My Meditation Retreat … Part 3

Another aspect of my day on retreat is walking meditation.  The typical plan is to take a 20-foot span of lawn or floor and walk back and forth.  I suppose that sounds pretty boring.  The yogi is not looking around and saying, “Wow, that’s a great tree!”  Instead they’re staying present with the rhythm of the footsteps and noticing the thoughts and feelings that come up.

There’s a walking room in one of the buildings.  At the far end is a large statue of the Buddha.  Many times, I’ve walked towards the Buddha, stopped in front of him, turned around and continued in the opposite direction.  I see in this a rhythm of my life: moving closer to the man’s wisdom and then turning my back on it, over and over.  This walking path is one of many examples in my life of taking something in the physical world and having it be a symbol of something larger.

Another favourite route of mine isn’t a straight line.  Rather it’s a loop … the circular driveway in front of the center over to the edge of the front lawn near the road.  My meditation is to walk down the very middle of the driveway, symbolizing the value of moderation.  I glance up occasionally to see if anyone is coming.  If they are, I move towards the side of the drive and let them continue on their path.  Your needs first, without sacrificing mine.  I need to be on the driveway, “on the path”.  I don’t need to always be in the middle.

And then there’s my rock.  It sits on the lawn, conveniently along my way.  It’s rounded, about two feet high, and partially covered with lichens.  Or is it moss?  Guess I’ll find out on Saturday.  I stop, lay my right hand on my solid friend, and pray for someone I love:

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


I don’t know what I’ll be like after three months of silence.  I know I’ll be a good person.  I already am.  But some other version of a good person, hopefully with a heart ever opening, a touch for those who need it, a smile on my face.

Time appears to be marching on.  And it’s time to stop writing … for 87 days.  I love writing, and I’ll miss my blog and you readers.  I hope my words have sometimes helped you in your life.  I hope you’ve laughed.  I hope you’ve cried.  I have.

I’ll be home on December 7.  I’ll write a blog post on December 8.  I hope you remember me.  Thank you for tuning in to my meanderings.  It’s been a privilege to talk to you.

My Meditation Retreat … Part 2

I yearn for the routines of a day at the retreat center.  Now the Buddha would say that I am thus attached, and that attachment causes suffering.  Fair enough.  But a bit of clinging has its upside.

We wake up at 5:15 to the sound of a gong that a yogi (retreatant, such as me!) carries through the dormitories.  The gong marks transition times during our day.  There’s no need for a timepiece.

From moment one, I have choices.  Do I zoom to the communal bathroom, hoping to catch one of the shower stalls?  Naw, that’s just more societal rushing.  So I begin by shaving in my room.  (As I now reflect on removing hair from skin, my right hand goes to my head.  Yesterday, Julia, my hairstylist took it all off.  No … I don’t mean that she’s a salon stripper – it was my hair that disappeared.  I had her do the shaving not because I’m a nice little Buddhist guy, but rather as an issue of practicality.  During my three months at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), I have no way to get my hair cut.  So I’ll start from zero and let it grow.)

After the emergence of upper cheek smoothness, I then saunter over to the bathroom for a shower.  If the stalls are all taken, oh well.  I’ll get clean after breakfast.

The first sitting in the meditation hall is at 5:45.  One hundred bleary-eyed folks sitting basically upright.  Over the years, I’ve had thoughts of looking good in the hall.  You know, the full lotus position on the cushion.  Well, you’ll be happy to know that I find the full lotus impossible and even the half lotus is a massive pain in the knee.  So I sit in a chair.  So much for appearances.

In the warmer months (like right now), I wear traditional Buddhist garments – T-shirt and shorts.  In such circumstance, I just love walking into the hall for the first sitting.  (Oops, I feel ego flaring!)  All my shirts have something to say and past retreats have taught me one thing: yogis experience inner laughter at 5:45 when they read my shirt-of-the-day.  I suppose  a true Buddhist wears plain shirts.  Maybe I’m a fake Buddhist.

The sittings range from 30 to 45 minutes, with another gong marking the conclusion.  I go into a instant place of bliss and remain there eternally (Not).  Thoughts of a lovely or morose nature just show up.  I’m getting good at waving and wishing them a good day.  They wave back and sooner or later just mosey away.  Sadness and joy come easily, usually not at the same time.  My back lets me know that it wants to be included in the fun.

Breakfast is cool.  One hundred of us in the dining room, with the only sounds being the clittering of cutlery and the shuffling of feet.  No eye contact with the human across the table.  Mostly, my head is down and I look at my food, which I taste with slow pleasure (usually).

After breakie, one of the teachers will talk to us in the hall about what the Buddha had to say about leading a good life.  I’ve always hoped that I’d hear a recommendation for chocolate peanut butter waffle cones, but that must happen in the advanced class.

Then there’s the 45-minute work period … dishes, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms – whatever task I’ve been assigned.  The commitment of the yogis includes “taking what is given”.  So I do my job without complaint and hopefully without leaning towards a job I’d like better.  On one retreat, part of my responsibility was to vacuum the office.  I moved slowly and did the work thoroughly.  So thoroughly, in fact, that I used the long wand to clean the window sills, upon which sat a tiny clay Buddha.  I sucked it up, you might say, resulting in little Buddha bits on the floor.  It hadn’t been fired.  Oh, the guilt!  The totally useless guilt.  Later that morning, breaking the code of silence, I apologized profusely to the staff member whose sill was now empty.  What fury did I receive in response?  None.  “Life is impermanent, Bruce.  No worries.”  (Sigh)

I could keep going here, and I will tomorrow, but I have about 1.5 million tasks to complete today, and it’s time for vroom … vroom … in a meditative way, of course.

My Meditation Retreat … Part 1

A little voice in my head told me yesterday that on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I should write about my upcoming meditation retreat.  I leave for Massachusetts on Thursday afternoon and I won’t be doing any writing for about three months.  I asked that voice, “What the heck am I going to talk about for three blog posts?”  After all, I’m falling towards silence.  The answer?  “You’ll figure it out.”

When I tell people that I’m going to be silent for 84 days, invariably I get two responses:

1. “You?  No way.  You won’t last ten minutes.”  Well, past retreats have shown me that I can last at least eleven minutes.  But I know where they’re coming from.  I talk to virtually everyone.  I’ll find the flimsiest excuse to begin a conversation.  Like standing in a grocery line and sharing with the person in front or behind that my tall cylindrical objects (such as shave cream) won’t stay standing up on the moving belt.  That’s all it takes.  The pump needs to be primed.  If course, if the person just replies with a withering stare, I shut it down right away.  I’ve learned to detect the folks who want to play.

So how can I let that fun go for three months?  As much as I love the banter, I know the silence will be easy.

2.  “I couldn’t do that.”  I suppose they’re right, concerning a jump into a very long retreat.  But I’ve been on 7, 8 and 9 day ones, and I bet most people who say this to me are wrong.  It’s just that extended periods of silence haven’t been part of their experience.  It wasn’t easy for me at first, and I’ve seen many folks in the meditation hall who are clearly going through their “stuff”.  We all have stuff – thoughts, feelings, body sensations.  I don’t see meditation as fixing the negative parts of those things.  It’s more an expression of who I am, an uncovering of what’s already there.  I say that most of us would experience some of that uncovering during a retreat and would slowly allow the silence to caress them.

I used to think that I wanted to be a better meditator.  Sit in the full lotus position, for instance.  Well, my knees hurt too much for that.  I use a chair.  Have all my thoughts disappear.  Good luck on that one too.  Thoughts continue to enter my head but sooner or later they leave (to be replaced by more complex thoughts!)

Over the next twelve weeks of my life, I will not:

1. Talk (except to a teacher, who will meet with me every two or three days to see how it’s going)

2.  Make eye contact (other than with the teacher)

3.  Read

4.  Write

5.  Listen to music

6.  Be on the Internet, e-mail and generally mess around with my laptop

7.  Lie or use demeaning language (I don’t do that anyway, and besides we’re silent)

8.  Have sex

9.  Take something that isn’t freely offered (such as pushing to sit in the front row, or getting a large piece of the vegetarian entrée)

10.  Hurt any living being, even an insect

11.  Consume alcohol or non-prescription drugs

12.  Pee

Okay, just kidding about that last one!

See you tomorrow.  I might be silent, however.

Pride and Prejudice

Renato is an Italian chef who’s living in my home while I travel here, there and down the street.  Last night, we sat down to watch a movie – Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley.  It was an immense love story.  Snapshots from the film stay with me:

1.  The country dance at the beginning.  Rows of happy people – smiling, laughing and clapping hands to the beat of the music.  Intoxicating.

2.  The severe Mr. Darcy referring to the beautiful young Lizzie as “tolerable” as she overhears the conversation.  A human being as a thing, a piece of meat.  How sad.

3.  Later in the evening, Lizzie throwing Mr. Darcy’s words back at him, swirling around and walking away.  The girl is afraid of nothing and no one.  Who cares about relative status, about being socially appropriate, when your heart and soul need to express?

4.  Mrs. Bennet running down the path after Lizzie when her daughter refused Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal, in the spirit of “Come back here and marry him!” with dollar signs in her eyes.  Thank God my mom wasn’t anything like that.

5.  Mr. and Mrs. Bennet talking to Lizzie afterwards.  “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t marry him!” shouts her mother.  Dad returns with “I’ll never speak to you again if you do.”  He knows that there’ll be war in the bedroom but it’s far more important that he speak the truth.

6.  Mr. Darcy’s barely visible Mona Lisa smile as he falls for Lizzie, such a contrast to the scowl he wore for the first part of the film.  Despite his power in society, he can’t yet share his true feelings.  As so we have the ache of love that most of us know well.

7.  The first touch of hands.  Mr. Darcy is helping Lizzie into the carriage and her wide-eyed wonder shines.  Is he the one?

8.  The final scene between Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Lizzie.  She’s Mr. Darcy’s aunt.

“Miss Bennet, I warn you.  I’m not to be trifled with.”


“Now tell me once and for all.  Are you engaged to him?”

“I am not.”  [with great sadness]

“And will you promise never to enter into such an engagement?”

“I will not and I certainly never shall.  You have insulted me in every possible way and can now have nothing further to say.  I must ask you to leave immediately … Goodnight.”

“I have never been thus treated in my entire life!”


Go, Lizzie!


Yesterday morning was my second book signing at Chapters.  Jody sent her love with me as I left home.  I was wonderfully calm and was so looking forward to whomever would be strolling down the aisle.

What does it mean that I sit at a table in a bookstore and sign copies of Jody’s book?  Am I famous?  No.  Is there a sign in the lobby mentioning my name?  Yes.  I don’t think that the signing itself means anything.  It’s just another opportunity to spread the love that Jody and I share.  There’s my desire to have ever more folks read our story, hopefully be touched by it, and then give a little more love to their precious ones.  Yes, that’s what I want.

I had 1000 copies of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife printed.  When I sat down at Chapters, I had given away 746 of them.  In one context, that’s better than 300, but in another it doesn’t matter.  Our love migrates outward whether on the written page or not.  Somehow, in a universe not far, far away, Jody and I touch people, whether or not they realize it.

So .. there sits my bum in a chair behind a table decorated with feng shui-like piles of books.  People come and people go, most of them not making eye contact.  Those that do receive a “Hello” from me.  Nothing more, unless they want to talk.

Several friends show up and I get to hug and palaver.  How wonderful that they came.  The little part of me that’s tied to stats is disappointed, though.  “They already have one of Jody’s books.”  Oh, Bruce … let go of the smallness.

Here comes Trevor (all names here are changed to protect the happy).  He’s the employee that has set up the table for me.  He asks about Jody’s story.  He talks about the importance of love.  He invites customers to come over and see me.  He wants to have a book.

Here comes Barry.  He’s an older gentleman, just like me.  He wants to write about the tapestries of his life.  He’s put this off for a long time.  I tell him about self-publishing with Blurb.  I talk about my writing challenges and delights.  He smiles.  He wants to have a book.

And then there’s Nicole, probably in her 70’s.  We talk of love and loss.  Her husband and my wife.  We both soften.  She wants to have a book.  A half hour later, she comes back to the table with a man who has become her second husband.  They’re holding hands.  They’re caressing each other’s arms.  Nicole says that neither of their partners were very affectionate physically, but the two souls in front of me sure are.  Everyone smiles.

What a privilege to sit there and welcome human beings into my space.  I just might do that every day, no matter where I am.

Eleven Readers

It was going to be an ordinary “get ready to go to Massachusetts” day.  I went to the tire shop to have new tires installed on Hugo, my Honda CRV.  And I got to see Brian again, the manager.  This man is friendly to everyone.  There was a stream of folks walking through his door and he lit up as he noticed each one.  He actually reminded me of the Dalai Lama.  So cool.

Next I went to the drugstore, parking a block away, when something hit me.  No … not a car!  A thought.  All I did was look through the front passenger window at the store beyond.  It was the office of a company which provides occupational therapy and physiotherapy to folks in their homes.  When Jody came home from the hospital in March, 2014, Kerry Ann and Kathy were of great service to her.  They were both kind.

I had a box of Jody’s books in the car.  I took two out and walked into the office.  A smiling receptionist greeted me.  My therapist friends weren’t in.  I sat there and wrote messages in the books and gave them to the receptionist, who was happy to pass them on.

Back in Hugo, I realized that there were other professionals who had been good to Jody.  I marvelled at why I hadn’t made this trip before, prior to leaving for Western Canada.  No guilt showed up, just a fascination with the waywardness of my mind.

Now, how do I find these fine humans?  I remembered that a new public health facility had been built in St. Thomas so I went there.

“Does __________ work here?”  >  “No.”

Times four.

Even though I was shooting blanks here, the receptionist was helpful in tracking down where these health care people might be hanging out.

So Hugo and I resumed the quest.  Down the street, I parked in front of another office. And voilà!  A second receptionist told me that Laura (our nurse practitioner) and Charlotte (our co-ordinator of services) each had a desk there.  They were both kind.  And they weren’t in.  More inscriptions ensued and again the woman welcoming me said she would pass on Jody’s books.

Office number three was the home of two marvelous visiting nurses – Henry and Cindy.  Henry always made Jody laugh and Cindy loved talking about non-nursey things that Jody was interested in.  Just folks, but plenty smart.  They were both kind.  And they weren’t in.  So … signing > receptionist > to be delivered.

As well as the health care heroes who had looked into Jody’s eyes, three receptionists and two drug store employees took a copy of our book.  And I know that all of them were happy to receive the gift.  Each of them will laugh.  Each of them will cry.  It’s what we human beings do.  It makes me happy.


Last night Renato made me a welcome home dinner.  He’s been well trained as a “saucier” and the sauce which graced my chicken breast was beyond delicious.  And for an appetizer, he presented me with tomato slices and arugula greens adorned with smoked salmon.  Oh my.  And did I mention my two glasses of dry white wine?  Happy was me.

We talked and talked.  Renato told me about his mom Ida (pronounced Ee-da).  She died when he was 12.  She was in the water off an Italian beach with a girlfriend, both of them holding onto an air mattress.  The friend lost her grip and slipped below the surface.  Ida tried to save her.  They both died.

Ida owned a clothing shop and once welcomed a woman and her young son.  Her husband had died and she wanted her son to have a suit for his first communion.  Ida picked out her best suit for the boy and he tried it on.  Smashing!  She gave it to him … no dissent from mom allowed.

Another time, Ida was standing outside her shop, talking to a friend, when she saw a man chasing a young girl with a knife.  She raced towards him and tackled the fellow, most likely saving the girl’s life.

A life so richly lived.  Do you and I need to be similarly heroic in deed, or is it enough to be supremely kind?  Yes, kind.  I know in my heart that I would gladly risk my life to save another, but I don’t go there in my head.  Instead I choose to be kind, to look out for my fellow man and woman, to feel into what they need, and walk that journey with them.

I didn’t used to cry much at all.  Now I cry a lot.  I see people like Ida on my daily round and I’m moved by their humanity.  I want to be like them.  So many folks moisten my eyes.  Some friends start me coughing because I love them so much.

Thank you, Ida, for opening my lungs and my heart and my eyes.  Look what we give each other!

Day Forty-Three … The End of the Road

I got home at 2:30 this morning, after thirteen-and-a-half hours of driving from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  There were trees.  There were fields.  But all I saw was home approaching.  Way after dark, the freeway narrowed to one lane each way, with miles of orange pylons showing the way for Scarlet and my tailgating semi-trailer friend.  I grabbed the wheel hard and then saw the futility of such behaviour.  Let go, Bruce.  Hold life lightly.

And I do hold my trip with tenderness.  All the astonishing people I met or remet.  All the cool conversations.  What does it all mean?  Well, one thing it means is that I’m meant to be around human beings, rather than retreating to a monastery for endless bliss.  I’m meant to learn from my fellow orbiters on the planet Earth.  To see their beauty and their pain and to accept it all.  And I’m meant to boldly go where I have not gone before, within both the interior and exterior landscapes.

In eleven days, I begin a long period of silence in Massachusetts.  I’ll be surrounded by 100 fellow retreatants.  What will I offer them, as we each reach towards the deeper meanings of life?  I don’t know.  The journey of connection will continue.  Last month’s mountains and prairie and next month’s fields and woodlots will be equally marvelous, but will pale in comparison to the human souls who will dance across my stage.

It’s such a privilege to be out and about.  Sadly, the second season of my travels will not be accompanied by nightly blog posts.  Just me and my body, me and my soul.  But I will reach you somehow.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my six-week road trip.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  Stay with me for part two, please.

Day Forty-Two … Driving Hard For Home

I left Henry and Louise’s place in Weyburn, Saskatchewan at 10:30 am yesterday.  I rolled into the motel in Eau Claire, Wisconsin at 12:48 am.  Allowing for the time zone change and maybe one hour for eats and gas, I was driving for 12 hours.  Oh Bruce, you silly goose.  When I was planning this trip a couple of months ago in the comfort of my man chair, I thought “Three days to get home from Lance’s.  No sweat.”  Wrong.

I decided that the wilds of North Dakota and Minnesota would be perfect for listening to Ken Wilber non-stop.  He’s a spiritual teacher whom I really like.  So I enjoyed about 9 hours of Ken and me.  He has so many cool ideas.  Here’s just one:

Ken talks about “The Pre/Trans Fallacy”.  His contention is that in our rational world, some people assume that anything non-rational is basically infantile, not allowing for the possibility that some behaviours outside of rational may come from a higher level of consciousness than the thinking mind.  So … I’ve been trying to convince myself that what I often do with supermarket cashiers is the epitome of maturity.  (By the way, I pronounce that word “e-pi-toe-m”, just for fun.)  When it’s time for my debit card, I plug it into the machine, which I then hold to my ear like a phone.  A brief but impactful conversation with my mother then ensues.  “Hey mom.  How are the clouds today … cirrus? … cumulus?”  I’m sure you can detect the evolved being right away.  Anyway, it’s fun, whether pre or trans.

Blissing out on Mr. Ken, I also had to embrace the world of semi-trailers and hills.  After dark, east of Minneapolis, and fortified with a cup of coffee, I was still fading some.  It felt like the road ahead was one endless hill, for at least half an hour.  Maybe it was, or perhaps my mind had created a vision of upwardness.

Earlier, knowing that a midnight arrival was likely, I passed lots of vehicles and was usually 10 kph over the speed limit.  Neither of those choices were “me”, or so I thought, but maybe I should expand my definition of Bruceness.  In the late evening, I had no more oomph for passing so I quietly stayed behind a climbing (?) semi for many miles.  Oh, for another coffee, but there was no neon until I took the exit in Eau Claire.

As you can tell from the existence of this e-mail, I made it.  And I’ll make it again today.  According to Google Maps, I’m 11 hours and 6 minutes from my home in Union, Ontario.  Plus another time zone change.  And the possibility of a border delay.  I better get going.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll write my last road trip blog post.  It’s bittersweet.  I’ve sure enjoyed talking to you cyber folks.