All Beings Near and Far

In metta, or lovingkindness meditation, I wish wellness for myself and other beings.  Here are the forms of the Buddha’s phrases that I use:

May you be free from danger
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease

But who is the “you” of which I speak?  The Buddha suggested several pairings of people, and the one that resonates most deeply with me is “all beings near and far”.

Among the human beings whom I know and love, most are close by – in the London area.  Of those, some I see a lot, some rarely.  Even if they don’t come within my sight for weeks on end, I know they’re nearby.  And that comforts me.

Some of my loved ones are far away … Alberta, Connecticut, Nova Scotia, … But still they are near.  They truly live in my heart, and I carry that fine organ around with me every day.  Physical proximity is merely a part of communion, and totally optional.

Some beings whom I love are dead in this reality but still so intensely real to me.  Friends, mentors, family – all still companions on the way.

And what is far?  I guess that’s folks whom I’ve never met, whether they live around the block or around the globe.  I have no sense of them as individuals.  And yet how could they possibly be different in essence from those whose lives I’ve shared?  Do I somehow know them?

Readers from 35 countries have tuned in to my WordPress blog.  Places that are indeed foreign to me, such as Uruguay, the Philippines and Russia.  But the folks who have read my words are certainly not foreign.  I do know them. And they know me. It’s just not important that we’ll likely never meet in this lifetime.

Hey, maybe you’re all near to me.  I think so.  And I wish you well.

Feeling Flat

I’ve ridden a road bike for years.  You know, the ones with skinny tires that go zoom on asphalt and go splat on gravel.  I’ve always been a slow rider but friends and colleagues don’t know that. They think of me as a cyclist/athlete.

They also don’t know that I’ve never really figured out how to change a flat tire.  Two days ago, I felt ta-pocketa’s back tire before heading out on the roads … and it was indeed flat.  (Fear)  With a moderate lack of intelligence, I pumped up the tire to 110 psi and took off.  I told myself that there was an intersection about a kilometre away and I’d stop there and check the pressure again. Which I did.  Soft.  Amazed at my avoidance of reality, I turned around and went home.  (I’ll fix it tomorrow)

Tomorrow came and went and I stayed away from my bicycle. (Fear)

This afternoon, I reasoned that if I didn’t handle my distress about this, I’d turn into an indoor-type guy.  So I sidled up to ta-pocketa and felt her rear tire.  Flat.  (I don’t know what to do)

Tire levers.  Find the little plastic things that pry the tire off the rim.  Check. Dig into the bike box and grab a new inner tube.  Check.  (I don’t know what to do, and I should know what to do)

I did remember to put on nitrile gloves so my hands wouldn’t get gooped with oil when taking the rear wheel off.  (Maybe I’m an okay person after all) Fumbled around for ten minutes trying to extricate the wheel from ta-pocketa.  (Why can’t you remember this stuff?)  Finally done.

I grappled and groaned with the levers until the tire was off the rim, exposing the inner tube.  (Surely you didn’t have to take the tire completely off the rim.  Aren’t you just supposed to peel one side all the way around? Geez – what would a real cyclist think of you?)

Used my floor pump to inflate the inner tube.  (I can’t find any leak.  There should be a leak)  Remembered a friend telling me to submerge the tube in water and look for bubbles.  (You shouldn’t have to rely on a friend for basic information like that)  Bubbles.  Definitely a tiny leak.

I inserted the valve stem of a new inner tube into the rim and tried to reattach the tire, cramming the tube inside.  (This can’t be right.  What are you forgetting?  And why are you so stupid?)

Now half an hour into the job and about a century away from completion. (Pushing blindly ahead doesn’t work.  Do something different)  So I went back inside and watched two YouTube videos on the subject.  (Okay, that was a pretty good idea)

“Make sure you inflate the new inner tube a little, until it’s round.  Makes it easier to work with.”  (Oh)  “When you’re seating the tire back on the rim, start at the valve stem, pushing with your thumbs all the way around, using the lever at the end if the last section is really tight.”  (Oh.  You should already know this stuff, Bruce)

Fifteen minutes later … done.  (Really?  I did that?)  Lifted the derailleur just so and lowered the wheel into its slots, except that it wouldn’t go all the way in.  (Now what did you miss?)  Removed the wheel from the bike and took a look at how the tire was sitting on the rim.  There was a bulge right near the valve stem.  (Are you blind or what?)  Used the lever to take one side of the tire off the rim.  Took the inner tube right out.  Reinflated it a bit.  Stuck it back in with more care than before.  Started pressing with my thumbs to reseat the tire, this time starting at the valve stem.  Slowly.  Reassessed after a few inches.  No bulge.  Tire firmly seated all around the rim.  Pumped it up. Still good.  Delicately replaced it on ta-pocketa.  Really done.  (What a good boy am I)


Okay, this constant self-evaluation is exhausting.  For one thing, it creates far too many brackets in print.  What the heck happened to my Buddhism, my equanimity, my lovingkindness directed within?  I don’t know.  Guess they got lost along the way.



Seeing beauty in a flower could awaken humans, however briefly, to the beauty that is an essential part of their own innermost being, their true nature … Flowers would become for us an expression in form of that which is most high, most sacred, and ultimately formless within ourselves.  Flowers, more fleeting, more ethereal, and more delicate than the plants out of which they emerged, would become like messengers from another realm, like a bridge between the world of physical forms and the formless.  They not only had a scent that was delicate and pleasing to humans, but also brought a fragrance from the realm of spirit.

So well said.

A lovely pink orchid sits on the computer desk facing Jody’s bed. Its stem arches in a question mark and the blossom bows to the earth.  It’s a blossom whose time is nearly done but it has given us joy for months.  Soon it will fall, in its own time.

In the mountains of long ago, three flowers beckoned me.  When I arrived in Waterton Lakes National Park each June, the meadows glistened with beargrass.  Tall stalks supported a glorious head of countless tiny white flowers.  They waved in the wind, greeting me as I emerged from the woods.

In Rowe Meadow, as the snows receded, glacier lilies popped through the drifts.  Like Jody’s lily, these precious yellow beings lowered their petals toward the ground.

Later in the summer, on the ridge of Mount Lineham, I found tiny clumps of alpine forget-me-nots.  Only a couple of inches high, these blue ones beckoned me to kneel down and gaze into the centre of it all … some hearts of yellow, some pink.

Now, as winter approaches, blooms are still with me.  I have a program called “Flower” on my PlayStation 3.  Closed buds open graciously as I swoop the controller low over the land.  And I am happy.

White Mist

It’s late afternoon and I’m sitting in Jody’s room, watching her sleep.  Her breathing is slow and gentle.  The overhead lamp is off.  It’s a rainy day and soft light is coming through the window.  Quiet.

There’s another kind of breathing as well.  Yesterday I bought a small humidifier, since the house has been dry and Jody’s had a few nosebleeds. And there it sits on our computer desk, in all its white glory.  A fine mist is being propelled upwards, backlit by the outdoors.  The mist rises for about two feet and then seems to fall over itself as it drops to the sides.  Wisps dance on the edges and then reach down to cover the humidifier and the orchid beside.  All done with grace and a very low hum.

Is my life in that mist somewhere?  Jet-propelled at first, two bursts of fog out of the device’s top.  I’ve been there.  All piss and vinegar, pushing to have Bruceness take the world by storm.  Much later reaching up, hands afloat, sensing some vastness beyond the physical.  But starting to see that a formless nirvana is not for me.  I’m not on our planet to graduate from this place to one of eternal peace.  So now falling back to earth, letting my coolness land where it may, watering the realm of form where I can.

Just a humidifier, perhaps.  A way to stop nosebleeds.  But also a tool for breathing easy with you.

There’s a Lot In-Store

I was out doing errands this afternoon and two of the stores I visited hit me hard.  Jody needed a small piece of foam to provide cushioning between sores on her chin and chest.  Our VON nurse Henry suggested the dollar store.  So I walked into Dollar Tree shortly after noon.  It had been years since I’d been in such a place and I was eager to see what’s what.

The overhead lights were really bright.  Oh well.  Lots of stores are like that. Then I started down an aisle.  I intended to scan all the offerings on either side, looking for foam or sponge or something that would give my dear wife relief.  Instead I stopped halfway down.  I felt assaulted by neon bags everywhere, hanging on hooks to a height of seven feet or so, screaming their brilliant rainbow selves at me.  I expelled some air in a ghastly cloud of revulsion.  And any spiritual energy that was bubbling inside me leaked out too.

Shoulders slumped and soul depleted, I wandered down corridor after corridor, trying to see what was in those bags.  Eventually, eight sponges of the genus red, blue and yellow drew my eye, if nothing else.  “That’ll do,” I muttered.  And $1.25 plus tax later, I escaped.  Exhausted.

“Just a little sensitive are you, big boy?” a voice inside intoned. Well, I guess I am.

Farther along on my travels, I needed to go to OK Tire to have Scarlet’s lugnuts tightened after the switch to winter tires a couple of days ago.  I opened the door onto a lower light situation.  No shouting bags, just some tire posters plus a few stackable chairs beside a serviceable coffee table.  But then there was Brian standing behind the counter.  A huge smile lit his face, and it got even bigger when I shared “I’m here to have my nuts tightened.”

I first came into OK Tire a few months ago, with a nail problem. Brian greeted me like royalty.  Glad to see me, whether the bill ended up being $20.00 or 980.  Brian is just folks.  I had been a Costco Tire Centre customer up until then, and those service reps were fine, but none of them shone like Brian does.  It is so worth it to me to spend maybe 10% more at OK, as long as I get Brian’s chuckles and soul.

Sort of a yin and yang afternoon.  There’s certainly a place for both shops, but only one feels like home.

An Inside Job

I wonder what we look like on the inside.  I’ve turned the pages of anatomy textbooks and seen the jumble of muscle, blood vessels, organs and bone, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

If Spirit fills us all, it’s often not visible to the outside world. With many people, however, it does leak out into the atmosphere some.  But you have to be an alert observer to see it walking by you on the street.

Let’s say most of Spirit hangs out inside us somewhere.  Would it be in the brain, in the heart, tucked under my kneecap, or just spread liberally throughout the bod?  I wonder if an autopsy has ever come across patches of essence.

For the pathologist to catch sight of Spirit, it had better be some colour. How about red?  (That’s my favourite.)  Might get confusing, however, with all the blood that’s usually in the immediate vicinity.  Isn’t purple a common New Age colour? Perhaps that’s it.  Or … maybe you could reach under the spleen and find a pocket of rainbow – the full spectrum blended together, from Red to Orange to Yellow to Green to Blue to Indigo to Violet.  Maybe that’s how Spirit abides. And another thought: Is it possible that it can only be found in one human being on Earth – a certain Roy G. Biv?  No, that’s silly. Spirit is in all of us.

I also wonder whether the light of Spirit vibrates inside of me, or flashes, or if it’s a steady beam.  Relying on my knowledge of Christmas lights, I vote for steady.  The flashing types bother my brain, while a string of solid white lights looks so pretty in the falling snow.

These could be deep thoughts, or maybe shallow.  Whichever the case, please don’t go cutting into yourself to find the colours. Makes a mess and it hurts. Far better to let your pores shine out your goodness to the waiting world.

Standing On Guard For Thee

On Wednesday, a terrorist killed a soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and then walked into Canada’s Houses of Parliament. He engaged in a shooting battle with security guards and was killed while standing only one door away from federal politicians.

Kevin Vickers is the person responsible for order in the House of Commons. He wears ceremonial robes and carries a large golden sceptre into the Commons as proceedings begin.  Many people see his role as a symbol of the past, as an example of unnecessary ritual.  Kevin shot and killed the intruder.

What should a good person do when faced with evil?  What would I have done?  “Thou shalt not kill.”  “Do not harm any living being.”  The calls of Christianity and Buddhism are clear.  And yet …

Kevin is a good man.  As his niece Erin expresses it, “He’s a thoughtful and considerate person.  He’s halfway to a saint in my opinion.  He’s a very capable human being.”  Clearly.  And he had never shot anyone before Wednesday.

I like to think that I would have shot that man as well.  That, in order to save the lives of others, I would have been willing to live the rest of my life knowing that I had killed.  And willing to grapple with the daily emotional pain.

I see sporadically that I’m on the planet not to become a better person, not to accumulate experiences, not to be smart and witty and rich.  I am here to serve and love.


I’ve often thought about how people hold their heads.  I don’t mean with their hands.  I mean the angle … as in centred, slightly left or slightly right. Also, looking down, looking up and looking with the head level.

I enjoy being centred in life, squared up.  Same thing with my gaze.  There’s power, I believe, in looking right at the person I’m with, the line of my shoulders forming a right angle with the direction my head is pointing.  A little one way or the other seems to lessen the contact.  And I want each moment I’m with another human being to hold the possibility of contributing to them.  Naturally my intention, my attitude, my words and my tone of voice are important, but I also sense that my alignment makes a difference.

And then there’s down, up and level.  As I was driving today, I passed a young woman walking with purpose, head down in mid-text.  She seemed so tight and contorted.  There was no flow.  But sometimes head down can be a blessing.  On meditation retreats, we walk with our heads down as a way to centre ourselves.  We’re asked not to make eye contact with other yogis. This is not to be distant, but to allow each person their space.  Even without eye contact, or touching, there’s lots of caring transmitted from retreatant to retreatant.

As for eyes up, that can show devotion or wonder.  “I lift mine eyes unto the hills”, lift them not only to the beauty of nature but also to the best in us, to whatever we experience God to be.  I remember as a kid sitting on the crumbling cement porch of my grandpa’s farmhouse, listening to him tell stories from his favourite chair.  He’d talk and smoke his cigar, and the people would come alive in me.  Devotion.

My favourite is to look at someone on the level.  Person to person, neither one better or worse, two people making meaning together.  As a teacher of many young kids, I’d usually kneel down as we talked, so that we could be eye-to-eye.  That felt good.  Whether with a child or with someone older than me, the meeting of the eyes, especially if we linger, is lovely. Communion.

To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven



First of all, I think of food and drink.  I just don’t want as much as I used to. And it’s not that I’m trying to lose weight.  I just like the semi-empty feeling.  It’s soft inside my body, and spacious.  My stomach just sits there, instead of pressing against my pants.

I have a long history of “more” in the arena of nourishment.  My former wife Rita and I regularly went with her parents to Erickson’s Family Restaurant in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Just about every time, I’d eat so much, usually prime rib or steak.  And after an overflowing sweet dessert, I’d invariably undo my belt and the button of my pants (discreetly, of course, under the tablecloth). Today I’m shocked that I found this normal back in the 1970s.

Up until a couple of years ago, Jody and I would go out most Friday nights to Longhorn’s, a roadhouse in St. Thomas.  And more of the invariably – I’d down 30 ounces of beer, then feel horribly bloated, and then fall asleep at home within an hour of our arrival.  Normal all right – normally vacant in the head.

And it’s not just food.  I want less noise.  I want less speed (and I used to love playing the video game “Need For Speed”).  I want less TV.  I want fewer clothes.  I want less small talk.  And it seems that I want less talk of any kind, even discussions of spirituality.  More and more, I want to be silent – still very much with people – but quiet.

But then I also joke around a lot with folks, including strangers.  I don’t want less of that … I guess … Gosh, I’m just not understanding myself very well right now.  But wait a minute – maybe I want less of that too.  Understanding stuff, exploring the mind of reason, having an opinion.

I truly wonder what type of human being I’m becoming.



In meditation, picture someone you know and love who is going through much suffering – an illness, a loss, depression, pain, anxiety, fear.  As you breathe in, imagine all of that person’s suffering – in the form of dark, black, smokelike, tarlike, thick and heavy clouds – entering your nostrils and travelling down into your heart.  Hold that suffering in your heart.  Then, on the outbreath, take all of your peace, freedom, health, goodness and virtue, and send it out to the person in the form of healing, liberating light.  Imagine they take it all in, and feel completely free, released and happy.  Do that for several breaths.  Then imagine the town that person is in, and on the inbreath take in all of the suffering of that town, and send back all of your health and happiness to everyone in it.  Then do that for the entire country, the entire planet, the universe.  You are taking in all the suffering of beings everywhere and sending them back health and happiness and virtue.

It sounds so masochistic, doesn’t it?  This practice of tonglen.  Drawing in smoke and tar through the nostrils and sucking it into your heart?  Who would ever do such a thing?  Is it a form of insanity, an expression of a consciousness that is “less than” what our society says is normal?  Or could it possibly reflect someone who has largely let go of “I, me and mine”, someone  who has come to define themselves in a broader way, to love more expansively?  I think the latter.

I’ve had my glimpses of tonglen when faced with the suffering of a person, a group, or the world.  I’ve let it emerge, be a part of me, but then it goes away so quickly.  What then do I do?  Let the word disappear from my vocabulary, or start again, breathing in people’s pain in this moment, and the next, … ?   I think the latter.

It feels like the process of letting go of thoughts when I’m meditating.  First they come rapid-fire, then later a little less frequently.  But they always return.  More and more, I look at a thought’s arrival, smile, say hello, and begin again.

So I choose to embark on another experiment.  I will “be with” the newspaper headlines, such as the ebola crisis in Africa, and I will breathe in the agony of thousands, perhaps millions as it unfolds.  Then I will send them love.  Same for Jody.  Same for the folks I encounter on the streets of London.  Same for me.  Perhaps my heart is big enough to hold it all.