Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Football Is Still a Game—Isn’t It?

I keep seeing him, over and over, running to his right, outside the pocket, looking for a receiver who will make the catch and set the stage for Ryan Longwell to kick the tie-breaking and game-winning field goal, with just seconds left in regulation playing time.

“Brett! Brett! Don’t try it! Look! In front of you the field is wide open for 10 or 15 yards!”

“You can slide into the 25 or 30 yard line—that will be enough”

Every quarterback from Pop Warner on up is taught the one cardinal rule of passing the football: Never, ever throw the ball back across the field. Of course, Brett Favre is not every quarterback. He doesn’t see it that way. Whether it is the number of hits he has taken from charging linemen and linebackers and even safeties who have taken turns pummeling him to the ground during this grueling day of battle with the New Orleans Saints (team of destiny, some say), or his return to his old standby throwing arm which has made him one of the legendary quarterbacks in NFL history, or whether he is just too damned tired to run another step on the injured ankle that almost took him out of the game, he goes ahead and does what every quarterback and field general knows better than to do. He throws across the field to his left into three Saints defenders surrounding his intended receiver. One of them picks it off.

The next scene is New Orleans winning the coin toss to begin the overtime and promptly marching through the demoralized Minnesota Vikings defense to score the winning 3 points.

Why am I obsessing about Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings? After all, as the saying goes, it is only a football game. Perhaps a career-ending one for Favre (but even that isn’t so certain, is it?), but a game nevertheless.

Well, if I am honest, it is not about Brett Favre or the Vikings, or even football. How many times have I seen, right in front of my nose, the way open to get to the next critical juncture in life, only to revert to my little tried and not-so-true way of doing things? I throw myself directly into the most impossible situation, knowing the outcome will be disastrous. Is it for glory and fame? For proving that this time my way will work?

No! It is just the little me again, thinking I can control the outcome of the game, all by myself. Thankfully, I know that it is still a game, one that the mysterious force called life is playing with itself. And we get to play and we get to watch ourselves playing at the same time. So let the game continue!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Journey of Awakening – Part Four: Friendship

NH 55 Ann Bldg-1

Milan grad Following graduation from North High I tried to get a summer job to afford to go to college. Even though tuition at the University of Minnesota was only $75 per quarter in 1955, with textbooks, even used ones, coming to about the same, wages were not that high and jobs for students were not so prevalent. And I was not really afraid of work but had little preparation for finding it. After several applications did not materialize, my dad got me a job as truck driver and gopher at J. Olson Machine Company, where he was by now a master machinist. I was making real money at last, with overtime, some weeks over $100. Enough to buy a used ’49 Chevy. Over the summer I was promoted to drill press operator and was praised by the boss (but chastised by the other operators who were shown to be dragging their feet a bit on the production line—“Somebody’s not pulling their weight around here,” in the words of Jim Olson, the owner).

Then I got this great idea how to speed up the process even more. Only I selected the wrong tool for the fine pieces with very low tolerance for error that I was removing the burrs from. My part was the very last in the long process of tooling that had these parts ready for shipping. And before the inspector caught me I had ruined an entire multi-thousand dollar job. Fortunately for me this happened at the end of the summer and it was time to get ready to enroll at the U. of Minnesota. So I left behind my budding career as a machine operator.

I was able to get my best friend, Denny Neill, on as driver, a job which he stayed with until he decided on his own future. Denny was a true friend. We car-pooled to the campus for a couple of years and lived less than a mile apart. I was living at home and working my way through school at summer jobs and then got hired part time by the Minneapolis Park Board as Men’s Director at Nicollet Field in South Minneapolis and in the summer as a recreation supervisor at various parks throughout the city.

One time my dad and I got into a “knock-down, drag-out” fight during one of his drunken binges (which by this time had cost him his job at J. Olson Machine), resulting in me leaving home with no idea where I was going. Denny and his family took me into their home where I slept on the couch for several weeks, until my mother forced my dad through an ultimatum to reconcile, at a meeting called by our pastor in his office.


                DENNY AND ME IN 1995

That is the kind of guy Denny was, and is. Even though I once hurt him to the point of endangering our friendship. Denny and I went through high school church youth group, young adult fellowship, two years of college, played basketball and hockey, went water-skiing, courted girls from the same nursing school (Denny married his, Carol, and they are still together), went on a canoe trip on the Gunflint trail into Canada together, stood up in each other’s weddings, went drinking together on more than one or two occasions, and both survived the other’s driving during those awful “invincible” years to which young men are prone.

We are no longer keeping in touch on a regular basis. But we are still friends. In fact, I learned the meaning of real friendship from Denny Neill.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What I Learned On My 9-Day Meditation Retreat-5

Part Five


This has been the most physically challenging 9-day retreat ever—for me. Not least due to my misstep on the way to report on my most fabulous break-through sitting ever. I’m taking a different path to the cabin where the group is meeting. “Hmmm, this doesn’t look like too steep a drop-off. I’ll just sort of dig in my heels and slide down.” The dirt is a little looser than I anticipated. I hit the bottom and discover that the incline is also steeper than I thought. I am suddenly aware that my legs are churning at about 10 mph while my upper body is moving at 12 mph. “Maybe I can grab that tree—too late—moving too fast—this is not going to end well.” I sort of slowly dive forward toward what I hope will be a not-too-bone-crushing landing . . . . whump! Just like sliding into 2nd base—head first. Oooh! That ground is slightly harder than I had hope for, but covered with nettles which cushioned the blow a bit. After about 10 feet I come to a halt, the dust cloud rising around me.

“Uh, Oh! What is that pain in my right shoulder? And the knee? And the foot seems to have turned a little as it hit the ground.” I lie there assessing the damage. Up on one knee—Oh yes! The shoulder took the worst of it. But I can get up. I can walk, painfully and limping and right arm dragging by my side, but I can walk.

What a reporting session this is going to be! What was it I was going to report on again?

Oh yes! It is enough!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What I Learned on My 9-Day Meditation Retreat-4

Part Four


Saturday, Day 8—The last full day of the retreat and I am ready for the day. I bound out of bed at 6 a.m., put in my pre-breakfast 2 hours of “doing nothing,” and go into the morning prepared to report on a calm and insightful meditation. During the 10 to 11 a.m. sitting time I begin to reflect on my upcoming 73rd birthday. “I am almost 73 years old! Wait a minute—let’s check this out!” Born January 25th, 1937, I begin rehearsing the decades of life so far. An aha!—“I’m actually going to be 72 years old on the 25th. I will be beginning my 73rd year of possibility. In fact, I’m not old! I am about to embark on a new year of living.”

Now comes the kicker. I’m recollecting, decade by decade, the incredibly smart and constructive things I’ve done, and the absolutely stupid and destructive, the friendships I’ve made, and the enemies, the people who have benefitted from their association with me and those I’ve hurt. And in the midst of this rehearsal comes up: “It is enough!”

It is enough that I know that I have done the things I’ve done and not done others. It is enough that I know that I have been present and conscious, and at times without a clue to what was really going on. It is enough that I know that I know and that I know that I don’t know. It is enough! It is enough! It is enough!

Monday, January 11, 2010

What I Learned On My 9-Day Meditation Retreat-3

Part Three


Thursday, Day 6—Feeling much better, up at dawn, 2 hours of calm sitting. On the way to breakfast, just rounding a turn in the road at the fork of Casa de Angeles, the lodge dining hall, and Singing Bird Trail, I stopped, rather, was stopped at the sight of Coyote sauntering slowly down the trail toward me. He stopped, turned his head toward me, and there we stayed, eyes locked, just looking, for about 5 minutes. Then Coyote turned away and ambled on down the trail toward the big bell tower, which rang Christmas carols every day precisely at 6 & 9 a.m., 12 Noon, 3, 6 & 9 p.m., where Coyote again stopped and turned his head toward me, eyes meeting mine for another few minutes. I had not moved.

The encounter with Coyote dominated the first few minutes of my meditation period before the morning group reporting session. Then I saw myself walking a mid-sized dog for the next minute or two. Since I had been thinking about volunteering at our local animal shelter, inspired by my friend Bob Vance who has taken this on as part of his retirement volunteering and exercise regimen, this image did not come as strange. What did strike me was a big question that came into view: “Is it enough?”

I just sat with that question for what seemed a long time. Now that I am approaching my 73rd year of living on the planet, the question of what do I do now with the rest of my life comes up now and again. Would it be enough to walk a dog? I’ve had for some time a sense of completion, of having done everything I really wanted to do, with no pressing sense of need to join any more groups, organize any more projects, or get involved in any more causes.

I want now to share some of what I have learned—with my family, my friends, and anyone else who might be interested. To write, to take pictures, to meditate. Is it enough? Seems like an entirely appropriate question.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What I Learned On My 9-Day Meditation Retreat-2

Part Two

Up at 6 a.m. the first morning, a quick shave and shower, and I was at the beginning sitting period by 6:30, ready for the day and the week. A half hour later I began to notice a strange yet familiar sensation, which was growing stronger in my middle section, while at the same time cold beads of perspiration were appearing on my forehead.

“Oh no! This isn’t really happening—I felt just fine—until now.” About 3 minutes later I was convinced that this was not going away soon. I got up as quietly as I could and headed for my lodgings. It was a half-mile walk down and up hills and by the time I arrived and made it to the bathroom it was as though all the energy in by body was literally and figuratively “flushed” out of me. I took the 5 or 6 faltering steps to the bed where I lay, barely able to raise any part of my body for the next 24 hours. The only good part of this situation was that I had Linda and our friends close by and willing to bring me food, should I desire any.

The 2nd day I felt well enough to make it to one or two of the sessions and then head back to the bed. By evening the stomach cramps and gas pains began—these lasted through the night. By day 3 I was definitely on the mend. I could make it through most of the sessions and even to the dining hall for meals. “Ah, back into the reason I had come—the silence, the sittings, the spiritual journey.” I even managed to take a nature walk.

Then the mind-storms began. For two days my meditations were filled with obsessive thoughts about . . . surprise! . . . computers! Linda had been warning me for months that I was spending a little too much time absorbed in technology, which of course I denied. But denial is much more difficult when confronted by oneself without the defense mechanisms. Perhaps my weakened physical condition prepared the way, but in this one sitting period an image appeared, something like a Trojan Horse, only it came in the form of a big monitor connected to a larger-than-life desktop computer. Out of the screen were reaching for me—wires and cables and worm-like tentacles, grabbing at my arms and wrapping themselves around me, pulling me back into the screen and, if I allowed, down into the innards of this technological nightmarish computer thing. I was being strangled and suffocated by my own technology!

Right then and there a deep resolve arose. I did not want on my tombstone or have read at my memorial: “He was good with computers.” As soon as I returned from retreat I was going to downsize my computer equipment by one-third to one-half!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What I Learned On My 9-Day Meditation Retreat


Part One:

“Oh Boy! I’ve been looking forward to this for months now—nine days of silence and sitting in meditation in ‘Friendship House,’ wrapped up in my soft maroon throw, with a crackling fire sending warm welcoming rays toward me from the corner fireplace at the end of this hall filled with angels.

Arriving at Questhaven on the day after Christmas, Linda and I settled into our comfortable and familiar lodgings in “Casa Contenta,” this roomy double-wide manufactured house with two bedrooms and baths and a large living room with kitchen and dining area, all the comforts of home. It was our turn to get the master bedroom with its own bath. Our friends and house-mates, the Butchers, graciously deferred and took the smaller bedroom with only a double bed, which was to be a life-saver for me as it turned out, in view of what the week had in store.


The schedule for the week was to be full but fairly relaxed, for a meditation retreat: Up at six for 2 hours of sitting in meditation before breakfast, followed by a break and a 9:30 short talk, then more meditation, combined with small group reporting sessions to share our sitting experiences with a teacher and receive feedback to help us in our meditation practice. After lunch and a break for rest or walks on one of the beautiful trails on this several hundred acre property in the coastal mountains of San Diego County, we would gather for an hour talk by the lead teacher, Jason Siff, a little time for questions, then more sitting until 5, and then a break before dinner, usually spent horizontally in our rooms, unless we had signed up for dinner prep, one of the many jobs the 20 of us would take on to help the retreat run smoothly. Evenings would start with a meditation period followed by an open discussion and end with one of Jason’s “bedtime stories,” most often a reading from his novel, King Bimbisara’s Chronicler. We would then be ready for bed by 10 p.m. and up for the same routine the following morning—for eight full days.

As I said, I was really looking forward to the retreat, a perfect way to transist from one year to the next, in silence for the most part, and in this beautiful green hill country setting. The first evening after an opening orientation and meditation we had our first vegetarian dinner, which was to be the fare for the whole week, prepared by Sandy, a gourmet vegetarian cook, who gave us combinations of grains and vegetables, many of which I had never heard. All was going as I had anticipated! After the first evening’s talk, meditation and bedtime story, we were tucked in our king-size bed by 10, ready for a wonder-filled week.

So much for anticipation . . .