Tag Archive: Life Lessons


He Remains My Father

As my father hurls toward his final passing, he spends endless hours watching television – in particular, ‘NCIS.’ Until recently, I personally never watched more than a handful of episodes. My father however, spends endless hours digesting this show. Ironically, he doesn’t remember episodes. He could watch the same episode over and over and it would be new to him each time he watched, for as his cognitive abilities become limited, it’s hard to follow plot lines and characters’.

I have no particular dig against many of the of the crime drama television shows. But I will say this, most of them are a goddamn poor form of entertainment. The weekly hashing of death and destruction is awfully depressing. There is no good food for thought. Outside of the occasional humor, it’s frick’n depressing. Still I recognize that one may consider “The Kardashians” actual entertainment while others may not. And again, one who hates ‘The Kardashians‘ may love ‘Criminal Minds.’ Personally, I find neither offering value.

Searching my own values, I have many questions. From a Buddhist perspective, does seeing other people’s suffering gives us a sense of community and togetherness? By watching such shows, are we enjoined by the community with the idea we’re all in this life together? Why can’t we not appreciate what we have without having requiring some frame of reference for both positive and negative? If the goal of any Buddhist is to eliminate suffering, I query, why do I participate in another’s misery? Why am I entertained?

While my father’s situation is dire, watching these shows does not drive me to despair. My father remains an inspiring presence – one whom, even at this late stage of life, I can forge bonds regardless of such ignorance streamed via cable. For the first time in years, I studied my father, his disciplined effort to escape the skin cells that binds him and his personal quest for ultimate enlightenment. I intently studied him, his fractured body—and smiled remembering the Iron Man of my youth. I love him so.

So, in spite of the shows he watches, he remains my father. He is forever my Iron Man.

 

At 86, my father lay at the precipice of passing. He spends nights talking to ‘friends’ – those being his mother, an old friend or angels he claims to be guides. During the waking hours, my father’s life is not unlike Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

For 15 hours a day, I sit in this same chair, totally dependent on someone else coming in here to make me a cup of tea,” Kubler-Ross says. “It’s neither living nor dying. It’s stuck in the middle.”

Watching a loved one pass can be painful, gratifying, even joyous. Seems ritualistic for my mother, for this is not the first time my father died.

May 21th, 2001 was the first time my father passed. During emergency procedures, he claimed to have an out-of-body experience and successfully repeated, verbatim, all medical procedures to every clinician. He briefly entered the brightest white light ever seen, spoke to his mother and was able to identify key angels, ‘helpers’ and ‘takers.’

The above background lays the groundwork for this post. My thoughts are not of the afterlife, white lights, or angels. Rather, I wish to document critical life lessons my father has revealed in the autumn of his.

Lesson 1

One beautiful thing about death is that one’s life circumstances doesn’t determine your outcome. Whatever your life, whatever your mistakes, God probably doesn’t view personal successes and failures as ‘black’ or ‘white.’ All of us are redeemable. All are loved. And in God, there are no ordinary moments, there is no ordinary person.

Lesson 2

We all feel heaven will end our human experience. Yet, my father has taught me heaven is a world where pain is not worth losing every other emotion and experience that makes us proud to be human. Spiritual living is a changing experience that should cause all of us to dig deep and live all the moments we’ve ever dreamed about, regardless whether they be here or in heaven.

Lesson 3

Love is the most powerful purifier of all. When our heart is filled with love, we are healed. God’s love resonates with everything around us that affects the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being. True love purifies the spirit and cleanses the soul. Expect nothing less from heaven itself.

Lesson 4

Heaven is probably more like our world than we think. Just as we are a collaboration of energies, heaven is probably reinforces that everyone has something to contribute. Everybody has a purpose and a spiritual life attunes you to the rest of the universe. All the life force energy comes to your aid when your purpose is in attunement with betterment of the universe as a whole. “All energy is only borrowed … You have to give it back.”

Lesson 5

Lesson 5 summarizes 1 through 4. Simply stated, Heaven and life, are very similar to ramen. Maezumi from the film The Ramen Girl summarizes what my father has been trying to teach me for 58 years.

A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountains, and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen.

What’s in the broth? Love.

Pre-accident, my parents were a lively young eighty-year-old something couple. Post-accident, I look through my father’s eyes and see life’s bewilderment. Hmm, the future for both of us is an uneasy fear – an fear of the future and declining health. Pre-accident, my father was lively, inspired and full of wonder. Post-accident, he sits in an easy chair, moves little and stares endlessly into repeat episodes of NCIS.

At dinner, my mother discussed how many members of the 55+ retirement community often commit suicide after receiving terminal diagnosis. “Somehow,” she muttering string through her coffee, “I thought our final years would be different.”

After 14 years in the medical industry, I with certainty that the final years for the majority will be unlike any Hollywood film illusion. In “On Golden Pond,” Henry Fonda’s character, Norman, is similar to my father.

“You want to know why I came back so fast? I got to the end of our lane. I couldn’t remember where the old town road was. I went a little ways in the woods. There was nothing familiar. Not one damn tree. Scared me half to death.”

Many of us in the shimmering landscape of life will seemingly suffer needlessly. Living this life means all of us will have to navigate the constant demand of human growth and change. And what my father is living is fear. It’s the same fear his father lived, and his father’s father. Like Norman, the road for all leads to nothing familiar.

Everyone ages differently. Then if we must age, as all do, we must age differently than our fathers and refuse the role of victim or recluse. We must remain interested in maintaining relationships, remain nonjudgmental and approach our “twilight” with a sense of adventure.

In life, and in death, in order for us to understand the ideals of harmony and peace, a certain amount of discord and dissonance must be endured. Human frailty tests the limits of personal endurance. Yet if we overcome our frailty, even in death, we join the cycle of the seasons and become what God has always wished – perfection.

On many occasions, I encounter those who make their daily obsession with legalism above real love. As such, they are unable to see beyond their own “shadows of bigotry” and refuse to allow all to experience God as commanded by Christ. To highlight, I offer two contrasting stories: the first from twenty-two years ago and the second from today.

In the fall of 1996, I attended a weekend retreat at a northern California Monastery. During a Saturday night Eucharist, the Benedictine monk explained mass is a privileged time when we offer ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord along with the gifts of bread and wine, and, by receiving him in Holy Communion, allow him to transform us too into the Body of Christ, just as surely as the gifts are transformed.

One-by-one, each retreatant moved from the congregational seats and proceeded to receive the Eucharist. Just before ending, the monk noticed a lone woman remained three rows deep. With offering in hand, the monk stood to the woman’s side as tears flowed from her eyes.

“Please?” the monk gestured.

“No, I cannot” the woman responded.

“Why not?”

“Father, I have immigrated from Iran. I have not Catholic and am forbidden to receive the Holy Communion.”

“My dear child,” the monk whispered. “I am most certain Christ will not mind.” The monk outstretched his arm, placed the communion in his fingers, “The Body of Christ.”

“Amen,” said the Iranian woman as a river of tears flowed from her heart.

Contrast the story above against that which was witnessed today.

An Asian woman was the Taiwanese daughter of a Protestant Pastor. Having spent all her life giving to Christ and to the mission of God, she immigrated and found a home in an eastern Missouri city.

After years of dedication and service, she received her PhD in counseling and Christian theology. As a result, she was highly coveted speaker in the Christian arena and was actively recruited by a local Catholic seminary to teach seminary students, priests and nuns counseling and Christian faith.

As she often does, she attends mass almost daily and receives communion regularly.

Just like all other days, she proceeded to receive communion, but today was unlike all other days. The Jesuit Priest knew she was not Catholic and when her turn for communion came, the priest publicly refused her Communion.

This servant of God was publicly called out, not for her love, dedication and communion with Christ, but simply because she was not Catholic. As a river of tears flowed from her heart none of her peers challenged the priest.

Verily I say, those who pretend to be above it all are the ones to worry about. These are the ones who destroy the relationships of Christ. Be careful, for Christ calls them “blind guides.”

In both stories, Christ witnessed a river of tears. Yet, which servant will Christ honor?

I looked at the yin-yang symbol for nearly a decade and always thought I understood the hidden dynamic. Rooted in Chinese philosophy, are often thought to be opposing forces versus complimentary forces.

Others propose a more defined view, that everything has both yin, the darker, more passive force, and yang, a more active positive force. The message insinuates that yin cannot exist without yang. Vice versus, yang cannot exist without yin. Lastly, some taught that neither yin nor yang could exist without the other.

I refined my personal perspective after watching the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In Rogue One, we learn that the same material used by the Death Star to destroy planets also powered the Jedi’s light saber. In The Last Jedi, Rey learned the Jedi hold no exclusivity rights to the Force, for the Force is in everything and everyone has equal access. Thus, as Christ would say, each one of us has the ability to accomplish what Christ did and more.

Moving forward, I ask the following question: “What if there is neither a yin nor yang?” What if the world’s yin and yang happen to be derived from the same one life force? What if our own personal yin and yang are derived from the very same force? If true, what becomes of yin and yang?

I propose both yin and yang are breathed to life via personal choice. All of us, will at times, choose yin. Likewise, all of us, at times choose yang. Christ talked of such a view in Matthew 15:19,”For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” The challenge lay in choice.

In Rogue One, the blind spiritual master Chirrut Imwe, was in constant dialogue with “the force” as he chanted “I am one with the force, the force is with me.” We must be in constant dialogue with the Father if we want to know what he wants us to do and where to go.

I conclude from the story of a Cherokee grandfather teaching his grandson about life.

A fight is going on inside me,” the elder said. ”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.

The grandson thought about it for a minute and asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one I feed.

So, which will you feed? The yin? Or the Yang?

A little over a week ago, I stumbled upon the movie A Monster Calls.  As noted in my last entry, A Monster Calls is the story of a 12-year-old boy coming to terms with the fact that his mother is dying. Its extraordinary power lies in the interweaving of the fantastical and the everyday. As a result, a tree monster comes to tell three stories, each of which provides a significant lesson for any person could learn.

The second story is a call to faith.

The Story

A conservative pastor follows old Biblical traditions and beliefs is pestered by an older medicine man to cut down an older magical tree for use to make medicine. The parson considers the old medicine repugnant and proclaims as much from the pulpit. In time, even those who been healed by the medicine man turn against the healer. Thus, in time, the healer is nearly destroyed by destitution.

A plague sweeps the land and many die. In time, the parson’s daughters become ill. When all medical resources are exhausted, the parson goes before the medicine man and begs for his daughter’s healing. When the parson promises to renounce his belief should his daughter become healed, the medicine man says he cannot help the parson. Thus, the parson’s daughters die. The magical tree awakens and destroys the medicine man’s home and livelihood. As a result, both men are destroyed.

Key Takeaway

The moral of the story is that the parson was a man of faith, but only when that faith suited him. The parson had no faith of his own and changed beliefs as it suited him. In order for the medicine to have worked, one had to have had faith in the medicine. Without faith, there is no life.

As quoted by the monster, “Belief is half of all healing. Belief in the cure, belief in the future that awaits.”

Two events of my life provide stark reminders of the second tale.

Spiritual Lesson 1

Two events in my life stark reminders of the Monster’s second tale.

First a woman has had two-year long battle of an undefined illness. When traditional medicine provided little relief, she happened upon a cloister of Dominican Nuns. Saddened by the woman’s sorrow, the nuns prayed for her healing.  Several days later, the woman felt the nuns healing had a positive effect, that she was healing. However, the very next day, the woman’s condition slightly changed and she lost hope and of the faith of the nuns.

Spiritual Lesson 2 – My Lesson

There once lived a Buddhist who once was touched by the hand of God. Through meditation, he found he could change and heal the wounds of others. Angered by the lack of faith found in others, he hid himself from the very force that could heal. In time, the power and joy of healing wandered away.  I am reminded to tap into the ‘unbounded spirituality‘ available to all. The personal lesson learnt forty years ago, when I first met God was simple. I thought I was ‘chosen.’ Only now do I realize I was not chosen. I simply had a beautiful gift, that when dipped in the paint of God’s faith, became extremely powerful. Unfortunately, I hid. And those in need suffered from my selfishness to remain anonymous.

If gifted, you must continually renew yourself. Renewal means you must step from life’s shadow, accept the bad, but be reminded to see the good – and the potential for greatness – in everyone.

God calls it faith.

General Fearless:As, President Trump indicated, a combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom launched precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.  We thank them both.

One year ago, Assad launched a savage chemical weapons attack against his own innocent people.  The United States responded with 58 missile strikes that destroyed 20 percent of the Syrian Air Force. Probably more like 50%. It was something like the world has never seen before. As Bernie Sanders would say, ‘It was yuge.’

Last Saturday, the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians — this time, in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus.  This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime. The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air.  These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead.

I can assure you we took every measure and precaution to strike only what we targeted and –– and we successfully hit every target and believe we have significantly cripple Assad’s capability to use chemical weapons in the future.

Now, I’ll take a few questions.”

Fake News Reporter:General, how did you assess success?

General Fearless:Let me show a graphic just received.

In these before and after photos, you can tell we struck an already previously destroyed target. If you look really close, through a microscope, you’ll see part of the roof in the ‘Before” photo may have been moved to the right in the ‘After’ photo.”

 Fake News Reporter:General, these pictures don’t show any differences?

General Fearless:Well, we struck at night to purposely limit damage against the enemy and reduce loss of life.

Fake News Reporter:Huh? I’m sorry General, that makes no sense.”

General Fearless:Look, someone was having a bad yesterday and throwing temper-tantrums. There wasn’t an 18-wheeler available to climb into and pretend to be a trucker. So, we let him play with over $100 million in missiles.”

Fake News Reporter:One last question General. Washington Post Reporter Jasmine El-Gamal recently wrote that Assad has been associated with words such as “monster,” “vicious” and “unacceptable” are being recycled in news statements and interviews. Given the unfathomable suffering that has beset the Syrian people at the hands of Assad, the unwillingness of the international community to threaten action unless the Islamic State (ISIS) or chemical weapons are involved, one element is noticeably and consistently absent: Syria’s civilians, who for the past several years have lived in a terrifying hell on Earth, often unable to leave their houses. Syrian Network for Human Rights estimated that the Assad regime had dropped nearly 70,000-barrel bombs since July 2012 — and sometimes forced people to watch as children slowly starved to death.

Am I correct in saying that the United States and their Allies are not ok with chemical weapons but ok with everything else?”

General Fearless:Yup, but we sent Assad a message.”

Care for the Goose

A gifted psychotherapist spent a decade working 65- to 70-hour work weeks, often working one full-time job and two part-time jobs, multiple back-to-back speaking engagements, and literary writing. Her friends warned to not burn herself out, that she was on an exhausting pace. Still, she tarried onward, for in her eyes, God said the need was great.

Reality has a way of sneaking in. On a crisp warm spring morning last year, she awoke with no voice. Multiple trips to multiple medical specialists returned a similar prognosis – her voice chords were nearly paralyzed. Fearing the worst, she turned to prayer, then to various concoctions of honey, seaweed and aloe shakes, over-the-counter allergy medicines and finally use of a voice microphone. However, she kept working.

A year of unanswered prayers whizzed past. She experienced little to no relief from shakes and over-the-counter medicines. Exhausted, she returned to medical professionals. The update? Her voice chords were completely paralyzed. Thus, all that raw talent, knowledge and ability to assist those in need are locked forever – a voice chord away.

Aesop’s fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs should echo for all of us. The fable details a struggling farmer who finds an egg made of gold. Thinking someone ‘punk’d’ him, the egg was appraised and found to be real. Using the gift wisely, the goose lays a golden egg every day and the farmer becomes rich.

Like many before, finding talent and using it wisely are often polar opposites. The farmer convinced himself there lay an infinite goldmine inside the goose. In a fit of greed, he killed the goose and finds nothing.

The Buddha told his followers a similar story. A man who died was reborn as a golden goose. He remembered his old family and felt a pang thinking of how, since his death, they were barely scraping by. So, he went to them and released one of his valuable feathers. “I’ll always provide for you,” the goose promised. Day after day, he gave the family another feather until they had enough gold to buy soft beds and rich foods.

But his former wife grew greedy and one day lured the goose close with sweet words. She grabbed him, pinned his beating wings and plucked all of his golden feathers. Since the goose couldn’t fly, his wife threw him into a barrel, fed him skinny scraps of food, and waited for his feathers to grow back. But when they did, she was disappointed: instead of the golden glint she was hoping for, the new feathers were as white as icy silence.

Essentially, all three stories teach the same lesson. However, the gifted psychotherapist is a friend and her’s story is tragically filled with real-life consequences. Prayers unanswered, she remains voiceless.

Stephen Covey used Aesop’s fable to illustrate that the more you produce, the more you do, the more effective you are is illusion. You can wear yourself out helping all sorts of causes, but a certain point, you face diminishing returns as your body fails from lack of care and sleep.

The lesson? You have to care for the goose.

On a cool Saturday morning, a couple drove several hours for a presentation on family living and love.  During the ride, the husband stated he heard from his retired parents in Arizona.

My parents admitted they were $18,000 dollars in debt,” he humbled mumbled.

$18,000?” She clarified.

Yes.

How,” she queried.

I guess it’s from medical expenses not paid by insurance from dad’s two brain surgeries.

Well,” she replied. “We’re not helping your parents in any way.

Writer Jeff Anderson noted that as elderly parents begin to rely on family for more support, the amount of conflict between adult children can increase. Dealing with a parent’s care can rekindle sibling rivalries that have lain dormant for years, and the discord can tear families apart. What Mr. Anderson did not know was that the husband in the story had quietly watched his parents fall frail to health concerns. His father had two major surgeries that netted him a long-term stay in ICU and then several months in rehabilitation.

The other side of the story was that he he quietly supported his wife by providing monthly financial support to his father-in-law and sister-in-law. But now, it’s as if she was said, “Not yours, only mine.” Her response comes from anger toward her own family life. It was a sense of helplessness.

Most often a sense of helplessness manifests into continuous critiquing, judging, anger, and sometimes even rage. When one person is completely unwilling to take full responsibility for their own life feelings, it is often because they are unwilling to experience life. That, as George Benard Shaw might say, is the difference betweenbeing used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

The ‘shit’ response comes from people who tell everyone that we’re called by God and Buddha and not to allow ourselves to be consumed with anger. Yet, as a Buddhist, we must refuse to take behaviors personally. We need to be open to open another’s burden, to one another’s pain, irregardless of the pain which we endure. Yet, in many families, the relationship is one-sided and over time, one person boldly becomes the ‘asshole’ and often goes deep into personal resentment and anger. As a result, identities shift or are lost.

We must remember how we choose to act says nothing about those around us. Rather, how we choose says everything about us. Like a lot of relationships, we can blame everyone else for how we act, including parents, brother, sister, coworker, manager, etc. But ultimately, we all know that’s a bunch of bullshit. We must proactively remind ourselves that their behavior is theirs not ours, and it has nothing to do with us.

As for caring for aging parents, Brette Sember, author of “The Complete Legal Guide to Senior Care,” stated “shared responsibility” can mean different things to different families. She says the best way to avoid major family discord is to communicate; to meet and put all cards on the table.

Acknowledge that everyone has different abilities, resources, and availability,” she says. “Try to break things up into zones if possible — medical, bill paying, cleaning, food, transportation, legal, assisted living search, laundry. Give everyone some kind of responsibility, even if it means writing a check or calling mom once a day to be her sounding board.

Remember, little in life is actually about money. Money’s not everything. Each of you needs to look at what you have to offer.

MoneySeveral weeks ago, a friend took new position at a new company.  While the position offers a lot of work, it was the most income he ever made in his life. Upon working this morning and the first thing his wife asked was, “How much was your paycheck today?” No “Good morning, dear.” No “I love you.” No kiss.  Only money.

Yet this family is not unlike most. The weekly balancing of the family budget is filled with challenges and landmines, shreds and concerns (or accusations) of spending too much, too little, not saving enough or outright ignorance. unfortunately, anyone who needs to pay the rent or mortgage has to learn how to budget. Sadly, our financial battles can be historic.

In reality, money is unavoidable. Rather, it is people’s attitude that causes worry and stress. Much of our views are shaded by the status that money can offer, as if upon hitting that status, all the world will then become divine.

The way in which we use money isolates rather than unites. For a fact, I know the husband referenced in my opening took the new position, not because he felt challenged by the position or experience a deep sense of fulfilled for the work itself. Rather, he took the position because it offered him the illusion of an oasis – income. Should the income be high enough, significant enough, plentiful enough, would his wife finally shut the hell up.

In this revelation, almost everyone I’ve discussed financial planning has never looked at financial planning from a spiritual or divine process. Rarely, if ever, do we connect such planning to the values to which we’re living. So, rather than asking whether the axis of life at the center of your budget aligns to your value, do you breathe for another’s approval? Do you keep up with neighbor or reflect upon and adapt to a personal, albeit, spiritual purpose?

Buddhism teaches about cause and effect. For the couple above, one partner may achieve the dream of the other. But for that one partner, it was the other’s dream, lived only other’s day, and only the other’s agenda. And when sunset spans the horizon, neither brought value which solidified their love or fulfilled an unfed spiritual yearning.

So, the question I ask, whose spiritual purpose do you live? For what does your bell toll?

%d bloggers like this: