Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter Night

In my past I wrote a lot of bad poetry. Last night I found one poem that I wrote many years ago that's not too bad and seems appropriate for the winter landscape outside my window. Last night we received about three inches of snow so all is beautiful this morning.

Dark gray skies,
bare trees,
howling north wind,
cold frigid breeze.
Snowflakes dancing in the air,
Jack Frost nipping here and there.
Into the woods, down the path I go,
all is quiet except for the crunching sound of snow.
My eyes search for a tree long dead,
so into my fireplace it can be fed,
to give me warmth through the night,
so I may ponder in the light.
A winter's evening is long and dark,
but from the flicker of a spark,
heat will fill my favorite room,
and warm me deep inside.
I stare at the flames burning bright,
glad to be home on such a night.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Awesome Things Volume II

One dish meals. I am a big fan of one dish meals like soup, chili, or a good casserole. I think of this type of food as "peasant food". It's good, hearty, simple food. Soup or chili is especially good on a cold winter day when you are home and, if you're lucky, it's snowing outside and you have no where you need to be. Throw in a comfortable chair, a good book, great coffee and you have the makings of a perfect day.

The best movie I have seen in a while is "Avatar". If you've seen the movie you know why it cost $500,000,000 dollars to make. You must see it in 3D. I would compare it to some of my experiences in the sixties but that might incriminate me and give you the impression that I did wild and crazy things in my youth. It really is an awesome movie with lots of deep meaning and mesmerizing special effects. One note of caution: The movie is three hours long so don't drink too much water beforehand. If you do pick a theater near the rest-rooms.

Mornings! I can already hear the moaning and groaning on this one. I admit that I hate getting out of the bed but once I am up, I love mornings. When I stay overnight at the monastery I get up with the monks at 3:00 AM. Often I will go outside and sit under a tree or in a chair next to my bedroom window and I will watch the sun rise. Without wanting to sound too much like a Hallmark card, each new morning and day is a new beginning and a fresh start. In my experience problems that seemed like a big deal at bedtime don't seem so huge in the morning. In the mornings I generally feel like I can do anything. So, remember...tempus fugit (Latin for "Time Flies). Seize the day.

Those moments in life when you are "surprised by joy". The author C.S. Lewis, famous for the Narnia Chronicles, also wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. I love the title. Joy, like happiness, is not something you seek. It is found along the way through the journey of your life and it often surprises you with it's appearance. Those who know me well know that I am really a Buddhist at heart. The word "Buddha" means "awakened one". Joy does not usually knock you in the head. It sneaks up on you and you can miss it if you are not awake. This doesn't mean you have to be a Buddhist. It does mean that you can't continually go through your life spiritually asleep while physically awake. You need to be awake and aware, paying attention to the world around you, especially those quiet and special moments when joy arrives unannounced. Even if you are not a Buddhist, you can still have a "Buddha Mind". So, wake up!

Snow is joy. Ice is not.

Taking a day off during the work week for no particular reason. I call these "mental health days". I wish I had taken one today. Sometimes it is good to get off the merry go round and let the world spin without you for a day. Most of us think the world can't spare us but guess what? The world usually doesn't notice and it never misses a beat. Anyway, I think it is a good thing to occasionally spend a day with yourself to rest, heal, chill, and just relax. When you do get back on the merry go round, you will do so with renewed enthusiasm.

Being able to "decorate" my personal work space. I consider it a great thing that I can personalize my workspace. I am surrounded by stuff that makes me feel comfortable at work. I have family pictures, a painting and drawing by my granddaughter, a calendar from the monastery, a Grateful Dead magnet, a framed picture that one of my team carried all the way from Ukraine, a Zen Garden, two Buddha's, a little sign that says "Middle Age Crazy Lives Here" and another that says "Hippies Use Backdoor (No Exceptions)". I do sometimes feel like I live here and I am "Middle Age Crazy". I also love it that I can listen to my rock and roll and drink coffee throughout the day whenever I am at my desk. Sometimes my job makes me crazy but when I compare it to many other jobs, I feel very grateful and lucky.

A forecasted snowfall that is scheduled to begin tonight. Wow! It's the perfect storm. Does it get any better than to be in your home on a Friday night and it starts to snow? I have a rare weekend ahead where I have no where to go and nothing to do that requires me to leave home. Admittedly, I have a ton of work to do at home but that's OK. I anticipate sleeping deeply tonight while the silent snow falls outside my window. When I wake up everything will be beautiful and serene. It will be one of those moments when you should breathe deeply and take it all in. Waking up tomorrow and enjoying the beauty will be a Zen moment.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

10,000 Visitors

Sometime today I had the 10,000th visit to this blog. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who visits here regularly. If this is your first visit, I hope you will return. I have no real agenda other than writing stories from my life, occasional thoughts on spirituality, and sharing anything else that seems important at the time. My writing is what it is. As I once said in a previous entry, my writing and sharing is me throwing seeds to the wind. I have no idea where they land or if what I write makes any difference to anyone. I do know that I have touched a few lives because I have heard from some of you. The majority of you, however, are silent visitors who may or may not visit on a regular basis. If you have found me by accident, and liked what you found, I am very grateful and happy that my simple thoughts resonate with you. I will continue to share my life and thoughts as long as I still have my mind and my fingers can type. Hopefully I will have something to share that provides value, insight, or enjoyment for those who come here for a smile or an encouraging word.

Peace to all who visit here!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Life Never Stops

Life never stops. It may not stop even after death. If you're a Christian, there's the hope of resurrection. I wonder sometimes, "If there is a Heaven and I get there, will there be expectations of me? Will God give me a job in Heaven? Will I have chores"? Heaven has to be more than billions of people sitting in the lotus position staring at a light. Since I am an aging hippie, will Heaven be an eternal Woodstock? If you're Buddhist, you have the hope of being reincarnated over and over until you reach Nirvana. If I am reincarnated will I be born into a better and more comfortable life only to discover that I have a lot more responsibility and a lot more challenges? OK, I really wasn't planning on getting so esoteric. I was thinking on a much simpler level. The other day I was riding down the elevator with a group of younger people who were all complaining about how busy they were and how much they had to do. I could have been the parent of everyone in the elevator. I told them that I thought my life would be much slower and much less busy at my age but that wasn't happening. Even though my children are adults now and mostly out of my house, my wife and I are still working full time while also trying to justify our existence and be relevant in a ever changing world that looks more and more alien to us with every passing year. I guess it should be no surprise to me that life never stops making demands. There is never really a time when I can totally relax. There's never a time when you can, as my wife says, "Take your finger off the button". There's always a "to do" list, there's always an agenda, there's always a project, there's always something to be concerned about, not to mention the surprises of life that we never see coming. Does this mean we should all go jump off a cliff? Not at all. It simply means that we must learn to be more awake, more aware, and more open to the moments in our lives when things happen that refresh us like a cool breeze on a hot summer day. For example, my granddaughter spent the night with my wife and I on Saturday. When she stays we us, she sleeps in our bed. I could hear her waking up on Sunday morning so I pretended to still be asleep. She rolled over next to me and tapped me on the shoulder. I said, "Good morning, Chloe". The first words out of her mouth were "I love you, Pa Paw". Such a moment is worth a thousand bad days. In the midst of life's demands, challenges, and annoyances, what makes it all worth it are the Chloe moments, the friends and family moments, the Zen moments, and those other unexpected times when, to use the words of C.S. Lewis, you are "surprised by joy". My life may never slow down. As long as it is busy, and I can keep up with it, I know I am alive. If anything improves with age I hope it is my ability to get lost in the eternal moments that are woven into my days and that when I least expect it, I am surprised by joy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Letting Go

My wife thinks I am a pack rat. I prefer to think of myself as a "collector". I am home today attempting to disseminate the contents of a closet that no longer exists. My brother in law and his son tore it down yesterday as part of the renovation of my music room. The idea of "letting go" is a basic and primary concept in the spiritual life. My friend and former teacher, Fr. Richard Rohr, did a series of lectures entitled "The Spirituality of Subtraction". I am certainly at a time in my life when I need to let go of more and gather less. Much of what I have gathered in life has little material value with the possible exception of my books and music collection. I hate to throw away good stuff and I believe in the idea that one man's junk is another man's treasure. I also have the mindset of a tree hugging, granola eating, Birkenstock wearing hippie who thinks everything should be recycled. Another part of me is a student of history while a different part is a sentimental old fool who attaches lots of meaning to small things like trinkets and "knick knacks". It's probably safe to say that all of my personal possessions have some kind of meaning or memory attached to them. I also believe that all of my personal possessions paint a portrait of who I am as a person. My "stuff" is my life. Having said all of this, letting go is painful for me. However, most liberation requires some pain. When I am able to let go, I feel a great peace and a new sense of lightness in my life. As I sit here in my home office and I look around, I see a lifetime of memories. There is a story behind everything. Occasionally I have the sober realization that someday all of my things will belong to someone else, be pitched in the garbage, or taken to the Goodwill. Thank God I will be dead when this happens! If I am not dead, it will kill me. While I am still alive, however, I will continue to seek the simplicity one finds in Zen Gardens such as the one pictured above. It's probably going to take the rest of my life to get there.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Empty Mind

I'm thinking of my Dad this morning. He passed away last February. If he were alive today would be his 85th birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad, wherever you are!

I think I may have finally acquired "Empty Mind". Unfortunately I do not think it is the empty mind of the Buddha. I think it is the empty mind of someone who is momentarily incapable of deep thought. In many ways it is quite liberating. I think I have lost the desire to figure everything out, to understand it, and to share my understanding with others. I take more delight these days in simple pleasures and simple living than I do in the consumption of books and endless intellectual wandering. Maybe my "monkey mind" is just tired and is forcing me to take a break. Sometimes I think the pursuit of understanding or greatness is just a veiled attempt to prove one's worth. We all want to impress everyone else. We all want to be loved but perhaps even more, we want to be valued by others. Many have doubts about their value and whether they will be loved simply for who they are. Therefore they try to earn love and admiration by impressing others with their gifts and successes. So today I am going to resist the urge to understand my current state of "Empty Mind" and to impress you with how well I can articulate my experience. I will simply enjoy this time of traveling with a lighter load and less baggage. It will make my movement through the ongoing journey of life much easier. I will simply wander through the woods like the monks pictured above. I won't care how the flowers grow. I will simply stop and smell them.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Addicted To Rock And Roll

My wife and I are having lots of work done to update and improve our home after living in it for over 20 years and raising two boys at the same time. One of the rooms being renovated is my beloved "music room". If you walked in there before today it was like being transported to the room of an 18 year old hippie in 1969. Talk about arrested development! I can assure you, however, that it will never look like the room of a 59 year old in 2010. I have been spending much of today and will likely spend most of the weekend cleaning it out so the deconstruction and eventual reconstruction can be done. Today has confirmed what I already knew. I am deeply addicted to rock and roll and I need some kind of therapy. I have been moving a life time of accumulated CD's, books, posters, framed prints, tiedyed wall tapestries, DVD's, old newspapers and magazines, CD racks, drums, bookshelves, collectables, keepsakes, coffee mugs full of ticket stubs to concerts I have attended, and things others would consider junk but which have deep meaning for me. At one point my wife asked, "Do you want this rock"? I replied, quite indignantly, "Rock? That is a chunk of the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado"! When I get through this weekend, and the additional work of knocking down a closet is completed, and the walls are painted, and the floor is carpeted, and a computer workstation is purchased, and permanent CD and book shelves are built, I will have a wonderful and updated "man cave". I will miss the old room with the rainforest and brachiosaurus painted on one wall but I admit the room is in dire need of an overhaul and update. Being the extreme introvert that I am, this room is my "Fortress of Solitude" where I retreat each day after fighting dragons out in the world.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Awesome Things

In the not too distant past I discovered a website called "1000 Awesomethings". Inspired by this site I have tried to include a daily "Awesome Thing" in my morning emails to my staff and co-workers. Here's a few that I have included lately. These, of course, are things that I think are awesome.

Music DVD's in 5.1 Surround Sound. I've seen a lot of music in my day, from blues played in a smoky bars to mega events like the Rolling Stones at Churchill Downs. I love rock and roll but the older I get the harder it is to tolerate the crowds and the work associated with attending concerts. Music DVD's are like sitting in the front row in a reserved section. I have a nice television with a great sound system. I can crank it up. Sitting in my Lazy Boy chair with a remote in my hand, I control the situation. No one falls on me and I am never doused with beer from drunken music freaks. If I have to go to the bathroom, I can pause the music and go do what I need to do. There's never a line and the bathroom is clean. Occasionally the grandmother I am married to will join me. Sometimes we actually stay awake for the entire concert.

Being alone in your car, getting on the Interstate, and having the classic rock song "Radar Love" come on the radio. This happened to me yesterday. If you are familiar with this song, you know it's almost impossible to not drive 80 miles an hour when it is playing. This song must have been playing last summer when I received a $173 speeding ticket while I was on my way to the monastery to "slow down". Today's second awesome thing is that moment when you realize that you're starting to feel the heat in your car. The temperatures have been below freezing for two weeks so everyday when I leave my car feels like a deep freeze when I first get into it. By the time I get to 3rd and Main I can feel the heat in my seat "bun warmers" ( I have heated seats. Yes, I know I am blessed) and when I pull into my wife's parking garage where I wait for her the heat is going full blast. Unfortunately, waiting in a warm car, at the end of a work day, often puts me in serious hand to hand combat with the Sandman. I usually lose. The other day my wife was beating on the window and I was out like a light. She scared the heck out of me!

Finding a balance within yourself between your head and your heart. Life is challenging. One must be both logical and compassionate. I use my intellect to manage inventory and other things related to numbers and the practical. I use my heart, however, to deal with people who are often neither logical or practical. Seldom can one be totally logical or totally compassionate. Sometimes logic needs a touch of compassion. Compassion usually needs a dose of logic. This is where the balance comes in. Learning to do both with grace and skill takes time and often the wisdom of years. The best way to be intellectual and logical is to simply think. Stop, take time, pause, and simply think. Don't always shoot from the hip. Compassion is acquired from treating others as you would like to be treated. We all sometimes need other's compassion. The head and the heart should work together and not be in conflict with one another although sometimes it does feel like a tug of war.

A springlike day in the middle of winter. After two weeks of below freezing temperatures and a week of snow and ice it is wonderful to feel the warmth of the sun and to shake the chill from your bones.

A deep conversation with my granddaughter.

Chloe: I'm a child and you're an adult.

Pa Paw: Can I be a child?

Chloe: No, because you are old.

Pa Paw: Why am I old?

Chloe: Because your hair is white and you have old skin. Look at your hands.

Pa Paw: Is Meemo old?

Chloe: No, because her hair isn't white like yours.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Religion And Spirituality

People often talk about religion versus spirituality. At this stage of my life, I think of myself more as a spiritual person than a religious one. The following is from a teaching of the Dalai Lama and I think it articulates very well the difference between religion and spirituality.

I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality. Religion I take to be concerned with belief in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of meta-physical or philosophical reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or hell. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayers and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit, such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony, which bring happiness to both self and others.
-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I Like You Just The Way You Are!

My granddaughter came over for the weekend. Chloe is a very normal five year old. However, despite her young age, she is the most loving person I have ever known. She worships the ground I walk on. No one in my entire life has ever made me feel as loved as she does. She's very affectionate and is always telling me that she loves me. Last night when my wife asked her if she should buy me a wig to hide my baldness, Chloe reached over, hugged me, and said, "I love you just the way you are"! Anyone not moved by such a gesture of love and affection would not be moved by anything. This morning, while she was sitting on my lap and watching a movie called "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", we talked about love and how everyone wants to be loved. Although she is very young, she knows well what love is. I can't imagine anyone not wanting others to love them. Certainly in my life there are many people who love me. I'm sure most people are loved by someone. Still, many people, including me, often feel unloved. I revealed this to a co-worker recently only to find out she felt the same way most of her life. Why do so many people feel unloved? I think it goes back to something I read and wrote about several months ago. One kind of love doesn't work for everyone. Some feel loved by the actions of others. Others need affection and verbal expressions of love. Many love gifts while some simply prefer the attention and presence of their beloved. Love is like many things in life. There is no "one size fits all" version. It can't be bought off the rack. It must be tailor made to fit the need of the beloved. If you feel unloved, or perhaps frustrated because your overtures of love don't seem to be working, you may need to change your approach. Love is usually not the problem. It's how you express it.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The First Snow Of Winter

Today we had our first real snow of winter. It began right before daybreak and has continued throughout the day. I love snow so I've been happy about it all day. The morning commute was a little slow and the car did slide a couple of times but I got to work safely and on time. Throughout the day, whenever I was up and about the office, my gaze was on the outdoors and the falling snow. During lunch I went outdoors and walked around as the large and wet snowflakes hit me in the face. It was true bliss. The commute home was easy and uneventful. When I arrived home I was happy to discover that my neighborhood had much more snow than the downtown area where I work. Now I am home in my warm house with a mug of hot coffee. The day is ending and we are entering what might be the coldest night of the season so far. Wind chills below zero are expected tonight. Tomorrow is Friday. The only thing that would make all this wintry weather better would be if tomorrow was Saturday! I have to get through one more work day and then I can settle in and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. My granddaughter will be coming over this weekend. We may have to go for a walk in the winter wonderland and play in the snow. Pictured above is the morning commute and another more pastoral scene. Everything is much whiter now.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Very Cold Visit To The Monastery

Today is the first Sunday of the year and it is also Epiphany Sunday. Each year on this day I go to the monastery to be with friends from around Kentucky and nearby states. Some of the monks also join with us. This gathering is an annual tradition that I have been participating in for many years.

When I got out of bed this morning it was 5 degrees outside. I looked forward to being at the monastery but I had no desire to leave my house and face the frigid morning. Finally, after the car warmed up, and with hot coffee in hand, I got on the road. I attempted to put gas in the car but it was so cold outside that the gas pump could not read my debit card. I had enough gas for the trip there so I decided to get gas in Bardstown later in the day when the temperature reached a balmy 29 degrees.

As I do on most trips to the monastery, I stopped at the home of my good friend, Fr. Dennis, whose home and hospitality is always warm. He had more hot coffee waiting for me as well as some toasted raisin bread baked by the monks. We talked for a while before I headed to the monastery for mass with the monks. The abbey church was still decorated for Christmas with the great tapestry created by Brother Lavrans more than 40 years ago. He is now in heaven. The monk in charge of incense was out of control. As the priests of the monastery marched in, the censor blasted out clouds of incense. Pillows of smoke filled the church as morning sunlight shone through the stained glass windows. I love the aroma of the incense as it wafts through the air.

After mass we all drove across the highway to the family guesthouse for a pot luck lunch and get together. The conversation is always interesting. When it was time to leave I gave Brother Frederic a ride back to the monastery. He is 86 years young. When we got to the monastic gate I asked him if the code was the same as it was when I lived in the monastery. He replied that it was so I keyed it in. Nothing happened. I inquired if I need to do anything else and he replied, "Just be patient, Michael". We both had a good laugh over my worldly impatience with the gate that ran on monastic time.

The drive home was uneventful but I was happy to find my granddaughter at my house when I arrived home. I wore a sweatshirt to the monastery that said on the front:

"The Man, The Myth, The Legend"

I love being at the monastery but being Grandpa is who I am and who I love to be.