Friday, October 28, 2011

Road Trip

I love road trips when the purpose is to have a good time. Tomorrow my family and I are driving to St. Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology in Indiana. This is where my youngest son goes to school. It is where the Archdiocese of Louisville sends most of the men who are studying to be priests. Typically a Catholic priest ends up with a B.A degree in philosophy and a Master’s degree in theology. Some priests go on for further education depending on their particular ministry. Some men are already well educated in other areas before they decide to become priests. My son will be ordained a Deacon in the spring of 2012 and will be ordained a priest approximately one year later. During that year he will also be assigned to a parish in the Louisville area. In January he gets to go to Rome, Italy for ten days. That’s where the “Big Boss” lives. The big boss is also known as the Pope Benedict XVI. He saw the Pope a couple of years ago at Yankee Stadium in New York. At this time of year the trip to the Archabbey will be a beautiful drive. We will walk the grounds and enjoy the peacefulness of it all. We will have a nice lunch somewhere and I will have to pick up the check. That’s what Dad’s do. My granddaughter will be all excited and she will ask a thousand questions. My wife and I are proud parents. We’ve been lucky. We have two sons and they have both turned out pretty good. What more could a parent want? OK, I do wish I had some more grandchildren although the one I have keeps me hopping pretty good.

Reminding Myself To Be Grateful

Yesterday was one of those days where I would have loved to just stay home. I was tired and in the early stages of catching a cold. This afternoon I spent two hours in a dentist's while he drilled my teeth and fixed a cavity. Even as I write these notes the left side of my face is completely numb. I have a full weekend ahead of me so there will be no rest for the wicked. It has not been a good time to listen to the blues on my iPod. Whenever I have days where I feel like this I must remind myself that I am not my feelings. By the end of the work week it’s normal to feel tired. Maybe a cold is God’s way of telling me to take a break. Whenever I have the blahs I try to remind myself to be grateful. Gratefulness cures many ills. I know that no matter how I might feel I have a great life. This is true for most of us do and we need to remind ourselves of this periodically. Life is hard. Some days are very challenging. The reality, however, is that most days are generally good. Most of the things we worry about and are afraid of never happen. I read somewhere that our brains are hard wired to be negative unless we intentionally think positive thoughts. Today I am going to try to be upbeat and positive despite the fact that I would like to go home and sleep on my couch for the rest of the day. I will listen to upbeat music. I will laugh with my co-workers and I will be grateful for my life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Being Centered

I schedule my morning so that I have approximately 20 minutes to just sit before I leave for work. I spend about 10 minutes reading followed by 10 minutes of thinking or meditating. While I am thinking or meditating I drink my first cup of coffee for the day. This 20 minutes is often the best part of my day. A close second is when I finally get home, return to my chair, and I breathe after all the day's activity. The benefit of this early morning sitting is that it centers me so I can deal with the demands of the day. The activities of an average day often pull me from my center. From time to time throughout the day I must regain my focus and return to my center. This is how I maintain the calm and patience people think I have. When I am frazzled and impatient it is generally because I lost my focus and centeredness. We all have to do what we need to do to maintain our individual centeredness. As an off the chart introvert, I prefer life on the inside rather than the outside. The demands of most days that pull me out of myself are exhausting to me. If I do not start my day with calm and being, it is difficult for me to deal with all the “doing” that life requires. Each of you must also find your own path to the balance and centeredness that you require for your own well-being.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Staying On The Path

The journey of life is a long commute. At this stage of my journey I find myself looking for a rest stop more often. I believe the commute of life is basically a spiritual journey. Everything we do and everything that happens to us either awakens us or puts us to sleep. Every relationship either gives us life or can feel like it takes life from us. Life is hard and we will often feel weary. I know I want to be an awakened one but too often I feel like I am just hitting the snooze alarm. Even when I am conscious I often feel like I am stumbling along the path or wandering in the desert. Other times I wonder if I am doing anything right. Still, even if I have hit the snooze alarm a time or two, I get up as best I can and I continue the journey. I try to stay on the path. I try to live a good life and to do good things. I try to be kind to others and myself. I try to not only practice compassion but to actually show it. I try to be a good person. I try to maintain a sense of wonder and joy about life. I try to be present to the moment. I try to be happy and not to be sad. I try to remember that the journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step. Finally, I try to remember that the journey is the destination.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Circle Of Life

It was a busy weekend. It began once again with my granddaughter jumping in my bed at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning. Her Dad works every other Saturday so she spends the day with my wife and me. The question of the day was, “Paw Paw, can you stick your hand threw a rainbow”? After I explained rainbows as best I could her follow up question was, “How does a rainbow hold a pot of gold”? I love her questions even when I cannot answer them. When Granny finally got out of bed we went out to breakfast and then went to see “A Dolphin’s Tale” at the cinema. It’s very good movie that children and adults can enjoy. Saturday night I attended the 60th birthday party of the Class of 1969. If you are a young person, fast forward your life 40 years or so and imagine how you and all your friends will look after life has beat you up a little. The amazing thing is that despite the older looking bodies the personalities don’t change much at all. The party was over by 10:00 PM because we’re all old and most don’t even go out after dark anymore. My best friend from high school came over to my house afterwards and we talked until 1:00 AM. While I was at the wild and crazy gathering of future Medicare recipients, my wife and son took Chloe to the zoo for a Halloween party. Needless to say I spent most of Sunday in my chair falling in and out of consciousness. Spending most of my day with my granddaughter, and most of my night with aging classmates from high school, reminded me once again about the journey of life. We start off young, full of questions and wonder, at some point we think we have all the answers, and finally we realize that we don't have any answers at all and it really doesn't matter. When we start getting old we start becoming more childlike again. We lose most of the certitude we thought we had acquired and once again we become full of questions and wonder. It's the circle of life.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Finding Silence In A Noisy World

I love my music. Listening to it gives me a lot of joy. However, I know that I listen to music too much. My addiction has only gotten worse since I acquired an iPod. As one of the monks said once, “Even Beethoven, if played all day, is noise”. Yesterday afternoon I was taking my daily walk. My walks begin with walking down the stairs from the 12th floor of my office building where I live in my little cubicle. As I was walking down the stairs listening to music on my iPod, I was distracted by what sounded like a roar. I took off my headphones to make sure the building wasn’t collapsing around me. It turned out to be the music that is pumped into the stairwell. For reasons I don’t understand someone also feels the need to pump music into the restrooms. I went down to the first floor and walked my daily laps around the perimeter. When I was done I went outside to grab the latest copy of LEO, a local free magazine. When I got outside there was an even louder roar of noise. It was a truck from the local company that shreds all our sensitive documents. It sounded like it was shredding nails. All of this reminded me how noisy and loud our world can be. It can be very challenging to find a quiet spot. If the world isn’t noisy enough our minds are also filled with the noise of endless chatter. It seems nearly impossible to be quiet and still within ourselves and equally challenging to find quiet and stillness anywhere. The monastery that I visit is a very quiet place. The attitude is that silence is preferred so only the most necessary talking is encouraged. Over and above that is something the monks call “The Grand Silence”. It is the hours after their night prayer that lasts until the morning work period. During this time only the most urgent need to talk is acceptable and all monks attempt to be as quiet as possible in whatever they are doing. We should all strive to have a time of “Grand Silence” in our day. We need times of quiet and stillness for our well-being. Sometimes even Beethoven needs to be given a break.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Zen Day In The Country

I took a day off from work yesterday and had a Zen day. This does not mean that I sat around all day in the lotus position thinking deep thoughts. I have a friend that is a retired priest who lives as a hermit near the monastery. We get together about once a month for breakfast and deep conversation. We also have some conversation that is not so deep. My friend is one of the funniest people I have ever known and any time I spend with him will involve a lot of laughing. Yesterday was a Zen day because I spent the day enjoying each moment as it unfolded. It began with taking my wife to work, jumping into the morning commute as I escaped the downtown area, and eventually settling into a serene early morning drive through the countryside. When I got to my friend’s house we decided to have breakfast at the new Cracker Barrel in Bardstown. Yesterday was a cold and wet day so it was wonderful to enjoy a breakfast feast in front of a roaring fire. Afterwards we visited an ailing monk in the local hospital. Later we returned to his home where we warmed up from the cold and rain and settled into some engaging conversation. I need days like this where I can step away from my normal routine to re-calibrate my life a little. Father Dennis is not only my friend, he is a mentor, spiritual advisor, and a surrogate big brother. I feel fortunate to have such a person in my life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Making Each Day New

Many times when my alarm goes off in the morning I feel like the Bill Murray character in the movie “Groundhog Day”. For those unfamiliar with the movie it’s about a guy who keeps living the same day over and over. After many such days he finally realizes that he can make changes that will affect the outcome of his day. Anyone who is faithful to their commitments and obligations over a long period of time can sometimes feel like they are living the same day over and over. Admittedly, as a creature of habit, I take some comfort in my daily routines and rituals. Joy can be found in the familiar. I probably don’t seek out change enough in my life. Part of the reason is that I have a personality that actually thrives on boredom. However, I do make attempts to enlarge the circle of my life and to not always do things the same way. I am not as adventurous as some people think I am but I do like to experience new things and new ways of doing things. Of course, I am not as boring as I may appear on the surface. As an introvert I mostly live in my inner world. There is a lot of thinking and intellectual activity going on within me. My inner life is probably more exciting than my outer life. I am a dreamer and a thinker. Of course, sometimes I need to do simple things like get off a familiar path and change the way I drive home. Sometimes I need to try a new restaurant instead of eating at the same old places. Sometimes I need to take a leap of faith and not just look over the edge.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Visiting The Pumpkin Fields

This past Saturday was a spectacular picture perfect autumn day. My family and I went to a local farm that is famous for it's pumpkin fields and winery. It's an annual tradition for many families to go to the farm, ride on a farm wagon out to the fields, wander among the pumpkins, and select the perfect one for their Halloween Jack O' Lantern. Of course, I love this time of year when pumpkins are enjoyed in many forms. Friday night I had a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks, Saturday I wandered around the pumpkin fields with my family, and Sunday morning I ate pumpkin bread with my morning coffee. My granddaughter gets so excited when we go to get our annual pumpkin and I get excited every time I get to be with her. Let me be honest for a moment. Although I am only sixty years old, I sometimes feel old and tired, and occasionally I feel like a grumpy old man. The fast acting cure for all of this is my granddaughter’s smile. My wife and I met the rest of the family at the farm and winery. I was standing around waiting for everyone when I saw my granddaughter in the distance. As soon as she saw me she started waving with excitement and began running towards me. Running towards me and jumping in my arms is something she’s been doing as long as she has been able to run. Now that she is bigger, she almost knocks me down sometimes. It’s impossible not to feel loved when she’s around. Grandchildren are one of life's great gifts and joys.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Finding Happiness In A Balanced Life

Why are some people happy and others not? First of all, it is a choice. Some people choose to be happy despite what goes on around them and to them. Others think they can't be happy until everything is perfect in their lives. Many more always see the glass as half empty instead of half full. It's all a matter of choice and perspective. I do think it helps to have a balanced life. Here are the things I think are important. Every individual must work out how to have and balance these things in their life. For me, they represent the essentials of a happy, balanced, and fulfilling life.

The Six Essentials of a Balanced and Happy Life

Mind. Develop your intellect. Read a book. Learn a new skill. Be open to new things. If you don't use it, you lose it. Rediscover the enthusiasm and curiosity you had as child to learn and discover new things.

Body. Practice wellness. Begin to live a healthy life now. Take care of your body. It is your vehicle through life. Some people take better care of their cars than their own bodies. Don't wait till the damage is done.

Spirit. Be in touch with something bigger than yourself. Have a belief system and a personal code of ethics. Church is great for some but for others it's not. You can still explore the teachings of the great spiritual masters. Check out Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Shiva, and others. If nothing else, the golden rule works for everyone. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Practice the religion of kindness and compassion. Learn to be tolerance.

Work. Give work what it needs and requires. Being a workaholic and working hard are not the same things. Look for work that is satisfying, not only to your bank account, but to your spirit. Work is one of the ways we can share in the creative process of life. Elevate it, in whatever way you can, to something more than just a mundane routine.

Family. Being part of a family who loves you is one of life's greatest gifts. Appreciate it. Strive to make those in your families feel appreciated and loved. Celebrate your family bonds! There's an old saying that goes, "Home is where they have to take you in." Be the kind of person that someone wants to take in.

Self. Take time for yourself. Balance time with others with silence and solitude. Be your own best friend. Enjoy your own company. Look in the mirror and know who you see.

Give all of these things time in your life. Too much or too little of any of them creates an imbalance which can be a source of stress for many people. When our life is in balance, we are at ease with living and happiness finds us.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


A few weeks ago when I had lunch with two of my monastic friends I told them how valuable my personal monastic experience had been and that it had a great influence on the type of person I am today. I was also thanking them for being part of my experience and also affirming them for being faithful to their calling. Even long time monks occasionally wonder if their life has any meaning. All of us are who we are because of our previous life experiences and the influence of the many people near and far who have touched our lives. Certainly there have been many ordinary people who have touched my life in ways they never realized. As far as more well-known figures I could list Jesus, Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Merton, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and my granddaughter, Chloe. Even though I have a reputation as an aging hippie rock and roller, the primary influences in my life have been spiritual masters, rebels, contemplatives, artists, lovers of nature, peacemakers, and a seven year old Zen Master. I try to be like all of them as I live my daily life. Many young people would barely recognize some of the people I’ve listed. In today’s world too many people choose celebrities from the world of entertainment and sports to be their role models. Most of these people, including many of the rock stars whose music I love, are unfit as people to model your life on. Our role models are usually based on our personal values. What are your values and who are your role models?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don't Miss The Joy

Recently a co-worker said to me, “Michael, you’ve had an interesting life”. I have to admit that it hasn’t always felt interesting but I have had some interesting experiences in my life. A deeper reality, however, is that if you added up all the interesting experiences in my life it would be a small percentage of the sixty years I have lived so far. Most of my life has been very ordinary. A big chunk of time has been taken up by the business of living day to day to meet my obligations, make a living, be faithful to my commitments, and survive in a hostile world. This is not to say that ordinary is bad. Interesting experiences might be thought of like weekends. We all live for them but they make up a small portion of our lives. If I could put my entire life on an Excel spreadsheet and sort it, I am confident that I’ve had some pretty great Wednesdays which by most people's standards would be considered a very ordinary day of the week. Most of life is ordinary and much of it can seem boring. This is why it is so important to pay attention to the moment, be awake, and be aware of the potential and grace of the moment. I truly believe there is much that is extraordinary hidden within the ordinary. Enjoy the ordinary days. Enjoy that first cup of coffee in the morning. Notice the sunrise. Laugh with your friends. Listen to lots of your favorite music. Eat a piece of the cake that your co-worker brought into the office. Spend some time in your favorite chair with a good book. Look out your window and enjoy the scenery. Don’t let the joy of ordinary days pass you by while you are waiting for something interesting to happen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Forgetting What We Know

Did you notice the harvest moon in the sky this morning? It was quite beautiful and it guided me all the way to the office. As I was walking from my parking garage I had to walk past a number of semi-trucks that were loaded with all of Taylor Swift’s stage and sound equipment. My office is next down to the KFC Yum Center where she is playing tonight. I thought about all the people who are thrilled today because they are attending her concert tonight. I know how excited I get whenever I am going to see one of my favorite musical artists. Another thought I had on the way to work today is the idea that by the time you are my age you basically know everything you need to know about life. The problem is that you keep forgetting it. The journey of life is a constant re-awakening to the awareness of this knowledge. This is partially why I am so attracted to Buddha. The very name, Buddha, means “awakened one”. Most people, including me, are constantly falling asleep and forgetting what they know. I do not mean falling asleep physically. I mean falling asleep spiritually. So many of us go through life in a daze that is a kind of sleepwalking. I am always trying to wake up. In my rare moments of wakefulness I have clarity and understanding about life. I remember what I need to know. I am far from being a fully awake Buddha. Most of the time I feel like a man who is sitting on the side of his bed rubbing his eyes and trying to find the energy to stand up and walk to the bathroom where I can splash some cold water in my face.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Return To Normal

If I gave you a detailed description of how I spent last week, no one would call me “Mr. Excitement”. It was a very low key week and that is exactly what I wanted. Of course, the weekends that began and ended my time off were a little more hectic because of a munchkin that stayed at my house. This past Saturday my granddaughter, also known as “Miss 1000 Questions”, crawled in my bed at 7:30 AM after her Dad dropped her off on his way to work. The first thing she said to me was “Paw Paw, what is the tallest tree in the world”? I thought for a moment and then replied, “I think it would be the Redwood trees in California”. She replied, “I don’t mean what species is the tallest, I want to know what tree is the tallest in the world”! Unfortunately I could not identify a specific tree on the planet that would qualify as the world's tallest tree.

Most of the week I did very little. I slept eight hours a night and many afternoons I took a nap. I went to bed at my usual time and I got up early. After my morning rituals that are mostly taking my medicine and insulin shot for my diabetes, I would go downstairs and out the front door to the end of my driveway. There I would pick up my morning paper and head back into my house to make a pot of coffee. Being able to read the morning paper, in the morning, while leisuring drinking coffee and enjoying music is a simple joy that I truly love. After the morning paper I would read a few chapters from "The Land of Painted Caves" by Jean Auel. Sometimes later in the morning or afternoon I wandered around in my yard and talked to the birds and squirrels. Thoughts of work rarely broke through the force field I had constructed around my mind. I didn’t even leave my house for four days. It was exactly the kind of week that I had hoped for but rarely experience. I jokingly referred to the week as "Retirement Training". Besides enjoying the pleasure of doing very little, and only what I wanted to do, it was also a time to seriously ponder how I will really spend my time when I do retire from full time work.