Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

​The Christmas Express will be picking up speed in the next twenty four hours so hang on!  Christmas is my wife’s annual coming out party. No one does Christmas like her. I’ve come to realize that my wife shows her love for her family by always trying to give everyone all they want and need. My wife is the best gift giver I have ever known. There has never been a Christmas morning when I wasn’t surprised by something. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I will be spending the day cooking and doing other last minute chores before heading to my 85 year old mother's house to be with my siblings and extended family.  In the past I would also be visiting people on Christmas Day but now I get to stay home and my children and granddaughter come to my house for the day.  This is the benefit of being Paw Paw and Meemo.  We will start with a big breakfast and follow that with our family gift exchange. The rest of the day will be spent chilling out. I am grateful for my family, my friends, and all the many blessings in my life. I hope that all of you feel the same.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Each Bag Represents A Child

The highlight of last week for me was leaving work on Friday and spending my afternoon volunteering at the Salvation Army Angel Tree Distribution Center.  This is where are the toys and clothes end up from all the angels that are distributed in local stores.  It was a chaotic scene when we arrived and I briefly wondered what I had gotten myself into.  We had a brief orientation and then were assigned jobs.  I was fortunate to get the job of actually dealing with the people who showed up to collect toys and clothes for their children and grandchildren.  As the Salvation Army staff told us, “Each bag represented a child”.  I thought about that and also how blessed my own family is at this time of year.  This work was enjoyable to me and had deep meaning.  I felt like I was doing a good thing and it was something that had purpose.  According to the Salvation Army staff there were approximately 10,500 bags that were being distributed.  Even though my son ended up as the priest, I, too, have always felt like a minister.  The best part of my daily work is ministry to me and spending my Friday afternoon helping the poor and disadvantaged was deeply meaningful.  As I handed out the bags I imagined myself doing more things like this when I retire and I have lots more available time on my hands. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Adapting To Change

Someone once sent me a cartoon a grandfather talking with his grandchildren.  One of the boys says “Grandpa, tell us about the days when you had to buy the entire album even if you only wanted one song”.  As someone who grew up in the sixties I remember albums well.  Amazingly they are making a strong comeback as audiophiles debate the differences between analog and digital recordings.  In addition to giving me a laugh, the cartoon reminded me of all the changes I have lived through in my life.  Of course, these changes involved much more than technological advances.  There is a famous book by H.G. Wells called “The Time Machine”.  It has also been made into several movie versions.  In one scene the main character is sitting in the time machine advancing through time.  He and the time machine are not moving at all.  While he is sitting still time is changing all around him.  Sometimes this is how I feel in my life.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant when I say that I am the center of my universe.  My experience of life is based on who I am, what happens to me, who comes and goes, and what is going on around me.  Time is always moving on while I sit in my own time machine.  Sometimes I like the changes, sometimes I hate them, and occasionally they are scary.  Time and change doesn’t care.  Like most of you I have tried to adjust and adapt to all the changes in my life.  Sometimes I am resistance to change when it begins only to love it later when I have accepted it.  I used to have over a thousand albums, now I have thousands of CD’s and an iPod full of downloads.  Sometimes I take advantage of modern change and I only buy one song instead of the whole album.     

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Human Dynamo

After a busy day yesterday, a day filled with a mixture of sadness and joy, I left work, picked up my wife at her office, and drove to my granddaughter’s bus stop to pick her up when she got off the school bus.  I could see her smiling face from a mile away.  When she got into my car it was like receiving a giant B-12 shot.  She is so full of life.  Yesterday was a school trip to Gatti Land so we heard tales of all her adventures while she was there.  I love talking with Chloe about the joys, trials, and tribulations of being a ten year old girl.  Some of you who read these thoughts have been reading about my granddaughter almost since the day she was born.  She’s only ten years old and still clinging to some of the innocence of childhood but she is also growing up quickly.  She has a sophistication and intelligence that often blows my mind.  She told my wife last night that if it wasn’t too late, she would like an iPhone for Christmas instead of a Samsung.  I am not sure what she is really getting but I expect to be receiving text messages from her soon.  She already has more computer skills than I do.  After the combination of yesterday’s meetings, a team lunch, and a few hours with a ball of fire called Chloe, I had to have a nap last night.  I get a couple of days to rest up before Chloe and I, along with Granny, go to Middle Earth on Saturday to fight some Orcs, kill a dragon, and recover the lost Dwarf homeland. 
The above is one of my favorite pictures of my granddaughter and me when she was still a little girl.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Sometimes when life is going along in its usual fashion a sudden and unexpected sadness is thrust upon us.  It can stop us in our tracks and life seems to come to a screeching halt.  Many people I know in my office are feeling such a sadness today.  We all seek joy in our lives but pain is often what makes us most human.  When this pain is shared with others, our common humanity shines forth.  Our sadness can seem magnified when it intrudes into a time when we are preparing for the holidays.  Sometimes we take joy and happiness for granted.  Sadness, however, especially when it is unexpected, gives us pause and most people reevaluate their life and priorities as a result.  Sadness is a wakeup call.  We are not made to be sad.  We are made to be happy.  Most of us would not appreciate our happiness if it wasn’t balanced with some sadness.  The pain that many people are feeling today is part of life.  We must embrace it and allow ourselves to feel it.       

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Look Into Your Own Heart

It sometimes seems there is always someone in our lives who tries to make us feel inadequate.  It can be a boss, a parent, a spouse, our children, our friends, or the world in general.  Just because I don’t meet another person’s every need does not make me inadequate.  I am at a point in my life where I am no longer apologizing for who I am.  If who I am is not your cup of tea, try another blend.  I am not saying that everyone has to like everything about me.  I know I am not everyone’s cup of tea.  I also know that some people think I am great just the way I am.  At my age I am probably not going to change much although I believe I am consistently trying to be the best version of who I am that I can be.  If I am not the perfect boss, employee, spouse, father, son, brother, co-worker, or wonder worker, that’s just the way it is.  In my mind I am more than all of these things anyway.  In fact, none of these things is who I am, they are merely what I am.  None of these things define me.  My being is more than what I am or what I do.  Don’t live your life based on what other people think.  Most of them won’t even be part of your life over the long haul.  Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not saying that we can all act anyway we want and other people just have to deal with us.  I am not encouraging anyone to be a jerk.  What I am saying is don’t let other people determine who you are.  Everyone else’s opinion is just a perception.  Look into your own heart and follow your own bliss.  Be the best person you know how to be and be grateful for who you are.  You will please some people and annoy others.  Some will love you and some will misunderstand you.  If you listen to your own inner voice your will know the path you should walk and along the way you will meet all kinds of people.  Some you will love and some you will simply tolerate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Slow Down, Be In The Moment, Lower Your Expectations

After Brown Thursday, Black Friday, Buy Local Saturday, and Cyber Monday, the holiday season continues to pick up speed for the next week and a half.  Let me come out of the closet.  I am no Clark Griswold but I am no Ebenezer Scrooge either.  What I am is a person who often find the holidays difficult.  More often than not, I find the holidays a little depressing.  I have no identifiable reason for this since I have never had a bad holiday experience.  I think what is difficult for me and many other people is what I consider the unreasonable expectations for the holidays.  On a very basic level, most people struggle financially all year long.  The pressure of gift buying only adds to this challenge.  Another pressure is the mandatory happiness and joy we are all expected to feel.  On top of this is the busyness of decorating and trips to the Mall.  Whenever my granddaughter comes over my wife and I stress ourselves out moving the “Elf on a Shelf” around our house.  I am also a little sad because my granddaughter is growing up and I am not sure how much longer she will believe in Santa and little elves.  I think this year she is on the fence.  She does seem to get excited when the Elf moves from the shelf to the Christmas tree to riding bareback with one of the three Wise men.  One year she picked up one of the three Wise Men and asked me if he was the Burger King.  Through all of this I try to put on a happy face and to be appreciative and grateful for everyone and everything in my life.  If you are also a person who struggles with the holiday expectations, know that you are not alone.  My advice is to do what I try to do all year long.  Be in the moment and be grateful.  The holidays are well intentioned even if the demands and expectations are usually unrealistic.  I once read a holiday mantra from Joe Zarantonello at Loose Leaf Hollow Retreat Center that said, “Slow down.  Be in the moment.  Lower your expectations”.  Sounds like good advice to me.       

Friday, December 12, 2014

Do Not Expect To Be Appreciated

In whatever you so, don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood.  Do it for the joy of doing it, or otherwise it is just another ego trip.
Most of us are good people who try to do good things and who generally care about others.  We give our best and do what we can and much of it goes unnoticed or seems unappreciated.  Sooner or later we realize that we must do what we do simply because it gives us joy or because it is the right thing to do even if we never get any credit, recognition, or appreciation.  Ego is a big thing in our lives.  The desire to be loved and appreciated is equally huge.  Hopefully, we do feel loved and appreciated most of the time whether it be from family, co-workers, friends, or strangers.  Follow your bliss and all that gives you joy.  As St. Augustine once said, way back in the 5th century, “Love and do what you will”.  Do good works and even if there is no immediate gratification, I believe your goodness will come back to you.  History is full of famous people who changed the world.  Most people, however, labor day after day with little recognition.  Some plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.  What’s the point?  I think we should all strive to do what is good and right even if no one else knows we are doing it.  I think many of us will be remembered more from our eventual absence than by our current presence.  We all want attention.  We all want to be noticed.  We all want to be appreciated.  However, you may not get any of these things so don’t depend on them for your happiness.  How you act in secret, when there is no spotlight, says more about your character than most public acts. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Anticipation

As Christmas Day approaches my inner child gets more excited.  Although I am confident I will receive some nice and thoughtful gifts, I find more joy in the happiness of others.  My wife and I are generous with our children and granddaughter.  I have the empty wallet to prove it.  Although many people think I look like Santa Claus, my wife is the real Santa Claus in our family.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day used to be a lot busier for me.  There were parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles to visit.  Now my wife and I are the older generation.  My mother is still alive so we go to her house on Christmas Eve, followed by a visit to a sister in law’s for my wife’s side of the family.  Christmas Day, however, I get to stay home and my brood comes to my house.  In years past I was very busy and a little stressed because I basically prepared the equivalent of the Frisch’s Breakfast Bar for my family.  Since my youngest son is now a priest and must be present at Christmas masses in the parish where he is assigned, my family Christmas celebration and exchange of gifts will not happen until Christmas afternoon.  This allows Santa and Mrs. Claus to sleep in a little and not be so rushed.  The best part of Christmas, however, is my granddaughter.  She still believes in Santa although she gets a little more suspicious every year.  To be honest, she is not 100% sure I am not really Santa.  When she was a little girl I went to her daycare center about this time of year dressed in a red hat and coat.  I created a small riot among the children.  Some thought it was very cool that Chloe’s Paw Paw was Santa Claus.  Chloe will be at my home this weekend so my wife and I will be busy moving the Elf on a Shelf when she’s not in the room.  She’s getting a little more suspicious and inquisitive about that Elf too. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Unfiltered Life

It is said that every time two people meet there are six people in the room.  For each person there is the person they think they are, the person the other person thinks they are, and the person they really are.  I was thinking about this after reading some thoughts on how to see life and reality unfiltered.  Let’s be honest.  Few of us see life as it really is.  Most of us see life and reality through a variety of filters.  These filters, much like the many layers of our personalities, have been formed throughout our lives by all the experiences we’ve had, the way we were raised, and, in many cases, by our education or lack of it.  It’s probably safe to say that few of us truly see things the same way.  In the work environment, for example, there are people who are very happy and content.  There are some people, however, who think they are in a concentration camp.  Some people are happy with everything while others are happy with nothing.  Our happiness is generally in direct proportion to our gratitude.  Some people are grateful just to wake up in the morning and realize they have been given another day of life.  Others people are never grateful for anything.  Why are some people happy and grateful while others are unhappy and feeling like nothing good ever happens to them?  Certainly attitude is a big factor.  Another factor, however, is how unfiltered your life is and how much you are able to see life realistically.     

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Acting Your Age

Yesterday one of my younger…much younger…co-workers told me that I don’t act my age.  What a wonderful compliment!  I hope I never act my age.  Like many of you I was born very young.  I grew in stature and maturity.  When I was an adult I got married, started a family, and, along with my wife, raised my sons into men.  Parenthood demanded that I be an adult.  When dealing with children someone in the room has to make the rules and keep everyone safe.  My wife and I did this to the best of our abilities.  Our children turned out well so I guess we did a pretty good job.  Now my children are adults.  As they have grown up, I have aged.  Keep in mind that I did not say I am getting old.  I am simply aging.  One of the nice things about aging in that in many ways you grow younger.  Admittedly the body isn’t what it used to be.  I am not as strong as I was in my youth, I take a nap every day, occasionally I lose my balance in the shower, and sometimes I forget why I went into a room.  The mind and heart, however, grow younger.  There is a lightness of being that seems to come with age.  The years of child raising and career building can seem oppressive at times.  The burdens of life can weigh you down.  As one ages you let go of things, you lighten your load, and doing this frees you.  Yes, I still have concerns and obligations.  Experience, though, teaches you that most crisis and challenges are merely bumps in the road that are quickly forgotten.  I am 63 years young and my “elderly” wife still tells me to turn down the volume on my music.  It’s tough living with an older person. (smile) 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Living Without Expectations

It is a rare experience for me to be disappointed.  This is not because everything goes my way or I get everything I want.  It is because I have few or no expectations about anything.  When you live with few or no expectations every good thing seems like a gift and every bad thing is not a shock.  I try to see life as neither good or bad.  Whatever happens, happens, and whatever is, is.  This may seem like a negative way to approach life.  Living without expectations does not mean you live without hope or dreams.  It means that you learn to accept life as it is, that you are grateful for life’s blessings, and that you accept life’s trials and challenges as part of the experience.  I tend to be optimistic and positive.  More often than not life does go my way and I do get what I want.  My life, however, has been relatively free of disappointment because I do not expect life to go my way and I do not expect to get what I want.  Living without expectations increases the potential for being "surprised by joy."  I believe that the more you expect, the more you will be disappointed.        

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Three Gates

The Three Gates
The old Sufi taught that right speech had to pass through three gates.  The first gate asked, “Is it true”?  The second gate asked, “Is it necessary”?  The third gate asked, “Is it kind”?  The old sheik taught him that it would be better to be silent than to utter words that had not passed through the three gates.
For those that do not know, Sufism is the mystical side of Islam.  This teaching is very similar to the kind of teachings also uttered by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Christian era.  I tend to think that many basic teachings such as this one can be found in all the major religions.  This is a great teaching regardless of what religion or philosophy you follow.  Who among us couldn’t do a better job of guarding one’s speech.  I try to avoid complaining, gossip, and any kind of hurtful speech.  I am human, however, so there are times I do all of these things.  I strive to minimize complaining by focusing on gratitude.  Workplace gossip is an easy trap to fall into.  I think the best way to minimize workplace gossip is for leadership to be as transparent as possible and for everyone to always tell the truth.  I am doing better with minimizing hurtful speech because age and the awareness of my own weaknesses has taught me to be more patient and tolerant of others.  Even though I don’t always remain silent, I also believe it is better to be silent than to speak a lot.  I can't remember who said it but I did read once that “one should not speak unless your words improve the silence”.       

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A Calm Start To Your Day

As Christmas approaches and the mornings are dark and cold, I start my work days at home, sitting in silence, coffee mug in hand, looking at the twinkling lights on my Christmas tree, and focusing on my breathing.  The early morning is my favorite time of day.  I schedule my time, especially on work days, so that I have approximately twenty minutes each morning that can be devoted to meditation.  It gets my day off to a positive start and it helps me stay centered throughout my day.  I am not one to get up at the last possible minute so that I have to rush getting ready, then drive like a maniac in order to get to work on time.  In my working career I’ve witnessed many people virtually running into the office, stressed out and frazzled, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get out of bed a little earlier.  I like to see the day coming and not be thrown into a day that started without me.  I not only love mornings, I love evenings as well.  I love the quietness of early morning and I like the feeling of crossing the threshold of my home after a good day at work.  Occasionally I struggle with the whole middle part of the day but I always try to enjoy every minute of my life.  There is no doubt that when one gets to the age I am you start to have a whole new appreciation for time.  I am not in a panic about time but I am realistic enough to understand that I have more time behind me than I do in front of me.  I urge you to make the effort to add quality to your time.  Savor the moments and avoid the mad rush of always being late for something.  Spend some time being with yourself and doing nothing.  When you get ready in the mornings, don’t gulp your coffee.  Feel the warmth of the mug in your hands.  Notice the aroma.  Enjoy the taste.  Life is made up of moments.  If you don’t pay attention, you will miss them and when you get to the end of your life, you’ll realize you missed your life too.      

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Organized Chaos

I once read an article about geese flying south for the winter.  When geese fly in a group they are in what appears to be a V formation.  I’m hoping that at some point in your life you have looked up at the sky and have witness this.  The article said the flying pattern is a more complicated than a simple V formation.  Within the V formation, and around it, some geese are in different positions that could be considered organized chaos.  All the geese, however, seem to know exactly what they are doing and the seeming chaos is not random.  Scientists believe there is a high level of communication going on between the geese and there is an overall harmony and order that is occurring.  If you’ve ever seen this formation of geese flying overhead on an late fall or early winter morning, it is a thing of beauty.  When there is order in the universe, and everything is working in harmony, there is always beauty.  This is why so many people find solace in nature.  This is why people flock to national parks and retreat houses in rural areas.  People love beauty, harmony, and the order that creates them.  It is soothing for the soul and it helps us to be centered and grounded.  When life is wild and crazy and dis-ordered, it frays our nerves and destroys our harmony and inner peace.  Let’s all try to fly in formation today even if a few of us may appear to be in organized chaos.     

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Cooperation Versus Conflict

I strongly dislike conflict.  I know it is part of life and it sometimes serves a purpose but I still dislike it.  I find it exhausting and it rarely brings out the best in me or others.  I prefer cooperation, compromise, and peacemaking.  Compromise is the end result of skillful negotiation.  It represents a win-win for everyone involved.  As President Obama once famously said to his Republican opposition, “Compromise isn’t you getting everything you want and me getting nothing I want”.  Compromise is a meeting in the middle.  In today’s world the art of negotiation and compromise seems to be a lost art, especially in the world of politics.  Conflict sucks the life right out of me.  On the other hand, cooperation energizes me and motivates be to work harder.  It improves my attitude and increases my desire to be a team player.  When conflict is the result of one idea versus another, we should seek ways to combine the best of both ideas.  Conflict often happens when people think dualistically.  Conflict occurs when people think a solution must be either one way or another.  Cooperation happens when people think in terms of both/and rather than either/or.  I am not naïve to the fact that conflict is difficult to avoid and that compromise is not always easy.  However, I would prefer to use my energy compromising than fighting.  Blessed are the peacemakers and those who strive to bring people together.  We are always better as individuals and as groups when we work together and support one another.   

Monday, December 01, 2014

Waiting Patiently

I am currently reading a small booklet called Daybreaks by Ron Rolheiser, OMI.  In the preface the author states that "we spend 98% of our lives waiting for something else to happen to us."  This would indicate that we only spend 2% of our lives actually being present to what is happening to us now.  We all do this and most of the time we are totally unaware that we are doing it.  As I write these thoughts I am already projecting ahead to when I am done and I can sit in my favorite chair.  We are now in the liturgical season of Advent.  It is a season of waiting for the birth of Christ on Christmas.  In our modern culture we are not very good at waiting.  We are impatient and expect instant gratification in almost everything.  Nothing in our lives seems fast enough.  We have lost all sense of life unfolding at its own pace.  We want to push, pull, shove, bypass, or manipulate just about everything because of our impatience.  However, if we push life too much, it will push back.  When we are anxious and impatient for the next moment, the next event, and the next experience, it is virtually impossible to appreciate the current moment.  As the speed of the holidays ramps us, and we struggle to accomplish all our tasks, lets breathe and learn to wait patiently.  Let’s spend more time in the moment and less time trying to fast forward to the next task or experience.  Sometimes God is more present in our longing than in our fulfillment.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day

Today I had a rare Thanksgiving Day at home with my wife, children, and granddaughter.  Most of my life I have gone to other people's homes for the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  This year we stayed in our own home.  I am not going to pretend I cooked today.  We bought a nicely prepared meal from a local restaurant that we ate in our own dining room.  The food is not the important part of the day.  It is simply a backdrop to the more important act of simply being together with family and friends.  The focus of this day is to be grateful for all of life's blessings and to be with the people who are most important in your life.  Why else would millions of people go through the insanity of all the travel hurtles and difficulties that more often than not are made even more challenging because of weather?  Thanksgiving may be my favorite holiday because of its overall simplicity.  It may be the least commercial holiday celebrated in my country.  It's not a great day to be a turkey but it is a great day for most people.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my family, friends, and anyone who reads these thoughts.  May all of your lives be blessed and may all of you live with grateful hearts.

Peace and Blessings to everyone! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Living In The Season

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each”.
-Henry David Thoreau
I am quickly exhausted by negative and pessimistic people who always see the worst of everything.  These people are chronically unhappy and nothing ever seems to give them joy.  I am an optimist.  I see the glass as not only half full but often overflowing.  A pessimist once told me that an optimist is a person out of touch with reality.  I understand that a lot of life is just trying to survive but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed.  The above quote by Thoreau is a very good definition of Zen.  Living in the season means being one with it.  Whatever the season, it is full of life.  Now is the season of thankfulness.  Breathe in life.  Exhale thankfulness.  Drink life.  Taste it’s fruits.  Give thanks always.  Let the goodness of life permeate your bones.  Life does change but that is not necessarily good or bad.  Life just is.  Our opinions of life are based on personal judgments which can be terribly skewed.  Thinking that life is always either good or bad is dualistic thinking.  Life is both good and bad.  The Zen way, the contemplative way, is to not judge it but to simply be present to it.  Often, when you least expect it, joy happens.  As we all prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with our families and friends, lets renew our attitudes and live more intentionally by having grateful hearts and joyful spirits.    
If you’ve never read Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau, I highly recommend it.  It is a life changing book. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Connecting The Dots

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something…your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”.
-Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs changed the world.  He would be my hero if all he did was invent the iPod.  I have always been reflective and introspective.  It’s part of my nature.  However, I don’t dwell in the past and I am not in mourning over its passing.  I do sometimes re-live great memories in my mind or perhaps with family or friends who shared the moment.  Much of the time my life does not make sense to me while I am living it.  It is only when I look back at previous events or people who crossed my path that I can begin to make sense of my life.  I can see now where even things that felt like failures were really successes and they made me who I am today.  It is only in retrospect that we can connect the dots of our life.  Life never goes in a straight line.  My personal blog is called “Stumbling along the Spiritual Path”.  The use of the word “stumbling” was very intentional.  The path of my life has gone in many directions.  My path has sometimes seemed overgrown with weeds.  It has gone up and down and all around.  Sometimes I could not tell if I was going North, South, East, or West.  A few times when I wasn’t paying attention I got wacked in the eye with a tree branch.  Many times I have stumbled and occasionally I have fallen down.  This convoluted path, however, has been my path.  It has taken me through some pretty interesting and unique experiences.  It has brought me to where I am today and has also made me who I am today.  These thoughts make me think of a favorite poem by Robert Frost. 
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Without A Loss Of Enthusiasm

I tend to believe that life will get better even when it doesn’t.  Even though I don’t really think of myself as a happy person, I am reasonably content most of the time.  Some of my blessings don’t always feel like blessings but I try to be grateful for every good person and every good thing in my life.  I admit that I have lost some of the optimism of my youth.  When I was young I thought there was no way to go but up.  However in my “old age” the world often seems to be going to hell in a hand basket and all I am doing is hanging on.  With all the world’s troubles as a backdrop, I have read that most of today’s children will not live as well as their parents on a material level.  This bothers me.  Most people of my generation live better than their parents, at least on a material level.  I don’t think we are happier.  Looking back my family was kind of poor although as a child I didn’t realize it.  I realize now that my parents certainly struggled to raise six children on one blue collar salary.  My children are doing fine but I worry about my granddaughter and the world she will be in as an adult.  I have also read numerous times that most baby boomers haven’t saved a dime.  It would seem that many baby boomers are just living for today.  I do feel ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing for the future but by all accounts I have not saved nearly enough.  Life is a struggle for just about everyone and sometimes success is difficult to define.  Winston Churchill once said that “success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm”.  This could well be said about life in general so it is important to celebrate and acknowledge any success or victory, no matter how small.  I have no trouble accepting that there are failures in life.  We’ve all had them and more are down the road.  Failure can be a great learning opportunity.  The part of Churchill’s quote that really challenges me is “without a loss of enthusiasm”.  How does one maintain endless enthusiasm for life and work and love?  No one has ever accused me of being overly enthusiastic about anything.  On a rare occasion I will display some passion but not much really excites me.  It is a challenge to have endless enthusiasm.  If you ask my wife how she feels she will reply, “I’m tired and I’m tired of it”.  What she is tired of is all the BS of life.  Most of you know what I mean.  It is what saps our energy and depletes our enthusiasm.  I don’t know the answer but I think it is a positive step just to be aware of this.  The awareness probably grows with age although many young people quickly begin to sense it once they are out in the real world.  I still recommend optimism as a lifestyle choice and hopefully you will also discover your enthusiasm along the way.            

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's All Coming Back To Me Now

I believe in karma and something called the “Law of Attraction”.  What do these things mean?  You often hear people say “what goes around, comes around”.  This is the belief that you get what you deserve.  If you put positivity and goodness into the world, that’s what will come back to you.  If you’re a bad person who does bad things and you enjoy making others unhappy or you enjoy wreaking havoc in their lives, you’ll get yours in the end.  This is karma.  The “Law of Attraction” is the belief that what you think about is what happens to you.  If you are always negative and pessimistic, don’t be surprised if nothing ever seems to go your way and that bad things always seem to happen to you.  Negative and pessimistic people also seem to worry about everything all the time.  On the other hand, if you are positive and optimistic, you will find that things usually go your way.  Most of the time I am a positive and optimistic person but I am also an imperfect human being and sometimes I am tired and grumpy.  In spite of the occasional down day, most things in life go my way.  Although I am not a perfect person, and my life is not perfect, I am very blessed and I have been the recipient of much kindness and many good things in my life.  I try to be grateful for all of it, whether it be my granddaughter’s laughter and smile, my Zen moments where I am one with something bigger than myself, or maybe for something as simple as a really good sandwich.  Let me share a couple of really good quotes that re-enforce what I am saying.  Wayne Dyer, who wrote a book about the Tao, says, “Change your thinking and change your life”.  Another of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain who said, “I’ve lived through some really terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened”.  Put nothing but goodness and love into the world, think positively, and be optimistic and hopeful.  I truly believe that if you do these things, your life will change for the better.              

Monday, November 17, 2014

Zen Moments

I once received an email from a friend and co-worker telling me he had a “Mike Brown moment”.  He described it with the following words, “I read your references to Zen moments quite often.  However, a couple of weeks ago, I think I had a Mike Brown moment.  It was a Saturday morning, and there was snow on the ground.  I sat in my living room, sipping a cup of hot chocolate, reading a book, and occasionally I glanced out to admire the snow.  I considered that a Mike Brown moment”.  I certainly don’t have exclusive rights to Zen moments or glancing out the window to admire a snow covered landscape.  However, I will take some credit for trying to teach other people to recognize such moments in their own lives.  Beauty is always present even if it is not obvious to us.  Having a Zen perspective gives us a greater clarity as it opens our eyes to what is around us.  As I think about my friends experience, I am reminded of my own experiences where I am doing one thing when my attention is drawn to another thing.  I like to read while I am listening to music.  Sometimes, however, the music is so wonderful that all I can do is focus on the music.  Perhaps it is only for a moment but as the words or melody of a great piece of music float through the air, I must lay my book aside, much like my friend when he became lost in the beauty of the snow.  Zen moments are those perfect “Mike Brown moments” when you become lost in the moment unaware of time and space.  You cannot search out such moments.  They arrive unannounced and you must be ready to embrace them.  This is also mindfulness.  Mindfulness is having your mind and body together in the same place and being aware of what is going on in each moment.    

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Crock Pot In A Pressure Cooker World

The older I get the more tolerant I have become of others.  This is due in large part to an increased awareness of my own imperfections.  If we are honest about our own personal weaknesses it should become more difficult to be judgmental and intolerant of others.  I believe most people are like me in the sense that they’re doing the best they can.  Work is only one thing in most people’s lives or that’s all it should be.  People also have family concerns, personal issues, worries about their health, and perhaps they also struggle on a spiritual level.  Along with personal struggles and challenges there are the chores of everyday life that one must do to simply live.  At age sixty three I simply don’t have the energy that I used to have.  Even when I was young I wasn’t exactly what you would call hyper.  I was never a driven, ambitious, dynamo.  In a world of pressure cookers, I have always been more of a crock pot.  We all like to think we’re superstars but the reality is that most of us aren’t.  Most of us are ordinary.  Most of us are “salt of the earth” types who keep the world running even if we aren’t always recognized for our efforts.  Most of us labor in relative obscurity and do so most of our lives.  This does not mean that we have little or no value.  We’re not just bricks in the wall or part of a mindless herd.  Most people don’t need, or even want, to be in the spotlight.  I certainly don’t need to be number one.  I’m happy to be part of a team of people cooperating with one another to achieve a goal, whether it’s within my family at home or my family at work.  When I do this, I sleep well at night and I am at peace.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Imagine A Mountain

Imagine a mountain.  Every day the mountain experiences some type of weather.  Some days are bright and sunny and beautiful.  Some days are cloudy and overcast.  Occasionally some days are stormy with heavy rain, thunder, and lightening.  Other days the mountain gets buried in snow.  Our moods and feelings are like the weather.  They come and go and change all the time, often on the same day.  People have a tendency to think their moods and feeling are who they are.  We are not our moods and feelings any more than a mountain is the weather it experiences.  The reality is that each of us is the mountain.  Sometimes I am in a bad mood and I can’t come up with a reason for feeling that way.  Some days I am just in a funk.  When I feel like that I try to remind myself about the weather and I try to just wait out my funk, much like I would wait out a storm.  Others days, again for no particular reason, I feel happy, life is beautiful, and I am walking on air.  On days like that I really try to just enjoy the moment and get lost in it.  I don’t wonder why I am happy or if I deserve to be.  I just thank the universe.  One of my favorite jazz bands is called “Weather Report”.  They picked that name because their music, like the weather, is always changing.  However you’re feeling today, just acknowledge it, and let it go.  If today’s a sunny day, enjoy the warmth on your soul.  If it’s a stormy day, just hunker down until it passes.  If it’s overcast, be patient.  The sun will shine again. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Finding Our Original Face

Sometimes I find myself asking the question "How do you know when you have become who you are"?   The journey of life is basically a journey to return to your original essence and to become who you really are.  We are born pure and innocent and then we acquire our personalities and other defense mechanisms that we use to shield and protect ourselves from life.  The second half of our life journey, if we are on the path to enlightenment, is spent attempting to take off these masks and to remove the armor that we have acquired in order to rediscover our purity and innocence.  The Buddhists call this "discovering the face we had before we were born".   When I look in the mirror, and during moments of introspection, I wonder how far along I am on this journey of re-discovering who I am.  What is my true essence?  What is my original nature?  It is nearly impossible to know this when you are young.  In our youth it is far more important for us to fit in, to be like others, and find acceptance from others.  We are also too busy building our lives to worry too much about who we are.  This is considerably less important when you get older.  I am still trying to get from behind the masks I wear and to break through the armor I have created to find the real me.   

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Work Anniversary

Today I have been with my employer, Humana, for 29 years.  I walked into Humana the first time when I was 34 years old and my hair and beard were brown.  Even after all these years I still feel like a fish out of water.  In the past I have written about how different things were in the old days when I began working there.  Since then technology and processes have changed but many of the problems and challenges remain the same.  Humana has been good to me and I am grateful for my long employment.  I have worked with many wonderful people and made some dear friends.  I have also worked with a few not so wonderful people.  I had to throw that in there for the sake of full disclosure.  When I first came to Humana I had never really worked in an office.  I quickly adjusted and found my way.  Over the years I have adapted, changed, survived, endured, and occasionally thrived.  I believe I have done more good than harm and I hope when I leave there in a couple of years memories of me create laughter.  I have tried to be a leader, a teacher, a mentor, a friend, and a good employee, but most of all I have tried to be a decent and real human being.  In our modern, technological, and connected age, work has gotten out of control in many people's lives.  My success has been limited through my own choice because I have maintained a philosophy of “being at work when I am at work and being at home when I am at home”.  Work is only one slice of the pie of life.  For those of you still building a career, don’t forget to build a life too.     

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Great Weekend

I had a great weekend.  It began on Friday night when I attended a James Taylor concert at the Yum Center.  In general I don’t like the Yum Center.  It is way too big for my tastes.  James Taylor, however, transformed the huge arena into a very intimate setting.  He played every song I wanted to hear and his stories behind the songs were as entertaining as the songs themselves.  The following morning my wife and I got out of bed early for a short road trip.  We drove to Glendale, Kentucky to do some Christmas shopping in the little shops there.  It was the town’s Christmas Open House so everything felt quite festive.  When we were done there we took the back roads to the Abbey of Gethsemani for some more shopping and a visit to the grave of my dear friend, Father Dennis, who is buried there.  The whole day was enjoyable because the weather was great, the autumn leaves were still colorful, and the rural roads provided a calm and very peaceful drive.  The weekend ended with a Sunday afternoon visit from my granddaughter and her Dad.  I cooked her favorite casserole so she was happy.  Everyone else must have been happy, too, because there wasn't much left at the end of the meal.  In all  my busyness the weekend seemed longer than usual and that is never a bad thing.      

Saturday, November 08, 2014

We Are All Shining Like The Sun

Once a friend sent me some thoughts about something called the "fear of not measuring up".  In a competitive and driven society such as ours, we all suffer from this fear to some degree.  There are a million ways for it to manifest itself.  It's the fear that you aren't smart enough or aren't pretty enough or aren't successful enough.  It's the fear of not being able to "keep up with the Joneses", that you don't drive the right kind of car or don't live in the right neighborhood, that you didn't go to the right school or you're not a supermom and on and on and on.  It's the fear of being inadequate.  Let's be honest.  Some people are smarter, more successful, and better looking than the rest of us.  That's called "Life's Not Fair".  However, the rest of us are not doomed.  I think we all have unlimited potential if we have the drive and initiative to take advantage of the opportunities given us.  On the other hand I am someone who believes in the idea of contentment.  I always want to be the best possible version of myself but, quite frankly, sometimes I am too tired to be.  I have more stuff than many people but much less than many others.  I can honestly say that I am very content with my standard of living.  I have everything I need to live comfortably and to be happy.  At this point in my life I think more about how I can do with less than with always wanting more.   I'm not a genius but I am far from stupid.  I am happy with who I am and I don't feel inferior to anyone.  I am not perfect but I know I am a good person.  I don't have to beat everyone else in order to feel like I am successful.  It really all boils down to these few questions.  Are you happy?  Is there love in your life?  Are there people and things you care about and other people who care about you?  Are your basic needs being met?  If yes, what more do you want?  If I could paraphrase the words of Thomas Merton, “We are all walking around shining like the sun and we don’t even realize it”.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

So Let Us All Be Thankful

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die.  So let us all be thankful.
-The Buddha
Looking back these words of the Buddha probably do a good job of summing up the past year.  These words also remind us to always give thanks.  We should been as grateful for the bad things that didn’t happen to us as much as we are for the good things that did.  Of course, every year when we look back we can remember reasons to be happy and reasons to be sad.  Every year we experience new births, rebirths, conversions, transformations, and new ways of seeing things.  Many of us also experience some type of loss.  Relationships can change and sometimes fall apart.  People we care about leave our lives or sometimes die.  Some of us are better off materially and financially and some of us are worse off.  Some of us are in the spring or summer of our lives and others are in the autumn or winter of their lives.  Some of us are gathering in the harvest of our lives while others are letting go and simplifying their life.  Doors close and windows open.  The unfolding of life, year by year, is the great mystery in which we all live.  Soon it will be a new year with new possibilities.  If last year wasn't great for you, perhaps the coming new year can be a year of new hope.  A few years ago I saw the Rolling Stones perform at Churchill Downs.  Keith Richards, a member of the band and a guy who should have died ten times by now, looked out on the crowd and said, "It's really nice to be here.  It's really nice to be anywhere"!  I share his sentiments.  I'm really happy to still be here and I try to remind myself that these are the good old days and the best days of my life are still ahead of me.  Start the rest of your life now by seizing the day and living with a grateful heart.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Grandchildren Are A Gift

I spent the last two days hanging out with my granddaughter.  Ten year old girls have more energy than 63 year old men but I can tell you one thing.  I am a master cinnamon toast maker and bacon cooker.  All in all we have a very nice time together.  By the time you are my age it is challenging to not be a little jaded about life and even my young granddaughter is realizing that life is hard.  In one of our recent conversations she exclaimed “No one understands what it is like to be a ten year old!”  I replied, “I know, honey, and no one understands what it’s like to be a 63 year old either!”  With all the challenges of being a ten year old she still has an enthusiasm for life that I envy.  I love to see her smile, hear her laugh, and watch her get excited about stuff.  I feel blessed that she is such a big part of my life and that I can be a big part of her life.  At my age it is refreshing and challenging to hear a ten year olds perspective on life.  As a grandfather I want to shield and protect her but I know the best thing I can do is teach her and help her understand the realities of life.  God tends to give people what they need in life.  I need my granddaughter and she is a real gift to me.  It is a joy to watch her grow up and to be part of her journey.   

Friday, October 31, 2014

Education And Wisdom

Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom.  Many of the people I have interviewed for jobs and some of the people who work with me now are better educated than I am.   Their formal education, however, is just a starting point.  It is the foundation on which their life experience will build.  I am a strong advocate of education.  I think it separates people more than anything, including race or gender.  I wish now that I had given my education more attention when I was younger.  Hopefully the experience of life makes us wiser but that is not guaranteed.  Not all older people are wise and not all younger people naive.  In the Rule of St Benedict, a 1500 year old guidebook for monasteries, the old are told to listen to the young for God often speaks through them.  Likewise, the young are told to treat their elders with respect.  Those of us who are a little older can learn from the young.  It happens to me almost every day at work.  Those who are younger should also realize that their parents and other older people are not clueless.  We've been down many roads in our lives and we have experienced many things that might prove helpful for those who have yet to have these experiences.  The bottom line is that you should never should stop learning or acquiring wisdom.  To be a truly educated person, you must be open to everything that books and life teaches you.  In addition, you must remember that education is also more than just having a skill.  An educated person is a thinking person who can see the connectedness of life and who can apply the knowledge they have to situations they encounter as life unfolds.  In a team situation within the workplace the combination of different people’s wisdom, knowledge, and skills can make all of us successful as we tackle our daily challenges.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Challenge Of Office Work

Why do so many working people in our society find so little satisfaction in their daily work?  Sometimes when I look at the faces of people leaving my building at the end of the day or strangers driving home during the evening commute, they look absolutely exhausted and dazed.  Other times when I am riding up and down the elevators in my office building I listen to people complaining about their jobs.  Many people in our society work in the same type of corporate, information driven environment that I work in.  Almost everyone I know does "something with a computer".  Some days it is easy to feel like the focus of your job is to read and write emails.  We live in an information driven, electronic age.  Most of us spend a great deal of time gathering and sharing data.  I think that is part of the problem.  Perhaps satisfaction goes down as sensory overload goes up.  The work we do is mostly intangible.  Unlike past generations, most of us cannot drive down the road, look at a bridge or building, and say, "I helped build that!”  When you work with information, you have no lasting monuments to what you have accomplished.   Instead of bridges, buildings, or works of art, we create spreadsheets and databases.  It’s impossible to take a picture of these things and hang them on the wall.  Our accomplishments and successes are fleeting.  The flow of data and information never stops.  Today's success of managing data is a moment in time.  That success and moment are short lived.  I really don't know the answer to the problem of finding satisfaction in doing this type of modern work.  I try to remind myself that the information and numbers represent real people but that doesn't always work.  The most satisfaction I find in the workplace comes from the people around me.   I try to build relationships.  If I can have a positive influence on another person, it is satisfying.  Relationships involve something that is much more tangible than data and numbers.  Looking at numbers and other data reminds me of a famous Zen saying.  "The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon".    The data and numbers are not what we serve.  They are a finger pointing at the moon.  In most cases the "moon" is people and they are what it's all about.   

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Take A Deep Breath

Breathing in, I calm my body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment.
The only moment.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
After many years I have finally realized the importance of breathing.  For most of us breathing is something we take for granted.  Deep breathing is part of my daily meditation and prayer.  When I am stressed or anxious I have learned to focus on my breathing and it will calm and center me.  I am generally a calm person.  Because of this I think there are people who believe I never have an emotional response to anything and that I have no sense of urgency or assertiveness.  This is not true.  The truth is that I am a deeply emotional person with a whirling dervish of feelings going on all the time.  Sometimes my feelings and emotions are very strong and not necessarily good.  They can get the best of me at times.  When I feel this happening I try to breathe in order to calm my body and my mind.  As I breathe out I try to smile, if only in my mind’s eye.  By focusing on my breath I can be in the present moment and most of the time I can deal with whatever is happening in that moment.  If you feel upset or anxious today, try to breathe deeply by inhaling through your nose and exhaling from your mouth.  You can also include a mantra or a prayer with your breathing.  You could use the quote above or maybe you are more comfortable praying something like “Lord, help me”!  With or without words, calm your mind and body by breathing deeply and dwelling in the present moment.  The moment is your reality.    

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Simply Enjoying A Day

When my friend Dennis was still alive I used to take off one Friday approximately every month to drive out to the country and spend the day with him.  Since his death I haven’t taken many days off just to enjoy the day.   This past Friday was different.  In order to take advantage of the beautiful autumn weather, and to visit our son, my wife and I took a day off from work this past Friday.  It was everything you hope a day away from the office would be.  We slept in a little bit, had some breakfast, and then headed down I-65 south.  The day was a little overcast on the way to Elizabethtown but eventually turned into a picture perfect day.  Traditionally priests live in houses called rectories but in today’s world housing for priests can vary from priest to priest.  Nick lives alone in a patio home a few miles from his main parish and close to St. James School.  After a brief stop there Nick decided he wanted to show us a small and beautiful church that is part of his responsibilities.  It was quiet and peaceful place with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.  After a tour we left there and drove a few miles to the Whistle Stop Café in Glendale.  The food was awesome.  It’s what I call good old country cooking.  I went a little crazy and totally enjoyed a meal of country ham, mashed potatoes with white gravy, broccoli casserole, and biscuits.  Did I mention the dessert of ice cream, bananas, hot fudge, and whipped cream?  It took all three of us to finish one serving.  Needless to say I did not eat for the rest of the day.  As expected the traffic on I-65 north backed up on the way home so I got off on the Bardstown exit for the longer, more scenic, but as least I was moving, drive home.  All in all it was a wonderful day.  It lifted my spirit.  I need to do this more often.     

Monday, October 27, 2014

Standing In It And Still Smiling

Once I attended a Zen mindfulness day with some friends.  It was an early spring day and we were on a farm.  The day consisted of meditation, writing, and Zen walks.  When it was time to walk, the Zen Master would ring a bell and we would follow him in single file through the fields.  From time to time, he would ring the bell and we would stop walking.  During one of these pauses, I became aware of what a beautiful day it was.  The sky was deep blue, the sun was shining bright, and there was a chill in the air.  I was totally in the moment.  In the midst of this moment, I looked down and realized I was standing in a pile of cow poop.  The bell rang again and we started walking back to the farm house where we meditated and wrote in our journals.  The Zen Master asked if we had any thoughts about our walk.  I described my experience of being in the moment and then realizing I was standing in cow dung.  He asked me what realization I had in that moment.  My response was that “life could be wonderful and beautiful even when you are standing in a pile of cow poop”!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Autumn Road Trip

Autumn and early winter are my favorite times of the year.  I love the cooler weather, the fall colors, Halloween, pumpkins, Thanksgiving, and the spirit in the air during the Christmas season.  I have a personal goal to enjoy every day of my life but tomorrow I am going to kick it up a notch and take the day off.  My wife and I are driving to Elizabethtown to visit our youngest son.  He is a Catholic priest and is currently the associate pastor of three parishes.  Part of the experience will be to have lunch at the Whistle Stop Café in Glendale, Kentucky.  It’s a small place right next to some railroad tracks but the food is to die for.  I am looking forward to the drive there and back because we are at the peak of the autumn season and the leaf colors are beautiful.  I can only hope the construction on I-65 isn’t as bad as it was the last time I headed south.  It is a good thing to occasionally take a day off from work to enjoy the simple things of life.  My wife and I are fortunate.  We have two sons and both of them turned out well.  They seem to enjoy being with us and we enjoy being with them.  I am sure we occasionally make them crazy because that’s part of our job description as parents.  On the flip side they occasionally make us crazy because they are still our children even if they are grown men.  Bright and early on Saturday morning I expect to see my granddaughter.  She will spend the weekend with my wife and I and we’ll go see the new “Book Of Life” movie.  Every year when they announce the Academy Award nominations the only category where I’ve seen all the movies is the children’s animated films.  My granddaughter is the icing on the cake of a blessed life.     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Unfiltered Life

It is said that every time two people meet there are six people in the room.  For each person there is the person they think they are, the person the other person thinks they are, and the person they really are.  I was thinking about this after reading some thoughts on how to see life and reality unfiltered.  Let’s be honest.  Few of us see life as it really is.  Most of us see life and reality through a variety of filters.  These filters, much like the many layers of our personalities, have been formed throughout our lives by all the experiences we’ve had, the way we were raised, and, in many cases, by our education or lack of it.  It’s probably safe to say that few of us truly see things the same way.  In the work environment, for example, there are people who are very happy and content.  There are some people, however, who think they are in a concentration camp.  Some people are happy with everything while others are happy with nothing.  Our happiness is generally in direct proportion to our gratitude.  Some people are grateful just to wake up in the morning and realize they have been given another day of life.  Others people are never grateful for anything.  Why are some people happy and grateful while others are unhappy and feeling like nothing good ever happens to them?  Certainly attitude is a big factor.  Another factor, however, is how unfiltered your life is and how much you are able to see life realistically.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Being Criticized

All of us are sometimes criticized.  It is often referred to as constructive feedback to give it a more positive spin but it still usually feels like good old criticism.  I have been criticized many times in my life and I admit that I didn't always take it very well.  It's not because I think I am perfect.  It's more because I really strive to do things well and to always do the right thing.  When someone tells me I am not meeting an expectation, it hurts.  I don't know if there is a painless way to receive and accept constructive feedback.  I do believe, however, there are painless and positive ways to give constructive feedback.  First of all you must always respect the dignity and feelings of the person on the receiving end.  Constructive feedback can be presented in a gentle, even loving, way.  Constructive feedback doesn't have to be presented with negative terminology.  The reality of a situation can be presented in a non-threatening way balanced with positive examples of how the situation could have been handled or how it might be handled in the future.  I don't believe any decent human being comes to work or does anything with the intention of making mistakes or doing poorly.  In today's complex and highly technical work environments the use of computers often makes the possibility of errors more likely than not.  Some management gurus, like W. Edwards Deming, believe that mistakes in the workplace are usually the blame of a system or a process rather than people.  When was the last time a "system" or a "process" was put on a work improvement program?  People seem like the only option for criticism so they are usually given the blame.  None of us are perfect, we do sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes our mistakes may be carelessness.  Sometimes we may need encouragement or some deserved criticism.  If we deserve it, we need to be humble and accept that we have made a mistake or need to get our heads on straight.  If we are the leader, the parent, or the friend, do it in a caring, non- threatening way so the person walks away with some dignity and resolve to try harder.  Encourage them.  Don't break their spirit. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Time Is A Loop That Grows Smaller

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 three 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.          

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Live Your Own Life

Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition.
-Steve Jobs
One of the joys of growing old is that I really don’t care anymore what other people think of me.  Don’t misinterpret that statement.  I’m happy if people like me and I don’t intentionally try to annoy anyone.  Well, maybe sometimes.  However, I have spent much of my life trying to please other people, many of whom did not really care about me.  I sometimes joke that I live to serve.  The reality is that I have served the needs of many people and I don’t regret any of it.  My reality as a 63 year old man is that time is huge for me now.  There is no time to waste on BS.  I know I have more years behind me than I do in front of me.  I recently read a statement that said, “Don’t do anything that doesn’t make you happy”.  This doesn’t mean eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may be dead.  I think it means live with meaning and purpose and joy.  For better or worse I no longer have blind faith in anything or in most people.  There are so many things in life that are dysfunctional and broken, i.e., most of our institutions.  I like the teaching of the Buddha which says “Believe what you experience”.  Many things in life have disappointed me, including some people, but many other people and things have helped me and been my teacher.  Even disappointment has been a teacher.  Many people and things in life give me joy.  I care about other people and I respect their opinions.  I may even be influenced by their thoughts enough to incorporate them into my own thinking.  What truly guides me, however, is my own inner voice and the values I have acquired from my experience of life.  Whether you are young or old, I urge you to follow your own inner voice, follow your bliss, be a peacemaker, do things that make you happy, and always choose love over hate.  You will never regret it.  You own your own life.  Don’t waste it.     

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Life Is Our Teacher

Regardless of what spiritual belief or philosophy guides your life we all have one common teacher and the teacher is life.  No matter what we believe each of us has to deal with the life we have and the demands and challenges of our life.  Life is the teacher and life is the test.  When I was in the monastery there was a discipline of prayer.  It was no easier to get out of bed for prayer than it is to get out of bed for a day at the office.  In the monastery we had night prayer called Vigils at 3:15 AM every day.  In my young life as a parent I had night vigils at approximately 3:15 AM for feedings and diaper changes.  When I was a young man I complained about having to work.  My father in law said, “Wait until you’ve been doing it for forty years”!  Well, I have been doing it for forty years and I now understand what he was saying.  Work has been a discipline and a teacher for me too.  In addition, forty years of marriage, thirty six years of parenthood, and ten years of grandparenthood have also been my teachers.  As I once said, “Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom”.  Life is a great teacher and the experiences of life can fill us with wisdom.  Our individual lives also challenge us in many ways to be faithful to our beliefs and personal philosophies.  If you believe in love, kindness, and compassion, life will test you in many ways to determine how much you believe in them.  Your life is not designed to annoy you.  It is designed to shape you, mold you, teach you, make you stronger, and to fill you with wisdom as you grow older.    

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Are You Content With Your Life?

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
How many of you reading these thoughts are content with your life?  I am not always happy and sometimes I am restless.  In spite of this I am basically content.  What is contentment?  I think contentment is the feeling you have when you realize your basic needs are being met, you have acquired a good deal of what you want, and there are people in your life who care about you.  I have not always been content.  Much of my life I struggled on a number of different levels.  As I have gotten older I have gotten smarter and wiser.  I don’t make as many mistakes as I did in my youth and my needs and wants have gotten simpler and more basic.  I have a greater appreciation for the moments that make up my days and it doesn’t take much to make me happy.  Just yesterday I returned to my desk at work and found a piping hot latte waiting for me thanks to a thoughtful co-worker.  It was a simple gesture but one I deeply appreciated.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I am sure part of my contentment is due to being older and being in a time of my life where demands made on me are slowing down.  Most days, when my daily work is done, I am able to simply go home and relax.  Today is not one of those days.  I have to pick up my granddaughter at school this afternoon but that is a labor of love.  Life has not always been this easy.  I know that many of you are young and life can seem like an uphill battle.  There are children to be raised, homework to be done, houses and apartments that need to be cleaned, and probably things that break down on a regular basis.  Speaking as a grandparent I think there is a reason we have our children when we are young.  It is exhausting to be a parent.  After a weekend with my granddaughter I need a nap.  Wherever you are in life, whether you are meeting yourself coming and going, or living a more leisurely life like me, take some time to stop and smell the roses.  In the quieter moments of life one can learn to appreciate what is good and valuable.  When life is lived in gratitude one is less likely to be focused on what seems to be missing.    

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Controlling The Ego

I’ve done a lot of reading from Eckert Tolle’s “A New Earth…Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose”.  Most of what I have read recently has to do with the ego.  I have never thought of myself as someone with a massive ego but the reality is that I do have an ego and so do all of you.  The more I read the more I am understanding the meaning of ego.  It is not necessarily related to arrogance although I have known people whose ego was so large they could barely get through a doorway.  Let me quote from Eckert Tolle’s book, “You construct a conceptual identity for an individual or a group, and you say, “this is who he is, this is who they are”.  When you confuse the ego that you perceive in others with their identity, it is the work of your own ego that uses this misperception to strengthen itself through being right and therefore superior, and through reacting with condemnation, indignation, and often anger against the perceived enemy”  All of this is enormously satisfying to the ego.  I have never realized before now how much it is my own ego kicking in when I don’t like someone or when I find someone difficult to deal with.  Another thing I read that disturbs me is the idea that what bothers me about another person is also present within me.  Of course, this is usually undetectable to us.  We typically only see what we project as other’s behavior.  Tolle says, “Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you”.  It’s like facing your own dark side.  The trick to dealing with all of this is to remain nonreactive to it and to remind ourselves that the ego is an individual and collective dysfunction, what Eckert calls “The insanity of the human mind”.  I am been trying to deal with my own ego by trying not to react to people or their behavior.  I’m trying to tell myself that everything is not personal.  The behavior of others, and my own reactions to their behavior, are both manifestations of the collective ego of humanity.  The next time someone ruffles your feathers, ask yourself why?  What is it about this person or their behavior, that makes you crazy?  How is this behavior present within yourself?  When someone annoys you, don’t react.  Don’t let your ego, in disguise as your emotions, kick in.  Simply acknowledge that whatever happened, happened, and it “is what it is”.       

Monday, October 13, 2014

Just Wash The Dishes

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.  At the same time we 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 feel like 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 balanced person is not easily knocked over by the storms of life.      

Friday, October 10, 2014

Loving Kindness

I once read 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 an explanation of why not.  In order to have these things in our lives, we need to practice loving kindness to ourselves and those around us.  Beginning at home, 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.    

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Almost Nothing Is Any Of My Business

“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 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 and very little of it is good news.  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 be 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.  Icing on the cake would be gossip based on good news.  Imagine someone coming to you and saying, “O my God!  Did you hear about the great thing that’s going to happen?”

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


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.
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.