Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Feeling Good About Myself

Sometimes, for reasons I don't know or understand, I feel unappreciated and unnoticed. A few years ago, after seeing the Bruce Willis movie "The Sixth Sense", I wondered if I was also dead. It sometimes felt like I was walking around, thinking I was one of the living, when, in actual fact, I was really one of the dead. I often thought, "What do I have to do to get noticed"? Recently...finally...I have gotten the notice I deserve at work. Last week my current boss gave me the best annual performance review that I have ever gotten. Today I received some survey results from a recent Gallup corporate poll. My staff was asked to respond to a number of questions about my leadership and the kind of working environment that I create. They were asked to rate me on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest. My overall score was 4.63 which put me in the highest level percentile. I am very pleased and extremely flattered to have been rated so high. The amazing thing is that I really don't do anything extraordinary. I don't come home at night and read management theory books. I simply try to be kind, understanding, fair, and compassionate. In other words, I treat the people on my team the way I want to be treated. These poll results strongly indicate the appreciation of my staff. You don't have to be Attila the Hun to be a good leader. Just be a decent human being.

This week I have eaten McDonald's Happy Meals in four different McDonald's restaurants trying to obtain all the Ice Age action figures for my beloved granddaughter. I have multiples of everything except the two main characters. They are a Wooly Mammoth and Sabertooth Tiger. I think I will have to visit every McDonald's in my part of the world! This coming weekend my wife and I will be taking Chloe to see "Ice Age...Dawn of the Dinosaurs" in 3D. Having watched the first two Ice Age movies about 500 times I am actually looking forward to this new adventure. Now if I can just track down those damn action figures!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Weekend

Sometime within the last few days I had my 6000th visit to this blog. I appreciate those who stop by and I hope those who do return. I know there are regular readers and others who never return. I find it interesting and a little exciting that people all over the world read my blog. I am grateful for all of you, whoever and wherever you are. I hope that what you find here is of some comfort or enjoyment.

Yesterday was a busy and full day. After a good night's sleep I got out of bed and went to a local restaurant where I met two strangers. They had contacted me by email and wanted to discuss the lay group I lead at the monastery. They were very interesting people with lots of education and life experience plus a deep curiosity about contemplation, Zen, and spiritual living. We hit it off very well and spent nearly two hours discussing all of these things. They seemed to be kindred spirits and I suspect we will be seeing more of one another. I often feel less than spiritual in my daily living so I am usually amazed how much passion I have for spiritual things when I am involved in such a conversation. Whether I am talking about the spiritual life, music, or my granddaughter, I often get very excited and I believe this excitement reveals my passion. I love to be passionate. It makes me feel alive. So much of life can be boring or life draining. Passion is energizing and it fills us with life.

After my breakfast meeting I came home and immediately left for a pool party at the home of some friends. It was a good day for such a party. The sun was shining bright, the sky was blue, and it was hotter than hell. Officially, it has been summer for less than a week. However, it seems we've already had many days with temperatures in the 90's. The pool party was enjoyable. The water felt great, I didn't get too sunburned, and the frozen alcoholic concoctions that I drank throughout the afternoon were very, very tasty. I should be living in Key West, Florida with Jimmy Buffet as my neighbor. In the evening we had an Italian dinner where I drank too much wine, ate too much bread and pasta, and experienced a diabetic hell. When I got up this morning my blood sugar level was 212....not good.

Today I slowly got out of bed. I really didn't want to get up but I forced myself to do so because I always enjoy my weekend mornings where I can sit in my chair, drink my coffee, listen to my music, and read my morning newspaper. Now it is early afternoon and soon Chloe and her parents will be here so my son can install a new window air conditioner. It is for my bedroom and is an attempt to cool down my menopausal wife who I am afraid will burst into flames any day. She's always hot and I am always cold. Once this air conditioner is installed I will need to buy some new flannel pajamas, a hat and gloves, and a new electric blanket. Once my wife cranks up this new air conditioner sleeping in my bedroom will be like camping out on Mount Everest in a snowstorm. I may need to also buy a small pup tent for my side of the bed.

Here's a great website. Check it out. I love Zen. People think it is complicated. It's not. Zen is simple. Zen is being where you are and doing what you are doing. It is that simple and it's that challenging. When you are walking, just walk. When you are eating, just eat. Whatever you are doing, just do it.


Master your senses, What you taste and smell, What you see, what you hear. In all things be a master Of what you do and say and think. Be free. Are you quiet? Quieten your body. Quieten your mind. By your own efforts Waken yourself, watch yourself, And live joyfully. Follow the truth of the way. Reflect upon it. Make it your own. Live it. It will always sustain you.

- from the Dhammapada

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More Thoughts On Happiness

I have many happy moments and my life is generally good. Still, like many, I get down in the dumps over life's monotony, boredom, routine, demands, etc. I also unfortunately have a personality that is often cynical and I find much about the world and people disappointing. Less your think that I believe everyone else is the problem, I am also often disappointed in myself as well. However, I actually try to be upbeat, positive, and optimistic about life. Sometimes I think it is deep thinkers like me who have the hardest time being happy. Less you think I am arrogant, my status as a "deep" thinker is something that has been given me by others. I'm really not very intellectual or deep. I am introspective. Sometimes I hate being "deep" and always feeling the need to find meaning or purpose in everything. I wish I could simply relax more and just enjoy the life I have.

Most lives are not happy all the time. Happiness is most likely to be found in unexpected moments. Why can't most of us be happy all of the time? Buddha teaches that all life is suffering caused by bad karma or our our poor choices. I tend to disagree with this absolute and would change his basic thought to "much of life is suffering". Christians belief that our suffering in life is the result of the "original sin" when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. Whatever the reason or cause, it is a basic truth. Perhap's our experience of happiness is relative to our perception of the level of suffering in our lives. Then we must ask, "What is suffering"? One man's suffering is another man's good life. Materially, I live like a king compared to many in the world. Emotionally I often feel like there's a big void in my life and spiritually I often feel like I am in the desert. Hmmmm, it appears that 2/3th of my life is a wasteland. Some would say, "Get over yourself! You have a nice car, a big house, and a great family". I know all of this is true and that sometimes I do just need to just get over myself, my petty emotions, and my daydreams of the perfect life. I need to be more grateful for the material comfort I have and for the people in my life even if they don't meet all my needs or expectations. Someday I hope to actually achieve this level of gratitude. When I do I may be rewarded with a greater sense of the elusive feeling we call "happiness".

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Trying To Define Happiness?

Tonight I received an inquiry from a friend who asked if I was trying to define happiness. The basic answer to his question is "no" but here is my complete response to him.

No, I don't think my reflection was a quest to define true happiness. I think my bigger question is why, in the midst of circumstances that should make us feel happy, do we still sometimes feel so restless. I've often referred to myself as a "romantic". By that I don't mean a ladies man. I mean someone who is a dreamer and idealist. People like this, including me, tend to always have feelings of longing, often for something they can't even name or define. As a friend once said about Thomas Merton, "He was always longing for the further shore". My life is good and there is little that justifies complaining. However, I still often have this sense of longing. I'm just not sure what I am longing for!

Perhaps this longing is what drives me in life and what motivates my restless soul and questioning mind. Sometimes it seems like a lonely journey but I know I do not travel this path alone.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Breaking Down Or Breaking Through?

At this time in my life I often feel like my spiritual life is falling apart or at least cracking at the foundation. At the same time I do not feel a crisis of faith. I believe in God as much as I always have. However, the way I relate to this God may be changing. The part of my spiritual life that seems to be falling apart is my relationship with the religion in which I was raised. I was raised a strict Catholic and much of my life was filled with the spiritual practices and piety of this tradition. I have not rejected this part of me, and the Church has not done anything to drive me away. I'm not really sure what my problem is. To use a term coined by another, I think the Church is simply no longer feeding me and the hunger and longing I feel is not being satisfied. This is certainly true on the parish level. The only part of the Church that speaks to me is the monastic and contemplative life as lived in places like the Abbey of Gethsemani. I still feel very spiritual and I have a deep appreciation for silence, solitude, being in the moment, and having a sense of oneness with the other. The sometimes complicated theology of my Church seems overly complex when compared to the simple precepts of Buddhism. In spite of my attraction to Buddhism I know I will never be a real Buddhist. I am Christian and Catholic in the marrow of my bones. Someday I will likely find my way back to the Church from the spiritual side trip I seem to be on now. I don't know where I am going but I do not feel lost. Today I heard a song by George Harrison that had a lyric that struck me deeply. It simply said, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there". So, I will walk the road ahead of me and see where it takes me. All roads, however long and winding they are, eventually take us home.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Thoughts

I have just returned home from a family Father's Day dinner at a local restaurant. It was a very nice meal even though I had to pay for it. My oldest son is also a father so we both received some cards and gifts. At one point in the meal we paused to remember the grandfather's who have left this world. This is my first Father's Day with out my Dad. Although I still have the evening ahead of me, the meal was a nice conclusion to a good weekend.

Yesterday afternoon my oldest son came over and completed a number of chores for my wife and me. I am no Tim the Tool Man but somehow my son is gifted with the use of tools and the ability to fix things. I am a klutz for the most part. In the evening my wife and I attended a 50th Wedding Anniversary party for one of her cousins. When they got married my wife was the six year old flower girl in their wedding. I am still trying to get my head around the fact that my wife and I will be married 35 years later this summer. Time marches on and nothing can stop it.

My younger son informed me last night that he will be attending St. Meinrad School of Theology in the fall. This is the next step in his studies for the priesthood. This was not his first choice of schools but he is accepting of the Archdiocese's decision. My wife and I are thrilled. I am thrilled because St Meinrad is also a Benedictine monastery with close to 100 monks. With Nick as a student there I will have ample opportunity and reason to visit. My wife is happy because he will be close to home. St. Meinrad is only 75 miles from where we live. It is a beautiful place and much like the Abbey of Gethsemani. They both follow the same basic Rule for Monasteries but each with a different emphasis.

Last night I was thinking that although I do not feel ordinary, I do not feel special either. On the surface my life certainly seems ordinary. My life is full of daily routines, obligations, and tasks. In spite of this I really try to not to live an ordinary life. If the surface of my life seems ordinary and monotonous, I strive to constantly find the extraordinary within the ordinary. This is very challenging. I read to enlighten my mind. I reflect to enlighten my soul. I strive to slow down and live in the moment so I can be present to life more fully. Still, it often feels like I am just going through the motions. It is difficult to not feel like my life is a series of robotic motions that simply include a rotation of work, sleep, eat, laundry, work, sleep, eat, laundry, etc. Sometimes I am unhappy but I am also aware of all that is good in my life. If everything doesn't go my way, there is still much to appreciate and for which to be grateful. I strive to make my gratitude outweigh my unhappiness. I think part of my current struggle is a feeling that I have lost my sense of purpose. For what reasons do I do what I do? What is the point of my surrender to the boredom and monotony of life? Buddhism says our suffering is a result of our own minds. How is my mind causing my own suffering and unhappiness? How does one break the dysfunctional patterns of one's own life? How do you escape from yourself? If our own mind causes our unhappiness and suffering, and not other people or circumstances as we like to believe, what kind of cartharsis is needed to break the cycle? Real happiness and contentment seem to elude me. Why I am so restless?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Manual Labor

Let me state right from the beginning that I do very little manual labor. Most of my life I have been an office worker. Office work tends to drain your brain and leave you feeling brain dead at the end of the day. It doesn't matter if the work is the usual daily drudgery or something a little more challenging. On the rare occasion that I might be asked to do something intellectually challenging, I actually get energized. I admit that I am a classic, introverted couch potato who has never been a very energetic person. When I was very young, however, and a lot stronger, I did more manual labor. I was once a young novice living in a monastery where manual labor was seen as a path to God. In the life of a monk manual labor is considered as spiritual as attending formal prayer services. Most of the time in my life, whenever my work day is over, or whenever I have personal time, my top priority is to grab a book, listen to some music, or watch a favorite movie. I would never do manual labor for fun and I must be highly motivated to do any required manual labor. I tend to procrastinate about anything I do not want to do. Most required tasks in my life are accomplished strictly through an act of the will, some acquired discipline, and the need to earn my daily bread. Having said all of this, today I spent some time doing unforced manual labor. Earlier today we had some very heavy thunderstorms in my part of the world. My back yard ended up with a number of downed tree limbs. It wasn't nearly as severe as last winter's ice storm but enough to require some clean up before the next lawn mowing. In a spurt of unusual energy I was inexplicably motivated to go outside and clean up the back yard. Actually, there was some motivation. Earlier this week it was junk day in my neighborhood. As of today the city has not picked up anyone's junk. I knew if I could carry or drag all my tree limbs out to the curb I could have them hauled away as junk. While doing all of this I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt to protect myself from any possible poison ivy. It was almost 90 degrees. I was an idiot to be doing manual labor in the middle of a very hot afternoon. The good news is that I accomplished my tasks and I am still alive to write about it. Even though I do not really enjoy manual labor I always feel a great sense of accomplishment when I do it. It is much more satisfying than 90% of the work I do in my office. Today I am tired. Tomorrow I will be sore. However, I am also happy that I did it.

Random Thoughts On A Rainy Day

I am back home after spending the morning at Baptist East Hospital with my wife. The best part of this experience was the fact that I was not the patient. This time it was my wife who was there for some routine outpatient tests. The good news is that the tests went well and no problems were detected. After we left the hospital we had lunch at a nearby restaurant. Now we are both at home with a free afternoon to enjoy. The gift of time is one of my favorite gifts.

While I was sitting in the waiting room at the hospital day turned into night and we had a big thunderstorm. When I got home I had a better idea of how hard it actually rained. There were small twigs and leaves all over the road, one could easily see that the normal drainage route was overwhelmed, and my back yard is once again full of fallen tree branches. It looks like I will be required to do some yard work on Saturday. The next time I have a few thousand dollars laying around those trees are history.

My father died back in February. If he were still alive today it would be my parent's 60th wedding anniversary. I was hoping he would live long enough to see it. Of course, even 59 years is quite extraordinary.

Today is also Paul McCartney's 67th birthday. The music of Paul McCartney, especially the songs from his time in the Beatles, have been a big part of the soundtrack of my life. I finally saw a Paul McCartney concert in 2002 and it was one of the most enjoyable musical experiences of my life. I'm so happy he put out a DVD and CD of that tour so I can regularly relive the experience.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a stranger who stumbled upon my blog. It turned out that she is an author and has a strong interest in the connection between spirituality and music. In fact, she has written a book about it called "I Found All The Parts"...Healing the Soul Through Rock "n" Roll. She was kind enough to send me a free copy which I began reading a few days ago. I am very interested in reading her thoughts because I have long felt that music, even rock and roll, is very spiritual and the experience of music touches us in ways we do not always understand. In many ways music has been a religion for me. I would have to say that no other artistic or spiritual experience sustains me as consistently as music.

On a more traditional spiritual path this week I also started reading the latest book by the Dalai Lama entitled "Becoming Enlightened". I read a page or two with my morning coffee before leaving for work. I like the Buddhist ideas that all things are connected, that karma affects our life experiences, and that much of our suffering is a product of our own minds.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Woodstock And Granddaughters

Much of my leisure time this past week has been spent traveling in a time machine back to the summer of 1969. What's so significant about 1969? Well, I turned 18 years old and graduated from high school. In recent weeks I have been contacted about my 40th high school reunion. A more historical event that occurred in the summer of 1969 was the now famous Woodstock Music and Art Fair held on Max Yasgur's farm. Although some people assume I attended the original Woodstock, the truth is that I did not attend in body but I was certainly there in spirit. I attended other similar events but none quite so famous. The good news is that I did eventually see most of the performers who were at Woodstock including Jimi Hendrix. Much is being made about the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Perhaps it is because my generation is now nearing retirement age. Most people who attended or performed at Woodstock are now in their 60's. Woodstock did not change the world but for many in my generation, including me, it represented a peak of our youthful passion and idealism. On a purely musical level there were many incredible performances....and a few that weren't so incredible. One of the joys of this 40th anniversary year is a re-entry into the video and audio vaults to release more of the music that freaks like me have wanted to hear for years. A new DVD release includes three hours of previously unseen footage that didn't make it into the original film documentary. The original soundtrack albums/CD's have been remastered with new liner notes. What I am chomping at the bit to hear, and what I have pre-ordered, are CD's of the complete performances of Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Johnny Winter, Janis Joplin, and Santana! When those arrive I may have to take a day off of work! Every generation has their defining moments and the three days of peace and music called "Woodstock" was such a moment for aging hippies like me.

Earlier this afternoon I was deep into a granddaughter induced nap when a loud clap of thunder jolted me from my dreams. I was likely near the stage at Woodstock. Sunday afternoon naps after an overnight visit from my granddaughter are a tradition in my life. I love my granddaughter more than anyone or anything but she wears me out! My 58 year old body can not keep up with her five year old energy. She had me up today at the crack of dawn. She woke me and said, "Pa Paw, it's time to go make coffee and I want to watch the mouse movie". The mouse movie was "The Tale of Despereaux". At 8:00 AM this morning we began watching it for the second time. Viewing it was also the last thing we did before going to bed last night. It's actually very good and I recommend it to all adults. Children's movies have come a very long way from the Disney classics I watched as a child.

My son, Nick, goes back to school tomorrow after being home for approximately a month. As soon as he completes a couple of summer school classes he will graduate from college. In the fall here will continue his studies for the priesthood in a graduate school that has yet to be determined. He hope to attend Catholic University in Washington, D. C. but he's still waiting for the powers that be to make this decision. I guess I need to get off here now and do my Sunday night laundry! Arrrh! Tomorrow begins another work week! Weekends go by so quickly!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Words On Solitude And Silence


“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.”
Paul Tillich

“What a lovely surprise to discover how un-lonely being alone can be.”
Ellen Burstyn

“Light the candles and pour the red wine into your glass. Before you eat, raise your glass in honor of yourself. The company is the best you will ever have.”
Daniel Halpern

“We need time to dream, time to remember, and time to reach the infinite. Time to be.”
Gladys Taber (1899-1980)

“Listen in deep silence. Be very still and open your mind…. Sink deep in to the peace that waits for you beyond the frantic, riotous thoughts and sights and sounds of this insane world.”
From “A Course in Miracles”

“Let my doing nothing when I have nothing to do, become untroubled in its depth of peace, like the evening in the seashore when the water is silent.”
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

“The need for temporary solitude is so intense it amounts to an impediment, a malady, chronic and incurable like recurring malaria…. Like a remittent fever it is nothing you can banish. Outwardly we look okay, but inwardly we are desperate; gasping and frantic for something as integral to ourselves as the colour of our eyes.”
Mirabel Osler

“When one is a stranger to oneself, then one is estranged from others, too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others…. Only when one is connected to one’s own core, is one connected to others….. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be re-found through silence.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh. B.1906

“Learn to be quiet enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in others.”
Marian Wright Edelman

“My idea of heaven is opening the door into an empty room- not forever, I haven’t enough resources, but for at least great chunks of time each day… A room or a garden- it doesn’t matter which - is the breath of life…”
Mirabel Osler

“In solitude, we are LEAST alone….”
Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“Loneliness is the poverty of self, solitude is the richness of self.”
May Sarton (1912-1995)

“We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Even if family, friends, and the movies should fail, there is still the radio or television to fill up the void…. We can do our housework with soap-opera heroes at our side…. Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, B. 1906

“Once, after a particularly claustrophobic, stressful and over-populated time when there hadn’t been air or space to escape to, suddenly, for a few days, I was alone. It was like emigrating to another planet ( in fact I was at home ). Who was this person I was living with, this strange, this reasonable, serene foreigner in the house: a becalmed woman who spent her time inwardly humming?”
Mirabel Osler

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is a society where none intrudes, By the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but nature more.”
Lord Byron (1788-1824)

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quiet in a room alone.”
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

“I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange - that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and discover what is happening or what has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone….”
May Sarton (1912-1995)

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty, unfamiliar and perilous….”
Thomas Mann (1875-1955)

“You do not need to leave your room… Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Frank Kafka (1883-1924)

“Never do I close my door behind me without being conscious that I am carrying out an act of charity towards myself.”
Peter Hoeg

“The cure for all the illness of life is stored in the inner depth of life itself, the access to which becomes possible when we are alone. This solitude is a world in itself, full of wonders and resources unthought of. It is absurdly near; yet so unapproachably distant.”
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

“I will take time to be alone today. I will take time to be quiet. In this silence I will listen… and I will hear my answers.”
Ruth Fishel

“There is a silence into which the world cannot intrude. There is an ancient peace you carry in your heart and have not lost.”
From “A Course in Miracles”


Tuesday, June 09, 2009


I have a brother who is seriously ill with some mental health issues. He has been hospitalized for a while and his care may be very long term if not permanent. Tonight I visited him. I'll be honest. I was tired after a day of work and I really didn't want to go. Much of my life is spent doing things I don't want to do. In spite of my personal weaknesses as a person, I desire to live my life in kindness and with compassion. Admittedly I sometimes suffer from compassion fatigue. There are so many things to care about as well as never ending opportunities and demands to be compassionate. Compassion is not always physically demanding but it can be emotionally exhausting. Visits with my Dad before he died used to just wear me out. Having said all of this, while I was sitting in the hospital tonight trying to carry on a conversation with my brother, a brother who is very fragile and barely responsive, I knew in that moment that my compassion was needed and being compassionate was the right thing to do. It is always spiritually renewing to get over myself and to reach out to another in need. It breaks my heart to see any living thing, whether it is a person or an animal, suffering. I hate to see others in fear or pain. I especially hate it when there is little or nothing I can do to alleviate it. I am not a person who likes to feel helpless. The reality is that sometimes we are helpless and often we can do nothing about a situation that faces us. In those moments of poverty, when we feel we have nothing to give, all we have is the love and kindness and desire to be compassionate. In our helplessness we must trust that our desire to be kind, our desire to be compassionate, our desire to be loving, has some value and is a gift to the other in healing ways we may never understand. I will continue to visit my brother, no matter how tired or lazy or troubled I may feel, for as long as he needs me.

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Visit From Chloe

My granddaughter just left a few minutes ago. She is so full of life! I have been missing her because I haven't seen her in a couple of weeks. She and her parents dropped by to show my wife and I their new dog. "Charlie Brown" is chihuahua #2. They are on their way home to introduce Charlie Brown to "Cosmo" who is chihuahua #1. Let's hope everyone likes everyone else. It may be a long night.

I've never been a huge fan of poetry but recently a friend sent me a poem that I really liked. She found it on Garrison Keillor's website. He is most famous for his Prairie Home Companion radio show. On the website I subscribed to receiving a daily poem, most of which I have found delightful. If you are interested in taking a little risk and reading a few poems, check out this website.


Another friend recently made a trip to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He sent me the following note.

At the exit of the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, just before entering the brass plaque filled Hall of Honor of all the greats... both past and present, you find a quote from Emmylou Harris which ALL music lovers will appreciate:

"We can’t know where we’re going until we know where we’ve been. And the music of the past is not just to study and put in a museum. The way to study it is to put it on the stereo and turn it up as loud as you can."

I couldn't agree more!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

A Trip To Gethsemani

Today is my last day of vacation before jumping back into the 9-5 work grind. It has been a good day. I woke up without an alarm clock. At my age, after many years of having to get out of bed in the wee hours of the morning, I no longer need an alarm clock. I automatically wake up. Although the hour was early I needed to wear my sunglasses as I drove the interstate and country roads that lead to Gethsemani. Like most Sunday mornings traffic was very light and I enjoyed the drive. I intentionally left home earlier than necessary so I could have some quiet time at the monastery before my meeting. As I sat in the retreat house garden I was mesmerized by the hummingbirds around me. At one time I think there were four of them. In my neighborhood hummingbirds are rather rare so it would have been a treat to see even one. They darted around, swooped in for sips of the sweetened water in bird feeders, and chased one another. Hummingbirds in flight seem to produce a buzzing sound. Their antics reminded me of some of the battle scenes in Star Wars. I was lost in the hummingbird wars until the nearby abbey bells alerted me that it was time to join with my group. This month it was an unusually large group and we had some great conversation about our false senses of security and the meaning of humility. The dialog began with some monastic texts from the Rule of St Benedict, written in the 6th century, but quickly turned into discussion of the challenges of living spiritually in the 21st century.

After mass with the monks, and a pot luck lunch with my friends, I headed down the road to the home of my friend, Father Dennis. He is most hospitable and when I am at his home I feel very much at home. As I have said many times, Dennis is like a big brother to me. As the oldest sibling in my family I never had an older brother or sister so it's nice to have Dennis in my life. We have wonderful conversations that are funny and deep at the same time. I wish I wasn't so busy and had more time to visit him. It's frustrating that my visits are usually rushed because I always seem to have somewhere else I am supposed to be.

Tomorrow it's back to the daily work grind. It's difficult enough to return to work every Monday after a weekend. Going back after a week of vacation and the personal freedom associated with that is down right cruel.

I don't really mind because I have missed some of my work friends. As my son says, "It's all good"! Amen.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Early Morning

I love early mornings at home when I do not have to go to work. It's not that work is bad, it's just that being home is better. Today I woke up at the exact time I would normally awaken to get ready for work. My head was full of thoughts that could have waited till later in the day. I tried to push them out of my mind and to fall back asleep. Occasionally I did drift off into a myriad of dreams but I kept waking back up. Since I enjoy being awake more than I enjoy being asleep...literally and spiritually....I got out of bed. Yesterday it rained most of the day and this morning the air is still cool and moist. However, when I walked outside to pick up my morning paper the sun was bright and warm. While my coffee was brewing I toasted an English muffin. When all was ready I sat with the morning news while David Gilmour's "Live in Gdansk" quietly played in the background. It's a wonderful recording from Gilmour's world tour in 2007. Most of the first disc is his entire last solo CD entitled "On an Island". It is a thing of beauty. The rest of this double CD contains well known Pink Floyd classics. I highly recommend "On an Island", "Live from Gdansk" and his DVD from the same tour called "Live at the Royal Albert Hall".

My week of vacation is rapidly coming to an end. Sometime today I will take in a movie but that is my only goal. I will continue doing what I love which is mostly reading and listening to music. I am not sure what tomorrow will bring but Sunday I will be going to the monastery for much of the day. Monday will be here soon and I will be cast back into the grind of the work week. Now it is time to ignore the future and be in the moment. My coffee cup is empty and needs a refill. My chair is empty and needs me to sit in it. The book on my table is closed and needs to be opened and read. Life is good.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Books, Music, Coffee, And Relationships

The last several days have felt like summer with sunny days and temperatures in the high 80's. Today it is pouring down rain with temperatures in the 50's. I don't care because I am home doing what I want to do. I am seldom more happy than when I am alone with a good book, enjoyable music, and a cup of tasty coffee. Sometimes it seems odd and a little disconcerting that although I like people I am most content when I am alone. The truth is that I find most people wearing on the nerves and usually lots of work. I have lots of relationships in my life but few are deep and, yes, I do regret this because I do long for intimacy with others in spite of my solitary ways. I sometimes wonder if the relationships in my life are fragile and a bit superficial because I am so solitary or if I am solitary because of their fragility and shallowness. I also wonder why I seem so incapable of developing deep and intimate relationships. Is it me? Do I expect too much of people? Do others see me as too needy or unrealistic of what they can give me? Perhaps it's none of this and life has simply molded me into a very withdrawn and introverted person. Even though I am mostly happy being alone I admit to some frustration over the lack of close, meaningful relationships in my life. My introspection and study of psychology and the Enneagram have led me to believe that I am "Sexual Nine with a One Wing". The "Sexual" type of person is one who is always searching for intimacy and one on one relationships. This intimacy is more emotional than sexual. Other psychological subtypes are more concerned with their personal comfort and survival or their social lives with other people, groups, and communities. I am very convinced that I have nailed my personality type with all of its strengths, needs, and dysfunctions. At age 58 I know who and what I am. I even have some theories as to how I became such a person. My childhood provided the groundwork for most of who I am. Other life experiences also helped mold me into the person I am today. Admittedly, there is some degree of sadness and loneliness that is part of my personality. This is probably inevitable for someone who is a dreamer with what most people would consider unrealistic expectations of life and other people. However, it's not all bad being me. My introspective nature is what drives me to share my thoughts and feelings with others. I know I am not a role model for how to live well and be happy. I also know that many enjoy my thoughts because I have the skill and occasional courage to articulate feelings that are shared by many others. In an ironic twist I have achieved some degree of intimacy with many people I don't even know and will likely never meet. I may never achieve the kind of one on one intimacy that seems to elude me. Perhaps my destiny is to feel the pain and pleasure of my solitary nature, to continue reading books and enjoying music, while occasionally sharing my reflections to comfort or, at least, make others realize they are not alone in their own feelings. My coffee cup is empty. When that happens it is time to stop writing. I can only write for as long as it takes to drink my coffee. Lucky for you....

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Death Of A Queen/The Days That Used To Be

I received word today that Koko Taylor, the Queen of the Blues, passed away. She was a great blues singer who I had the good fortune of seeing live on three occasions. The first time was the most memorable. I saw her in a very small, hole in the wall, blues club called "The Cherokee Blues Club" here in Louisville. It was everything a blues club should be. It was dark, smoky, and full of people drinking. Koko's band was hot and she was great. When the performance was over she walked through the crowd and when she got to me I lifted my hand and she gave me a high five. She continued right out the front door where her husband waited in a van. Koko could "Wang Dang Doodle" and sing the blues with the best of them. I saw her one more time in a small club but my final time seeing her was at a large outdoor concert on the 4th of July under a blazing hot sun. She was the opening act for Joe Cocker. She was quite a lady. Rest in peace, Koko.

I just finished watching a DVD I bought on my trip. It was a film of the original Moody Blues recorded live at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. It's a minor miracle that it even exists, much less released in a 5.1 Surround Sound edition. I absolutely love the Moody Blues and I have seen them many times. I still consider myself a hippie, albeit an aging one. The music of my youth, and the memories associated with it, fill me with warmth and a little sadness for all that has passed away. In general I find myself more emotional, sensitive, and sad as my life goes on. We are all so full of promise and hope when we are young. As we age life often forces us to do much that is contrary to who we are or who we want to be. Most get quickly trapped into responsibilities and obligations that consume much of our life. As adults we long for the freedom we had in our youth. Looking back, my youth, and the youth of my friends, seemed like a time that was truly lived with zest and adventure. As an adult I know much of the past is viewed with rose colored glasses. However, looking through the bi-focals I am wearing now, so many of us seem to live in small worlds. In those days of old I was part of a like minded group of fellow travelers. Today I am part of a family who do not seem like minded on any level. Though part of a family, these days I feel like I travel mostly alone except on the rare occasion when I am with fellow travelers of similar mind. Watching the youthful Moody Blues, and seeing the 600,000 people in the audience, reminds me how far we have traveled from the those days. In those times I was more in the moment than I can ever hope to be now. Yes, we have traveled far from those days in ways we don't even know. Neil Young wrote a great song about these days. Read these lyrics carefully. How far away are you from the days that used to be?

Days That Used To Be
People say don't rock the boat,
let things go their own way
Ideas that once seem so right,
now have gotten hard to say
I wish I could talk to you,
you could talk to me
'Cause there's very few of us left
my friend
From the days that used to be.

Seem like such a simple thing
to follow one's own dream
But possessions and concessions
are not often what they seem
They drag you down
and load you down
in disguise of security.
But we never had
to make those deals
In the days that used to be.

Talk to me, my long lost friend,
tell me how you are
Are you happy with
your circumstance,
are you driving a new car
Does it get you where you wanna go,
with a seven year warranty
Or just another
hundred thousand miles away
From days that used to be.

There's No Place Like Home

After being on a family trip/vacation since this past Sunday I am once again back home in my music room. If I was Superman, this room would be my Fortress of Solitude! My wife, youngest son, and I left before dawn this past Sunday to meet my other son and his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I love early morning drives. No such drive is complete without a cup of coffee. After obtaining my morning java I settled into the drive. About half way there we stopped for breakfast. With my belly full and completely jacked up on coffee and rock and roll, I continued the journey. Gatlinburg is approximately 285 miles from where I live. We arrived there without incident and soon hooked up with my son and his wife. Apparently there was a misunderstanding with our room reservation and we ended up with accommodations that included a free lesson in family togetherness. Let me just say that for a solitary introvert like me, I had to make some personal adjustments and occasionally had to work a little harder on chilling out. In spite of the accommodations and lack of personal space no major conflict erupted and we still were able to have an enjoyable time. We walked the streets and shopped in the stores. We went to the water park and had some great, if overpriced, meals. One of the meals was at Bubba Gump Shrimp. I liked the place a lot because, as you would expect, it was completely based on the movie "Forrest Gump", a movie that I never tire of watching. The weather was great. It was much like summer with hot days and, thankfully, cool nights. There was no humidity except for a brief shower when the rain poured through the shining sunlight. Each night we were able to sit in our favorite hangout, a place called "The Village", where we drank coffee and ate tasty donuts from a wonderful place called "The Donut Friar". This morning started off as a great day and I was looking forward to the drive home. About a hundred miles into the drive the skies opened up and rain poured for the next hundred miles. Driving in the pouring rain, on an interstate highway filled with semi-trucks, is not my idea of a relaxing drive. If the pouring rain is not enough to deal with you have the intense spray from the big trucks. Eventually the rain stopped and the last 75 miles or so were dry and pleasant. It's always a little sad when a getaway from your normal life is over, whether it be a family vacation or a trip to the monastery, but Dorothy was right when she told the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home"! So, now I am home from Oz with four more days of vacation ahead of me. One of the things I will do is read the new book I bought. It's a biography of the Cream, the first rock and roll supergroup. It is also a virtual biography of the British blues scene of the 60's. I love reading books about the history of music. It's early evening as I write this. I hope to stay awake for a few more hours. After the busyness of the last few days and the nearly 300 mile drive home...mostly in the rain....I will sleep well in my own bed tonight.