Monday, April 30, 2012

My Son's Diaconate Ordination

Those of you who follow my blog know that my youngest son has been attending the seminary at St. Meinrad School of Theology for the last three years. This past Saturday he was ordained as a Transitional Deacon. This is the final stage of his formation and training before being ordained a priest next year.  It was a happy occasion for my family, my local parish, and for the Archdiocese of Louisville. It was also the culmination of five years of under graduate and graduate level studies and formation. Saturday was a beautiful day. The ordination Liturgy was moving and well done. My family, which includes my wife, oldest son, and my granddaughter, had front row seats at the church. For my granddaughter, seeing Uncle Nick dressed up in his Roman collar and other liturgical garments elevated him to an whole new status. After the ordination we had a celebration at my home for family and friends. Later in the evening, after everyone had gone home and the house was once again quiet, we had a heavy thunderstorm that included a fair amount of hail and wind. For me, after such a busy day, the pouring rain, hail, and brisk winds provided a nice contemplative moment to what was already a holy day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The final element, or habit, of mindfulness is acceptance. In this scenario, acceptance is defined as “completely accepting the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and beliefs that you have and understanding that they are simply those things only”. Today we finish my thoughts on mindfulness. When it’s all said and done, a lot of mindfulness is nothing more than accepting reality as it is without judging it. It is also approaching reality with patience and with a child-like “Beginner’s Mind” while trusting in our personal abilities to deal with the moment. It is allowing life to unfold as it will by non-striving and, finally, what is often the most difficult part, accepting it. Whatever our individual moments add up to be, for most of us they are not the moments we probably dreamed of in our youth. I’ve always felt like most of my life has been an accident. The life I have is not really the life I wanted. It is, however, the life I have. Just because the life I have is not the realization of my early dreams does not mean it’s all bad. In fact, I strive to not see anything as good or bad . My life is what it is and many twists and turns have brought me to this point. I can bemoan the fact that it’s not everything I hoped for or I can accept it and strive to better understand why I am where I am and what I am supposed to do with what I have been given. Such acceptance does not come easy and I am not totally there. However, even my feelings must be accepted as “they are what they are”.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The fifth element, or habit, of mindfulness is Non-Striving. Non-Striving is described as “the state of not doing anything, just simply accepting the things that are happening in the moment just as they are supposed to”. This is a very tough challenge for many people in our American culture. We pride ourselves on being busy, productive, driven, and goal oriented people. In addition to this many of us are also control freaks who want to alter the outcomes of as much as possible to suit our own agendas and needs. The idea of non-striving and allowing life to unfold as it sees fit is almost abhorrent to us. We spend a great deal of energy holding on when the best move might be to simply let go. Many of us are wound a little tight because of the tension within ourselves that is caused by our driven, competitive, and controlling natures. Keep in mind, however, that Non-Striving is not the same as being lazy or not caring. I think Non-Striving is like white water rafting. You don’t necessarily allow yourself to be tossed to and fro by the rapids of life. You learn to be one with the running water. Some of the time you just flow with it. Other times you use your paddle to make the occasional course change to avoid crashing into a rock. If you fight the river or attempt to change the course of the river you will eventually crash and sink your boat. Those with skill learn to flow with the river and tap into its energy.

Friday, April 20, 2012


The 4th element, or habit, of mindfulness is "Trust". In this scenario trust is defined as having trust in yourself, your intuition, and your abilities. So far we have talked about non-judging, being patience, and having a beginner’s mind. When we are in the moment and present to our reality, not only do we have to be non-judging, patient, and childlike in our curiosity and openness, we also have to trust that the moment is as perfect as it can be. Keep in mind that trusting that the moment is as perfect as it can be does not mean that the moment is perfect. Rarely in our life is the moment perfect. Many of our moments are imperfect and during those times we often must rely on ourselves, our intuition, and our abilities to deal with life’s challenges. By having trust we believe in ourselves and our capacity to meet life’s challenges. This is also a reminder that mindfulness is not living in oblivion and mindless bliss. Mindfulness is being present to reality. Certainly there are those blissful moments when all is well and life is beautiful. However, there are also those moments where life is painful and challenging. While we all want to experience the joy filled moments, we must be present to our more painful realities as well. As someone told me the other day, if you want to experience life’s rainbows, you must also be willing to experience a few storms.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Beginner's Mind

The third element, or habit, of the mindfulness attitude is “Beginner’s Mind”. What is beginner’s mind? It is “having the willingness to observe the world as if it were your first time doing so. This creates an openness that is essential to being mindful”.

Most adults have a difficult time having a “Beginner’s Mind”. As we get older our minds become so filled, mostly with junk, that being open enough to have the curiosity of a child is very challenging. When it comes to “Beginner’s Mind”, my greatest teacher is my seven year old granddaughter. I spend time with her every weekend and during this time she teachers me to see life like a seven year old. People with “Beginner’s Mind” tend to see life, not only with curiosity, but with simplicity. When one sees life directly, and with the simplicity of a curious child, one is usually very present to the reality of the moment. Life is not usually seen as complicated to a child. It just is. I remember once asking my granddaughter if she was happy. At first she seemed confused by the question. She looked at me as though she was wondering why I would ask such a silly question. Her eyes said, “Paw Paw, isn’t being happy the normal way of being”? Only someone with a “Beginner’s Mind” would think being happy is the normal way to be. My granddaughter’s mind is open and fresh and her vision is pure. She is full of curiosity and can be present to the moment in a way I can only hope to be. Unfortunately she will likely grow up to be like the rest of us and she will lose this now effortless ability to be present. At some point she will have to work to regain it just like her Paw Paw is doing now.


The second element or habit of the mindful person is patience. Patience is “cultivating the understanding that things must develop in their own time”. Patience is a trait that usually comes easy for me. Of course, what I call patience is sometimes seem by others as me being non-assertive. Admittedly, one of my coping strategies in life is simply waiting things out. Despite how I am sometimes seen by others, and acknowledging that I do sometimes act in dysfunctional ways, patience is a gift that I believe I have been given as part of my personality. We live in an impatient world where everyone seems to be in a hurry and many people want everything yesterday. I remember a joke from my days in project management. It was said that it takes one woman nine months to give birth to a baby. You cannot give birth to a baby in one month by using nine women. In other words, “things must develop in their own time”. Certainly there are situations in life that require a sense of urgency. Things sometimes happen that require us to kick it up a notch. However, not everything in life can be done quickly nor should they be. You can open a can of soup and pop it in the micro wave for a quick and usually unsatisfying lunch. You can also slow cook a variety of ingredients in your crock pot and have a culinary delight for dinner. You can pressure cook your life or let it unfold naturally. As I have said before, in a world of pressure cookers, I am a crock pot. In the end, patience gains all things. Move quickly when life demands it but if you are running and pushing all the time, it will catch up to you and you will regret it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I discovered an app for my cell phone that has given me some ideas for a series of thoughts on mindfulness. The app is called “7 Elements of the Mindfulness Attitude”. I think it could also be called “The 7 Habits of Highly Mindful People”.

The first element, or habit, is “Non-Judging”.

Taking the role of an impartial observer to whatever your current experience is. This means not making a positive or negative evaluation of what is happening, just simply observing it.

It is so difficult to not judge. I once heard someone say “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see”. In other words, almost nothing is what it seems. So many of our opinions are based on perceptions and perceptions are usually seen as truth in the eye of the perceiver. How does one be truly objective and non-partial? How can we remove the filters from our own eyes? I haven’t achieved this yet. Certainly the times I have become aware of my own mis-judgments have been learning experiences. I would also say the times I have been mis-judged have also been learning experiences. In my own journey of self-awareness I have become a little better at stepping outside of myself and observing my own behavior. Of course, even when I do this it is still difficult to not judge myself. I am a very feeling type person with strong emotions. It is difficult for me to remove my feelings from most situations. Sometimes it helps to say to myself, “You’re having an emotional response. What is really happening now”? My experience is that it is not easy to be impartial and it is very challenging to simply observe what is going on around me. I guess the only real progress I have made is by being more aware of my own emotions and how they can misrepresent reality.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Negative Emotions

A couple of things happened yesterday that made me angry. It seemed a little ironic to be angry the day after delivering a series of talks at work on well-being. The events that generated my anger were insignificant but they nevertheless got me fired up. Anger, and it’s evil cousin, frustration, are two emotions that I do not like to feel. However, they are emotions that I feel more than I care to admit. I believe I make a serious effort to be calm and centered so I am always unhappy when I feel negative emotions. At the same time, one of the unhealthy things I do is repress negative emotions. Most of the time when I feel such emotions they rarely show themselves on the surface. When I feel myself getting angry I usually try to take a walk or find some solitude where I can attempt to reason with myself and calm myself down. On the rare occasion that I display my angry inner self, people are usually surprised because it’s a side of me that most people never see. The reality is that all of us sometimes struggle with our dark side. I am usually a quiet person who appears calm on the surface. However, I am also a passionate person who can feel and display strong emotions. It’s a side of me that I am not always comfortable with but it’s part of who I am.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dualistic vs. Non-Dualistic Thinking

Most people see things as either/or. Things or people are seen as good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, liberal or conservative, successful or unsuccessful, attractive or unattractive, and on and on. People tend to walk around and consciously or unconsciously make judgments. We all do this. This type of thinking is called dualistic thinking. Imagine a day where you don’t do this. Imagine a day where you don’t see life as either/or but rather both/and. This type of thinking is called non-dualistic thinking. It is non-judgmental. I also like to think of it as walking the middle path. When one walks the middle path, and ceases to judge everything as good or bad, you experience a oneness with all of life rather than a separation from parts of it. There’s a common phrase that simplifies this. I’m sure you’ve heard people say “It is what it is”. It’s a phrase I tend to overuse but I like it. I admit that it is sometimes challenging for me to make a decision because I can usually see both sides of an issue. Because of my desire to walk the middle path and to be a non-dualistic thinker, I try to find an answer in the middle of conflicting opinions. This seems to be a lost art in modern day politics. No one seems willing to compromise and meet in the middle. Always seeing everything as either/or, and never being willing to compromise and meet in the middle, gets us nothing but gridlock and standoffs. When everyone is holding their ground no one can move ahead.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Live With Hope

In today’s world many people’s hope is dissipating. Many people are without jobs and they struggle to provide their families the basics of life. Those with jobs often struggle financially as well. People have lost faith in most of their institutions and many of our leaders seem inept. Civility seems a dying characteristic and the world can often seem to be filled with more hatred and violence than love and compassion. It’s no wonder that many people’s faith and hope are shaky. Still, hope is alive. I refuse to give in to pessimism. I have always been an optimist. I’ve always believed that life will get better even when it doesn’t appear to do so. I have always believed that I will receive what I need and so far in my life this has been true. I live in the hope that my struggles have not been in vain and that these very struggles have molded me into the person I am today. I was talking to someone recently about my experience of living in a monastery. I left the monastery 39 years ago. If I was still Brother Dominic I would not be the same person that I am today. I would not have had the same struggles and challenges as I have had living in the world. Our struggles and our challenges define us. Brother Dominic may have turned out very holy or he may have been in therapy. The jury is still out on Michael Brown. Live in the hope that your life is what it is meant to be. Your struggles are creating the person you are meant to be. Don’t let life get you down. Hope is alive that you will be the person you are meant to be and that you will find the life you are meant to live. It’s all a journey and hope is one of your companions.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Be Here Now

To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past, but you are still grounded in the present.
-Buddhist saying

Be Here Now.
-Ram Dass

Zen is being where you are and doing what you’re doing.
-Michael Brown

Being here now, being where you are, and doing what you’re doing sounds incredibly simple until you actually try to do it. I feel reasonably grounded within myself but my mind and my body are rarely in the same place. As I write these notes on a Friday morning I am already home in my mind, happy that it is once again Friday night. It takes some effort to be mindful. The truth is that I don’t always like where I am or what I am doing. To be one with reality and to be one with a desired reality is not the same thing. Most of us struggle on a daily basis to accept reality and to flow with it. I realize after many years of introspection that I have a personality that often fights reality. Sometimes I feel that when I am trying to be mindful of reality by being her now and doing what I am doing, I am sleeping with the enemy. The reality I want and the reality I have are sometimes in conflict. Still, I try to practice my Zen and my mindfulness, hoping for an insight that will give me a new way of seeing things. So, for the time being I will be here now until 4:00 PM. After that, wherever I go, there I am.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Running On Empty

The last few days I have felt exhausted. I had no symptoms that indicated any illness. However, I have felt like I was hit by a train and while on the ground a ton of bricks was dropped on top of me. The way I have been feeling reminds me of when my mother used to say, “Boy, you’re burning the candle at both ends”. The truth is I don’t even own a candle. At this point in my life all I do is come to work five days a week and entertain a seven year old granddaughter most weekends. Work nights I am generally free although as a married man there always seems to be a stop that needs to be made on the way home and a chore that needs to be completed. I guess my age is catching up with me. I just don’t have the energy and endurance that I had when I was a younger man. Sometimes you just have to accept such realities. Every stage of life has its good side and its bad side. Of course, age is relative. Compared to my 82 year old mother, I am young. Compared to many of my co-workers, I am old. In fact I am older than many of my co-workers parents. My exhaustion is not just age. I am one of millions of people who are sleep deprived. The eight hour work day is a myth. I get up for work at 6:00 AM and it is usually close to 6:00 PM before I get home. I am also not a person who can go to bed early. I love early morning and late night. This is a bad combination for a working man. So, I get my six hours of sleep every night, if I am lucky, and I take a nap whenever I can. I wish there was some time built into the workday for an afternoon siesta. That would be awesome.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Being Healthy

The final pillar of well-being has to do with our health. This is the toughest one for me. I had my first health crisis in my 30’s and it was traumatic. In my 50’s I was diagnosed with diabetes. Both of these events demanded changes in my behavior and life style. Like most people I wondered “Why me”? I beat myself up a little debating how much my health problems were my own fault or whether they would have occurred anyway because of the genetic hand of cards I had been dealt by my parents and ancestors. It’s probably a bit of both. Whether I deserved them or not is irrelevant at this point. The good news is that my health issues forced me to think differently about my lifestyle and choices and for the most part I have adapted to these challenges in a positive way. My medical conditions cannot be reversed at this point but the reality is that I am living a healthier life now than I did when I was younger. Good physical health is important. If you have a sense of purpose, belonging, and security, they may not seem very important if your health has failed and you cannot enjoy what life has to offer. At the same time, you may be the poster child for good health and healthy living, but if you have no sense of purpose, belonging, or security, your life is out of balance and it would be misleading to say you have a sense of well-being in your life. Total well-being is about having balance and balance is found in the tension of opposites. Purpose, belonging, security, and good health do not come easy. Well-being is about choices and consequences. The desire to have well-being and the experience of well-being are two different things. In the tension of opposites balance and well-being are found walking the middle path of moderation.

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Sense Of Security

The third pillar of well-being is having a sense of security. Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” lists food and shelter as our most basic need. If you don’t have food and a place to live, everything else is pretty tough. For me, having a sense of security also means not being afraid. How can I feel secure if every waking moment is filled with worry and fear about my basic needs? In order to have a sense of security you do not need to have an overabundance of everything. I feel secure when I have enough of everything. Like most things in life, it’s all about balance. When we are young we often want everything without a realistic understanding of what it takes to have anything. Unless you are a trust fund baby or you win the lottery, you are probably going to have to work. Assuming you have employment and it provides you with a regular and steady income, your needs and wants with have to be balanced with your ability to pay for them. Keep in mind that what you need and what you want can be very different. As I’ve said before, the first half of life is usually about building and gathering. I am in the second half of life where I am now deciding what is truly essential for my life. I no longer think about how I can get more. Now I think more about letting go and doing with less. One also needs to balance the needs of the present with the anticipated needs of the future. This can be tricky. I don’t believe in robbing the present for a future that is not guaranteed. However, I don’t have an attitude of “let’s eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may be dead” either. Of course, a sense of security is not just about money. Assuming basic physical needs are met, I also want to feel safe, not only from harm, but from the unexpected. I avoid stress by minimizing stressors. I avoid fear by avoiding situations that put me in danger. In life in general, I give what I can and I only take what I need. I generally feel secure and I have gotten to this point by learning from my mistakes and by making new decisions that don’t jeopardize my security.