Day Five: The Mind at Work

At the heart of the work of the Evolutionary Collective is the willingness to feel what’s true in the moment and to go into that deeply.  During this morning’s session, I felt myself being pressed in upon.  There was a heaviness, almost a collapse.  Emotionally I was a mess, buried in “I’m bad” and “I’m scared of people in this group.”  My goodness, where did that come from?

At the break, I sat outside with a woman who asked me “How are you?”  My answer?  “I’m happy.”  It was a lie.  The rest of the break was a swirl of woe and self-condemnation.  I was a jumble inside, being out of integrity with myself.  Sometime before lunch, I approached the woman and told her “I lied to you.”  We talked it out some (with her infinite support) but the prime moment was the first, offering me the relief of the truth.

Later in the day, we explored attachment, frustration and rejection.  The thinking is that each of us has one of these as a dominant theme.  I saw my fear of being rejected, especially in a group.  An image appeared: a bunch of people walking away from me, shaking their heads.  Being left alone.  If rejection is a two-way street – fear of it happening to me and actively saying no to others – then I have a jolt coming in how I experience me.  I’ve always thought of myself as a nice person – caring, compassionate.  Could it be that there’s also a part of me that has no use for others and wants them to go away?

Another today event was looking at past traumas.  Being pushed into the deep end by a swimming instructor when I was eight.  Dumped out of a canoe in rapids, and I still couldn’t swim.  Being hit by lightning.  Clinging to a sloped icefield for half an hour above a near-freezing lake.  Clinging to footholds on a cliff five hundred feet above another mountain lake.  Crossing an intersection on my bike with a speeding car coming through a few feet away.  Running across an intersection at a crosswalk while another car narrowly missed me.

What’s true is that I’ve never examined these incidents with a counsellor.  I saw today that I need to.

So … it was a day that rocked my world.  Am I willing to move towards the eruptions of self-image or will I retreat meekly back into a daily peace and love resting above a basement of fear?  I choose to look.

Day Four: The Evolutionary Collective Workshop

I was confronted today … with an idea and a criticism.  First the idea part.  How about if I started living my life without needing people’s agreement?  For one thing, I wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder to see if folks were still liking me.  I wouldn’t have to tailor my comments to the audience, to test the wind to see if an idea would fly.  I would be totally willing to say my truth without antagonism.  I could enter into dialogue with someone who sees the world differently, perhaps in the end agreeing to disagree.

If we’re breaking new ground here, leaning into future possibilities, then falling back into the tried and true won’t get the job done.  The world needs fresh ideas and I include myself in the company of people who can create them.  And if it’s new, naturally there’d be little agreement in the marketplace.  There’s no track record for such a courageous thrust into the unknown.  But the novelty of thought is where I want to be, rather than simply following the traditional ways of doing things.  If I stay traditional, naturally others will be nodding their heads in response, but where’s the juice in that?

And then there’s the spiritual practice called being criticized.  I felt myself contract today in response but I kept my head up, and my eyes in contact with my confronter, refusing to shrink all the way down to silence.  That’s been my pattern, to plummet into the abyss of “I’m bad”, to run away with my tail between my legs.  So dissatisfying.  I was once told to surround myself with powerful people, to let them impact me, jolt me.  Well, so be it.  In order to be the conduit for great things in the world, I need to be open to influence, to correction.  I need to be open to the type of conflict that raises us both up to be our best.  I need to be in a tennis match with someone equally as committed and farther down the path of transformation, someone who will hit tough shots into the corners and draw out my very best in response.

I love the peace of meditation but it pales before the love flowing through a relationship between two people who are committed to each other.  There’s a brilliant aliveness in asking the other person to be great, and allowing them to do the same for me.

Day Three: The University of California at Berkeley

First, a simple choice.  Instead of walking six blocks to breakfast along the main drag (University Avenue), Philippe and I strolled along a residential street two blocks south.  There was the greenest of grass and the most wondrous of trees.  One shone in the sun, with fans of needles and long seed pods.  I stared up at the beauty of it … some terrestrial artist had sculpted a miracle.  Then there were the giant bonsais, also looming over me.  Swirls of green flowed like the ocean under a human artist’s hands.  Through it all, the sun blessed our steps.

Next was Razan’s Organic Kitchen.  We had dropped in the day before, to be greeted by a smiling young woman wearing a head scarf.  We promised that we’d come back today and both Philippe and I have learned to keep our word.  We sat upstairs and were soon chowing down on a spinach basil burrito and a breakfast burrito.  Mine was so delicious, and according to our friend, so immensely healthy.  As one reviewer said, “Loved this place!  Visiting Berkeley and even with dozens of restaurants to choose from, I went here for dinner two days in a row.  How many other restaurants offer 100% organic?  You can taste it too.  Everything I had was fresh and skillfully made.”

I watched the people passing along the sidewalk below us … young, old, wealthy and not.  I wondered what their lives were like, if they go through the same joys and sorrows that I do.  Of course.

On the UC Berkeley campus, we came upon the Berkeley City Club, a fancy hotel guarded by a heavy metal gate.  Happily there was an intercom, and the receptionist allowed us to look around.  The building is a Julia Morgan architectural masterpiece, featuring huge windows that bring natural light inside.  We lolled around, drinking in the aesthetics of dark wood, orangey cream walls, and so many curves … arches, doors rounded at the top, flower-shaped windows.  Peace flowed into me from the ambiance, to blend with the peace that flowed out of me.

On Oxford Street, a demolition was pressing ahead.  Cranes and earth movers were ripping down cement walls and floors.  It was surreal to witness the power of destruction, to visualize the past as the present crumbled before our eyes.

We roamed and rambled the green spaces of UC Berkeley, standing below towering red cedars.  We sat in the Student Union for awhile, surrounded by students on their laptops and iPads.  I was working on the earlier paragraphs of this post.  There we were, forty or fifty isolations, intent in our individual stories, and not a shred of contact between us.  And we sat beneath a quote from Martin Luther King: “Yes, we have learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we have not learned the simple art of walking the earth as brothers and sisters.”  Amen.

Finally, dinner at Jupiter, a pub just off-campus.  We were on a patio at the back, three sweet levels ripe with red brick walls, greenery beside us and on the trellis above, and many smiling faces.  And I was … cold.  I had left my down jacket in the motel room and Maslow was having his way with me.  My consciousness, usually flowing out to others, was being sucked back into my body as I teetered on the edge of “poor me”.

How strange to see so many folks in shirt sleeves as I zipped up my shell and borrowed Philippe’s toque.  I chuckled at my poor selection of clothing.  Tomorrow I’ll do better.

We hurried home to the land of 72º F.  And so to bed, under warm covers.

Day Two: Berkeley

Today I’ll start with last night.  Philippe and I were standing around with our luggage at the San Francisco Airport, trying to figure out the rapid transit system (BART) so we could end up in our new home in Berkeley.  It was well after midnight Eastern Time and we were pooped.  I gazed at the empty transit booth and a row of ticket machines.  (Sigh)

I approached the machine marked “Clipper Card” and tried to make sense of screens and signs.  The mental processing was just not happening.  I was aware of a subway train purring in the station, accompanied by two items of information: “Leaving in five minutes” and “Next train in thirty-five minutes”.  No way was I going to solve the problems of the night in that amount of time.  So I let go into a slow-motion process of purchasing discounted subway trips.  We’d flown across the continent … there truly was no hurry to complete the last few miles.

A lovely woman in a transit uniform told us about the senior discount, which wasn’t available at the machine.  Only down the hall with a real live human person.  I shuffled along and scored tickets for Philippe and me.  Then back to the woman who, with a heart of gold, launched into the ins and outs of senior subway travel.  I was totally lost.  Somehow, despite all the cranial fuzziness, we ended up at our motel at about 3:00 am old time.

***

Today was a walking man’s delight.  Those cramped airline muscles got to run free.  Philippe and I had a map but I was still majorly disoriented.  “Are we going east or north?”  We ended up in a restaurant called “Au Coquelet” for breakie.  The walls were red brick, the paintings were raucous reds and yellow, and the skylights were huge.  What a gift to have natural light bathing our foreheads.  It’s so good for the soul.  A big bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese wasn’t too shabby either!  I sat there, listening to Philippe speak and hearing my own words in reply … feeling a sweet fullness.  All was well with the world.

We went seeking a health food store, and sauntered into three of them.  How strange that I have an interest in such places.  It’s not been my history.  I was contemplating the wonders of Vitamin B, Stevia and a spray for jet lag.  Philippe was a marvelous coach about such things.  For awhile he was on the phone to his girlfriend back home in Quebec and I just sat at a window table, drinking in the human beings who wandered by.  Consider the young couple and their German shepherd dog.  They flowed down the sidewalk, brimming with health, lost in conversation, smiles on all three.  And then there were two elderly women side by side – one with a normal gait and normal grey hair, and the other with a shuffle and grotesque orange hair.  Behind came their husbands – one bumping a walker ahead of him and the other protecting his bad hip.  Ahh … the contrasts of life.

Tonight was a happy meal and conversation in a Tibetan restaurant.  We watched from the window table as day faded to night.  We explored pink rice; dumplings of the beef, chicken and spinach varieties; and butter tea (yuck to the last).  A priest in India sang to us the whole time from his CD player.  On the walls were tapestries depicting the Potola Palace in Tibet, the wide open lands, and delicate flowers.  The Dalai Lama smiled from his place of honour on the back wall.  Peace.

That’s all for tonight, except to mention that I participated in an Evolutionary Collective call from a bench in Martin Luther King Park in downtown Berkeley.  Such fun to be with people of the world while people of California strolled by.

More to come on the morrow.

Day One: Up, Up and Away

Oh yes … another roaming of the world. Who will I meet? What moments will I cherish? Will I let myself be undone on the other end of the continent?

Since my flight zooms away at 6:30 pm, I had time to go to school. It was March Break last week so I hadn’t been surrounded by 12-year-olds for ten days.

On the road through farmland, I spied a V way high in the sky. I slowed and wondered as at least 80 tundra swans flew over Scarlet. These huge white birds come through Southern Ontario every spring on their way to the Arctic. They flowed out both ways from the leader, their wings appearing to be in unison with their friends. The power … the grace … the sense of a group direction. Wow.

And now in the classroom. As I opened the door, I heard a few cries of welcome, even with the Math lesson in full swing. I decided to sit back and see if any hands went up for help. There was only one, and I helped the guy, at least a bit. I wanted to have conversations, to hear about the kids’ vacation adventures, but the task at hand was long division. Inside, I felt a loosening, a relaxing into the possibility that today won’t be about 1-1 moments. I smiled, sat off to the side and waited for the approach of any kid who wanted to talk.

As the morning twirled away, a few young ones came over, curious about San Francisco. One girl told me about Los Angeles, and all the cool tourist stuff to do there. Another one talked about her sister waking up screaming one night, in great pain. She’s fine now. It was clear to me that it doesn’t matter what kids and I talk about. The moments of being together are all that I need, even if there are few of them.

Now I’m deep in the concourse of the Toronto Airport, enjoying an arugula and feta cheese salad. I’m so pleased with myself for not choosing some high-fat alternative.

I’m thinking about “Jeff”, the fellow I lined up with in front of US Customs. We were in long looping lines with probably 200 other folks. And we got talking. It doesn’t matter who went first … I’m pretty sure that both of us were open to conversation. Jeff lives in New York City and we’re both in love with the place. I got to revisit my favourite moments from two months ago, much to his delight. Central Park! The MET! The 911 Museum! The noise and hurry! How astonishing to launch right into life’s joys with a so-called stranger. Jeff even knew the San Francisco area and recommended a ferry ride to the cutesy village of Tiburon. After visiting the customs guy, we bid each other farewell with “Have a good life.”

Now I’m beside my friend “Philippe” on a big Boeing plane, 298 of us zipping along at 900 kilometres an hour. We’re heading to the Evolutionary Collective meeting on the weekend, sharing plane seats and a hotel room. We’ve talked for two hours about falling in love, living freely and uniting with the people around us. We’ve shared joys and foibles. We’ve leaned into the future and found mystery there.

Tomorrow morning, we go in search of a healthy restaurant and emerging miracles. What will San Francisco and Berkeley share with us? If we listen very, very carefully, all will be revealed.

San Francisco

I get aboard the big bird tomorrow.  Here I come.  The main reason I’m going is to gather with members of the Evolutionary Collective Base Camp group.  Our contact so far has been online, where we do the Mutual Awakening Practice and delve into the worlds of integrity, trust and giving.  Now we get to see that each of us really has legs!  The EC is a marvelous vehicle for exploring consciousness.  We aim to spread love across the world, irrespective of religion, culture, race, gender or any other variable you can think of.  Who knows what we can create during the upcoming three-day weekend?

Before the meeting, I have two days to explore San Francisco, and then two more afterwards.  Jody and I were in the city thirty years ago.  We loved sitting in a sidewalk café on Lombard Street, which was very steep.  I remember seeing a gentleman push a woman in a wheelchair … from two blocks down, to us, and disappearing two blocks up.  It was astonishing.  Then there was Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, the basking sea lions, the sun on the ocean, the long loaf of sourdough bread.

What will beckon me on Wednesday?  Right now it’s a mystery, like much of my life.  Will I repeat the itinerary or branch out to parts unknown?  Plan B sounds more exciting but I know I’d be fine with the Lombard viewing and biting through soft sourdough.  Still .. a tour of Alacatraz at night?  A stroll through Haight-Ashbury, the former hippie heaven?  Why not?

Perhaps I’ll set off in the morning with my active brain decommissioned, wondering what’s around the next corner, and having no need to see a top ten tourist attraction.  Maybe I’ll spot an old guy on a bench and talk to him for an hour or two.  After all, that’s how I met Lydia and Jo – on an Alberta hiking trail, and look where I ended up (in Belgium and Senegal with them).

On my recent trips, I’ve enjoyed blogging every day, from Day One to Day End.  There’s a rhythm there that I love.  It’s not appropriate to share the specific practices we do in the EC but I can give you a general flavour of us being together.  As for the world of San Francisco, the sky’s the limit for my words.

Come with me on the journey.  I promise you surprises, laughter and a bit of communion.

 

A Cook Named Bruce

Long ago, in a fantasy land called Vancouver, I invited my girlfriend over for supper.  I don’t remember the main course but dessert was special.  You’ll be happy to know that I had lovingly created a chocolate pie with a graham cracker crust.  It was cooling in the fridge.  With great aplomb, I opened the door and reached in.  As I pulled out the pie, I noticed that there were waves on the surface.  To my horror, I gazed down at Lake Chocolate.  I hadn’t got the memo that the pudding needed to be cooked.  My friend was so gracious.  She spooned up her soup with grace.

This memory has stayed vivid for close to fifty years.  All those decades have reinforced the basic concept: “I can’t cook.”  Jody was marvelous in the kitchen, creating so many yummy meals.  I was marvelous in the kitchen too, except that my office was the sink rather than the stove.

Now I’ve started with Derek, such a knowledgeable trainer at the fitness club.  He’s not only gung ho about strength and cardio … nutrition is a biggie too.  He’s lent me a book called Gourmet Nutrition.  Last Thursday, being well aware of my lack of culinary art, Derek challenged me to make a meal on the weekend, following one of the 120 recipes in the book.  “It can be the simplest thing, Bruce.  Will you do it?”

Yes.

This afternoon, I gazed over at Gourmet Nutrition.  It was sitting there on my end table, sticking its tongue out at me.  “How insensitive!” I moaned.

Two hours ago, I flipped to “Breakfast”.  And all was revealed to me on page 42: “Banana Cream Pie Oatmeal”.  Actually, I had already scoped out the recipe after Derek placed cheffing in my ear.  I went to the grocery store to locate the large flake oats and the coconut milk.  Except when I got home, I saw that my hand was full of coconut water.  Clearly I haven’t exercised cooking muscles so far in life.  But I laughed at my mistake!  And that felt good.

Now, the prep.  I felt like such a fish out of water but I surged ahead anyway.  “In a small pot, bring milk and coconut milk to a boil under medium heat.”  I can do this.  Five minutes in, the milks didn’t seem to be doing anything so I cranked it up to high.  Maybe two minutes after that – you guessed it – the white concoction breached the pot, despite the lid that I’d set at a jaunty angle.  White goo flowing over black stove.  And strange after strange, I laughed again.

“Add the oats.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until milk is absorbed (approximately 7 to 10 minutes).”  Again, nothing seemed to be happening.  Again, I cranked the knob – up to medium-high this time.  I stirred like a banshee (assuming such people stir).  Twenty minutes later, I called it quits, declaring that the milk was sort of absorbed.  So … hotter than recommended, and far longer than indicated.  Gosh, cooking is a mystery.

Eventually, I poured a mélange (that’s probably a cool cooking word) of banana, protein powder and water over my coconut-flavoured oatmeal and headed for my couch.  On the first taste, my heart soared.  The flavour was fine.  That wasn’t my joy.  Very simply, I had done it.  I had created something delicious and nutritious, using an actual stove.  Oh, what a good boy am I!

Could this be the start of something really, really big?  Time will tell.

Measurements

I walked into Fabricland a few days ago and bought a cloth tape measure.  You might be thinking that I’ve branched off into dressmaking but you’d be wrong.

My new trainer Derek has connected me to a daily online program that seeks to enhance my nutrition and mental health.  I have daily assignments and I knew what was coming up today: measuring myself here, there and everywhere, plus taking photos from the front, side and back.

I know the word “measure”.  It’s to “ascertain the size, amount or degree” of something.  Today it was neck, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, thigh and calf.  At the end, I felt like adding “head” to the list.  It was such a strange feeling, to sense the onset of inadequacy (too much of this, too little of that) and then to experience it fading into the background.  My previous bouts with body examination certainly weren’t that.  They were in my face.

So there I was with the tape, addressing the tasks in a matter-of-fact manner.  There was a lightness while finding clear evidence that my waist was large and my biceps were small.  Edginess tried to intrude but then apparently encountered some mysterious force (not my will) and decided to withdraw.

Improving my physical fitness, nutritional health and appearance is clearly a gradual process.  When I feel what’s happening inside, I’m fine with there being no hurry.  I also see that there is a better and worse here and measurements will reveal the changes.  However, there’s no tape measure for my heart.  Although I want my love to continually expand, there’s a wisdom that tells me to go deeply into whatever I’m experiencing in the moment, even if it’s not suffused with unconditional positive regard for other human beings.  I’ve glimpsed a place where all comparisons fall away.

It seems that measurables exist beside the immeasurables.  It feels like a dance between the horizontal world of becoming and the vertical world of being.  And I love dancing.

I See Me

Long long ago, in a Canadian province far away, I worked with a psychologist in giving personal development seminars.  I was also active in the est organization, particularly The Hunger Project.  One of our local TV stations thought it would be a good idea to interview me about such matters, and so it happened.  I was nervous but engaged as I answered the interviewer’s questions.  Afterwards I was pleased with myself.

In a week or two, the TV folks provided me with a video tape of the interview.  I put it in the VCR and started watching.  Two minutes later, I turned the machine off.  I never looked at the tape again.  I was horrified to see how I looked and hear how I sounded.  Just swimming in “not good enough”.

I’ve pushed this incident to the back of my mind and it’s stayed there for the last thirty years.  A month ago, I got to participate in a “Love Panel” online.  Four members of the Evolutionary Collective Global community were being interviewed by an EC teacher.  The intent was to have people with some interest in Global hear from us what we’ve experienced.  I spoke from the heart, and laughed some.  Afterwards I was pleased with myself.

And now a week ago.  Patricia  Albere, the founder of the EC, sent us an e-mail containing news and teachings.  There was also a P. S.  Basically, click here to watch a 30-minute interview with four Globalites.  I stared at the words.  I froze.  I moved on … fast.  Thirty years and still the same fear of seeing myself.

And now last night.  A voice said, very calmly, “Watch it.”  Miraculously, just as calm, I said “Okay.”  I tilted my head in wonder.  Is this the Bruce I know speaking?  Maybe not.  It could be the Bruce who’s just emerging giving voice to wholeness, sufficiency, connection.

Thirty minutes later, I sat here on my couch, stunned.  I was loving the man who spoke.  I was seeing his beauty.  I was seeing his heart.  There’s no deficiency here.  There’s one marvelous flavour of human being just as yummy as all the other flavours I meet during my day.

Perhaps I am free.

 

 

Exhausted at the Concert

I was going to a house concert last night in London, to hear an extraordinary fiddler and guitarist. During the day, I was feeling good. Before the concert, I headed to the gym for an hour on the elliptical. Since I hadn’t worked out the previous two days, I wasn’t expecting any problem. I was wrong.

Ten minutes in, something was off. My usual speed was pie in the sky. My head was dull. “Maybe I should quit after thirty.” > “No way!” And so I grunted along.

With the luxury of a day later, I see a factor here: no recent caffeine. But yesterday afternoon, I squirmed within a sea of confusion.

Time to hear Mr. Fiddler. I walked in, made a joke with the host, and then sat on a couch with three other fans, right in front of the fellow performing. I felt myself fading.

In my life, I’ve spent a lot of time reinforcing a very solid identity. “Bruce is this. Bruce isn’t that.” Since entering the world of the Evolutionary Collective, my tightly woven sweater has started loosening, even unravelling. I have many moments of disorientation, where I’m so unclear about what reality I’m swimming in. This may sound like a really bad thing but I sense that it’s not.

I sat there not being particularly friendly to my neighbours. I sat there not enjoying the virtuoso violin solos. I sat there unable to follow the artist’s words as he talked about the tunes he’d created. I was in a fog.

Slowly and unsurely, I fell into a state of being okay with my so-called deficiencies of the moment. This too was a part of Bruce. I didn’t need to be alert, communicative and engaged all the time. It was okay to be pooped, fuzzy and simply blah.

It’s such a waste of energy to get down on myself when I’m not flying high. So I will stop doing that. I will embrace the roller coaster, both the dips and the heights. There’s far bigger fish to fry in this life than analyzing and critiquing my various foibles.

I’m here to serve and it’s time to accept that some days I don’t have much to give. So be it. Then there are those other days!

Sweet and sour … together they make a delicious flavour.