Wednesday, April 30, 2008

To Write Or Not To Write

Yesterday was not a difficult work day but I felt exhausted all evening. I found my mind going in a variety of directions, none of them positive. I hope it was just my fatigue. I found myself thinking of a recent movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman called "The Bucket List". In the movie two terminally ill friends make a list of all the things they want to do before they die. I am not dying anymore than the rest of human race and I do not have a bucket list. I do sometimes have a list that changes all the time that lists things I would like to stop doing before I die. Sometimes as one gets older you feel like your life is spent doing the same routine and obligatory things all the time. On a good day it's called faithfulness. On a bad day it's called boredom. I think yesterday was an exhausting day, not because I worked really hard...I didn't...but because most of the day I was lost in myself and was being somewhat self absorbed. When I think about myself too much, it can be depressing. The mind has a natural tendency to be negative and to focus on what it perceived to be missing. It takes an intentional mental effort to focus on the positive. Occasionally, this is a challenge for me. Most of the time my mood is good but like the weather it can change quickly and without warning. Like a weatherman I cannot always predict the coming mood or how long it will stay. My comfort is that moods are like weather. They will change and a stormy day can become a sunny day just as easily as the reverse can happen.

Last night in my exhaustion I seriously considered discontinuing my daily thoughts. They've become a real struggle lately. I feel unmotivated, empty, and sometimes a little stressed about the pressure I put on myself to write them. The thoughts you are reading now are being written at 11:00 PM at night. I've been feeling like I am not saying much of value to anyone. Maybe I need a vacation from them (along with many other things). However, earlier in the evening I read the following thought by Henri Nouwen, a famous spiritual author who had many of his own demons.

One of the arguments we often use for not writing is this: "I have nothing original to say. Whatever I might say, someone else has already said it, and better than I will ever be able to." This, however, is not a good argument for not writing. Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others. We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.

Perhaps there is value to just tell it the way it is even if I am empty or having a bad day. Obviously, I cannot and will not share every thought and feeling. Some are simply too personal for public consumption. I will continue to write daily thoughts without personal judgement of their value. As long as people want to be kept on or added on my distribution list I guess they have value. I do, however, need to avoid putting off my writing until 11:00 at night! I'm really tired and need to go to bed.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Flow Of Life

The 8th verse of the Tao Te Ching speaks of water and living in the flow of life. Let me quote a few sentences from Wayne Dyer's commentary.

Think about the mysterious magical nature of this liquid energy that so many of us take for granted. Try to squeeze it and it eludes us; relax our hands into it and we experience it readily. If it stays stationary, it becomes stagnant; If it is allowed to flow it will remain pure. It does not seek the high spots to be above it all, but settles for the lowest places. It gathers into rivers, lakes and streams; courses to the sea; and then evaporates to fall again as rain.

How many of us live our lives in such a flowing and fluid way? How many of us are in tune with the natural flow of life? Flowing with life and allowing it to take you where it will is not the same thing as passivity and resignation. For me, this is more about letting go. Even though I am generally a laid back and easy going person, I have a tendency to fight life and to resist its flow. I often want to make my own path. I don't think that is always bad but sometimes all you do is knock down everything in your path. We've all witnessed the gentle flow of a stream and a few have experienced the frightening destruction of a raging river that has overflowed its banks and wreaked havoc on everything in its path. If one has patience, the gentle stream can be just as powerful as a raging river. Given enough time water wins over rock and can smooth the roughest exterior.

I am generally a patient man. Few things, however, try my patience like bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour when its raining. Last night was one of these nights. Then, when you think everyone can go no slower, the traffic breaks free and suddenly you can accelerate to normal highway speeds. This is all a mystery to me because many times when the moment of acceleration finally appears, there is no obvious reason why the traffic was moving so slow!

When I got home I had a package on my doorstep. I could feel my excitement as the evening commute faded into my lost memories. The box contained some CD's I had ordered. I tore open the packaging with excitement. Inside were three complete Grateful Dead concerts from one of their favorite venues and peak performance years in their long 30 year career. It is no secret that I am a Dead Head. The Grateful Dead are my favorite band. I love their music and saw them many times. I once joked that if I died and went to heaven and there was no music there I would have to leave. If it's true that our heaven begins on earth, then it is music that often opens the door for me. Music of one kind or another has been my constant companion since I was a boy. It comforts me and fills me with joy. It energizes me and makes my soul dance. It makes me happy when I am sad and often turns my happiness into pure joy. It is a friend when I am lonely and a gift that constantly reminds me that life is a celebration not an endurance test. Some of you are wondering, "All that from a Grateful Dead concert"? Yes, sometimes, but it could just as well be Beethoven, Mozart, or some Gregorian Chant. It could be Muddy Waters or Miles Davis. Music makes glad the heart of man. (So does wine.)

Here's a few thoughts on writing by Henri Nouwen that I found encouraging in my daily struggles writing these daily thoughts.

Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.Quite often a difficult, painful, or frustrating day can be "redeemed" by writing about it. By writing we can claim what we have lived and thus integrate it more fully into our journeys. Then writing can become lifesaving for us and sometimes for others too.Writing is not just jotting down ideas. Often we say: "I don't know what to write. I have no thoughts worth writing down." But much good writing emerges from the process of writing itself. As we simply sit down in front of a sheet of paper and start to express in words what is on our minds or in our hearts, new ideas emerge, ideas that can surprise us and lead us to inner places we hardly knew were there.One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Being Right Or Being Happy

There is a certain kind of man who likes to get up on a Saturday morning and head for the Home Depot. As he crosses the threshold of the store a certain excitement builds within him. It is the store where dreams are made and a man can feel like a real man. I am not one of these men. When I go into a Home Depot I am as out of place as a bull in a china shop. Knowing this, my wife and son sent me there anyway for painting supplies and an extra gallon of paint. The two of them were painting a bedroom in my house. I am not as stupid about these manly things as I pretend to be but I am no Tim the Tool Man either. I got what was needed and headed to the checkout. There I encountered a store clerk who gave me some marriage advice. He said, "After 39 years of marriage I have learned that a man can be right or a man can be happy. I choose to be happy so I let her be right all the time". If only I could be so compliant.

I mostly hid out and stayed away from the work area on the 2nd floor of my home. All was quiet for me until Chloe and her mother showed up. Chloe and I went outside. Once I did that, there was no coming back in. She loves the outdoors. We found some worms. I always like to ask Chloe nonsensical questions to see what kind of answer she will give me. "Chloe, do worms fly"? "No Pa Paw! Only bees and butterflies and birds fly"! Chloe will be four years old in less than three months. She is as loving and sweet as she ever was but she is also becoming more and more independent with a mind of her own and either no ability or no willingness to negotiate anything. Dinner was chaotic as are all family dinners. Along with Chloe and her parents, we had my son Nick and a fellow seminarian with us. Nick came home again this weekend to register for summer school at a local college. I knew he was home when I walked in the house on Friday afternoon and saw the laundry basket of dirty clothes. By taking some classes this summer he can graduate early and avoid an extra year in Indianapolis. While going to school this summer he will also be living at local parish. I hope this parish agrees to feed him and that there is a washer and dryer there.

Sunday afternoon was spent visiting my mother, having coffee with a friend at a local Starbucks, and checking on my dad at the nursing home. I must be honest. I hate nursing homes. My father in law used to call them "warehouses for old people". Walking into the nursing home the hallways and community room are full of residents who seem to stare at me as I look for my father. Most of them are sitting in wheelchairs slumped over or staring into space. I speak to some of them and smile at others. There is usually no response. I find it sad and a little depressing. These folks were once young and healthy and vital. Some of them were pillars of their communities. They may have been professional people or business owners. Some perhaps were teachers and intellectuals. I think about all of this as I look for my father. I do not see him so I walk towards his room. He is in bed and sleeping. The oxygen machine hums by his bedside. I do not wake him. I simply sit in a chair by his bed and silently pray for him. Perhaps I should have awakened him but I didn't want to disturb him. I wondered how many hours a day this once very physically active man now sleeps. All his days must flow together. I looked at him and wondered what goes on in his mind everyday. I fear I will be in his place someday. I do not pray for his death. I pray for his life that he be physically comfortable and that his mind be at peace until his days in this life are over.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Intentional Spiritual Journeys

It's a beautiful morning. As I was driving into work the sky was full of hot air balloons. How could that not be a sign that it will be a great day?

Yesterday I had to run home, well, actually I drove home, during the workday to take care of some personal business. On the way back to the office I had lunch with a friend that had been scheduled and re-scheduled about four times. Every time I thought I was available, eventually I had conflicts. My friend is a semi-retired Methodist minister and is part of the group I belong to at the monastery. In general this group is comprised of people who are similar to me. Well, they're not all aging hippies who still like rock and roll but they are people who are on intentional spiritual journeys. Those of you not on intentional spiritual journeys are on a spiritual journeys anyway whether you realize it or not. One of the things I like about this group is its diversity. There are men and women, young and old, gay and straight, Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, and maybe a few types I haven't identified yet. In spite of our differences, we have much in common. Think of the wheel metaphor I used earlier in the week. I feel like I am sharing the hub of the wheel with all of these people. All of them are, in my estimation, contemplatives. All contemplatives are not necessarily mystics but they are people trying to wake up to the spiritual realities within life. They have "normal" everyday lives in the world living in a variety of lifestyles and situations. All of them are on a spiritual quest in an exploration and immersion in the great spiritual mystery of God. The spiritual journey is more about jumping into the void of the great mystery of God and life than simply going through the motions of religious observance. Sometimes I am accused of being anti-religion. That is not true. What I do believe, however, is that the spiritual journey is much more than religious observance. Religious observance is a means to an end. It supports our journey and hopefully our experience. The experience itself is about mystery and darkness as well as enlightenment and insight to say nothing about transformation. Like caterpillars in our tightly spun cocoons, we must someday be transformed into butterflies. Who wants to be a caterpillar their whole life?

While I was home yesterday I read a reflection about happiness. Most of us know what makes us unhappy and we are often consumed with the parts or people in our lives who make us unhappy. The article I read encourages a slightly different approach to happiness. Who or what makes us happy? What parts of our lives give us the most joy? Keep in mind that happiness and joy are not necessarily the same as pleasure. Eating a great meal gives me pleasure at least until it affects my blood sugar and sends me off the charts. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle makes me happy and feeling good makes me joyful. Some people wear me out and other people make me happy. Having love in my life makes me joyful. Listening to music can do it all. It is pleasurable to my ears. It often makes my mood happy, and in special moments fills my heart and soul with joy. The bottom line of the article was that we should spend more time doing things and being with people that make us happy rather than in obsessing over what makes us unhappy.

Here's a Zen koan for you….

After you hear the music, where does it go?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More From The Past

I do not have any new thoughts today. No, my mind is not empty again. Last night much of the evening I was entertaining and serving the needs of Queen Chloe. I picked her up at the day-care after work. When her father arrived to pick her up he was in the mood to talk so he hung around for a while. By the time they left I was very tired. When I sat at my computer the system was slow and I had some difficulties logging on. It was late and I was not inspired. Today I must pull some things from the archives. We'll try again tomorrow for inspiration.

Do you ever drive yourself crazy? I know there are aspects of my personality that make other people like me but I also get on my own nerves sometimes. It’s mostly small stuff and nothing serious. Over the years I have studied a lot of psychology and read many books on personality types. I think I know myself too well. On the one hand I know myself well enough to understand why some people like me. On the other hand I also know myself well enough to see my more dysfunctional self coming from a mile away. The usual point of such self awareness is to keep that dysfunctional self from ever actually arriving. Sometimes I am successful and other times I am not. Of course, this dysfunctional self is like my twin brother. Others don’t always recognize him. The good news is that he’s not a bad fellow; he’s just not my best self. He’s the fellow that makes me say things I shouldn't’t say or do things I shouldn't’t do. He holds me back when I should be more proactive and he jumps ahead when I should be more patient. He’s not a bad person. He’s just annoying, at least to me and perhaps to others as well. Of course, for all I know there may even be people who prefer him to my “better” self. Who knows? Life is a mystery. Of course, I like my goofy Pa Paw persona. Chloe loves him.

One of my favorite musical groups is Jethro Tull. I have managed to see them three or four times over the years. I have always liked one of their more obscure songs entitled “Inside”, especially the following lyrics. The song is on an early album entitled “Benefit”.

I'm sitting on the corner feeling glad. Got no money coming in but I can't be sad. That was the best cup of coffee I ever had. And I won't worry about a thing because we've got it made, here on the inside, outside so far away.

At various times in my life I have found myself singing these words and then last night as I was hauling some tree limbs and other yard waste to the curb, a storm seemed to be blowing up as the darkness began to cover the land. It reminded me of other lyrics from the same song.

Take a walk in the park, does the wind in the dark sound like music to you? Well I'm thinking it does to me.

People like me live much of their intellectual and emotional life on the “Inside”. On the outside we can appear to be unemotional or even in a daze. However, I can assure you that there’s much more going on than appears. All of our senses are going strong and are observing and taking in everything around us. There is little that we do not notice and we are always processing all we take in. No, we are not aliens. We are introverts.

People have occasionally asked me how they can be like me. Well, we are all unique so you can’t be exactly like me. To be honest, I am not even sure how I became me! You can learn to be more observant and aware. Pay attention to the moment. Drink the coffee, taste the coffee, enjoy the coffee! Notice the wind. Feel the wind. Hear the wind singing! Experience the poetry of life! Zen is life lived in awareness.

Here’s a Zen poem.

Outwardly go along With the flow,
while inwardly keeping your true nature.
Then your eyes and ears will not be dazzled,
your thoughts will not be confused,
while the spirit within you will expand greatly to roam in the realm of absolute purity.
- Huai-nan-tzu

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Different Times Of The Day

In many ways I enjoy all the different times of the day but I especially enjoy mornings and evenings. I often lament about getting out of bed but once my feet are on the floor, the sleepiness washed from my eyes, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee floating through the house, I feel good. It's a kind of spiritual awakening to go out my front door and to the end of my driveway to get the morning paper. These days the neighborhood is bathed in a soft light as the sun begins to rise and the air is fresh. It smells like spring and I breathe the new life deeply into my lungs. When I return to my house I enjoy twenty of the best minutes of my day. I sit quietly in my chair and read a few thoughts from the Tao Te Ching or some other spiritual book. I ponder its meaning as I sip my coffee. It is a moment of total peace. Afterwards I leave home and jump into the morning commute. It has a whole different feel from the evening commute. I am fresh, my mind is clear, and I am calm. Little can disturb me. Once at work I do whatever the day demands. After my workday is over, I face the evening commute. It always seems more intense than the morning commute. Everyone is tired, some nerves are frayed, and people are anxious to retreat into their homes. It's the same distance but feels twice as long. If you add the element of a late afternoon rain storm you have the feeling that every human being that owns a car is out on the road driving it. Most days all of us make it home safely if a bit frazzled. There is little in life that feels as good as crossing the threshold of your own home after a day of fighting dragons. The sun begins it's nightly retreat and the air cools. Last night after bathing, I sat in my chair again and read the morning paper. Soon I fell into a gentle sleep as the aroma of freshly mowed lawns blew in my window. Later in the evening as the day was nearly complete, the sweetness of my neighbor's honeysuckle bushes filled the air. My day that seemed to begin so many hours ago was drawing to a close. I returned to the bed that I had slowly left after my alarm clock awakened me. I don't usually look forward to the rude awakening I expect on work days but I do enjoy reliving each day the simple joys and feelings attached to the different times of the day. All is good.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bored With My Own Thoughts

I've been rather bored with my daily thoughts lately. Most nights my mind seems empty. I wonder why anyone would want to hear about my day to day experiences especially if a story is not followed by some kind of insight or meditation about life. Most days I feel like I have shared all I have to share. As the saying goes, "There is nothing new under the sun". My thoughts are the product of every experience I've had, every book I've read, every moment of silence where I sat waiting for a word, and every daydream where I have allowed my mind to float. Lately I have felt very busy, whether it is real or imagined, and the silence of my daydreams and mind excursions often turns to sleep. In other words I often live like many other people. I sleepwalk through the demands of my life. As long as I keep moving I am fine. If I stop, I crash and burn. Still, I continue the journey where my soul never rests and I search through my inner landscape. I am not lost and it is more than wandering. It's a kind of inner exploration. I guess these days I feel like I am seeing a lot of the same scenery and I can't think of new ways to describe it to others.

I have actually tried to listen to the Pope's messages to America and to Catholics in particular. There is a type of Catholic of which the Pope is critical and I think I am one of them. He speaks of the individualistic Catholic who is more focused on a private spirituality than a community experience. He further speaks of a buffet style approach to faith in which one chooses only those beliefs one finds appealing while bypassing the rest. I am guilty as charged. My journey seems more solitary and my faith walk is often down a dark path. I was raised a Catholic in a very different time when there were few choices and everything was black or white. There was little gray area. I would not call myself a "Doubting Thomas" so much as I would consider myself someone who is continuously questioning the teachings, dogmas, and doctrines of the Church against my actual experience. I think the Buddha, who is not Catholic or Christian, has a sound teaching when he says, "Believe what you experience". If you have never experienced love, it is difficult to believe in it. If you have never had an experience of God that you knew without a doubt was an experience of God, it makes believing in God a challenge at times. I do sometimes wonder if there is truly a God and, if so, have I ever had an experience of this God? That may seem scandalous to some of you. However, I believe that doubt is a healthy part of the spiritual journey. I believe but I am not always sure who I believe in and what I believe about them. Sometimes I think the way I live is more Buddhist than Christian. The way of kindness and compassion, without all the theological conundrums and Catholic guilt that so many of my generation seems to have inherited, is very appealing to me. I simply try to live a good life and to be a loving person. I am also a contemplative person. If the life of faith and belief can be compared to a wheel, the way of contemplation is the hub of the wheel. It is in the contemplative space, the hub, where people of all faiths and traditions are closest together. In the contemplative space is unity. The further you go from the hub, the further apart you become from everyone else. It is out on the wheel that we often only see our differences. I seek to live with kindness and compassion in unity with others through the contemplative experience.

Summer is near and the time is right for dancing in the street. Well, I am not a great dancer but summer is also the time for outdoor concerts and road trips. I have a couple already on my schedule and several more being planned. My friends and I joke about being road warriors. Last summer, in a playful mood, I wrote the following definition of a road warrior. It is dedicated to my traveling companions. One of them actually printed it up and framed it. It now sits on a shelf in my music room.

Road Warrior i.e. noun

An aging and nearly extinct creature who spends all available time and resources searching for the lost chord. These strange and exotic creatures have been known to spend their last dime in pursuit of the chills and emotional satisfaction generated by extended guitar solos, meaningful lyrics, and being with others of their kind. Often misunderstood, they are kind and gentle creatures who enjoy simple pleasures like sitting in their lawn chairs on a summer night while good vibrations fill the space around them. They have even been known to take off their shoes and share a blanket. In the summer months they are often seen in sandals, short pants, and faded rock and roll tee shirts. They have been known to drink the occasional beer. These creatures are free spirits and should not be disturbed when dancing or while lost in the groove.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Son Sees The Pope, A Night of Live Music

Much of the weekend I hobbled about like a 90 year old man. I spent Friday working in my yard. By many people's standards I did not work very hard. I raked a few leaves, picked up a few sticks, trimmed some bushes and bagged up yard waste. While I was doing all of this and afterwards when I was done, I felt very good. The next morning, however, I could barely get out of bed. I was painfully reminded how out of shape I am and how infrequently I do manual work. Most of the time I feel generally good and people often tell me I look great. However, it is very obvious that I have been an office worker for most of my working life. In spite of the pain I incurred, it felt wonderful to be out of the office and having a working but leisurely day at home.

My son left very early on Saturday morning for New York to see the Pope at Yankee Stadium. Excited that he was there I watched most of the Pope's mass on Sunday afternoon hoping to catch a glimpse of him on MSNBC. I never saw my son but I did see two of my friends from the monastery. I expect Nick to be home sometime today so I hope to hear all about his adventures at dinner tonight. I was a little distracted while attempting to watch the Pope. I was taking care of Chloe while my wife and Chloe's parents went to the Home Depot. She was more interested in going outside to pick flowers than in watching the Pope. I'm a little nervous. Any trip to the Home Depot is never good for me. It will introduce more chaos into my life and it's just a matter of time before I am subjected to forced labor.

Saturday night I attended the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss concert. It was wonderful and exceeded all my expectations. My friends and I had great seats. The set list was a combination of Alison Krauss standards, a few Led Zeppelin classics and all of the new CD that Robert and Alison created together. Although they were the featured artists on the CD and at the concert, one must recognize their band. The whole project was masterminded by T Bone Burnett. I would consider him not only a musician but a musicologist as well. He choose all the songs on the Plant/Krauss CD and was the band leader of some very talented, and in most cases, multi-instrumentalists. T Bone Burnett was also the producer of the soundtrack from "O Brother, Where Art Thou"? I was also happy to broker a deal where my next door neighbors were able to buy some extra tickets from some of my other friends. They were extremely grateful as the wife had been in the same very cold line as me back in December and had walked away without tickets. In a very serendipitous moment I was having a casual conversation with the husband while standing in my driveway. I mentioned that I was going and he lamented that he and his wife were not. He was lucky to have been walking his dog at that moment. After a few telephone calls on my part, they were able to go. I'm always happy when I can make others happy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Out Of The Office And Into The Wild

I made an unexpected trip to the day-care yesterday to pick up Chloe. My daughter in law needed some Mommy time and I was happy to pick Chloe up. That's why little girls have Pa Paw's. After a long day at work there's not much better than her smiling face and affectionate hug. We had dinner at McDonald's and all was fine until she saw her Dad walk in. She knew she had been had. "I want to go to your house, Pa Paw! I don't want to go to my house"! One of the most difficult things about being a grandparent is having to sometimes disappoint a grandchild. Seeing her disappointment reminded me of my childhood and how much I loved being with my paternal grandmother. In my mind there was no one like her and I loved to stay at her house especially if there were no other grandchildren around. Now Chloe looks at me with the same eyes that I once looked at my grandmother. We had one more little disagreement when I told her it was not nice to try to yank Pa Paw's glasses off. The night ended well however. She quietly allowed me to strap her in her car seat and she was happy to go home with Dad after trading me in for a very large Winnie the Pooh doll that was sitting in the back seat of Dad's SUV. This little girl can wear me out sometimes but I love her.

Way back in December a friend and I were standing in a long line outdoors on a very cold day to obtain concert tickets to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Due to our ticket buying competence and some tenacity on our part we were successful in obtaining tickets. At the time the concert seemed very far in the future. Well, that time is now here. On Saturday night I will be at the Palace Theater in Louisville to hear and see what these two can create together. At first they seemed an unlikely pair. Robert was the lead singer of Led Zeppelin and Alison made her name playing bluegrass. This oil and water combination have made a beautiful CD together called "Raising Sand". I admit that it took a couple of listens for me to get into it but when it finally clicked for me it was a thing of beauty. I look forward to seeing them live in such an intimate setting. There's nothing like seeing great music performed live.

While I am at this concert my son will likely be arriving in New York City. He will be coming home from the seminary on Friday afternoon for an overnight visit before hopping on a chartered bus at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning. He is one of a delegation from the Archdiocese of Louisville who will be attending the mass of Pope Benedict XVI at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. I have never seen a pope in person but I think I understand the excitement he feels. Back in the 90's I was able to attend a lecture by the Dalai Lama at a small college in Kentucky. I remember the excitement I felt as he walked out on the small stage and bowed to the crowd. Since my son is a seminarian and hopes to be a priest someday I am especially happy that he has this opportunity to see the leader of the Catholic Church.

Friday I will be at home walking in circles around my backyard picking up sticks and branches, raking leaves off my patio, chasing my wife with the leaf blower, talking to the squirrels, and feeding the birds. I might even work up a sweat which is something I rarely do. At some point I will finish these chores and I will sit in my chair with a cold drink and survey all I have done. It will take me all weekend to recover.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Picking Up Sticks

The following is the 7th verse of the TaoTe Ching.

Heaven is eternal, the earth endures.Why do heaven and earth last forever?They do not live for themselves only.This is the secret of their durability.For this reason the sage puts himself last and so ends up ahead.He stays a witness to life, so he endures.Serve the needs of others, and all your needs will be fulfilled.Through selfless action, fulfillment is attained.

This verse is basically about living beyond your own ego. Many people in our culture are consumed with an attitude that considers "success" the attainment of power, prestige, and possessions and that these things will provide happiness and prevent unhappiness. Identifying exclusively with the physicality of life and basing our existence on acquiring and achieving things disregards our infinite nature and limits our awareness of the Tao. Make an attempt to reverse your ego's hold on you by practicing the Tao's teaching to "serve the needs of others, and all your own needs will be fulfilled".

Today is "hump day" for the working man and woman. I am already on the downhill slide in my mind. I have decided to take a vacation day on Friday from my day job. It will not be the typical Michael day. I will spend a good part of the day walking around in my back yard picking up twigs and sticks that have fallen from my trees during the winter and spring storms. It will be simple work done in a simple way but when I am done I will probably feel more satisfaction than I do on a normal work day in my office. After I pick up all the yard waste and rake a few leaves, I will easily be able to see the fruit of my labor. I will haul all the bags of leaves and bundles of sticks out to the street for the recycle man. When all that is done the yard will be ready for the first mowing of the spring and summer seasons. As I have lamented before, most office work in our information and data driven world is virtual and offers little satisfaction. Today's success lasts overnight at best. When the morning reports are run, yesterday's success is old news and new challenges are presented. Of course, as fleeting as success can be in the modern workplace, so is much of life. New twigs and sticks will fall from my trees and replace the ones I will pick up. Freshly mowed lawns grow back in a week or so. Much of life is emptying what is filled and filling what is empty whether it is refrigerators or gasoline tanks in our cars. Full stomachs will eventually feel hunger and clean clothes will become dirty again. All of this is part of the rhythm of life and our daily work is never really done. The beat of life and the rhythms of our daily rituals creates the music of our lives.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dropping Out Of School

I read in the paper on Sunday that one million students drop out of high school every year. I thought to myself, "Are you kidding??? One million??? In the 21st century???" This number is very discouraging. I have few regrets in my life but one of them is never finishing college. Education does not guarantee success in life and the lack of education does not necessarily produce failure in life. If I am not mistaken, Bill Gates did not graduate from college and he's the richest man in America. Of course, financial success is just one measure of success in life and I don't even think it's the most important one. Success can be measured many ways and real education is more than job training. Although I did not finish college I consider myself an educated man. I am a thinker and I love books and ideas. My mind is always open and many thoughts and ideas are constantly in movement. Sometimes the activity in my brain keeps me awake at nights! Even if I never finish college I will always be learning and thinking. My brain and soul are usually in harmony. I am happy to have an active mind and an introspective soul. I love art and music and philosophy and theology and psychology and history, to say nothing of my pursuit of spiritual understanding. Education and learning have their own value way beyond their ability to help you make more money. Sometimes it's all about timing. If I knew at age twenty what I know about myself now, I probably would have done a better job matching my learning and study with my gifts as a person. In spite of my incomplete formal education, I feel very successful in life. They say that knowledge is power. There's truth to that statement but I'm not the kind of person who's into power. I simply enjoy knowledge for it's own sake. There was a time, before so many countries changed their names, that I could locate every country in the world on a map. I read that many young people in America today cannot even locate the United States on a map. It's very sad. I love it when someone, especially a young person, says, "Wow, how did you know that"? Well, I have learned a lot of things just by reading books. If you can't go to college, go to the library. Also, every mother of anyone in my generation, at one time said to us, "You are what you hang with"! When you are not reading, hang out with smart people! Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom. Together they are a powerful combination.

Yesterday a friend shared the following story with me. I loved it!

I wanted to share a with you what I saw on the news the other day. The Dalai Lama had just arrived in Seattle and was scheduled for an interview shortly upon arriving. However, because of the long flight he had to take a nap and the interview was canceled. The spokesperson for the Dalai Lama said, "when a 72 year old man is down for his nap, we don't disturb him".

I wonder if the Dalai Lama sometimes wakes up grumpy like I do?

Another friend in the office gave me a gift of a small cross that he had obtained from a monastery. It was a very nice gift and when I looked at it closely I realized that it was from a monastery called New Melleray Abbey. New Melleray is a Trappist monastery located in Iowa. It is a monastery just like Gethsemani. This monastery makes caskets and sells them to help support the monastery. I once told my wife I was going to buy one and put it at the foot of our bed. She freaked out and said, "There is no way that's going to happen"! She didn't like my idea of storing blankets in it until it was time to store me in it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Busy Weekend/Salt Of The Earth

My friends are like spring flowers. They are everywhere. I met one of them for lunch on Friday. It was pouring down rain as I walked down Market Street. There were puddles and little rivers of water everywhere. I was in good spirits. I felt like Gene Kelly in the old movie "Singing in the Rain". It was Friday and it felt good to escape the confines of the office. Earlier in the morning I thought the office was crashing down on me. In my current drone pod....I mean cubicle....I sit directly beneath a glass atrium. When it is raining hard it sounds like a tin roof in a hailstorm. At the time I was listening to some rock and roll with headphones and the rain beating on the roof overwhelmed the music. My co-workers found it amusing when I took off my headphones and looked upwards in amazement. Later in the day I nearly jumped out of my chair again when a fighter jet, in town for the Thunder over Louisville air show, flew over my building. The sonic boom rattled my bones. I thought the building had exploded. I miss my little quiet corner in the other building.

I woke up on Sunday morning in predawn darkness. I had a small angel sleeping beside me. Outside it was cold and raining. I did not want to leave Chloe or my bed but I had promises to keep and miles to drive. I got out of bed as quietly as I could and got ready in semi-darkness hoping I wouldn't wake anyone. I later found out that Chloe was very upset to wake up and find me gone. "Where's Pa Paw"???? Someday I will take her to the monastery with me. It rained the whole way there and the whole way back home. The spring colors were still discernible, especially the purple blossoms of the red bud trees. I stopped off at the home of my friend, Fr Dennis, for some coffee and conversation. When I got to the monastery is was a smaller group than usual but we had some very interesting conversation about the experience of God and what's really important on the spiritual journey of life. What I consider important is based on a teaching of Buddha. Buddha says, "Believe what you have experienced". We also heard some interesting stories about a friend's recent trip to Israel and the Holy Land. I skipped out of the monastery visit earlier than usual because I was hoping my granddaughter would still be at my house and I also wanted to visit my father in the nursing home. When I got there he was asleep. We only spoke a few minutes before he drifted back into sleep. I stayed a little longer and then blessed him when I left. After taking my mother in law out to dinner on Saturday, keeping Chloe for the night, and visiting my father yesterday, I felt that much of my weekend centered around car seats, walkers, and wheelchairs. I did squeeze in the Rolling Stones concert film on Friday night. The audience was full of aging and grey haired...or boomers. It was a great way to spend a Friday night and I felt really wild being out after dark. I did discover the following quote over the weekend. It is very true for lovers of music.

Music is not an escape from reality; it is an adventure in the reality of the world of spirit.
-John Blacking

It is the time of year when people in my company are getting their annual performance reviews. Here is something I wrote a while back that is fitting for this time of year.

I read in a recent business article that today's young people require a lot of praise from their bosses. Why? The article states that they need it because their mothers and fathers have been telling them their entire lives how special they are and they believe it. They need the affirmation of their parents to be continued by their bosses. Certainly we can all hope that we are special in someone's eyes. However, in the eyes of the world, most of us are average and ordinary. In spite of the fact that 90% of all people think they are in the top 10%, it is not only mathematically impossible, it's just not true. This exaggerated sense of ourselves is brought home to me even more at this time of year when many people in my company are getting their annual performance reviews. Based on most of the self evaluations that I have seen in recent years, few people think they are average. What is so bad about being average and ordinary? There's a term for such people. They are called the "salt of the earth". One should be proud to be such a person. Someone who is considered salt of the earth is solid and dependable. You know exactly what to expect from such people and you will always get it. I like to consider myself such a person. I have never been a superstar and that has made my life much less stressful. I don't have to live up to any image. Like most people I am just an ordinary man who does his part to help keep the world running. If life could be compared to a sport like baseball, most of us do not hit home runs everyday. However, we usually get on base or knock in an RBI. We rarely strike out. We aren't in the headlines like the home run kings but everyday we show up for the game. If you are a true superstar and you hit a lot of home runs in your life, that is not a bad thing, but be humble about it. Your homer may have won the game but only because the rest of us were on base.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mind Jamming

It promises to be a very busy weekend. I've been wanting to go see the new Rolling Stones concert film. I know it's only rock and roll but I like it. I will probably go tonight. Why would I go on a Friday night when I am normally exhausted from the demands of the work week? Tonight is probably the only spare time I will have this weekend. Sometime over the weekend my wife needs to run an errand with her mother and I need to visit my father in the nursing home. My wife is giving our bedroom a makeover and needs to go shopping. Chloe will come over on Saturday night so my son and his wife can attend Thunder over Louisville. O yes, I need to drive to the monastery on Sunday for my monthly meeting and I have already delayed that a week. There was a time I thought my life would be less busy at this age. After all, I have raised my children and they are out of the house. I guess I was naive when I was younger. It never occurred to me that one day parents would be needy, grandchildren might want to visit, and the Rolling Stones would still be going strong after 40 years. I really don't mind any of this but my weekends are sometimes more hectic and demanding than my work days. Sometimes you hear people say, "Get a life"! Well, I have a life and this weekend is proof.

I am generally happy and usually content. I have noticed that when I do not feel this way it is usually because I am too focused on what I think I don't have and I am not grateful enough for what I do have. Too much time being distracted from what you think is missing can blind you to the blessings of your life.

One of my favorite things about most of the music I listen to is when musicians "jam". Jamming is when you leave the confines of a song and just let the muse take you where it will. Jazz music has always done this and many rock and roll bands do the same. Back in the 90's many bands began to be referred to as "Jambands". My favorite band, the Grateful Dead, are regarded as the original jam band. Sometimes when I read my daily thoughts I wonder how I began with one thought and ended up somewhere I never intended to go. Well, when I am writing I doing a kind of "mind jamming". The majority of my daily thoughts are completely spontaneous and written in a stream of consciousness manner. Like musical jamming, sometimes you end up with something pretty good and creative. Other times it is merely unfocused noodling. My daily thoughts are rarely thought out in advance and I don't usually have the luxury of writing them with the care that one might put into a school paper. I go where the Spirit leads me. Occasionally I find my way to a clearing where the light of the sun illuminates everything and other times I get lost and stumble my way down a dark path in heavy fog. Wherever I end up, thanks for hanging in there with me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Something From The Past

I stayed up too late last night. I got hooked on a movie called "Into the Wild" based on the book by Jon Krakauer. It was a very long movie but I was enthralled with its subject matter and the surreal and poetic telling of it through the visual imagery directed by Sean Penn. It's a bit slow and by the end of it I felt as though I had taken a trip into the wild. By the time it was over I was too tired to write any new thoughts. The following are thoughts I wrote about a year ago.

I have long believed that many people are spiritually hungry. These daily thoughts are a small attempt to feed that hunger. I am not the fountain of all wisdom but I have drank from many spiritual fountains in my life. I hope that sharing my own journey as well as the wisdom of the ages is helpful to those of you who are self aware enough to know you are hungry. I am spiritually hungry myself. In many of the conversations I have had with people over the years, most of those who are hungry do not know how to feed themselves. I have been blessed with wonderful spiritual friendships, mentors, education, and experience. In the spiritual life, what you are given should likewise be given to others. If you have been fed, feed others. We live in a world and culture of spiritual starvation. There is food for the body and there is food for the soul. How do you know if you're spiritually hungry? Do you ever wonder, "Is there something more to life?" If you ever ask yourself this question, you are spiritually hungry. There is a deeper spiritual element to daily living. There's more to life than what meets the eye. It can only be seen with the eye of the heart.

Spirituality is how you put the Spirit into your reality. The word itself can be broken down to spirit-into-reality.....spirituality. It is many things to many people. If you have a contemplative nature, you will likely value silence and quiet meditation. More active types may volunteer at a soup kitchen or work in a homeless shelter. Some people I know are political activists. Others are teachers, counselors, or artists. Most people, however, do nothing special. They live the spirituality of their daily lives. For some, being a parent or spouse is their spirituality. They may practice love and holiness providing for the needs of their families. Others provide emotional comfort and guidance to friends, co-workers and others. Some put their spiritual beliefs into practice by the way they lead other people. Spirituality must be lived where you are. You can feed the starving in a foreign land or you can acquire holiness washing and folding the family laundry or cooking an evening meal. In the end, it is all about how we love.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Let The Goodness Of The Universe Come To You

My driveway has a slight incline. The closer to the house I park, the more difficult it is to get out of my car. Yesterday, as I was getting out of my car, I noticed several aches and pains that had no apparent cause. I felt soreness like I had been to the gym or had done some yard work. Since the likelihood of either is very remote, I wondered why I was sore. I asked my wife if she ever felt like I was feeling. She replied, "Sure, all the time. In your case I think it is caused by being 57"! After my thoughts yesterday about being annoyed at having to move one more time, someone sent me a note that said, "So you're human! Big deal"! Recently in Louisville the local Catholic Church celebrated the 40th anniversary of Trappist monk Thomas Merton's famous epiphany in our downtown area where he suddenly felt a oneness with all of the ordinary people going abut their business. He wondered to himself, "How can I make them understand that they are all walking around shining like the sun"? My aches and pains, my occasional meltdowns, the daily challenges of life, as well as the unexpected joys, remind me that I am human. I have friends and family who care about me and who love me. I even have a few fans who don't know me but love my daily thoughts. For someone so ordinary, I am often extraordinarily blessed with an abundance of wealth that cannot be measured. Like many things in life I don't always deserve it. That's the joy of it. In spite of my ordinariness, in spite of my faults and failings, the universe smiles on me. All of this reminds me of the 5th verse of the Tao Te Ching. Read these words carefully.

Heaven and earth are impartial. The sage is like heaven and earth. To him none are especially dear, nor is there anyone he disfavors. He gives and gives without condition, offering his treasures to everyone. Between heaven and earth is a space like a bellows; empty and inexhaustible, the more it is used, the more it produces. Hold on to the center. Man was made to sit quietly and find the truth within.

You don't have to be great in the eyes of the world. You don't have to chase everything you want. You can be ordinary. You can be plain and simple. I know it sounds like a cliche but you can be one with the universe wherever you are and the goodness of the universe will come to you. Some people call this the Law of Attraction. It doesn't matter what you call it. What it is really about is having a receptive attitude. Be open to life and it will fill you up. Sometimes it may give you a little pain or discomfort but even this has value. Joy would lose some of it's meaning if that's all you experienced. As the folk singer Arlo Guthie once said, "You can't really appreciate a light unless you have a dark place to put it in". I think it is because I am so ordinary and human that I am able to appreciate the subtleties of life. By living precariously and to a certain extent, on the edge, I can find joy in the simplest of things.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Inter Office Migrant Farm Worker

Today I have moved for what seems like the 100th time. In reality I think this is the 3rd time I've had to move in approximately 18 months. The work culture in which I live is very nomadic. Sometimes I feel like a migrant farm worker. We are always growing and changing and as a result, work areas and locations evolve and change as well. After the first few moves I learned to travel light. With each subsequent move I have lightened my load even more. After a few more moves I will very likely be able to get all my personal possessions into a small back pack. I'm even considering bringing my hiking stick into the office. If I could go back and track all the moves I have made in the last 22 years it would very likely be equal to hiking the Appalachian Trail several times. I do not like moving and I think I am not alone. What upsets me most is my own reaction to it. It's really not that big of a deal but I sometimes get upset about it and I know that is petty. It is further proof that I am a long way from the kind of detachment taught in Buddhism. I am very attached to my personal space. For the last six months I have worked in what I considered the best working environment that I've ever had. It was very quiet and I had a rather solitary location back in a corner near a window. It was everything an introvert loves. My new location is not likely to be quiet, it's no where near a window, and it certainly isn't solitary. I share all of this with you to show you that I can be just as petty and complaining as anyone, perhaps even more so. I know that I will get over it in a day or two and everything will be fine. I will just have to re-adjust once again, focus on my inner quiet and solitude, get into a new routine, and find out where the men's room is located. The law of averages gives me hope. It is just a matter of time before I move again and with any luck I will land in a better spot.

Keep your mouth shut! As long as you have a job, who cares where you sit!
-My wife

Serenity now! Serenity now!
-Frank Costanza (George's dad on Seinfeld)

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Weekend With Chloe

One of the things I wanted to do over the weekend was go see the new Martin Scorsese film of the Rolling Stones playing at the famous Beacon Theater in New York City. Well, that never happened. I did make it to the movies, however, but it was with Chloe. When we got out of the car and were walking into the cinema, Chloe looked at me and said "It's a beautiful day, Pa Paw"! I was happy that she was appreciating the moment. At the movies we saw "Horton Hears a Who" by Dr Seuss. It was very good and Chloe was totally into it. I doubt if she would have enjoyed watching skinny 60 year old senior citizens playing rock in roll on an Imax screen even if it was Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Watching "Horton Hears a Who" she was transported to the jungle and Whoville while she drank Coca Cola and ate popcorn and cotton candy. It was equally exciting to watch the movie previews and discover there is a new Madagascar and a new Ice Age movie coming out. When I was a boy I went to double features at the local movie house for 50 cents. This little trip with Chloe cost my wife and me $40! After the movie we took Chloe to the nursing home to see the "old" Pa Paw. I thought Chloe might be a little frightened of all the old people sitting around slumped over in their wheelchairs. It is sometimes depressing to me. It didn't seem to faze her. At first the nursing home cat and dog caught her attention and she spent some time petting them. Later she started playing peekaboo with a man and a woman who live in the home. She was laughing hysterically and the sound of a child's laughter seem to perk up some of the residents. My dad and many of the other patients were sitting in the common area where there is a fish aquarium and a television. Dad was talkative but sometimes drifted off to the unknown. I think for Dad there is only the moment. He seems to have little memory and no concept of time. He asked my wife what date it was. He was surprised when she told him it was April. He thought it was February. When I was driving home I realized that February was when he left home for the hospital. He hasn't been home since. Chloe was spending the night so the rest of my Saturday evening was spent watching Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" and the movie version of "Garfield".

I'm sitting here in my room at home typing these thoughts. All is quiet except for the swishing of the washing machine and my new Peter Gabriel CD. It is warm outside, nearly 70 degrees, and there is no breeze whatsoever coming in my window. Chloe and her parents left a little while ago. It's been a very long day. Chloe got me up early as she always does whenever she stays the night. How can I resist her sweet voice when she wakes me up and says, "I want to make your coffee, Pa Paw". I slowly got out of the bed and we headed downstairs. After the coffee making ritual we started round two of the "Bee Movie" followed by "Over the Hedge". I know all of the dialogue for Chloe's entire movie collection. One thing I have re-learned with Chloe, and she's like every other child in this regard, is that soon or later if you spend a whole day together there will be a battle of wills. Now I love Chloe more than anything but sometimes we go head to head. She is a formidable opponent. At times my 57 year old will is no match for her willful persistence. I try to not always give in to her but after almost 34 years of having similar tug of wars with her grandmother, I have little will of my own. We all know women really rule the world. Another thing I have noticed about children is that if they have any sense that you are comfortable, they will immediately demand that you get on the floor and leave whatever comfortable chair you were in. You must either sit cross legged on the floor or "act like an animal" and let them ride on you. By the time I have spend 24 hours non stop with Chloe, I am wasted. That's why I am typing these notes now. I needed to write these thoughts before I pass out. Of course, whenever she is not around I miss her and look forward to her next visit. The truth is that she is my biggest fan and I am hers.

Famous actor, Charlton Heston, died over the weekend. He is perhaps most famous as Moses in the "Ten Commandments" but he also played Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, John the Baptist, and El-Cid. However, I would like to remember him with one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies.

"Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape"!
-Charlton Heston as Taylor in "Planet of the Apes".

Friday, April 04, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr.

40 years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. It was 1968 and I was a seventeen year old high school kid. It was the second of three prominent murders I would experience in the Sixties. The first was President John F Kennedy and the third was his brother, Robert F Kennedy. The Sixties were a time of great hope and great change but also a time of great violence. It was an exciting and scary time to live. The Civil Rights movement was happening and the Vietnam war was on the news every night much like today's war in Iraq. As a teenage white kid living in the suburbs it's not likely that I really appreciated at the time what Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for. I was too busy being a teenager. Over the years as I learned more about Martin Luther King, Jr and one of his chief influences, Mahatma Gandhi, I realized what a great man he was and I began to under the message of non violence. Many of my personal heroes and role models are men of peace. Martin Luther King, Jr is high on my list. Two other men who died in the Sixties that are also high on my list are Pope John XXIII who wrote the famous encyclical entitled "Peace on Earth" and the monk, Thomas Merton, who wrote much about race relations and peace in addition to works on spirituality. I have mentioned Thomas Merton many times in my daily thoughts. He was a monk of Gethsemani, the monastery that I often visit. Our modern world has been lacking in such charismatic leaders as these men. The few that come to mind are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walensa and the Dalai Lama. I want to believe that some of Martin's dream has come true but the world is still in a sorry state. There is much hatred and war and intolerance. It is easy to think we are going backwards instead of forward. We need more men...and women...of every race and color with the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. When he gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 I was little more than a child but I have heard it many times since then and believe it's one of the great speeches of all time. Once, on a visit to Washington, D.C. I stood where he stood when he gave this speech. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine that day and all the feelings his words must have caused as his audience will filled with hope. We need to keep this hope alive. We all need to work for peace and tolerance and acceptance for all. We all need to have Martin's dream.

"I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man".
-Martin Luther King, Jr April 3rd, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. He was only 39 years old

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Caring For Your Parents

I'm a little under the gun right now. It's 11:00 PM and this is my only time to write these thoughts. Earlier in the evening I fell asleep and slept longer than I should have. In spite of the occasional joys and benefits of naps, sometimes it annoys me when I fall asleep and lose some personal quality time in the evenings. After I awoke, I watched a two hour show on PBS entitled "Caring for your Parents". It was very enlightening, informative, and realistic based on my limited experience of dealing with aging and sick parents. The show profiled five families and their struggles and challenges dealing with elderly and sick parents. Some of you are part of my generation and are having this experience in your own lives. Others of you belong to my children's generation and have parents who are my age. For you this scenario seems a long way off. My children make jokes about my age but I doubt if they have ever seriously considered that I may end up very much like their grandparents some day. There are many things in life that we all know will happen some day but we only think about them in a kind of intellectual or hypothetical way. When the reality happens, it sometimes seems to have happened overnight. During the show I had the realization that in many ways all of life has come together in the moments that make up my current life. Looking at my family I have my very young granddaughter who is early in her journey of life and my parents and mother in law who are long on the journey and possibly near it's end. My children are adults now and on the threshold of their greatest adventures. My wife and I may be at our peak and are certainly in the autumn of life. My granddaughter is spring, my children are summer, my wife and I are autumn, and our parents are winter. Of course one point made in the show is that caring for aging parents is not all doom and gloom and work. The point was made that adult children often develop a much closer emotional relationship with parents as they care for them. Although I am not even close to being a primary caregiver for my father, when I visit with him now I feel a closeness that I have never felt before. There is a tenderness between us now that never existed when we were both younger. So, even though aging parents can be trying at times, I hope that this time in their lives...and mine...will someday be looked back on as a time of grace and enlightenment.

A friend sent me these delightful quotes from their daughter. They were too good not to share. This young child will be a future Zen Master.

Sometimes the greatest of quotes come from children. I wanted to share this one with you from my daughter, who is 8. Her little brother is now 12 months old. She said this one day in the car when her brother was being really fussy and crying."If you're tired, go to sleep. If you're hungry, drink your bottle. And, if you have to poop, just poop!"So simply put by an 8 year old! She also just recently said to me after I gave her a lecture on being trustworthy, "Mom, don't go all fortune cookie on me."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lunch With A Friend

Yesterday it was colder outside than it appeared from inside my office. Nevertheless, spring is here. Fresh mulch has been spread around the trees and bushes in our park. The dogwood's are blooming and bright yellow daffodils make the drive home more beautiful. Mornings are still cool but the smell in the air is fresh and different from the coolness of a autumn morning. You can tell that nature is bursting at the seams and everything is ready to rise from it's winter sleep.

After my daily thoughts yesterday about how I am sometimes just bored with my day, at least one person thanked me for admitting it and making it acceptable for other people to admit the same thing.

I had lunch yesterday with one of my favorite friends. One of the reasons I like her so much is that we can talk about anything. We had known one another for a long time before we actually became friends. At one time we sat next to one another. I believe the intention behind that was so she could be a positive influence on me and reform me. Well, she has been a positive influence but I am beyond reform. What happened is that we became very close friends. In the days before my coffee maker was kidnapped by Building Maintenance, I used to make her a fresh pot of "Fog Lifter" coffee when she arrived each day. We had a very enjoyable working relationship and some great coffee breaks. Yesterday at lunch we talked of many things. We talked about relationships, spouses, children, work, personal frustrations and a couple of hundred other things. One topic related a bit to my thoughts from yesterday. Sometimes in life, usually around middle age, it is not uncommon to feel a need for a break from your life. For some people this becomes a mid life crisis. For other people it may be nothing but private thoughts on a rainy afternoon. Many professional people, and others with the financial means to do so, often go on a sabbatical. Most people, however, don't have the means to take off a month, six months, or a year, to renew and refresh themselves. We don't have the luxury to step away from our "normal" life in order to gain a new perspective on it, or to pursue some course of study that might enrich it. Since I came out of the closet and admitted that sometimes I get bored, let me step out a little bit more and speak out for everyone who sometimes get tired of being someone's spouse, someone's parent, someone's child, or someone's employee. Sometimes we would just like to own our individual lives. Occasionally I try to imagine a day or a week or a month of total freedom with no obligations, commitments, or promises to keep. I am not suggesting an irresponsible, totally self centered, childish wild weekend. I am suggesting stepping back and taking a break from our lives for personal renewal and refreshment. This takes more than a day. Sometimes we are so close to our own lives that we can't see the forest for the trees. I say all of this while acknowledging that most of us, including me, have pretty decent lives. However, it's not a bad thing to sometimes feel boredom, fatigue, or even a little resentment from the demands of our lives. It's not always selfish to be a little self centered. It's a normal feeling. Don't feel bad if you sometimes have these feelings. I think it's a rare person who never feels like this. Welcome to the human race.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

On Being Bored

In spite of everything I have ever written about seizing the day, being in the moment, or being grateful for all the good things we have and all the bad things we don't have, sometimes I am just trying to get through the day. Such days are not necessarily bad. They're not good or bad. They just are. These ordinary days can sometimes seem like a test of my mental endurance. When you have a day that is just kind of blah, what can you do? You don't feel bad but you don't feel great either. You just feel bored. Wherever you are, you want to be somewhere else. Yesterday was such a day for me. Maybe it's spring fever. I did go out a couple of times during the day and the late afternoon sun and the cool breeze made me wish I was out walking in the woods somewhere. Since it was Monday my spirit may have had one foot still stuck in the weekend or I may have been in denial that it was once again Monday. I couldn't wait to get out of the office. Sometimes on days like this, when I am feeling unmotivated, and if the weather is agreeable, I roll down the windows of my car, crank up some rock and roll, and cruise down the highway. The breeze airs out my mind and the beat of the music gets me moving. If I can't do this, a nice nap always helps. I lie on my couch with a little breeze coming in the window. Soon I am transported from a blah, ordinary day to another galaxy. Inner space travel lifts the spirit and a nap cures many things. I suppose all of us feel like this sometimes and I am no different. As I write this I realize that I am suggesting various ways of escaping the reality of a boring day. We sometimes talk about escaping as though it were always bad. I guess it is if you do it all the time. Sometimes, though, I just need to escape. I don't always feel the desire or have the resolve to face everything head on. I have heard there are three ways to deal with life. You can fight it, you can flee from it, or you can walk the middle path and be present to it. Normally I walk the middle path of contemplation. I used to fight it a lot but I am less resistant as I get older. Other times I run away to fight another day. Yesterday was a day I wanted to run away. Of course, nothing was chasing me except the terror of my own boredom. I am still car-pooling with my wife and daughter in law so I couldn't rock and roll down the highway, plus that is difficult to do in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. So, as soon as I could get out of the office and into the solitude of my own home, I took a nap. I've never been bored while taking a nap.