My spirit calls on me to write

I do not know why, but my spirit is calling on me to write.  I have had enough opportunities to have my spirit call to me that I trust it and bide its call.

I guess we are all on some type of journey our entire lives, whether we realize it or not.  In truth, we may each be on several journeys simultaneously.  The journey I am compelled to write about today is my spiritual journey.

Looking back, there are many moments and many people who have played a part in my spiritual journey.  But at this point there are a few that stand more prominently in the light of my vision.

The earliest spiritual experience I had, though I would have called it a religious experience at the time, was at a Catholic retreat in the Catholic High School gym in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I would have been in eight or ninth grade at the time.  It was the first time I had an opportunity to really explore and prod my own relationship with my spirituality.  That was a very long time ago, and I don’t remember the details, but I remember being deeply moved as I nudged my way into spiritual self-exploration.

When I was in college at SUNY Cortland, I had a number of experiences that primed me for spiritual self-exploration, but none of them were a true effort of exploring my spirituality.  One thing stands out during that time period that helped to pave the way for me to continue that spiritual journey, accidentally learning how to meditate.

I remember this very well.  I was sitting on the floor in Paul Fabozzi’s room in Randall Hall, up on the 3rd floor.  We were sitting there doing nothing but listening to music, probably at least a little bit high.  I was staring at a spot on a poster on his wall and focusing on a single tiny spot of brightness in an otherwise relatively dark poster.  I think it must have been a concert poster for some rock band, I don’t remember the poster, but I do remember that spot.  As I focused on that spot my breathing slowed and became deeper and rhythmic.  I let my mind wander into that spot of light and before I knew it, my conscious was outside my body.  I don’t know a better way of explaining it.  It was deeply soothing and my thoughts slowed to the point where I escaped from the bombardment of thoughts that were normally in my brain.  I guess it was the first time I escaped my own consciousness while I was awake and moved into what I feel was a sub-conscious state.  I think Ekhart Tolle would say I had escaped my ego.

A short while later, something, a sound or a movement, caught my attention and broke the trance and I came crashing back into my conscious.  But I was amazingly relaxed and at peace.  I wanted to find a way back to that place so I began a meditation practice.  I made a point of almost every day sitting down in my room and taught myself to meditate.  It was incredibly refreshing and I found that a half hour of meditation was as good as several hours of sleep for refreshing myself and clearing my mind to focus on one thing at a time.

I continued that practice for the remainder of the school year, I even created a video that was shown in a film festival about my experience with meditation, and what it was like in my mind when I was meditating.  But, my practice was broken when I moved out of the dorm in May 1986, and I have never made my way back to a regular meditation practice.  (I should do something about that).

It was a very long time after that before I came back to my spirituality in any way.  It was largely forgotten until my son, Brandt was born in 1992 and we as a family started going to church regularly at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Springfield, MO.  It was there that I became part of a community of believers, and developed extremely close ties with a fantastic group of people, especially the Men’s Club and their families.  We spent many years with this family of friends watching our families grow, and exploring our faith and belief systems together.  I am still very close friends with a few of them, even after 16 years of living away.

In 2001, very shortly after 911, my family moved to Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia on a work visa that wold also eventually lead to my PhD studies.  In Australia, our experience with religion, and with Catholicism began to change and the facade of religion started to remove itself from my spiritual beliefs, but not in a big way yet.  But one thing stands out in my mind from our time in Australia.

I was traveling down a road just out of Rockhampton with a colleague, Wal Taylor.  We came to an area and I got ah overwhelming feeling of dread or foreboding.  I told Wal, “there is something evil around here”. Wal told me that the location where we were at was a place where people used to go to “hunt” aborigines and that there had been a massacre nearby. The thought of hunting human beings is quite disturbing.   (Hunting of Aborigines by the “Native Police” around Rockhampton is referenced in the book “The Secret War: A True History of Queensland’s Native Police”, Jonathan Richards, 2008).

After we moved back to the United States, I ended up working at what was then the University of Missouri – Rolla, now called Missouri University of Science and Technology.  My son Jax was enrolled at the elementary school at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

On December 15, 2006 when I went to drop Jax off, there was a van full of military people parked in the school parking lot.  I asked Jax if something was going on, and he said there was a funeral for a soldier that had died in Iraq.  I dropped Jax off and was heading to work when for whatever reason my spirit told me that I needed to go to the funeral.  I listened to my spirit, and my life has never been the same.

I called my supervisor, Cheryl McKay.  I told her I didn’t know what exactly was going on but that I was being called to be at the funeral for this soldier and told her I would be late for work.  She said something to the affect of, “you have to go, tell me what happens when you get done.”

The soldier’s name was Captain Travis Patriquin (Obituary).

The details of the day are not important here, but I ended up sitting in the back pew with a person who was a cousin, or something to that affect, of Captain Patriquin.  We spoke and I told him that I didn’t know Captain Patriquin, I was a member of the church and when I learned of the funeral I felt compelled to pay my respects .  When he learned that the church did not take up a collection at a funeral, he took out his wallet and said “watch this”.  He took a couple of hundred dollar bills out of his wallet and handed them to me and said, “do something good with this.”

After the service had ended and everyone left, I returned to the church and sat, emotionally overwhelmed, sobbing in the back pew.  I knew the priest and when he saw me he asked if I was related to the family.  I told him no and we sat down and I told him the whole story.  I asked him what I should do with the money, and he said that it had come to me, it was my decision what do with it.  I asked him if he would hold the money, and he put it in an envelope in his desk and called it the “miracle money”.  Eventually, and it didn’t take long, we identified a good cause and it is my understanding that it helped a family through a difficult time.

But, I was changed forever.  The series of events that led up to me going to and serving witness at that funeral changed me, and lit a fire in me that has had me on a soul searching journey ever since.

It is now eleven years later.  I am no longer a member of the Catholic church and I do not practice any religion. My focus is spiritual.  There is seldom, if ever, a day that passes when I do not think about my place in the world and relationship to others, and I allow that to lead me through my day.  Some days it is easier than others.

I have learned to recognize and try to minimize the impact on myself of those things that are most divisive among humans: race, religion, creed, gender and politics.  I have come to recognize that human nature, within its ebbs and flows, is relatively consistent.  There will always be the seven sins and they will be countered by the seven virtues.  It is up to each and every person to decide in the form of many small decisions every day whether they will take the path of the virtues. It is never too late to choose a path of virtue, or to fall off of that path.  We can certainly influence others on their paths, but in the end you are the only one that can change your own heart.  You and only you can choose your path.

This is a daily struggle, but one which I am at peace in undertaking.

I think that takes care of getting out what my spirit thought I should write.  You now have access to a little glimpse of my spiritual journey and I share it with you willingly.

Day 50 – Goal Achieved

Rainbow and tree

I started this blog on March 22 as “A Little Something I am doing for myself” with a challenge to myself to post something every day for 50 days.  Well  this is day 50 and I managed to post something on all of those 50 days except for maybe one or two.  So while it wasn’t perfect, I can honestly say I have met my challenge.

On the second day, I framed my challenge as “A cleansing breath” that I needed to do to help me get my zen back and begin focusing on the positive things in life instead of the ridiculous things that we allow to take control of our lives, that I allow to take control of my life.  And so I set off on the challenge toward “pouring my energy into artistic reation”.  And that is mostly what I have done.

Looking for light, I came upon my birdhouse

The beginning days were filled with heartfelt posts, introspective in nature and quite cathartic. At first I was mostly looking back, then I started focusing on transitions and moving forward.  This was my soul trying to heal itself, and it has been working.

Quickly along the way I traveled to San Francisco and met up with a dear old friend. I also networked with some new folks, and tried out some wonderful food while I was there.

Then when I got back, I switched gears and started focusing on being on stage and in my garden, and many of the posts since then have had either my plants or what I was doing in “Little Women” as a focus.  I had rejoined the arts community in Menomonie and it was that time of year when it was time to start growing things.

Continuing on the theme of relationships, I wrote about the pleasure of being adopted as an uncle and a father, and the relationships I have with my family and my friends.  I have had a chance to talk about peace and love, reusing and remembering.

Clematis on pallet trellis
Clematis enjoying the sun and shade provided by this recycled pallet.

I wrote a little bit about work, but the good parts about it.  I got to share some photos from shows that my son is doing and the show that I am doing.  I even got a chance to use my blog to help mobilize the community a little bit when it was looking like the music program was about to get cut.  I have it on good advice that we may have made the difference that kept it from getting cut.

I got to share imagery of spring coming in and then I rounded it out with a posting each about the two most important women in my life, my mom and my wife.

I would have to say that this blog has given me the chance to do a little recentering, gathering my Zen, refocusing on what is important, or whatever you want to call it.  It has allowed me at least an hour a day to put energy into something that I wanted to put energy into and to do so every day.

Sunset picture, father and son silhouette.
My youngest son and I watching the sunset

Along the way, I have learned a few things.  I used my analytics to watch the way that people interact with my little blog.  I check them every day.  I learned that there is a small troop of people who seem to be reading it almost every day, and on days when I have something on a special topic a whole new group of people come in.  Most of the people who have been to my blog have been here more than once.

I get a lot more spam comments than I do comments from people who are genuinely interested in the blog.  I have learned that my keyboard is dying and I have to work to get the letter g to work.  I have learned that I still use the passive voice when I write.  I know that it can take a lot of time to get the images right, but  I also have learned that the right image can kick off a blog post all on its own.  I have learned that some days I have a dozen things I want to talk about, and on some days there are very few.

It is a challenge to come up with something to say every day, and while I will not force myself to write every day, I am pretty confident that I will continue to blog.  I want to make sure that I keep this a blog about things I want to talk about, and not let it become a tool of those things that would take over the thoughts in my mind and turn them negative.

It has been a good challenge and I am glad that I did it.  I also know that I have had 50 chances to wish you PEACE!  So if you are one of the people who reads my blog, thank you and I hope you have gotten something meaningful from it.  I once again wish you PEACE!

Happy Spring 2015
Every year during finals I put a drawing on the board. This is this year’s version


Day 50

Seams, transitions and responsibility

Pile of Keys on a table

If there is nothing else you understand about life, you should know that there are places and times when things change.  It is in these places and times when you make decisions that will direct you until you reach the next.

At the confluence of two bodies of water, there is a seam that marks the point where the waters begin mixing.  Usually there is a clear difference either in water color or temperature when the two first touch and the distinctiveness of this seam fades as the two waters begin to mix.  If you ever find this seam, you should fish it, because that is where things are usually happening.

You see the same thing all over nature, seams that mark the change from one thing to another.  If you are looking at a field that is returning from farm to forest, there is an area where they meet called “edge”.  It is an area of neither field nor forest, and it is the place where life is more diverse, often more abundant and more interesting.

We also have seams in our clothes, you know, those areas where the sewing is done to keep the parts together.  How well these seams are done is often the determiner of the quality of the garment.  You could probably say that they are what determines if the clothes are going to be a good fit, or not.

In life, we have similar transition points or seams.  We have the first day of school, the start of summer vacation, switching from elementary to middle school and then to high school.  You know, those transition points when it seams that life is going to turn upside down until we go through it.

As we move toward and through adulthood there are also periods of time when we transition from one phase of life to another.  These seams are often turbulent, stress filled times in which we make decisions and changes that could have huge impacts on how we live our lives from that moment forward.  Usually there is an increase in responsibility after one of these changes, but sometimes there is a reduction of responsibility.  To better understand this, let’s take a look at keys.

Pile of Keys on a table
Keys are an indicator of how much responsibility we have at any given moment in time.

What exactly is a key.  It is a mechanism for controlling who has access to what and in what way.  It is the basis for allowing someone access to or use of something.  It is the thing that controls the lock.  In short, it is an outward sign of responsibility.

In my life, I can look to specific times when the change in keys was highly visible and it related to what was going on in my life at the time.  The first marked change was when I graduated from high school.  Up until that point in time, I had slowly accumulated keys.  I had a key to the house, a key to my car, and maybe a key to a locker.  Not a lot of responsibility.  Suddenly, I went off to college.

At this point, there was no loss of keys, just a new and rapid accumulation of keys.  I had keys to a dorm, and a dorm room.  I still had keys to home and car, and even though these keys were seldom used, they still marked a level of responsibility.  I suddenly had quite a few keys.  When I got a job as a resident assistant, it came with a key to get access to the “jailers key ring”, and that had keys to everything.  Everything.  There must have been 20 or 30 keys on that key ring, and we would carry that set of keys with us as we made rounds through the dorm.  I used to shake the jailer’s ring as I walked so people knew I was coming.  I didn’t want to have the responsibility for having to stop someone from doing something stupid, so I let them know I was coming.  It was a good arrangement.

Then I graduated college.  No dorm keys, no house keys, just one key and that was to my car.  I also had no plans, no vision for where I was going and no real need to know what was ahead.  I had a year to “kill” while my future wife finished up college and we could start accumulating keys together.  Do you see where this is going?  More keys, more responsibility, less keys means less responsibility.  Later, when you get that apartment key, or that house key that you have to pay the mortgage on, then the responsibility goes up way fast.  That house key is a killer load of responsibility.

So let’s go back and take a look at the points when you have the least amount of keys.  This is interesting times because freedom from responsibilities means that you have the freedom to make decisions about what you want to do.  Just like the animals and fish are drawn to the seams, we are too because that is where opportunities happen.  There is a world of opportunity at these times, because you don’t have keys to make decisions for you.  The world is your fishbowl just waiting for you to decide what you want to do.

When you first finish high school, you are in one of these magical times.  You are faced with a multitude of choices that are seemingly being carried right in front of your face just waiting for you to reach out and grab one.  Are you going to travel, get a job, go to college, or just sit around and wait for decisions to be made for you?  This is the time to be adventurous, a time to set your path in such a way that you will be able to do interesting things.

If that decision you make is to go to college, you will be blessed with another opportunity to drop off one set of keys and make decisions about what you are going to do with your life before you start adding more keys.  I was talking to a person I know professionally last week and he said, “I started to work on the Monday after I graduated.  That was the stupidest thing I ever did.”  Essentially, what he was saying is that he grabbed a hold of the first thing that floated by and it dragged him immediately into the current and filled his hands with keys.  He is now a very successful person, but he never got that time to go out and just move about life unencumbered by keys.

As a college professor, I work daily with young adults (and older adults) who are approaching that magical seam that comes when you graduate from college.  Unfortunately, most of them are carrying a heavy debt load from student loans, so the window for them to play within their seam is usually limited to about 6 months.  But, when they ask me for my advice, I tell them to take advantage of this time when you are free from the responsibilities that will start making decisions for you.  Usually I suggest they travel.  Go some place you have never been, see things you won’t get to see and do things you won’t get to do once you have passed through this seam.  These are the transitions that allow us to make decisions that can lead us toward exciting lives.  They are the chance for us to slip into the current, dance the dance of life and do the things that will carry us through the mundane periods of life between transitions.  Many of us don’t take advantage of these opportunities.  But we should.

There is one other of these transitions that comes much later in life, that is when we shed our careers and the keys that come with them, and transition into the age of retirement.  I haven’t reached that one yet, but you can bet that my wife and I are going to swim into that one with gusto.  I have been told that divorce is another one, but I’m not going to get the chance to experience that one.

Then of course, there is the last one when we give up all of our keys and we enter into the biggest seam of all and give up the last of our responsibilities whether we want to or not.  I hope that I have the ability to enter that transition knowing that I have done well with everything has come before, and with the peace of knowing I am ready for that transition.

In the mean time, live life the best you can and don’t be afraid to do something big with your transitions.



Day 30