Friday, July 29, 2016

The Miracle Of Everyday Life

 “Stop, breathe, look around and embrace the miracle if each day, the miracle of life.”
-Jeffrey A. White
Thinking back to yesterday’s thoughts about how depressing the news can be, it is easy to believe the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket.  Fully aware that bad things truly do happen, have you ever stopped to consider how many things go right every day?  Admittedly, most days I crawl out of bed slowly and I am not always ready to seize the day.  Soon enough, however, I am showered and dressed and enjoying my first cup of coffee.  Even at work, most days go well and on the best of them I laugh a lot.  I never miss a meal, unless it is by choice, I live in a nice house, and I drive a nice car.  I am not wealthy but a long way from poor.  At age 65 I have so far survived every crisis in my life.  My children are grown up and both are employed.  I have a wonderful granddaughter who makes me smile on a regular basis.  The sun comes up every morning and the birds are still singing.  Sooner or later I will die but today I am still alive and doing well.       

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Another Rebirth

Don’t worry about what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive and do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
-Howard Thurman
I am kind of a news junkie.  Although much of the news depresses me I like to know what is going on in the world.  Keeping abreast of world events goes against most advice on how to live a peaceful life.  The thinking is that the world is such a screwed up place that too much knowledge of events does nothing but keep you in a fearful and agitated state of being.  It is difficult to argue against this way of thinking.  Of course, being clueless about life and the world is not recommended either.  Much of the last two weeks I have watched the Republican and Democratic conventions.  One of them was scary and the other inspiring.  I will let you decide which was which.  With modern technology, communication capabilities, and social media, the world has because a very small place.  One can know quickly about events on the other side of the world as though they happened in your own city or on your own street.  There is so much sadness in the world that I am sometimes overwhelmed by it.  Millions of people are suffering terrible things on a daily basis.  I truly care but I also sometimes feel compassion fatigue.  What can one person do?  It is no secret that I hope to retire soon.  It often seems to me that most people want to retire even if they are only in their twenties or thirties.  Now that I am on the threshold of retirement I wonder what I will do with the time.  I had a serious thought the other day that I would volunteer part of my time at a soup kitchen near my wife’s office.  Mother Teresa said that if you can’t feed the world, feed one person.  The reality is that most local soup kitchens feed hundreds of people every day.  In my seminary days as a young man I did volunteer my time one summer and it was eye opening experience for me.  It certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for how blessed I have been in my life.  It made me come alive.  At this stage of my life I think it is time for another rebirth before I lose consciousness.    

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Family Reunion

This past weekend I attended the world’s hottest family reunion.  One of my sisters has been planning this reunion for six months.  I must admit that I was very impressed with her organizational skills and attention to detail.  The reunion was held in a local park and through no fault of hers it happened to be one of the hottest days of the summer so far.  The temperature was in the 90’s and the humidity level was high.  This particular reunion was for my mother’s side of the family which can be traced back to Cork, Ireland.  I now understand why I sometimes see leprechauns in my backyard around sunset.  Of course, this may also be due to flashbacks from the late 60’s.  My mother is one of nine children.  Five of them are still living and Mom is the oldest at 86 years old.  Her 70 year old baby brother is the youngest.  Since he is only five years older than me we kind of grew up together.  I am the oldest child in my family and one of the oldest cousins.  When my mother leaves this world I will be the oldest person in my family.  Aside from the heat the reunion was an enjoyable experience.  Being Irish Catholics, at a time when most women didn’t work outside the home and there weren’t the distractions of the internet or smartphones, my mother’s side of the family was very prolific.  I have more cousins than I can name or recognize.  Some of the older people at the reunion thought I was a dead ringer for my father.  I couldn’t agree more since I see his face every morning when I look in the mirror.  Of course my father didn’t have a beard and ponytail.  My granddaughter was with me so I carefully explained to her that all the people at the reunion were her family too.  Family is very important to Chloe.  She is the only child of a single Dad and is also my only grandchild.  A sense of belonging is very important to her.  It is a good thing to be part of a large family even though we all know that family can sometimes make you crazy.  This whole event happened because two people met one another in the early part of the 20th century and fell in love.  The rest, as they say, is history.        

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Doing The Right Things

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 a poet’s 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?  We all know there has to be more to life than simply existing.     

Burning The Candle At Both Ends

Learn to say no to demands, requests, invitations and activities that leave you with no time for yourself.  Until I learned to say no, and mean it, I was always overloaded by stress.”
-Holly Mosier
I am sure I am not alone when I say that I find modern life exhausting.  Last night, for example, I went to the Verizon Wireless store to buy a new phone.  I felt like I was there for hours and as of this moment I am lost in a void between my old phone and my new phone.  I will find my way eventually and make peace with my new phone but at the moment I am full of regret.  Technology can be very cool but it can also be very stressful.  For every benefit of technology, there are also negatives.  The demands of daily life, and especially the demands of dealing with other people, wherever they are, can be exhausting to a person like myself who prefers to be alone and away from the crowd.  A couple of weeks ago I went to Lake Cumberland to visit my son who is now the pastor of three small parishes in the area.  We were there on a Monday morning.  The silence on the lake was deafening.  I had not been present to such quiet and calm in a very long time.  It was even quieter than the monastery I sometimes visit.  When I no longer have all the demands on me that I currently have, I hope to spend more time in such places.  When I have more freedom that will allow me opportunities to do more things, I actually want less activity.  I am weary of demands, requests, invitations, and activities that take more than they give.  If you feel like you are burning the candle at both ends, learn to say no.      

Our Inner Observer

“Observe the space between your thoughts, then observe the observer”.
-Hamilton Boudreaux
One of the goals of self-knowledge is to develop your “Inner Observer”.  We all fall into traps and patterns of behavior.  This behavior is not always good.  Through psychological knowledge and spiritual awareness we can learn to recognize our dysfunctional selves before we act out in negative or harmful ways.  I know a lot about my psychological makeup and I know when I am being my best self and when I am being my worst self.  The primary goal is to present my best self to the world as much as possible.  A secondary goal is to see my dysfunctional self coming down the road and heading him off at the pass before he makes an appearance.  I am getting better at this all the time.  Occasionally he slips past me and everyone who meets him thinks, “Who is this guy”?  Our best and worst selves begin in our thoughts so by observing our thoughts we can learn to control who makes an appearance.  Will it be Michael the “Good Guy” or his evil twin?  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Granddaughter

This past weekend my granddaughter stayed at my home.  This is nothing unusual.  She has been doing that most of her life.  The first time she was only three weeks old.  My wife and I were in our mid-fifties at the time and I thought we were both going to die.  Chloe woke up every hour wanting a bottle.  I had raised two of my own children but time had erased my memories of how much work an infant was, especially in the middle of the night.  I won’t even get in to the first time I kept Chloe by myself and she had a bowel movement that made the Guinness Book of World Records.  The whole time I was changing her diaper and trying not to pass out, she was laughing hysterically.  Now Chloe is 12 years old and very much a “tween”.  Normally we both hang out in my man cave which she now calls the “Chill Room” because “we be chillin’ together”.  This past weekend my wife and I let her have a friend over for the night.  It is one thing for two old people to have a 12 year old in their home for the weekend.  It is another thing to have two 12 year olds in the house.  About 3:45 AM on Sunday morning I had to go downstairs and suggest it might be time to go to bed.  I was still tired from a trip to the movies to see “Ghostbusters” followed by a trip to the Mall to shop at a store called “Hot Topic”.  This is a store frequented by a wide assortment of young and not so young freaky people.  I was happy when I heard my granddaughter tell her friend that I was cool because “I was one of them”.  In other words, I am “alternative” and not your run of the mill Paw Paw.  Occasionally I miss the little girl who made me sit on the floor for tea parties.  However, she has become this wonderful, cool kid who amazes me with her perception and humor.  This weekend I am taking her to outer space so we can hang out with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in the new Star Trek movie.    

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Can You Make Yourself Enlightened?

Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?  As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.  Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?  To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise”.
-Anthony de Mello
I have always thought of spiritual practices as exercise for the soul the way physical activity is exercise is for the body.  A workout at the gym is not necessarily enjoyable any more than sitting in silence is always peaceful.  Occasionally physical exercise may be fun and sitting in silence may be calming.  Sometimes both of these things are just something we have to suffer through.  Spiritual practices, like physical exercise, are really mean for the long haul.  One trip to the gym does not qualify you for the Olympics any more than one meditation session makes you a spiritual guru.  People who do either or both of these things don’t usually feel an immediate effect when doing them.  They will, however, often feel the effect if they miss a session.  Over the long haul spiritual practices awaken your spiritual senses the way physical exercise keeps your body in good shape.  Nothing in life is a sure thing.  You can go to the gym every day and run five miles every evening and still drop dead of a heart attack on the side of the road.  You could also sit in silence twice a day for thirty years and never be enlightened.  Couch potatoes can outlive fitness freaks.  Agnostics can be knocked off their horses and receive total enlightenment with no effort on their part.  Like most of you, I do the best I can and I hope I am not asleep when the sun begins to rise.     

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Letting Go Of Who We Try To Be

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be
-Lao Tzu
Most of us don’t do it consciously but all of us strive to maintain a certain image.  I was once asked who I would be if I didn’t have my beard.  The last time I was clean shaven was 1978.  My children, who are both in their thirties, have never seen me without a beard.  One of them once said, “You can’t shave off your beard.  If you did you wouldn’t be my dad”!  If I did shave off my beard and let go of my “old hippie” persona, who and what would I really be?  I think if I shaved off my beard, my ponytail, and let go of my “old hippie” persona, I might be a Buddhist monk.  However, even that is an illusion.  If I am truly honest, I look the way I look because I like to look this way.  I like it that some people think I am wise and a bit of a Zen Master.  I like be thought of as a free spirited hippie type.  Everyone, including me, wears a variety of masks, costumes, and even disguises.  We all live our illusions.  When we let go of our self-images, who are we?  Who might we become if we weren’t so busy pretending we are something else?    

Thursday, July 07, 2016


The next message you need is always right where you are.
-Ram Dass
Like most people, my life has had its share of twists and turns.  I have sometimes wondered if I made all the right decisions.  Did I turn right when I should have turned left?  Did I go down the road less traveled when I should have stayed on the main highway?  Am I where I should be?  Am I who I should have been?  I am not certain if I have done all the right things but I have done many things right.  I didn’t plan the life I have.  It has not always been the life I wanted.  However, it is the life I have.  I do like to believe it is no accident that I am where I am and I am doing what I am doing.  Sometimes the life you have is the life you need.  Sometimes the life you have is the life other people need.  Our lives are not always about us.  This is a reason we are where we are.  Part of our life’s quest is to understand the reason and to find our purpose.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

How Valuable Is Your Time?

What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.”
This quote reminds me of another that goes “Whenever you are angry, you are denying yourself the opportunity to be happy”.  Those of us who are working class folks often dread working.  This may be due to the feeling that what we do is unimportant to us personally.  However, even if the work itself is unimportant to you personally, it still has importance because it gives you the ability to provide for your families.  It might seem better to own your day but if there’s no money coming in, that is a whole other set of problems.  Time may be our most valuable possession so we should choose carefully how we manage and spend it.  Once time is gone, it is gone.  Some things, like work, are necessary for most people and so we allow the necessary allotment of time in order to make a living.  Many other activities are voluntary and we will allow time based on their importance to us.  Somehow all of us manage to find the time for what we consider important.  It may be important for you to “waste” time in leisurely activities.  There is nothing wrong with that but it still has a price and the price is based on how much time can be spend doing this.  Time is finite but the perception of time can vary widely.  Most of us feel like we spend most of our time working.  However, 40 hours at work is actually only 24% of the total hours available to us each week.  There are 168 hours in a seven day week.  How do you spend the other 128 hours?                   

Monday, July 04, 2016


If your relationship to the present moment is not right, nothing can ever be right in the future because when the future comes it’s the present moment.”
-Eckhart Tolle
Think about this for a minute.  At this moment it is NOW.  When the future arrives it will also be NOW.  I once saw an advertisement for a Zen wrist watch.  The face of the watch had no numbers.  It simply said NOW.  Anytime of day that you wondered what time it was, the watch always said NOW.  No one can change the fact that it is NOW.  The past was NOW and the Future will be NOW.  Our relationship with reality is always experienced in the NOW.  This is not some philosophical mumble jumble.  I defy anyone to live in a moment that it not NOW.  I also like what Fr. Richard Rohr says about the NOW.  In one of his talks I heard him say, “The moment is as perfect as it can be”.  That doesn’t mean it is perfect.  It simply means it is as perfect as it can be.  Another way of looking at the NOW is to understand that “it is what it is”.  How the NOW feels depends on your relationship with the moment.