Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books That Changed My Life

A friend recently challenged me to list ten books off the top of my head that changed my life.  Here are the ten books that I picked in no particular order.

  1. The Sign Of Jonas by Thomas Merton
  2. The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen
  3. Centering Prayer by Basil Pennington
  4. Discovering The Enneagram by Richard Rohr
  5. The Little Flowers Of St. Francis by Raphael Brown
  6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  7. Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  8. The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  9. The Art Of Happiness by the Dalai Lama
  10. Spiritual Master-A Thomas Merton Collection edited by Lawrence Cunningham 
Here are five additional books that had a great impact on me at the time I read them.

  1. The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser
  2. The Cistercian Way by Andre Louf
  3. The Mystery Of The Ordinary by Charles Cummings
  4. Letters From The Desert by Carlos Carretto
  5. The Cloud Of Unknowing by an unknown monk of the 14th century
As you can see the books that have most formed me as a person are books of a spiritual nature.  Certainly there have been other books I thoroughly enjoyed, such as books about music, but those that formed and changed who I am are deeply spiritual in nature.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Through The Years On My Blog


What Is Not Wrong?

If you ask the question “What is wrong?”, most people would have little difficulty providing you with a laundry list of their problems, issues, concerns, and complaints.  I would like to challenge you to take a different approach to your life.  It’s safe to assume that everyone has problems, issues, concerns, and complaints.  Sooner or later, however, you will wear out the people around you if that’s all you talk about.  I would like you to change the question to “What’s not wrong”?  Start focusing on all the things in your life that aren’t wrong.  We should always be grateful for the good things in our lives.  We should also be grateful for the bad things that aren’t in our lives.  In others words, we should be grateful most of the time.  It seems to be human nature to completely blow out of proportion any negative experiences in life and to quickly forget all the positive experiences.  Even negative experiences, however, have a positive side.  They remind us to be grateful.  When life is good we can become complacent and forget to be grateful.  We earthlings are a fickle species.  Life is good and we don’t always appreciate it.  We have a bad experience and we think life is always bad.  To paraphrase the words of Thomas Merton, we are all walking around shining like the sun and we don’t even realize it.  What’s not wrong?  Almost everything most of the time.  When you are waking up, opening your eyes, and looking for joy, you are likely to trip over it.  Joy can be like the lost glasses that are sitting upon your nose.     

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Joy Happens!

I once read a book titled Living A Beautiful Life.  I admit this is not the kind of book that most men would read.  The book was generally about the little things we can do for ourselves to make life seem beautiful and special.  For example, I would only drink bad coffee from a Styrofoam cup in the most extreme of circumstances.  I am more likely to drink “special” coffee from a beautiful mug.  On one of my trips to Gatlinburg I bought a coffee mug from a local potter.  On the side of the mug it says “Paw Paw”.  The mug is a thing of beauty.  I thought about all this when reading a chapter in a mindfulness book about joy.  How much real joy do you have in your life?  What gives you joy?  Are you awake enough in your life to recognize moments that give you joy?  A few things that give me joy, in no particular order, are my granddaughter, hummingbirds, great coffee, music, a cool breeze, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, anything with cinnamon on it, friends, laughter, moments of oneness with the universe, a great nap, weekends, anytime I feel good, books, an ice cold import beer, movies that touch my soul and heart, and on and on and on.  We all know that life is hard and at times can be very challenging.  Much of life can be depressing and discouraging.  Life is often unfair and unpredictable.  People talk about love all the time but it often seems scarce.  Joy can be the antidote for all in life that does not uplift our spirits.  Be awake today.  Open your eyes.  Joy happens!       

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Life In The Slow Lane

I love three lane highways.  I think they are a metaphor for life.  When traffic is heavy I stay in the middle lane.  If I am going too slow for someone they can move to the left lane.  If I am going too fast for someone they can move to the right lane.  The middle lane represents the middle path and this is the path I attempt to walk in my life.  If traffic is light or non-existent I move into the slow lane so I can truly enjoy the drive.  Most people don’t enjoy the drive.  They are totally focused on the destination.  If I drive to Gatlinburg it takes me approximately five hours.  About half way there I stop for a big breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Corbin, Kentucky.  When my oldest son drives to Gatlinburg he gets there in approximately three hours with the help of a five hour energy drink but without the experience of a nice breakfast.  I believe in life, and on road trips, the journey is the destination.  Another reason I like the middle path is that it represents the contemplative way.  Most people think there are two options for dealing with life.  You can fight it or run away from it.  The middle path is the path of simply being present.  Whatever is going on, you don’t have to always fight it or run away from it.  Instead, be present to it.  Deal with it.  Learn from it.  Get over it.  Life has a way of always pulling you or pushing you.  Stand firm and strong on the middle path.  Do not be intimidated by life.  Be present to it.  I know many of you love moving fast but as Gandhi once said, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed”.  I highly recommend the slow lane.  There’s a lot to see there and it’s a lot less stressful than always living your life in the fast lane.    

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Believe What You Experience

One of my former teachers once said, “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking”.  The great teacher, Buddha, said, “Believe what you experience”.  It’s been my experience of life that we often start with an answer and then we build a question.  We want things a certain way so then we try to manipulate reality to match our desires.  Such manipulation may get us what we want but the side effects can be damaging.  Rarely do we just let life unfold.  The fact that it’s done that for billions of years doesn’t seem to deter us in our desire to be in control.  Most of us try to live according to whatever belief system we have chosen to embrace.  How would life be different if we believed according to what we have experienced?  This is a door that can swing both ways.  If you’ve never experienced love, it’s difficult to believe in it.  If all you have known is abuse and hatred, it's very likely that all you are capable of is abuse and hatred.  If you have felt great love in your life it is very likely that you will want to share that love with others.  Depending on our experience we may believe in hate or love.  If you choose to believe in God but you never have an experience of God, your faith may eventually disappear.  Some people, however, who have little or no faith may have an experience of God that deepens their faith.  Good or bad, our experience, or lack thereof, can greatly affect what and how we believe.  It's about balance.  Most people need and want something to believe in.  However, if we’ve never had the experience to support and strengthen our beliefs, they will eventually fall by the wayside.  Belief must be balanced with the experience of what we choose to believe.     

Monday, August 25, 2014

Keeping Up With Chloe

My granddaughter spent the weekend with my wife and me.  We had some interesting conversations with her while she was here.  In the middle of her Happy Meal and my Filet of Fish, she asked me who Prometheus was.  Catching me in a moment of Greek mythology weakness, I had to do a quick Google search to determine that he was a son of Titans, friend of Zeus, and stealer of fire.  In another conversation we discussed how you can run until tomorrow but you can’t run to tomorrow.  When I tried to explain why she said, “I know, Paw Paw, its because of the time space continuum.”  Chloe is only ten years old.  How am I going to keep up in the conversations when she is 20 years old and I am in my mid 70’s?  In another conversation she told my wife that for Christmas she wants an iPhone, iPad, and a laptop.  She also said to tell Santa (me?) that it would be nice if we had a Wii at our house so she could play it when she visits.  She’s already taken over my personal computer.  I love my granddaughter.  She brings me a lot of joy and I cannot imagine life without her.  Although a part of me wants her to stay exactly the way she is now, I also love watching her grow up and develop into the person she is.  I love being her grandfather and having the relationship we have.  I held her within an hour of her birth and my wife and I starting keeping her for weekends since she was three weeks old.  Let me tell you that keeping a three week old baby overnight when you are in your mid-fifties is quite the eye opening experience.  Yes, we had raised two children of our own but we were totally out of practice by the time Chloe arrived.  She will be back again this weekend so I better brush up on my Greek mythology and time travel.  May we will discuss Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.  She already thinks my hair looks like Albert Einstein’s when I wake up in the mornings.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some Thoughts On Leadership

The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living once studied the idea of leadership in the writings of Thomas Merton.  While Merton did not specifically address the issue of leadership, his writings prompted the following questions:
  • How is the inner life of a leader integral to leadership style?
  • How are core personality traits reflected in the way a person leads?
The Institute identified the following six key characteristics of a leader.
  1. Compassion
  2. Courage
  3. Humility
  4. Relational
  5. Clarity of Vision/Intuition
  6. Openness to Change
In my opinion, these characteristics support what many refer to as “Servant Leadership”.  True leadership is a life of service.  In our society, especially in politics, leaders more often than not seek their own self-interests and the promotion of their personal agendas rather than serve the needs of the people they represent.  In history, the greatest leaders have been servants not dictators.  Leaders should be compassionate, they should be courageous, they should be humble, they should be people oriented, they should be visionary, they should intuitively know what is the right thing to do, and they should be open to the change that supports what is right.   

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Inner Knots

According to a book I once read by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, whenever we have a bad experience or we feel negative emotions, we can create inner knots within ourselves.  If we don’t get past the experience or over the emotion these knots just get tighter and harder.  If we continue to have bad experiences or negative emotions we begin to accumulate these inner knots and they start affecting our entire lives.  Thich Nhat Hahn suggests mindfulness as a way to loosen and untie these knots.  By being mindful, and with some practice, we can learn to step outside our experiences and emotions and look at them more objectively.  We can ask ourselves such questions as “Why was this such a bad experience for me”? or “Why do I feel this way”?  When we can look at our reactions and emotions more objectively we can begin to understand them.  The more we understand our own behavior, especially bad behavior or negative emotions, the more we can prevent it.  I am at a point in my life where I can often see my dysfunctional self-coming down the road a mile away.  When I see him coming I take steps to prevent his arrival.  I am more successful now than when I was younger.  Age has also taught me other lessons.  I prevent many inner knots from forming because I realize now that life is too short.  I have learned to not take things too personally and to let many things go.  I have learned to build bridges rather than burn them.  I know what it’s like to struggle with life so I cut other people some slack whenever possible.  True to my nature, I am a peacemaker.  There is enough pain in this world.  Why would I want to create more?  There are too many negative feelings and emotions.  If I can do anything to make another person’s life better, or to loosen their inner knots, why would I not want to do that?  Choose goodness.  Be a light in the darkness.  Loosen the knots within yourself and don’t create them within others.      

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Enneagram

Most of my adult life I have been a little obsessed with trying to understand what makes me tick.  I have wondered why I think and act as I do.  Why am I who I am?  One of the great things that has helped me in my understanding of myself, and others, is called the Enneagram.  The Enneagram is a personality system, similar to the Myers-Briggs, but much deeper in my opinion, that has given me much insight into my own behavior.  In this system, there are nine basic personality types.  Each has their positive and negative traits.  Typically one finds their type from the somewhat painful acceptance of their negative or dark side.  In terms of the positive traits of each type, it is usually easy to identify with all of them since most of us have exaggerated images of ourselves.  Here is a brief description of the nine types.  Of course, it’s more complicated than these simple descriptions and there are many subtle dynamics.  One insight I have gotten from the Enneagram is the realization that our gift is also our curse.  It’s the “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” conundrum.  Some of you may quickly see yourself in one of these types. I am a Type Nine.  I highly recommend Richard Rohr's The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.
1.       The Perfectionist-Motivated by the need to be right.
2.       The Helper-Motivated by the need to love.
3.       The Achiever-Motivated by the need to be successful.
4.       The Romantic-Motivated by the need to be special.
5.       The Observer-Motivated by the need to know.
6.       The Questioner-Motivated by the need to be certain.
7.       The Adventurer-Motivated by the need to avoid pain.
8.       The Asserter-Motivated by the need to be against.
9.       The Peacemaker-Motivated by the need to avoid.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Living Deliberately

Here’s one of my favorite passages from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.
Who of us really lives deliberately?  Most of the time I feel like I am living accidently as a reaction to everything that happens to me in my daily life.  There are few days where I feel I am really doing what I want to do.  Most days I feel like I am doing what everyone else wants me to do.  How does one live deliberately in a world that is always making demands on you?  I know for me there are two things that help.  The first is to just learn to say no.  The second thing is to stop being so passive.  Too many times in life I have said yes when I really wanted to say no.  Because of my passive nature I often do what others want, rather than rocking the boat, and then I am unhappy about it.  It is difficult for me to be assertive about my own will.  I hate conflict and making other people unhappy.  Of course, by making others be happy, I have often made myself unhappy.  The older I get the more assertive I am becoming about my own will.  I am not talking about inflicting my will on everyone around me.  I am talking about not always giving in to the demands of others.  My own happiness is important to me and if being more assertive about my own needs annoys others, they can get over it.  I can be assertive about my own needs and still care about other people’s needs too.  This is how I try to live more deliberately.  You don’t have to live a solitary life in the woods to do this although it would be a lot easier. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Favorite Day

Here’s a lesson on mindfulness from Winnie the Pooh.  Winnie is taking a walk with his friend, Piglet. 
What day is it”? asked Pooh.
“It’s today”, squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day”! said Pooh.
Many times I have described Zen as being where you are and doing what you are doing.  On one level we are always where we are and we are always doing what we are doing whether we realize it or not.  What makes an ordinary moment a Zen moment?  A Zen moment is a moment when we are aware that we are where we are and we are doing what we are doing.  How do you be aware of the moment?  You become aware of the moments of your day through the practice of mindfulness.  What helps me be mindful throughout my day is to be conscious of my breathing.
Breathing in, I am aware of the moment.
Breathing out, I am grounded in the moment.
Zen moments are not extraordinary moments.  They are the ordinary stuff of everyday life.  One evening, for example, I got home from work.  I went into my backyard to get my recycle bin ready for the weekly pickup.  I noticed my bird bath was totally dry so I filled it with water.  Then I remembered I had some stale bread so I got it out of the kitchen and I put it out for the birds and squirrels.  I gazed around my yard and prayed for rain.  I was in the moment and I was aware that I was in the moment.  It was an ordinary moment made extraordinary because I was present to it through my awareness of it.  Zen is this simple and this hard.  Today I want you to practice your awareness.  From time to time remind yourself to be aware.  In you state of awareness, notice where you are and what you are doing.     

Saturday, August 16, 2014

How I Strive To Lead

Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
-Proverbs 16:24
I have often been accused of being too nice and too trusting.  I have spent my entire working life managing people and generally just dealing with them.  Let’s be honest.  People are messy and they can wear you out.  In spite of this I see leadership as ministry and service.  I strive to practice the “Golden Rule” of treating people the way I want to be treated.  For every time I say no, I say yes 99 times.  I try to counsel, forgive, direct, support, nurture, and encourage.  Sometimes I must steer bad behavior towards a more positive path.  Occasionally I lose my patience.  I believe most of my words are kind and I hope they are like honey to the people that hear them.  Sometimes my kindness has been perceived as weakness and it’s possible I have been burned a few times in the area of trust.  Whatever the case I still believe in kindness, compassion, trust, and forgiveness.  I will also continue to practice and, hopefully, perfect these beliefs.  I believe the return on my investment has been a thousand fold many times over with loyalty, mutual trust, higher productivity, and general work place happiness.  I don’t do these things so people like me.  I do them because I believe they are the right thing to do.  I really do believe the world, and the workplace, would be a better place if everyone was a little kinder and if the words we speak were a little gentler.  Life is tough for even the most blessed among us.  If we are going to have a work place “push day”, let’s push kindness.  Let’s speak more gently.  Let’s be more tolerant and accepting.  Let the strong help the weak and let the weak pull their weight as best they can without being discouraged.  We are all on a journey and the road is often rocky.  I would like to see our productivity increase in the amount of stones we remove from the paths of those around us.  There will always be pain and loss and disappointment in life.  However, all of us can do a lot to make the rest of life a more enjoyable experience, not only for ourselves, but for those around us.  If I could paraphrase the words of the Dalai Lama, “If you can’t be nice to everyone, at least don’t hurt them.”  In other words, do no harm.        

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Male Menopause?

Last Thursday I went to my family doctor for my quarterly blood work and exam.  At one point the doctor asked me how I was feeling.  I replied that I felt pretty good but that I wasn’t sure how a 63 year old man should feel.  He told me I should feel like I am in my 40’s.  I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not as I assured him I did not feel like a 40 year old.  When I was in my early 40’s I was going on Grateful Dead vacations where I would see the band play three nights in a row while I sat out on the lawn with thousands of other Dead Heads.  Today I’m not sure I could sit on the ground at all.  I especially could not do it for three nights in a row, for hours at a time, and surrounded by crazy people.  These days I can barely stay awake through a DVD of a Grateful Dead concert while sitting in the  comfort of my Lazy Boy.  I laughed a little when he told me I could be going through male menopause.  My wife has been going through female menopause for what seems like 75-80 years.  She’s always having hot flashes while I looking for a blanket when I take my naps.  Once the results of the blood work comes back I should know if I have entered another stage of life.  Maybe with some increased B-12 shots and whatever else the doctor prescribes I can once again be energetic enough to go back out on the rock and roll highway.  My first goal, however, is to go home after a day of work and stay awake until bed time.  Tonight I have failed again in this regard.  Don’t get too excited if I suddenly appear to have an abundance of energy in the near future.  You also will be waiting a long time if you are holding out for my personal “Sweating To The Oldies” exercise video.    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

We Are All Gumbo

All of us are like a bowl of gumbo or perhaps an unfinished sculpture.  Whoever we are today is the result of every influence and experience, good and bad, that we’ve had up to this point.  Like a sculpture, every new influence and experience will continue to reveal the person we are becoming.  If you talk to a sculptor, most will tell you that they don’t really create an image so much as they bring to the surface the image hidden within the block of wood or rock.  I think within each one of us is our essence.  How this essence is manifested in who we become is dependent on the ingredients of our personal gumbo or how our block or wood or stone is struck.  Think about your life experience so far.  What influences or experiences have shaped you.  I am the first born child in my family of origin.  That makes a difference.  I am also a child of the sixties.  That makes a difference.  I once lived in a monastery that changed the way I look at life.  That makes a difference.  I have lived most of my life with a wife and children.  That makes a difference.  I’ve had many good teachers and mentors.  That makes a difference.  Look at who you admire.  My primary influences are Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, and the Dalai Lama to name a few.  Notice that I didn’t include any rock stars or other entertainment types.  Although I may love their art, I am rarely influenced by their personal lives.  I have read thousands of books.  That makes a difference.  I have not chased after money or worldly possessions.  That makes a difference.  I have spent many hours deep in thought and meditation.  That makes a difference.  I have tried to be a good man who is kind and compassionate.  That makes a difference.  Who or what has seasoned your gumbo?  What influences or experiences, good or bad, has helped to reveal the image within your personal sculpture?         

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Search For Meaning

I’ve done too many things in life simply because I believed it was expected.  In general, I have played by most of the rules and I have done the “right things”.  Much of my life I have been reasonably content even when my circumstances didn’t seem supportive of any contentment.  I think I was able to find some contentment in most circumstances because it generally doesn’t take much too please me and most of the time I am grateful for anything good that comes my way.  In the midst of my contentment I have experienced some truly joyful moments.  What I have not experienced in abundance is an overarching sense of happiness.  Perhaps my expectations of life and people have been too great.  There have been too many situations and circumstances in my life that were little more than tolerable to me.  Part of the problem is my own worldview.  I am a dreamer and a romantic and most of life is not dreamy or romantic.  Although I do not consider myself a poet, I tend to look at life with poetic eyes.  I know I am too sensitive.  Sometimes I wonder if I am even capable of being happy.  Many people would love the life I have.  I must admit, however, that the life I have was never the life I dreamed of having.  Getting married, having children, and living in a house with a white picket fence, was never a life I thought about when I was young.  It all seemed way too ordinary for a dreamer and a romantic like me.  What happiness I have experienced is due to me finding meaning and joy in unexpected moments and places.  I am grateful for my sensitive nature and discerning eye.  I call this “finding the extraordinary within the ordinary”.  I also think this is due to being a contemplative person.  In moments of spiritual wakefulness I am able to see past life’s disappointments and I can find meaning in my life.  However, there are those that think that if you have to look for meaning in your life, there probably isn’t any.  Some believe the meaning in your life should be obvious.  I know thoughts such as these are nothing but existential angst, a malady suffered by most people from time to time.  What about you?  How do you feel?  Are you happy with the life you have?  Is your life meaningful to you or are you constantly struggling to find meaning and purpose within it?  There has to be more to life than simply existing.     

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Chapters Of Our Lives

The chapters of our life stories can often be taken from the decades in which we have lived.  I was a child of the 50’s, a time many considered idyllic.  I came of age in the 60’s, a time that was turbulent and a time in which there were many substantial changes in our culture.  In the 70’s I got a job, married a wife, bought a house, and became a parent.  Most of the 80’s and 90’s were devoted to turning a job into a career and raising two boys into men.  In the early 2000’s life changed for all of us because of 9/11.  I also became a grandfather and I discovered I had a gift for writing and sharing feelings that many people have but cannot always articulate.  I am now in my 60’s and my aging seems accelerated even though I am trying to slow my life down by downshifting as much as I can.  I feel like I am on the other side of the mountain but I am OK with that.  While climbing up the mountain I feel I accumulated some wisdom and a little enlightenment.  Life has been a tall mountain so I am not sure how long it will take me to get to the bottom of it.  I am in no hurry because I am enjoying the ride now.  It’s much easier because it is all downhill.  Life is a journey and every step is important.  How would you measure your life so far?  What are the chapters of your life?  Is the peak of your mountain in front of you or must you look over your shoulder to see it?
R.I.P. Robin Williams
"Good Grief"
-Wavy Gravy

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Finding Happiness In Balance

Why are some people happy and others not?  First of all, it is a choice.  Some people choose to be happy despite what goes on around them and to them.  Others think they can't be happy until everything is perfect in their lives.  Many more always see the glass as half empty instead of half full.  It's all a matter of choice and perspective.  I do think it helps to have a balanced life.  Here are the things I think are important.  Every individual must work out how to have and balance these things in their life.  For me, they represent the essentials of a happy, balanced, and fulfilling life. 
The Six Essentials of a Balanced and Happy Life by Michael Brown
Mind.  Develop your intellect.  Read a book.  Learn a new skill.  Be open to new things.  If you don't use it, you lose it.  Rediscover the enthusiasm and curiosity you had as child to learn and discover new things.
Body.  Practice wellness.  Begin to live a healthy life now.  Take care of your body.  It is your vehicle through life.  Some people take better care of their cars than their own bodies.  Don't wait till the damage is done.
Spirit.   Be in touch with something bigger than yourself.  Have a belief system and a personal code of ethics.  Being part of a faith community works for some but not for others.  You can still explore the teachings of the great spiritual masters.  If nothing else, the golden rule works for everyone.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.   Practice the religion of kindness, compassion and tolerance.    
Work.  Give work what it needs and requires.  Being a workaholic and working hard are not the same things.  Look for work that is satisfying, not only to your bank account, but to your spirit.  Work is one of the ways we can share in the creative process of life.  Elevate it, in whatever way you can, to something more than just a mundane routine.
Family.  Being part of a family who loves you is one of life's greatest gifts.  Appreciate it.  Strive to make those in your families feel appreciated and loved.  Celebrate your family bonds!  There's an old saying that goes, "Home is where they have to take you in."  Be the kind of person that someone wants to take in.  Outside of the family develop friendships that are sustainable and long lasting.
Self.  Take time for yourself.  Balance time with others with solitude and time for personal reflection.  Be your own best friend.  Enjoy your own company.  Look in the mirror and know who you see.
Give all of these things time in your life.  Too much or too little of any of them creates an imbalance which can be a source of stress for many people.  When our life is in balance, we are at ease with living and happiness finds us.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Searching For The Reason

A friend in my office emailed me yesterday and reminded me that 19 years ago, on August 5th, 1995, I was nearly killed in a traffic accident.  I had mostly forgotten this event but my friend was married on the same day and in a very sad turn of events her grandmother was killed in another traffic accident on the very same day.  As it turns out we were both in the emergency room at the same time although I had no idea while it was happening.  It was a tough week for me.  While I was home recovering from my accident, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead died unexpectedly.  Being a card carrying Deadhead, I was very upset.  Several days later there was a memorial in the park for Jerry but I was in no condition to attend.  My youngest son, the one who is now a priest, attended for me.  He was a teenager at the time.  The joke in the office was that people were filling up my cubicle with incense and candles.  In those days I was often mistaken for Jerry Garcia since I had shoulder length graying hair and a beard and I looked like Jerry’s twin brother.  When I finally returned to work there was a post-it note on my computer monitor.  It simply said, “You were spared for a reason.  Now you need to figure out why.”  After nearly twenty years of additional life I am still searching for the reason.  I think I am like most people.  The value of my own life is not usually obvious to me.  I live my life, I do what I do, and I can only hope it has some value.  Much of our lives we are planting seeds that we may not see grow.  Many people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.  Many of us may be noticed more by our absence than by our presence.  Either way, we should live our lives to the best of our abilities and hope the purpose and mission of our lives is realized.    

I am still a card carrying Deadhead but keep that under your hat.  I wear a disguise to the office so I don’t freak anyone out.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Be Alive And Awake

Here’s something I once read from a book called Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh.
We try to be in touch with life and look deeply as we drink our tea, walk, sit down, or arrange flowers.  The secret of the success is that you are really yourself, and when you are really yourself, you can encounter life in the present moment.
Today I want all of you to really be who you are.  Along with being who you are I want you to be where you are and I want you to do what you are doing.  This might all sound simple but it is not.  Most people are not who they really are.  Most of us are trying to be who we think we need to be to impress or appease others.  Most of us are not where we are.  Our minds and bodies are rarely in the same place.  Whatever most of us are doing, we are probably thinking about what we need to do next.  Many of our lives demand multi-tasking and that really complicates things.  In today’s world it is very challenging to only do one thing at a time.  Wherever you are today, and whatever you are doing each moment, be there and do it.  If you’re drinking your coffee, tea, or soda, really drink it.  Know that you are drinking it.  When you have a snack or eat your lunch, know that you are doing it.  Taste your food, enjoy it’s flavor, and mindfully chew it.  If you are outside, and there is a breeze, feel the wind.  Today is going to be hot so it will be a simple task to feel the sun.  Simply put, live your life today and enjoy every minute of the day.  Be alive and awake.     

Monday, August 04, 2014

What You Value Is Who You Are

Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.
- Jose Ortega y Gasset
What do you care about?  How do you spend your free time?  If you ask my granddaughter what I like she will reply “books and music”.  There is no doubt that I love to spend much of my free time reading books and listening to music.  I am also a solitary person so I enjoy my time alone.  Throw in a good cup of coffee and I’m very content.  If you walked into my man cave you would see a lot of books, CD’s, and probably a coffee cup on my table.  This might sound boring to some of you who are more action oriented but I accept that I am probably a boring person to many.  I am happy to be left alone and allowed to simply be.  I get it that many of you are the total opposite of me.  I’m OK with that.  You are who you are.  However, I suspect that there are a lot of people who simply don’t think much about who they are and maybe not much about what they value.  If you could have the rest of this day off, and you had no pressing demands or chores that simply had to be done, what would you do for the rest of the day.  OK, I admit that along with the things I have already mentioned I would slip in a nap.  I had a very busy weekend.  My granddaughter was over most of Saturday and Sunday plus I had a family get together yesterday for a brother who is moving to another state.  However, let’s pretend we all got some rest over the weekend and slept well last night.  How would you spend the time today?  Would you choose a quiet day at home, relaxing, and doing something you enjoy?  Would you spend the day at the new outlet mall buying more stuff that you don’t need?  Would you go volunteer at your church?  Take a walk in the park or go work out?  Sometime today think about what you value and how you would spend your time if you truly owned all your time and you had the total freedom to decide how it was used.  What is it in your life that tells you who you are?  

Friday, August 01, 2014

Grief And Joy

The difference between grief and joy is what we do with them.  Grief we push away.  Joy we try to hold on to.  When we refuse our grief, it stays.  When we try to control our joy, it leaves.  That’s the way these processes are.
-Ann Wilson Schaef 

I have not experienced a lot of grief in my life.  Yes, people have died in my life but for most of them it was their time and I was able to accept it.  A big exception to this was the death of a dear friend last year that was both sudden and unexpected.  I am still grieving that loss.  Of course, grief is about more than accepting and dealing with the deaths of people.  There are many kinds of losses in our lives.  It could be the end of a relationship or a job.  In some ways I have lost my children because they are now adults with lives of their own.  They are no longer the little boys who used to fight with me and beat me up in the middle of my living room floor.  I have also lost my youth and must accept that I am not the man I was at age thirty.  On a positive note I think I am a better man although one with considerably less physical abilities.  I have been blessed to experience more joy in my life than sorrow.  The temptation of joy is the desire to re-create the situation that gave us joy.  I am thinking of a past solitary moment, early on a cool autumn morning, when I sat on the side of a hill, while the sun rose over a lake and the light was shining through the trees and burning the mist from the lake’s surface.  It was one of my contemplative, Zen moments and I experienced what some psychologists call “flow.”  This is the experience of being so in the moment that you transcend time and space and are truly in the now.  On a different day I could plan such a moment and feel nothing.  The joy of the initial experience was a gift, not a reward.  I did nothing to earn it.  It just happened.  Does this make sense?  As people we are deeply emotional beings whether we realize it or not.  Some of us embrace our feelings while others of us repress them.  I tend to do a little of both.  It’s easy to embrace joy or love but I tend to repress feelings like anger.  Sooner or later repressed feelings will make themselves known.  Often they show up as physical ailments like headaches or depression.  I guess my advice would be to feel your feelings.  It’s wonderful to jump for joy but it’s also OK to feel angry once in a while.  It’s all about balance.  I’m not sure it’s possible to be happy, joyful, and upbeat every minute of the day.  To be honest, people like that wear me out.  However, if you are angry and negative all the time, you might want to work on that.  It’s not normal or healthy.