Monday, March 31, 2008

This Is It. Nothing Else Happens.

It was a relaxing and low key weekend for me. I slept in on Saturday, had a leisurely breakfast at my favorite bagel establishment, spent part of the afternoon watching a DVD from last summer's Crossroads Guitar Festival with Eric Clapton and many other very talented musicians. In the late afternoon I visited my father. Two weeks ago I thought he might not be with us much longer. He is still in a nursing home, and will be there indefinitely, but he was dressed and lying in bed. I sat on the side of his bed, held his hand, and talked for a while. He knew who I was. I updated him on my family and what was going on with all of them. He seemed to understand. At one point he looked at me and said, "My days are numbered". I looked back at him and said, "Dad, all our days are numbered and none of us know how many days we have. You're still here so God is not finished with you and it's not your time yet". Sunday was also very leisurely until my wife got out of bed. After that most of Sunday afternoon was spent working and doing a number of chores. I don't always like to do chores but I always feel a sense of accomplishment when they are behind me.

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are. Sounds simple, right? The simple things....the basics....are often challenging to do on a daily basis. The reality of the spiritual life is that it is simple but difficult. What is the spiritual life? It's not always clear what is spiritual and what is not. Spirituality is woven into all aspects of our life. Spirituality is much more than going to church or doing holy things. Spirituality embraces all of life even in its most mundane aspects. It is putting the Spirit into your reality. This is brought to light in the following story.

Two monks were meditating. An older, wiser monk and a young novice. As they were meditating, the young monk kept peeking at the older monk. He did this several times. Finally, the older, wiser monk looked at him and said, "This is it. Nothing else happens.

To be a Buddha means to be an "awakened" one. In the Christian tradition, to be a contemplative is to also be an awakened one. Our spiritual practices are a means to an end. Our intention is the inner transformation and conversion that leads us to purity of heart. As an awakened one, we strive for the single minded attentiveness to what is deep within us. Like the Tom Cruise character in the "Last Samurai", we often have too many minds. Admittedly, in modern life it is quite challenging to have one mind especially when we often feel like we are losing our mind from the many demands made on us. Even when I don't have one mind or can't "see" the spiritual in my daily life, I try to remember the following.

A small fish was swimming along. He came upon a bigger fish and asked, "Can you tell me where the ocean is?" The bigger fish said, "Are you kidding??? You're in the ocean. It's all around you. In it, we live and breathe and have our being!" So it is with God. God is like the ocean and we are fish. We spend our entire lives living in God's presence. In God, we live and breathe and have our being!

Friday, March 28, 2008

More From The Tao Te Ching

When I awoke yesterday morning it was pouring down rain. I wanted so much to stay in bed. The drive into work was dreadful. The last few days my wife and I have been car-pooling with my daughter in law. Every time I think my wrecked car is ready to be picked up from the body shop, it's "one more day". I miss my car and my regular morning routine. Driving a different route in the pouring rain, mostly on interstate highways trying not to get blown off the road by eighteen wheelers, was a bit stressful. I was never so happy to get to work. The drive home was little improvement. My wife was late getting out of her office. This only seems to happen on days where we are under the gun to get to Chloe's day care by 6:00 PM. Traffic was bumper to bumper and moving at a snails pace but eventually I got out of first gear and we made it on time. Chloe was eager to get home last night because Mommy and Daddy had bought her a puppy. I love taking care of Chloe and I don't mind picking her up at the day care but I am not walking the dog! Note to my son and daughter in law: Welcome to parenthood. I hope you have a shovel.

The following is the 3rd verse from the Tao Te Ching.

Putting a value on status will create contentiousness. If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal. By not displaying what is valuable, you will cause the people's hearts to remain undisturbed. The Sage governs by emptying minds and hearts, by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones. Practice not doing. When action is pure and selfless, everything settles into its own perfect place.

The 3rd verse of the Tao Te Ching advises rearranging priorities to ensure contentment. Focusing on obtaining more objects of desire encourages external factors to have control over us. Pursuit of status, be it monetary or a position of power, blinds us to our relationship with the eternal Tao, along with the contented life that is available. Overvaluing possessions and accomplishments stems from our ego's fixation on getting more wealth, belongings, status, power, or the like. The Tao recommends refraining from this kind of discontented life. We need to be guided by a higher principle than our ego driven desires. Remind yourself daily that there is no way to happiness. Rather, happiness is the way. Desires can produce anxiety, stress, and competitiveness. Bring happiness to every encounter in life instead of expecting external events to produce joy. Do not focus on acquiring more. Rather, focus on how better you can serve others.
-from the book "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life...Living the Wisdom of the Tao by Dr. Wayne W Dyer.

One more thought from Henry David Thoreau, one of my favorite people.

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature and not be thrown off track by every nutshell and mosquito's wing that falls on the rail. If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pain. If the bell rings, why should we run? I have always regretted that I am not as wise as the day I was born.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Daffodils, Art, And My Prayer

Yesterday I received many kind, humorous, and creative emails wishing me a happy birthday. There were simply too many to respond to all of them individually. I am very grateful for all of them and I thank you very much.

Yesterday afternoon I was having a case of the yawns so I went outside for some fresh air. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day. I walked past an older man who was resting on a park bench. Next to him was his bike. I said "Nice day for a bike ride"! He replied, "It's a nice day for anything except working in an office". I couldn't have agreed more.

As I was driving along the Interstate on my way home yesterday I suddenly became aware that hundreds of daffodils were in bloom along the roadway and on the median. It was the shot of beauty, hope, and sign of spring that I needed. The evening got even better because I had dinner with my granddaughter, Chloe, for the third night in a row. She is the sweetest and most loving person I know. We are always excited to see one another. As soon as her Mom or Dad lets her go she runs to me and jumps up in my arms. Then she hugs me tight and gives me a kiss. How could I not love being her Pa Paw? It's the best job I have and it gives me the greatest satisfaction.

Life is art and we are all artists. Our great masterpiece is own life. It takes a lifetime to create and we can never quite know what shape it will take or what others will think of it when it is finished. Some art is practical and to the point. Other art is more abstract and can be interpreted many ways. Some art we just don't get and other art takes time for us to understand it. It grows on us over time. What are you creating?

I have often talked about prayer. You might wonder how I pray. My prayer is very simple. To be honest, I am too busy or too tired for a complicated prayer life. My role models for prayer are the men and women of the 2nd and 3rd centuries who left the cities and went out into the deserts. They are referred to as the Desert Fathers and Mothers and were the spiritual ancestors of what would later become monks and nuns. For the most part they were simple and uneducated people who often could not read. Their prayers were often just a word or perhaps a short phrase from scripture that had been read to them at some point. Along with their simple prayers, silence was a big part of their spirituality. So, this is basically how I pray. I sit in silence or I use a simple word or phrase as a kind of mantra. My goal is to quiet my mind and open my heart and put my entire being in a receptive stance for whatever enlightenment God may choose to give me....or not give me. Prayer does not have to be complicated or lengthy. All prayer, if we are faithful to it, will eventually become the prayer of our heart even if we are no longer aware of it. This unconscious prayer of the heart is what I believe St Paul is talking about when he exhorts us to "pray always". At some point prayer becomes something you are and not just something you do. The pray-er becomes prayer. This is contemplation. It is those moments when you become one with the flame that is God. You are now part of the fire. Does this make sense? Of course, this is only one way to pray and may not be attractive to all people. Whatever works for you, do it. There are many ways to pray.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Birthday

Today I am officially 57 years old. I wonder how many more years it will take to reach full maturity? I am always reminded of a saying attributed to the famous baseball player Satchel Paige. He once asked the question "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was"? There is no doubt that my body often feels 57 years old although my healthier approach to living has improved how I feel. However, I believe a person's true "age" is determined in the mind and in the heart. Although I sometimes feel old, I try to think and act young. My rock and roll exploits are a source of great humor within my family. I tell my wife and youngest son, "I'm still out there getting it done"! Their response is "Yeah, but you always have to take the next day as a vacation day"! Of course, life not all about having fun. My spiritual pursuits also keep me young at heart. What I call contemplation can also be called "maintaining a sense of wonder about life". I can still be impressed and there are moments I am in awe of life and beauty and I feel great joy. I love to play with my granddaughter Chloe even though she wears me out and thinks I am a beast of burden. As you get older you must sometimes surrender to the needs of the body and act your physical age. At the same time, you must also continue to expand your mind and think new thoughts. As far as the heart goes, age tends to soften a person. I am much calmer and patient than I used to be. When you get older the small things are never a big deal and the list of small things is always getting longer. I don't freak out as much. I am more loving, kind, and tolerant. I've come to realize that nothing is as important as people. Although I am usually a calm person on the outside I find myself more emotional as I age. Feelings seem deeper and tears come more easily. Admittedly, feelings are still sometimes difficult to express verbally. I can write my feelings better than I can speak them. When you get older you have fewer illusions about yourself. I am aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. Do I want to be 25 again? No way! I like being 57 years old. Of course, I'm not as young as I used to be so if any of you see me wandering around in the office, please tell me where I sit. I may not even know why I am up. You may also need to actually show me the way back to my seat. I'm a little more forgetful now and sometimes I wander about just for the fun of it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fatigue And The Experience Of God

Yesterday seemed like the day from hell. I was frazzled most of the day even if it didn't show. It wasn't till the end of the day when I started listening to a Talking Heads concert that I began to feel calm. I guess music does soothe the savage beast. The basis for my internal meltdown was fatigue. I didn't sleep well on Sunday night. It was an exhausting weekend with little down time. So much interaction, even with people I care about, is exhausting for an introvert like me. The experience with my father was emotionally draining, and all the running around on Easter visiting family was draining as well. When I got to work yesterday everything seemed hectic and demanding and I felt thrown into my day. Nothing bad happened and nothing was a crisis but I felt pulled in many directions. For someone who tries to practice mindfulness in my everyday life, multi tasking, while feeling under the gun, is a challenge. I was able to sneak away for a relaxing lunch with an old friend from my high school years and that was a nice oasis in my day. On a different day when I am better rested none of yesterday's activities would have seemed like a big deal. When you are really tired even the little things seem monumental. The day ended on a happy note because I had dinner with Chloe and her parents. That went well even though someone ate most of my chicken McNuggets even though they had their own Happy Meal! Momma told me there would be days like this.

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 with blindfolds on. 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 some 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! 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.

Monday, March 24, 2008

An Intimate Moment With My Father

My son, Nick, has been home since last Thursday helping a local parish with it's Holy Week services. We bought him one last meal at Denny's last night and sent him back to the seminary in Indianapolis. He will be back next month for a quick visit before heading to New York City to see the Pope at Yankee Stadium.

I woke up on Saturday refreshed from the extra sleep. I was stranded at home because my wife was at her mother's retirement home getting a picture taken with her mother and sisters. We are still driving a rental car since the car I wrecked nearly a month ago is still in the body shop. I am eager to get my car back and expect that to happen some time this week. Soon after my wife returned home I left to go visit my father. He is now back in the same nursing home he was in a couple of months ago. When I got there he was trying to get out of the bed and he'd had an accident. I immediately repositioned him in his bed and then quickly summoned one of the staff. With a few moments a smiling angel from the staff was there. Together we began the process of cleaning him up, changing his gown, and putting clean sheets on the bed. At some point another nurse assisted us. These two ladies were extremely nice and very gentle with my father. One thing I noticed was that they showed him great respect and dignity by always calling him by his name. They were very professional. In the middle of all of this one of them looked at me and said, "God bless you, we love children who care about their parents". I replied, "No, bless you for the work you do"! I had mixed feelings about the whole experience. On the one hand I was very happy to be able to assist my father in his hour of need. It was a very physical experience. I held his hand, rubbed his head, and helped turn and move him in the bed. On the other hand it was very difficult to see my father so helpless and in such an embarrassing situation. It was very emotional for me and several times my eyes filled with tears. When he was finally cleaned up and once again comfortable, I sat in a chair next to his bed and gently held his hand. I'm not sure he knew what had happened but I know he knew who I was. I continued to sit there for a while in silence. It was a moment of true prayer. I had originally planned to go check on my mother after visiting my dad. A little while later I looked up and my mother, along with two of my nieces, walked into the room. Along with six children, my parents have approximately 15 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. Their presence seemed to animate my father somewhat. He was still confused but knew who everyone was. A little while later I headed for home feeling emotionally exhausted.

Yesterday I had Easter dinner at my sister in law's home. Judy is a marvelous cook and seems to have inherited all of my mother in law's skills. Since my mother in law doesn't cook anymore, the whole family is happy that Judy has her culinary talent. Chloe and her parents were there also. Chloe was quite beautiful in her Easter outfit. It appeared that Mommy had spent quite a while doing her hair. By last night I was tired from the experience with my father and all the visiting. It didn't take long to fall into a deep sleep on my couch.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Don't Lose A Moment

I admit that like most working people I wake up on Monday morning with a sense of dread about starting a new work week. On Monday's Friday seems so far away. Yet, here we are on another Friday standing at the threshold of the weekend. For most of us weekends and vacation times seem to go by in a blur. For me all days, even the work weeks, sometimes seem to go by in a blur. It didn't seem that long ago that we were celebrating Christmas and now Easter is here. I know it's all a matter of perception. Each day is 24 hours long. Each minute takes a minute to pass. An hour lasts an hour. Einstein explains this feeling with his theory of relativity. He uses the example of two lovers kissing. If you kiss for one minute, it seems like the blink of an eye. At the same time if you sit on a hot stove for a minute it seems like an eternity. I believe your perception of time changes dramatically as you age. When you are young and at the beginning of your life's journey, you think you have forever to get wherever you are going. At my current age I sometimes wonder where my life has gone. It sometimes feels like I blinked and I was fast forwarded from 27 to 57 overnight. As my 83 year old father lies dying in a nursing home, he must wonder, in lucid moments, if his next breath will be his last. I think all of these thoughts are a reminder of how important it is to slow down and live in the moment. If you're always on the run, and thinking ahead to the next hour or the next day, you will miss the time you are in now. The hours and days accumulate and eventually they because a lifetime. You don't want to have a sudden moment of awareness in your future realizing that you have no memory of how you got where you are or what happened along the way. As the author Ram Dass says, "Be here now"!

Sticking my toe a little deeper into the Tao Te Ching...Western society is deeply mired in dualistic thinking. We compartmentalize our thinking making everything good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. Contemplate the insight that duality is a mind game. Beauty doesn't mean anything unless you consider something else ugly. Does an elephant look at another elephant and think, "She's not very pretty"! Live your life unencumbered with thoughts of what you should and should not do. For instance, imagine that you are an otter just living your "otterness". Does an otter waste time wondering if he is acting like an otter? If you're an otter you're not good or bad, beautiful or ugly, a hard worker or a slacker. You're simply an otter, moving through the water or on the land freely, peacefully, playfully, and without judgements. Understand that you can act without the implied judgement of words like effort and trying. You can compete without being focused on outcomes. Eliminating opposites paradoxically unifies them so that it's unnecessary to identify with one position. It doesn't have to be an either/or question. In the Tao Te Ching the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu encourages us to just the otter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dipping My Toe In The Water

If all the rain that I have seen in the last two days were snow I would be under about ten feet of snow right now waiting to be rescued. It is late on Wednesday afternoon as I begin to write these thoughts. I'm a little weary. I am listening to a Miles Davis CD called "Bitches Brew". This may be my all time favorite Miles Davis CD. Most of the players on it have become famous in their own right. It is considered a classic CD. It came out in 1969. It was one of the first so called "jazz fusion" albums. I think the first was also a Miles Davis CD and it was called "In a Silent Way". Jazz fusion is basically a marriage of jazz and rock and roll. This CD was my introduction to Miles Davis. Later, and over the years, I have gone back and explored much of his other music. I still have memories of being in my late teens, driving around with my friends in a Ford Galaxie 500 that belonged to one of our Dad's. It had an eight track tape player and we jammed with Miles Davis on a regular basis. I can't tell any more of the story on grounds that it will incriminate me. One or two of my readers were with me in those days so they are probably smiling right now. We smiled and laughed a lot in those youthful days.

Today is the first day of Spring. It is also Holy Thursday. This begins the holiest long weekend in the liturgical year for all Christians.

I have dipped my toe into the waters of the Tao Te Ching. The first chapter encourages the reader to enjoy the mystery of life. We are told to "let the world unfold without always attempting to figure it all out. Don't try so hard to make something work, simply allow it to work. When expectations are shattered, practice allowing that to be the way it is. Relax, let go, allow, and recognize that some of your desires are about how you think your world should be, rather than how it is in that moment. Judge less and listen more. Take time to open your mind to the fascinating mystery and uncertainty that we all experience.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Emptiness And Longing

Many of us are not physically alone most of the time. We are surrounded throughout our day by many other people. Yet, many of us feel some gnawing at our soul. Something seems to be missing. We feel a void we can't explain and seldom can fill. Much of our lives are spent trying to fill this emptiness using a variety of means. What is this feeling? Although it sometimes feels like loneliness, I am not sure that's it. I bet there are some people who don't feel lonely at all but still sometimes feel an emptiness, a void, or a sense of longing for something they can't quite put their finger on. These feelings are sometimes perceived as boredom. What do we do when we are bored? Sometimes we eat or go shopping. Other times we may allow ourselves to get lost in some trivial and mind numbing television. I often sit in my chair, play some music, and stare out my window in a daze. Other times I take a nap. Whatever we do, one thing is without a doubt. Most of us do whatever we can to avoid these feelings. We seldom want to face the loneliness, the emptiness, or the boredom. Whatever our life's circumstances I believe we all have these feelings sometimes. Some have them more than others and a few find them debilitating. I believe they are all symptoms of a spiritual longing. I think this is true even if you are a person who never thinks about spiritual things. There's no perfect lifestyle, no perfect relationships, no perfect job, and no perfect activity that will totally fill all the spaces in our lives and allow us only pleasant feelings. No matter how perfect our lives may seem there will be these occasional feelings that something is missing. OK, I accept that and I believe it. Acceptance is still not the same as understanding. What is this emptiness? Am I lonely? Why do I have these feelings and what are they saying? I don't really know. Are they the result of some deep psychological need that I do not yet understand or an even deeper spiritual need that can only be filled by God through a transformation of my own heart? Can the loneliness and the emptiness and the void only be filled by a complete surrender to a power that I don't really understand and cannot see? Is this need for something I don't understand what drives me to act in ways I don't understand to achieve an end I don't understand either? Is my whole life to be filled with this restlessness? If so, then I am extremely grateful for the moments of calm that enter my life unexpectedly and give me rest.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Days Of My Life

I had a delightful day yesterday. I got out of bed a little after 6:00 AM as I do every Monday morning. It was as difficult as ever but I was in a good mood because I was taking the day off from work and having a Michael day. I took my wife to work and jumped on Interstate 65 and headed for the home of my friend, Fr. Dennis. A mutual friend that neither of us had seen for a while was coming to the monastery to make a Holy Week retreat. This friend is named Fr. Tom and he is another teacher and mentor from my past. We all met for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Bardstown, Kentucky. We had a very enjoyable meal with lots of good conversation and funny stories. After lunch we headed in separate directions. I still had some time before I needed to be back in Louisville so I wandered over to the monastery. I went into the book store but was able to resist the urge to buy anything since Fr Dennis have given me a book on Russian mystics and I have a stack of books at home that still need to be read. It was a beautiful day. I got a cup of coffee in the retreat house and went outside to sit in one of the monastery gardens. I found a comfortable chair and sat in silence bathing in a perfect balance of warm sunlight and cool breezes. Soon I was lost in the moment. After sitting for a while in the fullness of the moment, I was pulled back by the abbey bells alerting me that it was 3:15 PM and time to go home.

A lot has happened for me in the last few days. Last Thursday my father was taken off his respirator. I spent much of the evening with a brother and a sister watching over him since none of us were sure how he would react to this chance. He handled it fairly well and as of the moment is holding his own. He’s not getting any better but he doesn’t seem to be getting any worse either. It’s a waiting game at this point to see what is going to happen. I spent a little more time with him on Sunday. He was asleep so I just sat and quietly prayed for him. When I left I kissed him on the top of his head and hoped that he might somehow know I was there.

Last Friday I went to the doctor to get the results of my recent blood work. The good news is that I have no terminal illness. The bad news is that my diabetes is worse. My doctor is a woman from Eastern Europe and I like her very much. She has a very soft voice with a wonderful accent. I like her because she never acts rushed. She takes the time to talk with you and explain things. One of the things she said to me was “Your blood sugar is out of control”. Some of it is probably my own fault but she didn’t think I was totally to blame. She gave me an anatomy lesson on the pancreas before telling that I must now give myself insulin shots. I wasn’t too thrilled about this but accepted it. When I did it for the first time I was happy to realize that it was painless and wasn’t as bad as pricking my finger to test my blood. Once again I am humbled by the needs of my aging body.

Saturday night the usual gang of suspects and me attended a smoking bluegrass music concert. There was some incredible musicianship and humor from a group of very talented good old boys lead by guitarist Dan Tyminski. Dan is most famous for being the voice behind George Clooney’s singing of “A Man of Constant Sorrow” in the movie “O Brother, Where Are Thou”?

The other big news from the weekend is that Chloe has begun walking in her Pa Paw’s foot steps. Chloe is officially a rock and roll road warrior. She attended a live concert by the Doodlebops. She came to my house afterwards wearing “Dee Dee” hair. (See the attached picture) Dee Dee is the keyboard player in the Doodlebops. The Doodlebops are a regular feature on the Disney Channel as anyone with children knows. They’re like Led Zeppelin for children. One of the things her parents bought her, because of me, was a very bright tie dyed shirt with the Doodlebops tour dates and the cities where they are appearing listed on the back. I have a whole drawer full of such shirts.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Rule Of St Benedict And Balance

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 amok. 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 might 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

My Father's Illness And My Own

I think my father will die soon. Most of you know that he is 83 years old and has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. He is currently in the hospital with pneumonia in both lungs. He is also on a respirator. He has been sedated and unconscious for the last week or so. I believe I am prepared for his death but I know that when that moment arrives I will be sad. At the same time I believe he has no true quality of life and little possibility for improvement. I can only hope that in his unconscious state his mind is calm and his spirit at peace. I am ready to let him go rather than see him in this condition for an extended period of time.

Yesterday afternoon I went outside for a walk. I felt the need for some fresh air and a little exercise. It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 50's. Less than a week ago we had a foot of snow and single digit wind chills. Each day had it's own beauty. Walking around the park I couldn't help but think of my father. He would love such a day. My father is a outdoor person. A beautiful spring day would excite him as he anticipated planting flowers or growing a few tomatoes. Like many people I sometimes wonder what heaven is. When my father dies I believe his heaven will be his own backyard where he will sit in his lawn chair in the shade of his tree as the birds fly around, the tomatoes grow on the vine, the flowers bloom, and a cool breeze blows. My father has often reminded me of one of the old monks at the monastery because he always loved his solitude, is very close to the earth, and enjoys the feel of dirt running through his fingers. Most of his working career was spent in a power plant. He should have been a farmer.

I'll be at the Doctor's office on Friday afternoon. I didn't do so hot on my last blood test so I need to go get lectured by my doctor, possibly adjust my medications, and most likely get a B-12 shot since it appears I have a B-12 deficiency. I am basically fine but managing diabetes can be a tricky and continuously annoying process. If it has a good side it is that it has introduced a new discipline in my life. Writing daily thoughts is a good discipline for my mind. Managing the strong desire for food that is bad for me is another kind of discipline. I must do a better job of this. Currently I take five prescriptions a day and I have lost a total of 60 pounds but it is not enough.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Living An Enlightened And Authentic Life

I equate living a spiritual life with living a meaningful and authentic life. The search for the spiritual is the search for what's real. Much of our lives we are caught up in illusions, false selves, and unreality. With varying degrees of success I try to live a life that is authentic and real with as little illusion as possible. Part of my enlightenment is a happy by-product of age. When I was much younger I thought I would be much smarter by now. Some days, however, I feel like the older I get, the less I know. I don't really think I am getting dumber by the day. Often when we are young we think we know everything. We think we are smarter than our parents and all other authority. When we get older we are less certain about many things. This lack of certitude can have a very positive effect. It can make us more open to possibilities. When we realize that we don't know everything, then we can be surprised by life. Surprise and a sense of awe are essential to enlightenment. Some people call these "aha moments". Aha moments are experiences of epiphany, enlightenment and realization. I refer to them as moments of absolute clarity when everything suddenly makes sense. When we are grounded and centered and awake to the possibilities of life, we see meaning in many things, dreams can become reality, and our lives more authentic. Life starts to make sense. What can a person do on a practical level to be more grounded, centered, and awake? Here's a few things I do. I try to spend more time being and less time doing. I try to spend more time in stillness and less time running around. I try to routinely allow myself to be bathed in silence and to avoid noise and chaos. I make it a point to spend some time alone everyday. When I sit alone in silence, I try to quiet my mind so I can listen to my inner voice and not the voices of the world around me. I resist the rat race and the often unrealistic demands of modern life. I take the risk of being misunderstood by others in order to be true to myself. I care about what others think of me but I do not let their opinions change the essence of who I am or to dictate how I act or what I believe.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Too Busy To Write

A busy day yesterday + a disastrous dinner at the Waffle House featuring the worst cook and waiter in Waffle House history + going to the grocery store last night + a nap in my chair + watching a movie with my wife and son + not realizing until bed time that I hadn't written any daily thoughts for today = no new thoughts for this morning. Here is something I wrote about a year ago.

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? 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.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Really Good Weekend

Does it get any better than waking up in your own home on a Saturday morning with almost a foot of snow on the ground? It snowed most of the day on Friday with a long enough break for all workers to get home before the heavy snowfall started. I am always happy on a Friday night. Even after the best work week it is a relief to start a weekend. I didn't make any extra preparations for snow. I knew I had enough food and no commitments that couldn't be changed if needed. I went to bed on Friday night and slept deeply as the snow fell outside my window. Supposedly there was snow thunder and lightening but I must have slept right through it. Normal snowfall is silent and one of it's gift, besides beauty, is that it brings deep silence wherever it falls. I woke up on Saturday feeling like I slept for a thousand years. I quickly got dressed, went downstairs, and looked out my front door. It was the biggest snowfall this area had in about ten years. It felt like Christmas morning. For the rest of the morning I sat around in warm clothes and drank hot coffee while reading a book....very old fashioned in these times....while listening to music. Occasionally I would stand and simply stare out the window. Natural beauty puts me in a trance. It was a wonderful day.

About midday my wife and son and I decided it was time to go outside and shovel the walkway, make a path to the cars, and clean them off. It was actually kind of fun. It felt good to do some manual labor. It was a bright sunny day. Some of my neighbors were also outside shoveling and others were walking their dogs. I did do one stupid thing over the weekend. While cleaning the cars I decided to start them up so the defrosters would help accelerate cleaning them off. About three or four hours later I looked out my window and wondered "Why are Nick's car lights on"? I put my shoes on and went outside to check it out. Well, there was Nick's car quieting running. It had been running in the driveway for four hours! I guess it was a good thing no car thieves were in the neighborhood. After wrecking my other car two weeks ago, reporting a stolen car would have put my insurance agent over the edge. My senior moments continue to increase with alarming frequency.

I did get out of my house and neighborhood on Saturday night. My wife, son, and I met Chloe and her parents at a local restaurant for a birthday celebration. Since I am a lover of books, I was very pleased that two of my gifts were books. I received the new Tom Brokaw book called "Boom! Voices of the Sixties" and another book recommended to my wife by a friend of mind called "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life...Living the Wisdom of the Tao" by Dr. Wayne Dyer. The book is basically a new and modern interpretation of the Tao Te Ching by the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu. On a slightly lighter note....I also received a DVD of a recent Moody Blues concert at the Greek Theater out in LA. I can't believe I will be 57 years old in 16 days! Where have the years gone! By Sunday evening a great deal of the sun had already melted. With temperatures in the 50's much of this week, the snow cannot last much longer. It was a wonderful spring snow and I am grateful that it happened. Spring is less than two weeks away and soon enough we'll all be complaining about the heat.

Friday, March 07, 2008

My Kind Of Weekend

It is late at night and I am sitting in my room. Outside the snow continues to fall. It has been snowing most of the day and will continue until midday tomorrow. It will be the biggest snowfall of the season and of the last few years. This is a dream for me. It is Friday night and I am snowed in! Tomorrow I can sleep in as late as I want. When I wake up my neighborhood could have up to a foot of snow. Although I may venture out later in the day for a family birthday dinner, most of the day I will be able to sit in this same room, relax, drink coffee, and look out my window. Since tomorrow is Saturday I do not have to get up and go to work. I couldn't be happier! Well, I hear the buzzer going off on my dryer. My son is home from the seminary for spring break. Like all college kids he brought home a basket of dirty laundry. The last load is now dry. Soon I will head up the stairs and get in my warm bed where I will sleep deeply as the snow falls outside my window. Does it get any better than that?

Birthdays And Heavy Snow

This weekend we will be celebrating the continuation of life within my family. My youngest son had a birthday in late February and my wife and I have birthdays in March. Sometime today Nick will be home for a much needed spring break so we're going to celebrate all three birthdays this weekend. We have assigned Chloe the task of picking out a "Happy Birthday Cake" from the local Dairy Queen. Sometime over the weekend we are also going to squeeze in the new movie called "10,000 BC". I don't care if the critics hate it or not. It has lots of really cool computer generated prehistoric beasts in it and that's enough for me. Did anyone really go see Jurassic Park for the plot and character development? Admittedly, the first Jurassic Park had a cool plot. I saw on the Discovery Channel the other night where scientists really are trying to create real dinosaurs from DNA. Of course, the evening commute is a big enough challenge. Do we really need to be chased by Tyrannosaurus Rex's on the way home, too?

I am looking out my window today for what may be the last snowfall of the season. Depending on who you listen to, we could get a foot of snow by midday tomorrow. It would be great to wake up on Saturday morning to a winter wonderland. I am looking forward to spring but one last taste of winter beauty...on a weekend...would be wonderful. Chloe will be coming to my house for the night on Saturday. She and I could go outside and throw snowballs at one another. I am so excited to have a major snowfall on a Friday night! How cool is that?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

On Being Old And Sick

Once again I had a busy day yesterday. I did get an early start. My wife had an early morning meeting at her office so I arrived at work about 90 minutes ahead of my normal schedule. I wasn't crazy about having to get out of bed an hour earlier than normal. I still haven't recovered from the lack of sleep over the weekend when I had to get up at 6:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday. Despite all my complaining about early risings, I am a morning person. I probably got more work done from 6:30 AM till 8:00 AM than I normally do all morning during a typical work day. It was silent and calm, just the way I like it. The rest of the work day seemed busy as I was often running back and forth from my little corner of the world to our Human Resource Department. It was another day of interviewing young people looking for a job and a break. I did leave work early for one last doctor appointment. I think I have all that behind me for a while. None of the doctor visits were unpleasant. I just consider it a hassle to go.

After I went to the doctor, my wife and went to the hospital to visit my father. When I entered his room it was something of a shock. Although he has seemed "old" for quite a while, he seemed especially old during this visit. He appeared to be sedated. There were breathing tubes and IV's. He never knew I was there. I sat in a chair by the side of his bed and silently prayed for him. I also found myself thinking how much it sucks to be old and sick and helpless. Regardless of one's relationship with a parent, it is very difficult to see them like this. When he was young he always seemed big and strong to me. He was always physically active and loved working in his yard and garden. I was never especially close to my father but we have always been friendly and comfortable with one another. Like most fathers and sons, we had some rough years when I was young. I realize now that it must have been difficult to be the father of a rebellious child of the sixties. Once we got past all that we always got along well. Realizing my own challenges and failures as I father I am much more tolerant of the challenges he faced and the mistakes he made. In retrospect he was a good father in many ways. Looking at my parents and my mother in law in their old age with its many challenges is certainly a reminder of my own mortality. With the mental conditions brought on by my father's Alzheimer's and the physical weakness caused by his Parkinson's, I am not sure where my Dad will go from here. I have put him in God's hands.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Living In The Center

Yesterday was a crazy day. Before coming to work, and on an empty stomach, I had to go to the doctor for some blood work and an EKG. There is nothing wrong with me. This was just part of a regular checkup. Hopefully, when the results come back, there will be no concerns. Before I left home I received a message from my brother that my father was in the ER with pneumonia. He had recently been admitted to Our Lady of Peace which is a mental health facility. As most of you know my father is 83 years old and has a combination of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Lately he has been getting to be a little too much for my 78 year old mother. Please keep him in your prayers.

Someone wrote to me yesterday asked what it means to be living "in the center". In many ways it is a combination of almost every spiritual thing I have ever written about in my daily thoughts. Living "in the center" is about living in a contemplative way. A person who lives in a contemplative way is a person who lives life in awareness. They are grounded in the moment and in their life. Somewhere I heard the term "intentional living". Contemplative people are spiritually awake and in the moment. By being "awake", they are living life intentionally and not just going through the motions. People who go through life just going through the motions are often considered to be spiritually asleep. They are not "awake" and living intentionally. The goal of living this way is to discover your true self. What most of us see in others, and what others see in us, is our false self. It is the self we present to the world. The true self is who we are in God at our deepest spiritual level behind the many masks that we wear. The true self is the essence of who we are. This may sound very deep but I believe all of us have some understanding of this. Think about this. Is the face and the image you present to others in the workplace who you really are? Most people I know consider the workplace to be nothing more than a stage where they perform and play a character. When they leave the stage of the workplace, they go home, take off their make up and become who they really are. Another way to think about your true self is to look at who you are when you are alone and no one is watching and you do not have to pretend to be anything. In those moments, who are you? I believe people who are striving to live "in the center" are those who are seeking their true self, their essence, and trying to answer the question "Who am I". In all religious traditions there are individuals who strive to life authentic lives. They are more concerned with meaning and experience and less concerned with dogma and doctrines. Of course, in organized religion, you need both kinds of people.

When I left work yesterday it was cold, rainy, and dreary. I was tired from all the day's activity. As soon as I got in my car I popped the Beach Boys Greatest Hits into my CD player. Soon my car was filled with warm sun, ocean breezes, and surfer girls....yeah, right! In my dreams!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Wheel

I went to the monastery on Sunday. I was looking forward to it since it promised to be a beautiful day. When my alarm clock went off at 6:00 AM I sighed since I had also been forced to get up very early on Saturday. Once I got myself together I was fine so off I went down the highway. Being so early on Sunday morning traffic was sparse. It was still dark though daylight wasn't far away. The eastern sky was an orange glow wrapped in pink hues. The silhouettes of the bare tress were sharply emphasized on the horizon. Just before the sun finally crested, the hills seemed on fire. Each month when I make this trip the earth is never in quite the same spot or at the same angle. The light shines differently. Some months it blinds me and other months it seems to simply light my way. When I arrived at the monastery the day had fully arrived. The sun was shining but the air was still cool. Inside a larger than normal group awaited me. We had an engaging conversation. One of the points that stuck with me was the idea that contemplative people find much in common with other contemplative people whether they are from another Christian tradition or even a non Christian tradition. Contemplative people live "in the center" and that is a relatively small place so anyone there is close to everyone else. We are not divided by the teachings or traditions of our respective faiths. The further away you are from the "center", the further you are away from everyone else. An excellent symbol for this is a wheel. The hub of the wheel is the center. If you are not part of the hub, you are not living in the center. When you are not part of the center you are out there on the rim. Now, it's not bad or wrong to be part of the rim. It's all part of the wheel. However, in matters of religion, it is out there on the rim that you are more likely to see how different or far apart you are from others. It is on the rim that we see our different beliefs and doctrines. We may even experience some conflict. It is on the rim of the wheel where we are most likely to have our "in the head" theological and intellectual differences of opinion about faith and religion. "In the center", or hub of the wheel, we are closer and less likely to see our differences because we are held together by our common experience of "The Other". This kind of thinking is experienced whenever I go to the monastery. Even though the monastery is Roman Catholic and following a 1500+ year old tradition of monasticism, the members in my group are Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, and others I may not have identified yet. Our different churches and traditions are on the rim of the wheel. As individuals, however, we strive to live "in the center" and together on the hub.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Another Rock And Roll Death

Last Friday when I shared some rock and roll history around the death of Buddy Miles, I wasn't aware that another rock and roll individual had died. His name was Mike Smith and he was the lead singer and organ player for a British band called the Dave Clark Five. This year the Dave Clark Five are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were part of the so called "British Invasion" of 1964. Rock and roll began in America. Eventually young British bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Dave Clark Five "invaded" America with their English version of American rock and roll as well as the blues. At one time the Dave Clark Five were as popular as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Sadly, a couple of years ago, Mike Smith fell and suffered a spinal cord injury. He never fully recovered from a injury that was similar to the injury incurred by Christopher Reeve of "Superman" fame. He was 64 years old.

It's a new month! In less than three weeks it will officially be Spring. I am more than ready for sun filled days and the sights and smells of life reaffirming itself after the cold and dark of winter. Each season has its beauty and purpose. Spring and Autumn are my favorites. Spring and Autumn seem light and airy after the heaviness of winter chill and summer heat. When it is very cold or very hot I soon grow weary of the oppressiveness. In Spring and Autumn there seems to be a perfect marriage of coolness and warmth with the beauty of new life being born in the Spring and the passing away of Summer abundance in the Autumn. Summer and Winter have their own charms too. I always look forward to the possibility of snow and the holiday season. In summer I pumped for outdoor concerts, light clothing, and long days. For everything there is a season!

We are who we are because of every experience we've had in life so far. Ironically, not every good experience produced good and not every bad experience produced bad. Buddhists 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". In Buddhist belief 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 do evil, it will come back to you as well. If you are blessed, be grateful for your good fortune. If you've had some tough times in your life, and we have all had some, you don't have to have a victim mentality forever. Move on with your life. Sometimes we are the recipients of good or evil that we do not deserve and who knows why?