Monday, March 31, 2008

The Present Moment

I'm reading a fascinating book by Eckhart Tolle called A New Earth, who also wrote The Power of Now (which I have not yet read). Essentially, Tolle calls for a spiritual awakening that shifts one's focus from thinking to being...from ruminating about the past or stressing about the future to simply embracing the present moment. He does a commendable job of weaving in numerous sayings of Jesus, freed from their doctrinal slant

Tolle particularly nails me when he discusses the tendency to strive toward accomplishments, goals or relationships--only, upon achieving them, to look ahead to the next want and fail to embrace the moment that simply is. I have spent very few days of my life actually content. Tolle sees this as almost an epidemic for the human species, the underlying source behind so many of our problems.

So I am trying to surrender my distractions of each moment and simply let the moment be. It's not a goal to work toward, for that would make it like every other ambition and I would miss the moment. It's more a matter of being still, being present and engaged with what is. I still have much to learn.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Dad

Yesterday would have been my father's 83rd birthday. He died in July 2005 at the age of 80. During the nearly three years since, I have seen him in numerous dreams--a few so vivid that I could feel his hug or his razor stubble against my cheek.

My Dad has been on my mind a lot lately as I have crossed the 40 threshold. I reflect on what he was doing at this benchmark in his own life. When he was 40, my older brother was just an infant. I wasn't even around yet. Crazy. My family had just moved to Cleveland, OH, and Dad was running his own business. He couldn't possibly have known that he was exactly halfway through his life.

Really, his best years were yet to come, and not just because I wasn't born yet! He would hit his career stride in his 50s and early 60s, having his biggest influence and earning the most money. He was pitching baseballs to me and tossing the football at an age older than most dads, and the richness of those memories sustains me in more ways than I realize.

I hope that my best years are yet to come as well. There are many things I feel I have yet to accomplish, especially when it comes to writing. There is a certain personhood I also am trying to more fully accomplish, such as deeper authenticity and more consistent peace of mind and heart.

My dad grew stronger with age, even if his body grew more frail. When he passed nearly three summers ago, he'd left a positive impact on many and eternal investments inside of me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Of Men and Twinkies

Well, I did not get up early to write today. It dawned on me yesterday that since today was Easter, the Easter Bunny might have left something exciting for my kids to notice when they first woke up. I didn't want to miss that. So I stayed home.

We went to a nearby megachurch for the third time this morning, and things started off well. Great music. Felt a moment during one of the songs. Then, a fire-and-brimstone-like preacher stood up with his gallon of milk (we expire, just like milk does, it turns out) and ruined it all. So I left there bummed out, more uncertain than ever about finding my way in the organized church. We are so quick to put God in a box, and, consequently, so many people in their own unacceptable boxes.

The preacher actually spent time talking about Twinkies. Leave a Twinkie in someone's coffin, and two hundred years later the person will be gone but the Twinkie wail still be there. Amazing. i wished I could have learned that in seminary. I would be much further along today.

The music had created such awe and wonder and reverence around theme of the resurrection. I felt a connection to the eternal life within me. Then, it was all about Twinkies, caskets and milk. I hope not too many people left my sermons of the first few years of this decade feeling as annoyed as I did today when I left the worship service before it was even over.

Next week we'll be off to find somewhere new, in search of critical thinking and hopefully having prepared our hearts to once again engage the mystery and awe of the living God.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

As the birds sing

I've been staring at this blog template for more than 10 minutes, trying to think of something to write. Birds, meanwhile, are singing their morning praises or friendship calls or arguments, or whatever the heck it is they are saying. Perhaps they think our language is just as mysterious or at times nonsensical.

Writing that is not assignment-related or slated for immediate publication is a tenacious sport. Kind of like meditation, it's a hidden activity that sometimes has an external impact. No one else really cares that it's going on until they experience its fruits--like actually reading the blog entry or book, or feeling the good nature and thoughtfulness from the centered person. It cannot be immediately measured nor justified economically, and therefore writing for the soul--like meditation--has little value in the midst of capitalism and therefore can appears to be a lesser priority for the writer himself/herself.

And so even as I sit here typing away I am flooded with thoughts of what else I could be doing. Stretching so my hamstrings stay loose. Putting on running clothes. Eating. Showering. Reading a book that already has been written rather than writing about writing. Sleeping; too late for that!

I plan to have my first all-new writing time this Sunday morning at 5:30 at Starbucks. Easter Sunday. Years ago I used to preach a sunrise Easter service for a United Methodist Church. I spoke of new life. This Sunday I hope to be reflecting on that eternity that thrives within each of us, as I start the day writing and then move into worshipping with my family and others.

The resurrection of Christ, like the resurrection stories found in the mythologies of many other cultures, also does not have much capitalistic merit. And yet, so much of what can be found in driven, high-stressed cultures is crying out for new life. It is funny how we collectively dismiss the key elements of authentic living while simultaneously longing for them. We worry so much about things, and all the while the birds sing and chirp.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chased by the (Severe) Wind

Sometimes I wonder if tornadoes are chasing me. We moved up here to Franklin, Tenn., a few months ago from Florida, mostly to get away from hurricanes. Actually, that wasn't really the reason, but it's a nice side benefit. But Tennessee offers its own brand of severe weather, twisters that give you little notice. We had one tornado in January and another in February, the latter of which did some serious destruction across middle Tennessee and killed about 30 people.

Then, this past weekend we drove to Savannah, passing through Atlanta on the way. At the precise hour my vehicle was attempting to get through a very congested downtown, a twister was wreaking havoc on the Georgia Dome and the SEC men's college basketball tournament. (I didn't learn until the next day that it was a tornado). Then, while chilling with family in Savannah the next night, guess what I heard sound off about 12:30 a.m.? A local tornado siren. The deadly winds couldn't skid me off the road in Atlanta, so they followed me to another of the Peach State's finest cities. Did I have an appointment in Samarra as well? But the winds passed far to the south, and all was well except for the power going out for, like, 12 hours.

Speaking of being chased by severe winds, I am still chasing agent representation of my completed first phase of my memoirs, Chased by the Wind. And while driving on a particularly lonely stretch of I-16 between Atlanta and Savannah late Friday night, after the excitement as all over, I had some epiphanies about the memoir I am writing now.

It has felt too big to get my arms around: a memoir examining my life and work from the start of college until the present time. And while driving I pondered why I felt this had to be a single volume, and then I thought of my favorite memoir writer, Frederick Buechner, and his many mini-volumes that focused on key, thematic eras of his life. And suddenly, the memoir series of the reflections of John Michael De Marco (which no one may end up reading but his kids, and even that through chocolate bribery) got a bit longer in number but perhaps shorter in individual length and more focused and purposeful.

Somewhere in the midst of this weekend trip I also devised a new special writing time, 5:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings at a nearby coffee shop. I'm stoked. I'll be there this coming Sunday, God and wind-willing, going deep into that precedent-setting first year of undergrad. Not because I am supposed to, but because I have to. The wind blows where it pleases.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thoughts About Ambition

I continue to have serious ponderings about whether ambition is worth the price. I have had a couple of long days this week at work, in which I have pressed the change-agent pedal to the metal in partnership with another leader who is desperate to change a culture. On both of these days I have arrived home just in time to see my kids off to bed. It felt good to make a difference in an abstract sort of way, but amid the frenzy of teeth-brushing, bedtime stories and nite-nite kisses I question the larger meaning of life. I contemplate the value of how time is invested during this short sprint we call human existence, set against the backdrop of eternity.

Last night while getting sleepy with a news magazine I wondered how it felt at times for these presidential candidates who are giving, like, 250 percent of their energy and time each day in order to potentially secure the prize of leading the U.S. for four or eight years. I considered the tremendous personal, emotional and probably physical price they pay for such ambition, and whether receiving and living out the prize will be as satisfying as what they lose in the process.

Our American culture thrives on ambition. At work each day I motivate people to be ambitious, to grow professionally, to have goals. But I often do it in the context of reflective living, where someone digs deep to find an authentic sense of their passions and delights and builds a life mission going forward. Ambition just to achieve, claim, get the power or recognition or wealth--more and more, it seems so unsatisfying.

I am craving more time for my own reflection, and the writing that pours out of that. Somehow that feels like the best use of time, along with quality moments with those whom you love. And the work I do with others, for how ever long a season I am blessed to do it, must feel personally meaningful to me. Usually it does, but at times I have to question whether it is work I truly love or simply work.

That is a question with which we all should grapple, for life is shot and precious and work chews up a lot of its real estate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Free to Globe Trot

I now, for the first time in my life, own a passport. It arrived much faster than expected, and I have to give the post office and the government credit. I have been given 10 years of approval to travel about the world. Perhaps that is the easy part.

All of my domestic travel as of late makes me wonder how much desire I truly have to get on airplanes for even longer stretches of time, across big oceans. However, I'm sure plenty of desire would kick in once a trip was already planned and I could already taste the food, wine and cultural delicacies of, say, Rome or Paris.

For the longest time I felt you had to complete some intense traveling in order to write deep, interesting stuff. That certainly helps. However, I've come to realize the most intense traveling needs to happen inside of reach reflective states of self-awareness and observations of what is around you in order to produce works of enduring substance.

And that takes something more valuable than a passport: time. The chief struggle of my life across the decades seems to be wanting and finding more time to write, and to write deep stuff.

Everyone's life and perspective is pretty interesting if its documentation is given enough time to cook, to burn away the cliches and assumptions and get to the unique beauty of the human get to one's place in the mythology, the spiritual yearning.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

No Meds Streak Ends at 17 Months

Today I visited the doctor for an upper respiratory issue, and promptly filled and used prescriptions for antibiotics and cough medicine. Desiring health more than pride, I ended my personal record of 17 straight months without having to go on meds for an illness.

The streak began after a dinner conversation with Orlando area physician Don Colbert, author of several books on nutrition and the focus of a cover story I wrote for New Man magazine in January 2007. He mentioned that he hadn't had a cold in years, and since I could not make the same boast I asked for his secret. The secret weapon was 'Nucleotides,' strands of RNA and DNA captured in slippery little capsules that sell for about $30 per bottle. Take one or more when you start to feel run down, the good doctor said, and watch how it boosts your immune system.

And Dr. Colbert was right. Perhaps it was the psychological knowledge that I was taking the supplement, or the capsules themselves-or both. I really haven't cared. I have fought off several colds and flu-like symptoms, and enjoyed great health in 2007 except for when I had some back pain related to, as another doctor diagnosed, "tight as hell" hamstrings.

Then, this past week, I started getting "run down" on a business trip to Tampa. I popped Nucleotides and sipped green tea like mad all week, but this morning had to throw in the towel and go to a walk-in clinic. Defeat.

My faith in Nucleotides has not wavered, however. I ordered a fresh supply. Once in a while, even the best system you have in place hits a snag. The past several months have brought a lot of change, stress and cold temperatures. We're living in a rental house for now, and who knows what's in the carpet. Everyone in my family was sick for the past week, and so the perfect storm of the creeping crud descended upon me and I fought the good fight but lost.

I'm sticking with my strategy toward future illness. Too often in business, politics or relationships, we abandon our strategies when difficulties arise. We forgot the victories of the past and get caught up in present malaise. The past several months, as I have sought to get into a rhythm in my new leadership position with T-Mobile USA, there have been many moments when I have forgotten my own professional successes of the past because my learnng curve has felt so steep. I have had to remind myself--and others who know me well have been kind enough to assist--that I have strengths and talents that are still within me, even if half the time I still don't know if I'm making a difference in my new environment.

Each of us has a core set of talents, cultivated into strengths through perseverance. Society puts enormous pressure on us to compromise them or seek success in areas of non-talent, for the sake of what is expedient. There are times when we have to give a little for the sake of the larger picture--such as getting some anti-biotics to whip a nasty infection because you've got all-day workshops to teach the following Monday and Tuesday. But expediency should be the exception, and ongoing growth in self-awareness, talent-driven competencies and vital relationships the rule.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Springing Forward, Hunting Differently

It was a crazy week. I had an intensive T-Mobile training session in Tampa, Fla., and was battling a cold the entire time. Last night on the plane ride home, however, I met a really cool Nashville transplant named Cassy who also is doing some memoir writing. She made me aware of a local non-fiction writer's group that meets on a monthly basis at a Border's bookstore. I've been impatient to get more connected with the Nashville writing scene in all of my free time, and this could be the first point of entry.

The snow is falling once again here in Middle Tennessee. Winter is hanging on with tenacity. I am more than ready for spring, after nearly four months of working and living here. I'm really craving sunshine, and getting a good sweat in the outdoors. The gray, chilly weather affects my mood, which I think is not unusual. I enjoy change, so too much of anything bums me out.

Each year when spring is on the horizon, I find I want to change my hairstyle and get some new clothes. I get re-energized. This year I'm anticipating its arrival more than ever. I'm in Tennessee rather than Florida, where not much ever changes. I want to see flowers bloom, I want to glimpse trees teeming with leaves. I want to admire with awe as everything that was dead and frozen over spring back to life.

During my business trip I had some key success in delivering portions of a workshop for the first time. I also had some severe solitary wrestling matches at night, unable to sleep in my hotel, second-guessing myself on so many things. I don't do hotels well; the isolation gets to me. I recognized this week that, despite all of the spiritual inspiration I have been getting through my reading, a certain peace is definitely eluding me. I long for tranquility to spring to life in my heart and mind, teaching me new ways to wrestle with uncertainty and deeper manifestations of my own mortality.

There's a phrase in the business world called "hunting differently," using new techniques to seek different results. I may need to hunt a little differently when I comes to how I center down, release the burdens I feel and feel at peace.