Time With Dad

Just recently, my ninety-year-old father took a tumble and fractured his right shoulder. After a short stint in the hospital and some time in rehab, he returned to his home of thirty-nine years. Realizing that Dad was not capable of caring for himself for the short term, my sister Connie, Aunt Gayle, and I agreed to watch him around the clock until he recovered.

Since my mother’s death almost three years ago, Dad had been amazingly self-sufficient, and nearly all visits to see him were for social reasons, simply to spend precious moments with the patriarch of the family. But nothing stays the same, and we all knew Dad would need our help at some point in time. It’s a blessed, sacred duty to care for a parent, and I was happy to do my part.

This morning was the first day I would care for Dad, and I took over for my sister, who had watched him not only the previous night, but also for most of the days since he arrived home. After a brief update on what his needs were, Connie left for her home in Tulsa and some all-important time with her husband. As I settled in, it didn’t take me long to discover that Dad’s requirements were minimal, such as walking alongside him when he had to go to the bathroom, fixing simple meals, and addressing the little needs that invariably cropped up.

Dad loved reading western novels, which allowed me the opportunity to mindfully survey the living area where we sat, the most obvious feature being a potpourri of family photos. When I used to deliver Mobile Meals to the elderly and infirm, one common feature of nearly all of their residences were these depictions of the past, somehow giving meaning to the present and also to the future. One photo in Dad’s house that brought a smile to my face was one of me and my daughters taken while river rafting in Colorado, bringing back all sorts of pleasant memories.

Hanging over the fireplace was a beautiful painting by family friend and artist Colleen King, showing sister Connie precariously crossing a stream on a log in Red River, New Mexico, where our family spent many summer vacations. On nearby bookshelves stood various ceramic angels that I had gifted my mother. She treasured her collection of winged, spiritual beings, and she never tired of receiving them for birthdays or Christmas. On the wall above and alongside the bookcase hung depictions of a number of glistening, golden birds in flight, reminding me of the classic book by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. To my left, in an adjacent room was the dining room table, where my family celebrated many a Thanksgiving dinner.

I was flooded with memories as my father quietly read, yet I knew that these sacred moments I was now sharing with him would someday also be in the past, and the glue that held all of these recollections in their proper place – my father – would no longer physically be in the world. All of these symbols of his and my mother’s life would eventually be dispersed from the home, and one day another family with their own unique hopes and dreams would live in this space.

Yet now, my father is sitting in the same room with me and reading, moments sprinkled with conversation, laughter and sharing of thoughts. I value this time with him, and I’m honored to be caring for Dad, just as one day, when I was a young boy, he cared for me.

Present moment, wonderful moment.

Monte Sol

Santa Fe is a place of magic, a location where one is enveloped by a unique amalgam of spirit and matter, oozing with the energy of the Divine. My wife Sheridan and I have made it a habit to visit there yearly to see Amma, also known as the “Hugging Saint,” to receive darshan – a blessing – through her holy embrace.

Besides this sacred event, Santa Fe also has an incredible array of restaurants, art and trekking. Many a time we have hiked nearby trails, including Bandelier and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. This year, though, we wanted to explore somewhere different, and with the help of our friend Judge, one of the proprietors of Ravens Ridge Bed and Breakfast, we selected the Monte Sol Trail, also called the Sun Mountain Trail. Located only about five minutes away from our lodgings directly off the Old Santa Fe Trail Highway, on the surface the hike didn’t appear to be too challenging. Judge estimated that this two-mile trek would take a total of two hours up and down, and the elevation change was only eight hundred sixty feet. So, ready to taste the wilderness, we drove to the trail head and set off to experience the mystery of nature.

Quickly we realized that this hike was not for the weak of heart. After about a hundred yards of a gradual incline, we hit a series of switchbacks that went on a steep slope seemingly straight up the mountain. Every step had to be measured carefully, as the scree made each precarious. We had to pause more often than I care to confess to give our heart rates a chance to fall below one hundred and sixty. Shortly, my clothes were soaked with sweat, and the intense New Mexico sun relentlessly beat down on us.

But yet, even in the midst of the intense physical challenge, I noticed various multicolored desert flowers – yellows, whites, reds and purples – arising out of rocky surfaces, as if to tell me that in spite of the challenges of life, beauty can spring forth from desolation. Butterflies flitted around us, mostly variations of blacks and whites, demonstrating the importance of finding joy in every moment. Ravens circled overhead, silently observing the landscape, looking for food such as carrion, rodents and bird eggs. Small brown lizards darted across our path, disappearing as quickly as they arrived, their coloring camouflaging them from our eyes. Many small grouping of holes in the earth were the burrows of cicadas, a harbinger of things to come.

After a little over an hour, Sheridan and I breathlessly arrived at the summit of Monte Sol, seeing the beautiful city of Santa Fe spread out below us. We felt not only the continued intensity of the sun, but also forceful gusts of wind that threatened to blow us off our feet. Seeking shelter from the elements, Sheridan discovered a gnarled, low hanging tree that stood over some large rocks suitable for sitting. Bending over to enter the small, cocoon-like space, we sat down, feeling branches nudging up against us. After a snack of tasty milk chocolate combined with hazelnuts, we both lay down on a soft bed of pine needles, watching the sun peek through the tree limbs. As I closed my eyes, I could hear the comforting sounds of cicadas, along with the occasional buzz of flies.

As I rested, I realized that the cicadas were Mother Nature’s symphony, with the flies sounding much like off-key violins. The blustery wind was the cooling breath of God, and the sun Her guiding light, while the enveloping tree was as a Divine womb. I felt safe, nurtured and peaceful. Other hikers wandered into the area, and I paid no attention to their idle banter. Nothing could penetrate the sacred space I had entered.

Some time later, Sheridan and I emerged from our sanctuary, refreshed and relaxed. After a few moments at the summit, we patiently hiked back down the mountain, mindfully placing each step. In the afternoon light, we noticed a number of shining pieces of mica on and alongside the trail. I felt as if I were dancing among the stars of a faraway galaxy, and who knows, maybe I was.

Arriving back at the trail head, we removed our backpacks and drove away, knowing that in the hours to come, we would enter Amma’s presence, guaranteed to be a profound spiritual experience.

Two blessed happenings in one day?

My cup overflowed with joy and gratitude.

Springtime

Watching as the radiant sun

Tries to break though wispy clouds

Warm wind whooshes though the trees

Branches dancing to and fro

Twittering birds flit about

Building nests for tiny eggs

Blessed beads around my neck

Speak to me of holy times

Dogs smiling as I pet them

Eyes aglow with love

I feel my heart open

As I see green leaves bursting forth

The energy is building

Fresh, vibrant, effervescent, hopeful

The Phoenix is born

From the ashes of the Earth

Springtime is here

 

 

 

 

A Blessing From Above

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“I’m not sure at what point the red-tailed hawk made the transition from simply being a bird I enjoyed watching to something more, something personal. I began to notice when I was in times of duress — more often than not — they would fly over or in front of me. I had the distinct feeling my hawk friend was there to provide me comfort, to let me know that in spite of how bad the circumstances seemed at that given moment, events were happening just the way they should be.”

– From “Oklahoma Is Where I Live”

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.  Life is never without issues, though certain events of the recent past have been weighing heavily on me.  Nothing that was dangerous or life threatening, but rather a collection of unsettling annoyances that I was having a difficult time shaking off.  By nature, I am an optimist, but not as of late.

With this background in mind, this morning, as I walked to the front of my home to get the daily paper, I heard a loud screech overhead.  Looking upward, I saw a gloriously majestic hawk flying overhead, and close behind was a second, no doubt its mate. In the brief moment that they flew over me, I felt blessed by their presence, and the burden I felt encumbered with became a little less heavy.  I breathed in and out, knowing once again that the Universe – God – is very aware of me and my current situation, as She is of all of us.

And I felt comforted.

Rain

If the rain comes
They run and hide their heads
They might as well be dead
If the rain comes
If the rain comes

From “Rain,” by The Beatles

“Truly I say to you, except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matthew 18:3

To my delight, when I awoke this morning, I discovered a peaceful, drizzling rain.  The precipitation was light, so I couldn’t hear the raindrops sprinkling on the roof as I lay in bed, but when I looked out the window, the rain was dancing in the swimming pool and on the concrete patio in back of my home. Later, when I walked outside to get the newspaper, the air was crisp, fresh and cool. To me, nothing smells quite as good as the refreshing aroma after a rain.

A kaleidoscope of thoughts crossed my mind that day, but the first was how rain nurtures the land.  Back in my childhood, my family lived on a forty-acre farm near Dickson, Oklahoma, and much later my father leased farmland south of Oklahoma City, where he cultivated wheat, cotton, soybeans and grain sorghum, none of which was irrigated.  When Dad was a youngster growing up in Davidson, his family’s crops were likewise completely dependent on precipitation. Given that droughts in Oklahoma occur more than occasionally, I still recall the look of relief on his face when we had a pleasant, soaking rain, and almost overnight his cultivated fields turned from a dull, brownish-green to verdant hues sparkling with life.  To Oklahoma farmers, rain was truly manna from heaven, absolutely critical for sustenance and survival.  Besides that, to older generations, the lack of rain would doubtless bring up visceral, unpleasant recollections of the misery of the Dust Bowl.

Rain also brings up fond memories of when I was a child.  As long as there was no associated lightning, my mother allowed me, my brother Jim and sister Connie, to put on our bathing suits and frolic outside in the rain.  Oftentimes, we were joined by our neighborhood chums and any others who dared hang around with a wild, playful group of kids.  The more torrential the rain was, the better, as when the streets flooded, we could wade, giggling and laughing, into the deep water and splash each other to our hearts’ content.

As I grew older and more dignified, I gradually shunned such childish activities, and when the rains came, like The Beatles described above, I would ensconce myself into dry and cozy surroundings, and if I was required to venture outside, I would cover up as much as possible. After all, if I became cold and wet, couldn’t I get sick?  Become deathly ill with pneumonia?  Staying shielded from the elements was safe and secure, and was the mature, adult way to behave.

With time, though, I have slowly regressed back to some of my childhood ways.  For example, as my work as an emergency physician can be onerous, painful, and sometimes overwhelming, to lighten my emotional load I have developed a somewhat childish, cornball sense of humor, one that my fellow healthcare workers have gradually come to tolerate and on occasion, even embrace.  When the rain comes, though, there are no holds barred, and my adult completely disappears as my spontaneous inner child becomes unleashed. If it’s warm enough, I put on my bathing suit, go outside by the pool and gleefully laugh as I feel this miraculous gift from God cleansing and purifying me from top to bottom. I joyfully re-enter the magical world of my childhood, one where I was deeply loved by my parents and community of friends, and my universe was effervescent, innocent, and pure.

While there are times when I am still required to be a responsible adult, fortunately moments occur when I can be a carefree, happy boy. While both are important, I prefer the latter. After all, Jesus said I must be as a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven.

All in all, I believe I’m making progress.

Autumn

Image result for autumn leaves images

“Autumn… the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

William Cullen Bryant

When I was a young lad, my favorite time of year was autumn.  As I search back in my memories, several reasons come to mind.  First, the sweltering days of summer had finally passed and were behind me.  While a certain joy came with never being cold, Oklahoma summers were nearly always miserable, blistering hot days, ones where your clothes were soaked with sweat at the least exertion.  Yes, it was that bad.  Autumn was the dessert, the reward for surviving the white-hot inferno of summer.

Even more importantly, autumn was the season of every child’s favorite holiday: Halloween.  Being born with an insatiable sweet tooth, I would plan for weeks for this grand occasion, the highlight of the year, a time when parental concerns about overdosing their children on unlimited amounts of sugar, artificial colors and flavors were temporarily brushed aside.  To my adolescent mind, the burning question was: How can I go to as many houses as possible?  In plain speak, the more homes I went to, the more candy I would get.

The most pressing concern that my brother Jim and I had was to convince our parents to chaperone our little sister, Connie. If we had to wait for her as she strolled along, casually hobnobbing with her friends who happened to cross our paths, our progress would have been significantly impeded.  I loved my sis, but Halloween was serious business, and it was critical to pull out all the stops. I would say to my parents something like this, “Hey, Mom and Dad, how about taking Connie with you for Halloween?  Jim and I might go too fast for her, and we’d hate to accidentally leave her behind.”  With these words, my parent’s eyes widened, and they began to get nervous looks on their faces. Seeing my comments were having the desired effect, I added, “You know, it might not be safe.”  When the “safe” word was invoked, all doubt was instantly erased from my parents’ minds, and invariably my brother and I were allowed to go out on our own.

When the exalted day of Halloween finally arrived, I would wear my best, pavement-gripping tennis shoes, so that I could sprint from home to home as quickly as my little legs could carry me.  For the entire time, I was in a state of near panic, knowing I had only one shot at it for the year, and any goofs I made would have to wait until next Halloween to correct.  One especially annoying trap I occasionally fell into was when certain neighbors made the unfortunate decision to give healthy snacks for Halloween.  How dare they?  Kids didn’t go trick or treating to get apples, oranges, bananas, or other such nourishing treats.  We wanted the good stuff, candy that we could get sugar highs on, sweets that would mercilessly extract fillings for which our parents had paid their life savings. Health and Halloween simply didn’t go together, and we liked it that way.

I’ll never forget the year I had collected so much candy, I wasn’t sure what to do with it all. I certainly wouldn’t give any to my sister, who had collected about a tenth of what I had in my bulging, grocery sack full of goodies. I had worked hard for my candy, and I planned to keep every delectable morsel. Faced with a dilemma of major proportions, I made the seemingly brilliant decision to be much like a pirate and bury my booty.  So, I grabbed a healthy chunk of my candy, hermetically sealed it in a coffee can, and clandestinely buried it deep in the ground in our backyard, furtively looking from side-to-side to be certain I wasn’t seen.  Six months later, when I was having a major case of sugar withdrawal, I grabbed a shovel and excitedly dug up my treasure, only to discover that the can had somehow leaked, and what was once perfectly delicious candy was now moldy and rotten.  I ate several pieces just to be sure, hoping beyond hope that at least some of the candy was still edible.  Sigh . . .  I was depressed for weeks, but I learned from my experience, in that one can never have too much candy, and never again would I save it for the future.

∞∞∞

As I have become an adult, autumn is still my favorite season, but for different reasons. While I still have a sweet tooth of major proportions, it is a fraction of what it used to be.  Nowadays, at least part of my love for autumn lies in the beauty of the surroundings.  The kaleidoscope of colors, whether gold, brown, orange, red or yellow, strike me as being representative of God’s multicolored palette, painting the environment in pleasant, soft, comforting hues. Also, autumn is the time for harvest, a gathering of the fruits of one’s labors.  As compared to spring and summer with their inherent frenetic activities, and winter, where survival from the cold is the prime directive, autumn is the ideal season to ask the questions: What is the end result of the seeds I planted this year?  What can I do better?  

As you might have guessed, in spite of my sugar craving, now my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  As opposed to Christmas with its rampant commercialism and out-of-control gift giving, Thanksgiving is a time of expressing thanks for my many blessings, celebrated by a sumptuous meal with loved ones.  No presents are expected or necessary, just good food, camaraderie and conversation, not necessarily in that order. In short, I love the simplicity, love and grace that come with autumn, the best time of year for just about everything.

But, as I think about it, I wonder:  Do they allow adults to trick or treat?

God

God is everywhere

There’s nowhere that He’s not

Whether lofty mountaintops

Verdant forests

Scorching deserts

Frigid arctic ice fields

Moon and stars

Bottom of the sea

Or busy city streets

He is there

Yet, there are times

When the pain of life becomes overwhelming

Tears stream down my cheeks

And I cry out

“Oh, God!  Help me!”

His answer never comes in words

Rather, the wind on my face is His kiss

The warming sun is His comforting embrace

And the earth beneath my feet is His reassurance

If I take the time to breathe

And look inside myself

I also find Him in my heart

Omnipresent, healing, loving

Never apart from me

Never apart from anyone

God

What Really Matters

“People suffer because they are caught in their views. As soon as we release those views, we are free and we don’t suffer anymore.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

On occasion, I find myself feeling passionate about certain thoughts or activities that are simply not important, and because of this, as Thich Nhat Hanh says above, I suffer. With this in mind, in the hope of saving time and energy in the future, I’ve put together a list of things that I consider to be of little consequence, and also one of items that I believe to be worthwhile.  As you read my compilations, I might ask you, “What comprises your lists?  What is important (and unimportant) to you?  In what areas do you want to focus your attention, and where would you prefer to spend less time?”

Now, as Jackie Gleason might say, “And away we go!”

What doesn’t matter:

  1. Sporting events.  I can’t believe I’ve put this at the top of the list.  I love watching the Oklahoma City Thunder, and many a nail-biting evening I’ve sat with my father and son-in-law, screaming at the top of my lungs, trying to cheer Big Blue on to a win.  But, at the end of the day, while I enjoy these times and the camaraderie immensely, it’s rare for the games, in of themselves, to have any important long-term effect in the world.
  2. Constantly wearing the latest fashions.  Unless it’s required for one’s employment, how worthless is this?  It’s as if someone is saying:  Look at me!  Can’t you see how hip and up-to-date I am? 
  3. What others think about me.  If I live a life where I stand up for what I believe, some folks will like me, others won’t, and that’s just fine with me.
  4. Holiday chaos.  For this reason, I’m beginning to enjoy Christmas less and less.  Nowadays, Thanksgiving is a holiday I can embrace, a simple time of fellowship, good food and appreciation for all that I have been blessed with.
  5. A lavish lifestyle.  While enjoying the finer things in life on occasion is certainly pleasurable, it’s hard to justify a constant stream of overabundance when many in the world are starving, thirsty, diseased and barely able to survive.
  6. Cosmetic procedures.  Face lifts, Botox injections, liposuction, hair transplants and other vanity-based procedures performed to preserve the illusion of eternal youth are – in my humble opinion – a waste of time.  Contrary to what we’ve been expected to believe, appearance is not everything. I’ve heard on occasion that if such alterations in the way we look make us feel better about ourselves, how can that be bad?  Well, I suppose it all depends on one’s perspective.  My Buddhist friends would ask, knowing we will all die someday, does it really matter if we look good just before we begin to molder in the grave?

What does matter:

  1. Kindness.  The Dalai Lama once said, “My religion is kindness.”  Deservedly at the beginning of the list.
  2. Raising children in a loving, caring manner.  I’ve repeatedly said that the most important thing I have done this lifetime is to raise my three daughters.  They are truly the living legacy of my life.
  3. Butterflies.  What better exemplifies a joyful existence than these beautiful, innocent insects that flit and dance through the sky for no other reason than to express their love of life?
  4. Mindfulness.  The past is over, the future is yet to be, and all one has is the present moment. Live it in full awareness.
  5. Laughter.  A good guffaw has been described as the “best medicine,” and I couldn’t agree more.
  6. The look of love in my pet’s eyes.  Unconditional, straight from their little hearts to mine. Sigh . . .
  7. Meditation.  Few things are more worthwhile than probing the Universe that exists within and without.
  8. Helping others.  Preferably, done so in a way that allows them to help themselves. Donating to charities is a great thing, but giving to those that promote self-empowerment is even better.
  9. Eating a healthy diet/exercise.   The apostle Paul once said, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? . . . Therefore honor God with your body.”  In other words, how can you perform your soul’s work if your body is not cared for properly and suffers the unfortunate consequences?
  10. Awareness of what is occurring in the world.  Here, a balance is necessary. While being informed is important, every so often I have to take a news fast and withdraw from the troubling happenings of our Earth.  Otherwise, I’ll find myself continually mired in a state of dismay about tragic events over which I have little or no control.
  11. Sunrises and sunsets.  To see the technicolor glory of God in the morning and evening is always a blessing.
  12. The love and support of family and friends.  On occasion, life presents challenges that are difficult to handle on my own.  Thank God for those whom I love, and those who likewise care for me.  I couldn’t survive without these precious ones in my life.
  13. The environment.  We should do all that we can to preserve our world for the generations to come. No soul-waiting-to-be-born wants to be incarnated into an overheated, polluted, cesspool of a planet.
  14. Trees.  I love connecting with the spiritual energy of these ancient spirits.
  15. Anything that give me that warm, tingly, joyful feeling in my heart.

With time and patience, my fervent wish is that I’ll learn to focus on the second list more than the first. Spiritual teachers would say that where I water my seeds, in other words, where I direct my attention, is the place where the most growth will invariably occur, whether with activities that resonate as meaningful, or with those that are insignificant.  All this said, I will not be a stickler about the happenings of my life, and flexibility, not rigidity, will always be the prime directive.  I have no doubt in my mind that even so-called hard and fast rules are meant to occasionally be broken. Saying this, I must confess:

I’ll still whoop it up during Thunder games.

A Moment in Time

Some afternoons, I like to take a dip in the pool, and then recline on a lawn chair and mindfully observe the happenings in the back yard. Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of action taking place, if I simply have eyes to see.

Just the other day, the weather was warm and balmy, and the light breeze that brushed across my face brought to life the wind chimes hanging next to Sheridan’s and my home, catching me by surprise with a lilting melody that emanated from the midst of silence. The sun was gradually falling behind the oak trees that flourish on our property, with a shining corona that contrasted with the dark green of the leaves and the royal blue of the sky. Our dogs, Karma and Buddy, were delighted that I was hanging around with them, and every so often they presented themselves for petting, their bright, innocent eyes filling me with joy.  After rubbing their furry heads, they frolicked and played, taking turns chasing each other around the back yard and barking at the chattering squirrels that taunted them from the trees.

As the evening progressed and the sun sank lower in the sky, I could hear the light, oscillating sounds of cicadas and tree frogs coming from the woods to the south, along with the comforting coos of mourning doves  When I gazed upwards, I saw Mississippi kites circling slowly overhead, looking for prey, prepared to streak downward through the darkening sky at a moment’s notice.  Looking straight ahead, I caught a glimpse of our hummingbird wind chime hanging from a tree branch over the pool, and I became amused when I discovered a blue dragonfly clinging to the string of the chime.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed the same event occurring repeatedly, and I found myself wondering what that those beautiful insects were thinking.  Did they believe that the plastic hummingbird was a giant dragonfly, protecting them from creatures that would do them harm? Was there some sort of romantic attraction? Was the string simply in a convenient place for a siesta? One can only guess, but I smiled as I thought of the possibilities.

My mind started to wander, and I found myself pondering the events of my life, some happy, some sad, though in that hallowed moment, any concerns I had dissolved into the ethers, and I was filled with contentment.  I started to doze in and out, with brief, mellow dreams that moved in and out of my consciousness.  I immersed myself in the restorative milieu of the backyard and let the energy surround me.  I knew that I was healing, inside and out, and I felt grateful. As the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Present moment, wonderful moment.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Glow Worm Caves

Glowing Worms New Zealand 10

I’ve added another location to my bucket list, the fascinating Waitomo Caves on the North Island of New Zealand. Enjoy!

 

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