Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Long Night

Last night was a weird night. When I went to bed everything seemed normal. I slept for a few hours before nature’s call awakened me. I got out of my warm bed and walked to the bathroom. When I got back to my bed I was wide awake. I glanced at my clock and it was about 3:30 AM. I thought about my friends in the monastery who were up and assembled in their church reciting their nightly Psalms in a service called Vigils. Back in the day I was right there with them. I started thinking about other vigils in my life like midnight feedings and diaper changes with my children that I also relived with my granddaughter. I thought about death vigils with dying parents. I finally fell asleep and had some really bizarre dreams involving people who would never be a room together in real life. These dreams were not nightmares but still somewhat disturbing. I was happy when my alarm finally went off. There was an old police drama on television many years ago that began every episode with “There are a thousand stories in the naked city and this is one of them”. Last night seemed like one of those stories and today I feel like I am in a fog. Let’s hope for a quiet and peaceful day.


As I walked out of a restaurant last night an elderly man sitting by the door looked at me with a kind smile and said, “My your life be filled with the blessings of Jesus Christ”. It was very heartfelt and spoken with great kindness. I thanked him and said that I wished the same for him. I’m not sure if I looked like a man who needed a blessing. It was the end of a stressful day at work and I was feeling a little depleted. There have been other occasions when I have had similar encounters. I must admit that they always give me pause to reflect. Was this really the blessing of a kind old man or was he an angel or even Jesus himself? Was this blessing a wakeup call for me? That’s very likely because I have frequently felt down and somewhat aimless lately. Was this blessing a reminder to me to be more mindful of the many blessings in my life that I sometimes take for granted? Was this blessing a reminder to get over myself and be more joyful? When was the last time I blessed anyone? When was the last time I spoke such words to a stranger or even someone close to me? I saw on the news a few nights ago that we are becoming an increasingly depressed country. One in five people are taking some kind of anti-depressant. That’s a little scary. I know there is a big difference between clinical depression and normal feelings of sadness. Too many of us, however, get to focused on our sadness and what is lacking in our life. It blinds us to the many blessings that most of us have. Today I bless all of you and wish you joy. I challenge you to pay this forward to everyone in your life and to those you encounter. You don’t necessarily have to shout it but spread joy around anyway you can.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Order In The Universe

I believe there is an order to the universe.  Everything in the natural world is on schedule, it maintains a balance, and when left alone, minimizes chaos.  In the natural world, the fly in the ointment is mankind.  Most scientists would agree the universe as we know it began in the chaos of the “Big Bang”.  Although born in chaos, the results of the Big Bang quickly began organizing themselves into the worlds, galaxies, and universes that we have now.  I generally dislike chaos.  When I am flung into a chaotic situation, the first thing I try to do is create order.  I believe that when there is order, balance, logic, and a certain kind of patience that allows things to flow naturally, everything is better.  The more you mess with order, the more likely you are to create chaos.  I realize that my point of view has a lot to do with my own personality.  One trait of my personality is that I am a perfectionist.  Perfectionists love order.  Disorder and chaos makes people like me crazy.  When perfectionism is taken to extreme it is called anal retention and occasionally I suffer from that trait as well.  More often than not, however, my perfectionism, and the perfectionism of others, creates positive results.  When there is disorder and chaos, results can be difficult to achieve.  In my experience, when you shoot from the hip, or work in a chaotic and disordered way, you frequently miss the target.         

Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Emotions

All of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed, the Christmas trees are up, the presents are bought if not wrapped, the front of the house is decorated, the lights are on the bushes, and in the lobby of my building the Corporate Christmas tree stands tall. Tis the season to be jolly, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. The truth is that many people find the holidays a difficult and challenging time. While many people are “making merry”, others are sad or depressed. For many people the holidays stir up a lot of emotions and painful memories. Although I have never had a bad Christmas and I have a thousand reasons why I should be happy, I often feel depressed at this time of year. I am already looking forward to the nothingness of January although I generally like the holiday season. There is something in the air that doesn’t seem to be around the rest of the year. Little kids smile at me because they think I am Santa Claus. I usually get everything I want and some things I didn’t even know I wanted. I am very blessed in many ways. In spite of this, I often feel down in the dumps. I know I am not alone. Whatever your mindset, keep in mind that the Christmas season is a different experience for different people. Be sensitive to the feelings of others. I am a big fan of joy and I hope we all feel lots of joy over the coming weeks. If you don’t, however, you are not alone.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Like many people I am in amazement that it is already this time of year. I’ve always thought that once Halloween gets here the rest of the year is on fast forward. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. This is mainly because it is a simple holiday for most. The exception to this is the cooks. In my family the culinary responsibility has been assumed by my sister in law, Judy. Although she is a wonderful cook, for me Thanksgiving has never been about the food. I’m really not a great lover of turkey. I like Thanksgiving because it is a time when I can truly think about how blessed I am. The parts of our lives that seem imperfect or lacking can loom large in our minds. Too often we seem fixated by life’s struggles to the point that we don’t always notice life’s blessings. Having a national day of remembrance can be a wakeup call to count your blessings. The least among us has something for which to be thankful. Yesterday I shared some simple things for which I am grateful. There are also many large things that could be added to the list, things like family, friends, employment, health, and basic security. I am also thankful for everyone who reads these thoughts wherever in the world you are. May all of you be blessed this holiday and may your cups be overflowing!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Simple Things

“I love 6:00 AM! I can’t wait to get out of bed”!

No one ever said this...

My wife bought us new sheets and an electric blanket for our bed. I must admit that I threw a little tantrum because she decided that we needed to put them on the bed at 11:00 PM at night. I was very tired and just wanted to go to bed with our old sheets and blanket. However, the next morning I realized that I’d had a great night of sleep. The new sheets and blanket reminded me of how much it’s the simple things in life that give us the most happiness. Although I tend to think too much I am basically a simple creature who is very content with simple things and a few creature comforts. It doesn’t take much to make me happy or to feel content. Here’s a few things I appreciate. I like a warm bed, a good night of sleep, my first cup of coffee in the morning, looking at the stars as I walk to the end of my driveway to retrieve my morning paper, my chair at home where I take wonderful naps, my music and book collection, my granddaughter’s smile, the laughter of co-workers, a hug from a friend, trips to the monastery, going out to lunch with my friends, a good day at work, a safe commute, crossing the threshold of my home at the end of a work day, a hot shower, a good meal, staring out the window, jamming to my favorite music and dancing like no one is watching, any quiet moment throughout my day, helping anyone I can with whatever is troubling them, writing and sharing my thoughts and having people tell me I wrote exactly what they needed to read that day. I could go on and on. What are the best things in your life?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Loving Kindness

This morning I was reading some thoughts about something called loving kindness. Loving kindness is something that we need to apply not only to ourselves but to everyone around us. Let’s be honest. We are all human beings and we all want the same basic things. We want to be loved and to feel loved. We want to be happy with our circumstances. We want to feel safe and secure. We want lives relatively free of worry and stress. We want to avoid suffering. If there is anyone among you who doesn’t want these things, I would love to hear from you with any explanation of why not. In order to have these things in our life, we need to practice loving kindness to ourselves and those around us. Beginning with the self, we need to love ourselves. I do not mean in a narcissistic way. Even if you are imperfect and flawed, and we all are, then you can love the person you are trying to be. Beyond this, if you are honest with yourself about your own shortcomings and struggles, you can practice loving kindness to others by being tolerant and patient with their shortcomings and struggles. We are as much one in our struggles as we are in our potential. Life will always be challenging and some days are more difficult than other days. None of us can really feel loved, happy, safe, secure, and stress free unless those around us feel the same. No man or woman is an island. We are all in this life together and we all want and need some loving kindness. If you are not practicing this already, today is a good day to start.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


“I’ve come to the realization that almost nothing is any of my business”
-Br. Cassian, Monk of Gethsemani

Br. Cassian was a senior monk in the monastery where I lived as a young man. Much of his time there was spent as the Porter. The Porter is basically the guy that greets visitors and people making a retreat when they arrive at the monastery. I can’t remember the exact words from the Rule of St. Benedict but he writes that the Porter should be a senior monk who is discreet and not prone to gossip. Living in the monastery and working in a large office is not all that different. Both are full of people of varying personality types and needs. Monasteries and offices are full of gossip, half-truths, and pure speculation. As human beings we are all prone to be seduced by gossip. I have always tried to have the attitude that I shouldn’t believe anything I hear and only half of what I see. I think Br. Cassian hit the nail on the head. What if we all had his attitude that almost nothing is any of our business? What if we all minded our own business? What if we all refrained from meddling in the lives of others, whether they are our co-workers or family members? There are some antidotes to gossip. They are called truth and transparency. If you want people to stop gossiping put the truth out there and let everything be as open and transparent as possible. If there is going to be gossip, and there always will be as long as there are people, then let the gossip be based on the truth.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bringing In The Tubs

This past weekend was the annual “Bringing in the Tubs” weekend. With the assistance of my granddaughter I empties the shed of all our Christmas decorations and put the tubs on my back porch. Chloe assisted me by keeping count of how many tubs I carried in. I also hired a full Gospel choir to stand in my backyard and sing “Bringing in the Tubs! Bringing in the Tubs”! It wasn’t all bad. I got some good exercise and this weekend was as beautiful as you could ever want. It also allowed me to be with my granddaughter who I love more than anything in world. At least one friend questioned me about decorating before Thanksgiving. Here’s the simple answer. Thanksgiving is early this year. The more complex answer is that my wife told me we were doing it this weekend. Our tree is not up yet but my house is starting to look a little like Disneyworld. We want to get everything down before next week because we’re on vacation and we don’t want to do any work while we are off. If you knew my wife you would know she is the female version of Clark Griswold. Even though I look a lot like Santa Claus, if you knew me well you might think I am really more like Ebenezer Scrooge before the ghosts visited him on Christmas Eve night. However, I learned early in my marriage that I cannot fight the Christmas machine that is my spouse. It is a lot easier to simply comply. Even if I openly fought it, I know I would lose.

Friday, November 09, 2012

My Employment

This coming Sunday, November 11th, I will be with Humana for 27 years. I was 34 years old when I started here and I am now 61 years old. Some of the people I work with now were not born when I began working here in 1985. It has been a long road. I have spent nearly half my life working here. I was fortunate to get a job here and I am grateful to still be employed here. I have endured, survived, adapted, and outlasted many changes of leadership and focus. Some things feel like they have not changed at all but in other ways everything is different. For example, I have spent all 27 years in the Service Center environment where we basically process claims. I have been in and out of the Medicare world and in a few short years I will on Medicare. When I started working here the internet and all things Microsoft did not exist. There was no Word, Excel, or Access. It was very much a paper environment. Most of the time I have been here has been spent in leadership positions. At one time or another I have managed many different areas and probably hundreds of people. Some of them have become very successful in other parts of the company and many of them have remained friends. I like what I do because it allows me to be a mentor and a teacher as well as a life coach. In addition, I consider much of what I do to be ministry. My son is the one who will soon be a priest but I have also been able to minister to many people in many ways as well. My goal and my plan is to work here until I retire, whenever that is. Humana has been very good to me but I also believe I have been very good for Humana.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Take Care Of Yourself

Life is hard. I am reminded of this every time my alarm clock goes off in the morning, every day I have to work, all the times I have to do stuff I don't want to do, every time I don't feel good, every time I am disappointed, and on many other occasions in my life. It's a challenge to go through life and not be discouraged. Life often feels like a lot of work. This why it is so important to do whatever it takes to have some perspective on it all. You cannot allow yourself to be overwhelmed with the demands of life. You must find ways to deal with the demands of life by filling in all the empty spaces with people, things, and activities that give you some peace, joy, happiness, and contentment. Basically you have to take care of your own needs. Most of us spend a great deal of our lives taking care of the needs of others. However, it is not selfish to also take care of yourself.

Slow Down

I am tired this morning because I stayed up too late watching the election returns. After parking my car this morning I was walking down the stairs feeling like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. I was moving a little slow. Suddenly I could hear what sounded like a galloping horse. It was another person coming down the stairs behind me. I moved over so I wasn’t run over. I know I am a slow person but some people walk like they are trying to get out of a burning building. What’s the hurry? I believe it was Gandhi who said, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed”. I have said many times that in a world of pressure cookers, I am a crock pot. I prefer life in the slow lane. I don’t usually speed when I am driving. It’s not because I am an old man and drive like one. It’s because I am usually enjoying the drive itself. I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere because I am already somewhere. The journey is the destination. I know some things in life demand a sense of urgency and there are situations that require a speedy response but not everything. As Simon and Garfunkel once sang, “Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the moment last”.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Being Your Best Self

"When people are at their very best, that's who they really are."
-Alfred Horrigan

Yesterday morning I was not at my best. It usually takes me a few days to adjust to the time change. When I arrived at work I suddenly felt like I was running on fumes. It was a hectic morning and I was a little grumpy. I wasn’t demonstrating my usual patience and everything was getting on my nerves. People who are around me most days know I don’t normally act like this. Later in the day I realized that a big reason I felt so depleted was that I spent much of my weekend with my granddaughter. We went to a movie but that was the easy part. We also played on the floor and she rode on my shoulders like Queen Cleopatra riding her barge down the Nile river. Although these physical activities can be tough for a man in his sixties, a deeper truth is that one of the ways I am at my very best is when I am in my Paw Paw role. When I am tired, feeling overwhelmed, and it seems like I am being assaulted from every direction, I am not always at my best. When I feel this way the best thing for me to do is step back, breathe, and regain my center. I don’t like to feel this way. I don’t enjoy being grumpy. However, much to the amazement of some people who think I walk on water, I am a human being like the rest of you. I try to be the best version of who I am but some days it just isn’t happening. I assume everyone else is trying too so when they are not at their best I try to cut them some slack. I believe we are all doing the best we can but we’re not successful 100% of the time. This is why the Dalai Lama continuously preaching the message of kindness and compassion. We all need it sometimes and we should practice it all of the time.

Monday, November 05, 2012


Life is a matter of perspective. There was a young Zen monk walking along a riverbank looking for a place to cross over to the other side. He finally saw an old monk on the other of the river so he yelled “How do I get to the other side of the river”? The old monk thought for a moment and then yelled back, “You are on the other side of the river”! Having a sense of perspective can help us to understand life a little better. We are all searching for happiness but happiness is often like the glasses that are sitting upon our nose. Happiness is not “out there”. Happiness is right in front of us. Pay attention and you will find it.

Tomorrow is election day. Two very different candidates with very different agendas. Each has very passionate followers who find some hope in two very different messages. Most of us believe one or the other is the correct message and the one that we believe in. Again…it’s a matter of perspective. Whatever message touches you, the main thing is to vote!

The “Boss” was in town on Saturday night. Yes, Bruce Springsteen played at the Yum Center this weekend. I’m told he played a 3 ½ hour show. I like the “Boss” but I must be honest and admit that I no longer have the stamina for such an event. At this point in my life my perspective found more happiness going the movies with my granddaughter this weekend to see “Frankenweenie” because we both love Tim Burton films.

Friday, November 02, 2012

He Who Looks Inside, Awakens...

Here's a thought from the Tao that I really like...

The mind that turns ever outward will have no end to craving. Only the mind turned inward will find a still point of peace.

Most, if not all, that drives us, whether is ambition, greed, desire for food or other comforts, materialism, or whatever, is nothing more than a desire and need to fill some type of emptiness within ourselves. We all suffer from this to some extent. Most of us are not alcoholics or drug addicts but we still have addictions. I think I have an addiction to buying CD's. I have approximately 2,500 CD's and you would think that would last me for the rest of my life. However, at this moment I am waiting for a few more to be delivered to my mailbox. Enjoying music is a legitimate pleasure but I know I am also obsessed with collecting CD's and it is a veiled attempt to fill some type of emptiness in my life. I have also read that our different personalities are also created by a deep need that aches to be fulfilled. It may be the need to be perfect, the need to be successful, or the need to be seen as "special". The Tao is telling us that everything we need is within us. Minds that are always turned outward, away from our center, will be on a ceaseless journey that will not satisfy our cravings or needs and we will never find the inner peace that most of us want. The famous psychologist, Carl Jung, said "He who looks outside, dreams. He who looks inside, awakens". Until you look inside and awaken to the greatness of who you are, you will never find an end to craving and you will never have inner peace.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

All Saints Day...The Morning After.

Most Christians, especially Catholics, celebrate All Saints Day today. It is a day to remember all the people believed to be in Heaven. All of the well-known saints have their own special day but today is mostly a remembrance of all the countless unknown people who quietly lived good lives and who have gone before us. Growing up as a good Catholic boy I also remember this day as a day off from school. In those days Catholic schools had their own schedule that differed from the public schools. Being the day after Halloween all the Catholic kids in my neighborhood would get up and survey the neighborhood to see whose pumpkins got smashed and what neighbors had toilet paper in their trees. My childhood was a “Leave It To Beaver” environment. Everyone in my neighborhood knew everyone else. All the children had a Mom and a Dad in their house. I didn’t know what divorce was. No one’s mother worked outside the home. I can only remember one woman who had a job and it was probably as a secretary in a “Mad Men” environment. This woman had one child and my mother took care of the child while she worked. Keep in mind that my mother had six of her own children. I was the oldest. On Halloween night there seemed to be hundreds of children going door to door. Some children played tricks but they were mostly harmless. When we all got home we would pour all our candy on the floor to see what we got. The days of my childhood seem difficult to imagine. Life today is so different. My children grew up in a different world than me and the world of my granddaughter is even more different. I guess it’s all relative. Chloe would probably be bored with my childhood. I am happy to have grown up at the time and in the environment that I did.