Saturday, February 28, 2015

Building Up And Breaking Down

I have occasionally mentioned something called the “Spirituality of Subtraction”.  This is a concept that is difficult for the young.  It should be.  When one is young it is a time to build up and to accumulate.  You acquire an education.  You begin a career and perhaps start a family.  You buy a house and fill it with stuff.  Youth is a time of building and gathering.  This is the point of the first half of life.  More often than not, when we are doing all this building and gathering, we are also creating the illusion of who we think we are or who we think we should be.  This illusion is what some people call the “false self”.  The second half of life is very different.  One begins to simplify and let go.  Sometimes, despite whatever education you have acquired, you may feel like you don’t know anything at all, but, hopefully, your knowledge has turned into wisdom.   When you were young and thought that you were smart and knew everything, that was an illusion of your false self.  The career that you spent your entire life acquiring may be slipping away.  You may be losing interest in it or it may be losing interest in you.  If you’re lucky you have some good relationships with people you love and who love you in return.  As your children are growing up, you are growing older.  They leave your nest and continue their own journey of life.  The changes you are going through will also happen to them eventually.  At some point you will realize that you no longer need that four bedroom home and the mini-van in the driveway.  Your priorities change.  When you begin to de-construct and let go, many of your illusions are exposed and your “true self” begins to emerge.  Most of you who are young will read this and think “What is he talking about”?  Those of you past 50 probably understand me.  None of this is good or bad.  It is a natural process that we will all participate in with different degrees of satisfaction and pain.  If you are interested in learning more about the idea of the false self/true self, or the “Spirituality of Subtraction”, I recommend the books of Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr.  Both of these men have been mentors and teachers for me.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Journey Of Remembering

I believe part of the spiritual journey is trying to remember everything we have forgotten.  We are born perfect but begin to lose our true nature as we “mature”.  In a manner of speaking the spiritual journey is a return to the self.  As we grow older we sometimes feel like we learn new things.  I don’t think it is a learning so much as it is a remembering.  As we remember who and what we are, we re-discover our true self, the self that is often hidden by our personalities.  As I have shared before, our different personalities are nothing more than defense mechanisms we have unconsciously created as our way to deal with the world around us and to get love.  Since we have not all had the same experience of life, we do not all have the same personality.  I know my own personality well.  It has been studied and tested by me on a number of occasions.  I am programmed by my life’s experience to act a certain way.  Many of us even try to look a certain way.  I was asked once if I had a beard so I look “wiser”.  Of course I do!  Seriously, the challenge of the spiritual journey, and the return to the self, often pushes us to act the opposite of the way we want to act or think we should act.  On some levels we are all frauds and imposters.  We maintain our illusions of ourselves because we are afraid of who we might really be.  If we are born perfect, a return to our true self cannot be scary.  The real fear should be living in an illusion.  People sometimes ask me, “How can I have inner peace”?  First of all inner peace is not the result of having no conflict or challenges in your life.  Inner peace comes from being who you are, accepting who you are, and being OK with who you are.  If you are doing these things you are on your way to being your true self and experiencing inner peace.       

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Complaining Is Wearisome To All

“To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy”.
-Samuel Johnson
I really try not to complain.  My basic approach to life is one of gratitude because I know I have been blessed in many ways.  When I do complain it is usually because I think something is stupid, a waste of time, or has no value that is apparent to me.  When I complain I sometimes become obsessed with whatever I am complaining about.  I know that it sometimes annoys other people and most of the time it wears me out too.  It’s so much better to be happy and content.  Everything in life doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be happy.  However, to be happy one needs to spend some time counting your blessings.  Too often we focus on what’s missing in life and we don’t spend enough time acknowledging the good in our life.  When I avoid the negative it is relatively easy for me to be happy.  Generally, it doesn’t take much to make me happy and I am usually content with whatever is available.  Although I sometimes think I am a complex person, my basic needs are rather simple.  Even though I like nice things I don’t think of myself as a materialistic person.  Happiness is found in direct proportion to our gratitude.  When we are happy and content with life we don’t usually complain.  The less I complain the less I exhaust myself and others and the happier I am.    

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

All Of Life Is Spiritual

This is not a hermitage, it is a house. ("Who was that hermitage I seen you with last night?") What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe. Who said Zen? Wash out your mouth if you said Zen. If you see a meditation going by, shoot it. Who said "Love?" Love is in the movies. The spiritual life is something that people worry about when they are so busy with something else they think they ought to be spiritual. Spiritual life is guilt. Up here in the woods is seen the New Testament: that is to say, the wind comes through the trees and you breathe it.  
-Thomas Merton from his essay Day of a Stranger.
This is a quote from one of my favorite Thomas Merton essays.  For those that do not know, Thomas Merton was a monk, priest, and prolific spiritual writer.  He is also the biggest reason I started writing my own thoughts.  I say that with all due respect for my granddaughter who has also been a major influence.  Merton lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani which is the same monastery where I lived as a young man although we were not there at the same time.  He spent the last few years of his life as a hermit living in the woods near the monastery.  I have spent a couple of weekends in this hermitage and they were profound experiences for me.  I don’t know about the rest of you but I believe I totally get the message in this quote.  I think the basic message here, and one I need to hear on a regular basis, is to stop trying so hard to be spiritual, deep, and profound.  Wear your pants, live your life, feel the wind, and don’t forget to breathe.  All of life is spiritual so you don’t have to do spiritual things to make life sacred.  Life is sacred and spiritual all by itself.  Of course, spiritual practices and beliefs are fine too and they can enhance your overall experience of life.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Empty Mind

I am sitting here with an empty mind.  Last Thursday I picked up my granddaughter and she was at my home until about 10:30 PM last night.  I love to have her around but Paw Paw could have used another day off today to recover.  Most days I drive to work with several ideas in my head about what my daily thoughts will be that day.  Today I arrived at the office with no ideas.  I should be happy about my emptiness.  Most unhappiness comes from our minds and the endless thoughts and fears that circulate within them.  The goal of some meditation is to empty our minds and free us from our fears and worries.  However, in this age of over stimulation and data overload, my empty mind scares me a little.  I’m sure I should be thinking about something like what I need to do when I finish this rambling.  Emptiness might be as scary as overload.  All of us want to reduce or eliminate stress in our lives, we want to be happy, and we want to avoid pain.  At the same time we are often uneasy when we feel too happy.  We want to enjoy it but in the middle of it we fear it’s loss.  Maybe the secret is to find some balance between emptiness and fullness.  Along with an acceptable level of stress and thinking, we need to have an acceptable level of happiness and non-thinking.  As soon as I hit the send button on these thoughts I am sure the needs of the day will kick it and the current emptiness of my mind will become full of the demands of the day.  When all is empty and calm, enjoy the moment.  Life is right behind it and the demands of living will knock upon your door.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Do It For The Joy Of It

In whatever you so, don’t expect to get anything back, don’t expect recognition for your efforts, don’t expect your genius to be discovered or your love to be understood.  Do it for the joy of doing it, or otherwise it is just another ego trip.
I read the above quote this morning and it really hit home.  Who among us doesn’t occasionally feel unappreciated or taken for granted.  I know that sometimes I wonder why I even make the effort to write these daily thoughts.  I try to put a lot of thought and effort into them and I share them with many people in a variety of ways.  Most days, however, I get no response or feedback of any kind from anyone.  My ego wants everyone to tell me they’re great and that I’ve changed their life.  On my best days I try to think of my writings as seeds that I plant which I will most likely never see grow.  Most of us are good people who try to do good things for others and who generally care about others.  We give our best and do what we can and much of it goes unnoticed or seems unappreciated.  Sooner or later we realize that we must do what we do simply because it gives us joy or because it is the right thing to do even if we never get any credit, recognition, or appreciation.  Ego is a big thing in our lives.  The desire to be loved and appreciated is equally huge.  Hopefully, we do feel loved and appreciated most of the time whether it be from family, co-workers, friends, or strangers.  Follow your bliss and all that gives you joy.  As St. Augustine once said, way back in the 5th century, “Love and do what you will”.  Do good works and even if there is no immediate gratification, I believe your goodness will come back to you.   

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Place You Can Only Visit Once

Time is like a place you can only visit once.  I can look back on a day of my life or a period of time much like I might daydream about a great vacation I once had.  Time, like a great vacation or other experience, can rarely be duplicated.  Nothing new is ever quite the same as something past.  I know because I have tried to re-create wonderful experiences and they were never the same as the original experience.  Of course, this can also be comforting when we have bad experiences.  I’m sure all of us have had times where we think, “I hope I never have to go through that again”.   Knowing this I always try to be in the moment and to either enjoy it or endure it.  When life is good, or I’m having a pleasant experience, I often say to myself, “Enjoy this moment”.  When life is a struggle, or I am going through sometime painful, I usually say to myself, “This too shall pass”.  Time and life are like a river.  Sometimes we just float along and enjoy the ride but occasionally the current is strong and it’s difficult to control.  The older I get the more I realize that time is a gift that should not be wasted.  There is much in my rear view mirror.  Most of it was pleasant but like most people, there were experiences I would not want to relive.  The river of time is still flowing for me and I look forward to where it may lead me.  Rivers don’t flow backwards.  Wherever you are in your time journey, enjoy the view and the ride.   

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Take Some Time To Just Be

I was once reading some selections from the writings of Thomas Merton.  One entry described a walk in the woods and a moment of contemplation that he experienced.  Contemplation is part of the human experience that is overlooked by many as they rush through life.  We all need to have moments in our lives where we can breathe and sit in the wonder of life.  This is not complicated or so esoteric that it is beyond the average person.  We all have the ability to be contemplative.  It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to gaze at a full moon.  To be contemplative the only basic requirements are to be awake and aware.  Many of us think winter is never going to end but for those who are aware spring is in the air.  When I walk outside every morning I always notice the weather and I gaze at the stars in the sky.  When my life is not too hectic or demanding I try to just be.  Part of being contemplative is having a sense of wonder.  It is also having a sense of gratitude for all that is good.  It is the quiet moments of life that give us what we need to deal with all the other moments that may test us or make us crazy.  Although many of us do not have the luxury of going on an extended retreat, or even having a weekend to ourselves, we all have moments in our day when we can take a few minutes for the pause that refreshes.  I encourage all of you to be on lookout for such moments and to take advantage of them.  If you do I believe you will begin to experience a sense of calm in your life that you may not have now.  Let me share a Christian prayer that may help you to find some contemplative calm in your life.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

You Must Leave The Cave

We are all on a journey.  I know this sounds like a cliché but it is true nevertheless.  Often in our lives we feel like we are standing still but we are not.  Journeys and life involve movement.  If we are not moving ourselves, life will move us.  Movement is part of life and there are no journeys that allow you to stand still.  The journey of life is hopefully a long journey with lots of interesting side trips.  Our movement through life may not always be pleasant but if we are lucky it is interesting.  All journeys give us experience and many journeys fill us with wisdom.  The first time we go down a path we may be lost and not know our way.  With each additional trip the path becomes more familiar and we may walk the path multiple time just because we enjoy it.  Other paths may be treacherous and if we survive them we make every effort to never go down that path again.  Some paths are rocky or slippery and we must be careful with every step.  Other paths are like a super highway where we can turn on the cruise control and enjoy the scenery.  We often end up on many paths where we have no idea where they will end.  Occasionally they are dead ends but sometimes they take us to the places of our dreams.  I once watched a movie with my granddaughter called “The Croods”.  It was the story of a prehistoric family who dwell in a cave.  The father is always reminding the children of his cardinal rule.  The rule is “Never leave the cave”.  Of course, he has a daughter who wants to leave the cave more than anything.  Circumstances finally force the entire family to leave the cave and by doing so, they discover a world full of wonder.  So get out of your cave, begin your journey, and discover a world full of wonder.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Remembering My Father

On this day six years ago my father died.  He took his last breath as I was walking into his hospital room for what turned out to be my last visit.  I still think of him frequently and I see him every morning when I look in the mirror.  I am my father’s son.  I look just like him, although he did not have a beard, and I have inherited much of his solitary nature and personality.  Like many fathers and sons we did not always get along.  Over the years, however, we both mellowed and looking back I think we were closest during the last year or two of his life when he suffered from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases while residing in a nursing home.  Even in those last days he had a wry smile and quiet sense of humor that some people think I also have.  It is difficult to think of my father without also thinking of my sons.  As they grow older and approach their middle age, how do they see me?  Do they have a negative attitude towards me as I often did towards my father when I thought he had no clue and I knew everything?  Although my father was an uneducated man, in the end he had a quiet dignity and he died a good death.  I delivered the eulogy at his funeral and spoke words I never could have imagined speaking in my rebellious youth.  Most of us do not appreciate our parents.  It is usually in their old age and after we have acquired some of our own wisdom that we see them in a more positive light.  I look favorably on both my parents now even though I still don’t understand everything about them.  In my own struggles as a human being I sometimes reflect on their struggles as they lived their lives and it gives me a more compassionate and forgiving view of them.  All of us need to let go of the past and forgive our parent’s shortcomings as our own children must do with us.         

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

All Things Must Pass

All Things Must Pass.
-A song and album by George Harrison
Back in 1970, George Harrison, one of the Beatles, released a major album called “All Things Must Pass” after years of being overshadowed by his Beatle band mates, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  It is a very spiritual album influenced by Hinduism, George’s religion of choice.  The most famous song on the album is “My Sweet Lord”.  It has been my experience in life that all things truly do pass.  In the time I have been on this planet many people, places, and things have passed through and from my life.  The idea that all things pass is bittersweet.  Although many bad things pass, good things are also transitory.  Life is always in flux even though it’s movement are not always discernible in the moments of our lives.  We often feel like nothing ever changes and then we wake up and ten years has passed.  It is a comfort to know that the storms of our lives won’t last forever but the impermanence of life should also remind us to enjoy life when it is sweet.  Life is like the weather.  Some days are stormy and overcast.  Other days are sunny with blue skies and cool breezes.  Sometimes the weather slows us down and other days it energizes us.  If you don’t like the weather of the day or the moment, just hold on and it will change.  We must also remember that we, too, will pass.  As we go through our lives what impact are we having?  Are we doing good things with our lives in a way that makes us a sunny day for others or are we a storm that others hope will quickly pass?     

Monday, February 09, 2015

Your Strengths Can Also Be Your Weaknesses.

Your strengths are your weaknesses.
-From a teaching on the Enneagram (
We have all taken tests that show our personalities, our preferences, our comfort zones, our strengths,  and our weaknesses.  It would seem logical that we would exploit our strengths and the best parts of who we are.  In general this is true.  However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.  I am a nice person but sometimes I am too nice.  There are times when I need to be less accommodating and to assert my own will by not always giving in to what other people want.  I am an analytical person but sometimes I over analyze things.  I am a perfectionist but sometimes this is taken to extreme and is little more than anal retention.  I am usually calm, laid back, and centered but sometimes I need to be more assertive and pro-active with a greater sense of urgency.  We need to look at our strengths to see how we may overuse them.  One thing that helps me is a daily thought I receive for my particular personality.  Some days this thought tells me I need to remember my strengths and to use them.  Other days the daily thought warns me about some of my dysfunctional tendencies and encourages me to do the opposite of what I usually do.  I believe all of us need to be more self-aware and to understand our behavior.  I know myself well enough to usually see when I am at my best, when I am at my worst, and when I am feeling stressed.  We all have patterns of behavior for better or worse that are closely tied to our personalities.  Most people believe their personalities are who they are.  This is not true.  Your personality is actually a defense mechanism that you created early in your life as a way to protect yourself from the world around you and to help you get what you thought you needed in life which is primarily love.  I am nice, accommodating, and calm most of the time because sometime in my childhood I received the message that I needed to be this way in order to be loved.  Each of you received your own message and much of who you are today and how you act is the result of those messages.     

Saturday, February 07, 2015

I Want To Glow

I learned that one can never go back, that one should not ever try to go back, and that the essence of life is to go forward.  Life is really a one way street.
-Writer Agatha Christie
Did you ever see the movie called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons”?  It starred Brad Pitt as a man who was born old and who got younger the longer he lived.  I won’t tell you how it ends but I will tell you that growing younger as everyone around you grows older is not as great as it sounds.  In real life there is also a curious thing that happens.  As we grow older and our body’s age, we often grow younger in spirit.  Have you ever been around a really old person who has a twinkle in their eye, a smile on their face, and laughter in their heart?  I hope to grow into such a person.  They aren’t childish in an immature way.  They are childlike in a positive way with their zest for life, their sense of wonder, and their openness to the never ending awesomeness of life.  While such people may be dealing with the pain and discomfort of an aging body, their spirit is indomitable.  They are a joy to be around.  Life may be a one way street in the sense that we cannot remain youthful in body or in our thinking.  Of course, there are those who do remain immature their entire life and that is sad.  The one way street of life should lead us forward to a point where we have been transformed into the best version of ourselves.  The transformational process of life, whether it be a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly or a young person growing into a really great old person, is really the whole point of life and certainly the point of the spiritual side of our lives.  If going forward and transforming is not the point of life, what are we here for?  My hair and beard are turning white.  My wife once told me that I am starting to look like Moses after he saw God on the mountaintop.  If you saw the “Ten Commandments” movie with Charlton Heston, you might know what I am talking about.  Moses was aglow.  By the time I leave this world I want to be glowing too.    

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!

The beatings will continue until morale improves.
-from the Humana “Buzz” social media site
When I first read this quote it made me chuckle to myself.  Then I realized that some people believe or have experienced this as an actual approach to bad morale.  What is bad morale?  Many times over the years I have had people come to me and say “Morale is really down”.  I tend to take such statements with a grain of salt.  Morale is in the eye of the beholder.  In every department that I have ever been in there have been people who think everything is wonderful and others who think everything is terrible.  Usually this is the result of different expectations that people have of the workplace.  In general, I have come to the conclusion that many people expect way too much from the workplace.  If work was always fun, it would be called play.  Good or bad morale boils down to attitude, cooperation, how well people work together, and how they are treated.  I strive to start off every day with a positive attitude.  Admittedly there are days where my positive attitude takes quite a beating.  Assuming I can maintain a positive attitude most of the time I strive to be cooperative with my leaders, my peers, and my team.  I don’t always agree with them, I compromise when necessary, and I try not to have unrealistic expectations of them.  We are all people trying to do the best we can and some days are better than other days.  How well we work together has a lot to do with how much we respect one another.  It’s a balancing act.  Leaders must have integrity and respect for those who follow them.  Those who follow should strive to trust their leaders and cooperate with their direction.  Whether one is a leader or a follower, there must be trust, openness, and transparency.  When these things exist, morale is good.  When attitudes on both sides are negative, when cooperation is replaced by competition or resistance, when leaders don’t lead and followers don’t follow, morale is bad.  As cliqued as it sounds, we are all in this together.  It is only by working together in positive and life giving ways that we can accomplish our goals, be reasonably happy, go home at the end of the day with a sense of pride for a job well done, and have no sense of dread about returning the next day.   

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

It's OK To 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.   

Monday, February 02, 2015

What Is It That You Really Want?

Nothing except possibly love and death are of importance, and even the importance of death is somewhat ephemeral, as no one has yet faxed back a reliable report.
-Naturalist /Writer Gerald Durrell
I once received an email from a friend telling me about a Zen retreat he had made.  When he arrived at the retreat the Zen Master asked the participants what they wanted.  He did not ask what they expected.  He asked what they wanted.  He asked a second time, “What is it you really want”?  He wasn’t referring just to the retreat.  He was also asking it in the context of their total lives.  Looking at your own life and dreams, what is it that you really want?  What is really important to you?  I think all of us want love in our life.  We want someone to love and we also want someone to love us.  If you don’t have love in your life everything else loses much of its meaning.  The common understanding of success is not a universal desire.  Most of us cannot even agree on what success is.  Is success based on the size of your paycheck or the happiness and contentment of your life?  If the answer is the latter, there are many very successful people with simple lives, minimal possessions, and average paychecks.  As most of us live our lives we get hung up on incidentals that aren’t really important in the great scheme of life.  I’ve spent much of my work life dealing with people who are upset about something.  I’ve talked a lot of people off the ledge.  What are really grains of sand and bumps in the road are often seen as boulders and craters.  Sometimes we need to stop, breathe, and put things in perspective.  There’s not a hidden agenda behind every circumstance in life.  More often than not, life is just life.  Things happen.  A lot of the time they are good things even if we don’t recognize them as such.  Occasionally bad things happen.  They are not always fair or deserved and usually they are not part of a conspiracy that life is perpetrating against us.  Take some time to reflect on what has real value and importance in your life and focus on that.  Everyone has problems and heartache.  We all have disappointments and things that annoy us.  Most of it we need to let go.  Our energy needs to be spent on what we value and consider truly important.         

Sunday, February 01, 2015

You Can't Please Everyone

I cannot give you the formula for success but I can give you the formula for failure which is try to please everyone.
-Editor Herbert Bayard Swope
Everywhere you turn there is someone who has expectations of you.  Even a robust attempt to please everyone will end up mostly in failure.  I am not sure I have ever totally pleased anyone.  I’ve tried to be a good son, good brother, good husband, good father, good employee, and good leader.  The only thing I am confident I have done really well is being a grandfather.  I also try to be a good writer since writing is the closest I have ever come to having a gift.  At this point in my life I have an attitude that many may find difficult or unacceptable.  My current attitude is that I am doing the best I can and if it’s not good enough for you, you can get over it.  I believe most people, including myself, are generally doing the best they can to be all they should be.  I don’t expect perfection in myself or others.  The older I get, the more tolerant I am of human weakness.  Life is difficult, those around us often expect a lot, and our ability to deliver can vary wildly on any given day.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time”.  These are wise words from a wise man.  I try to put my best self out there as much as I can with the hope I will make a positive difference in the world.  Sometimes my less than best self makes an appearance and I hope that he does no harm.  My advice is to not worry about pleasing people.  I encourage you to focus on doing good.  If you do good things you will please more people than you annoy.  Actually I think annoying some people can be a good thing and I occasionally I take pleasure in doing that.