Friday, October 22, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume VII

Generosity is tough in hard times. Too often, however, people only think of generosity in terms of donating money. There are three basic wells that one can draw from in order to give. They are called time, talent, and treasure. All of us have something to give. I would like to add one more category. It is the gift of yourself. In my lifetime I have known many people who really didn't have much in terms of talent or wealth. However, what they had in abundance was personality and spirit. They were just a joy to be around. I need people like this around me because I tend to be withdrawn. I am an off the chart introvert. I need people and friends to stand outside my cave and yell, "Mikey, come out and play"! So maybe you have little time, talent, or treasure. Look in the mirror. Perhaps your most abundant gift to others is yourself.

"He who is outside the door has already got a good part of his journey behind him".
-Dutch proverb

The first step in any journey is usually the hardest. Once that first step is taken, the second one usually comes easier. Change is very similar. The idea of change can be more frightening than the actual change. I admit that I haven't always liked change. I am a creature of habit who likes his routines and the familiar. Once when I was accused of being resistant to chance I replied, "No, I'm not. I just prefer stability". Whether you love it or hate it, it's going to happen. In my 25 years with my employer the only constant has been change. The act of changing can be painful and uncomfortable but it can also be exciting. I have also learned over and over through the many changes I have gone through that today's newness is tomorrow's routine. I have lost count of all the change in my life to which I have adapted. There is only one thing in my life that hasn't changed. I still have the same wife after 36 years.

Most people don't want much. It's my experience that most people just want love and acceptance and a reasonable sense of security. I have never been ambitious in worldly terms. All I have ever wanted beyond what I just mentioned is a simple and uncomplicated life with a minimum of drama. It is very difficult to want so little and to actually get it. Forrest Gump was right. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. This reality can make one nervous. When life seems to good, you can find yourself wondering what will happen to mess that up. Everyone knows I admire the Buddha. He teaches that all things are impermanent. This is both comforting and disturbing. It means that good things probably won't last forever. However, it also means that bad things don't last forever either. What's the point? The point is that you should enjoy every moment of your life but be prepared for the impermanence of it. When a change occurs that you don't like, just hang on and wait for the goodness that is hidden within it. All things happen for a reason.

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind".
-Dr. Seuss

I don't think Dr. Seuss is encouraging us to tell everyone off. We all know that is not prudent. I think what he is saying is be true to who you are and speak from your heart. Earlier this week in my office many people attended some leadership training with our VP. Part of his message was to express his desire to eliminate fear in the workplace. Fear is counterproductive. I believe our VP wants to replace fear, and it's cousin, anxiety, with openness, cooperation, and mutual respect. I believe that good communication skills are very important in the elimination of fear and anxiety. I have long been a believer that it's not what you say but how you say it. The delivery is as important as the message. When the message is delivered poorly it is almost always misunderstood and when the message is insincere, everyone knows it. We must all speak the truth with integrity. The truth will set some people free and it will annoy others. That's what truth does.

Today is my last day in the department where I have worked for a long time. I am being loaned to another department for six months. I am sad to be leaving my department and I am especially sad to be leaving behind a great team of people that have reported to me. Many of us have worked together for a long time. I may not have always wanted to come to work but I never dreaded it either. I have tried to be who I am and to say what I feel. Some days I did that better than other days. I will continue doing this in my new department because I don't know how to be any other way. I have been a little emotionally overwhelmed this week. People sometimes say, "I'm not feeling the love". I cannot say that. I have definitely been feeling the love this week, especially from the people who report to me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume VI

I took my granddaughter to Huber's Orchard last Sunday as I do every year at this time. It looked like autumn and it smelled like autumn but it felt like the 4th of July. We're still breaking heat records in the summer that won't leave. Despite the heat we enjoyed riding the farm wagon out to the fields and walking among all the pumpkins. I think my granddaughter has artistic talent. She loves to draw and wants to write a book with me. She told me I can write the words and she will draw the pictures. We may actually do that someday. At the very least she may someday take all the daily musings I have written and get them published, hopefully with her drawings. Last night we wrote a short story together about Jack Skeleton, the main character in the Tim Burton movie called "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The next time she comes to my house I will surprise her with a copy of the movie. That's what grandparents do.

"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong, because someday you will have been all of these".
-George Washington Carver

I have always liked this quote and have strived to live this way. My life has provided me many opportunities to do these things. As a grandparent, who is more patient now than I was as a parent, I can be tender with my granddaughter. My Dad spent the last year and a half of his life in a nursing home so I was able to visit him, feed him, and occasionally show him compassion in moments that were probably embarrassing for him. As a supervisor I have dealt with individuals over the years who strived to excel but weren't always able to actually do it. In all areas of my life I have dealt with the low self esteem and fear the weak sometimes have as well as the sometimes bloated egos of the strong. As my life progresses I am no longer young and even now my children joke about me being "over the hill". In some areas where I was strong in my youth, I am weak in my middle age. If one is blessed to grow old, life comes full circle and youth is balanced with old age, strength is balanced with weakness, and, hopefully, compassion given is compassion received.

"We often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally".
-The Dalai Lama

This is a quote we all should take seriously. It's some of the best advice you will ever get. At the heart of Buddhist teaching is the idea that we are the cause of most of our own suffering because of the way we react to things. Most of our suffering is in our own heads. At one time or another all of us have probably been overly sensitive to a perceived slight. I know I have occasionally overreacted to things that were quite minor when viewed with the wisdom of hindsight. If you don't believe that people sometimes take things too seriously, ride up and down in the elevators of your office for a few hours and listen to the conversations. If I was allergic to complaining I would get sick most of the time when I ride the elevators in my office. Most days we all need to chill out. As a general rule we should not believe anything we hear and only half of what we see. Reality is almost always misunderstood.

"Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow".

Most of us would not think of ourselves as courageous. I have never saved anyone's life nor put my own life in danger to help another. However, I hope I would be courageous if I needed to be. I've been thinking a lot about the miners in Chile and their long ordeal trapped underground. These were just regular guys doing their job on an ordinary day and then a cave in occurred. They've been underground since August 5th. It was over two weeks before anyone knew if they were even alive. They are now being lifted to safety as I write these thoughts. Hopefully, they will all be with their families by the time you read this. Courage, however, in not always this dramatic. I believe it also takes a kind of quiet courage just to be faithful to the demands of your life and to the people around you. Just like the miners took it one day at a time, living in faith and hope, we must also do the same. Life is tough. It can wear you out. At the end of a day we can feel quite weary in mind, body, and spirit. Still, most of us go to sleep thinking "I will try again tomorrow" and when morning comes we have the strength and quiet courage to meet the demands and challenges of our lives.

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest".
-Mark Twain, writer and humorist

I would add a few words to this quote to make it perfect. I would say, "Always do the right thing". How do you know what the right thing is? Well, in many things, like work, you need to use your intellect and data to make judgements and decisions. When it comes to people, however, intellect and data are not always the best criteria for decision making. Intellect and data have sometimes pointed me in one direction while my hear points me in another direction. I can be quite rational about work decisions. I understand numbers and the logic of numbers often tells me what needs to be done. Life gets much more complicated when dealing with human beings. Sometimes the right thing is in conflict with the rational thing. Our heads and our hearts often play a tug of war. In the end, whether we are at work or at home, our intuitive selves usually know what's the right thing to do. This intuitive self is supported by our own values and moral consciousness. I believe if you trust your inner voice you will "always do right".

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume V

In the Catholic Church we recognize holy men and women and call them saints. This past Monday we remembered St. Francis of Assisi who lived in the 12th century. He is the patron saint of animals and ecology and is my favorite holy man. Many churches had special services where people could bring their pets for a blessing. St Francis is the saint that many people have a statue of in their backyards or in their bird baths. He is also famous for the so called "Peace Prayer" that begins with "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love...." Another of his famous sayings, and one that I really like, is "Wherever you go preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words". Today, think about the earth and ecology, if you have a pet that you love, bless them, and remember that we often say more with our actions than we do with our words.

"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one heck of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult".
-E. B. White, writer and poet

Who doesn't want to change the world and enjoy yourself while doing it? Unfortunately the world often changes us. Life and the events that happen to us and around us are powerful forces. It takes a strong and centered person to resist the allures of the world and to turn a deaf ear to daily bombardment of negative and fearful messages. One must have a sense of self that is motivated more by our inner voice than the voices of those around us. The world is a tough place but there is also love and beauty and peace, though sometimes it takes a real effort to notice these things. Enjoy life but don't let it dictate your every move. Look within, find yourself, be who you are, change what you can, accept what you can't change, and have one heck of a good time along the way.

I was late for work today because I had to go to the doctor for blood work. I was also there yesterday afternoon to get poked and prodded. During these experiences I could not help but think how much our bodies are like our cars. They are our vehicle through life. At least on this side of the grave our consciousness and the essence of who we are cannot get around without a body. Like our cars they need maintenance and care. At age 59 my body has a lot of mileage on it and it doesn't run quite as well as it used to do. I am not sure I would go cross country in it. It doesn't have the endurance it once had. When was the last time you had a checkup and oil change?

"This is a very important practice. Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desires, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to yourself".
-Thich Nhat Hanh (2nd most famous Buddhist monk in the world after the Dalai Lama)

Who doesn't have worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desires? I am experiencing all of these feelings at this very moment. When I stop, breathe, and practice mindfulness, I become self aware of this. When I am self aware, I become awake. When I am awake and aware of my feelings, I can let them all go. Admittedly, the feelings often come back. Life is a continuous letting go. As far as feelings go, however, we are not what we feel. I am not what I worry about. I am not my fear. I am not what I crave. I am not what angers me. I am Michael and you are you. When I am Michael and not carried away by my feelings, I am who I am.

Yesterday I found a card on my desk from a co-worker that I interviewed and recommended for employment five years ago. She is still grateful and I am reminded that I sometimes have a positive impact on people's lives. We all do in ways that we don't even realize.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Random Thoughts Volume IV

"In a world of pressure cookers, I am a crock pot"
-Michael Brown

How satisfying life is often depends on what you want from it. All I have ever wanted is a simple and uncomplicated life with enough money and things to be comfortable. I have never been, and I will never be, a driven, ambitious, over-achiever. When my life is simple and uncomplicated, I am happy and satisfied. What fills me with contentment might be seen by others as failure. Our culture is filled with driven, workaholic, overachieving, narcissistic people. I think they are on the road to nowhere. They think they are "successful". Each person has their own definition of success. My idea of success is the kind of life I described above surrounded by a lot of love. I don't have as much money or as many things as a lot of people do but I believe I am successful and success is in the eye of the beholder. Don't let others judge your success.

"Baby, I can't always act like we just met".
-lyrics to a country music song.

I thought this was a catchy lyric. What does it mean? I think it conveys the daily challenge of maintaining excitement and enthusiasm. One of the questions on a recent office survey was "When you come to work each day do you feel enthusiastic about what you do"? If I was completely honest I would have to say that most days I don't. However, that doesn't mean I hate what I do. I normally enjoy my workday even when I am chomping at the bit to go home. I have been married 36 years and I have been employed by my company for almost 25 years. I can't act like I am still on my honeymoon or that I just got hired last week. When one is long on the journey excitement and enthusiasm are often replaced with faithfulness and commitment. A faithful and committed partner has survived the ups and downs of a relationship and a long time employee has survived the inevitable change that occurs in the workplace. It's not that excitement and enthusiasm disappear. They simply change their appearance.

"The race is won by running slowly".
-Ian Anderson

This quote reminds me of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Conventional wisdom would bet on the hare to win the race. Tortoises move so slowly and hares are very fast. How could a tortoise beat a hare? Although the hare can move much faster, in the story the hare is often distracted and wastes a lot of time. It is the tortoise who wins the race. How could that be? Well, although slow, the tortoise never stops and never loses focus. The moral of the story is not that everyone should immediately slow down. The moral of the story is to pace yourself, remain focused, and keep your eye on the goal. Life is a long distance run, not a sprint.

"Fair is not always equal".
-Michael Brown

After many years of being in a leadership role I have probably supervised hundreds of people. During this time I have dealt with many people's professional and personal problems. It is very important to me to be fair. What does that mean? Does it mean always doing the same thing for every person and going by the book? I do not think so. I believe it means giving each person what they need...within reason. Certainly some people are needier than others. Some people come dangerously close to wearing you out and a few actually do so. However, all people have some level of need, including me, and although I strive to be fair, life does not do the same. Some people need little and others need a lot. Occasionally I have needed to give some people guidance on doing a better job of managing their life. In the end, however, I strive to be fair and to do the right thing by being understanding, compassionate, and reasonable. The process for doing this is called discernment.

My wife is two years younger than me. One day this week, late in the afternoon, I sent her an email telling her we could both retire on her birthday in 2018. Her reply was, "Dude, thanks for the update but I am just trying to get through the next hour".

"I have never been lost. I will, however, admit to being confused once for about two weeks".
-Daniel Boone, explorer

"All who wander are not lost".
-J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings

There are many paths in life. Some we walk intentionally. Many times, however, we find ourselves on paths where we didn't intend to go. A few are dead ends while others sometimes turn out to be the most interesting paths of all. It is a very rare person who gets on a path that remains straight for their whole life. My blog is called "Stumbling along the Spiritual Path". This title kind of sums up my journey so far. I think all of life is spiritual but the path of life is not easy. I often feel like I am stumbling along it. Sometimes it is a leisurely and enjoyable walk. Other times I trip over a pebble in the road or I get whacked in the eye by the branch of a tree. I occasionally lose my balance and fall down. So far I have always been able to get back up. Sometimes I am lost, often I am confused, once in a while I relax and enjoy the wandering. However I feel, I always keep walking.