Friday, November 22, 2013

Memories Of November 22nd, 1963

50 years ago today, in the early afternoon, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.  Like today it was a Friday.  I was a 12 year old Catholic boy attending St. Margaret Mary Catholic School.  Most of my teachers were nuns.  As soon as the news came over the school PA system, we stopped what we were doing and everyone got out their rosaries.  My teacher, Sister Charles Marion, lead us in prayer.  It was significant for us that President Kennedy was a Catholic.  I remember this day like it was yesterday.  Many people of my generation think this event was the end of our innocence.  It would be easy to think that much of life has gone downhill ever since that day in Dallas.  By the end of the sixties, President Kennedy’s brother, Robert, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. would also be assassinated.  That entire weekend most adults were glued to their televisions.  Since I was a boy I didn’t follow every minute of the news like I would now.  However, I remember seeing the news coverage all weekend on my parent’s black and white television.  It was a very sad time for most Americans.  One thing I remember in particular was the funeral and the lighting of an eternal flame at President Kennedy’s grave.  I can’t remember the year but I eventually went to Arlington National Cemetery and I visited the site where President Kennedy is buried.  It was a very emotional experience for me.  The country was in mourning for months after this tragic event.  In February of 1964 the sadness was lifted for millions of people when four young men from England, who called themselves the Beatles, came to America and appeared on the very popular Ed Sullivan show.  At the time it was one of the most watched events in television history.  I have never been the same since both of these events happened in my life.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Order In The Universe

I believe there is an order to the universe.  Everything in the natural world is on a schedule, it maintains a balance, and when left alone there is a minimum of disorder.  In the natural world it is almost always people that screw things up.  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 began organizing into the worlds, galaxies, and universes that we have now and which we continue to find as we go deeper and deeper into space.  I generally dislike chaos.  When I am thrown into a chaotic situation, the first thing I try to do is create some sense of order.  This is where being a creature of habit and routine serves me well.  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 my perfectionism, and the perfectionism of others, creates positive results.  When there is disorder and chaos, results can be difficult to achieve.  A sense of order increases your chances for positive results.  When you shoot from the hip, or work in a chaotic and disordered way, you frequently miss the target.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Perception Of Time

Each workday morning my alarm goes off at 5:45 AM.  This alarm is a warning shot that I have 15 more minutes to hug the sheets before I actually have to get out of my bed.  I usually thank God for the extra 15 minutes as though I had hours to go.  6:00 AM seems far away while at the same time my 15 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye.  Later in the day, when I am at work, the clocks seem to be frozen.  The last two hours of my day seem like eight hours.  Our perception of time can vary wildly.  I have my own theory of relativity.  I am no Albert Einstein but here’s what I think.  Time is like a loop.  I know some people say time is like a river but I think it is like a loop.  When you are a child or young person, the end of your life seems very far away.  The loop stretches a long distance and you have the perception that you have all the time in the world.  Remember when you were a child on summer vacation and the days seemed eternal?  As you get older and closer to the end of your life the time loop get smaller and your new perception is that the speed of your life has increased dramatically.  The smaller the loop, the faster life seems to pass by.  We all know that in reality life moves at the same pace all the time.  There are sixty seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and twenty four hours in a day.  However, the perception of minutes, hours, and days is vastly different for a child like my granddaughter and a sixty two year old man like me.  If life seems to be moving too fast for you, the best way to slow it down is to be more mindful and more conscious of the moments that make up your day.  Enjoy life as it unfolds and don’t “wish your life away” as my mother used to say to me.  Time is valuable.  Spend it wisely.          

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Simple Life

I have been writing daily thoughts for so long that I sometimes have writer’s block.  There are days I simply do not know what to write about.  My life is not glamorous or exciting.  On a good day it seems simple, on a bad day it feels boring.  At this stage of my life it is a lot less complicated.  My children are adults and my wife and I are empty nesters.  Most of our life consists in waking up, coming to work, and going back home.  Some weekends are Chloe weekends and some weekends are do nothing weekends.  Many of the things I have written about in the past involved various activities in which I was involved.  I have few activities in my life now beyond weekly trips to the grocery store.  The monthly day trips I used to make to make to visit my friend, Father Dennis, are greatly missed.  I think in the past I found much meaning in the activities that seemed to fill my life.  As life slows down and grows more simple, meaning can be harder to find.  This is not all bad.  When life is simpler it is easier to be in the moment because there isn’t much to pull you out of the moment.  The uncomplicated life can be a very peaceful life.  You can really enjoy a cup of coffee, a tasty dessert, some good music, and an interesting book.  There is time to feel the wind, notice the sky, and gaze upon a full moon.  In recent days I have been looking out my window and watching the neighborhood leaves falling from the trees and covering the ground.  I guess life doesn’t have to be complicated or busy to have meaning.  Perhaps a meaningful life is just knowing you are alive and being aware of your surroundings.    

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Holidays Have Arrived

My wife’s true calling is being a Project Manager.  She always has a legal pad by her side with an agenda and a never ending things to do list.  If I want any peace in my life I must do what she asks of me with a minimum of complaining.  To her credit not much would get accomplished in our life without her.  We are on vacation next week.  It will be a stay at home vacation.  We decided not to make our annual trip to Gatlinburg since we were just there in the summer for our son’s wedding.  Neither my wife nor me wants to spend our Thanksgiving vacation doing chores.  Because of this we moved our holiday schedule a week ahead.  Last weekend we had the annual “Bringing in the Bins” from the outdoor shed.  This weekend we began putting up the tree and setting out other decorations.  In all honesty my wife did 99% of the work.  I was just a beast of burden.  Chloe was around but she seems to have inherited my resistance to manual labor.  Much to my wife’s credit, she decided this was the year to simplify our usual Christmas excess.  We are passing on some of the shopping chores to the younger generation and much of our shopping is being done online.  As of result of these changes most of our shopping chores are completed although the wrapping of the gifts has not yet been completed.  As my wife told our children, “We just can’t keep up the pace of previous years”.  This is more about the physical labor involved than about money.  I am not the man I used to be.  This year we outsourced the “Bringing in the Bins” to our new step-grandson.  It was the best $20 we ever spent.  I am in some disbelief that Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is little more than a month away.  This time of year always seems to be in hyper-drive as the holidays draw nearer.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Monkey Mind

A few days ago I received a kind email from a total stranger who lives in New York and who somehow found my blog and daily thoughts.  His note made me smile because he said I was “the Jerry Seinfeld of spirituality and Zen”.  This made me smile because I am a huge Seinfeld fan.  He asked me for some advice about controlling his thoughts and over active mind.  The experience of receiving this email reminded of a daily thought I once wrote where I referred to my thoughts as “seeds tossed into the wind.  You never know where they will land or who they will touch”.  The following is my response to his inquiry.
You really can’t stop your thoughts.  Many of us, including me, have what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”.  They describe our minds as a tree full of chattering monkeys jumping from limb to limb.  All is not lost, however, as there are ways to deal with this.  The practice of mindfulness and paying attention to one’s breath works very well.  Zen is basically being where you are and doing what you are doing.  Mindfulness helps us to do this.  The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, is a master of mindfulness and has written several good books on the subject.  His approach is to focus on your breath.  Admittedly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be conscious of every breath.  However, when you feel yourself going in ten different directions or overwhelmed with your own thoughts, simply stop and focus on your breath.  Breathe in through your nose into your diaphragm and slowly exhale from your mouth.  Thich Nhat Hanh also recommends a mantra like “Breathing in, I am awake.  Breathing out, I am present”.  I find this works very well.  It also helps me if I am feeling anxious.  
Don’t be discouraged.  You are not alone in your struggles.  I don’t know your age.  All the things you think about and worry about might just be part of the stage of life you are currently experiencing.  When I was younger I had more worries and challenges than I do now that I am approaching senior citizen status.  As I tell my wife, who worries constantly, most of the things you worry about will probably never happen.  Life has a way of taking care of itself and us.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's Up With My Book?

Over the years many people have encouraged me to publish a book.  This is in the works.  It is a tedious and occasionally frustrating process because I never wrote anything with the intention of publishing a book some day.  In many ways the book is already written.  However, what I have is almost ten years of daily thoughts about everything from my granddaughter to Zen, from rock and roll to Buddhism, not to mention stories about my everyday life.  I have two generous friends who have been diligently reading through everything I have written in order to choose what they consider the “A List”.  To their credit they have occasionally tolerated my impatience with the process.  To their additional credit they are doing this voluntarily, without pay, because they believe in me.  At this point we have what they consider the best stuff I have written.  The current challenge is to organize it into chapters or themes.  My assignment is to go through their selections and assign titles for each piece.  I am taking the day off tomorrow to work on this.  Since I am also on vacation during Thanksgiving week, I hope to finish my assignment by the end of the month.  After that we can begin the final organization of the writings and do the grammatical corrections and editing required.  When we have a final, complete, and finished manuscript we can then work on how the book will look in its final form.  If this book is successful all the profits I make are going into the Chloe College Fund.  For those of you who have been encouraging me and waiting patiently, hang in there.  This is more work than most people realize, and no one is working on it full time.  However, it is going to happen eventually.  I hope it is worth the wait for those who are eager to see it.     

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Voice Within

Sometimes I wonder if all the spiritual books I’ve completed, all the meditation I have done, and all the prayers I have said have made any difference whatsoever in my life or in anyone else's.  I also wonder this about all the things I have written.  Why do I put myself out there with attempts to find meaning in life?  If I am honest I would have to say that most of my life I have wrestled with angels and fought with God.  Some days I think it would be easier if I did none of these things.  I wonder why some people go to the gym every day when the reality is that even healthy people eventually die.  Why do people go to college and rack up massive debt in student loans only to often end up in unsatisfying, low paying jobs?  I think we all do these things because there is something within us that drives us and makes us long for some kind of fullness and completion.  We feel incomplete so we spend our lives trying to fill our emptiness.  I think this is human nature.  Despite my own lack of spiritual consolations, I think our emptiness, our hunger, and our desire for some kind of fullness is really a desire for God, whatever and whoever God is for individuals.  We do many things in our lives, often without any sense of instant gratification, because we are all trying to follow whatever inner voice we hear.  Something within us, something mysterious, drives us to long for and seek the other shore across the ocean of our lives.  Sometimes I wish my inner voice would shut up.  However, I also hope I continue to hear my inner voice even if it is barely a whisper.       

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Long Employment

Today I have been with my employer, Humana, for 28 years.  In many ways it seems like it was just yesterday when I starting working here.  In other ways it has been a long journey.  I have learned much, endured much, survived much, and grown much.  Most of my time has been in leadership roles.  I have supervised a variety of processes and hundreds, maybe millions, of people.  I have learned what I do well and what is best left to others.  More often than not being here has brought out the best in me.  I have learned I have some real strengths as well as some real weaknesses.  I have learned I am a natural leader that many people will follow even though I have little desire to be in charge of anything.  I have learned I am an off the chart introvert who hates to be in the spotlight and that my favorite role model is the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.  I have learned that my greatest skill is dealing with people.  Along the way I have also discovered a gift for writing.  I don’t think I have changed Humana much although I have tried to change minds and hearts by raising people’s consciousness.  When I leave here in a few years I doubt if anyone remembers any of the work I did.  I hope, however, that people remember how I treated them.  I hope I have touched lives in a positive way.  I hope I have inspired people to do good and to always take the high road in their dealings with others.  If I have a legacy it is probably in all the things I have written and shared over the years.  I often cannot live up to my own expectations but the real me is best found in my written thoughts.  Twenty eight years is a long time to be anywhere but I am happy I have made it this long.  Humana has been good to me and I think I have also been good to Humana.  

Friday, November 08, 2013

Remembering Jimi Hendrix

Last night on PBS I watched an American Master’s documentary on the life of Jimi Hendrix.  He is one of my favorite musicians and, in my opinion, the greatest guitar player who ever lived.  In 1968, when I was 17 years , my best friend and I, along with our teenage girlfriends, cut school and drove to the Cincinnati Gardens in my 1962 VW Beetle, to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  The tickets were $5.00.  I still have my ticket stub.  Our parents weren’t too happy but we became legendary in our high school.   Two years later we saw Jimi Hendrix again at the largest concert event I have ever attended.  It was called the Atlanta Pop Festival and there were approximately 500,000 people in attendance.  Hendrix played in the middle of the night on the 4th of July.  He played his famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner while fireworks went off in the sky and in my head.  It was a night burned into my memory.  More than forty years later I still listen to Jimi Hendrix music on a regular basis.  In my world, music has brought me more joy and happiness than just about anything.  Music brings people together.  If you are at a musical event where everyone is really in tune with the musicians and the music, it is a powerful experience.  Many music fanatics like me often joke about concert experiences where they “saw God”.  I understand this feeling.  Music can be a very spiritual experience.  I dearly love music and I could not live without it.  It fills my days and all the empty places in my life.     

Thursday, November 07, 2013

You Get What You Give

I know I have a personality that has a strong need to feel peaceful and to live in a harmonious environment.  I also know this is not always possible.  On a good day life is challenging and some days life just sucks.  However, I can’t imagine anyone not having a preference for a happy life with a minimum of suffering and stress.  Believing this, I try my best to optimize other people’s happiness and to do what I can to minimize suffering and stress for them.  Obviously I can’t control everything in life but I do the best I can whenever I can.  It is difficult for me to understand why everyone doesn’t do this.  Some people seem to have no concern whatsoever for the welfare of others.  This blows my mind.  I have shared many times my basic values of being kind and compassionate to others.  How different life would be if everyone did this.  I think a big problem with people who don’t practice kindness and compassion is their ego-centric personalities.  People who don’t practice kindness and compassion are almost always more concerned with their own personal agendas and needs.  We all have egos but not everyone lets ego run their life.  The less I think about myself the happier I am.  The more I think about myself the unhappier I am.  Whatever kindness and compassion that grace has allowed me to show to others has come back to me a thousand times.  I believe in Karma.  What goes around comes around.  Put goodness into the world and it will come back to you.  Obsession with one’s own ego based needs, to the detriment of others, will also come back to you.  Sooner or later you will receive what you give.    

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Being Our Best

From my archive....
"When people are at their very best, that's who they really are."
-Rev. 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 one 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, and probably 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 preaches the message of kindness and compassion.  We all need it sometimes and we should practice it all of the time.         

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Finding Balance In Life

When you are washing the dishes, just wash the dishes.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Our minds are very fragmented.  We are usually multi-tasking and going in ten different directions at the same time.  While doing this we often worry about real and imaginary fears.  We speculate about everything that can go wrong in our life.  Our fears play games with us.  Wouldn’t it be nice if when we are washing the dishes all we are doing is washing the dishes?  Being where we are and doing what we are doing is Zen.  It is also mindfulness.  Being present to the moment can calm our fears and bring us peace.  In the great demands of life sometimes we just need to breathe.  Fragmentation and dissipation weakens us and depletes our strength.  A focused mind, in the moment, is a strong mind.  When you feel yourself spinning out of control, and you think you are losing it, stop.  Take a deep breath.  Be in the moment and chill out.  I know life is not simple.  The demands of modern culture, and the workplace, are great.  It takes effort, training, and persistence to live in the moment.  However, we can all do it if we try.  A person who learns to breathe and who learns to be in the moment is a centered person.  A centered person has found balance in their life.  A person who is balanced is not easily knocked over by the storms of life

Monday, November 04, 2013

Remembering My Father In Law

There was a beautiful sunrise this morning as I stood at the gas pump freezing my behind off.  It was a great way to start my day.  I thought this weekend was a perfect autumn weekend, perhaps the best of the season so far.  The days were cool and the evenings cold. There was lots of sunshine, blue skies, and the leaf color was at its peak.  I did a lot of driving around this weekend and everywhere I drove was beautiful.
Today is the 10th anniversary of my father-in-law's death.  He was the first of the parents to go.  We did not know it at the time of his death but Chloe was on her way and she arrived in the summer of 2004.  I was with my father-in-law when he died and I gave the eulogy at his funeral.  We could not have been more different.  He was a man of his times, a conservative Republican, and he lived and worked in a “Mad Men” kind of world.  He was probably not very impressed when his oldest daughter brought me home for dinner.  Despite our differences we grew to have a mutual respect for one another.  He knew I was a bleeding heart liberal.  We frequently discussed politics and sometimes we did this after too many glasses of wine.  Even though we frequently disagreed, he always accepted me as I am, and I know he believed I had character.  I was blessed with a wonderful father in law and mother in law.  They were like parents to me and they treated me like a son.  They taught me everything I know about sophistication.  My father-in-law once looked at me after an expensive family meal and said, “I should never have told you about wine and shrimp”!  He and my mother in law were wonderful people and I still miss them very much.           

Friday, November 01, 2013

Some Chloe Time

I slept through whatever windstorm passed through my neighborhood last night.  When I went outside this morning to retrieve my newspaper my garbage can was turned over and in my neighbor’s yard.  Most of my Halloween decorations were blown off my front porch.  On  a sadder note I did not have one single zombie or princess ring my doorbell. 
My granddaughter has not been to my house for two weeks.  I miss her.  The past two weekends my wife and I were able to sleep in until we wanted to get out of bed and we were able to go to the movies and see “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips”.  Tomorrow will be different.  I expect Chloe to run up my stairs and jump in my bed at the crack of dawn after her Dad drops her off on his way to work.  She will wake me up and drag me out of bed so I can go downstairs, cook some bacon, make some cinnamon toast, and pour her a big glass of chocolate milk.  Unfortunately I also will have a plumber visiting my house because my washing machine is backing up when it drains.  In the afternoon it will be movie time at the Mall.  This week I will not be in space or out on the ocean.  I will be trying to save turkeys from becoming someone’s Thanksgiving meal.  The movie is called “Free Birds”.  I don’t know if the Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Free Bird” will be part of the soundtrack.  I do know that popcorn, candy, and soda’s will be part of the movie.  I think we are at the beginning of the end for such childhood moments.  Chloe is growing up way too fast.  Instead of sitting on the floor with me and a pile of stuffed animals, she now prefers video games.  Either way, though, she loves her Paw Paw and her Paw Paw loves her.