Flat and Distant

For those of you who read my post yesterday, I got six hours sleep last night – just what I had hoped for after cutting back on sleeping pills on Saturday.  Still, my mind has been cloudy most of the day.  Guess you could say that I’ve been experiencing a different level of consciousness while getting a clear picture of what I’m all about in life.

Lots of errands for Jody in the car.  I’ve been listening to Stephen King’s Insomnia while motoring along.  Great book, but not today.  I’ve loved the elderly hero Ralph Roberts, but this morning I didn’t care about him.  Ouch.  Down somewhere among my functioning brain cells, I knew that I care deeply about other human beings.  But I just couldn’t cope with Ralph.  During my glimmers of alertness, I was shocked.  “Not me!  Not me!”  Except that it was.  And how arid that felt.  How could I possibly stay sane if this was my daily grind?

One of my early stops was at “Canada’s Finest Coffee” in London, to pick up some Keurig K-cups.  I got out of Hugo and was walking to the store when along came a woman.  I virtually always say “Hi” at these moments, and there’s no effort to do so.  It’s just like rolling off a log.  But as she got closer, I had to push myself with all my might to meet her eyes, smile, and say hello.  And push I did.  I just couldn’t look the other way and pass on by.  So … that’s good.  But what must it be like if that’s what you do minute by minute and day by day?  It’s horrifying to think about what that does to a person.

Inside the store, I was talking to an employee named Holly about different coffees that were on the Keurig website.  Another monumental effort.  I mentioned that Jody was sick and we talked some about cancer, which has touched both of us.  But I wasn’t there.  It was just a blur of words coming out of me that hopefully made some sense.  Where, o where, was my commitment to “be with” people?  Some place where I wasn’t.

Then on to Costco (awfully tired of Ralph en route), where I know a lot of the staff members and demonstrators.  I usually love the banter.  But today, I just wanted to stay away from people.  No visit to to the Vision Centre, nor to Customer Service.  I picked a cashier that I didn’t know, and was the basic transaction-oriented customer.  How yucky.

Finally on my journey of dimness, I walked into the Real Canadian SuperStore to buy just one item: silver polish.  As I was about to plunk the little can down on the express conveyor belt, the darkness lifted.  I had me back.  So I placed my Silvo beside the groceries of the fellow in front, and said to him, “Do you mind if I put my silver polish here when you’re not looking?”  He laughed.  The cashier laughed.  I thanked God.

I can’t live like that morning guy.  It hurts too much.


I’ve used pills to get to sleep, and to stay asleep, for many years.  I may see myself as a nice little Buddhist guy, so majorly peaceful, but the truth is that I haven’t known how to handle the stresses of teaching.  I taught visually impaired kids until my recent retirement, usually going to about twenty schools a year on a regular basis.  Some days were golden, and some were not.

I worried so much that I didn’t know enough about eye conditions, and how to assess a particular child.  I struggled with a “To Do”list that never seemed to fall below 100 items.  I did my best to deal with the wide variety of personalities that came my way in the school system.  And I didn’t sleep very well.

So it’s been a regime of Trazodone (1) and Lorazepam (2) for many moons.  Even with the meds, there were some Sunday nights when I didn’t sleep at all.  Such overwhelming fear.  For part of the time when Jody was in the hospital in February and March, it took three Lorazepam for me to get five or six hours.

My spiritual life and my drug consumption tossed me back and forth in the wind.  “Should’s” abounded.  Really evolved human beings wouldn’t need all those pills.  But the more I’ve thought about it, the intense focus and the multitasking required in so many careers is just unnatural.  Society says “X” but my heart and body say “Y”.  And “Project Pension” has seemed so essential.  I really think that the insomnia of the last decade is not about any deficiency in me.  I bought into the context of achievement, of comparison with others, of the importance of knowing stuff.

As of June 19, my employment life is over.  So I took a step last night: one Trazodone and just one Lorazepam.  And the result, ladies and gentlemen, was four hours of sleep, plus a daytime dullness that’s worlds away from the mindfulness I treasure.  I wonder if you can see that dullness in these paragraphs.  Maybe I’m good at hiding it or maybe it’s clear as day.

I don’t want to live this way, not being present to the enchanting moments of life.  I guess, though, that I need to pass through days like this on my journey to pilllessness.

What I want is to be a large contribution to the people in my life, to be a beacon of love and presence.  And without the ego of “Look at me”.  So I travel on.

How about six hours tonight?


Actually, Speedo plural.  I own seven of them, one of which I wore today. Pauline,  our personal support worker, and I took Jody to the Port Stanley beach – a couple of miles of white sand looking out on Erie Ocean.  So named because I can’t see Pennsylvania (or is it Ohio?) on the far side.

Some ingenious man or woman invented the beach wheelchair, a comfy contraption with huge balloon tires that make rolling across sand a snap. The Port lifeguard service has one of the vehicles available for handicapped folks, and there’s no charge.  Yay for humanity!  Jody was so excited about the trip and absolutely thrilled when she got to dangle her feet in the water.

What to wear … what to wear.  One of the seven brief splashes of colour, of course -the orange and black one, as a matter of fact.  But I knew what would be coming … lots of stares, lots of guffaws among knots of more stylish humans, and general discomfort.  I’ve never understood – women in string bikinis revealing plenty of cheek, and men with trunks that almost reach the knee.  Doesn’t seem fair.

With the beach umbrella  and chairs set up, and Jody all set for the water, it was time to take off my t-shirt and shorts.  Gulp.  An aching fear coursed through me.  Why should I be so afraid of a hundred eyes turning my way?  Well, it doesn’t matter why, I just was.  And so what?  A healthy dose of fear, that’s all.  Good for the soul.  So off came the outers.  And somehow the gods of proper attire did not strike me dead.

Revealed in all my glory, I watched the fear roam around inside.  It was really hot today, so I suppose I was sweating already.  I listened to my breath and it took maybe five minutes for it to settle down.  Then Pauline and I brought Jody to the lapping waves.  With the wheels soon underwater, I was behind Jody widening my stance and gripping the handlebars tight to prevent her from tipping.  “Okay, Bruce.  Now your total backside, complete with whatever muscle definition you can muster, is on display for the towel and umbrella set.”  Happily, no one tapped me on the shoulder, to hand out a ticket for unlawful use of a Speedo.

Several times during our shore sojourn, when Jody was back on the sand, I walked around, once to fetch a kid’s hat that a mom had dropped, and once to put garbage in the big can, 50 feet way, just to see if I would have a heart attack or something.  Nope to the cardiac emergency.  Eventually, we returned to the car, with all my body parts intact.  What a roller coaster.

By the way, is your mind as strange as mine?

How Am I Doing?

I love riding my bicycle but I haven’t done it regularly for at least eight months.  Today was my third time out this week.  I was finally strong enough to do my time trial route – out and back on the ups and downs of Fruit Ridge Line.  It was the 86th time I’ve completed the ride.

I love the farmers’ fields, the woodlots, the horses to the left and then to the right.  I know every kilometre by heart.  But being in the beauty of the moment – feeling my legs, feeling my breathing, feeling my old friend and bike Ta-pocketa beneath me – often fritters away.  I can get pretty stuck in stats.

My fastest time ever was 54:34 on September 29, 2004.  Today was 1:06:29.  And I leaned towards badness in my mind.  “That’s my eighth worst time.”  Not important.  “I should be faster.”  Not important.  “Most cyclists could do the route far quicker than me.”  Not important.

“I averaged 21.7 kph a couple of days ago.  I should have done better than that today.”  Not important.  “Burning 750 calories an hour is a really good fitness standard, and I didn’t reach that.”  Not important.  “My average heart rate was 145 beats per minute – that’s too much effort.”  Not important.  “This was my 86th time trial ride.  I have to make 100.”  Not, not , not.

What happens to the essence of me within all those facts and figures?  It gets hidden.  I spend too much time looking down at the cycle computer on my handlebar  and not enough time taking the long view … Fruit Ridge flowing up and down, the rows of apple trees, the bird boxes on stilts in the pond … the green and yellow and blue.

Can I let go of self-assessment on the bike, and just be there?  I don’t know.  I don’t think statistics are bad, but I need to change something.  How about putting the computer on my wrist and only looking at the numbers when the ride is over?  Yes, that would work.  The world is there to be seen.  And see it I will on Sunday.

Maybe someday, I’ll just leave the darn old computer sitting on my chest-of-drawers.  And never put it on Ta-pocketa again.  Wouldn’t that be an ultimate letting go?  No attachment.  No more, better and different.  No sense of me and mine.





I often wake up scared.  It’s usually about items on my “to do” list that have remained undone for some time.  Last July, I hit my head on the floor during a yoga session at a meditation retreat in Massachusetts.  Huge pain in my neck, and soon I couldn’t turn my head.  I thought of stories I’d heard of Canadians incurring big bills in the States after seeking medical help.  So I just lay down on my bed.  After ten minutes of that, it was clear that I needed to see a doctor.  So I found the retreatant support staff member, and she drove me to Athol Memorial Hospital.  Two hours later, after X-rays and anti-inflammatory medication, we were heading back to the retreat centre.  The pain and stiffness continued for the next couple of days.

Back home in Union, I waited for the fateful bill.  A month later, the letter said I owed the hospital $1261.55 US.  Ouch.  So began weeks of correspondence with the hospital; with the Ministry of Health in Ontario; with Green Shield, my extended health provider; with Manulife, Jody’s provider; and with my school board.  In October, Jody got sick.  All I had accomplished concerning the claim was a cheque for $65.00 from the Government of Ontario.  My life beyond Jody went on hold.

My waking terror has often had a name attached to it: “Athol”.  Some days, I’ve let the fear overwhelm me with shakes and sweat.  Occasionally though, even in the midst of it all, I’ve heard the word “this” come out of me.   As opposed to “that”.  Over the years, I’ve used “this” as a code, telling me to listen inside to whatever is happening right now and to accept it totally.  It doesn’t mean that if something is difficult for me that I won’t work in the future to change it.  But the future is not now.  The cornucopia of events, people, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations is now.  What if I let all of that be what it is?  Some mornings, I have.

At those moments, it’s not that I suddenly turn all happy and peaceful.  No, the $1261.55 is still coursing through my body.  I still sweat.  But something has changed.  It’s as if the sea is still roiling and boiling, but way beneath the waves is a light.  I’m gasping for air on the surface, but I do see that light.  It bathes the moment with a golden sheen.  And somehow life is all right.  No deficit.  No yearning for “not this”.  Within the sweat … no sweat.

And then it’s gone.  “This” has become “that”, wanting it all to be different.  It’s okay, though.  “This” is just a visitor, but I know it will be back.

The Woman and the Bee

My wife Jody has been sick for many months and only recently have we been getting out into the community.  Today there was an extra special reason to go – our 26th anniversary.  Neither of us had got a card for our loved one, so a trip to Shoppers Drug Mart was in order.  Linda, Jody’s personal support worker, and I assisted her from her wheelchair into Hugo, our Honda CRV.  And then back into the wheelchair a few minutes later for a stroll down the card aisle, not to mention the glory of cosmetics.  Linda put her body between Jody and me to block any chance of me seeing the choice of card.  Then, after a half hour of girl time, we were off – to wonder at hundreds of swallows zooming around Hugo on Dexter Line, right beside Lake Erie.  Finally a stop at Shaw’s, our local ice cream emporium, for the decadence of a chocolate brownie cone.  And then home.

Linda and I assisted Jody into a lounge chair on our patio.  Jody asked for pen and paper.  I was sitting right close, but she asked me to back my chair up for the privacy of inscription.  As I moved the little red chair, I looked down and saw a bee sitting on the stone and squirming some.  Maybe I had knocked it with the chair.

And there we were, pens in hands, minds creating words of love, two silences ten feet apart.  I started … but couldn’t help gazing at the bee.  It was pushing the air madly with its wings, but staying on the ground.  It sort of waddled a few inches, wings still a blur.  Guilt swept over me.  When a person is hurting, you can see the pain on their face.  But I couldn’t see the anguish on that tiny bee.  I tried to feel its hurt, and I couldn’t.  An ant came over to the bee and seemed to bite it.  A flurry of wing, then stillness.  The ant left and the bee stillness remained.

I looked over at Jody and her pen was moving, her face a study in concentration.  Back to the bee – still no movement.  Then to my writing.  Back to Jody.  Back to the bee.  After maybe three minutes, still a tiny motionless speck on the stone.  “Please don’t be dead.”

A glance over to Jody, and she was beckoning me over.  I moved my chair close and opened the envelope.  Precious words of wifely endearment rolled over me.  I kissed Jody and tasted her tears.

Jody: “You are the most wonderful man.”

Bruce: “You have loved me for so long and have always thought of me first.”

Our eyes met and met and met again.  Happy anniversary.

And the bee had flown.

Church of the Grocery Lineup

I have an odd take on the word “church”: to me it’s any place where two or more people make spiritual contact, where they connect at a selfless level.  The Real Canadian SuperStore qualifies.

Yesterday I had just a few items to pick up.  Having accumulated two tubs of cottage cheese, two plastic boxes of blueberries, six red peppers and a brick of mozzarella cheese, I took an infrequent trip down the express lane.  Piece of cake to be on my way in a minute or two.

The woman ahead of me had her twelve or fewer items spread out on the conveyor belt.  But her box of tea bags was scanning with the regular price, not the cool deal she had seen in the coffee and tea aisle.  The cashier called for help on the phone but nobody was available to answer right away.  My cuppa friend glanced at the growing line of folks and gave me a tight little smile.  “It’s okay,” I said with a grin.  “Life happens.”

Part of me wanted to turn back to the customers behind me.  I knew they were there.  I wanted to chat with them but I sensed that I would be drawn into the play of hurry and contraction.  So I didn’t rotate to face them.  The woman on pause in front of me didn’t need that.  She hadn’t done anything wrong.  She just wanted to get the right price.  She tossed a bigger smile my way and I responded in kind.  It was our shared church service.

Several minutes later, after the correct price was located (my friend’s price), and points had been recalculated,  she turned to leave.  The “Thank  you” that flowed from her mouth to my heart went down deep.

My turn.  No price worries with my bundle of goodies.  “I’m sorry for the delay, sir.”  “Not important,” I replied.  Co-smiles.  As I picked up the two bags to leave, I looked at my companions to the rear.  The four humans there all seemed calm.  One was laughing with her neighbour.  Just laughing, not laughing at.

I like being in church.



Mount Lineham: View from the Top

It was 1969, and I had just taken the train from Toronto to start work in the mountains, at Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta.  Every day off from the hotel was a hike – slopes that this Ontario kid had never experienced.  My new friend Vince and I decided one day to take the Rowe Lakes trail.  The turquoise waters of Lower and Upper Rowe Lakes beckoned.  Partway along the trail up the valley, the trees parted, and a scree slope presented itself on the right, drawing our eyes up and up to the top of Mount Lineham.  Vince and I looked at each other and knew what our next free day would be about – straight up the slope to the first mountain peak experienced by kids from Regina and Toronto.

And that’s what we did, not realizing that loose rock and gravel meant two feet up and one foot down.  So naive, and so eager.  Hour upon hour fell to our feet, and our breaks revealed the beauty of the mountain on the other side of the highway below us.  Each time we rested, that other mountain showed us its secrets – masses of evergreen yielding to scraggly pines, fields of scree, and tiny waterfalls.

Looking back up at Lineham, we wilderness virgins got to experience the “false summit” phenomenon.  What looked like the top from our angle simply wasn’t.  And it continued not to be … until …

The last hundred feet to the summit was an agonizing slog.  Breathing in loud gasps, we saw Alpine Forget-Me-Nots and orange lichen pass slowly beneath us.  And back the other way, we were just below the summit ridge of the neighbouring mountain.  I was nearly crawling, until finally the steepness lessened and lessened, till ahead we saw a plateau maybe twenty feet across.  Thirty steps to go … twenty … ten … three … and we stepped onto the top of the world.

A panorama of snow-capped peaks was suddenly all around us.  They stretched to four horizons, seas of white.

Silence from Vince.  Silence from me.  For many minutes.


In my todays, Mount Lineham remains.  Years ago, I read a description of “ah-ha” moments in a book.  The writer asked us to imagine being inside a tent, staring at the four brown walls.  Then some magical force grabs the ridgeline and hauls the canvas up and away, revealing a sublime beauty.  For me, it’s the beauty of the mountains surrounding Lineham on that sunny June day in 1969.   Whenever I want to, or really whenever I’m present enough to, the ordinary moments of my life are animated with white, and I’m welcomed to a vastness beyond words.

I Love You

Spouses and lovers holding hands on the couch, slipping into each other’s eyes.  A little girl and a little boy sitting on the asphalt, her hand over his bleeding knee.  A big slobbery dog smiling up at his master, wagging his tail wildly.  All love.  And at the deepest, I feel, no different from one another.

For me, when I love, there is a quietness in my body.  It’s like all the cells have come to a halt.  And there’s a “shimmering down” vibrating from my head southward, a little ripple of contentment.  They are feelings that often descend when I’m with my wife Jody.  But they can also show up in the classroom, on the highway, in the mall.  Sometimes I shimmer when I see kindness flowing from one human being to another.  Occasionally, I’ve felt love after reading the written word, even messages from people I’ve never met.

I’ve ended some e-mails with “I love you”, and it’s felt totally right.  Me aiming something at you.  When I’m less brave, I write “With love”.  Coming back to me, I usually see “Love” or “xoxo”.  Hardly ever “I love you”.  And that’s fine.  I bet there’s a shimmer behind the word.

I’m scared to say “I love you” in person, but on occasion I’ve girded my loins and uttered the phrase.  Why is it so hard to speak those three little words?  They’re such blessed words.  I wonder if people come my way in life who have never heard them.  I need to say them, and act in a way that expresses the love I feel.

There’s a song by John Prine called “Hello In There”.  Here’s a sample:

So if you’re walkin’ down the street sometime
And you should spot some hollow ancient eyes
Don’t you pass them by and stare
As if you didn’t care
Say “Hello in there. Hello”






Costa Rica versus Italy

In the World Cup of soccer, this is a minnow facing a salmon.  Costa Rica is ranked 28th in the world, with a population of 5,000,000.  Italy is 9th, with 61,000,000.  I wonder why I always pull for the underdog, the little guy.  I guess it’s a part of my “no one left out” vision of life.

So I want someone to win, and someone else to lose.  I get nervous when my team is behind.  Costa Rica is “me”, and Italy is certainly “not me”.  But Costa Rica doesn’t always succeed, and even if they do eventually win the match, they’re often trailing their opponent at the half.  So … I get to be unhappy a fair bit of the time.   Gosh, is that really necessary?  Isn’t there some other approach I can take to “the beautiful game”?

Maybe.  How about if I pull for the team who plays to win, rather than the one trying not to lose?  The players who push the ball up the field with long passes, who shoot first and pass second when the scoring opportunity is there, and on defence throw their foot at the opponent’s ball to knock it away, risking a penalty if that foot contacts leg first, rather than the ball.

Or … cheer for the team who really belts out their national anthem at the beginning of the game, whose fans chant and sing and jump up and down.  You know, a country that drips with passion for life.

On the other hand, maybe I don’t have to cheer for either team.  I could just drink in the essence of great plays – the hard shot that looks like it’s going wide right and then curves towards the net, only to be batted away by a horizontally leaping goaltender.  The deft flick of the head or of the outside of the foot, placing the ball softly at the feet of an onrushing teammate.  I could just cheer for wonderfulness, no matter the colour of the jersey.  And  I could stand up for games that are close all the way through, where the excellence of one team sparks the excellence of the other.  Wow … maybe I could be happy all the time during World Cup 2014.

By the way, Costa Rica won 1-0.  I’m happy.