Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

Once again it is New Year's Eve. Another year comes to a close and in a few hours a new year will begin. Part of this past week and this evening I have been reading through my daily thoughts for the last year. All in all it has been a good year. The only real sadness was the death of my mother in law and the ongoing concern about the welfare of my father who resides in a nursing home. My family and friends are doing well. I am still employed and except for a minor health issue in early November, I am in good health. I have no complaints about my life and I embrace the future with curiosity.

While all the really wild people are out on the streets tonight ringing in the new year, I am having a quiet evening at home with my wife, my youngest son, and my granddaughter, Chloe. We prepared some special food and in the words of Chloe we're "having a party". I doubt that any of us are still awake at midnight when the famous ball comes down in Times Square.

Happy New Year! Cheers! Welcome to 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Michael Has A Great Day!

Although I had a very pleasant Christmas holiday, and I received more gifts than I deserve, life has quickly gotten back to "normal". What is normal? Most of the time my life is very hum drum and even boring. The endless cycle of work and sleep and obligations sometimes seems to be a wheel and I am the pet hamster. It is not a bad life. One gets lots of exercise spinning on the wheel of life. As the Grateful Dead sing in their song entitled "The Wheel", The wheel is turning and you can't slow down, you can't let go and you can't hold on, you can't go back and you can't stand still, if the thunder don't get you, then the lightning will! When I woke up this morning it was just a normal day. The alarm clock seemed to go off way too early and I did not get nearly enough sleep. Things got better from there. Soon after arriving at work I received confirmation about some good financial news that will cause some money to flow into my bank account. No, my 401k did not double in value but I am getting a bonus. At lunch time I drove over to the local Veteran's Hospital to have lunch with my friend, Wayne, who is a chaplain there. We had some wonderful conversation that was intellectually stimulating and I was energized by the exchange. When I left the hospital it was the peak hour of a beautiful, springlike day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the air was cool and intoxicating. This was especially nice considering the fact that it is actually early winter. When I returned to the office and was walking through our park, the smell of freshly mowed lawn filled the air. The grounds keeper was cutting the grass and collecting all the rotting leaves that have gathered on the ground in recent weeks. I felt like I was walking on air. I felt an incredible lightness of being. Last summer at a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert, Tom Petty remarked, "Wouldn't it be great if life was perfect just for a moment"? Well, for me, today was perfect just for a moment. It wasn't extraordinary in the sense that something truly special or unique happened. However, just for a moment, everything came together and there was a sense of unity and wholeness that is not always present. Today I just seemed to appreciate it more than I have been lately. It wasn't a kick in the head wake up call. It was more of a subtle but noticeable awakening.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Resting Quietly In Thoughtful Silence

Today we returned to more seasonal weather. Throughout the day it was about 30 degrees colder than it was yesterday. It's back to cold weather clothes although at the moment, sitting in my warm home, I am wearing my new tie dyed tee shirt, given to me as a Christmas present by my co-workers. Tomorrow, however, when I return to work for a few days, I will be wearing one of my new sweaters.

Here's another quote from Robert Thurman's introduction to Jack Kerouac's Wake Up...A Life of the Buddha.

Not by anxious use of outward means, had Buddha unveiled True Mind and ended suffering, but by resting quietly in thoughtful silence.

I am generally a quiet and passive person not given to bursts of assertion or confrontation. One of my coping strategies throughout life has been to simply wait things out. More often than not it has worked well for me. Although I would not normally attempt to push life along, I have sometimes attempted to give it a gentle shove through subtle means. In most cases it may have been better to heed the Buddha and "rest quietly in thoughtful silence". The way of the world is to run after life. The way of the contemplative is to let life come to you. I am not advocating total passivity here. The "action" of the contemplative is to be awake to the moment by moment arrival of life. Since I believe we humans have a natural tendency to be spiritually asleep, the wakefulness of the contemplative is a form of activism. Most people who think they know me might wonder, "Doesn't Michael already do this"? Certainly I present a calm and patient face to the world. On the inside, however, I am not always calm. My mind is active, my soul is restless, and I am not nearly as passive as I appear on the surface. Beneath the surface I am often fighting life and I don't spend near enough time "resting quietly in thoughtful silence". Perhaps in the new year that will soon appear I can focus more on my "inner quieting" and be more like the Buddha.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Summer Christmas?

As I sit here at my little desk typing these thoughts a nice breeze blows in my window. It is 70 degrees outside. One day last week it was 5 degrees with wind chills below zero. It is so warm today I can't even wear one of my new Christmas sweaters! I know, however, this day is a fluke and soon winter will reappear with a vengeance.

Part of today I have been sitting in my chair and reading my new Jack Kerouac book about the life of Buddha. I am still in the introduction written by Robert Thurman. Here is something I read this afternoon that really struck a deep chord within me.

Death comes from birth,
birth comes from deeds,
deeds come from attachment,
attachment comes from desire,
desire comes from perception,
perception comes from sensation,
sensation comes from the six sense organs,
the six sense organs come from individuality,
individuality comes from consciousness.

My question is this, "From where does consciousness originate"? Is my consciousness the same as my essence? Is the essence of who I am a product of a thought that God had at a particular moment in the eternal Now?

I have never intentionally written a Haiku but here's a first attempt. I don't know if there are additional "rules" other than the Haiku being a three line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second line and five more in the third line. This is perhaps a weak attempt but I will keep practicing.

I chase a Zen dream,
Mystical seeker I am,
It is a new day.

Friday, December 26, 2008


All of my life I have loved books. From the time I first learned to read there has never been a time when a book was far from my reach. Although in my youth I was very much the all American boy who loved sports and the outdoors, I also loved when the library bookmobile came to my neighborhood. I always came home with a stack of books. My favorites books were biographies. These days I have books downstairs and I have books upstairs. There are two chairs in my house where I routinely sit and there are books on both of the tables next to the chairs. Even Chloe, when asked what Pa Paw wanted for Christmas replied, "CD's and books". I received two more books for Christmas. They are Wake Up...A Life of the Buddha by Jack Kerouac. Kerouac is probably most famous for his book On the Road. It was the book that energized those that became known as the Beat Generation who in turn became the precursors of the hippie generation. The other book I received was The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. Unfortunately I don't read as much as I used to do. Most workday evenings I don't seem to have the mental energy to read without becoming sleepy. When I read it is usually during my quiet time in the morning before I leave for work or on a weekend. However, sometimes, when I find the right book at the right time, I am energized and I can read almost non stop. In those moments I can get completely lost in them. Books and music have been my most faithful friends.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas From The Browns!

I know these are difficult times for many people but my family was very blessed and I am grateful. I do not take these blessings for granted. Everyday I try to remember how lucky I am. If you are reading these words, I hope you, too, had a blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Learning To Be Quiet

You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table (or on your rock) and listen. You need not even listen, just wait. You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked. It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

-Franz Kafka from his poem, "Learn to Be Quiet."

I like to believe that I know the value of silence yet I continually subject myself to noise, whether it be music or television or talking. When I am at the monastery I welcome the silence. When I am at home I seem to avoid it. Why is that? The silence at the monastery seems to be full and lacking nothing. The silence at home seems to be empty and in need of something to fill it up. In the silence of the monastery there seems to be nothing to hide from. My friends the monks may disagree with me on this statement. On the other hand, the silence of home can seem deafening. Maybe I am scared of this silence and want to hide from it. Perhaps in my noise I hope I am not seen. What am I hiding from?

It is still cold. At this moment it is 19 degrees. My mind drifts to a warm day last spring when I sat on a rock and all was well. The sun was shining but I was bathed in the shade of trees that no man had planted. They were here before we were.

Santa...We're waiting!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December Daze

Today is the Winter Solstice. It definitely feels like winter. It is 22 degrees as I write and tonight the wind chill is supposed to be 5 to 10 degrees below zero. I have tried very hard to stay in the house today. I have only ventured outside a few times because tomorrow is trash day and I must put my trash on the curb.

There's been lots of activity in the house today with last minute Christmas chores. All the presents are bought and wrapped thanks to the mighty efforts of my wife. If Christmas was dependent on me, there would be a lot of sad people in my family. I just try to stay out of the way.

I am feeling very tired and depleted. Last week was a stressful week for me at work. I was forced into a situation where I had to terminate someone's employment one week before Christmas and in the midst of difficult economic times. I don't feel guilty about my actions because they were justified but I do feel badly about them. I care about people and I liked the person I let go. All weekend I have felt tired and totally lacking in energy even though I slept ten hours on Friday night and almost nine hours on Saturday night. Today I am feeling very old even though I am only 57 years. The cold and damp weather makes my bones ache. Today I was looking at my own skin and realized much of it is wrinkled. I think every hair on my body is now gray assuming it hasn't fallen out. Christmas is four days away. I have mixed feelings about Christmas and all holidays. I want so much to like them and to be in the spirit of what ever holiday is it. I really can't think of a bad holiday memory. In spite of this I am often less than in the spirit and many times can't wait for them to be over. Christmas especially is a mixture of joy and dread.

Yesterday I went to the nursing home to see my Dad for the first time since before my surgery, hospital stay, and the death of my mother in law. In his mental state he hadn't even noticed. I spent nearly three hours with Dad and it was exhausting. He was in a fairly good mood but nothing seemed to please him. He didn't like his lunch. After lunch he wanted to go back to bed so I took him to his room. As soon as we got there, he wanted to leave and go sit in the lobby. As soon as I took him to the lobby, he wanted to go back to bed. As we waited in his room for the attendants to put him back in bed, he complained about how slow they were. When we got him back in bed, he complained about his pillow not being fluffed enough. Each time I tried to leave, he looked at me and said, "You're not going to leave me are you"? Way to make me feel guilty, Dad! Finally I just had to leave him and hope he didn't realize what I had done. On the way home I visited my mother and sister only to have the news dumped on me that another family member was in distress. Jesus! To keep my sanity I stopped at a couple of bookstores and spent every penny of two gift cards my staff at work gave me as Christmas gifts.

Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I Wear Is Pants

I do not live in a hermitage. I live in a house, what I wear is pants, what I do is live, how I pray is breathe.
-Thomas Merton from "Day of a Stranger".

Must you see nature as a machine? Is your only learning chemistry, physics, and ontology? What if poetry was your template for life? Can't you know Tao by the feeling of mud in your sandals? Thus are the sages called silly because they have given up their prejudices.
-Today's Tao Reading

Both of these quotes say a lot to me. For many years I strived to maintain a variety of spiritual practices with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I always seemed to run out of gas. I admit there is a great possibility that my laziness and lack of personal discipline is likely the culprit for my inability to persevere. However, giving myself a little bit of credit and the benefit of the doubt, I also like to believe that I have spent so many years trying to be a spiritual man that my spirituality has become one with my life to the point that they no longer appear to be separate things. This does not mean that I am a saint or that I am a perfect man. I am far from achieving sainthood or perfection.

I believe I have become more like my mentor, Thomas Merton, in the sense that "I live in a house, what I wear is pants, what I do is live, how I pray is breathe". It may be a surprise to some people but I am an incurable romantic and a dreamer. Although I do not consider myself a poet or an artist at all, after reading today's Tao thought, I believe poetry is my template for life. Of course, in my mind, all of this is little more than a side effect of being a contemplative person. I may not write poetry but I usually see life with poetic eyes. Being like this makes me sometimes feel as though I am of no practical value to anyone. I sometimes feel as though I move from one Zen moment to another. Breathing is life and all life is spiritual, not just to those with poetic eyes, but even to those who are blind to the poetry of life. My life is not about doing many things beyond those necessary for daily life. My life is more about being and seeing and awakening. It's about looking out a window at falling snow while drinking a mug of hot coffee. I am not fully awake but I am no longer asleep either. As I read through this I wonder if I should be laughing at myself and my possible delusion that I have accomplished anything in the spiritual realm. Perhaps I should add a line to the Merton quote that says "What I see in the mirror is a fool who thinks he's a poet"!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Joy Of Being Home

I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child...our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
-Thich Nhat Hanh, "Miracle of Mindfulness"

Everyday I receive a daily Buddhist thought in my email. The above thought from Thich Nhat Hanh came today. I have seen it before and it is one of my favorites. I understand what he is saying and I agree with him. Few, however, who live in my part of the world would think today was a beautiful day or a good day for a walk. I woke up to a neighborhood that was cold and dark, with a thin layer of ice on everything. The wind was blowing and sleet fell from the sky. It was cold all day although I did get excited by the occasional bursts of snow flurries. By the time I left work to come home a light but cold rain was falling again. The trees are bare of leaves and color and the landscape has the dreary look that dampens the mood of even the most light hearted of people. It reminded me of the television commercial for the cold product called Theraflu. In the commercial the person who is sick has the appearance of a ghost as he walks the streets trying to get home. Once home, and after taking the medicine, he gains color and his home radiates warmth. Sometimes on winter days I feel like that person. Although nature and the world in general may be cold and dreary, and freezing rain, or sleet, or snow may be falling, once I am inside my home all is well. I love being home all the time but I especially love being home on a cold day or night. I wear my flannel shirt with an old sweater along with my pajama pants and thick socks. I am happy as I can be in my little Hobbit hole. All is well and life is good. I drink my hot coffee, read my books, listen to my music, watch a movie, or take a nap. I am warm and toasty in my little room hidden away from the world.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter Storm Watch

Tonight is our first winter storm watch of the season. As usual, people are in a panic. How can I tell? Well, I went to the pharmacy on my way home from work to pick up my monthly supply of insulin. My pharmacy is located inside a large grocery store. The place was packed and every checkout lane had long lines of people. They were buying food like it was their last chance before the big winter snows close the passage into town. At this hour you are probably lucky if you can find a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. The real worst case scenario is that people in the local area may be delayed a couple of hours tomorrow morning as they head for work. Will people really need that much bread and milk to get through the next 24 hours? As I left the store there was some sleet coming down. I think there may be a few inches of snow forecasted that based on the history of our local meteorologists will never fall. Perhaps winter storm watches need to be renamed "People Freakout Alerts". When one is issued all sane people will be alerted to stay away from all grocery stores!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Being Pa Paw

After a nice long sleep on Friday night, my wife, son, and I went to pick up my granddaughter, Chloe, on Saturday morning. She was coming to our house for the weekend. Feeling brave, we decided to take her to the Mall. That turned out to be a little stressful. Twelve days before Christmas the Mall is a bustling place with thousands of people. My biggest fear was that Chloe would get away from me. However, being a vigilant grandfather, she was never out of my sight. The Mall can be a wondrous place with its sights and sounds and smells. Although I sometimes have mixed feelings about the Christmas season, overall I love this time of year and the wonderful spirit and excitement that fills the air. I pushed Chloe around in her stroller and we took in all the sights around us. Before leaving we stopped and got some hot pretzels. They were very tasty as my wife, son, Chloe, and me sat on a bench and consumed them as people moved all around us in all directions. Later in the day, after dinner and when darkness has fallen, we drove around some local neighborhoods and looked at Christmas lights and other holiday decorations. Chloe loves doing this and gets very excited. Pa Paw likes it, too.

Early today, Sunday, about 7:30 AM, Chloe informed me that it was daylight outside and that it was time for us to get up. As we continued to lay in bed, she informed me that her Mommy and Daddy do not like to get up early. We then agreed that her grandmother does not like to get up early either. "Only Pa Paw's like to get up early", she told me. After getting up we went downstairs and made my coffee. She scoops the coffee and I pour the water. After the coffee was made we went into the living room and watched the "SpongeBob Squarepants Christmas Show" followed by two viewings of the traditional and very old "Frosty the Snowman". In the busyness of the weekend I forgot to take any new pictures but I am still including a picture from one of my favorite Pa Paw moments. When Christmas Day arrives I'm sure I will have new photos to share.

After taking Chloe home so she could see her dog, Cosmo, and, of course, her parents, my wife, son, and I went to see "The Day the Earth Stood Still". I had to see this remake since the original was a childhood favorite. The original was better although I liked the new version, too.

Now it is Sunday night. I will soon read the morning newspaper. The trash is gathered for me to take to the curb. The dirty laundry will wait till tomorrow. I must also get myself psyched for another work week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Finding Your Voice

Today's daily Tao verse reads "Express yourself. That is meaning". These are simple words with deep meaning. They ask the question, "What remains unexpressed within me"? Much of my life, especially when I was younger, I struggled to find my voice. In some previous thoughts I wrote about the need for creativity in our lives. Your creativity is your voice. Until you find your gift for creativity, you will not find your voice. I cannot paint and I am not a musician. I've never thought of myself as an artist. However, in the beginning of my mid life years I discovered that I had a gift for writing. I started expressing myself in words and people liked what I said. With their encouragement I continued to write and to express myself more openly and honestly. I shared my life, my joys, and some of my frustrations. Some thoughts, however, are private and not for public consumption. Nevertheless, I have shared much of my life and many people have found comfort and encouragement from my thoughts, experiences, and my attempts to understand myself. A small email distribution grew into a list that contained hundreds of names. Eventually I created this blog. For a long time I wondered if anyone read it. I felt like I was just writing for myself but that was fine with me because I write for myself as much as I do for others. Since the creation of this blog I have become aware that hundreds of people have read my thoughts all over the world. Maybe I am not changing the world but I am making a difference in some people's lives. Through words, I have found my voice. I have found meaning by expressing my feelings and sharing my experiences with others. Everyone has a gift but they are not always easily identified. Keep searching though and you will find your voice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Favorite Merton Photo

The 40th Anniversary Of Thomas Merton's Death

On this day, 40 years ago in Bangkok, Thailand, Thomas Merton was accidentally electrocuted and died. He was 53 years old. The year was 1968. I was a seventeen year old hippie at the time and didn't even know who Thomas Merton was. Four years later I was a novice at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the very monastery where Merton lived. I would have to say that Merton has been one of the most influential people in my life. Through Merton I learned about contemplation, Zen, and Buddhism. I was introduced to Merton's writings in 1970 when I lived in a Franciscan community at a place called Duns Scotus College outside Detroit, Michigan. One of the Friars, Brother Brian, gave me several Merton books as a gift. The first one I read is still one of my favorites. It was "The Sign of Jonas". It was a journal written in the late 40's and early 50's and detailed life at Gethsemani. It was the book that made me think I might want to be a monk myself. Since that time I did live at Gethsemani for a while, I have always had a relationship with Gethsemani and many of the monks, I have made two solitary retreats in Thomas Merton's Hermitage, and for the last twenty years I have been part of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani, a group of lay people committed to living contemplative lives in the world. All of this began with the reading of "The Sign of Jonas". Merton's influence is a big part of why I am who I am. The pictures above are a photo of me taken several years ago just outside Merton's Hermitage. Those familiar with the hermitage will recognize the wooden cross and wagon wheel. The other picture is of the Dalai Lama and Dom Timothy Kelly visiting the grave of Thomas Merton. The picture was taken at the time of the Dalai Lama's first visit to Gethsemani for a Christian/Buddhist dialog. Dom Timothy was my primary teacher when I was a novice at Gethsemani.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Geography Of The Heart

I woke up from a deep sleep this morning with the unpleasant realization that I had to leave my bed and go to work. Once out of the bed I was fine and I proceeded to the office. All day long I was tired and sore. It took me a while to realize why I was sore. Over the weekend I gave a co-worker a bed I no longer needed. They came to my house on Saturday to pick it up and I helped her husband carry the mattress and box springs out to his truck. I'm still not totally recovered from my surgery so I probably shouldn't have done it and I also do so little manual labor that I am terribly out of shape.

I had my final visit with my surgeon today. Being tired and sore and a little bored at work I was happy to leave the office early even if it was for a doctor's appointment. I got to the doctor's office a little early and was happy to sit quietly in the warm waiting room. I was in a slight daze when the receptionist called me to the window. "Mr. Brown, I need you to sign this form concerning your colonoscopy". Colonoscopy??? Excuse me??? I'm here for a surgical follow up. I'm not here for any colonoscopy! Wow, that was a close call. I've had enough of those in my life. Heck, sometimes life itself feels like a colonoscopy!

Today's Tao reading is as follows......

Why yearn for a promised land? The true land is in the heart.

The commentary for this reading mainly discusses those people in the world who have been separated from their places of birth by war, economics, abduction, lack of work, and many other reasons. The land we call home has a strong pull on us. I always remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz story saying, "There's no place like home"! I am not a great world traveler but anytime I have left my home, it was always good to return to it. In the monastic life there is a term that refers to a monk's love for his monastery, a physical place where he has promised to remain for his entire life. The term is "Lover's of the Place". A friend of mine who passed away several years ago, Abbot Francis Kline of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, wrote a small book using this phrase as his title. Although we may have a strong pull or longing for a particular piece of physical geography, I believe there is a deeper pull and longing for something beyond geography. Most of my life I have felt a sense of longing for something I can not even identify. At times I have felt like an exile. In spite of much introspection I can never seem to identify why I have these feelings of longing and desire or the emptiness they expose. I am in the land of my birth so I am not yearning for any physical homeland. I am already there. What am I longing for? What am I looking for to fill the emptiness and satisfy the longing? Is the longing a human need for love and affection or a call into a deeper experience on a more spiritual level? I don't know. I do not think my experience is unique. I believe it is a common experience and perhaps part of most people's human journey through life. One thought I did have over the weekend is that when I feel these feelings I am sometimes spending too much time thinking of myself and my needs. The less I think about me, the less I feel unhappy. If the true "promised land" is the heart, I should open my heart more to others and spend less time thinking about myself.

Today's newspaper reminded me that John Lennon was murdered in New York City 28 years ago today. It still makes me sad to think that John and George Harrison are both dead. Their music, with the Beatles and as individuals, will always keep their memory alive with me.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Visit To The Monastery

I woke up very early this morning. My bed was warm and soft. Outside my window it was dark and very cold. For a few moments I was tempted to simply roll over, go back to sleep, and re-enter my dream world. My better self prevailed and I got up and headed for the shower. Today was the first Sunday of the month and I was expected at the monastery. After I got dressed and ready I checked to see if I had everything I needed, i.e., notes for the group discussion, my chicken pasta casserole for the pot luck lunch, a Thomas Merton book for an opening reflection, and some music for the drive. Having everything I needed I headed out of the house. It was very cold with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees. I drove to the gasoline station and froze my butt off while filling the car up with fuel. Then, after a quick stop at McDonald's for coffee, I hit the road. Early on a Sunday morning, on a very cold December day, there is little traffic even on the Interstate. Soon I reached my first exit and I headed down the two lane Highway 245. I love this part of the drive. The sun began to rise and eventually showed its bright and orange face through the trees. At this time of year the bare trees stand at attention like sentinels at their posts guarding the surrounding countryside. Further down the road the morning sun stared me in the face and I was nearly blinded as I drove the winding road.

I arrived earlier than expected at the monastery. The monastery in winter is an exceptionally quiet place. I headed for the dining room for a refill of my coffee. I sat at a table and quietly looked out the window into the guesthouse garden. The room was warm and I was as happy as I could be. Soon the people....friends....I gather with every month began to arrive. They are a great bunch of people and I have known some of them for many years. We had some great discussion, we sang and prayed with the monks, and we ended our time together breaking bread and sharing a meal. I love the monastery, the monks, and these people. The monastery and the monks have been a huge influence on the kind of person that I am. It's a part of my life that is impossible for me to imagine not being part of my life. Whatever is good about me, the monastery deserves some of the credit.

On the way home from the monastery I stopped at the home of my friend, Fr. Dennis. I had not seen him in a couple of months. Last month my monastery visit and my visit with Dennis didn't happen because of the health issue that landed me in the hospital in early November. As I have said before, Dennis and I are like brothers. I always enjoy being with him and whenever we are together the discussions are often deep and the laughter is plentiful.

Tomorrow it's back to work as the December daze continues.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Learning Is The Fountain Of Youth

Learning is the fountain of youth. No matter how old you are, You mustn't stop growing.

Today we have another intriguing thought from the Tao. The commentary says, "The creativity that everyone can engage in is learning. The continuing act of creativity keeps us young".

In my own life I have always believed that education gives us knowledge but life gives us wisdom. I regret the lack of formal education in my life. To compensate for it, I have focused much of my energy on the acquisition of wisdom. I have not, however, given up on education. Most of my life I have been a voracious reader and life itself has been my teacher. I study life and I observe it. I like to imagine that as I walk through life I am constantly collecting data. Coupled with this is my natural tendency to be introspective and reflective. My spirituality is contemplative. In my mind to be a contemplative means constantly striving to be an "awakened one". It doesn't matter what faith system you subscribe to or what your beliefs are. The deeper you get into a contemplative mindset, the more awakened you are. When I am asleep to life and what goes on around me I am not being contemplative. In a manner of speaking, the deeper I go into contemplation and the more awakened I am, the younger I become. The contemplative, awakened state is the fountain of youth. The more awake you are, the more childlike you become, and life becomes filled with wonder and awe. It is the wonder and awe of a spiritual being living in the grace of the moment and the light of God. When you are in such a state of being, your body may age but you are eternally young in spirit.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Brokenness And Creativity

In recent weeks and months I feel like I have been on some kind of intellectual holiday. Looking back over recent posts there is very little reflective thought. Since I quit sending our daily emails to hundreds of people, I have felt no pressure to provide people with something to think about. This lack of pressure and the events in my life during the month of November put me in a trance where I have read very little and I have only thought about the needs of the moment. The transition back to work has been smooth and after only a couple of days I feel like I was never away. The downside to returning to work is that I have fallen back into a pattern of going home and falling asleep in the early evening. I wake up in a daze and spend the rest of the night in a fog. I need to break this pattern quickly before it becomes too entrenched.

Today during lunch I read the following thought from a book entitled 365 Tao. The book has daily meditations from a Chinese philosopher named Deng Ming-Dao.

There's nothing to paint anymore.
We've seen everything from the classical to the absurd.
There's nothing to write anymore.
As many books are shredded as read.
There's nothing to sing anymore.
The once avant-garde is now background music.

Basically, this reading is about the difficulty of maintaining creativity. Though it is difficult to maintain creativity, we are compelled to keep trying. The commentary on these verses says, "The only way to have fresh expression is to go deep within". Although I have certainly had a few deep moments in the last couple of months, a great deal of my time has been spent living on the surface of my life with needs and concerns that were staring me in the face. I have experienced a variety of moods, some good, some bad, others positive and some that were negative. Looking out the window in the room where I write most of my thoughts I noticed that all the leaves on the tree in my front yard were now on the ground and the limbs of the tree were bare and exposed. Looking closer I realized the tree had several broken branches from the windstorm that blew through my area several months ago. It made me wonder, "How much brokenness do we hide from others with various disguises and coverings"? If we were all emotionally exposed to one another, how much hidden brokenness would we see? What is my brokenness? Where do I hurt and why? How do we heal ourselves? I think part of my ongoing healing will occur by going "deep within" and writing about it as honestly and openly as I can. Metaphorically, as well as literally, I want to continue painting and writing and singing. The creative process is a healing process and by exposing my pain and brokenness, I allow myself to be healed.

Whatever my mood, it always improves when I see my granddaughter. After work today my wife and I picked her up at the day care center. She is always excited to see me. We had dinner at McDonald's where we ate hamburgers and french fries and chocolate chip cookies. On the way to my house we drove through the surrounding neighborhoods and looked at all the Christmas lights. My heart was lifted when I heard her squeals of delight whenever we saw a house that was decorated. We both agreed that we prefer the colored lights over white lights. We ended the night by watching "A Shrek Christmas" on television and drinking pumpkin egg nog.