Monday, March 30, 2009

Good Thoughts

Contemplation becomes a way of life. I don’t like to think of it so much as something I do but something I am, so I often use the phrase—the contemplative stance. It’s a way of living, moving, and being in this world. I fully admit that we don’t live all of our twenty-four hours there. The world keeps pulling me back into the false self. Put on this hat. Put on this identity. Take on this hurt. Put on this self-importance, and we all do it, and it’s all right as long as we know how to take it back off again.
-Richard Rohr ofm

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.
-Thomas Merton

Trusting Your Experience

I had a few minutes at work today so I read today's Tao thought. Here's what it said.

Wearily I open my prayer book,
Sepia photograph of sage on amber page,
Flaming raven Sanskrit, strange syllables,
Intone, chant, repeat.
Number vows with beads,
Every resolution is inspiration petrified.

What the Tao is teaching us with this saying is that we all sometimes get weary of our spiritual practices and when they are empty for us it is fine to give ourselves a break from them. However, it also goes on to say that the discipline of spiritual practices has a value in itself. I suppose that all of us have moments of spiritual consolation as well as moments of spiritual desolation. Many, if not most, of the great saints and mystics experienced more darkness than light, more desolation than consolation, and very often lived by pure faith rather than in the bliss of deep inner peace.

At this time in my life I struggle with the whole idea of spiritual practices. It's not that I believe discipline has no value. Most of our lives would be chaos without some kind of discipline in them. For me it is a big discipline just to go to work everyday. I think my current struggle with spiritual disciplines is because of the duality they bring into my life. Spiritual practices are associated with a "spiritual life" that can seem separate from the rest of my life. I prefer to strive for a life that is sacred in all its aspects and not compartmentalized into a spiritual life and a secular life. Why do I have to do "spiritual things" as though the simple living of my life is not a spiritual thing? Yes, I know this could be seen by some as a justification of my own laziness and lack of discipline. In all honesty, I cannot see a difference in my life when I am faithful to spiritual practices or when I ignore them. The awakening of my total being through being present to the moment in all its joy, pain, or boredom seems to be what makes a difference for me. At this point in my life I am trusting my experience but whatever works for you, keep doing it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

No Obligations and No Commitments

This has been a great weekend. I don't care if today's temperature never got out of the high 30's. This is one of the first weekends in recent memory that I haven't had any obligations or commitments. I've had 48 hours or so where I could do whatever I wanted. What I choose was to get plenty of sleep, approximately eight or nine hours a night, and to spend most of my waking hours hidden away in my man cave. I have delighted in being alone, listening to music, reading books, drinking coffee, and sometimes doing nothing but staring out the window. Now, as the weekend draws to a close, I have four days of work ahead of me before my wife and I take a long weekend trip to the mountains. One of the workdays I am attending an off site business conference which is almost like not working. However, I hope I don't break my neck from my head bobbing up and down in total boredom. Such meetings with hundreds of people are introvert hell. O well, I've done it before so I guess I can tough it out one more time. For now, however, I will enjoy the remainder of this cold and dreary Sunday. It's a little bit of a shock after the warm, spring days we've had lately. Like I said, I don't really care. The moment is perfect and I am enjoying it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. My body is now 58 years old but I think my mind is still about 25. It was a good day. The day before I was down in the dumps but after a visit to the hospital on Wednesday night to see a family member I felt much better. Their improvement lifted my spirit. When I arrived at work on Thursday I could see balloons at my desk before I even got there. My wonderful staff had bought balloons, prepared a wonderful lunch, and decorated a cake. As though that wasn't enough, I also received a birthday card with gift certificates to a local restaurant and one of my favorite bookstores. I must admit it was very nice, if a little embarrassing, to be the object of such attention and affection. One of the ironies of my personality is that I want attention and recognition but am also embarrassed by it. However, I deeply appreciated the thoughtfulness. It means a lot to me. Later, after my workday was over, my wife and I met our son and Chloe for dinner. When I see Chloe everyday is my birthday. As soon as she saw me she ran to me and jumped in my arms. Chloe is a little girl who deeply loves her Pa Paw and her Pa Paw deeply loves her.

Today is Friday and I love Fridays. I have a job that is mostly enjoyable but I am still always happy to arrive at the end of the work week. I have a good job and I work for a good company. However, working is still something I do against my will and I feel like a prisoner during the work day. The weekend represents freedom or, at the very least, a 48 hour pass from prison. Many people feel this way but as I age, the longing for personal freedom deepens. Of course, even the workplace has a positive side. One highlight of my workday is friendships. Today one of my friends took me out for lunch in honor of my birthday. She is my most frequent lunch partner. We decided that in 2009 we would try to go places for lunch where one or both of us had never been. Today we went to Old Chicago and enjoyed their wonderful lunch buffet as well as great conversation that was filled with laughter. Now it is mid afternoon as I type these notes. I should be working but I am sleepy and bored. In my mind I am already out of here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Miles To Go Before I Sleep

I am not in a great mood today. I was awakened from a sound sleep at my usual workday time. Outside my window it was pouring down rain. I never enjoy leaving my bed or my home in the dark on a rainy day. Grudgingly, I got up and went through my morning routine in a catatonic state. While I was brushing my teeth I realized that not only did I have to go to work, it was Wednesday and I would have to visit the hospital in the evening. In other words, to paraphrase Robert Frost, "I had miles to go before I sleep". I must admit to some compassion fatigue due to people needing me. At least part of my bad mood was also caused by problems I've been having with my home computer. I've been having some problems that I have been trying to resolve on my own despite my lack of technical skill. I think I have solved the problem but with a big price. My computer now resembles the main character in the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons". I have done what is called a "System Restore" that basically takes your computer back to its original state when you took it out of the box. Like Benjamin Buttons it has aged backward to it's infancy. I think my computer is saved but I have lost some pictures and documents that were saved on my hard drive plus I need to reinstall some problems like Microsoft Word, Instant Messaging, and Virus protection. I am not a computer geek but I do love my computer and the way it allows me to connect with people and the world.

I think I am also a little depressed because tomorrow is my birthday. It comes at a time when I am very bored with much of my life. Many days I am only happy because nothing bad is happening. It is very rare for something really good to happen. Some of you may find that surprising since I often write about my life in a positive way. The reality is that the best birthday gift I could receive would be a sabbatical from my own life. I am tired of every aspect of my life with the exception of being Chloe's Pa Paw. She continues to be a source of bottomless joy. A lot of my life has been a spiritual quest and a search for meaning. I am often haunted, however, by the words of a faraway friend who once said, "Michael, you shouldn't have to look so hard for meaning in your life. It should be obvious to you. If it's not, maybe you are in the wrong life". Am I in the wrong life? Who knows? If I am, what is the right life? I don't know what else to do right now but hang in there. I know moods are like the weather and these negative feelings will go away. I also know that feelings do not always reflect reality. This moment is a cloudy day and perhaps my visibility is limited. A new day can improve that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gifts, Talents, And Skills

During my meeting at the monastery on Saturday one of the things we talked about was gifts. Gifts are slightly different than talents or skills but all of these are closely related. In my mind a gift is something that you are born with. I believe, and other people have told me, that I have a gift for writing. I have never done anything to develop the talent or the skill of writing although I believe it has become a talent and a skill. It comes naturally and easily to me. I may never get rich writing and I may never be as good as Thomas Merton or Henry David Thoreau, but I am confident I will always be able to express myself well through writing and I know there are others who like what I say and how I say it. My basic gift of being able to write has developed into a talent and a skill. On the other hand, although I believe I also have a gift for appreciating and loving music, I have absolutely no talent or skill as a musician. I will never be able to play the guitar like Eric Clapton although with a little effort I might be able to write the lyrics to a song. I think gifts and talents are closely related. A gift is the inherent ability to do something. Talent is perhaps the development of a gift. Skills can be learned without necessarily have a gift or talent for something. For example, I have developed some skill with Microsoft Excel in my daily work. At the same time I don't really have a gift or special talent for things of a technical nature. My home computer is now down and I am helpless on my own to fix it. For that I will need the skill and talent of another person who I also hope has the gift of fixing computers for a minimal cost.

Beyond the gift of a talent or a skill that we might be able to do well, I think there is also the gift of who we are. Over the years I have learned much about who I am. There have been some psychological tools that have helped me. Through the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator I have learned that I am an introverted, intuitive person shaped more by personal values than other's rules, and that I am someone who likes my life to be as open as possible and not terribly restricted or driven by the clock. Through the Enneagram I have learned that I am a peacemaker who hates conflict and disharmony. I have learned that my very presence often makes others feel peaceful and safe. Who I am seems to have a calming influence on others. Finally, in the last year or so, through a program and book called "StrengthFinders" I have learned that my top five strengths as a person are empathy, intellection, connectedness, developing, and communication. I care about people, I am a thinker who can usually connect the dots to see the big picture, I like to develop people and my ability to communicate speaks for itself. All of this stuff together is who I am as a person when I am at my best. For others it will be a different assortment of traits and talents and skills. However, whenever any of us are our "true selves"...that version of ourselves most perfect and real...we are a gift to others.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I Think Spring Is Really Here!

Spring has sprung in my part of the world. Forsythia bushes are bursting with yellow flowers. White dogwoods are everywhere with a few pink ones as well. Daffodils and budding trees cover the land. What I have not seen are red bud trees. Where are they hiding?

I went to the monastery yesterday. As always it was a pleasant drive through the countryside. I am happy I have commited myself to go there twice a month. It may only be for the day but it is good for me to reconnect with the place and the people I encounter there whether they be monks or just regular folks like me. I managed to see my old friend, Father Damien, who has recently returned from an extended stay in Indonesia. The only bad thing about these monthly visits to the monastery is that they are usually rushed and full of activity. What I need is a day or a weekend where I am basically alone and I can be quiet and solitary.

When I returned home I took a short nap in preparation for Hurricane Chloe hitting land at my house. She's always very good and I truly look forward to her visits but she keeps me on my toes. She is just a few months from being five years old. She speaks very well and is quite intelligent. We have wonderful conversations, especially at night when we are lying in bed. Last night we played a game where we picked a letter of the alphabet and then tried to name as many things as we could that began with that letter. The game totally degenerated when we picked the letter "B" and I said that "Butt begins with B". It was downhill from there.

It has been a beautiful Sunday and it can only get better. In two weeks I will be in the mountains. I can't wait for the time off and the distance I will put between my normal life and the experience of being surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Night At The Hospital

Yesterday was an enjoyable but busy day. After my work day ended I was sitting in my car waiting for my wife. I was looking forward to a night of leisure when I had the sudden realization that I had a commitment to go visit a sick family member in the hospital. I need to maintain some confidentiality here but I will share that this person is suffering from a serious mental health issue. They are in a fragile state and the road to complete healing will be a long journey. After a quick meal at a fast food restaurant and a short power nap in my chair I headed over to the hospital with another family member. We spent the next 90 minutes reassuring our dear one that none of the problem was their fault, there was no reason to be ashamed and that they were loved and not alone. It can be difficult and a little frustrating to reassure the unsure. At one point I began to sense we were talking too much. The timing was good because the visiting hours were over. I think I have a lot of Wednesday night visits ahead of me.

The dogwoods are blooming. The grass is greening. The yellow and white daffodils are in bunches along the highway. Birds are singing. Spring is finally here!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Work Of Being Me

I was mad at myself last night. Throughout my workday I eagerly anticipated going home and enjoying my quiet time. Like many people I love to be home enjoying simple pleasures like reading or listening to music. When I was finally got settled in my favorite chair, I watched the evening news and read the morning paper. Afterwards I thought I would close my eyes for just a few minutes. Two hours later my wife is waking me up and saying, "It's time for 24, Dude"! After I made my way over to the living room she said, "You didn't look like you were seizing the day"! I then spent the next hour in a daze as poor Jack Bauer experienced everything going wrong that could go wrong. When I watch any hour of Jack Bauer's 24 hour day I realize that I really never have a bad day.

Last night, at approximately 6:00 PM, I had my 4000th visit to this blog. I am not sure what draws people to my blog or why many of them return. However, I am also willing to accept that some find value or meaning in my stories and reflections and that makes me happy.

After I finally went to bed last night I told my wife that I could simply no longer work because I didn't have the time. Why don't I have the time? Well, I joked, it takes all day just to be me. I have too many books to read, too many thoughts to ruminate, too many reflections to write, too much music to enjoy, and I am way behind on simply staring out the window with a mug of tasty coffee or hot chocolate in my hand. Let's just review my current list of books that are being read, waiting to be read, or hoping for completion someday. We won't even go into the hundreds of CD's that I own and that I wish I could listen to everyday.

  1. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
  2. Becoming Enlightened by the Dalai Lama
  3. The Life of Pete Townshend by Mark Wilkerson
  4. Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
  5. The Inner Experience by Thomas Merton
  6. The Tao of Leadership by John Heider
  7. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  8. I Heard God Laughing by Hafiz
  9. The Life of Buddha by Jack Kerouac
  10. Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master/The Essential Writings edited by Lawrence Cunningham
  11. Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
  12. Lectio Divina by Basil Pennington

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Calm After The Storm

Tomorrow is junk day in my neighborhood. My wife, a legendary taskmaster, orchestrated a family chain to clean out my attic and to pile unwanted junk and other assorted memories on the curb. This process turned out to be a time capsule of my life. Nothing much had any real value beyond the sentimental and it was time to let it go. There must have been the equivalent of a forest of artificial Christmas trees piled up there. Now there is a barricade in front of my house of very green, artificial branches from trees of Christmas's past as well as the bare and real branches that filled my back yard after the February ice storm. Other significant attic discoveries were toys and games from my son's childhoods, some of which will likely find their way onto Ebay. A few toys found a new home with Chloe while a baby bed and a few other baby items were given to the friend of a friend who is pregnant. I am always happy when my junk is another's treasure.

Today is my wife's birthday and eleven days from today is my birthday. Since everyone was here we decided to celebrate our birthdays. After the work was done we fed everyone and in lieu of a cake we had brownies with candles in them. (When you have your children over to help you do some work, never feed them until the work is done!) My wife and I are going to the mountains in a few weeks so I thought we had opted out of birthday gifts. I should have known that would never happen. One unexpected gift I received was a comprehensive biography of Pete Townshend who is one of my favorite musicians. I needed some light reading.

Spring break is over so my youngest son, Nick, went back to the seminary today. It's been nice to have him home for a week. It will probably be a couple of months before he is home again. Chloe and her parents have also left with a trunk full of whatever we gave them this trip. Married children, and even future priests, never leave home without bags of goodies. Now my house is quiet again and I am enjoying the calm after the storm of great activity.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Who Wants To Be Happy?

I am assuming that everyone wants to be happy. Most of the time I am happy. The biggest enemy of my personal happiness is too much thinking. Unfortunately, I am a thinker and because of that I sometimes make myself unhappy. The less I think, the happier I am. The more I keep my life simple, the happier I am. The less I focus on myself the happier I am. In general, I am a happier person when I actually live the way I encourage everyone else to live. Recently I have found an excellent blog on happiness. There's some good reading on what the author considers myths about happiness. So, if happiness is eluding you or you are just interested in the psychology of happiness, check out the following blog.

I Love Saturdays

Today is a cool, rainy, and somewhat dreary Saturday morning but I love it anyway. Any day that I don't have to work, while still having a job, is a good day. I have been tired for a month so last night I went to bed at the relatively early hour of 11:30 PM. I slept very well with the help of two Tylenol PM's and didn't wake up until 10:00 AM. The lack of morning sunshine probably helped. I eased my way down the stairs and out the front door to the end of my driveway where my still dry morning newspaper awaited me. It takes longer to go get the newspaper than to read it. That should give you some idea of the current state of the local newspaper. Back in the house I made some coffee. If my granddaughter was here, she would have helped me. While the coffee was brewing, I cooked an egg and warmed up a biscuit. While eating my breakfast I heard the postman...or was it a postwoman...delivering the mail. Lately I have been on a worldwide search for hard to find CD's. Two of them arrived today. I have been trying to track down remastered versions of all the Peter Gabriel era Genesis CD's. This is a band I kind of missed in their heyday but in recent years have learned to love. So, as I type these notes and drink my second cup of coffee I am listening to "Selling England by the Pound" which will be followed by "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway". I am having no deep thoughts this morning. It is just a simple morning enjoying simple pleasures. Yes, I love Saturdays!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Back To The Tao...Finally

The mind that turns ever outward will have no end to craving.
Only the mind turned inward will find a stillpoint of peace.

One possible lesson to be learned from today's thought is the realization of our insatiable cravings and addictions. We are constantly seeking or wanting something "out there". This manifests itself in desires for food, sex, power, prestige, and possessions. Often, no matter how well we eat, how great our love life is, how powerful we are, how respected we are, or how much stuff we have, there remains a desire for more or, in many cases, a lingering emptiness that cannot be filled. The Tao teaches us that real happiness and peace are to be found within ourselves. For some the Tao is God. For others the Tao might represent ultimate reality and a sense of being one with the Universe. Some Christian writers, specifically Thomas Merton, talk about discovering our "true self". Buddhists speak of "discovering the face you had before your parents were born". Different religions call it different things but I believe they are all talking about the same thing. The psychologist, Carl Jung put it a different way when he said, "Those who look outward, dream, those who look inward, awaken".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Very Long Day

I just returned home after spending most of the evening visiting a family member in a hospital. They are someone very close to me and they have a serious mental health issue. My ability to empathize with them and to have some sense of their pain causes me some great sadness over my seeming inability to help them. I did the best I could to assure them of love and support and caring and that they are not going through their troubles alone. I know what I said but I am not sure what was heard. I can only continue to visit and pray and to love.

I am tired physically and emotionally. My day started an hour earlier than normal when my wife awakened me at 5:00 AM telling me someone was beating on the front door and ringing the doorbell. I went downstairs to discover some of my son's very apologetic friends. A group of his friends had gone to Florida for spring break and had parked one of their cars in my driveway. Apparently they had been on the road all night and had hoped to simply pick up their car and drive away. Unfortunately my car was parked behind it and it was blocked. When I returned to bed, I only was able to close my eyes for what seemed like seconds before the alarm clock went off. After work my wife and I met my son for a five star dinner at Taco Bell, then we proceeded to the pharmacy for our monthly allotment of prescription drugs. When I got home I had twenty minutes or so to sit down before heading to the hospital. I should sleep well tonight.

My father died one month ago today. It's still difficult to believe he is gone. In less than three months my wife and I lost two parents. I miss Dad and thinking about him as I type these notes fills me with sadness and tears. I believe he is in a better place but until I join him someday, there seems a great void between us.

I will soon be going to bed. I've had enough for one day.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What A Difference A Year Can Make!

Last year on this day we received nearly a foot of snow. At this moment it is 76 degrees and the daffodils are blooming. Overnight, however, a cold front will move in and tomorrow the temperature will be 30 degrees colder. O well, I could be shoveling the sidewalk.

Today at work I was basically told I am too humble. This shocked me a little because I am anything but humble. It did make me happy, though, because my attempts to not be arrogant may be working. Truthfully, even though I believe and accept that I do have some talents, it has always been difficult for me to blow my own horn or to sell myself. I don't try to be great and I am not competitive with other people. I try to be authentic and cooperative with lots of humor thrown in for good measure. I think this is why many of my co-workers like me and why I like many of them. I can't stand pretension except in the context of progressive rock music. I especially dislike it in the workplace. Let's be honest. Most of us regular folks just want to get the job done so we can go home. If we can laugh a little and enjoy one another while we work, all the better.

Whatever living beings there may be, feeble or strong, small or large, seen or unseen, those who live far or those near, those who are born and those who are yet to be born, may all beings, without exception, experience a happy mind. Let one not deceive another nor despise any person whatever in any place. In anger or ill will let one not wish any harm to another. Let one's thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.
-Samyutta Nikaya
From "Buddha Speaks," edited by Anne Bancroft, 2000.

The illusory character of the freedom which we have tried to find in moral and psychological irresponsibility has become inescapable. Our abdication of responsibility is at the same time an abdication of liberty. The resolution to let "someone else," the anonymous forces of society, assume responsibility for everything means that we abdicate from public responsibility, from mature concern and even from spiritual life.
-Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Dreaming With My Dad

Since my father died he has appeared in my dreams several times. There's nothing unusual about his appearance. He's just there. In last night's dream I seemed to be in New York City although I do not remember any NYC landmarks being obvious to me and my sister, who lives in NYC, wasn't in the dream. There were other people with me but now I can't remember who they were. At some point in the dream there was Dad for no particular reason. I think we were in an Italian restaurant and he was eating a meatball hoagie. I'm not sure if he even liked meatball hoagies. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone. This is Dad's second or third appearance in one of my dreams since his death. I don't know what any of this means. I don't recall Dad speaking to me in any of the dreams. He just makes quiet appearances and then he disappears. I know that dreams often, if not always, have meaning. I can only recall a series of dreams once in my life that had obvious meaning for me. Many years ago, at a time when I felt trapped in my life, I routinely had dreams where I was always in buildings that seemed to have no exits. In the dreams I was always walking up and down hallways looking for an exit that I never found. Most of my dreams don't have clear meaning for me. I never have nightmares but will occasionally have a dream that wakes me with a feeling of uneasiness. More often than not my dreams are a strange collection of people from my life often mixed with celebrities in some kind of circumstance that doesn't make any sense. When I awaken few dreams stay with me. Most are quickly forgotten. Anyway, Dad, it's been nice to see you again. Stop by my dreams anytime. I hope you are well.

Nick's Birthday/Chloe Spends The Night

Last week my son, Nick, turned 27 years old. This week he is home for spring break so last night we had a family birthday celebration at Chili's restaurant. We had a great meal and a good time. Since it was also a Saturday night I was followed home by a three foot tall mutchkin. In a few months Chloe will be five years old! I can hardly believe it! In the fall she will start kindergarten. Whenever Chloe spends the night it is equivalent to a workout at the gym for me. In a day or two I will have sore muscles from being ridden like a horse, from carrying her around on my shoulders, and from holding her hands while she walks up my body and stands on my head. This morning, after watching the "Beverly Hills Chihuahua", she sat on my lap facing me. She held my hands and laid backwards with her head touching the floor. We talked about how the world looks different when it is upside down and how the floor becomes the ceiling and the ceiling becomes the floor. Sometimes with Chloe I not only get a physical workout, I also experience an intellectual workout that stretches my mind in completely new directions.

Now it is Sunday afternoon and I am in my room. Outside the sky is overcast and there is a blustery wind. A new cold front is blowing in and the beautiful weekend we've had this weekend will temporarily leave us as the rains approach. The bright side of this is that a rainy afternoon makes for wonderful napping.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Jamming With Joe Bonamassa

First of all, it is a glorious morning. I am sitting here with my window open. A wonderful breeze is blowing in. Outside it is sunny and 68 degrees. By the end of the day it will probably be 10 degrees warmer. Soon I will be complaining about how hot I am.

Last night I attended a magnificent musical performance by Joe Bonamassa. Joe is a white, blues/rock singer and guitarist of enormous skill and virtuosity. Simply put, he was smoking hot. I attended with my usual group of fellow music lovers. The show was in an intimate setting called the Bomhard Theater. The Bomhard is a small theater within the larger Kentucky Center for the Arts. If you love blues and rock and roll I encourage you to see Joe if you have the opportunity. At the very least I highly recommend his CD entitled "Live from nowhere in particular". It's a very good representation of what I saw last night.
My son, Nick, is home from the seminary for spring break. Last week was his 27th birthday. This evening we will meet up with my other son, his wife, and Chloe for a birthday dinner. Guess who will be coming home with Pa Paw?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Care And Feeding Of The Introvert In Your Life

More than once I have shared that I am an off the chart introvert. Introverts are often misunderstood. I am not a shy person. In fact, anyone who knows me would probably tell you I am a very friendly person. I like other people. However, as an introvert I must be honest and say that other people simply wear me out. The main focus of my job is interaction with other people. By the end of the workday I feel like all the blood has been sucked out of my body. In order to be able to recover from my interactions with others, even if they are pleasant, I simply must have personal and solitary time. If I don't have this time alone I can be downright hostile. I have determined that I need about two hours a night of solitude where I don't have to deal with anyone, even my wife. In this personal time I might nap, read the newspaper or a book, review emails, write on this blog, or simply listen to music. Sometimes I do all of this in a continuous flow. Each day I look forward to this time. Later in the evening when I have recovered from the demands of the day, I usually join my wife and we watch a movie or favorite television shows. Some nights, however, I hit the jackpot and I have an entire evening of solitude.

This evening I actually received an excellent meditation along these lines from the folks at DailyOm.Com. This is a nice site if you want to sign up for their meditations. Here's the one I received tonight.

Sustenance for the Soul
Taking Time for Yourself
Modern life compels us to rush. Because we feel pressured to make the most of our time each day, the activities that sustain us, rejuvenate us, and help us evolve are often the first to be sacrificed when we are in a hurry or faced with a new obligation. It is important we remember that there is more to life than achieving success, making money, and even caring for others. Your spiritual needs should occupy an important spot on your list of priorities. Each task you undertake and each relationship you nurture draws from the wellspring of your spiritual vitality. Taking the time to engage in spiritually fulfilling activities replenishes that well and readies you to face another day. Making time for the activities that contribute to your spiritual growth has little to do with being selfish and everything to do with your well-being. Regularly taking the time to focus on your soul’s needs ensures that you are able to nurture yourself, spend time with your thoughts, experience tranquility, and expand your spiritual boundaries.It is easy to avoid using our free moments for spiritual enrichment. There is always something seemingly more pressing that needs to be done. Many people feel guilty when they use their free time to engage in pursuits where they are focusing on themselves because they feel as if they are neglecting their family or their work. To make time for yourself, it may be necessary to say no to people’s requests or refuse to take on extra responsibilities. Scheduling fifteen or thirty minutes of time each day for your spiritual needs can make you feel tranquil, give you more energy and allows you to feel more in touch with the universe. Writing in a journal, meditating, studying the words of wise women and men, and engaging in other spiritual practices can help you make the most of this time.Making time to nurture your spirit may require that you sacrifice other, less vital activities. The more time you commit to soul-nurturing activities, the happier and more relaxed you will become. The time you devote to enriching your spirit will rejuvenate you and help you create a more restful life.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Spiritual Practices

Today was a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures in the 50's. Unfortunately I was not able to enjoy it until the end of my work day when I walked from my office through the park to the parking garage. Now I am sitting here at my little desk. I just brewed some decaf coffee. I live in the illusion that it will keep me awake until bedtime without actually keeping me up. It's a Zen thing. Don't try to understand it.

Today I had some email exchanges with a friend about the value of spiritual practices. What are spiritual practices? Basically, the common understanding is that they are anything you do to keep your spiritual awareness sharpened the way working out at the gym or jogging keeps your body in shape.

Let me come out of the closet. No, I am not gay. What I am is lazy and undisciplined. I sometimes justify my lack of discipline in regard to spiritual practices by pretending that I don't need them. Today I told my friend that I considered these practices to be like training wheels on a bicycle. You use them when you are learning to ride a bike so that you don't lose your balance and crash. Once you learn how to keep your balance and ride somewhat effortlessly, you no longer need the training wheels. Perhaps arrogantly, I suggested that being spiritual and having a contemplative awareness is something I can do without the training wheels of many spiritual practices. To be more specific, after a lifetime of exposure to many Catholic devotional practices, most of these practices no longer help me to maintain my contemplative balance. What works for me comes so easily that it doesn't seem like a practice at all. For me to get in touch with what Thomas Merton calls "the ground of our being", I simply need to be quiet and be still with nothing to say or do. My prayer is a prayer of being not of doing. Most spiritual practices involve some kind of activity. In a world and a life full of doing, I choose the spiritual practice of not doing anything. Occasionally I will sit on a rock and think. Mostly, though, I just sit.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Dryer Buzzer Doesn't Always Wake You Up

I have been home most of the evening because my wife had to work late. After a simple dinner of fried corn bread and butter...very healthy...I started reading the Sunday news...yes, I am behind...and doing the laundry. I decided to take a short nap under the assumption I would be awakened in a reasonable period of time by the buzzer on the dryer. Wrong! I slept right through the dryer buzzer even though it goes off three times before ending its cycle. I am awake now and my wife has just gotten home. Now it's time to save the world with Jack Bauer on "24". Just so your reading of my blog tonight isn't totally worthless, here are some thoughts I have recently received in my in box.

The spirituality behind the Twelve Steps is a “low Church” approach to evangelization and healing that is probably our only hope in a suffering world of six-and-a-half billion people. Do we really need to verify belief in atonement doctrines and the Immaculate Conception when most of God’s physical, animal and human world is on the verge of mass suicide and extinction? Our suffering is psychological, relational and addictive: the suffering of people who are comfortable on the outside but oppressed and empty within. It is a crisis of meaninglessness and the false self, which had tried to find meaning in possessions, prestige and power. It doesn’t work. So we turn to ingesting and buying to fill our empty souls. The Twelve Steps walk us back out of our addictive society. Like all steps toward truth, they lead downward. Bill Wilson and his A.A. movement have shown us that the real power is when we no longer seek, need or abuse power. Real power is not at the top but at the bottom. Those who admit they are powerless have the only power that matters in the world or in the Church. Saint Bill W., pray for us.
-Richard Rohr

The pain, the discomfort, the sickness are what they are. We can always cope with the way life moves and changes. The mind of an enlightened human being is flexible and adaptable. The mind of the ignorant person is conditioned and fixed.
-Ajahn Sumedho, “Seeing the Way”

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In the afternoon I went out to the old horse barn with the Book of Proverbs and indeed the whole Bible, and I was wandering around in the hayloft, where there is a big gap in the roof. One of the rotting floorboards gave way under me and I nearly feel through. Afterwards I sat and looked out at the hills and the gray clouds and couldn't read anything. When the flies got too bad, I wandered across the bare pasture and sat over by the enclosure wall, perched on the edge of a ruined bathtub that has been placed there for the horses to drink out of. A pipe comes through the wall and plenty of water flows into the bathtub from a spring somewhere in the woods, and I couldn't read there either. I just listened to the clean water flowing and looked at the wreckage of the horsebarn on top of the bare knoll in front of me and remained drugged with happiness and with prayer.
-Thomas Merton "Entering the Silence/Journals Volume 1"

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Monastic Day Trip

Today turned out to be a beautiful day. It was cool but also bright and sunny and the sky was blue. When I got out of bed this morning it was a different story. The temperature was in the low 20's with a very brisk wind that created a windchill in the teens. As I pumped gas into my car in the early morning darkness while freezing my ass off, I wondered why I was even up, much less why was I driving to the monastery. However, as the car warmed up and I held a cup of hot coffee in my hand, I was soon enjoying my solitary drive. These early morning drives along the country highways are actually very enjoyable. As I drove along I could see many, many damaged trees from the recent ice storm. Before arriving at the monastery I stopped for a second cup of coffee at the home of my good friend, Father Dennis. We enjoyed some pleasant conversation. I hated to have such a short visit but I had business at the monastery. A nice size group awaited me in the room at the monastery where we meet every month. We had some good discussion that had me wondering, "What is it about the monastery that seems to attract people who are hurting"? Within my group, and with people in general who visit the monastery, there seems to be a fair amount of personal pain and distress. Admittedly, I think most people, whether or not they visit monasteries, are broken and wounded to some degree. I am one of them. That does not make me unique. It makes me human. I think the monastery attracts hurting and wounded people because it is a place of healing, a spiritual hospital of sorts. Of course, I treat my soul and my heart much like my body when it is sick. I try to take my medicine and follow the doctor's directions as best I can. I tend to suffer...and silence. I am simply not the kind of person that always needs to talk about it. I am very private about such things. Perhaps I hold in too much but I prefer to think that I am simply stoic and I don't need to spill my guts all the time. Some people do, some people don't. Maybe someday I will have a breakdown from holding it all in. If I am holding something in that I need to let go, I do not know what it is. For me the realization that I am broken and wounded is enough. Others experience the same to a greater or lesser degree. I can only acknowledge my own brokenness, let it go, and move on with my life. The drive home from the monastery always seems stressful. Going to the monastery always feels like I am leaving chaos and entering the calm. Coming home it is the reverse. The increasing intensity of the traffic is a good metaphor for the return to the world. The day ended with dinner. Chloe and her parents met my wife and I at a restaurant. After our meal we walked a short distance to the pie and ice cream shop. If you want to be "Pa Paw of the Year", take your granddaughter to a pie and ice cream shop. Of course, at this moment my blood sugar level is off the chart based on the way I feel. Everything has a price. When will I learn?