Pillows

I often think that breakfast is a good idea and I have the perfect place for it about 50 metres from my home – Broodjeszaak Martens. Liva and her daughter Fran have been so welcoming to me whenever I show up.

Sometimes I’ve sat at the counter with my nose pressed up against the window, watching the flow of humanity stroll or ride by on the Oudburg. I love watching the infinite variety.

Today I took a table towards the back of the café, still facing the street. I like long views wherever I can find them. Please don’t make me face a wall.

As you can see, my view included a shelf festooned with red pillows. You may have to zoom in to see what each of them says: “I love you”. Isn’t that the sweetest interior decoration you can imagine? Far better than “Seating limit 20 minutes”.

I love those three words. I love when they’re said in their entirety. Somehow “Love,” at the end of a letter just doesn’t cut it. “Love you” is better but it leaves out who’s doing the loving.

We need more “I love you”s spoken from one soul to another. These are words that are so often withheld between loved ones. I think it’s the biggest “withhold” on the planet.

So … I promise you that the next time I’m in the presence of someone I love, they’ll hear about it.

My Second Favourite Thing About Ghent

You might think that my fav would be the old buildings. Or the rivers and bridges. Or the terraces … also known as patios in Canada.

You’d be wrong.

My number one favourite thing is the people. I can feel the friendly energy in this city and it often comes to my table when I sit down in a pub. Many folks are happy to talk. Of the 400,000 residents, about 80,000 of them are post-secondary students. Ghent is ancient and young. I call it home.

But then there’s my number two favourite. You could guess until the cows come home and not find the answer. Go ahead … knock yourself out.

…………………………………………………………..

Nope. All of your ideas are simply wrong. Would you like a hint? Okay, it’s a living being. And I’ve already mentioned humans as #1 so that’s not it.

The aardvarks, you say? No, I’m pretty sure none of them hang out around here.

All right … it’s a living being that flies. I’ve seen thousands of them since I arrived. They zoom along the Leie River near my home, especially at sunrise and just before sunset. They swoop left and right, they soar, they dive, and I can’t pull my eyes away.

I suppose I’m the only one in town with a seagull fetish but that’s fine. I position myself at a table beside the river on the terrace of the ‘t Kanon pub and watch the show. Couples nearby gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes – I raise my face to the birdie sky.

Today it was sunset before I reached my spot. For the first five minutes there were no seagulls. Also for the second five minutes. I sighed in the probability that I was too late. No gliding wings this evening. It was bittersweet. All I wanted was one gull to show me her majesty. Just one. During the daylight I had seen so many. Now I just wanted one.

For many years I’ve reflected on the absence of something that often is present. The loved one lingers after leaving. The air still ripples with a subtle energy. Usually I smile at the recognition of something beyond the consensus reality. And I smiled tonight.

***

Then a solitary gull grazed the rooftops on its way home …

Tomorrowland

Okay, a skill-testing question:

What’s my favourite type of music?

If you know my history, you’d probably say Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga. I love those two … but you’d be wrong.

If you knew of my soujourns in Koerner Hall in Toronto, and my youth as a cello player, classical music might come to mind. I love symphonies with a full orchestra. But again you haven’t found the mother lode.

Are you ready?

Techno or EDM.

Driving beats, all electronic. Fabulous light shows. And dancing! I love the DJ Tiesto and the tunes he spins.

I’ve never been to an EDM festival. I suppose everyone will be twenty. I’ll dance like them but I’ll get tired faster. More breaks. And then back at it.

I arrived in Belgium ten days ago with visions of Tomorrowland in my heart. That’s the techno festival in the appropriately named town of Boom, in eastern Belgium.

Awhile ago I registered for Tomorrowland so I could have a chance of getting a ticket. The pre-sale (with discounted prices) was on January 28. Regular prices on February 4

“I’m going to Tomorrowland” sang in my heart.

I was all set at 5:00 pm on the 28th. I entered the ticket shop beforehand and then the process was random. I lounged on the sofa while staring at my Samsung screen. I waited. Eventually a sign showed up saying that all the discount tickets were sold. Come back next week.

(Sigh)

On Saturday I was ready again. Surely they’ll be many thousands of tickets this time. Bruce and Boom sounded so good.

When I entered the ticket shop before 5:00, a sign told me not to refresh the page or I’d be shunted to the end of the line.

“I’m a smart guy. I can do that.”

5:05 … 5:10. Nothing. I got up to do something, phone in hand. My time in history was approaching!

As I sat down again, I glanced down at the screen. It was the Tomorrowland home page. I guess my jiggling and wiggling had refreshed the page.

“You, Mr. Bruce, are at the end of the line.”

(Sigh again)

The end of the story is that I’m not going to Tomorrowland in 2023.

What I am going to is a smaller EDM festival – Core, which will be for two days in late May in Brussels. What the hell! I’m going to dance with a few thousand fewer of my best friends.

Give me the dance, the lights, the bass notes roaming through my body. I’ll take Brussels, thank you.

Someone Is Smiling On Me

I knew Friday would be a big day. It was time to register with the city of Ghent. My visa to live in Belgium was approved four weeks ago, while I was in Canada. The Belgian Consulate in Montreal attached my brand new visa to the passport and mailed it back to me in Toronto. After I landed in Brussels last Saturday, the rule was that I had eight days to register with Ghent. I tried on Wednesday but the Ghent Administration Office was closed until Friday because they were moving to a new building.

Okay, those are the details. On Friday, I put all the originals of the necessary documents in my little backpack and started walking to Woodrow Wilsonplein, the square in Ghent where the office is. Momentous. Changing countries. New city. New home.

I took a number and after twenty minutes walked up to a friendly service representative. All that happened was that I was given an appointment for February 21. The cool thing was how welcoming she was. And making the appointment was good enough to fulfill my eight-day responsibility.

There was a skip in my step as I wandered away from the office. Soon I was beside the Leie River, and a row of blue metal chairs invited me to take a load off … to celebrate. So I did. My mind was as airy as the seagulls flying by. I watched two guys on the far shore having an animated conversation. The tram whizzed by on the nearby Veldstraat. I love the ring of its bell. Folks filled the street.

I was a smiley type of guy. All was well. Why not mosey over to one of my favourite pubs – Café de Loge – for a thrilling Belgian beer? Why not indeed? I raised my bod from the chair and headed off down a marvelous curving street full of buildings that are 200-300 years old. I felt LIGHT!

Wait a minute – a little too light. I reached behind for the backpack strap … and it was not to be found. I uttered a well-known expletive and whirled around. Passport, visa, originals of essential documents – O my God, please may they be there! Around one corner, now two. The third one would give me a view of those blue chairs. I had put my backpack on the ground beside the rightmost one.

The corner of the last building, and then revealed was my backpack, sitting on top of the chair. O my God again! Somebody moved it. As my legs sped up my feet, and I was only metres away, there stood a young man. I pointed to my chest. He nodded … and smiled.

“I hoped you’d come back.” Me too. “I didn’t look inside. You’re very lucky.” Agreed.

We talked for a few minutes, after I had ripped open the pack and found everything intact. He was a nice guy, a really nice guy.

Thank you, whoever is watching over me in life. (Sigh) I am blessed.

Perhaps Dancing Is In Order

First things first: I now live in Ghent, Belgium. Still a Canadian citizen but a Belgian resident. I’ll have much more to say about this … soon.

This building is in Ghent centrum (downtown). These folks spark something in me – an urge to move. Isn’t that what we human beings are meant to do? Running, skipping, sauntering, meandering, jumping, rolling – you get the idea.

I look at these folks up high and wonder. Maybe we’re meant to be upside down. To flow outwards as we wave our funky hats. To be silly. The best dancing for me is just to throw everything around and see what happens. The legs twitch and wobble. The arms head out on unknown voyages. The head tilts and rotates. I bet the ears even wiggle!

Usually we sit so nicely, unblissfully unaware of the rhythms that life offers. So often we are bordered and confined. Not the elevated dancers of Ghent! They know how to explode.

Beginning or Responding

It’s been sixteen months since I’ve tapped on these keys. Back then, I decided that virtually no one was reading my stuff … so why bother? A diary doesn’t interest me. Touching other people’s lives does.

So here I am. My logical mind says that even if I start up again, still nobody will read and ponder and respond. For all I know, my WordPress and Facebook posts have contributed to many lives. I just don’t see the evidence.

What if I create without expecting anything to come back? How’s that for a concept? I’ll simply begin – lately from scratch. I’ll simply pour out my mind and heart, trusting that the world will be a wee bit better because of it.

What if all that matters is what we fling out into life? What if the returning energy is not important? Yes, my mind says yes to the good responses: appreciation, respect and love. Is it that weird to keep on truckin’ when boredom, disdain and distance show up? No, it’s not.

I think I’ll sit here at my laptop a few days a week and see what bubbles up from my heart. Bruceness will emerge in its variety of expressions.

It’s time for the new.

Light Arrives

There was an old Hassidic rabbi who was asked by his students …

“There are special prayers we’re supposed to make just as the day begins.  But how can we know the moment of dawn when we’re supposed to make these prayers?”

“Is it when you can see a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s an olive tree or a plum tree?”

“No,” he said.

“Is it when you can see an animal on the hillside and know whether it’s a sheep or a goat or a dog?”

“No,” he said.

“Is it when you can begin to discern the lines on your hand?  Then you know the day has begun.”

He said “no”.

“It’s not until you can see any person walk toward you and know that this is your brother or your sister that the day has begun, and until then it’s still dark.”

***

What will open the eyelids of the heart?  What will show us the endless vista covering the world?  What will ask us to sigh into the moment, again and again?

Love, my friend

Humming Through the Day

Not knowing anything, not even a wee bit
How’s that for a place to start?
Emptied of all that’s important
Happily ignorant of the worldly things
Lost when faced with polite conversation
Lost in the battle that so easily arrives

No home in the rapid, or the well planned
Not knowing what to say when
You flood me with right/wrong
“I have this toy, far better than yours”
Echoes in the ether, sounding silly

There must be another way

I stand in the silence that’s shining
Wavering sweetly in the nightly breeze
Passing right through the solid and dark
Feeling around inside the mist

Come join me on a journey that whispers
Come laugh with me as we stumble and fall
I like what I see in you
I’m refreshed by your smell
Let’s wander, meander and generally skip
I can’t think of a better day

Guiltless

A few years ago, I was generous with a friend who wanted to open a restaurant in London, Ontario.  Tonight I sat in that restaurant as a guest of him and his wife.  Their attitude seems clear: “You’ll never pay for a meal here.”

As couples came in for dinner, I listened to their conversations blending.  It was a symphony of sounds and smiles.  The dream had come true, and my friend was grateful.  So … I had a delicious vegetarian pizza, a generous slice of Turtle cheesecake and two beer.  Just a bit too full at the end, and very happy.

I felt twinges of guilt in accepting a free meal but they soon floated away.  The gift I gave tonight was enjoying conversation with my friends and smiling as the food entered me.  The gift was received.  My willingness to not pay was received.  My friends were also allowed to give.

Also a few years ago, I wanted to go to the entire Rogers Cup tennis tournament in Toronto – nine days of inspired matches between the best women players in the world.  I bought a VIP package, with perks such as free parking and access to an air-conditioned lounge with comfy couches.  I got to go places and do things that most spectators couldn’t.  Then too I felt the prodding of guilt.  That time the floating away took longer than tonight but it also chose to leave.  Happy then and happy now.

I’m no better than the next person.  Still, when benefits come my way I choose to embrace them.  I’m not turning my back on a lovely part of life.  I’m here to experience the whole tapestry.

Four Hours of Meditating

I woke up this morning and realized I didn’t even have to leave the house.  I had three meetings on Zoom, spaced with a few hours between each one.  “Why don’t I do something radical?  Why don’t I meditate for a very long time?”  So I did.

A good writer tunes into the audience before setting fingers to keys.  I don’t know how to do that concerning meditation.  You may never have meditated.  You may have dabbled, sitting quietly for five or ten minutes.  You may have meditated longer than my eleven years.  If you’re a meditator, you may choose to focus on some object, such as the breath.  You may listen to CDs as you sit – guided meditation.  Or you may be there in silence, like me.

I want to describe my experiences of the day.  They may sound awfully strange.  Oh well.  Maybe I’m doing this for me, and not for you.  I don’t know … but here goes:

As I initially close my eyes, cozy in my bedroom chair, the mind chatters away.  Normal.  Gradually the thoughts slow down.  There are spaces between them.  When the spaces get bigger than the thoughts, I turn my attention to the flow of energy.  Virtually always at the beginning, there is a pulsing behind my eyes.  It’s “loud” and then it gradually softens, quiet like the pulse in my wrist, but definitely there.  This is the intro to something else.

In the spirit of competing with myself (decidedly non-meditative!), I’ve become curious about how long it takes each time for the pulsing to disappear.  When it does, there is an unbroken flow behind my eyes.  It’s like my eyes get bigger and softer inside my head.  Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the distinction between “almost there” and “there”.  A little smile appears when I know I’m “gone”.  Actually that word isn’t entirely accurate.  I am inside of something sweet, something airy, and yet I’m fully aware of my surroundings.  On the rare occasions when someone interrupts me when I’m “elsewhere”, it’s no big deal.  I say hi.  Nothing is lost.

Today there were three sessions: an hour, an hour-and-a-half, and another hour-and-a-half.  Each time, at the moment when the pulsing subsided, I looked at my watch.  I was gone in 23 minutes, 11 minutes and 16 minutes.  There’s no goodness or badness to it.  It’s just so.  Each time, there was a brief appearance of a pulse behind my eyes, and within a minute it faded away.

I had a Zoom meeting after the first meditation, and another after the second.  Although I probably looked and sounded normal to the participants, I was spacious, light and full of chuckles.  Nothing seemed important.  I flowed along.

Towards the end of the second meditation, my back started hurting and I was hungry.  Strangely and wonderfully, those experiences were not accompanied by a return of the pulsing.  It remained a flat flow.  I was surprised, and even that reaction didn’t disturb the everything/nothing feel that was here.  For a time, I had thoughts of going on another meditation retreat (which I’m doing in April).  I even felt my beloved driving route through rural New York and Massachusetts, remembering little towns, and still the quiet stillness, and the unending flow, were there.

During the third meditation, I thought of someone I love very much.  I started crying.  No disturbance in the Force.  I was fascinated.  At ninety minutes, my watch alarm went off and I was flooded with the sense of timelessness, a lovely disorientation.

So that was my day, with one more meeting to come.  I don’t have any conclusions about the four hours.  They were here and now they’re gone.  And I know there’s an open heart ready to meet folks on Zoom.