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.