel or perform like I am twenty five again. I will, however, do the best I can to keep the old body running as efficiently as possible. I am a little forgetful and sometimes I space out a bit but in many ways I am smarter than I have ever been though probably not as smart as a ten year old. It recently took me three tries to figure out a mathematical brain teaser. Maybe I am not smarter, just wiser. If you haven't acquired some sense by my age, you've wasted much of your life. I am grateful to still be young at heart and still able to appreciate rock and roll music. I will try not to miss opportunities to live because my chair feels too comfortable. I will try to break out of my dysfunctional tendencies and obsessive patterns. If I fail or fall down, I will get up and try again. I will accept and appreciate who and what I am and not worry about who and what I am not. I will not beat myself up for not being perfect. I will continue trying to live in the moment and appreciating everything in life. Occasionally, I will retreat into solitude and let the world spin a day or two without me. I guess all this does sounds like I am making resolutions but the difference is that I won't be keeping track of my failures and I'll spend more time celebrating life!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Starting A New Year

Depending on who or what you believe, this morning's temperature is either in the single digits or low teens. Whatever the case, it is very cold. After walking from the parking garage I am very happy to be in my office. True to form, however, by the weekend it will be in the high 50's and it will feel like spring.

Now the holidays are really over. I like the starkness of January and the more normal pace and routine but it is a bit daunting to face the long winter months ahead after five or six weeks of being in the holiday spirit and having many days off from work. Spring seems a very long way off. Chloe came over on New Year's Eve and spent the night. We made "pigs in a blanket" from scratch and baked some small Bagel Bite pizzas. When I put the food out she questioned, "Are we having a party"? Later in the night we discussed the deeply philosophical question, "Where do elephants pee"? Yesterday, New Year's Day, my wife, youngest son, and I visited my father who is still in a nursing home. He was very alert, and mostly in good spirits. He does want to come home because he misses my mother. Speaking of her was the only hint of sadness I saw in his eyes. The nursing home where he is staying is part of a larger facility that includes facilities for assisted and independent living. It is "gated" and you must sign in with the guard when you enter the property. Since my son was with me, he sat in the front seat and my wife sat in the back. As we were leaving and stopped at the guard station, the guard looked in the back seat, saw my wife, and then asked me, Will you be returning tonight"? I think he thought my son and I were taking my wife out for dinner! I should have told him that we would have her back by lock down!

It is a tradition at my home for things to break down right after the holidays so you can begin the New Year in debt. This Christmas my wife bought a new pre-lit Christmas tree. It worked perfectly until Christmas morning. She picked up the remote to turn on the light s and nothing happened. It will be shipped back to the Home Shopping Network or wherever it came from. The next day I went into the room where I have my computer and discovered my monitor had died during the night. Well, at least it wasn't my hard drive.