Archive for January, 2014

Guided By The Spiritual

waterA Catholic acquaintance recently asked about the purpose of reincarnation. “… do Buddhists want us just to be zombies, no desire or wishes? They simply continue to be born again.”  To which I replied, “Good question. At a very high level, I believe the purpose is to end suffering.”

My response really didn’t address his question. But internally debating, could one presume that organized religion (regardless of faith) changes human conduct towards the better on a global and statistical scale? To me, this very idea is replete with examples tending demonstrate otherwise. Not even Buddhism. So if people hold Buddhism on higher regard compared to other religious faiths it has to be for other reason.

For me, it’s about being guided by the spiritual. While I am conscious of this physical world, I am more influenced and moved by the spiritual. Simply saying we are a spirit in a body says little, but believing there is a spiritual side to which all of us can connect, where thoughts and feelings are freely exchanged just as you and I converse is powerful.

The reason most of us cannot hear the spiritual side is that many people who, in the face of an incredibly complicated world, are absolutely convinced that they alone understand the way that the world works. Unfortunately, the world is simply far too complex to understand in such a manner.  They miss the key of humility, a willingness to abandon complex vision of religion and live in faith. Once one accepts the humility of faith, we can find and understand the spiritual form of compassion.

In our daily life, compassion too often comes in the form of feel-good news feature pieces or sidebars about heroic people most could never become. Our cultural representation of compassion has been deadened by idealistic images and misses the beautification many spiritual leaders exuded. The real compassion of Christ, the real compassion of Buddha, the real love of Gandhi crosses religious, spiritual and ethical traditions while simultaneously transcending them.

This deep well of spiritual compassion is intertwined with clemency and reunion. And in this light, God invites us to live and communicate compassionately, to bathe in the face of Christ or to absorb the love of Buddha in everything and everyone. Doing so allows us to live a life in the spiritual.

Galileo said, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.” Those classic scientists believed that understanding the natural world was the best way to understand the mind of its maker. But to live in a spiritually connected world means we understand that there’s more to simply living. We begin to appreciate that we’re the only creatures with the capacity to possibly have a deep interconnected relationship to God and perceive life in greater depth.

This is the way I choose to see the world. I want to live with those friends, present and passed, in front of my eyes and in my life. It’s about absolute love. It’s not always about religious things and not always about spiritual things. More importantly, it’s living each moment in spiritual compassion, a simply reality that’s rendered time and again.

Compassion and love are the real reasons I live in Buddha and reside in the moment.

How about you?


Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 4.59.41 PMI once spent weeks driving to the west coast and back. During the trip visited the tornado damaged Joplin, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Del Rio, Alpine, Alamogordo, Las Cruces Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Amarillo. Having visited caverns, cliffs, caves, gorges and missions, I was left in complete awe.

Like all of us walking this life, there was no one-way. With literally hundreds of routes to choose from and with so many decisions that lay before me, I quickly learned there was no “perfect” route. Each carefully planned segment carried its own challenges. I encountered a major winter storm, with blizzard conditions halting an entire state’s transportation system. There was rain and flooding in some portions of Texas and the searing heat of the New Mexican and Nevada desert.

Sometimes we find ourselves lost. And thankfully, the Benedictine Abbey monks found me and gave me rest for several days.  Other days, a local Mexican Restaurant offered these old bones dinner well past closing.  And a local Marriott owner in Tulsa upgraded a room that hid a secret hot tub to enhance the night’s stay.

I was in transire then and transire now. The Latin term transire, means to ‘go across.’ Like all life-long road warriors, we are required to change. This past weekend was a great transition for me. I felt lost when learning of a colleague’s untimely death. But more importantly, I understand that those who travel life’s road experience both joy and sadness. One cannot have one without the other.

Yet in each mile of the road, I found a slice of home, where one found a sense of love. It felt like home, but was not. Each place was so unfamiliar, yet so lovingly familiar. Transitions are like that. In all our lives, whether the transition was chosen or forced, all usually ask, will anyone like us? Will we be the same when we come out upon the other side? God, will I even make it to the other side.

Each one of us must transition. We all leave school, gain employment and perhaps a career. Others will get married, have children, lose children, lose fathers, mothers, daughters, grandparents and more. Some will transition to great celebration, maybe becoming a senator, congressional representative, President, a heart surgeon, a paramedic, police, fire or veterinarian. Through it all, everything will be very different and so very similar.

Transire … transire.

Just as you, I am deeply carved. The canyons seen out west are true of all. Time and experience chisel a vast amount of wrinkles.  It’s as if we build our own grand canyons. Except the chisel is from God and depth of love is formed by the very breath of His own lips. Like my weekend, there are times when the familiar will get lost. And in its place a whirlwind of confusion envelops us.  Transition removed me from my comfort zone and I searched for someone to lean upon. Like the young mother cradling a child in the middle of the night, there may appear to be only darkness.

Yet within in these transire moments are opportunities for God’s grace and love. It is those moments where are vessels can find safe harbor. All religions have moments where the loving tender attention forms within us; a clarity and call to love. It’s in those moments that God’s footprints are found in not only during the transire, but also upon arrival.  Where there is love, there is God, there is Christ, there is Buddha, and there is love. The colors, the sounds, and smells may remain the same or be different, but we will find things so familiar and so renewed.

How are you in your transire? Do you see the loving care given by your God? Do you give that same love to someone else in transire?

RGARE_kbalossi_LThumbI flew into St. Louis today, met a client and snuck over to your work for a surprise lunch. Imagine my surprise as I learned of your passing in November 2013.  For now, they’ve kept your office unoccupied and I remained in the empty steel silence that filled your life for the past 12 years.  Everything seems vaguely familiar, yet eerily quiet.

I caught my breath.

When we started our jobs together, we somehow connected. There was something in that building which drew me in, tempting me with a friendship one only dared to dream of.  Being a solitary traveler, I knew more about you in a few short months than just about anyone. You were a fiery young woman, full of sensitivity, love, tenacious and brave all at the same time. You made the best of most situations which I later learned was difficult considering the cancer you battled.

As a friend, you are one of the greatest gifts God ever gave me. But you were a tremendous gift to many. Personally, I will miss your smile, your laughter and your hug. I will miss the times we sat and watched coworkers come and go, the leaves change, the seasons come, the seasons go. You showed me how happy life could be, what real love was and so much more. You were the whole world to many and no one could possibly replace the sacred spot in which you reside.

You taught me that if I felt like an oddball; be proud of it, that somehow, regardless of how battered and bruised I had become, I could indeed accomplish a lot. You taught a good spouse comes from genuine love and not from just the need for love. And most importantly, love is everything and everything flows from that.

One said love and friendship withstands the test of time. Some days I fear time has only weakened me and brought more sorrow than what’s possible to be healed. The world is a much duller place without you. But as you would say, no matter what life throws at you, get back up. No exceptions. I must live for the living, for I have a thousand more obligations left undone. I know life and death are two ends of the same process – if I understood one end, I had to understand the other.

Kanako, I missed your death. But more importantly, I missed your life.

If I were saying “good-bye” today, I would want you to know how proud I am of you. My hopes and wishes would be that you maintain your close family ties. Bug your husband, mother, father and sister. Bug your friends and bug me. Accept our strengths and weaknesses, reach to our hearts across the void and remind us we are missed just as we remind ourselves we miss you. Remind us we’re loved and that you’ll be there when we cross the divide.

I love you like a sister. I hope that the world you are in is beautiful and someone is holding you, making it all ok. I hope that you are feeling the peace you provided to so many of us.


This is a wonderful and beautiful written piece from the heart. Your comment, “I am no teacher and I have no real students; so perhaps we don’t need to take any of the above seriously” is striking because I believe each of us is a teacher and a student. We learn from the people we meet and we teach to those whom we meet.

Per the Buddhist Proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” All of us are teachers and all of us are students.

Well done my friend.

The Only Guarantee

imagesWhile purchasing a set of Klipsch S4A headphones, the salesperson inquired about purchasing an extended warranty, a two-year guaranteed replacement. Having worked for the Better Business Bureau some thirty years ago, there are many calculations, that from a purely economic standpoint, that confirms there’s no economic sense to purchase one.

Yet today I burst out laughing heartily at a Pella Windows sales representative, who quoting windows for my home, queried whether I wanted an extended warranty above and beyond Pella’s 10 year limited warranty. The poor man must have thought I was nuts. When I explained that thirty years ago this April, I received a diagnosis providing an additional 25 quality years.  Thus, I am past my due … and all the medical events of this past week indicate I am nearer transition.

So at my stage of life, why buy anything? Certainly one can’t pass on or pay forward anything, let alone an extended warranty. Humorously, I wondered whether God offered anyone an extended warranty prior to our arrival on this island earth?  Or are we just a set of souls with an implied warranty?

To clarify, implied warranties are unwritten promises that arise from the nature of the transaction. It means when you purchase product, the seller basically says, “Yeah, it works and good luck.” For you and I, it means when born our creator breathed life into us and said good luck. There are no known guaranties. It’s the cosmic equivalency to a used car “Purchased As-Is.”

Of course there are expressed warranties. An expressed warranty is a verbal or written statement that guarantees a product will work in a certain way or for a certain amount of time, say one year, five years, ten years, etc.  Some could represent the Bible as an expressed warranty. But technically, that doesn’t count. I presume to say the Bible guarantees only that we will experience joys, sorrow, sickness and death. Hard to believe, that as a spirit, one actually agreed, for I have no direct knowledge of some hierarchical contract signed, sealed or delivered.

Seriously, at the end of the day, for me it doesn’t matter. Paraphrasing the character Red in The Shawshank Redemption, I would love to find the youth of myself and “… try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that.”

There’s no warranty for any of us. I know the abundance of my days is pain-filled and moving toward a series of rather distasteful health events. I will never ever hold the hand of the one I truly love. I won’t see the Alaskan Glaciers again nor see the sunset from Upper Grinnell Lake.

But as a Buddhist, I know the only guarantee allowed: our present moment of love; to have peace of mind and heart and to feel good about our own existence and to be love to all those around us. We … yes us … must live out of this present moment. Write a heart of love on everyone met and as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “… find your eternity in each moment.”

This very moment is the only guarantee we have. Make each one count.

john-quincy-adams-2About a week ago, I awoke suffering from tremendous vertigo, blurred vision in one eye, tremors, and a stiff neck with pain in the jaw.  Some might say, “Hell of a night Mr. Buddha.” Truthfully, this is just a part of the disease I must endure to the end.

Waiting for the usual plethora of tests, I’ve been asked several times about how I’m doing. When queried in such a manner, I internally reflect upon Quincy Adams last letter and quote, The Buddhist “… is well, but the house in which he lives at the present time is becoming dilapidated.”

I know the real battle is the not the disease, it’s within the mind. As CNN anchor Zain Verjee described her battle psoriasis, “My mind is living a separate life from the body beneath it.” Many sitting in the impractical and uncomfortable hospital lounge chairs understand the ocean of pain and fear crushes far worse than the disease. That fear slaughters and drives many from their faith. Likewise those clutching rosaries, religious revivals have swept through thousands of new converts.  Yet death’s angel culls both faithful and unfaithful equally.

All of us will stumble upon someone dying. Technically speaking, life itself is both sexually transmitted and terminal. But as we meet those transferring from this life to another, it’s important to remember: this is not about you. It’s about the person with the illness. If you are a friend you will need to get over your discomfort or get out of the way. Those dying really don’t want to console their visitors. For those suffering, romantic conceptions of the battle and gallant heroes riding to save day rarely come. No one visiting someone’s personal battlefield should ever regard life in quite the same fashion as before. Doing otherwise catapults one to being worse than the enemy.

If I can be so bold as to speak for others, being a compassionate and caring friend does not require personal experience identical to what I am living. Don’t disappear. Sure I represent your fear, but I also represent God’s love. Check in with me. Remind me that I’ve not been forgotten. Remind me that I’m your friend.

I will close with an excerpt from When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner:

“Life is not fair. The wrong people get sick and the wrong people get robbed and the wrong people get killed in wars and in accidents. Some people see life’s unfairness and decide, ‘There is no God; the world is noting but chaos.’ Others see the same unfairness and ask themselves, ‘Where do I get my sense of what is fair and what is unfair? Where do I get my sense of outrage and indignation, my instinctive response of sympathy when I read in the paper about a total stranger who has been hurt by life? Don’t I get these things from God? Doesn’t He plant in me a little bit of His own divine outrage at injustice and oppression, just as He did for the prophets of the Bible? Isn’t my feeling of compassion for the afflicted just a reflection of the compassion He feels when He sees the suffering of His creatures?’ Our responding to life’s unfairness with sympathy and with righteous indignation, God’s compassion and God’s anger working through us, may be the surest proof of all of God’s reality.”

As Quincy Adams wrote, “Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it; its roof is pretty well worn out.  Its walls are much shattered, and it trembles with every wind.”

But I my friends … I am having a great day.

Humility The Teacher

humilityIn politics, one usually has to give in order to ask for anything. You want that city park built, be ready to donate.  Want that new access road, better break out the checkbook.  Need that street repaired, someone’s bound to ask for a “small” donation to the campaign coffer.  By all accounts, this system of giving and receiving has been in play dating back to the Roman Empire and probably earlier.  This may be one of the reasons Christ’s quip, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” is so useful.

Governor Chris Christie may have utilized a similar thought philosophy. One day last spring, a member of Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign staff came calling to see if the Fort Lee’s, PA Mayor (a Democrat) would endorse the governor, a Republican. When the Fort Lee Mayor declined, it is suggested Christie’s staff instituted retribution.

Not long afterward, a police commander at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, led a crew that set up a long, curving line of traffic cones at Fort Lee’s southern approach to the upper level of the George Washington Bridge. The cones funneled drivers normally served by three tollbooths into just one. Other drivers advanced through the two lanes, so tantalizingly close but suddenly off limits. Backups began, and soon much of Fort Lee’s three square miles became a montage of idling cars and collective exasperation.

The rest they say is history.

Political retribution occurs every day, in almost all levels of government.  Here’s a sample:

  • Mitch McConnell stated his top priority was to make President Obama a “one-term” President;
  • The recent Government Sequestration;
  • The “nuclear option” used by Harry Reid;
  • The attempt to rein in President Barack Obama’s power to temporarily fill senior government posts without the Senate’s approval; and
  • Government’s cancellation of unemployment benefits.

What astounds me in Governor Christie’s recent problems is the complete failure of Christie’s inner circle brain synapses to correctly fire.  The fact that all this high-priced talent, loaded with many, many years of experience; to miss all opportunity to step back and look at the valley and:

  • One, someone actually thought of this idea;
  • Second, Christie’s high-priced talent actually thought this was a great idea worth implementing; and
  • Third, Christie’s high-priced talent actually communicated about this via government owned email and phone systems (meaning every word is tracked and recorded almost forever).

I once said humility is a hell of a teacher. Christie himself has been called a mirror of society and is very like any one of us. Like Christie, we often fail to even acknowledge the needs of those around us. Some really believe they assimilate Jesus’ message. In truth, do we not simply ignore it?

Taoism lists the Three Jewels as compassion, moderation, and humility, later translated to Buddhists to be the ideal or highest spiritual potential that exists within all beings. Author John Stott stated humility is “the rarest and fairest of all virtues.” It’s also the chief human virtue because it’s the exact opposite of pride.

It is not external assaults on political ethics, whether by ideological, philosophical or religious rivals that have represented the most serious threat to proper and ethical government, it is that subtle infiltration of those who exploit the gullibility of their constituents that are most harmful. The bottom line is what really threatens the nation is what sounds ideological, what sounds biblical, what sounds spiritual. Those are the people who do damage to the church.

Those who say they represent God; those who say they represent Christ; those who say they teach the truth of life or have the right interpretation of this or that, present themselves as true ministers and teachers succeed in duping the gullible with false claims of authority are the people who do real damage. It’s done every day, whether it be politics, business, social media or even family.

We need to care for one another and distance ourselves from this selfish mentality that seems to be the norm in the world of today.  May Christie learn not to equate humility with weakness.

The Greatest Love

agape LoveSo many different sins. Whether we admit it or not, most of us are in a very broken state. Each of us has issues; some surrounding relationships, some with drugs, and some with this or that.

We see many celebrities on television living horrid lives. What would possibly be going on, that any one of us would openly choose such a destructive lifestyle? And how embarrassing is it that one must live out these very private and personal failures on a public stage, to be discovered and shamed by many of the world. It’s hard enough to be familiar with our own self, let alone to be personally honest about our worst and most destructive choices, but to have others find out our worst, let alone the whole world seems impossible.

Maybe … just maybe … to have this stuff come forth from the bottom of our soul is the beginning of freedom. Maybe … just maybe … having that sin uncovered begins a journey away from individual slavery. Maybe … just maybe … having that sin exposed frees us from the shackles of darkness, the bonds of hell. Maybe that sin … just maybe … uncovering that sin is what we need to have happen.

Most of us know at least one thing in our life that remains hidden. Slowly these issues feast upon the core of our soul, if not our body. Simply put, it’s just a code for sin, a destructive behavior that seemingly never dies. But what if any one of us went to work, like any other day, only to realize your sin will be uncovered? What if you went home, stood face-to-face with your spouse, and found this hidden secret exposed? What if all our secrets were exposed, for the entire world to see?

Better yet, what if you exposed these sins, but the very person you stood face-to-face did not run? Maybe that spouse, coworker, friend or love lover flinches, but at the end of the day stood firm? What if you weren’t shamed for your choices? What if your darkest secret was exposed simply so you can be free? What if someone simply acted Godly, in love, and exposed the secret so one could be free?

What if God looked at you today and said, “I know you. I know the worst things about you and I’m not leaving you? I will stay right here … to love you … and support you. I am here with you as you are. You don’t have to polish yourself, create another image or hide the pain in the back alley of the soul. What’s more, I know there’s freedom for you. I now there is a greater life for you.”

This is a love most of us have never ever known before. It’s a love that enables each us to lay bare our wounded souls and ask for freedom.

Too often we are loved for this or for that. Most of us go from one thing to another – desperately trying to end the loneliness, to end the insecurity. And much of the time, that very loneliness is often reinforced, galvanized. The pleasure we sought becomes an endless journey of one vice for another, one relationship to the next and one bad habit for another.

When each of us reaches for the hurting and accept them in this form of agape love, we accept them for who they are, blemishes and all. This allows each and every one of us to look at our own ugliness and accept it as part of who we were. It’s the kind of love that comes to everyone as they are, not some idolized person someone thinks you need to be. This type of does not wait for us to cleanse our life, to make things all better. This form of agape love needs to come to all, as we stand, bare-ass and naked.

And if we receive that love, we can hold up our sin, our darkness and trust that this person, who stands before us, ensured we would not be abandoned. To those damaged during life’s journey, when we love in empowerment we give them the ability to begin freeing the chains, to cut the chains, to heal the shame. Only when we know who we are, can begin to order our lives in honor of those who gave us the most empowering love ever know.

This empowerment is the greatest form of love we’ve ever, ever, known.

More than X’s and O’s

BCSNow that the College Bowl Championship Series is over, I look into the bathroom mirror and query, “Magic Mirror, on the wall, is Florida State University the fairest of all?”

In particular, I remember Winston’s comment from mid-December, “I draw a lot of comparisons with Cam Newton and E.J. Manuel. But for the mental part, I like to view myself as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and those guys,” Winston said. “Because they’re so ahead of everyone else when it comes to that part of the game.”

Personally, I didn’t watch the BCS premier event. And from what I’ve read, Winston rose to occasion and brought his team eighteen points down to covet the prized trophy. But deep inside, did Winston really win?

By all accounts, Winston is a talented man.  He has all the key ingredients to be the best. But is Winston ahead of everyone else when it comes to that part of the game, as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees?  Is Winston a leader both on and off the field?  Despite the BCS pressure — he is almost certain to begin an offseason of speculation and attention, perhaps rivaling that of his Heisman predecessor, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.

Question! How would a real leader have reacted to State Attorney William Meggs, who treated the sexual assault case as a hilarious joke? I distinctly remembered Meggs joked about whether the case was pressured by an upcoming Heisman Trophy vote or the ACC Championship game. He joked about the types of questions reporters were asking. He, and a former state senator who was standing behind him, and the media, joked about everything.

Winston’s attorney Tim Jensen’s press conference offered another theory. “Sometimes there are people that target these athletes, look at them, oh, idolize them, and maybe they believe there’s more of a relationship. Sometimes the motive of accusers comes in to question.”  Everyone seemed so unbelievably happy.

Would a leaders like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees actually believe this? Would these tactics be embraced by such leaders?

What Winston may or may not have learned is that leadership is more than X’s and O’s. What Winston has failed to understand is real leadership defines expectations – athletically, academically, and personally. One can be a great leader on the football field, but abysmal personally. Leaders set expectations both on and off the field. Everyone must understand what is required.

The most untaught lesson that the Johnny “Football’s” of America miss is the ability to recognize how vastly different they really are from Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. What I wished the BCS Championship game would have taught Winston is a huge pile of humility. But evidently that lesson remains untaught.

Word to the wise, when humility arrives, embrace it.

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