Friday, March 18, 2011

Random Thoughts Volume XXIII

Last Friday I spent the day with my youngest son. Adult children rarely want to spend time with a parent unless there is a free meal involved. OK, I admit that last Friday did include a free meal for my son since we went out for breakfast and I picked up the check. However it also included driving through some Kentucky back roads, a visit to the monastery and it's bookstore, a stop at the parish where he will be living this summer while working at a downtown hospital, and a final stop at the downtown Border's Books where most of their stock is rapidly depleting as they prepare to close the store permanently. I have two sons. My youngest son is the one most like me. When I talk with him or watch him it is like I am listening to and watching myself. During our conversations, as he shared his thoughts about his spiritual journey, I couldn't help but think that he's inherited more than my looks and personality. Spirituality must also be in the DNA. Of course, being relatively young he probably thinks he is nothing like me. I always thought that too about my Dad until I looked in the mirror one day and realized my Dad was looking back at me. These days, more than ever, I realize how much I am like my Dad, not only in looks, but in his personality, his likes, his dislikes, and probably many other subtle ways.

The Dalai Lama, who refers to himself as "simply a human being", is well educated and deeply knowledgeable about Buddhist philosophy. However, most of his teachings are quite simple and to the point. Here's one of my favorites. People just want to be happy and avoid suffering. Who can argue with this? How can something that seems so simple be so difficult? Everyday I want to be happy yet many days I am not. Everyday I want to avoid suffering yet everyday I have some kind of ache or pain, many days I am frustrated, and sometimes my feelings are hurt. What can one do to improve their odds for happiness and minimize their chances for suffering? I think one of the most basic ways to be happy and to avoid personal suffering is to spend less time...or no time...thinking about how unhappy you are or how many things in your life cause you suffering. The more you think about yourself the more magnified your own negative perceptions will seem. The more you focus on others instead of yourself the happier you will be and the less you will even notice your own suffering. However, this is not easy for most of us. It's very difficult to not be preoccupied with your own happiness and well being. To live for others requires a kind of death to self and most of us don't want to do this willingly.

Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. I am Irish on my mother's side of the family. One of my cousins traced my maternal grandfather's family back to Cork, Ireland. I have never been to Ireland but I was moved when I flew over it on my way to France a few years ago. I found myself thinking "my roots began down there". My youngest brother is currently tracking the genealogy of my father's family. He's uncovered a few skeleton's and they weren't all in the graveyard. I've always had a fascination with my roots and all the forces that have shaped me into the person I am today. How have I become the Michael Brown that you know? Why do I think and act the way I do? Why am I good at some things and so terrible at other things? Most of us have relatively simple lives but all of us are complex people. There have been a lot of ingredients and a lot of mixing of the dough to become the people we are today. Everyone one of us is a story. On a lighter note, I have my granddaughter believing that the leprechaun on the Lucky Charms cereal box lives in my house. "Why can't we see him or catch him, Paw Paw"? "Well, Chloe, he's very small and very, very fast. He doesn't want us to see him or catch him. Chloe, quit eating all the marshmallows in my cereal"!

The last time my granddaughter spent the weekend at my house we were talking about something and I told her that girls can do anything boys can do. My goal was to teach her that she has no limitations. She looked at me and said, "We can't pee standing up". I love talking with my granddaughter because the conversations are so insightful and Zen like. With Chloe there is no BS and she cuts through all illusions and pretense to get right to the point. Children have wonderful clarity about life. They may not always understand things the way an adult does but they see reality as it truly is. This type of vision, this way of seeing things, is part of our original nature. Sadly, we lose it as adults and at some point we realize this and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to regain it. This is our spiritual journey. Often in our old age we seem to have gone full circle in our lives because we have regained the insight and clarity of our childhoods. Many elderly people are childlike and I mean that in a very positive way. By the time you are old you've got no time for BS, you can see through most illusions, and you obtain a clarity about life that some call wisdom.

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