Monday, June 30, 2008

A Night On The Lawn

My life is not perfect but it is full of perfect moments and times. This weekend was another one of those times. After a good night's sleep on Friday night, I woke up on Saturday morning feeling very rested. On Saturday afternoon my friends and I headed for Indianapolis to see Joe Cocker and the Steve Miller Band. Shortly after getting on the road, we drove into some torrential rain. It was an ominous sign for what might lay ahead. The concert was outdoors and we were sitting on the lawn. We've gotten to the point where we actually like being on the lawn. That's a good thing because the price of gas would probably force us to sit out there anyway. Anyway, back to the rain. Within a few minutes we were out of the rain and the weather turned beautiful. Since it was a weekend there were no traffic backups and we reached our destination easily and without incident. When we got out of the car the sky was blue, the sun was shining, a cool breeze was blowing and there was no humidity. The rock and roll gods were once again smiling on us. We got into the venue after going through everything but a strip search. I immediately climbed up the hill and staked out a small piece of turf about halfway up the hill and directly in front of the stage. At this point the crowd was light, everyone around us seemed happy, and we were all eager for the music to begin. Right on time Joe Cocker came on stage. During his set I realized that next summer will be the 40th anniversary of the original Woodstock where Joe Cocker first became famous. Where has the time gone and so quickly! My friend Bridget loves Joe Cocker. She danced through his entire set as the blazing orange sun set in the western sky and the cool wind blew through the crowd. What can I say about my other friend, Tom? We have been friends since we were teenagers in high school. We have been to more concerts together and apart than we can remember. I don't think either of us thought we would still be going to rock concerts at our current age. We've moving a little slower these days but we're still out there getting it done. It takes both of our brains to piece together our life's adventures, especially our shared youth. My other friend and companion is Bridget's nephew Josh. He's about the age of my youngest son but he loves the music of my generation. We take him to everything as part of his life's education. We feel responsible for exposing him to all the classics and I'm not talking Beethoven here. After Joe Cocker finished his set there was a break as the roadies set the stage for the Steve Miller Band. During the break I found myself sitting back in my chair, looking at the sky and the setting sun, feeling the breeze and thinking how wonderful life can be. Admittedly, sometimes you have to drive 300 miles round trip to enjoy the kind of night I was having but here's the deal. If you want a great life and wonderful times, you've got to get off your butt and put some effort and work into it. After the break it was obvious who most people came to see. It seemed like the crowd had tripled and suddenly the entire lawn was filled with people of all ages. Most of them were feeling very loose due to the consumption of $8.50 cups of beer. The Steve Miller Band hit the stage and approximately 25,000 people sang and danced for the next two hours. I am not a very good dancer even though I do sometimes "shake my booty" to make my granddaughter, Chloe, laugh hysterically. When the show was over, the rock and roll gods magically put my car on the front end of the traffic and soon we were heading home. As I crawled into my bed at 3:00 AM, I was tired but happy that I can still rock and roll and that I haven't succumbed to old age yet. The next stop is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Steve Winwood in Cincinnati on July 8th. I better start resting up now.

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.
-Roger Miller

Friday, June 27, 2008

Going On The Road Again

So far this week I have written about being emotionally needy, trying to live a spiritual life, lightening bugs, ants, silence, living without rules, my Dad, and nursing homes. I need a break and this weekend I will get one. Tomorrow I am making my first rock and roll road trip of the summer. My friends and I will be heading north to the Indianapolis area to see the Steve Miller Band and Joe Cocker. They are both classic rockers. Steve Miller got his start in the mid 60's playing the blues on the south side of Chicago. This was no small feat for a young white boy. He was right in the thick of greats like Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Howlin Wolf, among others. Eventually he migrated to San Francisco and became part of the whole psychedelic scene in San Francisco, playing at the infamous Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and other now famous venues like the Fillmore West. He reached the peak of his popularity in the mid 70's with his classic album "Fly Like an Eagle". Joe Cocker was basically playing in bars until he played a gig called Woodstock. I am talking about the original Woodstock in 1969. His performance there, especially his fiery version of the classic Beatles song "With a Little Help from my Friends", turned him into an overnight superstar. I recommend Joe's album/CD entitled "Mad Dogs and Englishmen". I expect this to be a very enjoyable evening. Hopefully the forecasted thunderstorms will hold off until after the show. The music is all the fireworks my friends and I will need.

Here are 15 reasons you should go to your favorite music store this weekend. I could easily list a couple of hundred more reasons. This particular group is limited to African American men. Of course a larger list would include men and women of many ethic groups and races. All of these musicians have enriched my life.

Chuck Berry
James Brown
Miles Davis
Bo Diddley
Buddy Guy
Ritchie Havens
Jimi Hendrix
John Lee Hooker
Little Richard
Robert Johnson
Albert King
B. B. King
Bob Marley
Otis Redding
Muddy Waters

When the late actress Katherine Hepburn was asked if she thought life was hard, she replied, "Yes, life is hard. It kills all of us"! Even the now senior citizen, Bob Dylan, sang in his youth, "Those not being born are busy dying". Bob makes a good point. We are all dying everyday. It will take some of us longer than others. None of us know our time. These thoughts, however, are not really about dying. They are about living. Life is so precious and such a gift. We need to live it well. I am not talking about extreme living or a life of grand adventure. Most of us will never live adventurous lives. We will live mostly quiet, hidden lives full of the ordinary. We can still, however, live lives that are deep with meaning, full of love, and purposeful. Many people spend much of their lives getting ready to live. Some die before they ever begin to live. The time to live is now. I love to watch dinosaur programs on the Discovery Channel. It is not unusual to hear the narrator say something like, "Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled the earth for 75,000,000 years". 75,000,000 years for one species to evolve and finally disappear????? We might, if we are lucky, have 75-80 years as individuals to evolve into our best self before we die. Do you feel a small sense of urgency about living now? Living with a sense of urgency does not mean that we have to live with a sense of panic. Intentional living is living with a sense of purpose. As you load the backpack that you will carry through life, do not weigh yourself down with non essentials. Focus on what is really important. Let go of worry and needless concerns. Travel light. Hold no grudges. Forgive everything. Love much. Harm no one. Smell the flowers. Feel the wind. Dance to the music.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Moving My Father

I found out yesterday that my family must move my father into a new nursing home. He has been in his current nursing home for approximately three months. He has exhausted his Medicare benefit and there is a one year wait for a "Medicaid bed". The nursing home he is in now cost $5,500 per month. If we leave him there, my mother will have to pay this money until Medicaid kicks in. That could cost potentially $66,000 over the next year. We will be moving him in the next day or so to a "cheaper" nursing home that is $3,500 dollars a month. It is a Medicaid bed but until the Medicaid is approved, this amount must be paid by my mother. My two sisters are taking care of all the paperwork. I recently watched a news special about the challenges of caring for aging parents. A doctor remarked that managing the life of an aging parent required the equivalent of a Master's degree level of knowledge and skill. My sister in law who manages my mother in law's affairs has an MBA and it's a lot of work for her. It's all very complicated so thank God there's enough talent and brains within our families to manage it. The good news here is that two of my nieces work for the nursing home where my Dad will be moving. Besides the hassle of paperwork and money concerns, this transition will likely create some confusion for Dad. He's been in a comfortable situation on a routine and has been getting good care. Now he will have to go through an adjustment period where he must adjust to a new environment. Challenges like these will be epidemic when my very large generation, the baby boomers, gets to this stage of life. My parents and my wife's mother have a combined total of nine children and many grandchildren who can look after them and work together to manage their lives. Most of my generation have far fewer children and grandchildren to care for them and look after them in their old age so the burden for the younger generation of today will be greater. Note to my children: Get ready.

From time to time, we need to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, drink tea with a friend and enjoy being together as if we were the happiest people on earth. This is not a retreat, it is a treat!
-Thich Nhat Hanh

The above quote is from Thich Nhat Hanh who is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. Even though I am not a Buddhist, I love the Buddhist approach to living. Lived properly it is gentle and serene. It makes me realize how so many of us, including me, get so easily upset about so many things, most of which are trivial occurrences or misunderstandings. There is not a day of my life where I don't encounter drama in one form or another. It would seem that some people take Shakespeare too seriously in his proclamation that "All the world's a stage"! Personally I prefer my drama at Actor's Theater and not in my living room or workplace. This is an unrealistic expectation on my part because where there are people, there is drama. We humans are such emotional beings and these feelings often get the best of us. Of course, it's our feelings and emotions that make us human. We are full of so much capacity for goodness and love. Unfortunately we also have great potential for pettiness and making mountains out of molehills. Although I am a quiet person on the surface, I am also a very emotional person with deep feelings about many things. Sometimes this aspect of my being has been a good thing and other times it has gotten me into trouble. I believe I have a great capacity for love and compassion but my passionate nature sometimes overreacts to events or things people say. Sometimes it is a struggle to find a balance between my often conflicting emotions. There are times I have wished to be like Mr. Spock on Star Trek who had no emotions at all. I always admired his calmness and lack of dramatic and emotional responses to what went on around him. However, I am not a Vulcan. I am a lowly earthling with sometimes difficult to control emotions. Sometime all the world is a stage and I am the star of my own drama. Drama is not always a bad thing but sometimes we need to throw in a little comedy or perhaps some satire. Most of life's so called drama is just the result of imperfect people living in an imperfect world. We should all take Thich Nhat Hanh's advice more often and drink tea or coffee...or even attend a rock concert with friends...and enjoy being being together as if we were the happiest people on earth.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Living Without Rules

Last night I was in my back yard breaking up stale bread for the birds. The sun had set but there was still some daylight. While standing on the patio I realized there was an experience that I had not shared with my granddaughter Chloe yet. Throughout my backyard were the unmistakable yellow glow of lightening bugs. I thought to myself, "Chloe would be freaking out if she were here. She would be chasing them all over the place". I think her next overnighter will be on the 4th of July. I must remember to introduce her to the world of lightening bugs. Since she also likes to sit on my porch and watch ants, I was thinking of buying her an ant farm so she can watch them as they go about their digging and tunneling. I recently saw a story on the CBS Sunday Morning News where a guy was studying ants. He would look for these huge ant mounds that were sitting over myriad tunnels carved out by all the ant workers. He would melt aluminum and then pour the molten aluminum down the ant holes. The bad news is that this process would kill all the ants. The good news is that he would end up with a mold of the ant tunnels. These would become pieces of art plus other scientists would study the intricate and sophisticated complexes as a way to increase our human knowledge of architecture. The detail and fragility of the ant worlds as captured in these molds was extraordinary. They were as sophisticated as any human architecture.

Seemingly contrary to my love of rock and roll music is my love of the natural silence to be found at the beginning and the end of each day. I am not a big fan of getting out of bed but once up I cherish the early morning silence, my first sip of coffee, reading a paragraph or two from an inspiring book, and the peacefulness of simply sitting for fifteen minutes or so before I leave my home for the morning commute. It's a great way to start my day. Life was not always this peaceful. Once I was a full time parent and there were children to wake up, get dressed, feed, and take to daycare or school. I am older now and I have survived those years so quiet mornings are my reward. Later, after the busyness of my work day, my day ends with more silence and calm. There are no children to feed, help with homework, or send off to bed. I am the only child left in the house now except when Chloe is visiting.

My wife went out to dinner with friends last night so most of the evening I was alone. I ate a simple dinner, watched a couple of music concerts, going from the complex sounds of the progressive band "Yes" to the mellow, acoustic sounds of James Taylor. In between musical notes I read from the Tao Te Ching, baked a turkey, and wrote these daily thoughts. Who says I can't be productive? All in all, it was a wonderful night. As far as the turkey goes, my apologies to all my vegetarian friends. Verse 18 of the Tao Te Ching is entitled "Living Without Rules". This reminds me of something my wife once said. She used to work for the company I work for now. I have been here nearly 23 years. She lasted one year. One of her observations while working here was "I have never worked anywhere where there were so many rules". Part of the point of the 18th verse of the Tao Te Ching is to ask if we really need rules to tell us how to live. Lao Tzu says, "If you need rules to be kind and just, if you just act virtuous, this is a sure sign that virtue is absent. Thus we see the great hypocrisy". I'm not a guy that likes rules but as a member of society I follow those rules designed to support order and maintain safety. When it comes to my actions, my rule is my heart. It is my heart that compels me to act compassionately, kindly, fairly, and to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Certainly there are spiritual teachings that support this but it is my heart that drives such behavior. Why is this so difficult for some people?

Where is the master? Gathering herbs, off on the mountain, hidden by clouds.
-Zen saying

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Living The Spiritual Life

The more I try to live spiritually, the less sure I am that I am actually doing it. I believe there is a God but I am often wondering who or what this God is. I still have all the traditional images of God given me in my youth but I don't think its always that simple. I believe God must be an enigma of simplicity wrapped in complexity or vice versa. Some people seem very certain about who and what God is. Their faith is either much deeper than mine or they are blessed with a life of 100% certitude and therefore they have no questions or doubts about anything they believe. I wish I could live with that kind of doubt free conviction. I say all of this because I think the spiritual life, like God, is a mystery. Living a spiritual life is not always about doing things, especially in any kind of robotic way. It's about living and growing and changing and transforming into a more loving and compassionate person. It's also about feeling contrition for your failings and shortcomings as you continually get up and start over after you fall or lose your way. For me the spiritual life is also about a lot of searching, some stumbling down the path, occasional clarity, and sometimes days, weeks, or months of being lost in the fog. Still, many of us continue to follow the voice within us as we journey toward an unknown destination. It almost seems as though someone is calling our name and you are trying to follow the sound. In all of this is a sense of longing. The emptiness within us is a longing to find the source that seems to be calling our name. It can be a great thing to actually hear the sound of someone calling your name. Once about five years ago as I was walking through a crowd at a rock concert I literally heard someone calling my name. I turned around and saw two old friends that I hadn't seen in years. Since that moment in time these friendships have been renewed and with one person many new adventures have been experienced. When my beautiful little granddaughter, Chloe, comes to my house for the weekend, my name is called out four or five hundred times. Where am I going with this? Yesterday I talked a little about emotional needs and the emptiness we sometimes feel. I think this emptiness, and the longing attached to it, are really spiritual in nature. These feelings are not just experienced by lonely people. Sometimes people who seem to have it all still feel empty and they long for something they can't usually articulate. I think this longing is God calling our name. The emptiness we sometimes feel can only be filled by God. Even though this God is still very much a mystery to me, He/She is no stranger. There are quiet moments in my life where the emptiness and the longing are filled and my spiritual loneliness is momentarily taken away. I am grateful for such moments of rest before I once again take up the continuing journey of life.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On Being Emotionally Needy

My weekend was very low key. I decided to be totally self centered and give myself the gift of a weekend without obligations or tasks. Most of the weekend I only did what I wanted. I ran one small errand, and went out to dinner with my wife and son, but much of my time was spent in my little Hobbit hole reading, napping, listening to music, and reading some more. Most weekends seem as busy as my workdays so a weekend with minimal activity and obligations was a blessing.

Recently I received an email from a friend asking for advice concerning a problem she and her husband were having with communication. Last Friday I had some interesting dialogue with another friend about how men are from Mars and women from Venus and how most men and women find the opposite sex a mystery. Yesterday I read a Top Ten List of signs that you are an emotionally needy person. All of this has had my mind going in many directions as I pondered the often rocky landscape of relationships and communication between men and women and people in general. As I read the Top Ten List I was disappointed but not surprised that I showed some of the behaviors of a needy person. Because I think of myself as a fiercely independent person, it is difficult for me to accept this about myself. I admit, however, that I feel I have lived much of my life without many emotional needs being met. Living like this gives me the false belief that I have overcome any potential neediness. I must be in denial. Am I really needy or has my life truly been lacking in the basic emotional fulfillment that all people want? I am not unaware that there are many people in this world who truly like me. In spite of that, like many people I have sometimes felt ignored, forgotten, overlooked, or taken for granted. Feelings, of course, do not always reflect reality but our perceptions often become our reality. I believe my feelings have, in part, contributed to my solitary and withdrawn personality. My love of solitude is not spiritually or emotionally pure. Part of my love of solitude is because I find it safe. When I am alone life seems much easier and there are fewer disappointments. Is a person needy because there are feelings or experiences one wants in life but feels they are not having? What desires are normal? When does one cross the line between legitimate wants and being needy? Are you being needy if you are assertive about satisfying emotional wants? I really don't know. This is tricky territory for me. How much should I reach out? Sometimes I am tempted to fall into my passive aggressive tendencies and think "I am going to ignore everyone and not reach out to anyone until they acknowledge me on their own. I will stay in my Hobbit hole and be safe. I am not going to reach out because I do not want to be disappointed or hurt". All of this makes me realize how complex we human being are. Each of us is a tangled mess of personality traits, emotional needs, wonderful gifts, dysfunctional behaviors, as well as contradictory, sometimes conflicting, and often surprising actions. I suppose this is what makes humans beings so interesting and occasionally maddening.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Art Of Constructive Feedback

I spent much of my evening in darkness after thunderstorms knocked out my power. It didn't come back on until after I was in bed. Sometimes I actually enjoy when this happens. It certainly makes you appreciate electricity and all the things that are dependent on it.

I talk a lot about Zen, and I even try to practice it, but my granddaughter, Chloe, lives it, and, as a child, she is able to do that without any effort. Those of us who are adults, however, must work at it. It is a challenging thing to live your life awake and present to the moment. I am better at it than I used to be but sometimes I am "asleep" even when my body is awake and appearing to go about the daily tasks of living. You can learn a lot about living by watching children. Chloe lives in the NOW. So, she is much more of a Zen Master than me. When I am with her, I am the Grasshopper.

All of us are sometimes criticized. It is often referred to as constructive feedback to give it a more positive spin but it still usually feels like good old criticism. I have been criticized many times in my life and I admit that I didn't always take it very well. It's not because I think I am perfect. It's more because I really strive to do things well and to always do the right thing. When someone tells me I am not meeting an expectation, it hurts. I don't know if there is a painless way to receive and accept constructive feedback. I do believe, however, there are painless and positive ways to give constructive feedback. First of all you must always respect the dignity and feelings of the person on the receiving end. Constructive feedback can be presented in a gentle, even loving, way. Constructive feedback doesn't have to be presented with negative terminology. The reality of a situation can be presented in a non threatening way balanced with positive examples of how the situation could have been handled or how it might be handled in the future. I don't believe any decent human being comes to work or does anything with the intention of making mistakes or doing poorly. In today's complex and highly technical work environments. the use of computers often makes the possibility of errors more likely than not. Some management gurus, like W. Edwards Deming, believe that mistakes in the workplace are usually the blame of a system or a process rather than people. When was the last time a "system" or a "process" was put on a work improvement program? People seem like the only option for criticism, so they are usually given the blame. None of us are perfect and we do make mistakes and sometimes our mistakes may be carelessness. Sometimes we may need encouragement or some deserved criticism. If we deserve it, we need to be humble and accept that we have made a mistake or need to get our heads on straight. If we are the leader, the parent, or the friend, do it in a caring, non threatening way so the person walks away with some dignity and resolve to try harder. Encourage them. Don't break their spirit.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our Part In The Flow Of Life

We live in a culture that places high value on job oriented achievement and financial success. All of us, whether we like it or not, are subjected to this mentality. Society is more concerned with what we do than with who we are. People are more impressed with you if you are a doctor or a lawyer, even if you are a bad one, than if you are a carpenter, a plumber, or a sanitation worker. The irony is that I am sure there are many doctors and lawyers and other people of means that would gladly give a plumber whatever it takes to unclog their toilet or pay a master carpenter their price to build them a customized entertainment center. God help us all when the sanitation workers are on strike. Every time I pass a construction site and see all the workers I am envious of their talent and amazed at their skill. I think the important thing in life is to find something that you love and do it. One should be motivated more by the love of the work than the size of the paycheck or the title. Of course this must be balanced with earning a living that supports a lifestyle in which you feel comfortable. Many are comfortable with a simple life, while others need many things. Not everyone has the desire or the talent to be a doctor or a carpenter. I believe, however, that we are all good at something although it may take us years to discover our gift. Even if we may be in a job that doesn't completely reflect our desire or our talent, there are jobs within jobs that can allow us to do what we do best and reflect who we really are. I never had any desire to be a supervisor in a large office. Much of what I do is not what I love or who I am. However, my current situation does allow me to teach and express myself through my daily thoughts as well as offer me many opportunities to help and counsel people and to be a mentor. Be who you are, discover your talent, find your gift , and do what you love. Everybody and everything is important. We need doctors to heal us, and lawyers to protect our rights, but we also need people to pick up our trash and keep our pipes flowing. We also need supervisors to keep things flowing in large offices even if they would rather be a full time Zen Master.

"Flow" is a term used by psychologists to describe a state of mind that we are in whenever we are so engrossed in what we are doing that we have lost all sense of space and time. It might be work, a hobby, a good book, gardening or simply sitting still and enjoying a sunset. These are the kind of moments I sometimes refer to as a "Zen Moment". They are perfect moments of total presence and wakefulness. We are one with the moment.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poetry from Hafiz

Yesterday was a very busy day that was occasionally interrupted by light hearted emails from a friend. They brought smiles to my face as I tried to reply with my own humor. After a tough day of trying to be an adult, I finally headed home. When I got outdoors I discovered a beautiful day. As I walked into the sunshine I realized that I had only left my work area once for a short meeting and that I hadn't been outside all day. The sky was blue, it was warm but not hot, and there was no humidity. This is as good as it gets in a Kentucky summer. I found myself hoping the weather would also be this nice in a week or so when I make my first rock and roll road trip of the summer. Technically it is still spring but in four days the summer solstice will arrive and summer will be here. When I left work I was very tired but still I looked forward to the evening. I headed for the day care to surprise my granddaughter, Chloe. She did not know I would be picking her up. I knew what little energy I had would soon disappear once she insisted on Pa Paw playing with her. Her eyes sparkled when I arrived in her designated room. We gathered her things and headed for the car where Grandma awaited us. After we got to my house we ate Lucky Charms and toast. We played on the floor and she jumped all over me. She likes for me to sit down. Then she grabs my hands and literally repels up my body until she is standing on the top of my head. It's quite a balancing act to keep her footing on the bald and occasionally slick surface of my skull. Can Mount Everest be far behind? Finally, we went for a walk through my neighborhood. It would be more accurate to say I walked. Chloe rode on my shoulders like the Queen of Sheba surveying her kingdom. After Dad came and picked her up, I collapsed in my chair and took a nap.

A while back a dear friend named Katie sent me some poetry books. One of them introduced me to a Persian poet named Hafiz who lived from 1320-1389. I really like his stuff so I want to share a couple of them.

This once is called "Tripping Over Joy".

What is the difference between your experience of existence and that of a saint?The saint knows that the spiritual path is a sublime chess game with God,and that the Beloved has just made such a fantastic move that the saint is continually tripping over joy and bursting out in laughter, saying "I surrender"!Whereas, my dear, I am afraid you still think you have a thousand serious moves.

This one is called "Silence".

A day of silence can be a pilgrimage in itself.A day of silence can help you listen to the soul play it's marvelous lute and drum.Is not most talking a crazed defense of a crumbling fort?I thought we came here to surrender in silence, to yield to light and happiness,to dance within in celebration of love's victory!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thoughts On Leadership From The Tao Te Ching

A curious phenomenon of my generation is that our children are often more conservative than we are. I admit that I am an unapologetic Sixties liberal. I was a hippie in my youth and I still have the same rebellious spirit that dislikes conformity and still has a distrust of most authority. Admittedly as I have aged I have learned to compromise and adjust, maintaining my personal integrity while not caving in to everyone else's values. I am not a political person and never have been. I do, however, listen to all points of view but my life is guided more by spiritual values than political ideology's. The realities of life have demanded some conformity but I still consider myself a free spirit. Imagine my surprise when I saw my youngest son reading a Sean Hannity book and having a link to Ann Coulter's website on his blog. O my God! My son's a Republican! Where have I gone wrong???? (smile)

I think it was last Friday when I shared Verse 17 of the Tao Te Ching. It had to do with leadership. Here are a few thoughts from the commentary.

Enlightened leaders are those that don't actually lead anyone.
Enlightened leaders create an environment where everyone feels that they have a personal responsibility.
Effective leaders make themselves as invisible as possible.
The staffs of effective leaders think "We fixed it ourselves without the need for interference from anyone. We really don't need a supervisor".
Truly inspiring leaders get results from their own example. They encourage others to be responsible and to do the right thing, but not by proclaiming and bragging about their unimpeachable management.
Truly inspiring leaders create space for others to be inspired and to achieve their own greatness.
Truly inspiring leaders make a difference in the lives of others, resolving conflicts through love.
Fear is completely ineffective.
The least effective means for managing others is to use tactics that will encourage them to despise you.
The enlightened leader trusts those whom he or she is in a position to govern.
Enlightened leaders take pride in refusing to take credit for the achievements of others.

Verse 17 of the Tao Te Ching closes with the following lines.

Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, "You owe me".Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.

I try to live this as much as possible in my work environment. I've often told people that I have a Zen management style. I manage by not managing. This is not the same thing as doing nothing. I think in most work environments, including my own, we tend to over manage. I have to be careful of this myself because I tend to be a perfectionist and that sometimes makes me want to be a control freak. What I believe, and what the Tao Te Ching teaches, is not always easy. Sometimes it is harder to leave things and people alone...trusting the process and the people...than it is to change the process and tell all the people what to do every step of the way.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day

Yesterday was Father's Day. I usually visit my father every Sunday whether it's Father's Day or not. When I walked in the nursing home I could see his silhouette at the other end of the hallway as he slowly wheeled himself along in his wheelchair. We talked for a few minutes before he expressed a desire to go outside. He said, "I want to breathe some fresh air". He asked to go to the rose garden which is like a cross country journey for him. Happy to have the power to grant him this simple request, we made the long journey together. Afterwards I returned him to his room where he informed me he had to go to the bathroom. He cannot go alone and he's too much for me alone so I went to inform a nurse's aid. By the time I got back it was too late. When the nurse's aid arrived moments later we had to go through the difficult ritual of getting Dad from his wheelchair into his bed. At this stage of his life my Dad must wear a diaper as a precautionary measure. I helped to change him and to make him comfortable. When we were finished he looked at me with kindness in his eyes and said "Thank You". It must have been humbling for him to allow me to do this for him. By this time he was very tired so I left him so he could take an afternoon nap. I kissed him on his head and wished him a Happy Father's Day. Because of the untimely death on Friday of "Meet the Press" moderator Tim Russert, and the fact that yesterday was Father's Day, much was said this weekend on television about fathers and sons. I feel closer to my father now than I ever have. When I am with him in this difficult time of his life I am filled with tenderness and compassion and I know that he is grateful for my sometimes clumsy efforts to comfort him. The man who shares the room with my father was also having a difficult time so I helped him get in his wheelchair and position a pillow behind him. He was exceedingly grateful for my small act of kindness. It must be very frustrating to be old and sick and to depend on others for your care. Someday I may also be in this situation. It will be difficult for me to let go and allow others to do things for me. I have no desire to control others but I very much like to be in control of myself. This level of surrender may be life's greatest test for me and others.

A while back a co-worker gave me a DVD of "The Secret". I took it home and stuck it on my bookshelf and then it became a secret where I put it. Eventually I found it and spent part of a Sunday afternoon watching it. Apparently the DVD and book of the same name are quite popular although I was basically unsure of it's content. I did have a bit of a clue because another friend sent me an email that said I knew the "Secret" without realizing it because many of my daily thoughts had elements of the "Secret" in them. What is "The Secret"? Basically the secret has to do with the belief that all of creation and being are subject to the laws of attraction. In other words, we attract what we think about. If you are always worrying about debt or sickness, you will always be in debt and feeling sick. If you think about prosperity and well being, you will be prosperous and healthy. I don't think it is quite that simple but I do believe in the basic concept. I believe in positive thinking, good vibes, karma, and faith. I don't believe that simply thinking about a BMW will put one in your garage. I do believe that much of what we believe does become our reality. Although I have had negative and cynical thoughts in my life, in general my life has always turned out well and somehow all my needs have been met. I am generally a positive and optimistic person who strives to live a life of faith and who tries to always put out good vibes. Although everything doesn't go my way, most things do to my satisfaction. I would agree with the basic message that is the "Secret" but it is not magic. I do believe in and encourage positive thinking. I believe you get what you put out there. If you are a negative, pessimistic, nasty person, don't expect a lot of great things or wonderful relationships to come your way. Practice the religion of kindness and kindness will come your way. Do good and good will be done to you. Love and you will be loved. Have faith and you will move mountains. What we think often does become our reality but just as important is how we live and what we do. Although I believe all these things, I do acknowledge that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I could give you a theological explanation of why there is evil in the world. Whatever the explanation, you cannot deny there is evil and bad things do happen in the world. Evil has always been with us but I believe goodness will always win in the end. Would there be evil if every person was kind to his neighbor?

A Zen master once said to me, "Do the opposite of whatever I tell you." So I didn't.

Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.
-T. S. Eliot

Friday, June 13, 2008

Zen And ADD

This week has flown by for me! I'm not sure why it seemed to go by so effortlessly. Like many people I have my highs and lows with days of energy and other days of lethargy. Earlier this week I sensed within myself a feeling of lightness as though some unknown burden had been lifted. At the same time I had no sense of being burdened. All of this has been a bit of a mystery to me. This lightness of being has at times made me feel as though I was floating through my week. I still do not know why and I am not going to question it too much. Whatever it was and whatever caused it has been an unexpected gift and I gratefully accept it. Today I am just happy because it is Friday, I'm having lunch with a friend, and tomorrow is the weekend. The best things in life are the simple things.

I am still reading and studying the Tao Te Ching. The 17th verse says a lot about leadership. I would agree with these words of Lao-tzu.

With the greatest leader above them,people barely know one exists.
Next comes one they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts him.

The great leader speaks little. He never speaks carelessly. He works without self-interest and leaves no trace. When all is finished, the people say,"We did it ourselves".

Once I was having a discussion about Attention Deficient Disorder with some of my family. I have no data to support this but I think ADD may be one of the most undiagnosed conditions in our society. We live in a culture where we are bombarded with sounds and images. To complicate the matter most of us have jobs and lives that demand multi tasking all day long. With all of this together how can we possibly focus on anything for very long? In my work I am constantly distracted or pulled away from whatever I am trying to focus on. For me, Zen and Mindfulness are not only good spiritual practices, they are an antidote to modern life. Zen is being where you are and doing what you are doing. Mindfulness is another name for this. It is being present to the moment. Being where you are, doing what you are doing, and being present to the moment are very challenging. It is not easy for me to do and I often fail at it. However, like when doing meditation, once you realize that you aren't in the moment, you can return to it. Much of my day I am returning to the moment from wherever I have drifted. My body is always in the moment but my mind likes to wander off. Sometimes I am reliving a pleasant memory. Other times I am day dreaming about an imaginary experience like being an actor in those wonderful Corona Beer commercials. Neither of these activities are bad in themselves. We all do them. They're only a problem when we are doing them all the time and we are never present to the present. In Buddhist Zazen or various kinds of Christian meditation, we sit and try to calm our minds. Our minds are restless and difficult to tame. We can't sit all day and focus on this calming of our minds. Most of us are people in the world who must be about their daily duties. Some of life's demands require an active mind. An active mind that is focused is a mind that is present to the moment and the demands of the moment. It is a Zen mind. Perhaps the prescription for ADD is Zen practice. Better yet, perhaps Zen practice is preventative medicine for ADD. So, if I can borrow the title of a book I once read, "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There"!

The greatest support we can have is mindfulness, which means being totally present in each moment. If the mind remains centered, it cannot make up stories about the injustice of the world or one's friends, or about one's desires or sorrows. All these stories could fill many volumes, but when we are mindful such verbalizations stop. Being mindful means being fully absorbed in the moment, leaving no room for anything else. We are filled with the momentary happening, whatever it is--standing or sitting or lying down, feeling pleasure or pain--and we maintain a nonjudgmental awareness, a "just knowing."
-Ayya Khema, "Be an Island"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Early Morning, Late Night

At this stage of my life my home is usually quiet unless I'm cranking out the rock and roll on my CD or DVD player. If I get out of control, my wife, who is younger than me but seems older, will ask me the question I have been asked my entire life, "Are you deaf"? For the last month or so there's been a little more activity in my house because my son, Nick, has been home from the seminary. This week, however, he has moved into a local parish and is living with a priest and one or two other seminarians. During this time he will be going to school and focusing on some classes that are not his favorite subjects but are required for his eventual graduation. Going to school this summer will also allow him to shave off a year from the time he will attend his seminary in Indianapolis. So, my wife and I are temporarily back to the empty nest for the third or fourth time. This creates a potentially dangerous situation for an Olympic level napper like myself. If there's no music playing, and sometimes even when there is, all the ingredients are perfect for naps. I have a routine I can't seem to break easily. Work forces me to get up early and I actually love the early morning. After a day of working, and after my evening meal, I am often seduced by the allure and warmth of my Lazy Boy chair. I go head first into REM sleep and I soon find myself in all kinds of dreamscapes. When my inner alarm goes off or when my wife walks in the room and says, "Are you going to sleep all night", I get up and slowly return to a coherent state of mind. Here's where it gets challenging. As the night goes on I get my "second wind". The later it gets the more I want to stay up. You see, I love early morning and late night. It's the whole middle part of the day, with it's frantic pace, that I don't like. Since I am a mature and responsible adult I know I can't burn the midnight oil too I am right this moment...because I need my usual six hour nap so I can get up and go to work in a state of semi-alertness. So, before it gets too much later, I will turn off the blues music I am listening to and walk upstairs to my bed. Maybe I will watch some David Letterman to help me fall asleep. Maybe he will do the "Top Ten Reasons Mikey Should Go To Bed".

In the major religions there are contemplative traditions but I also think you can be a contemplative person without necessarily being a religious person. In my mind a contemplative person is one who takes the time to stand back or step away from the fast pace of life and simply breathe. The contemplative is someone who likes life in the slow lane. It's about being awake enough and present enough to not only notice the flowers but also willing to stop and smell them. It's practicing mindfulness which is being present to life in all it's details. Perhaps you are aware of the story of the prophet Elijah in the Book of Kings in the Hebrew scriptures. He had challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a duel. To make a long story short, Elijah won so they ran him out of town. He hid in a cave on a mountain. While in the cave there was thunder and lightening and earthquakes and all that kind of stuff but God was not present in them. Finally, there was a small whispering sound like a gentle breeze. Elijah hid his face for in this God was present. The contemplative person is one who has achieved an interior quiet that allows him to notice the small whispering sounds in life where God is often present. If you are constantly running through life, busy all the time, stressed out, and meeting yourself coming and going, you will miss such opportunities. Slow down and be alive.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Parents

One week from today my parents will be married for 59 years. They were married on June 18th, 1949. Approximately one year later I was conceived. Nine months after that, in the spring of 1951 I was born and their whole world changed. I found myself thinking about this yesterday as I waited in my car for my wife to finish her work day. We often think about our birthdays but most people never think about the time of their conception or what was happening in their parent's life. My mother is now 78 years old and my father is 83. When they got married my mother was approximately 19 years old and my father was 24. I wonder what their first year of marriage was like? They had a year together before I was born. Was it a good year? Were they happy? How did their life change when I came on the scene? Where did we live? What job did my father have? There wasn't much to do in 1951 or so it seems now. What did they do for fun? Where did they go when they needed to get out of the house? What did they think of me? Was I a good baby? Did I cry a lot? How many sleepless nights did they have? Did everyone say, "He sure looks like his father"! I certainly do now and more and more I realize how much I am my father's son. These are the kind of questions children should probably ask their parents while they are still alive. I wonder if my children ever wonder what kind of life my wife and I had before they came into the world?

One of my friends once made a comment to me saying, "I hope the popularity of your daily thoughts doesn't play to your ego". What would we do without our egos constantly challenging us? It is difficult to have no ego. Most spirituality, regardless of the tradition, has teachings about the ego. Buddhists strive for nothingness and an empty mind while Christians strive to die to self in order to put God and others first. Just think of the term "selflessness". It is an easy word to understand. It simply means less of the self. How many of us put ourselves last.....willingly....on a daily basis? The average person is good and does not want to hurt others but they still often put themselves first. We have a tendency towards selfishness. We like ourselves and we often like the glorification of ourselves. We love praise and adulation. I enjoy compliments and I have received more personal compliments since writing these daily thoughts than ever before in my life. It's nice to receive them but one must be careful not to believe all the hype about oneself. I think in the world of celebrities many have met their downfall by believing their own press releases. Some people have been very impressed with the things I say and the way I write. They send me emails telling me so. There is always the temptation to believe that maybe I really am wise and as great as some believe. This temptation is usually squashed when I go home every night. My joke about this is that a prophet is never accepted in his own country...or home. At home I am just Dad or Pa Paw. I'm the guy who can be annoying and who occasionally does what my family calls "flailing". I am the guy getting yelled at by my wife for playing music too loud or for picking movies that everyone else thinks are boring. We should not have big egos about anything. If you have a talent for anything, it is a gift to you for others. You are not necessarily a great person because you have a great gift. Some of the most artistic people in the world are jerks. I believe we all have gifts even if we are not aware of them yet. We are all here for a reason. Sooner or later our gift and our reason for being will be clear to us. I am not a person of many gifts but I do think I have a gift for writing. This gift, however, has only surfaced in recent years. I like having this gift and it pleases me that others enjoy it. When I sometimes write things that impress others I wonder where it came from. My fingers move on my keyboard and thoughts fall out of my head. Most of these thoughts I did not realize were in there. I suppose that my talent for writing, like the gifts of so many other people, have been lying dormant waiting for the right time to reveal themselves. Does the earth have an ego because it produces a flower? No more than we should for producing anything that is good. Be open to the Spirit within you and let your gifts break through the soil of your being and produce joy for others.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Feeling Valued

Two of my friends were in Spain last week attending a week long meeting. Both of them emailed me and shared information of which I have a vested interest. The important thing for me was not so much the information they shared as much as the fact they thought of me and took the time to email me. I've got to be honest. I like it when people think of me. The world is full of people who need me or want something from me. People like this often chase us through life. Sometimes people email me as a response to my daily thoughts. Some of them are apologetic, as though it was a bother to me. It is not a bother. I love to hear from people who have been touched by something I've written. I love it when the unexpected instant message from a friend pops up on my computer asking how I am or wondering if I would like to go to lunch. Occasionally, although it is getting increasingly rare in these modern times, I will get home at the end of the day and find a letter or a postcard from a friend. I have a friend who is a monk in Georgia and he has surprised me more than once with the gift of a book or some interesting article. It's nice to be appreciated and occasionally missed. I'm sure most of you at one time or another have felt like you do all the work in your relationships. You call someone and they are thrilled to hear from you but they would have never initiated a call to you. You send them an email or write them a letter and they always respond but they never would have initiated the contact. Perhaps I am just voicing a personal need but I think I am not alone when I say I feel valued if sometimes other people reach out to me. I like to believe that I am important enough in some people's life that they will also do a little work in the relationship. There's an old saying, "If you need or want friend, be a friend". If you want to be appreciated, show appreciation. If you want to feel valued, show others they are valued in your life. If you want to be thought about, then think about others. Basically, as with many things, we must show the kind of behavior we want to see in others. Of course this concept works for all kinds of relationships and I am far from being a perfect example of someone who always does it well but I do try.

I once received an email from someone asking if I would add them to my daily thoughts list. They told me that someone forwarded my thoughts to them and that my writing reminded them of the author Robert Fulghum. I considered this a great compliment because I really like Robert Fulghum and have most of his books. He wrote a wonderful little book called All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. The book is uncommon thoughts on common things. Here are the basics of his book. This advice will serve you well in life. The author discovered that wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain but there in the sand pile at Sunday school.

Share everything,
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life...learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon. (My personal favorite)
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

Monday, June 09, 2008


Spring has fast forwarded into the kind of extremely hot, muggy days that I hate. It was still 90 degrees at 9:00 PM last night and it is already in the low 80's in the early morning. Normally these dog days do not arrive so soon and I hope they are not here for good. If they are, it will be a very long summer.

What began as a very relaxed Saturday turned into a very busy weekend. I love Saturdays. Normally I can sleep in as late as I want though I seldom sleep past 9:00 AM. I must have been really tired this week. I slept in till 11:00 AM on Saturday. My wife was out much of the afternoon with her mother so I had the house to myself. I enjoyed the solitude. Later in the day the family met at a local restaurant to celebrate my oldest son's 30th birthday. After the meal Chloe came home with my wife and me. She was very good and behaved in her usual sweet manner. She did wake me up in the middle of the night after having a dream about some psychotic Care Bears or something of the sort. She immediately fell back asleep while I stared at the clock on my ceiling. It was 3:00 AM. I found myself thinking that would be rise and shine time if I was at the monastery. Eventually I fell asleep again until about 8:00 AM when I felt Chloe crawling on top of me going "Wake up, Pa Paw"! When I opened my eyes she was looking at me upside down saying "It's time to get up Pa Paw"!. If Chloe is ready to get up, you can, at best, delay it 5-10 minutes. Of course, during all of this Granny is performing her academy award winning version of a possum. Later, after taking Chloe home, and checking on my mother, I went to visit my Dad. I found him in his room, sitting in his wheelchair, eyes closed but lips moving. Was he praying? Should I disturb him? I gently touched his shoulder and he opened his eyes. We talked for a while. He said he wasn't doing well and missed my mother. His room was very hot...he gets cold we went for a walk down a long walkway with lots of glass so one can see the outdoors. We sat for a while and admired the rose garden. Dad was always a big gardener. After a while I wheeled him back to his room and hugged him good bye. I dread the thought of ever being in his place. It is no way to live. By the end of the day, and after a weekend of dealing with elderly parents, a four year old very energetic princess, and the chaos of a family dinner in a crowded and busy restaurant, I was ready for a quiet Sunday evening before another busy work week.

One of my friends, who shares my love of music, once told me a story. She was sharing her enthusiasm for music with another friend. When she finished sharing her story, the friend said, "I didn't know there were still people like you"! At first she wasn't sure it was a compliment. Later when she shared this story with me I told I would have considered it a compliment. Why? I think her friend recognized her passion. Perhaps the friend didn't understand her passion but he could hear it in her voice. It's a great thing to have passion for something. I sometimes recognize it in myself when I am teaching or discussing spirituality and I also share my friends passion for music. There's so much in life that many of us simply trudge our way through. When we have passion for something it is exciting. When I feel passionate about something I feel more alive. I like it that I can still get excited about something. Whether it's beautiful sunrise, a blazing guitar solo, or a quiet, contemplative moment, I can still be impressed. I love to be in awe and I love to be with others who share my awe. How do you know others share your feelings? You know because you don't have to explain the moment or the feeling to them. I have shared many quiet moments with friends when we all knew no words needed to be spoken. It was enough to share the silence. There have also been many joyful moments in musical settings when I have looked at a friend and the look in our eyes told one another that we were mutually lost in the music and experiencing something like a Vulcan mind meld with the musicians. I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that had a Grateful Dead logo with the words, "If I have to explain you wouldn't understand". Any Deadhead knew what I was talking about. I admit that I struggle with cynicism about much in life. This is much in life that disappoints. However, I am grateful that I can still be in awe, can still be impressed, can still get lost in the moment, can still feel joy, and can still be passionate. I still have fire in my belly and I am grateful for that. When I feel the burn I know I am still alive.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Outside With Chloe

I am typing these thoughts from home before going to work. Most of my evening was spent with my granddaughter, Chloe. My daughter in law needed some Mommy time so my wife and I picked up Chloe at the day care. By the time she left our house I was too tired and brain dead to write. It takes a lot of energy to live life on the level of a child. When she was here we ate spaghetti and meatballs, dunked Oreos into a glass of milk, and spent time outdoors on a nature walk. We talked about ants, chased a few birds, watched some bees in the clover, and picked wild strawberries. We also talked a lot about poop. It was great to see her since we hadn't had any time together since our vacation. The Chloe Experience will continue this weekend. We will be officially celebrating her father's 30th birthday and then she will spend the night. Chloe will celebrate her own birthday in exactly one month. She will be four years old.

During our recent family vacation we ate dinner one night at a restaurant called the Smoky Mountain Brewery. Sometime during the meal my wife dropped a French fry on the floor. Chloe looked at her and said, "Memo, we don't feed the floor"!

What is contentment? Most of us are not overjoyed with every aspect of our lives so we at least hope for contentment. Sometimes I am joyful, occasionally I am happy, but often I simply feel content. But what does that mean? I hope that contentment is more than simple resignation or acceptance of what is. Contentment is surely more than a "whatever" attitude about life. I don't want to just settle for what life has given me. I want my contentment to be wrapped in gratitude. Perhaps contentment is the mature acceptance that life is sometimes joyful, sometimes happy, and occasionally sad. No one is happy all the time although some seem to always live with a joyful spirit even when life is hard. Even joyful people who are often happy cannot escape the occasional sadness of life. Perhaps we are content when we live with an attitude of acceptance for whatever life brings us each day. Perhaps contentment is understanding that some days are better than others but all days, even ones filled with sadness, are a gift. Contentment can also be the acceptance that whatever you have is enough. Contentment may be the absence of obsessive longing for more than you need. Most of my life has been good in the sense that my legitimate needs have been met and many of my desires have been met as well. All in all, life is good.

What is contentment to you? What is happiness? What is joy?

Before enlightenment,I chopped wood and carried water. After enlightenment,I chopped wood and carried water.
-Zen saying

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Six Essentials Of A Happy And Balanced Life

Why are some people happy and others not? First of all, it is a choice. Some people choose to be happy despite what goes on around them and to them. Others think they can't be happy until everything is perfect in their lives. Many more always see the glass as half empty instead of half full. It's all a matter of choice and perspective. I do think it helps to have a balanced life. Here are the things I think are important. Every individual must work out how to have and balance these things in their life. For me, they represent the essentials of a happy, balanced, and fulfilling life.

The Six Essentials of a Balanced and Happy Life

Mind. Develop your intellect. Read a book. Learn a new skill. Be open to new things. If you don't use it, you lose it. Rediscover the enthusiasm and curiosity you had as child to learn and discover new things.

Body. Practice wellness. Begin to live a healthy life now. Take care of your body. It is your vehicle through life. Some people take better care of their cars than their own bodies. Don't wait till the damage is done.

Spirit. Be in touch with something bigger than yourself. Have a belief system and a personal code of ethics. Church is great for some but for others it's not. You can still explore the teachings of the great spiritual masters. Check out Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, and others. If nothing else, the golden rule works for everyone. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Practice the religion of kindness and compassion and tolerance.

Work. Give work what it needs and requires. Being a workaholic and working hard are not the same things. Look for work that is satisfying, not only to your bank account, but to your spirit. Work is one of the ways we can share in the creative process of life. Elevate it, in whatever way you can, to something more than just a mundane routine.

Family. Being part of a family who loves you is one of life's greatest gifts. Appreciate it. Strive to make those in your families feel appreciated and loved. Celebrate your family bonds! There's an old saying that goes, "Home is where they have to take you in." Be the kind of person that someone wants to take in.

Self. Take time for yourself. Balance time with others with silence and solitude. Be your own best friend. Enjoy your own company. Look in the mirror and know who you see.

Give all of these things time in your life. Too much or too little of any of them creates an imbalance which can be a source of stress for many people. When our life is in balance, we are at ease with living and happiness finds us.

Living A Zestful Life

Often after the death of a friend or family member, especially when the death is tragic and without warning, it is very common to make a promise to oneself to live better and to appreciate life more. We do this with the best of intentions and pure hearts. As time goes by and the sadness is less intense, we forget our promises and soon we are back to our former ways of living. It's like most every other promise we make to ourselves. We start out strong and then we lose our resolve. The realities of life are often challenging. Our relationships are not everything we hoped for or need, our jobs make us crazy, we don't understand our parents or our children, we're living from payday to payday, and our obligations and responsibilities come from all directions and seem to pull us apart at times. In the midst of all this how do we really renew or begin a life that is full of zest? There are no easy answers but there are things we can do. First of all, we all have problems and challenges. Very, very few people have a truly easy life. Much of life is a matter of attitude. Attitude is a matter of choice. Many of the challenges I listed above would apply to me, in addition to others, but I choose to be happy. Even when life sucks...and it sometimes does...I look for a reason to be grateful. Gratitude keeps me happy. I think many young people are sad because they have not learned to be grateful. I am sad over the death of my friend but I am also grateful because I learned after his death that I was one of the last people he thought about. His brother called and shared this with me. I was truly touched. I could not save him but I had made a difference in his life and that gives me some peace. Of course, gratitude doesn't always have to be about big stuff. It is often the small and little things for which I am most grateful. So, in spite of the challenge and difficulty of always having a zest for living...I get tired of it all, too, sometimes...I will continue to choose happiness and gratitude to guide my life.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Death Of An Icon

The events of the last two days have left me emotionally exhausted. When I left work yesterday I was very tired and I couldn't get home fast enough. Everyday when I leave work I must drive a few blocks to my wife's office and wait for her. At that time of the day five minutes can greatly impact the traffic flow. I waited in the car and tried not to fall asleep. She was fifteen minutes late which put us in bumper to bumper traffic all the way home. I thought I would never get there. By the time I finally got home, cooked dinner, changed clothes, and read the morning paper, I was losing it. Soon I was fast asleep until almost two hours later when my wife walked into the room and asked if I was ready to watch "The Alaska Experiment" on the Discovery Channel. You can measure people's age by how many shows they watch on the Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, and the Animal Planet. In "The Alaska Experiment" three groups of city dwellers are trying to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. I was freezing the whole time I watched as they trekked through the ice and snow trying to find food. As you might expect, most of them aren't coping well. I was happy to finally get in my warm bed in suburban Kentucky. I spent the next seven hours doing the "Kentucky Experiment" also know as sleeping.

Temporarily lost in the shadow of my friend's death was the death of a rock and roll icon. Bo Diddley died on Monday at age 79. Bo Diddley was only four years younger than my father! Bo Diddley, along with Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard, was a significant influence on the rock and rollers of my generation. The famous "Bo Diddley Beat" can be heard in many classic rock songs. In honor of this great musician I played his music last night including a recording I have of him playing with the Grateful Dead in 1972 at a venue called The Academy of Music in New York City. Heaven's Rock and Roll Revue now has one more player. Where do the peacemakers go to get peace?-from one of the eulogies given at my friend's funeral

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Death Of A Friend

Yesterday was a very long day. I was sad all day and I am still sad this morning. Shortly after arriving at work yesterday I became aware of the sudden and unexpected death of a former co-worker who has remained my friend for a number of years. It was the kind of news that makes you feel like the wind has been knocked out of you. My friend was on my mind all day and most of the day I was in the office in body only as I worked in a daze. The circumstances of his death were tragic and they add to the grief. I still remember the first time we met. He was introduced to me at a staff meeting for the department I worked in at the time. I took one look at him and thought, "We'll never hit it off". He came across to me as a typical corporate geek. Little did I know at the time how much I had misjudged him. He had graduated from Law school but never became a lawyer. When I asked why, he dryly replied, "I could never pass a bar". Not long afterwards we got to know one another better as he suffered through the death of his wife. Life got increasing more difficult for him after that but He seemed to deal with it as well as anyone could. After he left my company he moved to another city but we remained in regular contact. He's been receiving my daily thoughts for years and would occasionally send me a note telling me how much he liked them or how appropriate some thoughts were for him that day. He had an off the wall sense of humor that was much like my own. Even though we weren't part of one another's life on a daily basis I feel a real sense of loss and sadness. He was a wonderful person and many people will miss him terribly. The world is a little more empty without him in it. Later today I hope to attend a memorial service for him. Please keep his children and family in your prayers.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Life And Spirituality

When I went to bed on Saturday night, after attending another family graduation party, I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours. After I finally fell asleep it seemed like only a few moments before my eyes opened and I stared at the ceiling to see the time reflected in large red numbers. It was 5:57 AM and I needed to rise at 6:00 AM to get ready for a drive to the monastery. I very slowly rose from my bed and headed for the shower. It always seems like I feel my worst on days I must make the one hour drive to the monastery. I knew that once I got moving I would be fine. I jumped in and out of the shower, got dressed, and quietly left the house. I stopped at a convenience store, bought an extra large coffee, and headed down I-65. It was the first time in quite a while that it was already daylight as I began the trip. It felt muggy and moist and when I finally turned off the Interstate the sun was shining bright as fog hung in pockets throughout the hills. I sipped my coffee and settled into a peaceful drive on nearly deserted highway. Before going to monastery I stopped off at the home of my friend, Father Dennis, for more coffee, cinnamon muffins, and conversation. Time with Dennis is always fun and we made some plans for a longer visit later in the summer. When I pulled into the parking lot at the monastery I thought there were an unusual number of empty parking spaces. It turned out that the retreat house was full of Buddhist and Christian monks who were at the monastery for a week of discussions on spirituality and the environment. There was an article in yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper in the Metro Section if you want to read about it. It's titled "Environment fix a matter of faith".

This past Friday was a slow day at the office so I was able to get away at lunch time and go to a cookout of my father's nursing home. The staff had prepared an outdoor lunch for families of the residents. It was a great experience. When I arrived a nurse was wheeling my Dad down the hallway. I was the first family member there so we sat in the community room and waited for other family members. Eventually we were able to get Dad outdoors where he could feel the sun and wind, not to mention experience the aroma of hamburgers cooking on the grill. Because of his Parkinson's disease poor Dad has been forced to eat all his food only after its been pureed. Trust me, a hamburger and a bun that look like two piles of different colored mashed potatoes is not very appealing, especially when you can smell the various aromas and everyone around you is eating cheeseburgers and hot dogs. Eventually a very kind and patient therapist sat next to my and worked with him to try some more appealing versions of food. He did very well, chewing and eating very slowly, so he will have some dietary changes that will give him a little more quality of life. My father's always had a dry sense of humor which I believe I have inherited. It seems to be blossoming in spite of all the trials and tribulations of being elderly with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and the other challenges of old age. I think Dad is handling his current situation with great dignity and humor. The staff at the nursing home seems to love him and I am happy he is getting such good care.

Life and spirituality cannot be separated. You can't have one without the other. We have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives and this is often based on the many roles most of us have in our day to day living. Stop and think for a moment about all the roles you fulfill in life. In my life I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend. I am also the daily thoughts guy, the run off to the monastery guy, the rock and roller, the employee, the son in law and the brother in law. Occasionally I am nothing and I enjoy this nothingness with its lack of expectations. All of these roles as well as all the nuances and flavors of my personality with my good qualities and sometimes annoying dysfunctions make up who I am. All of these roles combined are my reality. Spirituality is allowing the Spirit into your reality. The "Spirit" in a generic sense can be represented by your personal belief system whether it is Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim or whatever. It's not necessarily the one hour a week you might spend in a church, temple, or mosque. That can certainly be part of it but it is not enough on its own. If spirituality is allowing the Spirit into your reality, then you cannot separate the Spirit from your reality. Your reality is your life. When your reality changes, your life changes with it. The Spirit will adapt to your ever changing reality but it will never be separated from it. I think mature spirituality is when you are not even thinking about it anymore. It becomes like breathing. If I had to consciously think about every breath I took all day I would not have time for anything else. Thank God our brains take care of our breathing and other bodily functions that run 24 hours a day. In the spiritually mature, the "heart" is to our spirit what our brains are to our bodies. If your heart is full of the Spirit, it will guide you in your daily living.