Friday, May 30, 2008

When You Grow Up

It is the end of my first week back to work after a week of vacation. Like Stella, I've got my groove back. (This is an obscure movie reference) In spite of that I am glad it's Friday and once again time for the weekend. Last night I went to the graduation and a dinner for one of my nieces. As she was walking past me with her classmates I found myself remembering her as an infant. Although she's had what many would consider a privileged life, she got off to a tough start as a baby. She had suffered a significant injury. I remember sitting in a hospital, holding her and rocking her, while her parents took a break. Now she is a young woman who will be going off to college soon. Later today I will be meeting some of my siblings and attending a luncheon at my father's nursing home. Tomorrow night I have another graduation party for another niece. I won't have much free time until Sunday when I will drive to the monastery and spend most of the day there. I wasn't able to make the trip last month so I am looking forward to my early morning solitary drive and the happiness of being in the country. It's a pretty drive. At this time of year the colors of spring have made way for the green lushness of early summer. Though the next few days will be very warm, we have not yet entered into the long, dry, and extremely hot weather of a Kentucky summer. When that arrives I will be hiding indoors as much as possible.

The monastery has a new and improved website. If you want to check it out sometime, go to

Yesterday one of my friends left for Spain to attend an international meeting. Three years ago the two of us attended the same type of international meeting in France. Looking back it was an enjoyable, though exhausting trip. I can hardly believe it's already been three years! Life goes by so fast! Slow it down whenever you can and hang on tight. You never know where it will take you.

Once I was asked if it was "weird" or unusual to be living your life and still wondering what you want to be "when you grow up". The following was my response.

No, I do not think it is weird that you feel like you don't know what you want to be when you grow up. I am fifty seven years old and I feel the same way sometimes. In all honesty, I think we are part of the majority rather than the minority. I find it interesting that your first question is "What do I want to BE when I grow up". This question is followed by the statement "this isn't what I wanted to DO when I grew up". I believe that our society places too much importance on what a person does to earn a living. In most social settings a person is more likely to be asked what they do rather than who they are. The reality is that most people are not doing what they love or dreamed about in their youth. Who of us hasn't had great dreams about how we would spend our lives before the babies came, we signed a 30 year mortgage, the water bill was due, or the car just stopped running? As John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.". How many waiters in LA restaurants really want to be actors? I am not saying to give up your dreams. However, you are not the first to get side tracked in a career or job that has turned out to be unfulfilling. Everything I have just said is the obvious. Now that this realization is weighing heavy on your mind and heart, what do you do about it in practical terms? What are you passionate about? I had a book once called Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. Unfortunately I can't find the book so I can't give you the authors name. The title says it all. I think the mistake most of us make is that we work for money. Some of you are going, "Duh!" If money is the only thing that motivates you, you will never find happiness in work. You have to be passionate about more than money. Another thing I recommend is learning more about yourself in terms of your temperament and personality. Certain careers are more suited for some personalities than others. I know without a doubt that I am not suited to be a nuclear physicist. When the right person is matched with the right career and work, it is no longer work. A wise man once said, "Find work that you love and you will never work another day in your life." Have I followed all of my own advice? Am I perfectly fulfilled and happy in the work I do to earn my daily bread? Do you honestly think I stayed up all night in my youth dreaming of the day when I would be a claims supervisor in a large corporate setting? Are you kidding? In all honesty there are things I must do on a regular basis that give me little personal satisfaction. Am I doomed to a life of unhappiness? The answer is no. Sooner or later who we are will shine through. I find the greatest satisfaction in the things I do that are not part of my job. Do you think I get paid extra to write these daily thoughts? Am I on commission for the compassion I always try to practice with my co-workers? What about the counseling or spiritual direction I give those who seek it? None of these things are in my job description but doing them is part of who I am and what I bring to the workplace. Perhaps your work is only a background for you to be who you are as well. Make yourself your life's work wherever you are.

Old people don't get grouchy, grouchy people get old.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Sixties

One of the books I have been reading lately is called "Boom! Voices of the Sixties". It is written by Tom Brokaw who for many years was a journalist and evening anchor on the NBC Nightly News. I am old enough to have lived through the Sixties but admittedly was also young enough to not always appreciate the significance of the many life changing events that occurred. Brokaw's book is a review of that tumultuous decade through the reflections of significant players and others that are less known. Many things happened in the Sixties that are still being felt in today's world. Let me just list some of the bigger events and accomplishments.

The Cuban Missile Crisis when Russia and the United States had a nuclear showdown.

The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X.

The Vietnam War and the anti war movement.

The Civil Rights Movement/Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech/The March on Washington.

The Women's Movement with women moving into the workforce traditionally dominated by men.

The Democratic Convention of 1968 in Chicago and the violence surrounding it.

Vatican II when the entire Catholic Church was completely overhauled.

Hippies, The Summer of Love, Woodstock, and all that jazz.

Landing a man on the moon.

If you are my age or older you surely remember these events. If you are the age of my children or younger all of this may seem like ancient history. The world is far from perfect today but much of the progress we enjoy today was not part of everyone's life in the Sixties. It is said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Brokaw's book is not a scholarly or in depth review of the Sixties. It is more of a reunion of voices who lived through these events. I would recommend it as a great introduction to these times. The good lives and the rights and opportunities that many of us now have should not be taken for granted. They did not exist for many people less than 50 years ago. Let me remind you of a few other things. Most of the material possessions that most people take for granted today did not exist in the Sixties. There were no CD's, Ipods, personal computers, DVD players, microwave ovens, cell phones, Big Screen TV's, Internet, video games, email, etc. One thing that did exist in the Sixties that does not exist now is my hair.

It is probably premature to share this but I'm excited so I want to share some news. Someone that I know and respect has agreed to take on the project of editing and shaping the best of my daily thoughts into a book that we hope to get published sometime in the future. Some people have encouraged this so I am happy that it may finally happen. We're at the very beginning of this process so it will be a while before Oprah recommends it or the profits can pay for Chloe's college education. I'm not really in it for money. I just want to accomplish it. Sometimes dreams do come true so this one may become a reality for me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Living An Unhurried Life

The whole point of a vacation, if you are fortunate enough to have one, is to get away from your life for some rest and relaxation. Most of us are busy and we live frantic lives trying to keep up with all the demands of modern life. Sadly, our vacations are often as frantic as the rest of lives as we stress ourselves out trying to have as much fun as possible during five vacation days squeezed between two weekends. I fell into the trap like most people. On my first vacation day I got out of bed at 5:00 AM, drove 300 miles and almost immediately plunged into family activities. There was little time to decompress from regular life before being pumped full of new activities. Now I am back in the rat race, little rested, and immediately thrown back into the demands of daily living. I am tired from my vacation. In view of this it was very poignant to pick up the Tao Te Ching on my first morning back to work. Verse 15 could be titled "Living an Unhurried Life". I thought that was what I was going to do on vacation and I strive to do this in my day to day life. I would like to quote a small section from verse 15 .

But the muddiest water clears as it is stilled, and out of that stillness arises life.

This is very similar to a line from Psalm 46. Be still and know that I am God.

The author of this translation of Lao Tzu offers a few excellent thoughts. Stop chasing your dreams and allow them to come to you in their own time. Slow down your frantic pace. Make stillness a regular part of your daily life. You don't really need to rush or force anything. Be an observer and receiver rather than the pushy director of your life. Give up struggling and start trusting. What you need will come to you. In other words.....relax and live.

How can a man's life keep it course if he will not let it flow?Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.They feel no wear, they feel no tear,They need no mending, no repair.

How well do we know one another? The reality is that most people do not intimately know the other people in their lives. I have sat at many family functions over the years thinking how little I know my own family and how little they know me. I could say the same thing about people I have worked with for many years. At the same time, people I don't even know write to me sometimes and say, "I feel like I know you.". It is true that many people know a lot about me because of my daily thoughts. Of course, even my daily thoughts do not reveal everything about me. I have always thought about the depth of the relationships in my life. I remember being challenged a few years ago when I was asked to write and deliver the eulogy at my father in laws funeral. How well did I know this man whose dinner table I sat at many times? Could I write and speak of this man and capture his essence with little time to prepare or to deliver? I am told I was able to do it but it would be a very difficult challenge to do it for many others. A lot of this "knowing" of other people requires listening and paying attention when you are around them. Too often our relationships are superficial and done on the run. Relationships take time and effort. Relationships are often difficult. Many people are exhausting. Sometimes when I am with people I am sincerely trying to listen to them while planning my escape at the same time. I don't doubt that sometimes people are also doing that with me. There are some people in my life that I am emotionally intimate with but they are few. I feel like I have many "friends" and acquaintances but few that I am really close with and with whom I feel comfortable sharing my deepest feelings. I am very grateful for the few that give me the luxury of truly being myself. I think my experience is pretty normal. You really can't have intimate friendships with fifty people. It's like the difference between a dinner party and a wedding reception. At the dinner party you can often open up and have deep conversations about life and your experiences. At a wedding reception it is all you can do to say hello to everyone. Admittedly I think it would be nice if my knowledge could expand and I knew a little more about the hopes, wishes, and dreams of those most important in my life. I do care about a lot of people even if I do not know everything about them. Maybe we can all make a little more effort to know others and allow them to know us.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where Did My Vacation Go?

It was a quiet Memorial Day holiday weekend when I realized I needed to write these thoughts. I hadn't written anything while I was on vacation. Can my long anticipated vacation be over already? The last ten days seem to have flown by in the blink of an eye. Now I am back to my work routine and once again living by the clock. Although I am less than thrilled about a return to the sometimes boring day to day activities of my life, I am grateful for last weeks break from the ordinary and the mundane. Most of last week was spent in the vicinity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee. It was a good time and I enjoyed it. My oldest son, who is Chloe's father, has always had an adventurous nature. Chloe seems to have inherited this trait. She will try anything. During the week she rode on a real pony, flew solo in an airplane at a small amusement park, drove a go kart with her father, and went down the slides in the water park. Watching her ride the plane she appeared to be a four year old Amelia Earhart. In all of these things she showed no fear whatsoever. All of us had some intense moments at the water park one afternoon when a strong storm blew through with lots of hail. Inside the water park the sound was deafening and we wondered if the plexiglass roof would break. When we got back to our cabin, the stream outside my bedroom window had become a rushing torrent of water. Most nights this gentle flow of water lullabied me to sleep. On another day Chloe, her parents, and me drove through an area of the mountains called Cades Cove. Chloe loved it when we saw some deer in the woods only a few feet from our car. Much of the rest of the trip was spent going in and out of the shops and enjoying some great meals in our favorite restaurants. Except for the occasional rain, the weather was beautiful. Normally Gatlinburg is a very crowded place. Although it is still early in the summer, I thought the crowds were sparse. It was easy to get about and we never has to wait more than a few minutes for a table in a restaurant. It would appear that $4.00 a gallon gasoline is affecting some people's summer vacations. In view of this I am grateful I could have a vacation away from home and spend some time with my immediate family. When I got home I had $10 left in my wallet. I need to get back to work.

When I arrived home there was a package on my doorstep. It turned out to be a gift of coffee from Cameroon, Africa sent to me by a young Polish woman and her fiancee who read my daily thoughts. Izabela was a student who lived in America for a while with a couple I met in Gatlinburg a few years ago and now she lives in Africa. Meeting her host family was one of those serendipitous moments when I met two strangers sitting on a public bench in Gatlinburg and we struck up a friendly conversation. We immediately connected and became friends. After a few emails I added them to my daily thoughts list and over time they asked me to add Izabela and others who were scattered around the world. Over the months Izabela and her fiancee picked up on my love of coffee. The richly aromatic coffee came with a wonderful note on a beautifully painted card that read in part "We really hope you will enjoy it and will think of all the people around the world reading your daily thoughts". Thank you, Izabela and David, for the very thoughtful and kind gift. I have been drinking your coffee each morning since I arrived home. It's wonderful and is a great start to my day.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who Are We?

I left work yesterday, picked up my wife at her office and drove in the pouring rain to Chloe's daycare. As I drove down the Interstate the Beatles "Here Comes The Sun" played on the radio. Unfortunately, the sun never came. Since Chloe's mother doesn't work as many hours now as she used to I rarely see Chloe during the week. I miss her smile and the excitement she shows when she sees me coming in the daycare. We had our usual gourmet meal at McDonald's. She was in a great mood, laughing and being her sweet self, until she realized that she had to go home with Mommy instead of coming to my house. As I was trying to strap her in the car seat she did an excellent imitation of Emily Rose from the movie entitled "The Exorcism of Emily Rose". It's amazing how many ways a young child can contort their bodies when you are trying to secure them in a car seat against their will. She kissed me goodbye but I did not get an "I Love You" like I normally do. I tried to convince her that she needed to go home so she could help Mommy and Daddy to pack for their vacation. She wasn't buying it. Any grandparent hates to part with a grandchild on a negative note. I know however that she probably got over it very quickly.

Chloe and her parents are leaving today for Gatlinburg, Tennessee. My wife, younger son, and I will leave on Sunday morning to join them. Yes, it is time for the annual Griswold Family Vacation. Together we own a time share so we can all stay together and be together 24 HOURS A DAY. We all get along well and we will have a good time. Like with all families I am sure there will be a few tense moments here and there. I will not get a moments rest because every time I try to sneak off to take a nap, Chloe will track me down like a bloodhound. Her radar is always on. "Where's Pa Paw"???? I will be on vacation all next week. There will be no daily thoughts while I am on vacation unless the Spirit moves me. Otherwise I am also taking a vacation from writing.

The Tao Te Ching asks an interesting question. What is our nature if we have no outside forces telling us who or what we should be? Perhaps it is because of my spiritual search to discover my true self that I have had something of an obsession trying to understand what makes me tick. I enjoy psychology and the study of personality types. I have come to know and accept that my Myers-Briggs type is an introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiver. In other words I am an INFP. Besides being introverted and intuitive, INFP's tend to make judgements based on personal values rather than established rules, and they like life to be open ended rather than constricted. My study of the Enneagram has revealed to me that I am a type Nine, also called the Peacemaker. Being considered a peacemaker says a lot about what I value in life. I read in one book that 90% of all INFP's tend to be Enneagram type Nines. I am still trying to figure out why I am these types. As with all people, my life experiences, especially my childhood, have much to do with it. I don't think any of us have the ability to choose our personalities but we unconsciously build them as our defense against the world. I think I am an introvert because I grew up in a large family in a small house. There was no where to hide or go except within myself. Enneagram Nines, besides loving peace and harmony, often feel unnoticed, even invisible, to others. I have sometimes found myself wondering, "What do I have to do to get noticed"? I think part of the reason I am this type is because I was the first born child in a large family. As each sibling was born I felt pushed further from the parents...until I felt I was no longer even noticed. I still feel like this sometimes. Of course, this is just my theory but it helps me to understand why I am a withdrawn person while also being someone who craves attention. All of this is who I became naturally without any realization of it until late in my life. If it's not difficult enough being who you are, the world is constantly trying to mold you into someone you are not. Culture, race, gender, sexual preference, the marketplace, and the workplace often pressure us to act and behave in a certain way that is more often than not is in conflict with who we really are. Being resistant to these influences and pressures is a full time job. Consider how you feel inside compared to how you feel compelled to act on the outside. Is it a comfortable feeling? Do you feel at home within your own skin? Who are you if no one is telling you who to be?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Space Within Ourselves

It may be an appropriate time to issue something of a disclaimer. On a rare occasion I say something in my daily thoughts that offends someone. On the few occasions this has happened it was over my theology. First of all, I am not a theologian and do not pretend to be one. I am really not promoting or defending any individual religion. My openness to Buddhism and other religions is difficult for some Christians. My daily thoughts are simply my daily thoughts. What I write about is often prompted by books I am reading, conversations I have with others, or my own meditations. Other times I simply write about the daily experience of my life. I try to never preach, I am not trying to convert anyone to anything, and I don't consider my own thoughts as ultimate truth. In my daily thoughts I think out loud. If they challenge you, make you think, or perhaps give you another perspective, I consider that a good thing. If you find them threatening, you might ask yourself why. In my own experience ideas that threaten or challenge me are usually good for me even if I don't like them and find myself resistant to them. Any type of public sharing will sometimes bring you praise or condemnation. 99% of the responses I receive are praise. All indications are that my daily thoughts do much more good than bad. In my daily thoughts I share my personal journey. On the journey I sometimes have truly transcendent experiences but I also occasionally have doubts. I have moments of joy as well as days where I am in a funk of unknown origin. My life is a mix of family, friends, co-workers, trips to the monastery, rock and roll road excursions, and the ups and downs of working to earn my daily bread. Sometimes I experience moments of enlightenment as well as moments of total fear that some people consider me a role model and actually listen to what I say. At the end of the day I am just an ordinary man trying to make sense of life. It may be black and white for some of you but I think much of it is gray and subject to a variety of viewpoints and perspectives.

I read an interest idea in the Tao Te Ching a few mornings ago. The writer said that our bodies are no more who we are than the walls of a room are the room. The essence of who we are is contained in the empty spaces within our bodies in the same way the space within the walls is the actual room. If you took my body and disassembled it, laying all the pieces out on the floor, it is no longer me. Our bodies are just the container we came in. If you took the walls of a room and pushed them all together, there is no longer a room even though the walls still exist. My essence is surrounded by the parts of my body. A room is the empty space between the four walls. Some of you are probably wondering, "What is he talking about"? Well, I am not completely sure either but I am enjoying the intellectual challenge of understanding this concept. It's almost like a Zen koan. I've heard musicians say something similar when they say "The most important part of music is the space between the notes".

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Discovering The True Self/Thoughts On Love

One of my favorite thoughts from Buddhism is the idea of discovering the face we had before our parents were born. This is the face of the true self. The true self is who we are in God. Unfortunately, the face that we present and that others see is usually the face of our false self. It is not who we really are. The process of becoming a Buddha, or an "enlightened one" is to peel away the layers of the false self and discover our true self. This process of awakening is part of all spiritual journeys, regardless of the tradition. All Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others are all seeking this in some fashion or another. What would our world be like if we all attained this state of awakening and inner conversion? What would daily life be like if we were all our true and good selves? The world would never be dark and evil would cease to exist because we would all be glowing and full of light.

The point of all spirituality and spiritual practices is not to rack up brownie points with God. God doesn't need anything from us. The point of the spiritual life is the transformation of the human heart. You can go to church ten times a day but if nothing is happening or changing within you, you may as well go to the track. Everything in the spiritual life, and the transformation of the human heart, is all about love. If there's no love, there's no spiritual life. If your spiritual life and your daily living are not making you a more loving person, you're spinning your wheels and you are stuck in the mud. I think life's final exam will only have a few questions. It won't matter what you were in life. God won't say, "Buddhists to the right, Hindu's to the left. Christians, Muslims, and Jews, go to the head of the line. The only thing that will matter is who we were and how well we can answer the following questions.

Did you let go of your ego?

How much did you love?

Did you live with joy?

Did you forgive?

Were you grateful for all the beauty in life?

Did you notice the color purple?

The last time I shared this last question some people asked what it meant. It's from the book entitled The Color Purple by Alice Walker. In the story one of the characters remarks "I think it pisses God off if you don't notice the color purple".

It's easy to say that it's all about love but what is love? Sometimes I think I understand what love is and other times I feel clueless about it. It seems like a simple concept but I don't think it is. Maybe it's because there seems to be so many kinds of love. There's romantic love, parental love, grandparent love, and the love of friends. I believe my parents love me but they've never actually said it. I grew up in a family where emotions were rarely expressed. Of course, I don't know that I've done any better. In many ways my family is the same. I have a very nice family but emotions and feelings are rarely expressed. I guess that I am more like my parents than I realize. The birth of my granddaughter released emotions that I never felt before. Sometimes when I look at her I think that I've never loved anyone as much as her. Other grandparents that I've talked with seem to have the same experience of grandchildren. Outside of my family I have people in my life who are dear to me. Do I love them? Certainly I care about them, some more than others, but do I love them? What's the difference between caring and loving? Like everyone else I want love in my life but what is the price of love and what do we expect of love? We want love but are sometimes suspicious of it. We wonder about the cost of love and the demands it may make upon us. If I was honest I would have to say much of the love in my life has been difficult and demanding. I don't think I have ever experienced love the way it is portrayed in the movies. We've all had experiences where we have loved and were not loved back. Occasionally we feel unloved and we wonder why we feel that way. We all want love but it often seems to me that most of us do not get the love we need. When I feel like that I wonder what it is I need that I am not getting. I guess part of the attractiveness of love is its mystery and potential. I think there's truth in the idea that it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Love will sometimes fill us up and other times break our hearts. People we love will sometimes make us happy and other times disappoint us. Most people with children will likely experience the meaning of tough love. I hope that as part of my own transformation I will always be open to love in my life even if it is sometimes more scary than comforting.

To be is to do.

To do is to be.

Do be do be do

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I Wasn't Born To Follow

It is a wonderfully cool evening. Later in the summer we will wish for such coolness. Across the street my neighbor is planting flowers and banana plants whose beauty I will soon enjoy when I look at my window. The sun has set and my neighborhood is filled with peacefulness. Around the corner in the kitchen a small amount of coffee is brewing. It contains just enough caffeine to keep me alert the rest of the evening until it is bed time. I am starting to read a new book by Tom Brokaw called "Boom! Voices of the Sixties". The book is his personal reflections of the 60's and today. Brokaw also wrote an excellent book about my parents generation called "The Greatest Generation". I am anxious to see how my generation is remembered in his book. It has been quite a ride so far being a Baby Boomer. I felt like a Baby Boomer/Easy Rider on the way home yesterday. I was alone and I was jamming to the soundtrack of a 60's movie called "Easy Rider". It was a beautiful day and I was driving down the highway. Blaring out of my speakers were songs like "Born to be Wild" and "Wasn't Born to Follow". When I was in my late teens such songs were anthems. Of course, I am no longer a teenager. I am a 57 year old Pa Paw who gets stiff if he sits in the same position too long. I can no longer stand up for an entire rock concert. I am not as openly rebellious as I once was but I still like breaking the rules. I think it's still true that I wasn't born to follow. Of course, when you are rebellious it doesn't mean you are against everything. I cooperate with many things that I consider good. What I am rebellious against are stupid and meaningless things. The world is full of both. If I ever run for president my campaign slogan might be "Freedom from Stupidity and Meaningless Things". Freedom of all kinds is important to everyone. The joy of freedom is why I like a day off from work. A week of vacation can seem like a blank check for freedom. We make ourselves crazy thinking of ways to spend it. Sometimes when I go visit my Dad in the nursing home I am inspired by some of the residents. Certainly there are some that make me sad and they bring tears to my eyes. There are others, however, who seem to wake up everyday planning their escape. My mother in law routinely says that she's leaving her assisted living home and "getting her own place". She also threatens to "call a cab, go to Mike and Denise's house, and take my car back". We have her in one of the nicest places in town with the best room and she still dreams of getting her freedom back. Sometimes one or two of the residents where my Dad lives sit near the exit and try to figure out the coded password to open the door. Occasionally I fantasize about being a Pied Piper and leading all of them to their freedom. If you ever see a middle aged hippie, who can't really dance very well, leading a procession of wheelchairs and walkers down the highway, you'll know I have finally lost it.

Consciousness is that annoying time between naps.
-Unknown author but sent to me by a friend who knows me well

Enlightenment is what happens when someone turns on the light while I am taking a nap.
-Michael Brown

Monday, May 12, 2008

Silence Is The Perfect Note

Yesterday's weather was awful. It was cold and wet and dreary. High winds blew all night on Saturday. I really didn't want to leave the house on Sunday. Much of my long weekend I just stayed home. It's probably a sign of age that I would prefer to be in my home than just about anywhere. I stayed home on Friday and spent much of the day engrossed in a book. The rest of the weekend I finished the book and took one or two world class naps. I had the down time I needed and wanted. I would have extended my book reading, music listening, and nap taking to all of Sunday as well but it was Mother's Day and I also needed to visit my Dad in the nursing home. I drove over there in the rain. I went into the community room but no Dad. I went into his bedroom but no Dad. I finally found him in the dining room. He was sitting at a table with some other residents and my sister from New York. I didn't expect to see her until later in the week. Dad is actually doing pretty well. He was very coherent and talkative. He's actually showing a sense of humor about all his current trials and tribulations. Sitting at his table was an elderly woman who clearly had no idea what year it was or what planet we were on. She was kind of funny and kept talking to me as though she knew me. My Dad looked at me, then looked at her, then looked at me again and said, "See what you have to put up with when you are old"! Dad is showing a level of patience, humor, and acceptance of his life that I never expected. As you might expect there are some indignities and humbling experiences one must endure when others must care for your every need. Dad seems to be dealing with that very well and from what I can observe the staff at the nursing home is excellent. Dad seems to be treated with a great deal of kindness and respect.

Here's some poetry from Hafiz.

I Took It As A Sign Someone sent a band to my house and it started playing at five in the morning.I took this as a sign that God wanted me to sing!The the moon joined in and a few of the tenor voiced stars,and the earth offered its lovely belly as a drum.Before I knew it, I realized all human beings could be happy,if they just had a few music lessons from a sweet old maestro like Hafiz.

I don't think there is much in my life that wasn't made better when music was added to the mix. It could be a great day or a bad day. I can be with friends or sitting alone in my room. Have you ever been driving down the road on a beautiful day with your favorite music playing? It can be such a happy moment that you feel as though your heart might leap out of your chest. Its total joy, pure and simple. Of course, I must also agree with something said by Fr. Matthew at the monastery. Even Beethoven played all day is noise. This statement comes from a man who loves jazz but values silence. Even the contemporary artist Sting has said "Silence is the perfect note". I am a person who is something of a fanatic about music but I, too, value silence. I recommend a nice balance of both.

O God! What in your name do you expect from me? What is it you want? What is it that I should be doing if not what I am doing now? I think about these questions and more as I stumble down the spiritual path of my life. How do we know we are doing the right thing with our lives? How do we know if we are on the right path? Does the very fact that I feel like I am always stumbling down my path mean anything? Am I stumbling because its the wrong path or because it is the right path? Are the people and things that I sometimes consider obstacles in my life on my path through some divine intention? What about all the false starts and new beginnings? Are they indications of a confused or poorly planned journey? Am I a tourist, tour guide or an explorer on the spiritual journey? I do not think I am a tourist. If I am tour guide I should know the path well enough to lead others. If I am an explorer, I should be clearing a path for others to follow. If you are on a serious spiritual journey, I believe doubt is a healthy part of the spiritual journey. If you were certain of everything, you would not need faith. There is no map quest for the spiritual journey. There are no directions that say "Go 2.3 miles down this road and then turn left on another road for 4.7 miles until you see the light". Another thing that makes the spiritual journey challenging is that much of the time you are stumbling down an unknown path in the dark with blindfolds on. The best you can do is feel you way. Sometimes you will bump into things and lose all sense of direction. You can't read a compass in the dark when you are blindfolded. This doesn't sound like much fun, does it? What can you do? You can't stand still or you may always be lost and in the dark. All you can do is slowly move forward, inch by end, until you are out of the woods and in a clearing where you can see the sun and the stars. It is only then that you can know where you are enabling you to see the road that will lead you where you should be. When you arrive you will know what to do.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Thinking More About Less And Less

I am sitting at home right now at the little desk in my music room. Outside my window it is pouring down rain. The air is cool and moist. It is a quiet evening at home. My son Nick is here and home for the summer. I suppose he will just take it easy for a while now that finals and the school year are over. It seems to me that his first year of seminary life went very quickly. After our approaching family vacation is over he will attend summer school while living in a parish. For the time that he is living with me I will need to buy extra food and laundry detergent.

I will be taking tomorrow off. It has been a while since I had a day all to myself and I very much need one. Weekends are usually busy and often full of family activities. I need a day with no agenda or goals. I make no apologies for the fact that I need to do this once in a while. I suspect that other people sometimes enjoy a day where the only company they have is themselves. In a certain sense I am my own best friend. No one knows me or understands me like I know and understand myself. Everyone, friends, co-workers...only know a part of me. I am not hiding anything. It's just that most people's experience of me is limited and so their knowledge of me is limited as well. I've heard it said that your true self is who you are when no one is watching. What you do when you are alone says a lot about who you are. On my solitary days I may do a few things but mostly I am just being. Being is not necessarily sitting still. I can be and move at the same time. On my solitary days I have a sense of being invisible to the world even if I am in a crowded place like a mall or a sandwich shop. On workdays and weekends I often am in a hurry. I move about quickly checking off tasks on the mental list in my head. On my solitary days I move about effortlessly. I am doing what I want to do so there is no inner resistance to it. I am happy and I move about with a spring in my step. In reality the day can be quite ordinary. In spite of that it is refreshing and restful and renewing. A solitary day during a time when one normally works has an entirely different feel than a weekend day. If you don't occasionally take a day just for yourself I highly recommend it. It's not just for introverts like me who have a solitary nature.

My musical hero Jerry Garcia once sang a song with a lyric that went "I'm thinking more and more about less and less". As I get older this lyric makes more and more sense to me. When I was younger I was a voracious reader. I am not talking about reading romance novels while sitting on the beach. I read biographies, theology, philosophy, psychology, and spirituality books. The "lightest" material I read was probably about music or a musician. I was often consumed with trying to understand the meaning of everything that I thought was important. Is there a God? Why am I alive? What is the meaning of my life? Do I have a purpose? Is there more to life than the daily tasks and routines that all of us get locked into? What's the point of anything? Do you want to know the answers to these questions? The truth is that I don't know the answers. I do, however, have beliefs and speculations about all these things. At one time this "unknowing" bothered me. I wanted to know and understand. These days I "think more and more about less and less". I am more focused now on simply trying to live life and enjoy it. I have mostly given up trying to understand life in general and my own life in particular. I have learned that life is not always fair, it doesn't always make sense, and often doesn't go my way. There are things I do because I have to and there are things I do because I want to. Weaved in, around, and through all these tasks of living, I try to be open to all opportunities for happiness, laughter, love, joy, and the transcendent. You can never factor these things into your day so one must be open for the sneak attack they often make on us. For example, I rarely look forward to getting out of bed and coming to work. Does anyone? However, it is often in the workplace that I laugh the most. My friends and co-workers often bring a smile to my face. There's a lot of "doing " in the world and most "doing" requires thinking. I am thinking less, and perhaps doing less, but I am "being" more. For those of you who may wonder, I am not naive enough to think that everyone can stop doing and simply be. I have spent much of my life doing all kinds of things. What I am saying is that there is a time for doing and a time for being. Some of us are called to more "being" so we can remind all of you consumed with "doing" that you need to stop once in a while and listen to the beat of your own inner drummer.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Enough Is Enough

Yesterday was a beautiful day. It was bright and sunny with skies of blue. I usually don't take breaks and my lunches are very short if I eat alone. It was such a nice day, however, that I took my breaks and I also ate my lunch outdoors with a friend. We took a short walk but then decided to just sit. The sun was warm but the air was cool. I could have sat on the park bench for hours. My friend and I had some conversation but one attribute of a true friendship is that sometimes you don't even need to speak. Sitting together in silence is enough.

In the 9th verse of the Tao Te Ching, the writer speaks of the attitude that "enough is enough". In our restlessness and emptiness we have a tendency to always want more and more and more. Many people are ambitious and driven to gather more money or more power. Why? So they can get more stuff or, in the case of power, give themselves the illusion they can control more stuff. Contentment is a very unappreciated concept in our society. People who are content are often viewed as lazy and unambitious. The obsession with possessions is symptomatic of a great spiritual malaise in our culture. Most of us have it to some degree. Not only is it futile because our emptiness can never be filled with more possessions, it creates addictive behavior. Although it seems harmless I know I have an addiction to music. Put me in a music store and I am soon separated from all of my money. It's not enough to have a few Cd's from a favorite artist. No, I must have their entire catalogue in the latest remastered editions with bonus tracks! There is a subtle believe that if I have them all I will be happy and fulfilled. Then, after a few days of listening, the new CD goes on the CD rack and the hunger for something new begins again. In my mind I know that if I never bought a CD for the rest of my life I have more than enough to provide a soundtrack for my life till the end of my days. This hunger, this need to "fill up", whether it is with Cd's, fine wines, cars, clothes, or even relationships, masks a deeper longing and hunger which I believe can only be filled on a spiritual level. Of course, that gets tricky, too. Sometimes God fills you up and then disappears to see if you can live with the emptiness. God's habit of playing hide and seek has never ceased to annoy me. To balance all of this I try to practice mindfulness in the sense that I try to not long for what I had in the past, or what I may get in the future. I try to drink in whatever the day has to offer. Today is the only meal being served. Be filled with the moment.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Where Have All The People Gone?

I left work yesterday with some dread. I didn't sleep well on Sunday night and was in a daze much of Monday. The home pantry was bare so a trip to the grocery was needed. Walking through the store I looked at the other shoppers. Most of them looked like extras for a remake of the "The Night of the Living Dead". I fit right in with them. After arriving home and cleaning up I was soon surrounded by dirty laundry. The swishing of the washing machine and the tumbling of the dryer played harmony with the music coming from my stereo system. I was trying to keep moving so I did not fall asleep and repeat the tossing and turning of Sunday night when I went to bed. The sandman pursued me relentlessly so I had to resort to some coffee. I hate it that I am often so tired on work nights. I really don't want to fall asleep and waste the precious few hours of personal time that I seem to have during the work week. What kind of quality of life is this? When you feel that all you do is work and sleep it is no way to live.

I did sleep well last night and felt reasonably refreshed this morning. Although the temperature today is expected to be 80 degrees it is a cool morning. When I went outside to retrieve the morning paper the air smelled sweet.

My personality is one that loves peace, seeks harmony, and hopes for a calm life. Although I have moments when I experience all of these things, I sometimes feel neither peaceful, calm, or harmonious on the inside. That may be a shock to some of you. Most people think I am a "go with the flow" kind of person. Admittedly I sometimes go with the flow for the sake of peace and calm but on the inside I am waging a silent battle. I do not want to be king of the world or a person in charge. Although I can be a perfectionist I am not a control freak. What I have noticed about myself over the years, however, is that I sometimes bristle when others try to control me. Now in an appropriate situation like work I can do what I am told. Following direction from someone who has a legitimate right to give me direction is not a problem for me most of the time. I think what I am trying to say here is that I am at a stage of life where I am a little tired, in general, of having to do things I don't want to do and of trying to meet other people's expectations. How old do I have to be to do what I want? Most of us are surrounded and presented with other people's expectations and demands. Am I selfish because I long for some personal freedom and some control of my own life?

Sometimes I wonder about all the people who have been part of my life and then quietly moved on. Thinking of them sometimes makes me feel like I have spent my whole life standing still while everything and everybody moves around me. I have been a married family man for many years and have also worked for the same company a very long time. I believe I have always been dependable and reliable. I am a creature of habit and routine. When my alarm clock goes off in the morning, my mind and body go on automatic pilot and I robotically go through my day doing all the things I think I am supposed to do. Some days I am not sure I am even awake when I do them. I believe I have always been there for whoever needed me. I am sure many of you could say the same things. Do you have days when you wish you weren't so mature? Do you have days when you wish you could be more carefree and have less responsibility? Do you have days when you wish you were more adventurous and perhaps a little less cautious? Another one of my more annoying least to taking the path of least resistance. I wish I would take a direction more often that has no path and on which you can only make progress by hacking your way with a machete. I wish I took more risks. We are sometimes overly concerned with our security and this often causes us to play it safe. Safe is not always best. Of course, in my defense, and the defense of others like me, I have done many things and continue to do many things because people depend on me. Most of us do not totally own our own lives but I am not sure at what point taking back your own life is nothing more than selfishness. None of us are out of chances yet to be more adventurous or to take more risks but the clock is ticking. Are you standing still?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Far Away Is My Favorite Place

Wow! Is the weekend over already? Where did it go?

I had a reunion of sorts with an old friend this weekend that I had not seen for nearly a year. I was recently reconnected with him and he showed up Friday night with gifts and import beer. We drank the cold Sierra Nevada beer and it was like no time had passed. It was good to see him again. He was always like an adopted son to me so I had missed him. I was very happy with the gifts. He brought me some framed photos of one of the Grateful Dead who he had seen play recently at a music festival. The pictures now hang on the wall of my music room.

Most of the weekend was centered around my granddaughter, Chloe. I picked her up on Saturday afternoon and she didn't leave until Sunday evening. Most of the time it was very pleasant if never ending in activity. Chloe is like the "Big Bang". When she comes to my home she rearranges every molecule of my universe. Of course, when you are a grandparent everything you own is a source of curiosity for a child. On Sunday afternoon we had a tea party. The participants were Jerry Garcia, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Muppet, a nearly 30 year old stuffed animal that was a toy for Chloe's father, Chloe and me. St Francis of Assisi and Buddha declined the invitation because they are "delicate" and can't be played with. We ate "salad" that Chloe picked off the evergreen bushes in my front yard. Later in the evening we walked around the neighborhood. She was on my shoulders. When I asked her where she wanted to walk she replied, "Far away"! I asked her, "Why do you like to go far away"? She replied, "Far away is my favorite place"! Gee, she's not quite four years old and already has wanderlust.

I was happy last evening to receive a very nice email from a woman in Scotland who reads my daily thoughts. It still amazes me that my thoughts typed from my little desk in Kentucky sometimes end up in other parts of the world!

Friday, May 02, 2008

What Is Balance?

What does it mean to have balance in your life? Simply put, I think it means to have just enough of everything. I don't mean the absolute minimum requirement of what you need to be happy and content or for basic survival. It means working enough to appreciate play. It means sleeping enough to appreciate wakefulness. It means feeling a little hunger once in a while so you appreciate food. It means experiencing a little loneliness so you appreciate the love of another. It means sometimes feeling sad so you value laughter and joy. It means spending some time by yourself so you appreciate the company of others. The singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie once said, "You can't really appreciate a light unless you have a dark place to put it in". Of course, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Have you ever tried to go to bed at night when all the lights are still on? Have you ever eaten or drank so much that you made yourself sick? Balance is found in the tension of opposites. Balance is not found in extremes. Balance is your companion when you walk the middle path of life.

Every time I write about some concert I have seen, inevitably some one will write me and say "How do you know about all these musical events"? It's very simple. The Internet provides most of my information. I go to the websites of my favorite artists as well as my favorite venues and I get on their email mailing lists. I know about most things weeks or even months in advance. Of course, when all else fails I have friends....and they know who they are...that sometimes stand at the mouth of the cave where I am often hiding. They stand outside and shout "Mikey! Come out and play"! It is rare that I ignore them. Sometimes there is some travel required but I love most road trips. In my opinion seeing live music is worth all the effort it may require. Sitting outside on a summer night with friends, enjoying the sounds of good music, is one of life's great joys. Add a few beers and a late night breakfast, and you have achieved Nirvana. Later this summer I will be seeing the Steve Miller Band, Joe Cocker, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Steve Winwood. Who knows what else may come my way?

It is a good thing to have holy days and holidays and special times like the Kentucky Derby. I concur with the Dalai Lama when he says that all people were born to be happy. It is a good thing to celebrate life. I can't remember who said it but someone put forth the idea that God will be just as upset with those who failed to enjoy all the good things that life has to offer as much as He might be with the people who have done bad things. I have lived 57 years so far. When I look back it is all the good things I remember most. Most of the bad things that have ever happened to me seem like bumps in the road now. The good memories are always fresh and on a boring day when I might get lost in the occasional daydream, they visit me like a cool breeze on a hot summer day.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Gift Of Writing

For all of those who wrote to me yesterday and expressed caring or concern about me, I am fine. One of my female friends suggested that maybe I was having a PMS day. I have been married for over thirty years and I am well aware of what PMS is. I have the scars to prove it. This reminds me of a time I was in a Border's book store. I saw a display with a book that had an intriguing title. It was written by a man and titled Everything I Know about Women. Since I am always looking for insight into the female gender I picked up the book and began to page through it. All the pages were blank! Gee, I could have written that book! I have acquired the same depth of knowledge and insight after living with the same woman most of my adult life.

I will continue writing daily thoughts because there are many people who value them and 99% of the time I enjoy writing them. I am scheduled to go on a family vacation in a few weeks so I will get a break then. Sometimes I get compliments not so much for what I say as much as how I say it. People tell me I have a gift for writing. Since I have never really done anything to develop my writing and it comes natural to me, I guess it really is a gift. If one has a gift, it should be shared. Of course, having the ability to write complete sentences that are more or less grammatically correct is just half the equation. One must have something to write about. In order to have something to write about one must be a student of life, have a keen eye for observation, and, if you are truly blessed, the soul of a poet. I would have to give some credit for my writing skills to all my English teachers but more than that I would thank all the great writers whose books I have read in my life. I think it is difficult to be a good writer if you are not a reader of well written books. I am influenced by many authors, especially Thomas Merton. As far as my vision of life I would give a great deal of credit to the time I lived in the monastery and for my continued relationship with the monastic world. I don't know if spending time in a monastery in my youth has made me a truly spiritual person but it did teach me a different way of seeing the world around me. When you look at life from a contemplative stance, it is to some degree looking at the world with the eyes of a poet. Contemplative and poetic eyes see the magic of life and the extraordinary that is often hidden in the ordinary and seemingly mundane routines of life. As an adult I have to work a little bit to see life this way. My young granddaughter, Chloe, sees it this way naturally. Of course, her perspective will get clouded as she gets older and one day she will have to re-learn to see things as she sees them now. When you have quiet moments in you life and you are able to simply be, remember this. There is "looking" and there is "seeing". They are not the same thing. Take the time to truly see things so that which is sometimes hidden will be revealed to you.

Most of this week in true Kentucky Derby tradition it has been cold. Yesterday, however, was a very beautiful day. I went out for a walk during lunch with one of my favorite friends. She is also a favorite lunch buddy. Our walk was wonderful and refreshing. We made one another laugh a lot as we walked along the river and through the park. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and a cool breeze was blowing. There was a festive feeling and aroma in the air because the "Great Lawn" along the river is temporarily the site of many food vendors who are in town for Derby Week. Many of my fellow office workers and others who are tourists or on vacation are enjoying their lunch outdoors with friends and family. Today I will also be having lunch in the land of gyros, pork chop sandwiches and elephant ears.