Friday, May 25, 2012

Thomas Merton

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.
-Thomas Merton

A Facebook friend posted this quote on her “Wall”. Yesterday, while I was taking my morning Zen walk, I saw this friend coming into my building. We quickly got into a very engaging conversation about Merton, the Dalai Lama, Buddhism, and spirituality in general. Thomas Merton has been one of the most influential people in my life. He was a Christian monk and he lived in the same monastery that I lived in although we were not there at the same time. Although a Christian monk he is the person who introduced me to Zen and Buddhist thinking. Shortly before his death in 1968 he met with a then young Dalai Lama in India. Today the Dalai Lama thinks Merton was the bridge between Eastern and Western spirituality. Before leaving for Asia to meet with various spiritual leaders, Merton spent the last three years of his life living as a hermit on the monastery grounds. He had a small house in the woods away from the main monastery. I have been fortunate to make two retreats, completely alone, in Merton’s Hermitage. To live and sleep in the very space where one of my biggest influences lived was very meaningful to me. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Grateful Dead Days

I went downstairs yesterday to take my morning walk and quickly realized my normal route was impossible because of all the people who were there for our Inclusion and Diversity Day. I headed outside because it was a beautiful morning. Soon I became distracted by the sound of drumming. Some local young people were performing some complicated drum patterns to the delight of many people. I love drums. In high school I had a set of drums and until recently I had some conga’s. I really need to buy a set of matching conga’s with a stand so I can pursue my inner Santana. The drumming I heard yesterday caused me to have a moment of Déjà vu. It is common knowledge that I am a card carrying Deadhead. For those not in the know, a Deadhead is a fanatical follower of the Grateful Dead. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s they were at the peak of their popularity and I attended as many of their concerts as a man with a full time job could do. If you’ve never been to a Dead show, it was quite the experience. I would describe the “parking lot scene” as a Renaissance Fair for the chemically altered with 99% of the people dressed in tie dyed clothes. I was probably one of the few people in my right mind although I, too, was wearing tie dye. The parking lot also contained the world’s largest collection of vintage Volkswagen vans. I had long hair in those days and looked like Jerry Garcia’s twin brother. Many people came to Grateful Dead concerts with drums. It was quite common to hear drum circles pounding out all kinds of rhythms. Such drumming can put you in a trance. If you want to hear what it sounded like I recommend the music of Mickey Hart, one of the two Grateful Dead drummers. Check out his CD’s “At The Edge” and “Planet Drum”. Yes, of course I have these in my music collection. I told you I’m a Deadhead.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Living In The Now

If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.

Lao-Tzu is a Chinese philosopher. Whenever I read any of his stuff he is usually right on the money. This particular quote ties in well with all my previous thoughts about mindfulness. How many of us are depressed or unhappy because we compare our current life to a romanticized ideal of how great we thought our life used to be? How many of us fail to see what’s really good in our current life because every waking minute we are daydreaming about some life we wish we had and we’re worrying about whether or not we will ever achieve it? We spend too much times thinking life used to be great or it could be great if only things were different. When we are truly present to the eternal Now I believe we see things differently. Part of being mindful is noticing things. When we are living in the past or dreaming of the future we are not likely to be noticing the good realities of the present. I once read a quote of unknown origin that went “These are the good old days”. Remember that today used to be the future and soon it will be the past. Where you are now is where you will always be in the sense that only the present truly exists. Notice the present and be at peace.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Do You Think About?

Sometimes I wonder what other people think about. Anyone who has read my daily thoughts for any length of time has a pretty good idea what I am about. Many people I know don’t seem to think deeply about too many things. Sometimes I am envious of that. I seem to always be on a quest for meaning and understanding and this often keeps me unsettled. I am reminded of two things. One is an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry’s had another relationship go sour. Kramer looks at him and says, “You think there’s more to life, don’t you”? Then he says, “Well let me clue you in, Buddy, there’s not”! Another time I was frustrated because my spouse never seemed to care about the same things as me. I looked at her and said, “You should think deeper thoughts. A ship that sails in deep water never runs a ground”. She looked at me and said, “Yes, but if you stay in the shallow water you will never drown”. Sometimes people seem to admire me because they think I am “deep”. At the same time I am sometimes envious of people who don’t feel the need to understand life or see it’s deeper meaning. They seem to just live life and I admire the simplicity of that. Some people seem to just flow with life and I often feel that I am swimming upstream and fighting the current. Yes, I have my moments of intellectual and spiritual clarity but I also experience a lot of darkness and confusion along the way. What kind of person are you? Do you just live life and deal with whatever life throws at you or are you constantly trying to figure it all out and understand it?

Monday, May 21, 2012


I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t want a calm life and a peaceful mind. It is possible to have a calm life, at least inside oneself, but you will never have a totally peaceful mind. You can create calming rituals in your life to help you be centered. You can get up a little earlier to enjoy the morning quiet and prevent yourself from having to rush to wherever you need to be. You can take breaks throughout your day to sit quietly and re-connect with your inner self. When you get home after a day of work you can take a hot bath or maybe sit outside and enjoy nature in your backyard. Having a peaceful mind is more challenging. Your mind never rests or takes a break. You mind often feeds your ego and that is rarely a good thing. In my mind I sometimes have thoughts I do not want. In my mind I sometimes obsess on small things until they seem to loom large. When I try to be quiet my mind creates noise. When I try to be still, my mind tells me I should be busy. Even when I am sleeping my mind creates dreams that may be troubling.  All is not lost. In the middle of whatever calming rituals that work for you, you can at least temporarily distract your mind by choosing to not think. I do this by focusing on my breath. Our breath is life. I meditate by intentionally paying attention to my breath as I breathe in through my nose and I exhale through my mouth. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I am assuming you are breathing. Pay attention to your breath and calm will come into your life.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Walk In The Park

Yesterday, after quietly eating lunch at my desk, I decided to go outside for some fresh air. Since I am in a building with sealed windows I sometimes feel like I am breathing twenty year old air. When I got outside my first thought was how much I enjoy working downtown. I love that there are so many restaurants within walking distance to say nothing of all the available green space across the street from my office. Yesterday was a perfect day. There was a cool breeze, the sun was shining bright, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the aroma of cooked food filled the air. Most days there is a hot dog vendor on the sidewalk and a recent additional is a variety of local food trucks. I crossed the street and walked along Waterfront Park. A group of young girls, all dressed in veils, were gleefully running in and out of the water jets. I decided to walk along the river. Other people were doing the same. I spotted two ducks swimming against the current but seemingly enjoying themselves. For a brief moment I thought how most of us also swim against the current but don’t seem to enjoy it like the ducks. I was tempted to sit on a park bench and watch the barges go up and down the river but I knew if I did I might forget to come back to work. Walks in the park and along the river provide me with some of the perfect moments that I often speak about. While walking and thinking it occurred to me that we have different names for the same experience. Mindfulness, Zen moments, Flow, and Contemplation are all really the same thing. Mindfulness and Zen are Buddhist terms. Flow is a term coined by a psychologist to describe the experience of being in the moment so completely that you lose all sense of time and space. Contemplation is a Christian term to describe what I believe is the same awakened state that Buddhists speak about. For a Christian that awakened state would be an experience of oneness and unity with God. Whatever you call it, it is an experience meant for all. Too many people don’t realize that. It’s not just for the spiritually elite.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dawn And Dusk

Even though I usually move slowly from my bed each morning when the alarm goes off, I love mornings. I even get up early on the weekends. I am especially loving these beautiful spring mornings when the air is cool and the neighborhood is quiet except for the sounds of birds greeting the dawn. I realized when I got up this morning that I forgot to set out my recycle bin last night. I went into my back yard to get it and it was so peaceful that I just wanted to get a cup of coffee, sit in my lawn chair, and soak it all it. Of course my lawn chair was occupied by a small bird who appeared to think he owned it. My Buddha statue was sitting serenely as always. Under the back porch roof was a pigeon who has recently laid some eggs. She’s been sitting in her nest for a couple of weeks but I haven’t seen any babies yet. Life always seems better in the mornings. It is fresh and open to endless possibilities. The end of the day has a different feel. I am usually tired and occasionally I feel beat up. When I go home the greatest possibility is that I will fall asleep in my chair. Dawn may be my favorite time of the day but I also love dusk when the sun slips under the horizon and the night approaches. If I could just find a way to hide during the whole middle part of the day!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Are You Awake?

I have often talked about being in the moment. I think everyone understands what that means. However, when you are in the moment, how does that feel? This is how it usually feels to me. When I am truly in the moment, I feel a sense of oneness. In this moment of oneness life seems to make sense. I experience clarity. All the planets seem to be in perfect alignment with the sun. The moment seems eternal. OK, I know all of this sounds a little too cosmic. The reality is that these moments are also very ordinary. What is different between one ordinary moment and a moment of true clarity and union is my sense of awareness. My guess is that all moments are perfect but my awareness of such moments is not. To be a Buddha is to be an “awakened” one. Most of us go through our lives asleep. Yes, we are walking around and we are doing what we need to do but we are really sleepwalkers. We do what we do but often have no real sense of what we are doing. When we are truly in the moment we are in an awakened state. In this sense I want to be a Buddha. I want to be awake for my life. I want life to make sense. Yes, there will always be work and chores and challenges. However, I think if we are awake to them they will not overwhelm us. Are you awake?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be Rich?

What does it mean to be rich?  Rich is not about money although having money makes misery more tolerable. When I was growing up I was poor compared to most of my friends. However, I didn’t think of myself as poor. I just thought of them as rich. I now realize how much my parents struggled to raise six children on one income. In their struggle they did a very good job. Compared to my parents I am very rich materially. I have a very comfortable lifestyle. This is mostly due to staying married, very little unemployment, and two steady incomes for 37 years. My wife also inherited some money so being lucky and being blessed doesn’t hurt. Although I like all my “stuff”, none of it really makes me happy. What things do is distract me so I can avoid dealing with some of my feelings.  In my old age I have come to believe that what really makes a person “rich” is love. It’s not how much stuff you have. Of course, love is a tricky thing. I think most people have someone, or multiple people, who love them. What many people seem to not have is the sense that they are loved. What I am saying is that I think there is a lot of love floating around but a lot of people aren’t “feeling the love” or getting the love they need. Ultimate happiness, or feeling “rich”, is when you have a sense of contentment in your life, you have the basic necessities for living, and you are getting the love you need.

Beginner's Mind/Dancing With Chloe

My granddaughter loves to dance. I dance with her, and only her, because she doesn’t know or care that I’m a terrible dancer. I decided she needed to see some Michael Jackson videos so together we watched the video’s for “Billie Jean”, “Beat It”, and “Thriller”. By the end of the weekend I lost count of how many times we watched these videos. She begged me for my copy of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” CD/DVD. I didn’t give it to her and she wasn’t too happy with Paw Paw. What I did do is go online last night and order a DVD of all the Michael Jackson videos. Guess what I will be watching over and over this weekend when she comes over for another visit?

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”.
-Shunryu Suzuki

Most of my life I have been actively seeking and acquiring knowledge. The more I acquired the more I thought I knew. I never got to the point where I thought I knew everything except for a brief time when I was a teen-ager. One of the nice things about growing older is that I am starting to forget things. Much of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years has been archived in my brain and whenever I try to retrieve it my brain seems to be “on the clock”. The forgetfulness of old age frees up a lot of space to acquire new knowledge. The older I get the less I know. This is not only a literal “not knowing”, it is also a metaphorical “not knowing”. My granddaughter has a beginner’s mind so she is open to all possibilities. Since I often feel like I am losing my mind, along with everything that once filled it, I am in many ways re-acquiring a beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind is by definition an empty mind. Maybe this is why grandparents and grandchildren get along so well. We are at opposite ends of life but in our minds we are often on the same page. I teach my granddaughter what life has shown me to be important. She teaches me how to live in the moment. Sometimes we just dance.

Monday, May 14, 2012

On Holiday If Only For A Day

Last Friday I awakened with a sense of happiness because I had the day off from work.  I got up at my usual time, dropped my wife off at her office, and then headed down I-65 South. It was a cool morning that required a light sweater. As I drove along the busy highway I was anxious to leave the city. The morning sun appeared in the eastern sky and I could feel its warmth on my face. My day was nothing unusual from many other days off. I had breakfast with my friend, Father Dennis, we visited the monastery bookstore, and then we spent part of the afternoon talking about life and solving all of the world's problems.  I love to take these small excursions, getting away from normal routines, and just being who I am. Although these are generally relaxing days, I am always tired when I return home. I think it feels relaxing to leave the hectic pace of the city and the workday.  I feel like I am slowing down more and more the further away I get from everything.  When it’s time to return everything is reversed. I leave my relaxed state and everything, especially the traffic, is more intense the closer I get to home. This time around, once I was home the rest of the weekend was busy. My son is home for a week before beginning his summer assignment at a nearby parish.  Chloe spent the night on Saturday so that kept me hopping. Yesterday was Mother’s Day which included a family dinner in a restaurant and a visit to my 82 year old mother. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I spent yesterday morning in the Taj Mahal. Way back in the early 70’s I discovered an album called “Inside”. It was a recording by a jazz musician named Paul Horn. He plays the flute which is one of my favorite instruments. On this particular recording he visited the Taj Mahal and then hid inside when they closed for the day. He had his flute and a recording device. During the night, when he was alone inside the Taj Mahal, he played his flute and recorded it. A couple of days ago I discovered it’s been re-issued on CD after being out of print for many years. It’s a beautiful recording. It’s contemplative, prayerful, and a bit cosmic. If you’re stressed this recording should bring you some peace. While I was listening to it I was reminded how much I love being one with the universe. Everyone’s life has some trials and tribulations. Mine is no exception. However, I have been given many gifts by the universe. One of the gifts is having the awareness to recognize perfect moments. I call them Zen moments. I’m having one right now as I type these thoughts with Paul Horn’s melodious flute playing inside the Taj Mahal and my mind. I recall another time when I got home early one day. I was alone and the house was quiet. I made a cup of hot chocolate and sat in my chair, looking out my window and watching huge flakes of snow fill the air. I was lost in the moment and one with the universe. I think I learned to see and recognize such moments when I lived in the monastery. I was very young and idealistic but also very serious. I would go for walks in the woods and sometimes I would just sit on a log and listen to the wind in the trees. These types of experiences showed me a whole new way to see life. You should look for similar opportunities in your own life to go “inside” and be one with the universe.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Death Of A Young Friend

Yesterday I found out that a young person who worked in my office passed away. I found it personally upsetting because this was a person I knew and someone I considered a friend. I liked her a lot and I know she liked me. In fact, I still have some emails she sent me as responses to some of my "Daily Thoughts". She sometimes thought my words were written just for her. It is always upsetting, and also a time for reflection, when a young person dies. So many of us take our life for granted or we wish our life away. I have even arrogantly thought that I can’t imagine life without me in it. When a young person dies, whether we knew them or not, we should take a moment and appreciate the gift that life is. None of us are promised a long life and none of us know when our lives will end. I’ve heard it said that we should live every day as though it were our last. It’s difficult to really live with that kind of intensity. However, it’s very possible to live every day of our life with gratitude. Each morning, before I come to work, I walk out the front door of my home to the end of my driveway to pick up my morning newspaper. I try to always take a moment, look up at the morning sky, and say “Thank you for another day”. Sometimes in the busyness of life I forget to be consciously grateful but in my heart I’m always grateful. When a young person dies before their prime those of us who are still alive should renew within ourselves our appreciation for all that we have in life. Don’t take life for granted. Each day truly is a gift.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Elimination Of Non-Essentials

Beside the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.

Most of us spend much of our lives performing all kinds of tasks that we believe must be done. I’ve come to the conclusion that much of what we do is either the result of our own personal agendas or the agendas of others. Think of all the things you do. If you died today would someone else assume your tasks? If you stopped doing some of the things you do, would anyone notice? Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist and author of the “Hierarchy of Needs” made a statement once that “80% of all work is BS”. How many of you reading this think that many of your work related tasks have no real value? The above quote, however, is not just about the non-value added tasks that too many of us perform. I think it is also about discerning, not only what is essential or non-essential, but what needs our involvement and what does not. We human beings want to control and manipulate everything to suit our needs. The damage we have inflicted on our planet is proof of this. There are way too many control freaks and micro-managers in life and not enough people of wisdom whose desire is to influence and not to manipulate. Life is not a competitive sport. We don’t have to control or beat everything. Certainly there are essential tasks of daily life that must be completed. However, much of our activity is just self-created busy work or the demands of someone’s else’s agenda. The universe knows what is essential and what is not and I’m pretty sure the universe can manage itself without our ego-centric agendas. Some things we need to do, some things we need to influence, some things we need to let be, and some things we need to simply ignore.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Another Weekend

Don’t you just love that first sip of freshly brewed coffee each morning?

My day lilies started blooming overnight.  My red roses are doing magnificently so within the next few days when I have dozens of yellow flowers on my day lilies the front of my house will look awesome.

I was awakened at 7:30 AM on Saturday by my granddaughter.  She was standing next to my bed in her new karate outfit.  She kicked my butt for the rest of the day.  I had to sit in my chair holding a pillow while she practiced her flying leaps, kicks, and karate chops.  She looked like a natural.  Keep in mind that she hasn’t even started martial arts school.  By the end of the summer I dare any seven year old boys to mess with her.

Deacon Nick was home for the weekend to chill out and help with some masses at a local parish.  I’m still not used to seeing him walk around wearing a Roman collar.  Remember, this was a kid I took to concerts by KISS and Smashing Pumpkins.  At one point while he was lying on the couch watching television I jumped on him, tickled him, and said, “I don’t care if you are a Deacon, you’re still my little boy”!

OK, March madness is over.  Thunder over Louisville is done.  The Derby Festival is complete.  We all have to get back to work now.     

Friday, May 04, 2012

Rare Photo: Me In A Suit

Enjoy this.  You may never see it again.

You're Perfect The Way You Are

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have been told our entire lives that we aren't good enough. Our life has been filled with messages telling us that we are inadequate and imperfect. Most of the messages were unintentional but real never the less. They have been from our parents, our teachers, our spouses, our significant others, our children, our relatives, our friends, and our employers. We don't measure up, we disappoint, or we don't meet someone else's standards. I, too, have heard these messages my entire life. Sadly, I have sometimes spoken them to others. A friend recommended a book to me that I am only now reading. I would have read it sooner but, of course, I am imperfect and lazy so I am just now getting to it. As you can now see we often give ourselves these negative messages too. They don't always come from others. Our biggest critic is often ourselves. Anyway.....the name of the book is "Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe.....There is Nothing Wrong With You" by Cheri Huber. It is sub-titled "Going Beyond Self-Hate, A Compassionate Process for Learning to Accept Yourself Exactly as You Are". The book begins with a list of all the messages all of us received in our early childhoods. I was amazed how many I had heard, how many I said to my own children, and how many I have even said to my granddaughter who I love more than anything in the world. According to psychologists most of these messages are set in concrete before we reach age seven. I know this may all sound terribly negative but it is not meant to be. Consider it an eye opener and a wakeup call to stop listening to the voices around you. Today is the day to start loving yourself. Quit trying to improve yourself. Quit thinking you're inadequate. Quit thinking you're imperfect. You're perfect the way you are.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

This Is It. Nothing Else Happens

Two Zen monks are sitting side by side. The older wiser one says to the younger monk, who has a look of dismay on his face, “This is it.  Nothing else happens".

If you are like me, then you must occasionally wonder to yourself, “Is this it? Does nothing else happen”? Much of my life I have been on a quest to find meaning in my life. More often than not I do not feel successful. Sometimes I wonder if I am searching for something that is simply not there. Too often I feel like life is a treadmill and I’m getting nowhere. Is it possible that this is it and nothing else happens? Is life a revolving door with me doing nothing but going to work, coming home, falling asleep on my couch, waking up so I can go to bed, and then beginning the whole process over again the next morning? This is what my life often feels like. I want to believe I make a difference but do I? Occasionally I feel passionate but more often than not I feel like I have lost my mojo and that I am turning into a grumpy old man. If I was a woman, and my name was Stella, I would need to get my groove back. The constant search for meaning can be exhausting. I wrote these thoughts yesterday afternoon. Then, in a serendipitous moment after I got home last night, a friend sent me an email with an article that she said reminded her of some of my previous thoughts. It was an article written by a Jewish rabbi that talked about three major phases of life. The first and longest is the time we devote to accumulating wealth and material well-being. The second is the accumulation of spiritual things, i.e., gurus, seminars, retreats, and mystical experiences. The third phase is called divestment. You stop shopping for enlightenment and you make peace with not knowing. You make peace with life and accept that life is not a question to be answered or a problem to be solved but a gift to be enjoyed. I think I am now in this third phase. I need to relax and simply be.