I think balance is a great thing, but sometimes … not. What would life be like if I crammed it with people, taking hardly any alone time? Not so great long term but how about trying it for a day? A friend told me that I love being with people so much that I could pretty much be in their presence hour after hour. Well, yesterday was the experiment. I didn’t plan it out but it’s how it worked out.
8:30 – 10:00
I sat with eleven Grade 9 students, one at a time, and wrote them messages in Jody’s book. I asked each one what they were passionate about and included that in my words. One girl talked about her commitment to make a difference in the world by leading the push for social justice. Very cool.
I also dropped into a Music class and joked with the teacher. I sang “a little number” for the kids – “3”! Some mouths turned up at the edges.
10:15 – 10:20
Messing with the mind of the young woman who served me at the bakery. Bring on the fresh bread! She laughed.
10:30 – 11:15
A late breakfast at Wimpy’s Diner. The section of my favourite server was full so I had only the occasional moments to say silly things to her from afar and give her snippets about Senegal. There’ll be a fuller conversation next time. The woman who did serve me smiled as she gave me extra peanut butter.
11:30 – 12:30
An online call with about thirty members of the Evolutionary Collective. I love looking at all the little rectangles, each containing a human being. I had a partner for part of the time and I told the group afterwards that he was Santa Claus, giving me the gift of himself. And he sure looks like Santa! Some folks agreed.
1:00 – 3:30
Volunteering in the Grade 6 class. I sat at an empty desk and marked Math tests, much to the interest of the kids sitting beside me. “How’d I do?” I showed them, leading to fist pumps and grimaces.
I told the 11-year-olds that I was heading to New York City on Thursday and asked the experienced ones what I should see there. Great enthusiasm came back about the 911 memorial and Times Square. The adult in me (or kid?) also wants to walk in Central Park and see a Broadway play.
4:15 – 5:15
On the elliptical at the gym. The fellow manning the front desk was all excited about turning 24 in two days. We compared ages. He told me that I was probably more fit than him. What delightful nonsense!
I actually had some alone time … just me and the rolling beast under my feet. I managed to get in some good conversation with the elliptical, however.
6:00 – 10:00
Dinner at my neighbours’ place. They were so eager to hear about Senegal and I was happy to oblige. I painted a picture of a very affectionate society and they seemed fascinated with the people I met. Holding hands with children as we walked down the dirt streets was an astounding experience. Overall, we talked and talked about the mysteries of life. Good food, good conversation, good friends. Four hours of quality blabbing.
10:30 – 11:30
Another Evolutionary Collective call, this time about twenty folks. I did a practice with a woman who’d I’d never seen before and within a couple of minutes it was like we were old friends. How is that possible? During the group sharing, I mentioned that my partner and I managed to talk about each other’s eyes for five minutes or more. From the outside, I realize this sounds very weird. From the inside, it was a blessing.
So there you have it … a very unusual day. I was nourished by human beings from dawn to bedtime. We’re all so fascinating, so different from each other, but down deep the same. Yay for us.
I saw two inspiring sights today: one was a huge orange moon. The other was a human face.
As I drove home from London a couple of hours ago, the moon hung low over the highway. All was black around, and it shone like a beacon in the sky. My breath slowed and the beauty came home.
Other beauties of the world have come my way, and I have been blessed to be in their presence. A few weeks ago, there were the thousand-year-old buildings of Ghent, Belgium, glowing with Christmas lights. Many years past, I climbed a sandy ridge on the west coast of Vancouver Island to see at the summit miles of Long Beach, the waves from Japan crashing onto the sand below.
I have stood atop Mount Lineham in Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, a sea of peaks spread before me. I have seen the golden harbour of Toubacouta, Senegal at sunset, with fishing boats lying at rest. I have sat within a hollowed-out cave on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, gazing at the sky above.
All these reminders of transcendence, and more, have graced my life. The land, the sea and the structures of man have made me happy.
But the best and brightest of wonders reside in the human face:
My eight-year-old friend Ali in Senegal, smiling into my eyes
as he shook my hand “Bonjour”
My dear wife Jodiette gazing deep into me
as we shared a window table
in Chez Temporel
a sweet restaurant on Quebec City’s Rue Couillard
My friend Sharyn being with me
in a mutual awakening practice this afternoon
the space between us glowing with love
No need to travel to the far corners of the world for beauty
although you will also find it there
Just look, really look, at the person beside you
Gabrielle is a Canadian figure skater who has done well at home and internationally. As with most elite athletes, she has devoted much of her life to her craft.
At the Canadian Figure Skating Championships this week, Gabrielle was leading after the short program. Then it was time for the long skate, which would decide who gets the gold medal:
But the 21-year-old from Newmarket, Ontario, a bronze medallist at the 2017 world championships, fell twice in her free skate, and nearly fell twice more, plummeting to fifth place. She burst into tears after her marks were shown.
I saw her face fall to her hands, and she wept deeply. My eyes moistened. There was a human being in agony on the other side of the TV screen, and she was me. We’ve all been beaten up by life at times and we simply need to know that others care. Both of her coaches put their arm around her when the scores came up.
We’d like to do well whenever we enter the arena of life but there are times when it all falls apart. Strangely, I heard today about the exact opposite: my nephew scored with a few seconds left to win his high school basketball game. The gym erupted in joy. Ecstasy and despair – strange bedfellows, but they show up for each of us.
Gabby was interviewed on TV after the competition. First of all, she showed up. No hiding under a pillow. Tears rimmed her eyes as she spoke, and her gaze was strong as she looked at many thousands of us. Head up … speaking the truth. I was blown away.
This athlete has mental health problems and has admitted so publicly. What an example for each of us – nothing hidden, the warts exposed as clearly as the shining smile. Wow.
“Athletes who are attracted to figure skating are perfectionists, which is about being concerned with the achievement of perfection,” said Rebekah Dixon, who holds a Master’s degree in developmental psychology.
“This leads to being more focused on other people seeing you as perfect, which in itself is a problem, because you’re focusing on something that is unattainable.”
Gabrielle sunk low for awhile, and spent months away from skating, dealing with her demons. How many of us face similar gargoyles every day, but no one else knows? It might be physical problems, relationships, money – all most likely under the umbrella of self-esteem. How important is it for me to see every person I meet as probably in the middle of a life problem that’s very tough? Very important. A kind word, a smile, a hand on the shoulder … can heal.
The rink was a great place for Daleman. She experienced success and accomplishment – satisfactions that were far harder to come by at school. Daleman has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a learning disability. The challenges she faced in the classroom led to teasing and bullying by the other students.
Even with acid comments and demeaning looks coming her way, Gabby skated. She trained. She persevered. And she will continue to do so.
I’m glad you’re on the planet, Gabrielle Daleman
You inspire me to be great
Sometimes, such as right now, I can’t think of anything to say. That’s all right. There are 7.7 billion of us with things to say. I should listen.
I still get to participate in this post. I’ve chosen quotes that move me. If words don’t “sing” to me, I don’t pay much attention. Let the music begin:
I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.
Yes, I don’t have time to deal with toxic people. There is much to be done.
There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.
Teilhard de Chardin
I am pulled towards the beauty of open hearts. “Resistance is futile.”
Make peace with silence, and remind yourself that it is in this space that you’ll come to remember your spirit. When you’re able to transcend an aversion to silence, you’ll also transcend many other miseries. And it is in this silence that the remembrance of God will be activated.
Listen … the heavens are singing.
Who can say if the thoughts you have in your mind as you read these words are the same thoughts I had in my mind as I typed them? We are different, you and I, and the qualia of our consciousnesses are as divergent as two stars at the ends of the universe.
And yet, whatever has been lost in translation in the long journey of my thoughts through the maze of civilization to your mind, I think you do understand me, and you think you do understand me. Our minds managed to touch, if but briefly and imperfectly.
Does that thought not make the universe seem just a bit kinder, a bit brighter, a bit warmer and more human?
Oh yes … we know each other, even if I’ve never seen your face. It is a bright world, full of sisters and brothers.
Hell, in my opinion, is never finding your true self and never living your own life or knowing who you are.
I feel such sadness when encountering the flat ones – where money, power and ego rule.
I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.
Oh, the bliss of entwining with the countless beloveds!
You are here to evolve and make your consciousness high. You are here to dance, sing and celebrate life. You are here to help others to make their life happy. We are here not to compete, but to learn, evolve and excel. We are not here to make divisions in the name of prophets and religions. We are here to encompass the world with love and light.
May we fall into knowing every one of us – beyond space and time. For the people of Senegal and Belgium, and the people of long ago, are with me now.
In each of us there is another whom we do not know.
And perhaps I’ll never know this other Bruce, but he guides me nonetheless.
The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.
Actually I am over there in you and you are over here in me. We merge in peace.
When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life form — or a species — will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap.
We are not 1 … 2 … 3 … We are 1 … 7 … 229 …
Creativity is the state of consciousness in which you enter into the treasury of your innermost being and bring the beauty into manifestation.
What can I draw forth from me during my remaining time on Earth?
Attempts to wake before our time are often punished, especially by those who love us most. Because they, bless them, are asleep. They think anyone who wakes up, or who, still asleep, realizes that what is taken to be real is a “dream” is going crazy.
I’ve been seen as weird, strange and airy fairy. I’ve also been seen as transparent, loving and sweet.
The language of light can only be decoded by the heart.
Be still, my rampaging brain, my keen intellect. There is much to learn.
Don’t seek love externally, it’s fleeting. Go beyond the ego and awaken the love that already exists within; it will encompass everyone and everything in your life; it will permeate your very being.
Love them all, Bruce. Light the world.
The tree was so old, and stood there so alone, that his childish heart had been filled with compassion; if no one else on the farm gave it a thought, he would at least do his best to, even though he suspected that his child’s words and child’s deeds didn’t make much difference. It had stood there before he was born, and would be standing there after he was dead, but perhaps, even so, it was pleased that he stroked its bark every time he passed, and sometimes, when he was sure he wasn’t observed, even pressed his cheek against it.
Karl Ove Knausgård
Companions linger to the left and to the right, above and below. And we are the richer for them.
Lots of words
I like them
And they like me
I’m in a worldwide group called The Evolutionary Collective. Mostly we meet online to explore consciousness together. For the next three-and-a-half months, I’m taking an EC program called Base Camp. Our current theme is integrity.
On one level, the word is pretty simple – being “whole and complete” – being appropriate to life, having nothing hidden, telling the truth. Another way to look at integrity is keeping your word, and if you break it, go to the person involved and clean up your mess. Even though you didn’t do what you said you’d do, you can still be in integrity.
I can be out-of-integrity if I know what to do and don’t do it. And when I fall short, it’s not about beating myself up about it – just recognize the problem and fix it. Before Monday night’s online session, I thought I was “squeaky clean” but alas that was not the case.
I’ve asked myself “Do I need to address every moment of not being in alignment with truth, even those itsy bitsy things?” The answer coming back was “Yes.” Doing so releases great power to do good in the world, unencumbered by regrets.
Moment Number One
Last June, I quit the Tour du Canada after three days. It was the cross-country bicycle ride I was on. I was exhausted and terrified of the semi-trailers bombing by a few metres away. I came home to Belmont traumatized. As school opened again in the fall, I was still deeply afraid to get back on my bicycle. One Grade 6 girl has been very curious about me, and observant, since we met a year before. She’s wanted to know if I was going to Toronto on the weekend, and noticed when I bought new shoes.
In September, “Molly” asked me if I’d gotten back on my bicycle. I admitted that the answer was no. I told her that ta-pocketa, my skinny-tired bike, was for sale and that I had bought another one – with stable knobby tires. I said it wasn’t in yet. Molly kept asking me if the hybrid bicycle had arrived in London. Later, when I told her that my bike guy was setting Betty up for me, I got lots of “Is it ready yet?” > “No.”
I didn’t want to let Molly know that I was still plenty scared to ride again. I hid … in lies. “The bike isn’t in yet.” After a bit, that wasn’t true. “The bike isn’t ready yet.” After more bits, that was another lie. What was true was that I was praying for the first snow, so Molly would stop bugging me about riding.
I look back now and see the psychic energy I’ve wasted. Every time I saw Molly, Betty was right before my eyes. After Monday night’s integrity session online, I saw the prison bars. As far as I know, lying to Molly was my only diminishment of integrity, but it was huge. “Clean up your mess, Bruce.”
So I did.
I went to Molly this week and told her I had lied about my new bicycle. I told her that I was still terrified and gave her permission to challenge me again when the roads are dry and the temperature warmer. I apologized … “I’m sorry, Molly, for lying to you.” She didn’t know what to say but her nod was all I needed.
Just like that, I’m free.
Until this morning.
Moment Number Two
I went to breakfast at the Belmont Diner and noticed the fellow who was replacing the floor mats with new ones, taking the old ones away for cleaning. I was backing Scarlet up in the parking lot and didn’t see how close the gentleman’s truck was. My back bumper hit its front one – not a real smash but at least a nudge. What did I do, given my newfound integrity? I drove home. (Sigh)
As I pulled onto Robin Ridge Drive, my home road, I started feeling sick, and faint. “C’mon, Bruce. A little bump and you’re falling apart?” Well, actually … yes. What has become of me when one “little” misstep is unacceptable? It’s not unacceptable that I hit the truck, but taking off was. I came to the roundabout on Robin Ridge and went all the way around, back from where I came.
On Main Street, I was praying that the floor mat company’s truck was still there. It was. I heard some noise inside. I knocked on the door. An assistant came out to say hi. And then here was the boss, walking across the parking lot, heavy laden. He too smiled as I told my story. We checked his bumper. Nothing was detectable. “No problem, man.” > “Thanks.”
I drove home with my own smile. I was whole and complete again. This integrity feels like the floor on which I can dance. So cue the music, maestro!
I was off to another local high school this morning, this time to see a dance extravaganza with the Grade 6 kids. I like the teens but my heart beats most deeply with the 11-year-olds. There’s an enthusiasm, spontaneity and innocence that captures me.
There must have been fifty dancers onstage at various times. I loved to see that their heads were up, in contact with life. I couldn’t tell if they were truly making eye contact with us or if they were focused on the back wall. No matter … they were engaged.
The auditorium was pretty full when we arrived but there were seats off to the side. Soon after we sat down, I realized that there were lots of developmentally delayed kids near us. Excellent. And they enjoyed the whole show, which had to be at least two hours. What a great demonstration to our students that everyone needs to be included.
One young lady in the front row often stood up and did her own twirls in response to the performers. Good for her. And good for the staff member sitting beside who let her express. Some teens made occasional spontaneous noises as the dancers danced, and one student seemed to be having breathing problems. It was all a welcome part of our gathering.
Almost all of the dancers were girls. There were maybe five boys. That made me sad. It was such a great performance that I’m hoping some male elementary students were inspired to join the fun once they show up at high school. The boys who danced were very expressive. I imagine it took some courage for them to be up there, given the possibility of razzing from some friends. Congratulations, guys, for being willing to do what you want to do.
The dance troupe was a celebration of difference – racially, culturally, age, body type and cognitive ability. None of those distinctions mattered. I saw a heavier girl take centre stage and do various flips and swirls with grace and strength. She was a star.
There were so many different costumes … even top hats were on proud display. The music was all over the map, including Queen’s We Are The Champions. Many of us in the audience sang along with that one.
What a mass of work it must have been to pull this performance off – the dancers, the stage crew, the lighting crew, the teachers. I hope each participant left the stage knowing that they had contributed to something big, that they had enthralled many of the elementary kids, and that possibly they had recruited some future Grade 9 students. They also touched this volunteer who still loves to dance. Thank you.
I have two favourite words. The first is love … well understood by all and sundry. The second is animation. The reaction I usually get to that one is some version of “Huh?” or “You like Disney flicks?” No matter – my joy in the word goes on.
Someone, no doubt wise, said:
“The Latin word anima (meaning breath, soul) that gave us animal, has given us other words. The English adjective animate (meaning alive) comes from the Latin verb animare, meaning to give life to, which in turn comes from anima.”
The dictionary sees animation as the state of being full of life or vigor, and offers these synonyms:
Liveliness, spirit, high spirits, spiritedness, energy, enthusiasm, eagerness, excitement, vigor, vivacity, vivaciousness, vitality, vibrancy, exuberance, ebullience, buoyancy, bounciness, bounce, perkiness, sprightliness, verve, zest, sparkle, dash, elan, brio.
Woh … so many words. But the word itself is true. For decades, I’ve understood that to animate is to breathe life into, to take an ordinary moment and make it vibrate. I think that is a gift of mine – to see the light in an apparently normal second or minute.
The light was with me half an hour ago. I’m in Aeolian Hall, a 135-year-old concert venue in London. A young woman from Montreal has just sung five songs, as the opening act for Martha Wainwright. After five minutes, Amélie Beyries looked at us and said “There are spirits here.” So true. Her voice climbed the heights of tone and soul. Her fingers caressed the piano keys. And just before her last song, she stood at the edge of the stage and cried. “I’ve never experienced a hall like this.” We smiled and loved her.
Amélie had taken us into her heart and shone a light upon us. The time was alive, glowing, vibrating. And we all have the power to do the same – to set others ablaze. Maybe a little smile, a kind word, a hand on the shoulder. We can animate the lives around us simply by being “over there” with them. Then candles can light themselves. Dimmer switches can push themselves up to maximum. Off-white can transform to forest green.
Let’s do it
I’m sitting in a Grade 9 classroom at my local high school, facing about fifteen teens. My job is to talk about writing. On one level, I don’t know what to say. But there are other levels.
What are the dreams of these young people? What are their passions? Maybe I can say something that will open their eyes to their heart, whether that’s about writing or playing piano or acting in Mary Poppins.
Let’s see what I have to say:
I was at Hugh’s Room on Sunday night awaiting my hero. What I didn’t know was whether he was awaiting me. Gordon Lightfoot’s music has moved me since the 1960’s, when I hung out at a coffee house in Yorkville in Toronto.
This was a tribute concert for Gord. At the table, my server winked at me when I asked if he was coming tonight. Oh my God! I knew it wasn’t a “come hither” look. Gordon was really going to grace us with his presence.
No sign of the man up to intermission. Maybe six singers gave us their cool interpretations of Lightfoot songs, such as Did She Mention My Name?
Did she mention my name just in passing?
And when the talk ran high, did the look in her eyes seem far away?
I was moved, and at the same time felt the need to visit a certain room downstairs. As I stood at the urinal, I told my neighbour how I had all my fingers crossed that Lightfoot would show up.
“He’s sitting at a back table, on the right, having dinner with his friends.”
I threw myself up the stairs and casually slowed past the back right tables in the hall. There was a fellow with his back to me, hair flowing well below his shoulders. I moved past him and then snuck a glance backward. The man himself, looking awfully ordinary, not the stuff of legend.
I was sitting across the room from Lightfoot, and as the performers continued to interpret his words in the second half, I often looked back at him. Sometimes he was alone with his friends. Sometimes the paparazzi crowded around, seeking photos, handshakes, contact. C’mon, folks – leave him alone. Let him eat in peace.
Then there were the moments when Lightfoot seemed to be feeling into his songs, as voiced by far younger musicians. One of my favourite pieces is Song For A Winter’s Night:
The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon the page
The words of love you sent me
If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you
When Laura Spink settled into the first phrases of the song, Gord lowered his head to his arms. As she toned the delicate words of love, he remained still on the table. At the final chord, he raised himself and applauded. What was the dear man thinking as she sang? Was it a lover long gone? Was it sadness? Was it peace? To be watching him as the story unfolded was a blessing.
Lightfoot is an ordinary human being and an extraordinary poet. We are the richer for him being with us.
Back to the teens. I was only partway through my post as the bell came close. I was happy … so happy. I had talked to them as I typed away, sharing the decisions I was making on the fly. I told them that my biggest word in writing is “trust”. I know that good words will come from my fingers. It may take time, but they’ll be there. What I write needs to “sing” to me, or there’s no sense in creating it. Other fine words are “real” and “natural”. Nothing forced. Sitting back at times and letting what wants to emerge bubble out.
I encouraged these young folks to listen inside for their passion. For some of them, it’s clear already, not so for others. And be willing to let that passion morph into something else if it wants to. Write or sing or dance or play or build what pleases you and intend that your creations contribute to human beings.
I know that I’m on the planet to love people and make them laugh. May all of us see why we’re here.
No one left out. That’s been a mantra of mine for many years. But do I really mean it? Are there any human beings on the planet, or who were here, that I flat out reject?
Shouldn’t I condemn mean people, especially those who have caused countless deaths, rather than feeling into whatever pain they agonized in? I detest cruel behaviour but should I also condemn the perpetrators to the agony of hell? I say that I need to honour the humanity of everyone … no exceptions.
I’ve seen this quote before, and it still goes deep inside me:
“An unknown poet left the following beautiful prayer beside the body of a dead child at the Ravensbrück death camp during a recent era of unspeakable human darkness:”
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will
But also those of ill will
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us
Remember the fruits we have bought thanks to this suffering
Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility
Our courage, our generosity
The greatness of heart which has grown out of all this
And when they come to judgment
Let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness
Let us forgive, not the behaviour but the person, including these figures of history:
Idi Amin, Uganda
Amin’s rule was characterized by rampant human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption and gross economic mismanagement. The number of people killed as a result of his regime is estimated by international observers and human rights groups to range from 100,000 to 500,000.
Adolf Hitler, Germany
Under Hitler’s leadership and racially motivated ideology, the Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed “untermenschen” (subhumans) or socially undesirable. Hitler and the Nazi regime were also responsible for the killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war.
Pol Pot, Cambodia
Pol Pot became the dictator of Cambodia in 1975. His government forcibly relocated the urban population to the countryside to work on collective farms. Those regarded as enemies of the new government were killed. These mass killings, coupled with malnutrition, strenuous working conditions and poor medical care, killed between 1.5 and 3 million people of a population of roughly 8 million, a period later termed the Cambodian genocide. Marxist-Leninists unhappy with Pol Pot’s government encouraged Vietnamese intervention. However Pol Pot forced Vietnam’s hand by attacking villages in Vietnam and massacring their villagers.
I also remember reading the story of two former prisoners who shared the same jailer:
“Have you forgiven him?”
“What?! No. Never.”
“Then I guess you’re still in prison.”
May we be free