I Get To Go

I’ve been on many silent retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  All of them have been at the Retreat Center, the facility at IMS which provides great support, and regular routines, for the yogis.  Basically, all one hundred of us would be doing sitting meditation at the same time – the same with walking meditation.  There’d be talks every evening to educate us about Buddhist principles and meditation.

There is another way at IMS … a second facility, called the Forest Refuge.  This is where you can work with a teacher in developing your own program.  Maybe really short walks and sits would be best.  Or a long sitting session of two hours (but for some yogis that would be far too long).  Fewer talks.

At the Forest Refuge, unlike the Retreat Center, yogis can read.  They can study some aspects of the Buddha’s wisdom in depth.  I’m especially interested in the Brahma Viharas: lovingkindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity.  I’d like to deepen them in my life.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to apply for a month’s stay at the Forest Refuge.  I knew I could handle the independence.  So I did all the paperwork, including a detailed questionnaire … and waited.

One day stretched into two, four, seven.  I listened to what was inside.  “I’d love to have this opportunity.  I’m excited.  But IMS might say no.  I’d be sad.”  As time ran onwards, I watched my feelings ebb and flow.  And my thoughts would sometimes explode.  “What are they thinking?”  “Maybe I’m not good enough.”  “Of course I’m good enough.”

And yesterday, I just let go.  All is fine.


Lots of condo details to handle today.  Wrong toilet seats arrived – too big for the bowls.  Wanted to pick up the lights I’d ordered but some of them were still at the warehouse.  Kitchen counters won’t be ready until maybe September 26 but I can still move in on the 20th.

Take a break, Bruce.  See who’s e-mailed you.

And there it sat, titled “Your IMS Forest Refuge Acceptance”.  That last word barely registered.  Click and here was the letter:

Dear Bruce,

Your application for retreat at IMS’s Forest Refuge has been approved, and I’m happy to say there is currently space available for your dates of February 1-28, 2017.” 

And lots of etcetera.

I stared.  I get to go.  I cried.  I get to go

Thank you

The Voice

I sat in Chaucer’s Pub in London last night, listening to the folk music beauty of The Friends of Fiddler’s Green.  This group of balding gents has been at it for 45 years, and five of the six fellows only a few feet away from me were original members.  Fiddle, guitar, button accordions, bagpipes and piano blended with full-throated voices.

A song or two into the first set, we heard Stephen Foster’s Hard Times.  And when it was time for the chorus, we eighty audience members let loose:

‘Tis the song, the sign of the weary
Hard times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door
Oh hard times, come again no more.

After the last notes had melted away, the woman in front of me turned around and said “You have a lovely voice.”  I smiled and said thank you.  I was pleased.  At the same time, my head swirled with past deficiencies.


I was singing The Rose at a karaoke party in St. Lucia decades ago and thought I was doing well.  Jody, however, couldn’t take my off-key effort and retired to our room.  I wonder if I really was that bad.

I sang in a choir for years and never was offered a solo part.  I wanted one, and I should have asked for one, but I didn’t.  Maybe my voice just wasn’t good enough.

I was working with a visually impaired student and her Grade 8 graduation was coming up.  She and I decided to audition for the grads’ talent show.  We worked hard on The Prayer but the supervising teacher turned us down.  Was it me?


At the end of the folk concert, the woman in front of me extended her hand and said “I’m so glad I sat in front of you and could hear you sing all night.”

Life is a mystery

One Taste

I enjoy reading the thoughts of Ken Wilber.  He’s a philosopher.  And his goal has been to pull together the wisdom of the world, as represented by spiritual leaders, scientists, business people, psychologists and many others, into a coherent whole.  Ken thinks that every perspective has something to offer and it’s a mistake to say “I have the whole truth.”

I find that spiritual ideas stay in my head a bit and then leave.  I’ve read many books but it’s rare that I can recall what they said.  And I want to remember something “important” when I’m writhing amid the daily grind.

I see potential for me in Ken’s phrase “one taste”.  He points to the ocean and the waves on it.  Each wave can be considered as one of life’s experiences: happy stuff, sad stuff, frustrating, peaceful, challenging, sublime.  Or how about each wave as a person you know – someone kind, someone nasty, distant, cozy, chuckly, morose.  But if I look at all these waves, what is their essence?  It’s true that some waves are big and some small, but what is the core of it all?  Why, it’s brilliant and obvious … they’re all wet.  A tiny ripple is just as wet as a tsunami.

All these experiences and all these people, as different as they are from each other on the surface, down deep are the same.  They’re all sweetly light and graceful.  They all have one taste.  How can this be?  Surely the bliss of bright colours in my condo is better than the pain of constipation.  Well, on one level, of course.  But maybe there’s another level that I can access at any time, even when the temperature is 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit), with a heat index of 43 (109).  Sure, my body would be massively uncomfortable, but what about my Spirit?

Here’s what Ken has to say.  His use of capitals may be offputting, as well as his inclusion of the word “hopeless”, but then there’s the message:

The desires of the flesh, the ideas of the mind and the luminosities of the soul – all are perfect expressions of the radiant Spirit that alone inhabits the universe, sublime gestures of that Great Perfection that alone outshines the world.

There is only One Taste in the entire Kosmos, and that taste is Divine, whether it appears in the flesh, in the mind, in the soul.  Resting in that One Taste, transported beyond the mundane, the world arises in the purest Freedom and radiant Release, happy to infinity, lost in all eternity, and hopeless in the original face of the unrelenting mystery.

From One Taste all things issue, to One Taste all things return – and in between, which is the story of this moment, there is only the dream, and sometimes the nightmare, from which we would do well to awaken.

Just A Human Being

I was reading an advertisement recently when I came across this description:

Buffet included soap, salad bar, about 6 entrées, and a selection of deserts

The first thing that drew my eye was “soap”.  That’s pretty funny, imagining myself with a knife and fork chowing down on a beauty bar.

Then I saw “deserts” and moved into critical mode.  Why can’t people learn to spell?  I know how to spell.

After a time of better-worse, I paused.  And it came to me … we’re all human.  Maybe I can spell because I love writing and reading.  Perhaps the author of this ad isn’t so focused on the written word.  What if the writer didn’t finish high school or had parents who didn’t care about reading?  What if he or she was in the middle of some traumatic experience?

This person struggled with the ad.  I can’t swim, can’t skate and am afraid of heights.  We’re all so imperfect and marvelous.  Next time, may my first seeing be of compassion, not criticism.



I do believe that I’ve waxed poetic in these pages about Belmont, Ontario, my soon-to-be home.  About seeking a waffle cone at the convenience store on Main Street, and then standing outside, longing for a bench.  Seeing none, I leaned against the wall and loosened my eyes across the street.  The post office.  And in front … a black metal bench.  I’ve already consumed many chocolate-peanut butters with my backside caressed by the smoothness.  And I can tell that this will be a continuing tradition.

On visit number eight or ten, I saw something new.  There was a rectangular hole, about 2″ x 10″, in the middle of the bench back.  “That’s nice,” I thought.  A spot for a tiny plaque.

Several licking sessions later, I turned around and stared at that hole.  “Jody.”  What if I spoke bronzed words to my beloved, and those words seeped inside all who sat there?

Yesterday I went to the Municipality of Central Elgin and asked about bench memorials.  “The cost is $2500, sir.”  Ouch.  When I asked how many words I could fit on the plaque, the woman recommended that I do a tour of the region and read the messages.

So I did.  I wandered the harbour of Port Stanley in the evening and read about fifteen tributes to loved ones.  Some were so beautiful.  I cried for Jody.

This morning, I sat down and typed out my words of love:

In Memory Of
Jody Kerr
A marvelous human being and my life wife
I love you, my dear Jodiette

Yes, that’s what I want to say.

The person responsible for memorials is on vacation this week.  I don’t know if anyone else has reserved the post office bench.  But I have already spoken and the residents of Belmont will hear.  This I know.

Being Different

Yesterday’s Toronto Star had a story about a little girl who loves bugs.  Sophia is seven years old.  Grasshoppers, worms, ants and snails are also part of her repertoire.

Her family moved to Ontario last year and Sophia had high hopes for her new school.  On the first day, she carried a caterpillar around.  A classmate wasn’t impressed:

“You’re weird.  You shouldn’t be playing with bugs.”

And when Sophia brought another caterpillar in for show-and-tell , a boy crushed it underfoot.  This fall, Sophia is transferring to another school where hopefully she will be accepted for being herself.

I thought back to 2001, when I was assisting a blind student in her sixth grade classroom.  One day the topic was your favourite type of music and a girl whom I’ll call Jessica stood up.  “I like classical music.”  Groans, grimaces and knowing looks followed.  But Jessica wasn’t to be swayed.  She loved playing her cello.

Hello, dear Jessica and Sophia
Carry on loving what you love
The world needs you

A Balmy Morning

I was motoring along a Kitchener, Ontario freeway on Saturday morning.  Ahead of me waited Lydia Ko and the LPGA golf tournament.  All was well, except for my lips.  Four days of sun had dried them to a crisp, and they were starting to hurt.

Blistex.  The wonderful ointment that soothes and softens.  And the tube was back in my B&B bedroom, forgotten on the dresser.  Oh, silly man.

No worries.  There must be a drug store around here somewhere.  I remembered that the freeway frittered out at one point, with traffic slowing down through a littering of big box stores.  There’ll be Blistex somewhere amid the rectangles.

First though, I spotted a furniture store ahead – The Brick.  At their store in London I had recently bought an off-white bedroom suite for my condo.  Forsaking the urgency of peeling skin, and completely forgetting the marvelous person who is Lydia Ko, I pulled into the parking lot, hoping to visit another incarnation of my suite.  And there it was, in the double bed model.  I touched the wood.  I opened the drawers.  I drooled.

On my way out of the store, I asked two fellows if there was a drug store handy.  “Costco has one.  It’s just down the road.”  Thank you, my esteemed sales associates.

A few twists and turns later, I walked into consumer paradise.  I had my doubts about the Blistex since everything seems to come in Grade A Large at Costco.  I approached a druggie (I mean a drug department employee) to find that the tiny tube I sought hadn’t made it into inventory.  My lips groaned.  I asked her if she knew of another drug store nearby.  She smiled and drew me a map, featuring a return to the freeway, a long looping road, and a few traffic lights.

My lips pursed as I followed the lovely young woman’s directions.  I kept looking for Shoppers Drug Mart on the left but there was nothing.  Then a “Pharmacy” sign on the right.  I veered in.  Smacking my lips in anticipation, I approached the counter.  “No, we don’t stock that product.  Sorry.”  (Sigh)

Back on the road again, I squinted for a Shoppers.  And finally it appeared.  There was even a “Lip Balm” aisle.  I walked down it, glancing left and right.  Nothing again.  Finally, I noticed a rotating display.  I twirled … and there it was: my sacred tube of Blistex.

Out in the car, I applied liberal amount of the goo, coming perilously close to the underside  of my nose and my chin.  All was right with the world.  Except for my cell phone sitting awkwardly in the left pocket of my shorts.  I reached in to adjust things.  My fingers touched something soft.  It was a tube.

Although my intention had been to follow the sweet Lydia Ko for all eighteen of her holes, I managed to see just four.

Strange, this person
Strange, this life

Choosing A Golfer

It’s Saturday morning, “Moving Day” in golfing parlance.  During the third of four rounds, players often move way up or way down the leaderboard.

I’m about to head downstairs at the B&B for breakie.  Among the weighty matters I must ponder is  which golfer I will follow for eighteen holes.  Brooke Henderson is Canada’s sweetheart, an 18-year-old who’s pretty, hits the ball a long way and has a glowing smile.  She’s the obvious choice … but maybe not.  Cheering for Canada feels good but it has the sense of ethnocentrism – my group is more important than people outside my group.

Going with someone close to the lead seems natural too.  I feed off the drama of win-lose situations.  So Marina Alex from the USA is the head of the pack right now.  Wander with her … or perhaps not.

In the spirit of the human family, I could choose any twosome on the fairways of Whistle Bear Golf Club.  We all have the joys and agonies of being human.  I could watch life reflected in the birdies and bogeys of the golf course.  Just pick someone at random, Bruce.  Hmm.  No, I don’t want to do that.

Okay, I’ve decided.  I will walk with whom I perceive to be the nicest person out there – kind to her fellow golfers and to the fans, accepting of her mishit shots, loosy goosey on the fairways and greens, with an easy smile.  Lydia Ko from New Zealand.  She also happens to be the number one player in the world, but right now she’s eight strokes behind Marina.  I want to see a full human being.  I want to see her interact with other human beings.  I want to cheer her on.

Time to eat.  Time to walk.  And my day unfolds before me.

Boston Pizza Epiphanies

I’m in Cambridge, Ontario for the LPGA golf tournament.  I love watching women hit the ball down the middle and sink curling putts.  Plus most of them are friendly … just nice people.

Tonight I went to Boston Pizza for supper.  I enjoy watching sports on their large screen TVs.  I keep searching for myself onscreen but no luck so far.  I ordered the spinach and artichoke dip that comes with pita wedges.  Yummy.  I was chowing down and not being very observant about my remaining pieces.  Oops.  Three pita bits to go and lots of dip.  Oh well.  A few spoonfuls of dip would go down just fine.

And then Adrianne the bartender comes over and says “Would you like a few nacho chips to finish off your dip?”  I stared for a second, and then smiled.  “Yes, that would be wonderful.”

I fell into the moment of kindness.  It seemed to represent all the kindnesses that have come my way in life.  It was lovely.  Adrianne was lovely.  I believe I thanked her three more times.

When it was time to pay, I reached for my wallet.  But an empty pocket greeted my hand.  Panic … but just for a second.  I remembered that I’d left the wallet in Scarlet’s console this morning.  I didn’t want to lug it around all day on the course.

To Adrianne:  “I have a problem.  My wallet’s in the car.” > “That’s fine.  We’ll chase you if you don’t return.” > “Back in three minutes.”

So off I went into the night.  I stopped walking halfway across the parking lot.  I realized that there was no possibility of me getting in Scarlet and leaving.  That’s not who I am.  Choosing to go back in and pay my bill had nothing to do with the prospect of being caught if I didn’t.  Acting with integrity is simply essential to my being.  I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t paid.  (Oh.  That’s me.  How ’bout that?)

No need for a place of worship
No need for a mountain top
A chain restaurant will do nicely