Posts Tagged ‘Life’


A New Year’s Manifesto

January 1, 2013

 dharmachakra-200I woke up this morning thinking I needed to make a resolution for the New Year.  The more I thought about it, I began to understand I needed much more than that.   No in years past, resolutions were made and resolutions were put aside, often before the end of the day’s football games.  It’s not that resolutions are necessarily hard to keep, more the opposite really.   The problem is they required nothing much off me, they were too small.  I need something requiring commitment and dedication.  I need a manifesto to challenge me to not take on the mundane conventions of life.  Accepting, as true, Emerson’s quote, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.[i]Now, I am not talking about writing something mind-numbing and rambling that Ted Kaczynski would be proud of, or something to give Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto a run for its money.  In the first, I am simply not that crazy; in the second, making some brash rhetorical political statement serves no one, especially me.  My manifesto needs to be a hard kick to my rear and knock some common sense back into my head.  It needs to be something I can read, over and over, to serve as a reminder to make life what I want it to be rather than what I assume is expected of me.

Our brains are often compared to computers.  While a simplistic comparison, I do see the point.  Still, we have a complexity of understanding computer scientists only dream of designing into their next Cray or IBM Big Blue offering. I think it is that ability to understand complex ideas and concepts that drove Emerson to his conclusions on self-reliance.  I mean, why leave to others to figure out what is best for us, as individuals, when we have a brain of our own?  We simply must use our brains and have confidence in our conclusions.

That is the tricky part though, making sure they are “our conclusions” and not some tailored and perverted idea pushed upon us by some media outlet.  An outlet, by the way, that has an agenda having nothing to do with the free exchange of ideas, quite the opposite.  Here is how I will make sure I am making up my own mind:

  1. Question everything.  Especially things I accept as true.
  2. Find out who “they” is.  Any idea worth accepting as true is worth knowing whose idea it is.  Anytime someone presents me with a statement whose source is “They said”, “Many believe” or “I heard” suspect it from the get-go. Know whose ideas I accept as true before I accept it as true.
  3. Look for ideas that differ from my own.  Even if I know my ideas are sound, I will seek out the ideas of others.  Remember the axiom “no one of us is as smart as all of us.”   I just may find my ideas where not all that sound after all.  At the very least, any sound idea will stand the scrutiny of others.
  4. Accept as true what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, or even today.  Life is dynamic; life’s answers are dynamic too.  I will not hold an old idea that worked as the best idea now by default.  Again, question everything, especially what I accept as true.
  5. Nobody likes a know-it-all.  Just because I may be right on a point and someone else may be wrong does not obligate me to point it out.  I can, of course, but often there is no point as many people have minds of steel.  Hard and rigid.  I will judge what is gained against what is lost.
  6. In all things I do I will have passion and compassion.  If I cannot muster up these two items, I will not do the thing in the first place.
  7. Lastly, never be afraid to tell the emperor he has on no clothes.   Even emperors can be wrong from time to time.

 Ok, so there is my manifesto for the New Year.  Pretty simple stuff really, just need to be consistent in performing it.  See, consistency is the tricky part and consistency does not negate nonconformity.  Emerson never said consistency is a bad thing, he said foolish consistency is bad.  To quote again, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”[ii] 

I will keep an open mind.  I will not accept things at their face value. In a great sense, I have suffered from the little mind Emerson wrote.  My mind has been little for far too long.  Now, this year, this very day, that ends.


[i] Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays [1st and 2d Ser.], Self-Reliance. [Reading, Pa.]: Spencer, 1936.  Print.

[ii] Ibid.


Thought for the day

February 16, 2012

So very often we go through our day and fail to realize our own words and actions determine its outcome.  Buddhism focuses on the realism of self and an individual’s power over destiny.  It is up to us to determine if that destiny will add or diminish grace.  It is up to us to determine if we give or take from the world.


Mr. Murphy and the Problem of Size

October 13, 2010

Even in life’s sad and most trying moments, humor finds its way in, not the Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First” humor, but the little things we did not see coming.  Maybe it is a way for humans to deal with heavy emotion; perhaps it is more luck.  Regardless, even years later, it is the lighthearted moments we often recall.  Soon after my father passed away, just such a moment occurred.

A few days before, I had to face the fact Daddy was dying.  He had cancer and that is not a pleasant way to go.  I can sure understand how people, who are touched by this evil, feel drug companies are more interested in prolonging treatment for profit than earnestly seeking a cure.  Still, this was the situation we were in and the family was gathering as families do at times like this.

For me, I took a leave of absence from work and headed home.  One night, I was awoken by a phone call and by sunup, I had thrown a mixed bag of clothing together and was on the road.  I lived in North Carolina at the time and home, St Simons Island, was about a six-hour drive.  Perhaps it was my haste in packing, or maybe I just did not accept my father was dying and had my mind elsewhere, but for whatever reason – I did not pack a suit.  Basically, I had toiletries, jeans, and shirts, not much more.  Strangely, I did pack my dress shoes.  Since then, I’ve asked myself a thousand times how I could pack the shoes and not the suit to go with them.  I guess some questions in life never get an answer.

Coming home during a time like this is bittersweet.  The last thing my dad needed was a bunch of family members sitting around crying and feeling sorry about things.  It was enough to know we were there for a reason and enjoy the time left.  Besides, contrary to common thought, it is a very busy time; at least it was for me.  Every day some little project needed attention.  Being busy was a blessing of sorts as it kept my mind off the inevitable.

That is the way with things inevitable – they happen whether we want them to or not.  When dad passed away, all the emotion held inside found its way out and seemed to make up for lost time.  I have always handled stress, but this time, stress handled me.  Stress took me to a surreal world where seconds lasted hours and days seemed beyond measure.  Still, there was a lot to do so I marched on, it is what my father would have wanted, and the family needed everyone rowing in the same direction.

During this time, where my hour-long-seconds had control, a small seed took root.  It was more a feeling than something I knew but I was absolutely sure I had forgotten something.  As the time past, and my seedling grew into a mighty oak, the harder I tried to remember, the deeper in fog the issue slipped.  It slipped, that is, until late in the afternoon the day before my father’s funeral and the fog cleared and I understood what that oak tree had been trying to tell me all along – I had no suit to wear.

While it’s true the fashion police would certainly let me off with a warning, I was not about to show up to my own father’s funeral in a worn pair of jeans and a Crab Shack tee-shirt.  It’s not like the tee-shirt had holes in it or anything.  OK – the jeans might have had holes, but not the tee-shirt.  Still, having “Where the elite eat in their bare feet,” scrawled across my chest somehow just did not seem right.  So, off to town I went, surely I could find something “off the rack,” as it were.

Now, I’m as fair-minded as the next guy, but who gave this Murphy fellow permission to go around making laws to begin with?  Regardless of how I feel about Mr. Murphy, I discovered there is really no way around his law “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  First store – closed.  Second store – everything required tailoring.  The drama went on and on, at each store, something stood between me and a proper suit of clothes.  All I purchased for my trouble was more stress on an already stressful day.

Finally, I went to Belks.  I figured I would throw myself on the mercy of the clerk and hope for the best.  There he was, the slim, well-dressed salesman with effeminate features and manners.  I have all the style sense God gave a bowling ball, so I was really happy to have someone other than a teenager with strange colored hair to help me.  Mr. Murphy must have been asleep on that point.

Within a few minutes, there were several jackets laid out.  We, well the salesman, decided I should go with a jacket and slacks rather than a suit as we could find pants that did not require hemming.  Still feeling stressed, I relied on his judgment completely.  Then it happened, we were selecting pants and he asked “what size?”  Guys tend to think of things like clothing size as if it were some sort of quantum physics, understanding it is just beyond most humans.  I would be happy if everything was small, medium, or large.

There I was, trying to figure out what size pants I wear.  Normally, I think it would have been an easy question to answer.  Certainly, I understood it.  Finally, after what seemed many more of my hour-long seconds, I knew I had to say something; I blurted out 32.  The salesman placed his hand on his hip, gave me that knowing kind of frown, and said, “Oh please, I’ll bring the 36s.”  I laughed and laughed.  I literally laughed until I cried.  I laughed so much the salesman started laughing with me.  There we stood, in Belk’s Department Store, laughing like two hyenas.

You see, as much as Murphy would like to control things, perhaps divine providence uses him to set our lives up where something small and silly, like the salesman’s comment, is just the cure for horribly stressful situations.  In my case, it returned my mind to a sense of normalcy and allowed me to face the following day’s events.  I took my jacket and proper fitting 36s and went home.


Circular Logic

August 27, 2010

Circular Logic.


Formula For The Day: Life = X–X(Z/X)

February 18, 2010

Each person has a fixed number of days to live; it is an abstract thought but one worth examining.  Thankfully, we don’t know that number, but we have it nonetheless.  Given that it’s unknown, let’s call it “X.”  Think about a historical figure, Benjamin Franklin for instance, he lived 30,580 days so that is his X number.  Other than instances of self-destruction, we have no absolute control over X.  Even if we did, it would still be X.

“What good is knowing this?” you might ask yourself about now.  You need to understand life does not last forever, at least here on earth.  The argument regarding life post-earth, though interesting, is for another day.  You also need to understand that you do not control X, as a whole, but you do control the individual days that make up your X.  Franklin did not control X either; just like you, his control was over how he spent each day.  Given the vast volume of work he produced, he did not waste many.

That is the point, it is not the number of days lived that matters, it is what you fill them with that holds value.  Looking at it another way, wasted days do not add value to life, so why count them.  That is where the title’s formula comes in; it calculates the days that matter by removing the days that don’t (Z).  Now, some smart math genius will point out that my formula is overly complex and X-Z will accomplish the same thing.  While that is true, people often refuse to believe simple things hold any value, besides “Life = X-Z” is not nearly as catchy.

How will you reduce the number of Z-days you have; are you one to sit idly by as more and more slip away?  Another point, the closer you are to X, the more important Z becomes.  We cannot have our Z-days back, once spent they are gone forever.  The good news is no one can define for you what a Z-day is, that is something you must do for yourself.  For some, simply reading may be enough to hold a Z at bay, for others reading may be the very definition of a Z-day.  Some days are filled with work; they have value, though they may not be fun.  A wasted day is one where you sit around bored for no reason.  Think about that the next time you have nothing to do and reach for the remote control and have a mind-numbing experience.  Wasted days are not limited to boredom; they include the days we allow petty obstacles to eat away at our time, obstacles like holding a grudge and allowing that to isolate us from the ones that care about us.  Life is hard enough without making it harder on ourselves.

Regardless of what you do, avoid wasting a day in useless pursuits that, in the end, add nothing to the quality of your life.  We will all have our share, for sure, even Franklin did, but we can reduce the number by simply doing things that matter.  Think about what matters to you, spend your days on that.  Keep your Z-days low.  Remember, it is not about how many days you have, but how you choose to fill them.


Always Know What Game You’re Playing

February 11, 2010

Around 1985 I stopped in the city of New Orleans as I drove across country.  The French Quarter has always been an interesting  place to spend a few days.  It offers many wonderful distractions and provides great fun and excitement.  Like any town that has a vibrant tourist industry, the Quarter has street vendors; they add local color to say the least.  You really have to watch your step with the various vendors that earn a living off  naïve visitors, visitors like me.  A lesson I learned on that trip that still serves me well today.

I was in the Navy back then and very much a man of the world.  After all, I had been all over and dealt with all sorts of people.  I walked around with a self-assured confidence that I could handle anything the city could throw at me, bravado if you will.  One evening, as I walked down Bourbon Street, a teen-aged young man asked me if I wanted a shoeshine.  I did not agree to the shine but the young man seemed interested in my boots asked if I would put my foot on his box and let him look – to that, I agreed.

Smiling at me, the young man said, “I know where you got those boots at!”  Of course, there was no way he knew, I purchased them at a shop in Naples, Italy the year before.  I told him he must be mistaken, he could not possibly know.  Then it came, the hook.  He said, “I bet your $20.00 against a free shine that I know.”  I made the bet.  Of course, by now there was a small crowd standing around watching this interaction between us.  Taking his time, he studied my footwear, looking over every detail.  Suddenly, he stood up, board straight and said with a big smile, “you got those shoes on your feet and you at Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana.”  Perhaps the bravado I spoke of earlier was simply arrogance.  Having learned my lesson, having provided the onlookers with a hearty laugh, I gave him the $20.00.

There are many axioms that come to mind when I think about that evening.  In the end, I was playing a man at his own game and did not even know it.  What’s worse, we played in his backyard.  Game, set, match to my young friend.  Somehow, he knew out of that whole crowd, I was the one that simply would not walk away.  My own arrogance was the weakness he sensed.  I thought we were playing one game – he knew we were playing another!

This sort of interaction happens everyday on many different levels.  We hardly ever understand the true motives behind people we come in contact with.  Whether that contact is at a personal level or in the form of a speech we hear.  With that in mind, think about the recent Tea Party excitement, do we really understand the motives behind the controlling elements?  The words they say are easy enough to understand, their true meaning is another matter.  These are the same people that rallied behind conservatives over the last twenty years and now, after they made the mess, cast their own actions aside and accept no culpability at all.

The current course is not the best one to be on, at least it avoids the rocks the conservatives headed our country toward.  Now, they simply repackaged the same old rhetoric, added a few new twists, threw in patriotism for good measure, and want another chance.  Just because I don’t like what is going on now does not mean I want the silly idiots that created the mess back.  This time, let’s not get their shoeshine, more importantly; let’s not place a foot on the shoebox at all and walk on past.  What’s at stake is a lot more than $20.00; it’s the nation as a whole.  Let’s make sure we know what game they’re truly playing.


Living Life

February 10, 2010

Life requires of us living.  Albeit a simple truism, it is harder to do than first thought.  Living beyond simply breathing requires engagement in the world around, not so much in the mess covered in the nightly news but in the world itself.  The quick little news snippets given us lack depth.  In turn, we lack understanding and miss much of what the world has to offer.  We become accustomed to knowing only headlines and believe we have the whole of a story.  Soon, our attention span is limited to only headlines.  We become stones skipping across the water, knowing only the spot of surface we touch.  So skip we do, going from one thing to the next.  Not until we stop and settle to the bottom do we understand the true depth of the pond.  Our world has depth, depth that requires time and engagement to understand.

Often we here someone famous, when at the end of life, wish to have done things differently.  Famous people tend to live lives full of activity, but to what end?   Quantity never replaces quality.  Think about your own life, do you fill it with hollow bits of nothing?  When life is more behind you than before you, will this be satisfying?  Don’t wait, think about that now, and do things differently.  As Emerson said, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”  What Uncle Ralph was talking about is using the mind to study life, and then follow the path it shows, putting your unique thoughts into unique actions, only you can do.  In this way, you will gain a depth of understanding and enrich the lives around you.  There can be no better epitaph etched upon the stone.

To live a full and rich life does not mean a hectic life, to the contrary.  It means giving even the simplest of things their full measure.  Even a insignificant blade of grass holds wonders requiring more than a lifetime to understand.

A Clipping on the Ground

T’was nothing much,
that blade of grass,
a clipping on the ground.

Not worth time to pick it up,
to do so I was bound,
then set my mind to ponder,
this treasure I had found.

It looked to me to be the same,
as millions, maybe more,
unchanging like the grains of sand,
which fill the ocean’s shore.
To dismiss it would be easy,
and return it to the mor.

I passed it between my fingers,
and saw that I was wrong,
to judge it in that simple way,
missing its beauty all along.
With a newfound will I studied,
and heard my subject’s song.

As it sang to me of heaven,
and things I’ll someday see,
it was not a prayer or sermon –
but a song of what will be.
I saw the grass with special eyes,
and newfound majesty.

‘Tis a complex world made simple,
in this gift I have found.
My gift of time is all it took
to know this world around,
from a blade of grass this morning,
a clipping on the ground.


Life’s Instant

January 27, 2010

Life is but an instant, yet we still seem to want it to go faster.  Quicker, easier and now are the catch-words that have come to own society over the last forty or fifty years.  It is understandable how we’ve been caught up with speed as it leaves time for more.  What do we do with that more?  That is the real question.

I was working in the yard one day clearing some trees.  I had to remove a few rather large ones that some kind of tree crud had taken over before it spread to the whole of the yard.  With chainsaw in hand I started in.  As I fell the first big one, I was really pleased with the new chain, remembering how the old one was struggling to make a clean cut.  Truth is it was plain easy – too easy.  After a mere three hours of work, I had reduced the water oaks to about two cords of firewood.

Now a chainsaw will wear you out and stacking wood still takes effort but when I look back on how the task was accomplished 150 years ago, I did have it easy.  It would have taken several days without my gas-powered assistant.  I do not wish to return to the type of manual labor like cutting trees with axes and handsaws, but it does illustrate the point, work was reduced by several fold.  We do this with everything, cooking, cleaning, the list goes on.  Even instant messaging is not fast and enough, we have to abbreviate everything.

Again, the real question, with what are we filling the extra time?  The idea was to give us more free time so how is it we seem to have less of it?  What people fail to grasp is technology does make things easier but all we do is increase the level of expectation.  About twenty years ago, the big buzz in business was the “paperless office.”  Computers were supposed to reduce the amount of paper we wasted because we could do things like proof-read on the screen and store documents electronically.  What ended up happening is it became easy to create even more piles of paper.  A manual that would take a month to produce, now takes a week.  That just gives us more weeks to make more manuals and generate more paper.

During the industrial revolution, people worked ten or twelve hours a day, six days a week.  The entire work force became exhausted.  It was easy to see something had to be done.  Over time, things like the forty-hour work week came to be.  As we have moved away from the manual labor of the past, it is our minds that now work the sixty or seventy hours a week.  We check email, talk business on the cell phone at dinner and so on.  The wireless age has become a yoke we bear.

I worked for a fellow one time that saw things differently.  He demanded your get your work done in an eight-hour day.  His favorite saying was “if you can’t get a day’s work done in a day, maybe I don’t have the right guy in the job.”  At five in the afternoon, he wanted you gone.  I asked him about it one time and his reply changed my life.  He told me “work is what you do to live.  When you live to work, you are a slave and I don’t believe in slavery.”  I think about that when I am doing things.  I ask myself just how much needs to be done today and work to that goal.  Truthfully, more ends up getting accomplished this way.  Maybe that was his true motive all along.  It really does not matter; the result is to have a life beyond work, satisfied with things taking the proper amount of time.  Try to slow life’s instant down and make every bit of it have value.

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