Sunday, April 24, 2011

Clairvaux Journal 2005

This is a short journal I kept while on a trip to France in 2005. I have never published it on my blog but I thought some people might enjoy it.

Clairvaux Journal 2005

May 30-31

The day that began yesterday has still not ended. I left Louisville yesterday afternoon for the short flight to Cincinnati and the eight hour flight to Paris. We flew over New England, then east, just south of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Eventually we flew near Cork, Ireland which is where my maternal grandfather’s family originated. After landing in Paris, I was able to quickly locate my luggage and customs was a breeze. Charles de Gaulle airport is truly an international airport. It was obvious that people there were from all over the world. Many of them had on the native dress of their home countries. However, the soldiers patrolling the airport with their machine guns were disconcerting. My companion and I went to the spot where we believed our French contacts would pick us up. As the hour for pickup approached and we saw no one, some anxiety was felt. Eventually, my companion figured out how to use the French phone system and we contacted our hosts. Despite the language barrier, he was able to communicate where we were and soon our driver appeared. We were on our way. Our destination was a small, historical town called Clairvaux, France. It was here in the year 1115 that St. Bernard of Clairvaux established a monastery. The monastery flourished for the most part until the French revolution when it was suppressed and turned into a prison by Napoleon. Today it is still a maximum security prison although there are parts of the old monastery ruins that can be visited. The town of Clairvaux is a 2 ½ hour drive southeast of Paris. When we left the airport with our driver and a couple of other friends from Iowa, we could have been anywhere in America. The highway was busy and there were many cars. Eventually, we were out of the city and into the country side. The land was beautiful and there was none of the usual commercialism found in America. Soon I settled into a happy daze, the miles passed by and I realized I was finally in France. In my mind it was the middle of the night but in France it was a new day. There is a six hour time difference. After what seemed to be an endless drive, we exited the highway and began driving through small villages. Soon we came to Clairvaux where most of the week’s activities would occur. We were at a place called the Grange. Grange is a French word meaning “barn”. These granges date back to the time of St Bernard. As the monastery at Clairvaux grew and flourished, the fields where the lay brothers worked were further and further from the center of the monastery. Eventually, many were so far away that the lay brothers could not always get back to the monastery at the end of the day. The granges were built as places where they could live and stay until they could return to the monastery. Our meetings, meals, and prayers would be in these granges. There was also another building with a chapel and other facilities. I silently prayed that I would be open to the Spirit during my stay in France and that the presence of God within the gathering would touch me. Finally, at the end of a very long day, we were taken to our rooms. My companion and I were driven to another small village called Champinol. We were going to stay in a place that houses migrant grape pickers during the harvest season. I realized later that we were in Burgundy, in the heart of wine and champagne country. Our room was very simple. We would be sharing the facilities with other men and women. Everyone in our facility spoke English.

June 1, 2005

I went to bed last night and quickly fell asleep. An hour or so later I woke up suddenly, wide awake and wondering where I was. I was feeling very anxious. The jet lag, fatigue, different culture and simple accommodations suddenly seemed overwhelming. The reality of being so far from home and no one knowing where I was, including me, stressed me out. I sat up several times and looked out the window in an attempt to calm myself down. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The week ahead seemed like an eternity. I felt homesick and I thought of my wife, my children, and my granddaughter. An ocean separated us and I felt very alone. However, there was no turning back now. I laid awake in bed and prayed. Eventually, I fell asleep and slept soundly for the rest of the night.

When I woke up this morning, I felt wonderful. I was rested and my anxiety was gone. After showering and getting dressed, I walked through the small village where I was staying. I found a small bakery but unfortunately it was closed. The village reminds me of every World War II movie I have ever seen. It is nothing like the neighborhood that I live in back in America.

The French sure know how to eat. We have wine at every meal except breakfast and bread is everywhere. The meals are basically country French cuisine and tastes fabulous. I have learned not to take seconds because there is usually another course. I must pace myself on the food and especially, the wine.

Today I had two opportunities to hike. My morning walk was along the road and fields behind the Grange and up to the forest. It was a short walk but very enjoyable. I visited the spring of St Malachi. The fields were full of red poppies. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz story. My hike was with a small group of other Lay Cistercians. When we arrived at a shady place where we could look down upon the town and the monastery ruins, I did a reading from the writings of St Bernard. It seemed appropriate since we were in the land of Bernard.

In the afternoon I took a much longer walk in the forest to a place called St Bernard’s Fountain. It is several miles from town so we were driven to a spot near the fountain. What I didn’t realize at the time is that we were going to be left there and would have to walk home. We walked along the road until we were near the fountain which is actually a spring. Legend has it that St. Bernard went to this spring to pray and meditate. After visiting the spring, we walked through the forest for our return hike to town. This was more than some people anticipated. Most were not prepared for a hike in the forest. We helped one another along as we gingerly crossed muddy areas and climbed up and down the hills. The forest was very beautiful, almost magical. I expected to see gnomes peeking out from behind trees. St Bernard himself said “I have no need of books. The fields and woods and streams teach me everything.” One of my companions noted how much St Bernard was like Henry David Thoreau in his attitude about nature. An hour or two later, we came to a hill overlooking the village and the ruins of the Abbey of Clairvaux. A very large statue of St Bernard overlooks the Abbey. We sat there for a while before climbing down the hill back into the village. I returned to the Grange, tired but happy. It was a wonderful hike. It also did my blood sugar good after all the French bread and other dishes I have been eating.

Soon after our return from the hike, other participants began arriving from all over the world. When everyone arrived, there were people from the United States, France, Poland, Holland, Belgium, Cameron, Ireland, Switzerland, Chile, Spain, Indonesia, Italy, and New Zealand. It was great to be among so many different people from so many different places.

Now I am back in my room, very tired but happy to be here. Earlier in the day I managed to get an email off to my wife. It was a challenge. Internet service here is tenuous at best and I was using a French keyboard that is configured differently from my keyboard at home. Grammatically speaking, it was the worst email I ever sent. The good news is that my simple message made it to my wife. Everyone knew I was safe and all was well at home.

June 2, 2005

I slept well last night but woke up with a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold. On top of this, I believe I am eating too much bread and it is affecting my blood sugar. Physically, I am out of sorts and feeling poorly. It is going to be a long day.

After rising from bed, my companions and I walked to the local bus stop to catch a ride to the Grange for the day’s meetings. Along the way we stopped to pick up the Spanish speaking participants who are staying in a different facility. They are a very friendly group.

Today was mostly a quiet day. It began with group morning prayer, followed by breakfast. At 10:00 AM we had mass with the local bishop. He encouraged us as Lay Cistercians to return to our homes and be lights to the world. Throughout the day I had many wonderful conversations with all kinds of people. Living and interacting within an international group of people, I realize that we are very much alike and also very different. The differences do not divide us. Rather, the diversity gives much texture and flavor to the group. In spite of the language and cultural differences, we are one in our spiritual journey. We speak a common language of the heart.

By the middle of the day, I was feeling poorly and I had some free time so I found a comfortable chair in a quiet spot and had an afternoon nap. When I woke, the sun was warm and I was in a daze. The warmth of the sun felt wonderful. It is very cool in the mornings and slightly damp. The days are warm but not hot. This wide variance in temperatures is probably why I am sick. The local people drink their coffee from bowls and use warm milk as creamer. At first this seemed strange to me but then I realized that the hot coffee in the bowls made an excellent hand warmer. Suddenly, it seemed perfectly normal to drink my coffee from a bowl.

When I woke from my afternoon siesta, I went to the Oratory (chapel) in the main building of the Grange. I sat there in silence and enjoyed God’s presence. I prayed for all my fellow Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani.

In the early evening we had a conference by Dom Olivier, the Abbot of Citeaux.

Today was not busy but I am very tired. I have probably not fully adjusted to the time change and the six hours I lost during the flight. I slept well last night and hope to do so again tonight. My monastic chant CD will make the transition to sleep a smooth one. The frantic pace of my normal life, and the long journey to this place, are temporarily behind me. Tonight I will dream in the quiet of a small village in the French countryside.

June 3, 2005

Most of today has been a blur. I have a full blown head cold. Much of the day was spent blowing and wiping my nose. The day turned hot. In the afternoon, storm clouds gathered and the wind really picked up. A light rain began to fall. I found some shelter in an out of the way place. I sat silently for a couple of hours as the rain fell. It was one of my best moments yet. At the end of the day, the bus ride back to my village and room was peaceful and serene. I slept deeply. I am continuing to slow down and adjust to the pace of the local life.

This evening we had a conference by Paco Ambrosetti on Community. Paco is a member of the Lay Cistercians at the monastery of the Holy Spirit in Georgia.

June 4, 2005

I woke up at 3:00 AM. I made plans to catch a ride back to Clairvaux for 4:00 AM Vigils in the Oratory. Because of the transportation challenges, usually only a small group makes it each morning. Today is my first time to be there. It was a quiet and prayerful experience. The chanting was in French and led by Father Bernard, a quiet man with a beautiful voice who is from the Abbey of Citeaux. The drive here through the dark countryside and being awake at this hour has given me a different appreciation for this place. When Vigils were over, we quietly went downstairs for a silent breakfast of coffee and bread. The room had a large fireplace with a warm fire blazing. I sat quietly in front of the fire and the bread and coffee seemed like a great feast. It was a perfect moment and one full of grace. After breakfast, we drove back to Champinol where I am staying. One of my companions and I decided to take an early morning walk to the outskirts of town to visit an abandoned 9th century Roman church. The walk through the narrow streets and along the fields was a joy. Dawn was breaking. Roosters were crowing and the sounds of peacocks also filled the air. The early morning air was cool and refreshing. The Roman chapel sits on a small hill. It was locked but we could still see into the church. It was like looking back in time to the Middle Ages. Soon the morning sun began to rise and, as it rose, the stained glass windows filled with color. A little later, I found a stone bench where I sat for a while bathing in the beautiful French morning.

This morning I gave a brief presentation to the large group explaining the history and evolution of my Lay Cistercian community at Gethsemani. The schedule was already behind so I didn’t have a lot of time. I had to talk slowly so my words could be translated into French and Spanish.

It is now afternoon and I am tired. All of the participants pray together and eat together. We interact throughout the day in personal and small group conversations. We are probably talking more than contemplatives normally do. By nature, we are usually silent types. This interaction is necessary and good but can be exhausting for an introvert like me. The best parts of my day are the quiet, contemplative moments in the countryside and other hidden places. I am happiest in my silence and solitude. I am sure most, if not all, of the other participants feel the same.

Now I am going to my secret hideaway for an afternoon siesta. I need to rest because my cold is dragging me down.

This evening we had a conference by Denyse Guerber on the Rule of St Benedict. She is one of our local hosts and the woman who coordinated many of the week’s activities.

June 5th, 2005

Once again I rose from a deep sleep at 3:00 AM so I could attend Vigils. Since it Sunday, today’s Vigils were long. To the average person, the idea of getting out of bed at this hour to pray is not attractive. Admittedly, I do not do it in my regular life. When I am in a monastic setting, I always try to attend. One quickly realizes that it can be, and usually is, the best part of the day. It is dark and quiet. Morning has not yet arrived. Soon, however, the dawn breaks upon the land and the darkness transforms into daylight. You can watch the sunrise. You are waiting for the day instead of catching up to it.

In spite of the slow pace of the week, it is going quickly. I only have two full days left here before the long journey home on Wednesday. Tomorrow we will visit the ruins of the Abbey of Clairvaux.

We have received news that Fr. Basil Pennington has died from injuries he received several months ago in an automobile accident. I am greatly saddened by this news. Fr. Basil is a long time monk, writer, and spiritual master. I began reading his books in the early 1980’s and he has been a huge influence on me. I finally met him in 1999 at the Abbey of the Genesee in New York and I saw him again at another international gathering in 2002 at Holy Spirit monastery in Georgia. He was also at the blessing of Fr. Damien as Abbot of Gethsemani. I have a picture of the two of us on my desk at home. I am not a small person but Fr Basil dwarfs me in the picture. He was a large man, at least 6 foot, six inches tall and, in many ways, larger than life. He is a tremendous loss to the monastic community and to the world. Even though I am only one of thousands of people he probably knew, I feel a personal sense of loss with his passing. He was a great friend of Lay Cistercians.

June 6th, 2005

I slept this morning until 5:00 AM. I have found it more convenient to shower at night than in the morning. The facilities where I live are shared between four men and five women so mornings can be hectic. After I got out of bed, I did all the things necessary to be ready, and having some extra time, I laid on my bed and listened to some music. Soon it was time to catch the bus to Clairvaux. A very light rain was falling and the sky was overcast. The bus rides to and from Clairvaux are some of my favorite times of the day. Another favorite time is anytime I can sit in front of the fire and write in my journal. Since I have been suffering from a cold most of the week, the warmth of the fire is soothing.

We have finished Morning Prayer and most people are now having breakfast. At 9:00 AM there is a meeting to make suggestions for the location of the next international gathering. So far, there have been three gatherings. The first was in Chile, the second was in the United States, and now we are in France. It is most likely that we will return to a Spanish speaking country. I have also heard there are a large number of Lay Cistercians in Africa who could not afford the trip to France. There is some talk of a meeting there so it will be easier and less expensive for the Africans to attend a gathering. The challenge for any gathering is to find a place that can accommodate 100+ people. Most monastic settings cannot handle a group that large.

Tomorrow is my last full day in France. I am ready to go home. I have been totally isolated from my regular life for the last week. I have heard no news and have no idea of any events outside this small village. Each day I think of my wife, my children, and my granddaughter. It keeps me in touch with my reality. Returning to the United States will be more of a culture shock than my arrival in the French countryside. Although I have missed a few comforts from home, I have quickly and easily adapted to the French pace of life in this rural area. Although I am an American, there is much about the American culture that is difficult for me.

It is in the quiet moments here that I most experience God’s peace. The group meetings and frequent conversations, even with other spiritual people, can be exhausting for me. I think part of the reason for this is the effort to keep up with all the translations. It requires a lot of mental concentration. When opportunities present themselves, I sneak away by myself and simply sit in silence.

Earlier today we had a wonderful tri-lingual mass. All the different parts were in French, Spanish, and English. I did one of the English readings. The planning was a challenge. I had been asked to be part of a liturgy planning committee. There were six people and three languages involved. Near the end of the mass, we had prayers of thanksgiving in all languages represented by all the participants. It reminded me of the universality of the church.

I sat with a wonderful group of people during lunch today. They were from France, Ireland, Poland, and the United States. The conversation was stimulating. The day was damp and rainy so the inner warmth generated by a glass of wine was comforting.

We have a meeting this afternoon with the Abbot General. He is a wonderfully warm, kind, and humorous man. Yesterday I gave him a note to deliver to a mutual friend in Rome. Rome is where the world wide Cistercian order offices are located.

This afternoon we visited the ruins of the Abbey of Clairvaux. Within minutes of our arrival, one of our group, an older lady from Ireland, fainted. Fortunately, another member of the group was a doctor. The lady had to be taken by ambulance to the local hospital. It turns out that she was diabetic and didn’t know it.

The abbey ruins were interesting. At times, I closed my eyes and imagined all the monks and lay brothers of old. I thought of all the history that occurred right where I was standing. Part of the old monastery is now a maximum security prison. I am told some of the worst criminals in France are in this prison. However, I saw no sign of them and never felt unsafe. This monastery was founded by St Bernard in the year 1115. At the time of his death the Cistercians had spread throughout Europe with 352 abbeys, 169 of them affiliated with Clairvaux. The Abbey of Clairvaux was suppressed during the French revolution and turned into a prison by Napoleon.

June 7th, 2005

Today we visited the Abbey of Citeaux. It was here in the year 1098 that a small group of monks began what has become the Cistercian order. Our hosts had provided a nice tour bus for us. It is a two hour drive from Clairvaux to Citeaux. It is south of Clairvaux near the city of Dijon. It was a pleasant drive in the early morning light. When we arrived, the abbot of the monastery, a charming man that I had met a few days earlier in Clairvaux, met us at the gate of the monastery. Shortly after our arrival, we gathered in the church for a welcoming ceremony. It was very moving. Twelve members of our group, representing the number of the Apostles, had been chosen in advance for a foot washing ceremony. These foot washings were done by the abbot. Afterwards, we had some extra time so many of us checked out the gift shop. Later in the morning we had mass with the entire monastic community. I felt very privileged to be at Citeaux and to be able to share in the prayers of the monks. This abbey is considered the motherhouse of all Cistercian abbeys around the world. It is steeped in history. After mass, we gathered in a dining hall for a French “picnic”. It included wine, cheese, eggs, apples, and the most wonderful fruit tarts baked by one of the monks. Later in the afternoon we were able to tour some parts of the abbey that dated back to the French revolution. I also met the local bishop. When I introduced myself and told him I was from Kentucky, he responded with one word, “Chicken!” At the end of the day, we prayed Vespers with the monks before getting back on the tour bus for the drive back to Clairvaux. We all arrived back to our beds tired and happy with the beautiful sound of the French monks of Citeaux chanting in our heads.

June 8, 2005

Today was a fast paced and stressful day. We were rousted out of our beds at 3:00 AM to pack and stop for a light breakfast in Clairvaux before our 2 ½ hour drive to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Our French hosts greeted us warmly. We drank our coffee, and ate our bread in front of the wonderful fireplace at the Grange. Afterwards, there were many hugs and kisses. This warm send off was followed by great confusion as we discussed in three languages who should be in which van in order to get to the right destination. After moving our luggage around two or three times, we finally got on the road for the long drive. It was an enjoyable drive. I looked out the window and soaked in the beauty of the French countryside for the last time. Soon enough we arrived at the airport. God smiled on us and we made it to our flight with little trouble. The long eight hour flight home wasn’t too bad. When I landed in Cincinnati, I knew I was home. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I could feel the heat and humidity. The flight from Cincinnati to Louisville was short and pleasant. My wife was waiting to pick up my companion and me up from the airport. It was great to be back in the city where I live. Soon I was back in the comfort of my home, sitting in my favorite chair. It had been a wonderful journey and experience but there’s no place like home! I will be reflecting for a while on this trip and it’s meaning, not only for me personally, but for all Lay Cistercians.

Michael Brown
Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani
June 2005

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ramblings In My Mind Volume III

Do you have a really good, true friend? I know lots of people and Facebook says I have lots of friends but how many are true friends? One of my best friends is a retired priest that I have known for 40 years. I actually forget he's a priest sometimes. He's really more of an older brother to me. I never had an older brother or sister because I am the oldest child in my family. I took last Friday off and spent part of the day with my friend. I have listened to many peoples troubles and woes over the years. People seem to love telling me their problems. Have you ever wondered who I pour my troubles out to? It is often to this friend. Periodically I need to take a "Mental Health Day" and spend a day with him. I did this last Friday. I drove through the beautiful spring countryside in the early morning. When I arrived at his house I was warmly greeted. We went out to breakfast at a small country restaurant, visited a bookstore, and then went to his house for some conversation. Part of the day was a wake up call for me. My friend is older than me so he is in the process of updating his will. He wanted me to walk through his house and tell him what I wanted after his death. It was a strange experience to do that. I told him that he must stay alive at least until we are both retired old men. I am in no hurry for him to leave the planet because his friendship is more important to me than any of his possessions. However, I still came home with several bags of books from his personal library. Here's to long lives and even longer friendships!

I've been reading an interesting book by the Dalai Lama. Today's chapter was about a basic Buddhist philosophy called impermanence. Impermanence is a reality whether you're a Buddhist or not. A basic teaching of the Buddha is that all things are impermanent. This means that all things pass and all things are constantly changing. This can be seen as a positive or negative occurrence depending on your point of view. Some things such as flowers are obviously impermanent. A seed is planted, a flower blooms, but it's life is short. Other things, like a mountain, seem more permanent but even mountains are changing all the time at a molecular level. We think we have one body that is born, grows old, and dies. In reality we may have dozens of bodies in our lifetime as the cells that make up our bodies constantly renew and replace themselves. I also look at this idea of impermanence as comforting. It reminds me that bad times and suffering will pass. However, it also reminds me that good things, like health or good times, will also pass so I should always be grateful and in the moment to appreciate when I feel good, my body is working properly, and life is good. Many of us don't like this idea. We want stability and permanence. We often don't like change. When life is good, or we feel happy with a situation, we fear any change that will affect this. We must remind ourselves that life is like flowing down a river on an inner tube. Sometimes you can lay back and just enjoy the ride. Other times you must hold on for dear life. Never quite knowing where the rapids are adds to the excitement of life. Whether your preference is the gentle current or the intensity of the white water rapids, I can assure you that you will get it all at some point in your life.

A recent presentation at work regarding "personal brands" reminded me how important perceptions are and how they can work in our favor or against us. Perceptions are not always reality but they are assumed to be reality by the perceiver. We are all responsible for the perceptions that we give others. All of us should be self aware enough to understand how we might be perceived by others. The way we walk, the way we talk, the way we dress, and the way we handle ourselves in social situations, sends many messages to those around us. I am not saying that we should spend all of our energy trying to impress other people. Many people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to impress other people with their greatness. We all know individuals who love the spotlight. What I am saying is that we should be concerned with our reputations and our "personal brand". This is little in life that we can control but how we carry ourselves and how we walk through life is very much within our personal control. If you are "real" and genuine, it will show. If you're phoney and insincere, it will show as well. My personal goal is to be true to who I am but not to necessarily seek the approval of others. Admittedly it's nice if others do approve of me but I don't depend on it. If you are doing what is right and good and genuine, and doing it from your heart, you will never lose sleep over other people's perceptions of you. However, If you are constantly complaining, goofing off, being insincere, or immature in other ways, you will be perceived as negative, lazy, and phoney, and possibly a waste of space. How do you think you are perceived? How do you want to be perceived? Are you selling a great brand or should it be recalled?

I also believe there is a flow of energy whenever people interact with one another. This flow of energy can be positive or negative. There are people in my life who always make me feel better even if I already feel pretty good. When I interact with these people there is a flow of positive vibrations and energy that lifts me up. I walk away feeling renewed even though they are not always aware of the impact they have on me or what a ray of sunshine they are. There have also been people in my life who seem to suck the life right out of me. When I have been around these types of people I feel like Superman in a room full of kryptonite. I can almost feel the life force leaving my body. In my mind I am thinking, "I've got to get away before I lose consciousness". With these experiences in mind I try to always be aware of how I am affecting people. I am usually positive, optimistic, and light-hearted. However, sometimes I'm having a bad day and when I am aware of this I try not to ruin other people's days with my moroseness. What kind of person are you? Do you have a sunshine personality that attracts others or are you someone that makes other people want to run and hide? If you are aware of your personal brand, you are probably also aware of the kind of energy you put out around you. One of the keys to understanding your personal brand and energy is to have some sense of self-awareness and that requires a good hard look in the mirror along with some real honesty about yourself. Fortunately, the vast majority of my relationships and encounters with others has been positive. I also never burn bridges. I'm still friends with two former girlfriends!

Yesterday was a quiet day for me. It was a beautiful but cool day. I decided to go for a walk along the river after having a solitary lunch break. There is a lot of flooding due to all the recent rainfall and much of the "Great Lawn" is under water. There were piles of driftwood laying along the banks. Sadly, there was also a lot of plastic bottles and other garbage. Earlier in the week we had some significant storms that caused me some lack of sleep due to the tornado sirens going off and on until 1:00 AM. Fortunately in my neighborhood it was much ado about nothing. Many people were not so lucky. Thinking it would be worse, I went into my backyard and gathered up all my gnomes, my Buddha fountain, my bird feeder, my St. Francis statue, and my lawn furniture and put them under my patio roof, hoping they wouldn't blow away. The next day everything was fine except for the squirrels having a feast with my bird feeder. Today is Good Friday and Sunday is Easter. It will be another busy weekend and I know one little girl who will expect to find an Easter basket full of goodies at my home. She will not be disappointed. However, if Paw Paw sees it first it may be missing a few chocolate eggs.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ramblings In My Mind Volume II

This has been a long and difficult week so my "thoughts" have been sporadic. A couple of days I've been completely brain dead and very tired. I almost feel like these are not even worth sending out. Of course, every time I think my thoughts are not very good someone will write back to me and tell me they're the best ones I have ever done. For what they may be worth to any of you, here's a few ramblings from this past week.

Last weekend was way too busy and it went by way too fast. It felt like nonstop activity. Here's what I did last weekend. I hope this weekend is a little slower with at least the illusion that it lasts longer.

Last Friday I left work early on Friday to take my youngest son to the airport. Later that night I went to see Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame at the Palace Theater. I got up early on Saturday morning to pick my granddaughter up at "Daddy's Work" because Daddy overslept and didn't have time to drop Chloe off on his way to work. On Saturday afternoon my wife and I went to the Village 8 Cinema with Chloe to see "Mars Needs Moms". Chloe went home later to spend some time with her Dad so my wife and I watched the movie "Secretariat" which was a very good movie. I had to get up early again on Sunday morning to go pick Chloe up at her home so she could go to the airport with my wife and me to pick up "Uncle Nick". She enjoyed seeing the planes and afterwards we all went to breakfast where I got to pay the bill. Chloe stayed with us the rest of the day Dad went four wheeling in the country. When everyone had gone back home or back to school I took a nap!

In the monastery the monks take a vow called "Conversion of Manners". Basically it's a commitment to spend the rest of their lives trying to change for the better. One of my friends in the monastery, Father Michael, wrote some guidelines for people living in the world that might help them spend their lives trying to change for the better. Today I share some of his thoughts with you. In order to become a better version of who you are, you might consider doing the followin.

Become obedient to the demands of the moment, whether these come from family, work, or the needs of others.

Accept the limits imposed on you by the circumstances of your lives and the relationships to which you are committed.

Embrace the discipline that caring for a family or making a living demands of you.

Don't allow your thoughts or interests to be trivialized by reason of the values of the entertainment world.

Notice and appreciate silence when it is given to you.

Accept experiences of loneliness or solitude incumbent on every human life, especially in times of sickness, a bruised relationship or by other hardships.

Sacrifice your own interests when charity asks as much.

Be faithful to prayer or meditation when you would just as soon turn elsewhere.

Today is Thursday and I am finally at home after another long day at work. The evening commute was slow and taxing. My mind is empty. It has been a very long week and I am feeling very tired. In fact, I have decided to take a Mental Health Day tomorrow. A combination of things is making me feel very weary. It's nothing anyone needs to worry about and nothing a really good nap wouldn't cure. Life was just a little hectic and intense this week.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Ramblings In My Mind Volume I

I've posted twenty five volumes of "Random Thoughts". It's time for a new title so I'm slightly changing the name of a classic blues song called "Rambling on my Mind". Until I come up with something better these weekly thoughts will be called "Ramblings in my Mind".

Last weekend was a busy weekend so I did not have much time for reading or reflection. For the third weekend in a row I had some electricians show up at my home at 8:00 AM on Saturday. The good news is that they are now done and I have enough electrical outlets and recessed lighting for the 21st century. While I was home with the electricians my wife went shopping and came home with a carload of pillows. What's the deal with women and pillows? When things finally quieted down my granddaughter showed up to spend the night while her Dad went four wheeling in Eastern Kentucky. On Sunday everyone was at my house for a cookout and "official" celebration of the birthdays of my wife and me. After everyone was fed and they went home or back to school, I sat down, took a breath, and began the mental preparation for another Monday and work week. Life is a continuous cycle of work, family, chores, and other activities. This cycle is the wheel of life. I don't always like where the wheel is going but I am happy it is still turning.

Earlier this week, on my way to the parking garage during an afternoon spring rain, I experienced the difference between "water resistant" and "water proof". Apparently I choose poorly and was wearing a water resistant jacket. It didn't matter too much because I walked between most of the raindrops. It's a Zen thing.

Much of this past Monday afternoon I could hear thunder despite the volume of rock and roll on my ipod. There was also occasional lightening and heavy rain. It looked and sounded much worst than it was, at least in the downtown area. Much of life is like that. There are occasional rumblings that sometimes throw us into a panic. We might have some flashes of light or insight in rare moments, and sometimes life just gets us wet. The rumblings of life and the occasional rain remind us to appreciate peaceful and sunny days when life is good even if it is a little boring sometimes. Boredom is underrated. Boredom may not be exciting but it also means that nothing bad is happening. The older I get the more appreciation I have for ordinary and boring days when life is just quietly rolling along. Ordinary is great but I also like a little excitement once in a while or when there are holidays and celebrations. Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and special holy days are held together by all the ordinary days of our lives. My recent birthday was great but I would hate to have that much attention or excitement everyday. Most of our lives are ordinary days when we sometimes grudgingly get out of our beds to go about the business of daily life. Enjoy these ordinary days because they are the ones we are given in greatest volume.

Once I made the mistake of wearing my headphones into the men's room at work so I did not hear the cleaning lady when she entered. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed. Now I either take them completely off or at the very least I slip one side off so I can hear something besides music. When you only listen to one side of your headphones you miss a lot of the sound and some of the instruments. This is a good analogy for what it's like to go through life half asleep and unaware. Life is in stereo. In order to hear all of it's notes and instruments you have to be awake and paying attention. When you are in a daze, or you're spiritually asleep, you miss a lot. Speaking of being awake, did you notice today's sunrise? It was spectacular.

One of my younger co-workers recently told me that I was "younger" than many of his friends that were his age. Age is a state of mind. The famous baseball player Satchel Paige once said, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was"? I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I see a young person freaking out because they are turning 30. In many ways I am getting younger the older I get. If you are blessed with a long life I believe you go full circle. You begin life as a child and in your old age you return to the simplicity and innocence of a child. Many elderly people regain a childlike sense of wonder. In our youth and young adulthood we acquire many things that we strive to let go of when we get older. The first half of life is about addition and the second half of life is about subtraction. If you would like to learn more about this view of life, check out "The Spirituality of Subtraction" by Richard Rohr.

The living person that I admire most in this world and who I would most like to be like is the Dalai Lama. He deeply cares about the human race and he embodies kindness, compassion, and wisdom. He is a true role model for me. I am currently reading a book of his titled "My Spiritual Journey". It's a fascinating book about the journey of his life. I read it every morning before I come to work while I am drinking my first cup of coffee. I would love to have lunch with him. I believe we could have some great conversation. My granddaughter shares a birthday with the Dalai Lama. That must have some cosmic significance. Who do you admire in life? Who are your role models? What kind of person would you most like to be? Too often our role models are rock stars, sports figures, entertainers, or other celebrity types who have little character or moral consciousness. They mostly represent self centered narcissism. Here's a short list of famous people that I admire in addition to the Dalai Lama.

•Martin Luther King, Jr.
•Nelson Mandela
•Mahatma Gandhi
•Mother Teresa
•Dorothy Day
•Thomas Merton
•Jimmy Carter
•Barack Obama

I just realized that more than half of these people are dead. Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela are elderly. Only Barack Obama could be considered young. This fact highlights part of the problem with our world today. Who are the great people of today? Who are the statesmen, the saints, and the world leaders who are the role models of today? Who is there to admire? Charlie Sheen? Are you kidding me?

Yesterday I was a little bored and restless plus I developed a sudden and acute case of spring fever while at work. It did not help that another employee in my office reportedly won $200,000,000 in the lottery. I didn't really envy their good luck. I just wanted to go home and sit in my back yard. Wealth and riches can be measured by more things than money. I have often heard, and it's been my experience, that money alone will not make you happy. However, I have also heard that it will make misery easier to bear. More money and more stuff involves more responsibility and often more worry. I have more money and more stuff now than I have ever had in my life. My standard of living is much better than my parents had. I am not rich but I feel a long way from poor. However, I do not apologize for any of it because my wife and I have been getting out of bed everyday and going to work for nearly 40 years. We have been blessed but we have also earned most of what we have. I think it's always better to earn your money and to work for the things you acquire. You really do appreciate it more than if it's just thrown in your lap. However, if I ever win $200,000,000 I am keeping it until I figure out how best to give most of it away. I subscribe to the pay it forward mentality. If life is good to you, share the wealth.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Random Thoughts Volume XXV

I know I am old and my mind isn't what it used to be but did I miss summer? A friend left a note on my Facebook wall that said, "I know you love snow so I wish I could give you some for your birthday". Well, last Saturday night, on my birthday, as I was leaving a restaurant it began to snow. When I got out of bed on Sunday morning my entire neighborhood was white. One last time I would like to thank everyone involved for all the birthday greetings, the wonderful lunch last week, and all the cards and gifts. I know that turning 60 is a milestone in my life but I've never had so many people make such a big deal out of my birthday in my entire life. When the entire office staff sang to me I was blown away. My birthday weekend was actually very quiet. An electrician got me out of bed at 7:30 AM Saturday and Sunday and Chloe and I spent five hours in the waiting room at Sam Swope on Saturday while I got new tires on my car. I feel like I didn't even have a weekend. This weekend, while my son is home from school, we will actually have a family celebration for my wife and I since we both had birthdays in March.

The passion that many people have for basketball at this time is year is the same kind of passion that I have for music. I am over the top with music. With my birthday gift cards and the 50% off sales at Border's Books I have gone a little crazy. I really should have been a disc jockey on a late night underground radio station. I not only like listening to music, I can talk about it for hours. I know it's history and you don't want to play against me in a game of music trivia. It is a true passion of mine and I've had it since I got my first transistor radio back in the early sixties and I saw my first concert. My very first concert was seeing the Beach Boys out in Cardinal Stadium during a State Fair. I think it was 1962 or 63. When I heard those harmonies and electric guitars I was hooked for life. Music has brought me more joy, excitement, and comfort than anything. Do you have something in your life that you are passionate about? Do you have something that you will spend your last dime on? Do you have something that fills you with joy?

I am a professional laugher.
-The Dalai Lama

When I saw the Dalai Lama at Berea College back in the 90's, he walked out and was very serious. He began speaking in Tibetan and then all of a sudden just started laughing out loud before switching to English. His entire talk was peppered with laughter. I think truly holy people have a great sense of humor. Most of us don't laugh enough. I can always tell if people are having a good day at work by how much laughter I hear around me. There's not much I enjoy more than being with a group of people who are laughing a lot. Laughter is so healthy. Too often, especially in the workplace, I see people in small huddles, looking sad or stressed, and complaining about something. Sometimes there is so much drama going on that I feel like I am at the theater. I've even done it myself. I am anti-drama in the workplace. I want to be in a place that is full of smiles and laughter. I want my sides to hurt from laughing too much. I want to feel the lightness of hilarity and not the heaviness of unhappiness. Life is too short for sadness, unnecessary drama, and long faces. Let's all lighten up, smile, and laugh today.

Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere.
-Erma Bombeck

I am not a worrier but my wife is. Yes, there are things I am concerned about but I don't generally lose sleep over them. My wife worries about EVERYTHING. She told me this morning that a co-worker once said to her, "Denise, come down off that cross. We need the wood". Worry is part of something that I consider one of life's most debilitating emotions and that is anxiety. We live in an age of anxiety. There's a prayer in my faith tradition that simply goes, "Lord, free us from all anxiety". Call it what you will, i.e. worry, anxiety, or stress, it is a mostly a waste of energy. There is such as thing as good stress. Good stress is what keeps us alive. It helps us make intelligent decisions about our safety and well being. Bad stress can break our spirits. We should try to take the energy wasted on worry and anxiety and use it to find solutions to what is causing us pain or worry. My favorite character from the old Star Trek series is Mr. Spock. He was a Vulcan and free of emotions. Emotions in reality are what make us human but I find they also make me crazy sometimes. Emotions are at the root of my worry, anxiety, and unhappiness. Sometimes I wish I had no emotions so I can react logically to whatever life throws at me. Alas, I am not a Vulcan. Like the Dalai Lama I am "simply a human being" who is full of emotion that sometimes causes me pain and worry. When I am self aware I remind myself that I am not my emotions and I can look at life, if not without emotion, than at least objectively.