Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Greatest Education Is Your Own Life

My daily thoughts are syndicated in the spirituality section of a website called “Before It’s News”.  Sometimes I get emails front people who either like what I have written or they disagree with me.  One person wrote to me and said, “I don’t want this crap.  I want the news”!  Yesterday I received an email from a woman who disagreed with some of my thoughts are education.  I had basically written that education gives your knowledge but life gives you wisdom.  Her point of view, and one that I would agree with, is that much of our formal education is useless knowledge that does little to prepare us for real life.  As someone who has lived real life for 63 years I am not sure there is anything that can prepare us for everything that life throws at us.  As I have gotten older and the work force has gotten younger I have often felt like a teacher of Life 101 rather than a supervisor.  I started off in life as ignorant as anyone.  For example, I got married when I was 23 years old and I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.  After nearly 40 years of marriage and family life I am a little smarter.  Some people think I am wise.  Any wisdom I have acquired has been learned through my own ignorance, mistakes, and the rare occasion where I get something right.  In other words, wisdom does not come easily.  The woman who wrote to me last night also mentioned how little information most of us are given to deal with the basic realities of life, i.e., how to manage your money, how to make informed decisions, how to avoid stupid mistakes, how to prepare for a career, how to plan ahead, and other similar demands of life.  My wife and I were blessed with good parents who raised us well.  I have always had mentors who helped me understand what is important in life.  Acquired spirituality from study and experience has been a firm foundation for my life.  Mystics have often said “Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom”.  This knowledge, found through introspection, is part of the process of growing up and acquiring maturity.  All of life is a classroom.  Everyone around you is a teacher.  Some teachers should be followed and others avoided.  Learn from life.  Surround yourself with wise and intelligent people who will help you find your way.  Think before you act.  The greatest education is your own life.      

Monday, April 28, 2014

Be Who You Are

Be weird.  Be random.  Be who you are.  Because you never know who would love the person you are.
-from the “Hippie Peace Freaks” page on Facebook
When most people are young they will do whatever it takes to be accepted as part of a group.  Being accepted is very important to young people.  They do not want to be left out.  Most people grow out of this mentality but some maintain it their entire life.  I did this when I was young.  I wanted to have friends and to be popular.  I didn’t want to spend any Friday nights being alone.  I now realize that I am not really a group guy.  It is no longer important for me to be accepted by most other people.  Yes, I like to have friendships and to know people with whom I have something in common but a desire for popularity and acceptance is no longer a driving force in my life.  Some people think I am weird.  Some people think I am different.  In some cases this is a compliment and in other cases people probably look at me and shake their head.  Like Popeye the sailor man, “I am who I am and that’s all that I am”.  Since I really have no other choice but to be who I am, I am happy doing so.  With me what you see is what you get.  I may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I try to be an authentic person.  I have noticed that people who like me REALLY like me and people who don’t, just don’t.  It is not mandatory to be weird but I encourage you to be real.  Be who you are unless you’re a jerk.  In that case a little self- improvement may be in order.  Assuming you’re not a jerk, don’t be someone else’s version of who they think you should be.  If you don’t know who you are, maybe it’s time for a voyage of self-discovery.  You don’t need the people who won’t accept the real you.  You may experience a few bumps and scrapes along the way but “to thy own self be true” as the character Polonius says in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  The world is full of fake people, posers, and charlatans.  Be real even if you aren’t perfect.  Being real doesn’t demand perfection.  We are all works in progress. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Karma And The Law Of Attraction

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.  Think Mohammad Ali, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama to name a few.  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.  Think Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Gadhafi.  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.  Yes, I am 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.           

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Crock Pot In A Pressure Cooker World

The older I get the more tolerant I am.  This is due in large part to an increased awareness of my own imperfections.  If one is honest about one’s personal weaknesses it is difficult to be judgmental and intolerant of others.  I believe that 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.  People also have family concerns, personal issues, emotional struggles, worries about their health, and perhaps they also struggle on a spiritual and faith level.  On top of all this, 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.  It is difficult to come to work every day like I am playing in the Super Bowl.  To be totally honest, I was never a driven or 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 are poor performers who have little value.  We’re not just bricks in the wall or part of a mindless herd.  Personally, I 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.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Feelings Are Like The Weather

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.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Introverts Unite!

I’ve never kept it a secret that I am an extreme introvert.  I love my privacy and solitude.  This doesn’t mean I hate people.  I like people but as an introvert I often find people exhausting and my experience is that most people are best enjoyed in small doses.  Group activities are often very stressful for me.  I don’t apologize for any of this.  It’s who I am and it’s the way I am hard wired.  As an introvert I am not anti-social.  I am just very comfortable with myself and I am happiest in my own little world, a world that is mostly inside of me.  There are a lot more people like me than many people realize, especially extroverts.  Extroverts tend to think everyone is an extrovert.  Introverts don’t always get noticed.  Our quietness sometimes makes other people think we are standoffish or mad about something.  I also think introverts are sometimes perceived as weak.  I am generally quiet and non-confrontational.  However, I am also very passionate and can put up quite a fight when provoked.  If introverts are the kind of people that hate to be the center of attention, extroverts are the kind of people that seem to demand attention.  Where other people often exhaust me, extroverts get their energy from being around others.  A crowded club or bar would be hell for me.  In general, extroverts usually hate to be alone.  Introverts tend to be introspective thinkers.  That doesn’t mean we are smarter than everyone else although I tend to think we are (smile).  Introverts usually think before they talk.  Extroverts often talk before they think.  I hate it when my cubicle is out in the open, especially in a high traffic area.  Whenever possible I try to be in a cubicle in a corner with as much privacy and solitude as I can find.  I am much more productive and a lot happier.  We live in an extroverted world so there is not always an understanding or appreciation for people who prefer a quieter, lower stimulation environment.  When I am sitting alone in my cubicle, with a cup of coffee and some good music, I am as content as a pig wallowing in the mud.  These thoughts remind me of a favorite quote by a musician named Robert Fripp that goes “Me and a book is a party.  Me and a book and a cup of coffee is an orgy”.  Yeah, I know I sound boring.  I don’t care.  Just leave me alone and take your party somewhere else.  You’re invading my personal space. (smile)    

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Fear Of Not Measuring Up

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?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rise Up And 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
These words of the Buddha probably do a good job of summing up most of the days in our lives as well as remind us to always be thankful.  Of course, whenever 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.  Most 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.  Each morning is the threshold of a new day with new possibilities.  If yesterday wasn't so great for you, today can be a time 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.  Begin the rest of your life now by seizing the day and living with a grateful heart.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Conversations With Chloe

Yesterday I visited my mother.  My granddaughter, Chloe, went with me.  On the way to Chloe’s home after our visit I told her that my mother was 84 years old.  She looked at me and said, “Wow, she’s really good at living”.  This made me laugh and I thought it was a great way to look at aging.  Even though the general population is getting older, thanks to the baby boomers, our culture is usually obsessed with youthfulness.  I think it is a good thing when people, especially children, experience multiple generations.  Most people's perceptions of aging are changing.  There are approximately 75,000,000 baby boomers and for the most part we are kicking and screaming against pre-conceived notions of how older people should act.  Sometimes when I have the music cranking, and I am jumping around while playing air guitar, I think “I shouldn’t be do this.  I’m 63 years old”.  Then I keep on doing it.  After my conversation with Chloe yesterday I now realize it one small way I try to be good at living.  We had other interesting conversations over the weekend.  Sunday morning her stomach hurt a little but after going to the bathroom she felt better.  This led to a discussion about what poop really is.  After I explained it to her she said, “Paw Paw, you are like a teacher and a scientist”.  One question that really caught me off guard, however, was when she asked me why people commit suicide.  I explained that as best and as delicately as I could.  All of these Chloe questions and conversations are part of the reason I love being a grandfather.  Sometimes the questions are tough and I choose my words carefully but I think such conversations are what the old should be having with the young.  I am not just a guy who sits on the floor and plays games or who takes her to the movies.  Part of my role is to help my granddaughter understand the complexities of life.  No matter what she asks I always tell her the truth as best I can.  I don't try to BS her.  She is getting older, smarter, and more perceptive by the day.  I love being with her.  It keeps me on my toes.         

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Weekend Is Here!

Today is Friday and the end of my work week.  It is a beautiful morning and I am feeling pretty good.  There will be lots of excitement in the air today as workers in the surrounding area make preparations for tomorrow’s “Thunder Over Louisville” air show and fireworks extravaganza.  Yesterday, and again today, the sound of sonic booms from military jets flying over the river will rock my office.  Tomorrow’s events are the beginning of the Kentucky Derby Festival.  In my hometown this is huge.  It is the unofficial beginning of spring, and after the winter we’ve had, people are ready to party.  Derby time in Louisville is as much a holiday season as Christmas.  In a perfect world employers would just shut down and give all their employees a two week vacation.  Since I am stuck in my office today I am hoping for a quiet and uneventful day.  I would like to ease into the weekend.  At some point I will venture outside and take in the weather and all the activities.  I am pretty sure the hot dog vendor will be there and today I will not resist the urge for a bratwurst.  When I get home today I need to rest up for my granddaughter’s visit this weekend.  One has to be in shape and well rested for Chloe.  I should also be seeing my son the priest.  He will be traveling home today from San Francisco.  His car is currently parked in my driveway and I’m afraid I am going to run into it.  Even though he is a priest I am not sure he would forgive me for that since it’s a new car.          

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teachable Moments

I think every experience in life is a teachable moment.  These moments are not only an opportunity for me to teach others but also an opportunity for life to teach me.  In the work environment we often use the term “coachable” moment.  I don’t really like this term because it implies to me that the events of a particular moment always need to be corrected.  Some experiences are what they are, and while some mistakes may need to be corrected, mistakes are not the only soil from which a learning opportunity sprouts.  I also believe what a former teacher of mine, Richard Rohr, once said, “The moment is as perfect as it can be”.  All of life is a never ending learning experience.  It doesn’t matter how old you are or how many degrees you hold, life will continue to teach you.  Sometimes I think I know everything I need to know but life keeps enlightening me with even more knowledge and wisdom.  As I’ve said before, in recent years my granddaughter has been my teacher.  Like most children, she is a natural Zen Master.  When I am with her I try to see life through her eyes and I try to let my inner child appear.  Sometimes, when I let go, I can be a nine year old child.  When this happens I can see life with a renewed freshness and not through the eyes of a tired, slightly jaded, sixty three year old.  Today, for example, I am not feeling it.  It’s Thursday and that is the day of the week when I start running out of gas.  I hate to feel this way.  My fatigue is part physical, part emotional, and part spiritual.  The teaching of the moment is that I need some personal renewal.  I need to regain my excitement about being alive.  I need to fill up the gas tank of my soul with some high octane gas.  Sometime when you are my age and you’ve been doing everything in your life for a very long time, it hard to find a gas station that gives you the energy that you need.  The good news for me at this moment is that my Zen teacher will be spending the weekend at my house.  She never runs out of gas.  If I can’t keep up, she will drag me along.  She’s exhausting and energizing at the same time.  I wonder what she will teach me this weekend?     

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Happiness Lost & Found

I almost experienced complete and total happiness yesterday but then I talked myself out of it.  It was the middle of the afternoon and I felt the need for some fresh air and exercise.  I went outside for a walk.  I noticed that the dogwood trees were blooming.  They may have been blooming for a few days and I was asleep at the wheel.  I stood and looked at them for a while and then I continued my walk.  Soon a wonderful aroma came wafting through the air from the grill of the hot dog vendor parked outside my office.  I could feel myself being seduced by the thought of a freshly grilled and piping hot bratwurst.  However, as I was reaching for my wallet to see if I had any money, I returned to reality from my semi-conscious state and I resisted the urge to buy a bratwurst for the simple joy of consuming it.  This is the closest I have been to complete happiness lately and what did I do?  I threw it all away for the sake of health.  I did experience some happiness on Monday.  It was a typical beginning to another work week.  I wasn’t in the mood for work after four days off.  To make it even worse, it rained all day.  I did find some relief in the thought that I was going to get out of work earlier than usual.  As soon as I had that thought, the telephone rang and it was my oldest son saying “Dad, do you think you could pick up Chloe from school today”?  It was a bittersweet moment.  On the one hand it meant driving across town in the pouring rain on a day I thought I would get home early.  On the other hand it was an opportunity to see my granddaughter and that always bring me happiness.  I agreed to pick her up.  When I showed up at her school I hit the school bus and car rider rush hour which must be a daily hell for some parents.  I found my way into the school and quickly located Chloe in the sea of children.  She ran towards me tossing her back pack like a basketball player on the free throw line.  We walked to the car and talked about our day.  After getting in the car I asked her about an argument I had heard she had with her step mom.  She told me her step mom got mad when she rolled her eyes at her after being told to do something.  I told her I understood and that I often did the same thing when her grandma tells me to do something.  It was a true bonding moment for us.  Any time I get to be with my granddaughter is a happy moment for me.  For complete and total happiness I need to have Chloe with me the next time I walk past the hot dog vendor.  Then we can both buy a bratwurst and look at the blooming dogwood trees together.    

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Being Contemplative

I have occasionally referred to myself as a contemplative.  What is a contemplative?  I am not an expert on contemplation but here's my perspective.  People who know me well know I am very introverted and introspective.  I think you can learn to be contemplative but some personality types seem to be naturally contemplative.  I hesitate to call it a skill but as a behavior and a way of being one can practice it even if it does seem to go against your nature.  In all the major religions there are contemplative traditions but I also think you can be a contemplative person without necessarily being a religious person or someone who goes to church every Sunday.  In my mind a contemplative person is one who takes the time to stand back or step away from the fast pace of life and simply breathe.  The contemplative is someone who likes life in the slow lane.  It's about being awake enough and present enough to not only notice the flowers but also be willing to stop and smell them.  It's being present to life in all its details.  Some call this mindfulness.  For those who are spiritually inclined it can also be about having an awareness of God's presence in life.  Perhaps you have read the story of the prophet Elijah in the Book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures.  He had challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a duel.  To make a long story short, Elijah’s God won so the guys that lost ran Elijah out of town.  He hid in a cave on a mountain.  There was thunder and lightning and earthquakes and all that kind of scary stuff but God was not present in them.  Finally, there was a small whispering sound like a gentle breeze.  Elijah hid his face for in the gentle breeze God was present.  The contemplative person is one who has achieved an interior quiet that allows him to notice the small whispering sounds in life where God is often present.  If you are constantly running through life, busy all the time, stressed out, and meeting yourself coming and going, you will miss such opportunities.  I don't think you can truly be a contemplative person if you are running through your life like your hair is on fire.  

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Some Thoughts On Education

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 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.  The experience of life hopefully makes us wiser but that is not guaranteed.  Not all older people are wise and not all younger people naive.  Wisdom chooses its home.  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 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 not yet had these experiences.  The bottom line is that you should never should stop learning.  To be a truly educated person, you must be open to everything that books and life teaches you and 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 knowledge.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Thinking Ahead

I was reading an article in the Sunday newspaper that asked the question “When should a person retire”?  The answer was “Never”!  This answer was not based on the financial needs that many people will face in retirement.  The writer believed that even if a person is financially secure they should still never retire.  Does this mean that I should stay with my current employer until I keel over in my cubicle?  Unless I have the biggest surprise of my life that is not going to happen.  I know I have 2-3 years left of working for money before I can retire.  I plan to use this time to plan the rest of my life.  Yesterday morning I was sitting in the lobby of Jewish Hospital East while my wife having some blood work done.  I observed all the people walking into the hospital and I pictured myself being one of those guys pushing people around in wheelchairs.  I then thought back to a distant time when I was a young seminarian working in a soup kitchen for the homeless.  Over the years I have done other types of ministry as well.  Occasionally I imagine myself helping and working with my son who is a priest.  When I am no longer working to make a living I hope to devote myself to some kind of service and ministry.  I do this now to some extent in my daily work.  However, along with the opportunities for ministry at work I also have the responsibility to push and pull people along and on a bad day I must counsel them in the error of their ways.  Pushing and pulling and disciplining are not in my nature.  Nurturing and encouraging and helping are more my style.  I have never seen retirement as a time to come to a screeching halt and spend all my time sleeping in my Lazy Boy.  That is the quickest way to guarantee a short retirement.  I recently read a quote from Erma Bombeck who said “When I die I was to be totally empty.  I want to tell God that I used up everything He gave me”.  I think this is a great attitude.  I want to use every experience I ever had and everything I’ve ever done in some kind of service.  I want to use my nature, my personality, my education, my time as a monk, my life as a husband, father, and grandfather, my work experience and my management skills, as well as my ever present desire to practice kindness and compassion, in some type of service and ministry.  Whatever I am, whatever I have, I want to use it all up.