Monday, November 30, 2015

What Excites You?

Make a list of things that excite you.  What kind of person would you be if you could sustain this level of excitement more often?  What steps can you take to become more like that person.
I must admit that I am a person that doesn’t get excited easily.  I am cynical by nature, more reserved than I care to admit, and my true emotions rarely show.  As a leader one of my weaknesses is an inability to be a cheerleader type of person.  There are certainly people and things that give me joy.  My granddaughter and music come to mind.  However, I don’t think joy and excitement are the same thing.  I think what excites me is when I can be who I really am and do what I do best.  Occasionally this happens but not with a great deal of frequency.  Many people find it difficult to be who they are because they don’t know who they are.  I have a fairly good idea of my identity because I’ve had a long life so far to figure it out.  Many people also don’t know what they do best because they haven’t found their gift yet.  Excitement is a difficult emotion for me.  When I actually feel excitement it is almost uncomfortable.  I suppose the strongest emotion I feel is passion.  Passion, however, is a double edged sword.  On the positive side I can feel passion for something I truly believe in, on the negative side my passion is occasionally repressed anger that has found its way to the surface of my feelings.  Today I will try to meditate on things that excite me and ways that I can nurture this feeling within myself.  I want to live a life where my experiences, thoughts, and actions excite me.  Excitement, like joy, is a wonderful feeling.  I avoid all negative feelings and most of the time I am positive, although not excited.  What about you?    

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Live Life, Breathe, & Feel The Wind

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.  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 by myself and they were profound experiences for me.  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 by itself.  Spiritual practices and beliefs are fine too, and they can enhance your experience of life, but they are not for everyone.  I once read that one should not have to search for meaning in life.  The meaning in life should be obvious.  I must admit that it is not always obvious to me.  Life can seem like a series of random events that have no particular meaning or connection.  I often feel as though I am simply going through the motions of living.  Perhaps I can’t see the forest for the trees.  Today I will try to breathe, relax, and try not to obsess over things.  Maybe, without realizing it, I will simply live my life, breathe, and feel the wind on my face.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Right Kind Of Shoes

During our lifetime we walk down many different roads.  We start in one place and end up in another place.  When one road ends, another one begins.  As Tom Hanks declared in the movie Forrest Gump, “I’ve worn lots of shoes”.  In all of the journeys down all of the roads we have traveled in our lives we’ve all worn lots of shoes.  I have an old pair of sneakers with tie dyed shoe strings that are completely worn out but I have kept them because they have taken me to many rock and roll concerts in my life.  The shoes, and the journeys on which I wore them, have many memories for me.  I hope my wife doesn’t pitch them when I am not looking.  Often when we are walking down one of life’s roads we have no idea where it will end or where it will intersect another road.  We don’t always know where we are and it is only by looking in our rear view mirror that we know where we’ve been.  If we know where we are going we have a better idea about what kind of shoes to wear.  I once visited France and spent a week with people from twelve different countries and several continents.  Our hosts took a bunch of us on a bus trip to a local shrine in a forest.  After we all got off the bus, the bus left us.  Most of us didn’t realize that part of the experience was to hike back to where we began.  The hike back was through the forest.  It was beautiful but there were hills to climb, creeks to cross, and occasional mud.  Some of the ladies and a few of the men were not prepared for such a hike.  I wasn’t wearing my rock and roll shoes but I did have on some shoes appropriate for a hike in the forest.  As you walk down the roads of your life, including the occasional side trip through a forest, be sure you have on the right kind of shoes.    

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wake Up Call

I cannot remember turning 30 years old.  It was 1981.  Who remembers 1981?  Without the use of Google can you tell me one significant event of that year?  I do remember turning 40, 50, and 60.  Each of those birthdays seemed significant.  I suppose the beginning of any new decade in your life is a significant event.  In the spring I will be 65 years old.  Yes, I know it is trendy to say “65 years young” but who are we kidding here?  In anticipation of turning 65 my wife and I attended a Medicare seminar on Monday night.  The room was full of old people.  I jokingly asked my wife if I looked as old as the other people in the room.  She seriously responded, “Have you looked in the mirror lately”?  Much of what you have heard about growing older is true.  Inside of every old person is a young person wondering what the heck happened.  I am being serious when I tell people, especially younger people, that I am 30 in my mind.  However, as the song goes, “Don’t make a promise with your mind that your body can’t keep”.  Turning 65 will be a significant birthday and a bit of a wakeup call.  Sometimes I ask myself, “How many wakeup calls do you need in your life”?  Any significant experience is an opportunity to evaluate your life.  People my age are very conscious of time.  When you know you are running out of it, it increases in value and becomes a precious commodity.  My wife and I would rather have vacation days than pay increases.  Time is an eternally flowing river and I have been swimming in it longer than many and I hope to continue for many more years.  However, even if I make it to 80 or 90 there will still be that 30 year old young person inside me wondering what the heck happened.

Wednesday, November 18, 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 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 also as a way to get love, i.e. if I am perfect people will love me more.  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”.  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 an illusion.  People sometimes ask me, “How can I have inner peace”?  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.  Now if I can just remember to do this….   

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

No Expectations

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

Friday, November 13, 2015


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 bask in the wonder of life.  This is not complicated or so esoteric that it is beyond the average person.  Admittedly I grew up with the idea that the contemplative experience was rare and few received the gift.  I have since learned that we all have the capacity for contemplation.  It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to gaze at a full moon  or a beautiful sunset.  It can be a moment of silence in a busy day or a weekend on a retreat.  To be contemplative the only basic requirements are to be awake and aware.  A big part of being contemplative is having a sense of wonder.  When you can no longer be impressed, when you have lost your sense of awe, when nothing makes you go “wow”!, it is time to re-evaluate your life.  Wonder, awe, gratitude, and being “wowed” from time to time should be a regular part of your life.  There is much in life that is ugly.  There is much to make us cynical and pessimistic.  Contemplation is the antidote for these things.  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.  Many of us do not have the luxury of going on an extended retreat, or even having a weekend to ourselves, but 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 some words taken from Psalm 46 that may help you to find this calm.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.

Wednesday, November 11, 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 us 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 saw a movie with my granddaughter called “The Croods”.  It was 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.  This can also happen to you so get out of your cave and begin your journey.

Tuesday, November 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 was “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 bad things pass, good things are also transitory.  Life is always in flux even though it’s movement is 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.  We must also remember that we, too, will pass.  As we go through our lives we need to ask ourselves what impact are we having on the world around us.  Are we doing good and positive things with our lives?  Are we a sunny day for others or are we seen as a storm that others hope will pass quickly?  

Monday, November 09, 2015

Time To Move On?

If you’re the smartest person in your group, your group is too small. Find people who will challenge you to stretch to the next level and become everything you can be.
In my working career I have attended many meetings.  Sometimes in these meetings I thought I was either the smartest person in the room or the dumbest.  There have been other groups and situations that I was involved in where I eventually felt the need to leave.  In some cases I felt like I no longer fit in or the group no longer met my needs.  There have also been situations where I just felt that I had no more to give.  Most of us like our comfort zones and to be honest I hate when people tell me I need to get out of my comfort zone.  Yeah, I know that if you are not being challenged you are probably not growing but I prefer to live and grow on my own schedule and not based on other people’s expectations, desires, and timetables.  Life is always pushing you into new territory whether you like it or not.  There is a saying that goes “when the fruit is ripe it will fall to the ground”.  Another saying that I like is “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.  I think I am self-aware enough to know when the fruit of my own life is ripe or when I am ready for a new teacher.  One must always look for signs…and warnings…that it is time to move on.  Good self- awareness also alerts us to our own stagnations and this also prompts us to move on.  Life tends to unfold at its own pace and in ways that are appropriate for us as individuals.  I see my whole life as a journey.  There have been milestones and accomplishments and times where I just stayed put for a while.  Marriage and family life have given me an outer stability in my life but internally I have always been on the move and in search of my ultimate destiny.  

Friday, November 06, 2015

Leadership As Ministry

I once shared with someone that I see leadership as ministry.  I joke that the people who report to me are my flock and I am their pastor.  I listen to their problems and I help them when I can.  If they make a mistake I forgive them.  When necessary I strive to point them in a more positive direction.  Perhaps most importantly, I truly care about each of them.  Some people are more work than others but I try to give each person what they need.  I have never seen leadership as me being a policeman or a prison guard.  However, this thought is not really about leadership.  It is about looking around at your co-workers and realizing that every single one of them is dealing with something in their lives.  Empathy happens to be my number one strength.  I generally understand how most people feel and I care about their feelings.  I am glad that I am empathetic person although it is sometimes exhausting.  Whether you are an empathetic person or not, I encourage you to be tolerant, patient, kind, and compassionate to those around you.  You see that guy that is always joking around?  His laughter may be hiding a great deal of sadness.  That girl that seems unfriendly may have some physical pain that she is hiding.  The person who doesn’t join in team lunches may simply not have the money.  That moody person in the next aisle may have recently had their heart broken.  We all have something in our lives that causes us pain.  We all have a part of ourselves that we try to hide from others because we don’t want to show our fears, weaknesses, or insecurities.  No one has a perfect life.  Think about these things the next time you feel judgmental towards others.  I have never regretted being kind or compassionate and I don’t think you will either.  Try it because sooner or later you will need to be on the receiving end of someone else’s caring and compassion.   

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Your Strengths Are Also 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 seems 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.     

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

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.  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 that you be perfect.  We are all works in progress. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


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 whatever is happening around them.  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 childish 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, why are we here?

Monday, November 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 often 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.