2017

“Tomorrow the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” – Brad Paisley

As I sit to write, there remain just 12-hours in this 2017 year. Like any other year, there have been highs and lows. Life is like that. Ips and downs. So many of us complain about those changes, I like them. It is what keeps me strong and focused. My life does not remain on autopilot for long. There are too many things which can go wrong with that setting. The things in life over which I have no control are filed under the tab “fuck it.” Those things over which I have control, I accept what I can do and I do it. If I need assistance, that too is OK. I ask for help and use the additional tools and support to achieve success.

I have had in my life the opportunity to have my path cross with that of some amazing teachers. The best teacher I have ever had is my dad. More on him later when he reaches his 80th birthday at the end of March. dad1

The one undeniable truth which I have learned is that in everything there is both happiness and sadness. Sadness is not a bad feeling. It is not a feeling from which we should run nor is it a feeling from which we should cower in fear. If we remain in contact with our feelings and accept them for what they are, we take the opportunity to accept any amount of power we may have to make the changes necessary in our life to overcome those down times and manage the destructive negative feelings in which so many of us wallow in self-pity.

You’re right if you’re thinking there is little in our lives over which we have any if much control. That’s OK. That’s life.

The quote by Brad Paisley goes hand in hand with the man who I have referred to as my spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. Thay, as he is often called by his students said, “Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.” It is sad for me to know too few of us realize and accept this fact. Instead, we travel through this wonderful journey kicking and screaming. Instead of problem-solving, we complain expecting things to get better.

Musashi

“Without effort, there are no rewards. The results you achieve will be in direct proportion to the effort you apply.” – Denis Waitley

I had an interesting year. Like any other, there were ups and downs. I manage the downs like I would hope any of my clients do.

I finished 2016 still frustrated with a knee injury. Instead of following up with a doctor, I sat idly and hoped for it to heal. It did not. There’s that thing about putting forth the effort. I had surgery on my knee on April 6th, just 5-days after waking and experiencing ringing in my ears that would later be diagnosed with Tinnitus.

presurgeryThe ENT I went to see sent for testing to rule-out a diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease. I am grateful the tests were returned negative. Knee surgery resulted in the partial removal of the meniscus in my right knee. The surgeon asked repeatedly that I not return to running but being the stubborn individual that I am, this was not going to be the case. I gave loved running for many years. The solitude from which I reap from this activity is boundless and helps me to maintain some modicum of being centered throughout the day.

surgery

As the year progressed, I felt the ringing in my ears which has been a relatively consistent companion had begun to improve. Now improve may be a rather stroing word because there is no cure for this diagnosis, but nonetheless, I found the ringing becoming less and less intrusive. I am sure my daily practice of mindfulness has played a strong supporting role. Regardless, I have looked at this diagnosis, like I have with any other problem, as a challenge to overcome and not just a bad hand of cards from which I have chosen to fold and walk away. That’s one of the beautiful notions of life; there is always another hand. The rules aren’t like poker where we have a single opportunity to trade in a few cards. Until our death, we can have as many do-overs as we want. I love this book. I found it perusing one of my Instagram friends. It contains simple quotes which are more like reminders to not take life too seriously.

never have a bad day again

I don’t look forward to the end of the year for the same reasons that many others do. I don’t make resolutions. For me, that is a lot of wasted time and energy. Instead, I use my daily journal, my daily mindfulness meditation either through sitting meditation or running to help maintain the balance I need to face the adversity that is life. There will always be ups and downs in life. I have accepted this fact, and as a result, my life is much happier.

Happy New Year to everyone and Namaste.

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Searching for the spirit of Christmas

The last couple of years I have searched for the spirit of Christmas. I began writing this post two to three weeks before Christmas. I went back to it off and on. most of the time I sat idly in front of my computer, fingers poised over the keyboard as if waiting for a spontaneous rain of thought to begin to move them.

When I was younger, the spirit of Christmas meant something very different from what it does for me today. I suspect this is similar to what many others think. We have grown into such a materialistic society. I know that means that I don’t have to jump on that bandwagon. It is difficult as much of the advertising begins months before this season.  When I was a child, Christmas meant gifts, fun, food and more importantly spending quality time with family. Christmas also revolved around endless discussions with friends about what we hoped to get and the day after Christmas was when the competition for who got the best gift began. These comparisons were often emotionally painful.

cookies

My wife and I decided not to purchase anything for each other. I, being the guy asked several times if she really meant what she had said. I didn’t want to get caught up in “Don’t get me anything for Christmas” and then when I don’t, I look like the schmuck.

Materially, my wife and I are pretty simple individuals. We choose experiences, spending time with each other and surprising each other throughout the year with small tokens of our thoughts for each other.

Our gifts this year were spending time with each other and with family. The icing on the cake as it was, was watching our soon to be 3-year-old grandson open his gifts.

Chase1

 

It’s early and I am still searching for the meaning, the spirit of Christmas. It is actually the day after Christmas and I just returned home from a very early run in temperatures which are sure to make any normal person think twice about leaving the house for anything, let alone a run. The Christmas tree remains lit in the darkened living room, the house quiet with the exception of the fountain pen I am using gliding across the pages of my journal. Beneath the tree remains the material trappings of Christmas. As I start at the tree, I try to find some meaning in the lights and the ornaments. My heart, worn and tired from always giving reminds me that the meaning of Christmas remains elusive.

mom & dad

I continue to write because I know writing always helps to clear away the noise. The smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a freshly inked fountain pen help me as I continue this search for the meaning of Christmas.

I find the road, as I grow older is not always a straight line. I also admit I can be a slow learner. Chasing childhood memories of the simple pleasures cause me to struggle to see the path which I am on. When I was younger I found myself despising this fact. It was the destination and now it has become more about the path and what I notice along the way. I am able to see because I allow myself to see the gifts which are bestowed upon me along the path. They can be difficult to see because they are not wrapped nicely in bright paper and with a bow. There is no name written on the gift denoting it is for me. It is my willingness to look inside which tells me this is a gift. I find it easier to accept the often relentless pace of change and accept the inevitability of change as part of my life.

 

hands

Long ago I stopped comparing myself and my life to others. My father remains the master of pointing out the fact that when you think your life is terrible, a simple look around serves as a good reminder that this is not always true. This definition, in and of itself is subjective and serves if we maintain it as truth to allow us to grow more disillusioned, angrier and ultimately, less happy.

My children, now grown and having their own lives still gather with us to celebrate dates on the calendar which we have identified with some level of importance. For this, I am grateful. It is times such as these that remind me of the importance of understanding those things which bring a smile to our faces. For me, my gift this Christmas was being with my family and sitting back, with a smile watching. Christmas, as I write is now two days old. Retailers will tell you there are now just 363 shopping days until Christmas visits us again.

Chase

As I write these words having come inside from a run where I found myself fighting to stay warm against the 6-degree temperatures. I am in my element, the element of silence. It is silence which allows me to witness the gifts around me and to know, that regardless of what happens, I am blessed to have this time on earth. “Waking up this morning” as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “I smile knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion.”

The spirit of Christmas, was right in front of me the whole time. It is encompassed in the photo of my parents, the hands of my mother as she passes around chocolates, more worried about the happiness of others; it is in the photos of my grandson both as he looks toward me and as he smiles playing with his favorite gift of the night. It is sitting back and enjoying the chaos of family and the time spent with loved ones.

Early morning run

Early morning run. The sound of my running shoes as they mingle with the frozen snow the only sound. My breath forming a cloud as it leaves my nose and mouth seem to hang in the air before dissipating.

The temperature is 15 degrees. The wind-chill dropped the temperature to a “real feel” of 0.

I rounded a turn and headed east. A gust of wind blown directly into my face stealing my breath but at the same time reminding me I am alive.

For others, life has been fleeting. They have entered and left this earth bothered by the trauma of one kind or another; alcoholism, drug addiction, and other issues, often beyond their control. I now look for the magic in each moment. At times this is a difficult task despite the magic being directly in front of me. I have allowed myself to be distracted and not witnessed the gifts which may be hidden from my view.

As I grow older, I look for these moments and cherish the good health which, at this point has been bestowed upon me. My mother, like her mother, have suffered fromsunset macular degeneration. I am sure this “gift” will be lurking around the corner for me like a receding hairline. Until that time arrives and as long as my vision remains intact, I will continue to enjoy reading, making photographs and witnessing the beauty, which, despite being in plain sight, remains hidden from view for many.

In the Shadow of the Mountains

Roadway in autumn forest

I rose this morning, the floor cold to my bare feet.
Golden daylight falls through the barren branches of the stand of white birch trees.
As I stare through the stand of trees, I see the silhouette of one of the Adirondack ranges standing majestically.

Hot black coffee.
Alone with my thoughts,
As I stare out the window.

Things are simpler here.
I can just be…
There is no judgment, no expectations, no goals,
No fears.

There is no one to please, no one to help.
The quiet solitude of leaves as they dance on the breeze.

Black Friday

I slept well last night until I rose at 2:30 AM to use the bathroom. I looked out the window and wandered back to bed. Sleep did not find me as easily as it did when I first retreated to bed. Thoughts on my daughter’s predicament danced through my head. After tossing for the next 30-minutes  and focusing on my breathing, sleep finally found me again.

I rose, showered, made coffee and drove with Marissa and Chase to the Buffalo Science Museum. We spent the next four hours looking at many of the exhibits and watching Chase partake in all of the hands-on activities. It’s always rewarding to watch him play. Even when my kids were small I found more joy in watching their exploration of their surroundings. Watching Marrisa engage with him also brought a smile of joy.

I kept my distance and at times found myself sitting by myself, by choice. Thoughts of her predicament and trying to manage my thoughts regarding her life decisions kept me occupied sometimes staring blankly into space. I wonder about her decisions and hope medication and counseling will assist her. My role as a social worker causes me to struggle because like the relationship with my clients, I also cannot fix her problems. Watching her encourage Chase helped bring me back.

We returned home and I sat outside with a cigar enjoying the solitude.

Temperatures today reached 51 degrees which is unseasonably warm for November 24th. I become lost in thought about all of the things for which I am thankful. It is 5:40 PM. Daylight is fading fast, but before it leaves, there is a reminder of the beauty which graced us today. Fading sunlight backlights the clouds with brilliant oranges, which, as they continue to fade change to bright pink.

sunset

I could not think of a better way to spend “Black Friday.”

Namaste

The Adirondacks

I left Friday morning. My company for this trip to the Adirondacks is, as per usual my friend John Burroughs. “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs

I need to get up to the Adirondacks at least twice every year. The peace and solitude which I find in the mountains is the peace I need to recharge my batteries. I run into few people. My cell phone does not work and I am reliant on the solitude which this time alone offers me.

After a 20-minute drive from Indian Lake to Long Lake, I stopped at the Long Lake Diner for breakfast. Where else can you have an amazing breakfast of toast, omelet, freshly made home fries, coffee and a to-go coffee for less than $10?
diner

After breakfast, I drove to Tupper Lake and then on to Saranac Lake taking in the sights as I drove slowly through each town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later I arrived at the Village of Lake Placid. I usually bypass this area unless I am with someone who has never been. Instead, I stopped by the Olympic Training Center and ski jumpstopped by the ski jumps. The weather was so beautiful it made sense to take the elevator to the top to the 120 meter (394′) jump. The panoramic views are always amazing and when the skies are blue and the sun is shining, it is even more beautiful.

panorama

The next stop on the round trip is Whiteface Mountain. Unfortunately, at this late time of year, the  Veterans Memorial Highway to the summit is closed. It is closed during the winter because frankly, it’s just too unsafe to drive when it is covered with snow.  At its steepest, the grade reaches 8%. It was snowing at Whiteface just two weeks earlier.

As one approaches the base of the mountain one is met with another of the beautiful wonders of the Adirondacks., the Ausable River. I love to fly fish and find myself enamored with the peace of the cast. I watched this fisherman almost 30-minutes, lost in the silence which is fly fishing. On occasion, I’ll take my fly rod out and practice my cast.fisherman

“But I early learned that from almost any stream in a trout country the true angler could take trout and that the great secret was this, that, whatever bait you used, worm, grasshopper, grub, or fly, there was one thing you must always put upon your hook, namely, your heart: when you bait your hook with your heart the fish always bite; they will jump clear from the water after it; they will dispute with each other over it; it is a morsel they love above everything else. With such bait, I have seen the born angler (my grandfather was one) take a noble string of trout from the most unpromising waters, and on the most unpromising day.” – John Burroughs

waterfallsLast stop of the day was over to the Ausable Chasm. This is one of those areas when I would stop regardless of the time of year to bask in the beauty. If one keeps one’s eyes open, one can see many different things.

My planning this year suffered. The leaves were not only past peak but many of the trees had already shed their leaves in preparation for their winter slumber. There were, if one was to look, trees which held onto their leaves as if waiting for my arrival. “How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” – John Burroughs

ausable fall“The longer I live, the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and the wonder of the world.” – John Burroughsausable fall1
One of my favorite quotes from “The Art of Seeing Things” is this quote from Mr. Burroughs. “Love sharpens the eye, the ear, the touch; it quickens the feet, it steadies the hand, it arms against the wet and the cold. What we love to do, that we do well. To know is not all; it is only half. To love is the other half.” ― John Burroughs

Time

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude for being given another opportunity to grace this earth. For being able to take another breath and enjoy the things in my life which brings a smile to my face. For my eyes and being allowed to see my beautiful wife, children and grandchildren and whatever else graces my view throughout the day.

I have spent quite a bit of time in thought thinking about how I spent this past Sunday. I was on call for Crisis Services. Despite this and my usual Pavlovian response as I nervously wait for my phone to ring; I decided to relax and spend the day the way I wanted to spend it. When I’m on-call I make no concrete plans because a call can come in at any time. As I grow older I see less and less value in filling each day with concrete plans. There are things which need to be done, tasks which need to be completed. Those will get done for there is little which needs to get done at that moment. I found the world will not cease turning if something is left undone.

Jack and I rose and we went for our usual Sunday morning walk. Before returning to the inside of the house, we perched ourselves on the front porch and based in the solitude of the morning. There is, for me no other time of day which brings so much joy. The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit.

The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery person. It sat protected in its orange cocoon protecting it from the elements which may have otherwise disturbed my ability to read its contents with some modicum of joy. Jack watched as I ground beans for my morning coffee. As his eyesight fails at his age of 15-years, his eyes grow cloudy with cataracts, he thinks he is going to be fed again. I allow him to smell the freshly ground beans. he takes a quick sniff and turns his head away in obvious disgust as he realizes this treat is not for him. read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit. I have this new coffee an Instagram friend suggested I try. Don’t tell my friends at Death Wish coffee, but I really enjoy this smooth taste. All of the information if you’d like to find them on the Internet and give them a try is right on the bag.

coffee

For those of us who reside in the year 2017, sitting and doing nothing is difficult. We all know this and many of agree using one of the excuses which make every hair stand on end; “I just don’t have the time!” First of all, this is Bullshit!!!! We have nothing but time. It is all in how we choose to spend the time we have. So, when done correctly, the ability to sit and do nothing productive, is, in fact, a momentous achievement. There are some people who see me doing nothing as defined in their terms because whatever activity in which I am engaging does not fit their definition of productivity. These are the people who would disagree with me. That’s too bad because I find reading, lying in my hammock, playing with my grandson, writing, smoking a cigar and drinking a couple fingers of a good whiskey are being productive.

coffee

In the past, I had struggled with sitting quietly alone. I felt like I need to be in perpetual motion. It seems as though the minute I sit my brain begins to wander. My eyes also wander. I begin to see things around the house which may or may not require my attention. Most certainly those things do not require my attention at that time. My son joined me. We both noted it had taken him 4 hours to clean his car inside and out. It’s not that the car was that dirty, it’s that he stopped several times, sat and we talked.

I have a salve for my spirit. It comes in the form of silence, of solitude. When I am physically able to run, it comes in the solitude which I feel during a run and which accompanies my spirit for some time after the run has concluded. It also comes in the form of reading, journaling and smoking a good cigar. My entire professional life I have found myself chained to a calendar and a clock. Questions abound such as “Do I have enough time to do this or that?” These things have resulted in a perpetual feeling of anxiety; of being on-edge. When I apply the salve, which ever one I have chosen, the grip which anxiety has had on me begins to weaken. The difficulty arises when I do not apply the salve as often as is recommended. When I neglect an application, I feel out of place. My mind wanders and guilt, self-imposed guilt reenters or should I say I allow it to reenter. I regret now not doing more in my work life to disrupt that configuration.

Try it sometime. You might actually become addicted to “not doing anything productive.”

namaste