Saturday, August 28, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXIX

My niece's wedding last Saturday. It was a big, lavish, classy affair. We haven't had a family wedding in a while. There were four generations of my family present. I come from a large family and my extended family is huge. It was good to see all my elderly aunts and uncles. My mother is one of nine children and six of them are still alive. There are also many cousins, other nieces, nephews, in-laws and outlaws, not to mention my own brothers and sisters. It was a wonderful celebration.

A quiet evening at home. At some point in their lives most people lose their desire to always be doing something and to be "out there". Maybe it's my age showing but at this stage of my life I would rather be home than anywhere else. At the end of the workday I love it when I finally cross the threshold of my home. It is always a welcome sight. In the evening and on weekends I can usually do anything I want. It's all about relaxation and pursuing whatever interests me. It can be reading a book, watering the flowers, listening to my favorite music, watching a movie, or emailing a friend. It can also be about doing nothing but looking out the window. As one of my favorite Zen sayings goes, "It is better to do nothing than to be busy doing nothing". If you don't appreciate home yet, you will someday.

Noticing things. The Color Purple is the title of a book by Alice Walker that was also made into a movie starring Whoopie Goldberg and Ophah Winfrey. My favorite line from the book goes "I think it pisses God off when you don't notice the color purple". We are often overwhelmed with the challenges and troubles of life. All of us struggle with life and some struggle more than others because life isn't fair. Still, however, in the midst of all our troubles, beauty exists. We need to notice things like a morning sunrise, a cool breeze, a child's smile, a friend's laughter, birdsong, and all the other wonderful things that fill our lives. When was the last time you noticed the color purple?

Whenever my granddaughter spends the night she usually wakes me up at the crack of dawn and says, "Pa Paw, it's time to go make your coffee". This past Sunday she woke me up and said, "Pa Paw, we'll make your coffee later". Then she rolled over and went back to sleep. First Grade must be tough.

The weather. The weather has been beautiful this week. If this was a typical week I would actually like summer. This morning it was quite cool walking in from the parking garage. We are also experiencing a full moon that lit the sky as I walked out in the early morning darkness to get my morning newspaper. I am hoping we have gotten past the brutally hot weather we have been experiencing most of the summer and that the current weather will take us into autumn.

Family. Yesterday my sister sent me a birthday list for our family. I counted 35 people from my 80 year old mother to the newest great-grandchild. This list includes my mother, brothers and sisters, spouses, children/grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I could not help but notice that the only person on the list older than me was my mother! Since my Dad passed away I guess I am now the Patriarch.

It's Friday! Thank you, God! It's also another beautiful morning and the cool weather feels great. I know we will have more hot days but as far as I am concerned next week is the end of summer. Can you believe it is almost September?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXIX

It was a beautiful morning this past Monday. There was a cool breeze and compared to the weather we've been having lately it has turned out to be a relatively "cool" week. We also got to wear jeans to the office all week and Wednesday we had an office "picnic". As I have always said, it's the little things in life that make the difference. It's important to "be here Now" and seize the day. My wife is not a morning person. One morning I told her to "seize the day or it will seize you". As expected, she was not totally receptive to my wisdom, especially so early in the day. I guess it's true that a prophet is not accepted in his own country.

My granddaughter begins the first grade this year. It seems like she was just born yesterday. Some of you may also have a child beginning school this week. It's always a hectic, stressful time, more for the parents than most of the children. The start of the school year means the end of summer is near. Few of us will miss the brutally hot days we've had most of this summer. Mornings are already darker and occasionally cooler. Change is in the air. I love the change of seasons. Seasonal changes are part of the rhythm of life and where there's rhythm, there's music. So pay attention and listen to the music of life.

Picnic Day at the office. OK, I felt a little weird sitting at my desk in shorts, sandals, and a Grateful Dead tee shirt but I was very comfortable. When I came downstairs at my home that morning my wife looked at me and said, "Are you off today"? Walking from the parking garage and riding up the elevator to the floor where I work I did not see one single person in shorts so I had a minor panic attack that I was wearing the wrong clothes on the wrong day. However, once I got to my floor I realized I had not lost my mind and that is was, in fact, "Picnic Day". I think it was the first time I ever wore shorts to work on a Wednesday!

Contentment. I have been a restless and idealistic person much of my life. This sometimes created a feeling of emptiness when life didn't meet my expectations. As I have gotten older I have become more content. One of my favorite sayings is "It is what it is". I think contentment is the ability to appreciate what is and not to always be thinking about what isn't. Contentment is not settling for the minimum that life has to offer or giving up your dreams, hopes, and ambitions. It's appreciating the moment and learning to be more grateful for what is. I think you can be very content and still feel a little unfulfilled. You can be content and still dream. Contentment is accepting and embracing the Now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Good And The Bad

We're getting a break in the brutally hot weather we've had most of the summer. Earlier today I took a walk outside. It was still hot but the humidity levels were way down so it was rather pleasant. Unofficially, today begins the end of summer. Most local children returned to school today. My granddaughter is beginning the first grade. Wasn't she just born yesterday? How can she already be in the first grade? In a couple of weeks my youngest son returns to the seminary for his second year of theological studies. His resolve is a little shaky but his counselors have advised him to press on with his studies and to continue the discernment that is part of the formation process. Such doubt is part of life. Few of us are able to live our lives without some doubt about the decisions we've made or the paths we stumble along. I believe that doubt is a good thing. I am suspect of people who live their lives with perfect certitude. My life has never been a leisurely walk down a perfectly straight path. There's a reason this blog is called "Stumbling Along the Spiritual Path".

Lately I have been filled with concern for others. The pain of life is never far away. I am an empathic person and the troubles of others often fill me with more sadness than my own struggles. I had to terminate a co-worker recently and it upset me that I had to do it. One of my brothers, who is a kind and gentle soul, suffers from serious mental health issues. Two people I know have cancer. Some in my life are having relationship struggles while others are unemployed. The evening news seems perpetually depressing. Life in general is fragile and there is always the chance it will come crashing down. In the midst of this I feel at peace within myself although I am not without some existential angst and I sometimes share the feeling of one of my sister's who says, "Sometimes I feel guilty that my life is so good". Many who suffer do not deserve it and I suppose that some who are blessed may not deserve it either. I generally believe in karma but it is not foolproof. Bad things sometimes happen to good people and good things sometimes happen to bad people. I can't explain it. My way of dealing with this is to not feel sorry for myself or act like a victim when misfortunes happen to me. At the same time I strive to see all of life's blessings as a gift and gratefulness as a way of life is important to me. Life and people have been giving me gifts my entire life. I don't always feel deserving but I accept them gratefully. Likewise, when life throws me curve balls, I strive to also accept them with humility and a minimum of complaining. It is my hope for myself and others that the greater part of our lives are filled with good things and that we only have enough bad to make us appreciate the good more deeply.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Awesome Things Volume XXVIII

Awesome things are often simple joys....

A cool breeze while pumping gas into my car earlier this week. It was another brutal week as far as the heat goes, with a couple of days reaching 100 degrees, but on this one morning I enjoyed a cool breeze while standing at the gas pump.

Spending last weekend with my granddaughter. She came over at 8:30 AM on Saturday so her parents could go to the King's Island amusement park. Admittedly after one of her extended visits I feel like I have been to the gym but we had a wonderful time. It a good thing to sometimes see life through the eyes of a child.

Monday was the 15th anniversary of the death of Jerry Garcia, one of my musical heroes. I am a card carrying "Dead Head" and I miss seeing Jerry and Dead. Like all of us Jerry was an imperfect human being but he gave a lot of joy to a lot of people with his music. Yes, I do have lots of Grateful Dead music on my ipod.

Walking. Most days I go to the first floor of my office building and walk at least five laps around the perimeter. If the weather is nice I go outside around the park or along the river. However, I'm not a fan of hot weather so it's usually fall or winter when I venture outside. Admittedly I don't walk just for the joy of walking. It's my way of exercising to keep my weight and blood sugar under control. However, it's not all work either. I do enjoy walking and it gets the blood pumping when I am tired or a little brain dead from too much time looking at numbers and other data. Walking puts you in direct contact with your world. You can feel the wind and smell the flowers. You can sense when the rain is coming or you can enjoy the snow when it is falling. When I walk my feet are on the ground even if my head is sometimes in the clouds.

Being where you are. This is Zen and it is more difficult than you think. For example, at this moment my body is sitting here in my cubicle writing these thoughts. However, my mind is a million other places. It is a daily goal of mine to unite my mind with my body. If you can be where you are, doing what you are doing, you have learned how to truly live. Living and being where you are can also slow life down. The older you get the faster life seems to go. You can wake up and realize that five years have gone by. By being where you are, and practicing mindfulness, you get the most out of every day and they don't seem like such a blur when looking back. Your goal today is to be where you are, wherever that is, do what you are doing, and enjoy the moment. You will not pass this way again.

The "Tao". What people call the Tao (pronounced DOW) is basically a collection of Chinese philosophy. I find these writings very thought provoking. Here's today's thought....

"For a true master, sitting on a throne is no difference than sitting on dirt".

The commentary says, "True enlightenment comes from understanding the oneness of all reality. Such a realization leads to a perception that all things are truly equal. There is no polarity in the eyes of a master. Ordinary people cannot see this clearly. We feel safe only within declared boundaries. We make distinctions, we defend ourselves and our territories. Only a master knows the meaning of liberation and has complete freedom". Take this in with your morning coffee!

Nothing in particular. This reminds me that some days are just ordinary and that's OK. Everyday is not awesome. What connects all the awesome days are all the ordinary days. An awesome day may be something to celebrate but it would be challenging and exhausting to celebrate 24/7. Ordinary days are days to breathe, catch your breath, and rest up for the next awesome day. The reality is that most of our days are ordinary. You should still enjoy them or you will miss a big chunk of your life. Of course, today is not completely ordinary. It is Friday and I know all of us love Friday. Sometime we love Friday because we've had a tough week. I love Fridays even when I've had a great week.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The British Invasion 1964-66

Rock and roll is approximately 55 years old. One of my favorite periods in rock and roll is what Americans called "The British Invasion". This was basically the years 1964-66. It began when the Beatles came to America and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in February, 1964. I was 12 years old. The following month I began my teenage years. Following the Beatles were groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Animals, the Kinks, and a host of lesser known bands and one hit wonders. Much of what these bands played was really music with American roots. Along with their own compositions and hit singles, they offered their interpretations of blues and Motown, not to mention the influence of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. As a teenage boy I was obsessed with these bands. Now, as a middle aged man who is not far from being a senior citizen, I still love the music from these bands and this era. Although my introduction to rock and roll was mainly through Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys, this is the era that made me the rock and roll junkie that I am today. The music was innocent even if the bands weren't. By 1967 the music and most of my generation had lost their innocence. It's probably difficult for young people today to appreciate the hysteria and cultural changes brought about by the Beatles and the other bands from this time period. They totally dominated the music charts, every teenage boy wanted to be in a band, and every teenage girl was in love with a Beatle, a Rolling Stone, or one of the Dave Clark Five. Recently I was thinking about the idea of "passion". How many times have all of us been told we don't have passion for something, especially in our working lives. There are certainly areas of my life, including my work life, where I do not have passion. While thinking about the idea of passion it occurred to me that the one thing I have had a constant and never ending passion for is music. I was strongly reminded of this a few nights ago when I watched a movie called "Pirate Radio". This is a story that is also about a British invasion. During the time of the musical British invasion of America, rock and roll was generally not played on British radio. Rock and roll is like life. It finds a way. Enterprising music lovers began broadcasting rock and roll music from ships anchored off the British coast. Collectively they were referred to as "Pirate Radio". Eventually they were shut down by the British Government but they had a glorious run for a couple of years. Of course, we all know the rest of the story. Rock and roll exploded and took over the world. I have never made any money from my passion for music. However, because of the hours and days and years of joy that music has brought me, I have become something of an expert on the music of my generation. Sometimes I feel like part of my destiny is to preserve my generation's musical history through my music collection and my knowledge, while also sharing it and passing it along to appreciative members of the younger generation. There's a young guy in my office who is almost like my apprentice. There's even an office joke that he is also my lost "love child" but that's not really true. At least I haven't been presented with any DNA evidence to validate it. After all these years many of the great musicians of my generation have passed on to rock and roll heaven. Someday I will join them. Although I am not a musician, I am a professional fan. When that times comes be sure to bury me with my ipod fully charged. I have all my playlists in order.

Awesome Things Volume XXVII

Getting up early on a Saturday and having morning coffee outside on my patio. It was cool last Saturday morning so I made a cup of coffee and went outside and sat on my patio. My companions were a very busy squirrel, a few birds, and a collection of Thomas Merton's thoughts. Sometimes I stopped reading and simply sat. I was reminded of a quote that someone once sent me. It goes, "Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I just sit". I don't always think about doing stuff like this until it is too late. If I hadn't seized the moment when I did, I would have missed the morning coolness and been confronted later with the heat of the day. Seizing the moment is part of being an "awakened one". Every once in a while, I am awake.

This week I have been married for 36 years. Way back on August 3rd, 1974 I was a naive 23 year old boy and I married a naive 21 year old girl. I have been married longer than I was single. My wife and I have grown up together and we have survived a lot together, including raising our two sons from boys to men. It hasn't always been a walk in the park but I'm glad we are still together. My wife's parents were married 55 years and my parents were married 59 years when my father passed away. Compared to them we're just getting warmed up. Marriage, family life, and life in general, have been tougher than I ever imagined. However, it's been mostly good, I've been very blessed, and marriage has given me a stability in my life that I needed.

The Present. Yesterday's heat...102 degrees...and yesterday's problems are behind us. Today is a new day with new possibilities. We have a 50% chance of rain and a cool front will make today a chilly 90 degrees. I am a person who believes in the idea of living in the moment. I have a little sign in my cube that says "What, at this moment, is lacking"? A friend and former teacher of mine once said, "The moment is as perfect as it can be". Life is full of troubles, challenges, and disappointments. It is also full of moments that lack nothing and moments that are perfect. You will experience all of this in your life. An old monk and a young monk in training were meditating together. The young monk kept opening his eye and peeking at the old monk. Finally the old monk, sensing the young monk's stare, opened his eyes and said to the young monk, "This is it. Nothing else happens". Such is life....

Yesterday a friend at our corporate office sent this quote to me because they said it made them think of me.

Happiness cannot be traveled to, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.
-Denis Waitley

Happiness is today's awesome thing. You can't find happiness. It finds you. Sometimes we stumble over if when we think it is somewhere else. This reminds me of a Zen quote that goes something like this, "Zen is like looking for the glasses that are on your face". Happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a journey. To some extent I believe happiness is a choice. There are people who live in circumstances that most of us would find miserable, yet they are happy. On the other hand there are lots of miserable "rich" people. Choose to be happy and you will be. It's Friday so I know I am happy. 8-)