Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chloe Goes Sledding!

The Next Book On My Reading List

Currently, I am reading Wake Up...A Life of the Buddha by Jack Kerouac and Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master...The Essential Writings edited by Lawrence Cunningham. My next book purchase will be Becoming Enlightened by the Dalai Lama. I am not a real Buddhist but I have found myself increasing drawn to that way of thinking and being. I was born a Christian in the Roman Catholic tradition. I am still part of that tradition but I admit I struggle with it. The Buddhist way seems more comfortable in many ways. I believe at least part of the comfort is because Buddhism is basically a contemplative religion. In Christianity there is a contemplative tradition but it is lived by a relatively small number of Christians. Recently I told a friend that I wasn't sure if I was a Zen Catholic or a Buddhist Christian. The irony of all of this is that my introduction to Buddhism was not through the Dalai Lama. It was actually due to Thomas Merton who is probably the most famous Christian monk of the 20th century. He may have struggled with this as I do. However, in his life he may have found a greater balance between his Christian vocation as a monk and his obvious attraction to Zen and Buddhism. At this time I do not see myself leaving one religion for another. In time, perhaps, I will also find the balance that Merton seemed to have found.

Looking Out My Window

Today the sun is shining and the sky is blue. It is 22 degrees and snow and ice still cover the trees and bushes and ground in my neighborhood. For the first time this week I can now see part of the street in front of my house. Amazingly, I have survived the far...without losing my power. Normally, if a person in my neighborhood sneezes, everyone loses power. When it rains, everyone loses their cable. OK, I am being a little facetious but the reality is that my old neighborhood is a little fragile. In spite of everything it is a beautiful day for me. The reflection of the sun on the ice coated tree limbs splinters the light into prism like rays. The really for many, many people in Kentucky and my city is not so beautiful. Thousands and thousands of people are still without power and heat. Several thousand utility workers from around the country are here working tirelessly trying to repair fallen telephone poles and downed power lines. It is very dangerous work made extremely difficult by the tangle of wires and tree limbs, most of which are covered in ice. Whatever amount of money these people earn, it is not enough. The picture above is not actually the view outside my window but it is typical of the view most people have in Kentucky.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Back To Work But The Ice And Snow Remain

Today was another frozen day. My world is still covered in ice and snow. Today's temperatures never got out of the 20's so no melting occurred. The good news is that I still have power and the road crews have done a great job clearing the main roads and making them passable. It was more of a challenge to get out of my driveway than to travel down the interstate highway. Along the way to my office I was struck not only by the beauty of the snow and ice but by its destructive power as well. There were lots of downed tree limbs. The trees in the little park next to my office building were virutally destroyed. Time will tell how the local landscape will recover from this brutal ice storm.

A few quotes have come my way that impressed me.

Begin at once to live and count each separate day as a separate life.
— Seneca

The contemplative mind is really just the mind that emerges when you pray instead of think first. Praying opens the field and moves beyond fear and judgment and agenda and analysis, and just lets the moment be what it is—as it is. We really have to be taught that mind. We now are pretty sure that it was systematically taught—mostly in the monasteries—as late as the 13th and even into the 14th century. But once we got into the oppositional mind of the Reformation and the rational mind of the Enlightenment, the contemplative mind pretty much fell by the wayside. The wonderful thing is that it is now being rediscovered across the board, and there is no select group that holds it or that teaches it.
-Richard Rohr

Finally....from the Tao.

Markings in dry clay disappear only when the clay is soft again. Scars upon the self disappear only when one becomes soft within.

The commentary shares the following thoughts.

Throughout our life, but especially during our youth, many scars are inflicted upon us. We may have scars that are no fault of our own. However, they still impede our spiritual progress. Doctors and priests can only do so much for us. The true course of healing is up to us alone.

Who among us is not scarred and dysfunctional on some level? We are all in a process of finding or searching for healing. Father Matthew, a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, once said that men come to the monastery because they were hurting and in pain. Many, once they are healed, leave the monastery. I once lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani as a novice monk. I can assure your that when I left I was not healed of my pain. At that time I was not even sure what my pain was. All these years later I am still unsure of my true pain and dysfunction althought I now have some idea what it is. Since I left the monastery unhealed, I jokingly told some friends recently that I have been on an outpatient program for 35+ years.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Living In A Winter Wonderland

Waking Up To An Ice Storm

Throughout the night I could hear tree limbs crashing under the weight of ice. My back yard is covered with fallen limbs. There are also several in the front yard. My entire neighborhood looks like a Christmas card. Everything in sight is covered with ice. As I write this, the snow has once again begun to fall. We are expecting 2-4 inches in my part of the world. Much to my surprise I still have power and heat. Occasionally the lights and my cable flicker but so far they have continued to function. Once again my employer has shut down for the day. My wife's employer, however, is once again reacting as though there is no weather event so sometime today I may have to venture out so I can drive my wife to work. Looking out my window I am overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. The snow is coming down hard. Some people are without power and others are working very hard to keep life flowing for all of us. I am aware that this is not fun for everyone. Still, it is a beautiful sight and I am giddy about the scene outside my window.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Opposite Of Today

I am loving this day although the snow is quickly being overshadowed by the freezing rain. Later tonight there will be more snow but the ice is a serious concern. There's the very real possibility of downed power lines. If there is no power, not only will I be in the dark, I will be in the cold as well. I have rounded up every candle and flashlight in the house. Perhaps on this very wintry day, some might be renewed by a picture of the French countryside in June. This is a field of poppies outside the small village of Clairvaux. In the background are the ruins of the ancient Abbey of Clairvaux. Much of it was destroyed by Napoleon in the French Revolution. Today part of it is a maximum security prison. This is also wine country. I wish I had a little French wine right now. A glass or two would be nice as I listen to Crosby, Stills, and Nash who are playing in the background. A little while ago I made my second trip downtown. It was much more treacherous than my first trip. At one point a passing semi truck created the sensation of someone throwing a bucket of slush on my windshield. My wife and I are both safely back home, each enjoying their own solitude. What will tomorrow bring?

Whoopee! It's A Snow Day!

I went to bed last night with visions of a winter storm dancing in my head. I knew it was coming. The storm was so massive even our local weathermen could not miss it. My telephone rang shortly before 6:00 AM today. It was my boss telling me that our employer was closed for the day. I was in shock. The most I expected was a two hour delay in opening. This is only the second time in my 23 years of working there that the office has closed due to weather. Of course, the joy of an adult snow day was soon crushed when I realized that my wife's office was not closed. I thought I had convinced her to also stay home but guilt set in around midday. It seems that most of her co-workers were in the office. My company has 10,000 local employees and opted to shut down for the day. My wife's company has 80 employees and barely acknowledged the weather. So, while she was getting ready for work, I went outside and cleaned off the car. I made the slow trip downtown with only a little slipping and sliding. There was, however, some freezing rain so keeping the windshield clear was a challenge. In my neighborhood we have approximately four inches of snow and we are expected to have freezing rain and sleet all day. This is really only the first wave and several more inches of snow are expected tonight. For the moment...and you know how much I love the moment...I am at home drinking hot coffee and enjoying the view outside my window. I'm sure there are others besides my wife who went to work today, whether they needed to or not, but most of the traffic out today are the unsung and solitary heroes driving salt trucks or snow plows. At some point this afternoon I will venture out again to rescue my wife from her employer.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Experience of God

Here is today's Buddhist thought.

Wisdom does not mean knowledge but experiential understanding. Wisdom helps you to change radically your habits and perceptions, as you discover the constantly changing, interconnected nature of the whole of existence.
-Martine Batchelor, "Meditation For Life"

Often in psychology you have the argument of "nature versus nurture" to explain why we are the way we are. Sometimes in spirituality you have the argument of "knowledge versus experience". It is a desire for the experience of God that has always driven me in the spiritual life. What can the knowledge of God really be? No one knows anything about God with any certainty. All theology is speculation. With that in mind, what is the experience of God? Have any of my so called spiritual experiences really been an experience of God? Even one of my friends who is a priest and a monk told me that monks themselves get into heated discussions trying to define the experience of God. What is it I experience when my idea of the experience of God seems to be happening? Is it God or an over active imagination?

My Visit To France

Today at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and in many monasteries throughout the world, the founding of the Order of Cistercians was celebrated. This order of monks is 911 years old. In 2005 I had the wonderful experience of being able to visit France as a representative of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani. I was able to visit Clairvaux, the land of St Bernard, a shining light of the Cistercian Order, and Citeaux, where the Cistercian Order actually began in the year 1098. Yesterday I re-discovered a CD of pictures from this trip so over the next few days I will share some of my favorite photos from my trip. Today's picture is a group photo of all the people I was with during my trip. The people in this photo were from 12 different countries. I am sitting cross legged in the front row to the extreme right.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Out There Getting It Done

What a beautiful day it was today. It was sunny and bright and the temperature reached 60 degrees. I met a friend for lunch at a local restaurant and it was a joy to be driving around on such a day. Now, even better, it is Friday night. Does any night feel as good as a Friday night after a long work week? The weekend looms large in our minds even though it traditionally turns out to be the fastest 48 hours in history.

Last night I did something that I do not do enough at this stage of my life. I acted spontaneously and went out with some friends to hear some live music by musicians that were completely unknown to me. Earlier in the workday I received an email from my friend, Bridget, asking if I was interested. At first I was caught off guard when I realized she was only giving me a few hours notice. Usually we plan things days or weeks in advance. Feeling a little wild and crazy, I said, "Sure, I'm up for it". Later, as I was leaving the house, I thought, "This idea sounded a lot better at 3:00 PM in the work...than it does right now. This is my prime nap time". I was tired, it was dark outside, it was a work night, I had not scheduled any vacation time the next day, and I had no idea who I was seeing or what to expect. I did not give in to the voices of the old man inside my head. I went to the venue and experienced some new and occasionally challenging music. It was a pleasant evening with my friends. As I joke with my wife and children, I am still out there "getting it done"! Today's picture was taken last summer on a road trip to Cincinnati to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It's me driving my car north on I-71 heading for the Riverbend Music Center. Rock and roll keeps me young and helps me fight the natural urge to rock in my chair rather than at a concert.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Being In The Moment

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
-Dr. Seuss

I found this quote and the picture that accompanies it on a Buddhist blog I follow. It is basically telling us to enjoy the moment. I discovered this truth long ago but like many people I must constantly be reminded of it. Some moments are easy to enjoy, i.e., sunrises and sunsets, live music, laughing with Chloe, being at the monastery, or lunch with a friend. Other moments seem to last forever as we look at the clock and time seems to stand still. Such moments are challenging for me. My life is often a tug of war as I try to make some moments slow down and other moments fast forward. It is sometimes difficult to truly appreciate the ordinary, and sometimes boring, moments of our lives. I know I have wasted many moments in my life and as I get older it sometimes scares me. One day I will run out of moments and I will wish for those that got away unnoticed or unappreciated. Hopefully I will live the rest of my days, whatever their number, with great appreciation for every moment, and when they are over I will smile because they happened.

We Have A New President

Yesterday I stayed home from work, sitting in my chair most of the day watching all of the events of Barack Obama's inauguration. When I was born Harry Truman was President. In my lifetime I have lived through Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush #41, Bill Clinton, George Bush #43, and now, Barack Obama. Although there have been previous presidents that I liked, none have excited me or given me as much hope as Barack Obama. Yes, it is wonderful that he is our first African American president, and I understand the pride, happiness, and sense of fulfillment that African Americans must have, but it's more than that for me. I think he is a truly extraordinary man. I know he is not the Messiah, and he will certainly make mistakes, and he will likely not accomplish all that needs to be done, but he is a man of hope and peace and that inspires me. I pray that God gives him the strength, courage, and vision to lead America and the world where it needs to go. I also pray that God protects him and his family from all harm.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Couple Of Chloe Moments

Here's a couple of recent Chloe moments....

Last week when I picked her up at the daycare it was a work night. After dinner when we got to my house, my wife gave her a bath and she put on her pajamas. Later in the evening when we were sitting sit by side in my kitchen having a bowl of cereal, she looked at me with that gaze that melts my heart and she said, "Pa Paw, since I already have my pajamas on, maybe I should just sleep here tonight". It broke my heart to tell her no. Pa Paw had to go to work the next day. The same evening she saw my Grateful Dead hat. One of the symbols of the Grateful Dead is roses. This hat has a ring of roses around the top. Chloe looked at me and said, "Pa Paw, boys don't wear hats with roses"! Above is one of my favorite pictures of Chloe and me. One of my friends at work had this photo embossed on a coffee mug as a Christmas present for me.

First Snow Of The Season

Tonight we have received out first accumulation of snow. Looking out my window, the silent snow is falling and everything has a light coating of snow. It's probably just an inch or so but it's snow! All day long the sky was full of promise and now it has delivered. I love it! I even enjoyed taking the trash out to the curb and sliding down the driveway. Snow has a way of bringing out my inner child.

Visiting Those In Need

I knew it was going to be a busy day so I got up early, filled the house with the aroma of Viennese coffee and frying bacon, and quietly began my day. I was able to eat some breakfast, drink some coffee, and read the Sunday paper before spending an hour or so hauling all the packed away Christmas decorations outside to the shed where they are stored. After a brief rest and a quick shower, I met three of my siblings at a local health care facility where another family member is dealing with some mental health issues. I feel nothing but compassion for him and I did all I could to help him believe he is not alone, we would get through this, and we would get through this together. The world is full of fragile people and my heart goes out to those who have trouble dealing with life's challenges because of emotional issues and circumstances beyond their control. Emotional and mental health issues are much more than someone just having a bad day.

My next visit was to my Dad in the nursing home. Today is his birthday and he is 84 years old. Most of my siblings and a few other family members were all present. We sang him happy birthday and gave him a cup cake with a candle in it. He very much enjoyed all the company and the attention. I could tell his spirits were high. Even some of the other nursing home residents joined our little birthday party. The staff at the nursing notice that my father is not lacking in visitors and that he is visited by family on a very regular basis.

As I read the morning paper today I saw an obituary for the father of a childhood friend. I immediately had the urge to stop by the funeral home and I hoped the events of my day would allow it. Fortunately I was able to fit it in. I walked into the funeral home and saw someone who I thought my friend. I quietly spoke his name with an implied question mark behind it. He responded "Yes" and I said, "Do you know who I am"? He said, "Yes, but I can't remember your name"! I introduced myself and he immediately knew who I was. We had gone to eight years of grade school together and also played on several sports teams. We had not seen one another in approximately 45 years! One memory I have is both of us being young teenagers, riding a bus downtown, and going to a movie theater to see the Beatles in their movie called "Help"! We sat through it twice. That was so long ago.

Today's Buddhist thought...

Now, there are many, many people in the world, but relatively few with whom we interact, and even fewer who cause us problems. So, when you come across such a chance for practicing patience and tolerance, you should treat it with gratitude. It is rare. Just as having unexpectedly found a treasure in your own house, you should be happy and grateful to your enemy for providing that precious opportunity.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Saturday At The Monastery

Normally when I visit the monastery it is on a Sunday. Today, however, I altered my normal routine. When I got up this morning it was 13 degrees and dark. As much as I love going to the monastery it's mornings like today when I wonder "Why am I doing this? I don't really have to do it. It is my day off. It's dark and cold outside. My bed is warm and I need more sleep". As soon as these thoughts pass through my brain, I stop listening to the voice in my head and I begin to listen to the voice in my heart. I hop into the shower, get dressed, leave the house, and I get on the highway. Before I get on the road I stop for some hot coffee to warm my hands and accelerate the awakening process. The truth is that I love to get up early and to have a nice solitary drive, especially through the rural area I must pass through on the way to the monastery. Along the way I picked up a friend who needed a ride. It gave us an opportunity to have some conversation that we are usually too rushed to have. Upon our arrival at the monastery we were soon engrossed in conversation with a few folks I had never met before or who I barely knew. These were folks who would like to attend my monthly Sunday gathering but are unable to do so. Like me, they are on an intentional and serious spiritual journey. Part of the reason I regularly go to the monastery is to be with other people who are like me. Of course, in addition to this I am friends with the monks and I am a lover of the physical landscape of the monastery. It is holy ground for me and a source of strength and inspiration. It is my spiritual home.

This is how you should contemplate. The world is an idea in the mind to which the word world has been attached. Beyond this idea is the mystery of beingness. But it's not possible to free people from their attachment to the idea--to that which blinds them to the reality--without appropriate methods. So you should tread the path of perfect giving, of patience, energy, meditation, and wisdom. Yet while following these activities, you should remain aware that the world is illusory. It is for the sake of those who do not know that you engage in dynamic and vigorous work and also in meditation and one-pointed attention. Understanding that without wisdom you can do nothing for others, you remain in the perfection of wisdom, which is the awareness that what you are doing is both essential and illusory.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Enlightened?

Today's Buddhist thought is a good one....

To study the Buddha is to study oneself. To study oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas. To be enlightened by the myriad dharmas is to bring about the dropping away of body and mind of both oneself and others. The traces of enlightenment come to an end, and this traceless enlightenment is continued endlessly.
-Dôgen, "Flowers Fall"

I don't know if I have any idea what Dogen is trying to tell us here. Some of it is easy. Forgetting oneself is surely the first step towards enlightenment. I struggle with "to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas is to bring about the dropping away of body and mind of both oneself and others". The really hard part for me is the reference to others. In Christianity it's all about selflessness and reaching out to others. Certainly enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition is more than a state where we are "dropping away" to the point where we become unaware, not only of ourselves, but of others. It's got to be more than a blissful state of being unaware and completely detached. I would think enlightenment is more about a greater awareness and connection to all of life. The last sentence, "The traces of enlightenment come to an end, and this traceless enlightenment is continued endlessly", is also intriguing. I think this may mean that the more we become enlightened, the less we realize that we are enlightened. True enlightenment would be transparent to us. As far as my own continued journey towards enlightenment, the last few mornings while I drink my first cup of coffee and before I leave my home for the office I have been reading the last section of Thomas Merton's The Sign of Jonas entitled "Fire Watch July 4th, 1952". This was the first Merton book that I read. It is difficult to articulate how much this book enlightened my spiritual journal. Up until that point I was attracted to spiritual things and I wanted to be enlightened even though I had no idea what that meant. After reading this book with its blend of Merton's experiences in the monastery and the poetic and spiritual way he saw those experiences, I think I began the real journey of enlightenment. It put me on a path that I am still walking today. Am I enlightened? I can't tell because it is transparent to me. Much of the time I feel I have achieved the opposite of enlightenment. Much of the journey has been in the dark without a flashlight. There's a reason I call my blog Stumbling along the Spiritual Path. Most of the time I am just grateful if I don't fall flat on my face.

Pictures of my granddaughter are always popular. I include one today as an example of a totally enlightened child. If she could only stay that way! I must be having some influence on her. Here she is jamming under the tree in my front yard with her Doodlebop keyboard.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Year Of Not Thinking

Today I jokingly told a friend that one of my goals in 2009 was to not think. Obviously, for an introverted and introspective person like myself this is an impossibility. A more realistic goal would be to stop obsessive thinking. I am talking about the kind of thinking where I get something in my head and I turn it over and over in my brain, shaping it like a pot on a potters wheel, until it falls apart and is nothing more than a pile of clay. Sometimes thinking in general, and obsessive thinking in particular, wears me out. I talk a lot about simply being and that is what I really want to do. I just want to move with the flow of life. Even though I am not a "head type" personality, I am often in my head thinking and pondering and speculating when all I really want to do is be present to the moment. Of course, it's not all a curse. A "StrengthFinder" test in my workplace indicated that one of my top five strengths as a leader is "Intellection". In other words, I'm good at thinking. However, many spiritual teachers remind us that our gift can also be our curse. Maybe, instead of not thinking at all for the rest of 2009, I'll just cut back and only think half the day.

I've been reading and receiving some good thoughts from others recently. Here's some that I really liked.

From the Tao...

Total centeredness and balance would be stasis.

This one really got me thinking...sorry. In the spiritual life we are always talking about being centered and finding balance. Yet, in the Tao, we read that this is not always the best thing for us. It is life's tug of war, the pushing and shoving, and the occasional loss of our balance that actually shapes and molds us. Interesting....

Finally, for all we writing and thinking types who struggle to find the right words, we read the following.

Genuine good taste consists in saying much in few words, in choosing among our thoughts, in having order and arrangement in what we say, and in speaking with composure.
-Francois Fenelon (1651-1715), French Roman Catholic theologian, poet and writer

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mid Winter Blues?

I do not normally complain or whine in my writing and I do not plan on doing so now. However, I must admit that I have been in a funk for a couple of weeks now. I think it is a combination of post holiday blues caused by the return to "normal" life, a slight case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and a feeling of just being bored with my life right now. On top of this, I just haven't felt all that great. I do not feel sick but I often feel depleted. Even the B-12 shots I take every month do not seem to make any difference. Plus, it seems I feel the winter cold more than I ever have before. At my house the holidays are not quite behind us yet. Just today we finally started packing away all the Christmas decorations. It will probably be another week before everything is out of sight and out of mind. I love it when this finally happens because my home seems bigger and simpler without all the decorations. I admit I like them leading up to Christmas day but I tire of them quickly once the holidays are over. I am also weary of the cold, dark, and short days. It will only get worse before it gets better. The worst of winter in my part of the world is yet to come. The one part of winter that brings me joy is snow. At this time, however, we have yet to have a real snowfall. Typical of this time of year, I am also a little bored with life. The rock and roll road trips are months away and very few musical opportunities happen in winter. I do have a show planned for early March but that is really early spring and it seems far away at the moment. Work is also slow and uneventful. The days drag and minutes seem like hours. I try not to watch the clock but that is quite a challenge. When I catch myself doing it I secretly laugh remembering a Chris Rock comedy special where he talks about the difference between a career and a job. What I have is a job.

After being home nearly a month, my son returned to the seminary today to begin the next semester. Even he was somewhat lacking in enthusiasm. Becoming a priest is a lot of work. He hasn't lost the desire but like all of life's endeavors, it's often challenging to get back in the groove after being home for a month sleeping in every day and playing video games into the wee hours of the night.

A friend sent me the following quote. As someone who loves psychology, I really liked and it makes a great deal of sense to me.

Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.
-William James (1842-1910), American pioneering psychologist

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Splitting Wood

It is a cold night, at least it feels cold in this room where I spend most of my evenings. According to my computer it is 25 degrees outside. That's cold enough for me. Recently, when I was feeling old, it occurred to me that one sign of my aging is that I seem more susceptible to cold. Some days I seem to literally feel it in my bones. The aches and pains seem to also increase the colder it gets. The older I get the more I love sweaters!

Today's Tao thought seems to be in perfect alignment with some of my recents thoughts.

The woodcutter works in all seasons. Splitting wood is both action and inaction.

The last sentence in the commentary says, "True labor is half initiative and half knowing how to let things proceed on their own". The commentator speaks of using the ax properly and hitting the wood correctly. If done properly, less effort is used and greater success is achieved.

As I have said before, the way of the world is to push things along rather than let them take their natural course. Many seek power and control over everything around them. Rather than seek power over my surroundings, I seek to be present to everything around me. I seek unity more than control. Admittedly, I have a sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle resistance to anyone and anything trying to control me. In that sense it is a challenge for me to let go. My resistance to forces outside myself and my subconscious attempts to make things go my way, mixed with some tendencies for passive/aggressive behavior, sometimes creates a psychological tug of war within myself. There is a time for action and there is a time for inaction. The secret is knowing the difference. A bigger question for me is what really motivates my actions? It is easy to understand my resistence to other's attempts to control me. It is more challenging to understand the motivation and desires of my own actions.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More Thoughts From The Tao

Here are some thoughts I have recently read from the Tao.

Wind in the cave,
Movement in stillness,
Power in silence.

In the commentary one reads that "Contemplative stillness turns us away from the everyday clamor but allows us to hear the subtle in our own lives. The deepest sound is silence".

It is difficult enough to find stillness and silence in our 24 hour a day non stop culture. It may be even more challenging to find it within our own minds and hearts. The noise in my own head chases me all day long. My own thoughts are like a stalker that is always nearby. Of course, all thoughts are not unwelcome and I am glad that I am a introspective person who likes to think. What annoys me is when I cannot turn it off. Speculative thinking about feelings and relationships wears me out sometimes. I am smart enough to know that feelings are not usually reality and my occasional obsession with trying to interpret other people's meanings and intentions is a laborious task that I would rather let go. Some of this, of course, is due to my sensitive nature that I consider both a blessing and a curse. Letting go of obsessive thinking is part of my personal challenge to simply be.

Today I read these thoughts from the Tao.

We may have great fortune or bad, but we should patiently bear both. No matter what, we must always be true to our inner selves.

One of my favorite new sayings is "It is what it is". It is always a struggle to be non judgemental. Good things happen. Bad things happen. Sometimes life is disappointing. Life is what it is. What I try to do is not judge any of it. Sometimes what appears to be good turns out to be bad. Other times what appears to be bad turns out to be good. When I am non judgemental about the day to day events of my life, I am allowing life to simply unfold as it should. By trying to not judge life's events as good or bad, I simply accept what they are and allow myself to be present to them. They are what they are and life is what it is. As far as being true to my inner self, I usually am and when I am not I can sense it. I like to believe I am doing the best I can to be who I am. When other people annoy or disappoint me, I have to remind myself they are doing the same.

Aging Rock And Rollers

Today was an enjoyable day. It got off to a good start when I drove to work and the sky was full of snow flurries. We really didn't get any accumulation but the flurries themselves filled me with the hope that snow will cover the ground anytime. In my part of the world snow is still magical and beautiful and, sadly, rare. One reason I love the snow is that it is silent as it covers the trees and bushes and ground. During the lunch hour flurries were once again in the air as my friend Wendy and I walked the downtown streets on our way to a restaurant. It was cold and breezy and just the kind of winter day that I find invigorating.

Later in the day I was having some humorous email exchanges with my good friend Bridget. She is my usual partner in most of my rock and roll adventures. On a musical level she is the female version of me. Today we were joking about being aging rock and rollers. We wondered how much longer we could keep going to rock concerts together. Above is a picture she sent me envisioning our future as aging rockers.

Monday, January 05, 2009

When The Holidays Are Over

It is always a little depressing to go back to work and return to your normal life after the end of the holidays. Even though the holidays can be busy and stressful there is a joyfulness in the air that carries most people along. Most of us are generally in good moods and everyone seems excited. At least some of that excitement stems from having time off from normal life and work. I had two four day weekends back to back because of Christmas and New Year's. Even though I enjoy my job as much as I can enjoy any activity that I am forced by life to perform, at this point in my life time off is more valuable than just about anything including money and recognition. I say this with the caveat that employment and income are still very much needed in my life and I am grateful to have both of them. I know I will get over this down feeling in a few days but right now it seems huge. I'm sure some of it is due to the usual Monday night fatigue I am feeling at the moment. In honor of my granddaughter, I am including a picture of SpongeBob Squarepants that depicts how I feel at the moment.

Is it normal to be more emotional as one gets older? Although it is seldom obvious to others, I am often moved to tears by life. It's not sadness. More often than not it is joyfulness. Sometimes, though, I think it is a bit of melancholy for reasons that are not always obvious to me. The strangest things move my spirit and occasionally bring tears to my eyes. Tonight it was the annual Kennedy Center Honors for artistic achievement. Two of the recipients were Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry of the rock band the Who. A brief overview of their careers was shown as well as a musical tribute. In the middle of it I found myself crying. I guess it was because they have touched my life deeply even though they are only two of many musical artists I love. Their music is part of my life's soundtrack and we have grown old together. If the soundtrack of my life is ever released on CD's it will take hundreds of CD's and no one will be able to afford it. I have always been sensitive but it seems my sensitivity gets more emotional the older I get.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Moment Is As Perfect As It Can Be

Father Richard Rohr, a friend and former teacher of mine, came up with the thought that "the moment is as perfect as it can be" as he recognized his own frustration of being stuck in traffic at a red light that seemed to be broken. I remembered this thought today while involved in a dialog at the monastery. It was a dialog that I feel I've been in hundreds of times. It basically had to do with a group I've been part of for almost 20 years. It was the same conversation about progress and goals and where we are and where we're trying to be, etc, etc. It wasn't an unpleasant conversation. It was just a conversation that I am weary of discussing further. I basically shared with the group that I don't worry about anything related to the group and I certainly don't lose sleep over it because we are where we are and "the moment is as perfect as it can be". Like everything else in life, it will unfold as it should.

Today was actually a collection of perfect moments. It began with getting out of bed at an early hour. I took a shower and left the house as quietly as I could. I then stopped off for some gas and a cappuccino and got on I-65 South. My first stop was the Huddle House which is basically a better version of the Waffle House. I met my friend, Father Dennis, for breakfast. As always we had some great conversation. Afterwards I followed him to his house where we had a very informal and laid back mass. The homily was a dialogue between the two of us. After my visit with Dennis, I headed for the monastery where I joined the monk's mass in progress. When that was over a large group of monks and other friends met at the Family Guesthouse across the highway for a luncheon. I was at the monastery with some of my favorite people. There was plenty of tasty food. While eating the food there was more great conversation, a little of Brother Paul's poetry, and an intimate one man cello performance from a gentleman who is retired from the Cincinnati Symphony. All of this together created a perfect Sunday afternoon. As far as I was concerned the moment was a perfect as it could be. Today's Buddhist thought provides some insight into how to create perfect moments in your life.

Happiness and suffering come from your own mind, not from outside. Your own mind is the cause of happiness; your own mind is the cause of suffering. To obtain happiness and pacify suffering, you have to work within your own mind.
-Lama Zopa Rinpoche, "The Door To Satisfaction"

Friday, January 02, 2009

My Granddaughter

My granddaughter spent the night at my house on New Year's Eve. She routinely stays here and like all grandchildren she loves being with her grandparents. As her Pa Paw I love it too. In my selfishness I wish she would always stay the way she is right now. Although she can certainly act like a typical child and she does throw the occasional tantrum, she is still the most loving and sweet and innocent human being I know. I love it that she now talks and is actually quite articulate. Talking with her is like talking with a adult. Sometimes when we talk she looks at me and seems to think "What's the problem, Pa Paw, are you dense"? Of course, sometimes I pretend to be dense so she will continue trying to explain something to me. While lying in bed on Wednesday night she said "Did you known that when you vomit you turn into a Zombie"? A few minutes later, after hearing a dog bark outside, she said, "Pa Paw, there's wolves outside"! I assured her there wasn't and that it was only a dog barking. The next morning when we got out of bed, we sat side by side and snuggled while eating bowls of cereal. Later we watched the SpongeBob Squarepants full length move...twice! We also have a game where I ask her, "Who's my favorite granddaughter"? She smiles and points to herself. I then ask, "Who's your favorite Pa Paw"? She smiles again and points to me saying, "You are"! The picture above was taken on New Year's Eve. Her Teddy Bear is apparently wear her blue footie's.