On The Bike Again … Part One

It’s been months since I’ve ridden my bicycle.  And I get scared whenever I start up again.  I guess it makes no sense, but I have a history.

“How old were you, Bruce, when you learned to ride a bike?”

(Gulp)  “47.”

I was afraid of lots of things when I was a kid.  I knew I didn’t have the balance or confidence to ride.  My parents never asked me if I wanted a bicycle and I never pursued the matter.  Strangely, even though I guess all my friends had bikes, it never was an issue among us.  When I was around, we just walked everywhere.

My first job was flipping hamburgers at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.  I was 17.  One day, my boss took me to the back of the snack bar, pointed to a bicycle, and told me to take a box of frozen patties to the stand on Centre Island, a few miles away.  And then he was gone.  It was just the offending bike and me, staring at each other.  Had I been wearing a heart rate monitor, it no doubt would have read 225 beats per minute.

I’d never even been astride a bike.  But now I was, with one arm wrapped around the frozen food.  Seems to me that there wasn’t a carrier to put the box in.  My feet found the pedals.  My right hand found the handlebar, and I set off.  Within a second or two, my body found the ground.  I remember lying there, thinking that I was the slimiest human being on the planet.  Oh teenage angst … how I know thee well.

I got up, glanced around to find that I was alone, and ran the bike towards some bushes.  In it went, nicely covered by the foliage.  And then … I ran to Centre.  That’s where the memories stop.  I have no idea how much humiliation I swallowed from my peers.  Maybe that’s a blessing.

Fast forward a few decades.  Jody knows about my bike trauma.  She’s taken me at night to a subdivision under construction in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Street lights, asphalt and bare lots.  She pushed, she ran beside, I pedalled.  And I stayed up for a hundred yards or so.  Was I exhilarated?  No.  I was terrified.  At the end of my trip, Jody rushed up to me, saying “You did it!  You rode a bike.”  My response?  “No, I didn’t.”  To this day, I don’t know what that was about.  How skewed is my brain when drowning in fear and embarrassment.

A few YEARS later, I finally agreed.  I could ride a bike.  Did I mention the 47?

Ramping Down

I think driving is such a metaphor for life, and what someone does on the road is a fair indicator of how they treat their family and friends.

I often take Highway 401 from Belmont into London, Ontario.  It’s a freeway, and I usually go about 110 kilometres per hour (65 miles per hour).  The Wellington Road exit ramp is a long one, maybe half a kilometre.  It blends into a city street, where the maximum speed is 50 kph (30 mph).

When I move onto the ramp, I take my foot off the gas and coast towards the 50 kph sign.  Invariably I’m tailgated and at busy times there are four or five cars bumper to bumper behind me.  I’m curious about this but not really surprised.

Life is full of transitions from one condition to another.  I enjoy blending from the first to the second, instead of jolting.  On the 401, it’s the coasting rather than the slamming of brakes.  At the dinner table, it’s a pause between the main course and dessert, rather than launching into pie as soon as the dinner plate is empty.

Life for sure has its twists and turns but I’ve never been keen on the hairpins.  It seems that my spirit is happiest when I embrace the changes and let myself flow through them.  Abruptness will come my way, such as the morning I woke up with a blood clot in my leg, but overall the transitions feel smooth.  It’s like a dance – and a waltz instead of a frantic disco tune.  A soaring symphony rather than the smashing of a drum.  A film full of love rather than the latest shoot-’em-up thriller.

Am I “right” about this?  Not at all.  It just feels good.

Dish Drainer

The kitchen and I have never been good friends.  Jody was a marvelous chef and created many brilliant meals for me over the years.  As for this entity, I was an incredible dishwasher.  But I’ve never learned to cook.

Since moving into my condo six months ago, I’ve wanted to have friends over for dinner but I’ve been too scared.  What would I feed them?  How would I do this and how would I do that?  You can’t just wash dishes – you have to present the yummies.

Farm Boy has been my frequent rescuer with tasty dinners.  On Wednesday, I walked in there and threw myself on the mercy of the manager.  I was so embarrassed and she was so kind.  “Happens all the time.  Gentlemen who don’t know what to do.  We give good advice.”  Whew.  My heart slowed down a mite.  And I left the store with a plan: mesquite chicken, oven roast potatoes and corn with coriander.  Not to mention a kale salad and something called maple cream pie.

Now it’s yesterday, and I realized in all my months in the condo, I’d never washed a pot.  The dishes from the few little faux meals were gobbled up by my dishwasher.  When I left Jody’s and my home last summer, I got rid of a lot of little things, such as a dish rack.

Here I was, worrying about how to dry pans, how to warm things up in the oven, and where the heck was the corkscrew for the wine.  Goodness.  I ventured forth to the supermarket and found a small white dish rack.  It sat proudly on my counter overnight.  This morning, however, it looked wrong.  (Remember, I’m the professional dishwasher.  I should know this stuff.)  It finally hit me – I didn’t buy the accompanying drain board.  Silly me.  Back to the store.  Unfortunately, the only drain boards they had were black, even though they sold white racks.  Arghh.  To another supermarket I went and now the two white folks sit companionably in the kitchen.

Okay, I’m exhausted.  Dinner is tomorrow at six and somewhere in a celestial realm, Julia Child is cluck-cluck-clucking at me.  (Sigh)

And then my dear wife’s voice to the rescue: “It’s okay, Bruce.  All is well.  Your guests won’t die tomorrow night.  In fact, they’ll enjoy themselves.”  Thank you, Jodiette.  Perhaps I’m overreacting just a tad.

How can I be so confident in some areas of life
and so plastered with sweat in others?
I don’t know
Maybe just a human being being human


I like myself a lot.  I think I’m kind and compassionate.  I’m working out on the elliptical in the gym and soon with the bike on the road.  So cardiovascular health is coming my way.  But there’s one aspect of life where I’ve always defined myself as “less”: strength.

In 1980 or so, I lost an arm wrestle to my 11-year-old niece Diana.  And yes, I was really trying.  Growing up, I related to that skinny kid on the beach who had sand kicked in his face.  I go the gym now and see the huge weights that some of the men and women are hoisting.  And the “less” starts to grow.

I’ve dabbled in strength training over the past few years, even hired a personal trainer, but I would always find reasons to fritter away my expressed commitment.  During some sessions I was fierce in my determination to do all the reps but then injury or illness always seemed to derail me and my progress returned to zero.

Today I began again.  Light weights but I did my full Day One program.  And oh, it felt good.  I see the opportunity right in front of my nose – to be strong, not with big, blocky muscles, but still, able to grunt my way up hills on the bike, climb stairs with ease twenty years from now, and have my body support my spirit.

One version of spirituality focuses on the sweetness beyond this physical round, on epiphanies of the soul, feeling the depth of the present moment.  Another emphasizes the glory of the senses – the body moving through space, the pleasures of a soft breeze or a fine meal.  But there’s more: the chance to embrace both.

I can be more than my heart and head.  I can include my biceps and quads.  No need for the V-shape but lots of room for a different type of meditation – the intensity of contracting muscles can be in partnership with stillness.

It’s possible that physical fitness can allow me to reach more people with my caring.  I’d like that.


And I’d Do It Again

It doesn’t make sense to head to Toronto at 5:15 in the afternoon to see a bonfire for two hours and then drive home.  It’s two-and-a-half hours each way, counting the ferry trip to Toronto Island.  But since when is making sense the way to go?

I’ve been to three brunch and concert afternoons at the island church this winter.  Marvelous food, sweet sounds and a bunch of friendly people.  Someone thought I should come on down for the humungous bonfire on March 21 and who am I to disagree?  There are about 800 residents on the island.  These fine locals save up their Christmas trees for the big evening in March.  I stepped off the ferry and followed the train of people and trees to the beach.  And there, past the bushes, was the glow.

As I got closer, embers rose forty feet above me.  Eventually, maybe 200 treegoers circled the flames.  The wind swirled, blowing the sparks this way and that.  Lake Ontario lapped onshore a few metres away.  And beyond the bursts of white and orange, all was dark.  Folks sipped their favourite beverage and chatted away.  Away from the fire, it was darn cold.  A young woman did wonders with a shining, multicoloured hoop.  A well-dressed band beat their drums for the twentieth year or more.  Gosh, it was fun.

I got back to Scarlet at 11:15, savouring the festivities.  I almost felt like an island resident.  A smooth two hours on Highway 401 and I’d be cozy in my bed.  The traffic was light and I was zipping along at 110 kph.  All was well … until Guelph.  Sideways snow jolted me and soon the car ahead was dimming, despite its emergency flashers.  A few kilometres later I could barely see it and 110 was now 20.  Plus I was gaining on the fellow.

As the margins of my world disappeared in whiteness, I imagined getting schmucked by a semi-trailer.  I was scared.  If that car wasn’t out front, I’d have no idea where to go.  “Okay, Bruce, get off this road.  You need to stay alive.”  I could just make out the sign for an off-ramp and I edged to the right.  Here it is, I think.  I could feel the slope of the road bending but were it not for those yellow diamond reflecting signs, I’d have launched into No Man’s Land.  Thank you, dear Ministry of Transportation.  I’d never noticed those suckers before but I’ll watch for them from now on.

I spent an hour at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop, sipping a brew and watching my heartbeat descend.  What exactly was I doing here?  Well, having fun … and there’s lots more of that to come.

Circle of Peace

How strange that yesterday my mind was floating free and today I’ve come gently back to earth.  No pulses of energy behind my eyes, no sublimities.  And that’s okay.  We’re all rolling along within some unknown rhythm of life.

I did meditate today and an image presented itself.  I’ve been thinking of the type of sculpture I want for my bathroom and had settled on a human figure in metal – arms outstretched and head down.  But this morning came a circle, one composed of people, holding hands.  It was so vivid as I floated in quietness.  They were all smiling.  And I thought back to other circles I’ve known.

1982.  A suburban parking lot in Honolulu.  Christmas morning.  Perhaps one hundred of us held hands for awhile and then sang carols.

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway
 Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say Merry Christmas to you

And then “Silent Night”.  So sweet a time in the presence of strangers who became not that.

Years later, fifty of us stood in another parking lot, joined in a prayer circle for my lovely wife Jody.  We held hands, we talked of Jodiette, and we prayed for her.  Sweetness again.  A fellow was walking through the lot and decided to join us.  We made room and he favoured us with tender words for my dear wife.

Hawaii and London, Ontario … just places where the heart resides.  And in a month of two, the same spirit will call my bathroom home.


What’s Happening?

Here I sit, in the main branch of the London Public Library, in a golden state of openness.  I was there many times during my month of silence in February and also in some meditation sessions at home since then.  But today is different.  I’ve been out and about at Wimpy’s Diner, Wellington Fitness, Farm Boy and now the library.  A quietness has followed me everywhere, taking a break when I’m talking to someone, giving ‘er on the elliptical or negotiating downtown traffic, but otherwise … it’s here.  As in right now.

It’s one thing to go deep in the meditation hall but out in the “real” world?  Never before like this.  And just so you know, it’s not scary.  It’s actually lovely.  But what does it mean?  I know that my life experiences are transient – easy come and easy go.  And this spaciousness will eventually morph into something that I’ll define as “less”.  Still, it’s hanging in with me on a Monday.

I’m not crazy but I worry that some of you reading this might think so.  Do I keep going or just nip all this talk in the bud?  Well, I’ve already set the table.  Maybe I should just dive into my meal, hoping that you’ll stay near.  Yes, I’ll do that.

It’s like I’m being soothed by the surf, a gentle rocking inside my head.  There are small waves of energy roaming around.  But I’m fully aware of my surroundings.  My trusty laptop is on my trusty lap and over there are folks reading newspapers, checking their cell phones and making marks on white sheets of paper.  All normal stuff.  But what if this head space is becoming my new normal?  That would be okay.  I’d still function well in the world.

I look at my fellow library patrons and see my brothers and sisters, a mom and two daughters and an old friend from home.  We’re all in this together, and that’s just fine.

The waves are getting bigger, and again it’s not scary.  I wonder if someday soon I’ll get to experience this in the middle of a conversation.  Wo.  Some sort of energy is shimmering down from my head to my toes.  I’ve felt this before but I think only when I was meditating.

“Shut it down, Bruce.  You’re getting too weird.  Keep going like this and you’ll be alone in the world.”  No, I disagree.  I don’t expect to be alone in this world anytime soon.

“Don’t you dare post this!  White-coated humans will be knocking on your door forthwith.”  Sorry, friend, but a-posting I will go.  See those chips falling where they may?

“You need to keep busy.  Keep doing things so all this silliness won’t have any room in your head.”  I don’t want to be knee-jerk busy, and it seems like there’s lots of room in my head.

I wonder if anybody here on the third floor feels me.  I doubt it.  But I know I reached some people on the retreat.  I want to reach people … with love and peace.

“Shut it down, I say.  There’s no audience for this stuff.”  Oh?


I’m done writing for today.  But my head will go on.  See you tomorrow.

Delayed Gratification

I’m not really good at this.  Take my current medication saga, for instance.  I’ve been on Trazodone, a sleeping pill, for years.  My pharmacist wants me to wean very slowly – two weeks of half a pill one day, a whole one the next.  Although Albert hasn’t said, I expect it’ll be an eight week process before zero is reached.  Eight weeks!  My need to get rid of the stuff is so strong that my brain says it can do the deed in two.  After all, I did sleep six hours last night on half a tab.

Slow down, Bruce.  Your pharmacist knows things.  If he says speed leads to panic attacks, wouldn’t it be wise to heed his advice?  Well … yes.  I guess.  In my better moments, I sink sweetly into contemplating free sleep in less than two months.

Exhibit Two:  I have three more car payments and then, for the first time in my adult life, I’ll be debt free.  How wondrous!  And I want it right now, not on June 7.  I want the bliss, I want the dancing, I want the foaming at the mouth.  Okay, Bruce, now breathe a little more easily please.  June 7 is just a hop, skip and jump away.

Exhibit Three:  I have a dear friend.  I’ll call her Abby.  I so much want to tell her all about my recent meditation retreat.  She would understand what I’ve been going through.  But Abby’s had some challenges and she doesn’t want to go out to dinner until the stress is down and she’s feeling better.  Fair enough.  I told her that I’ll wait to hear from her.  And I’ll keep my word on that.  But it’s hard.  I want to blab and emote and explore my head.

So there you have it.  Time will reveal all.  And in the meantime I get to meditate on not getting what I want … yet.  I’ll take it.


I went to a friend’s book launch today but when I arrived she told me it was cancelled, delayed due to some publishing issue.  So we sat around and drank tea.  More people showed up and more tea was poured.

At one point, a visitor was talking about her art at home.  I heard the words “metal sculptor” and jerked up on the couch.  “I’ve been looking for one.”  Indeed I have.

I have a two-piece bathroom on the main floor of my condo, featuring a large blank yellow wall.  It’s come to me that I don’t want a painting there.  I want a sculpture.

Of all the shapes in the world, what do I yearn for in that room?

How about a tree – a symbol of growth and beauty?

Or a perfect circle – a symbol of union and timelessness?

Maybe a star – a symbol of brilliance and wonder?

No.  I want a human being.  For as much as I love nature and geometry, it’s people that make my world.

So what do I want this person to be doing?  Hands in the air in triumph?  Or giving everything in a stride to the finish?  How about hands on the hips in defiance?

No.  I want arms outstretched in welcome, in caressing, in caring.  I want head down in humility.  Something selfless and embracing.  What I do believe the world needs.

I’ll find such a sculptor and he or she will find a person within the chrome.  And I’ll be reminded every day of what I hold dear.


To those of you who read my last post: four hours of sleep with half a pill on Thursday, eight hours on a whole one last night … and another half soon in my tummy.  Goodnight.



I taught visually impaired kids for many years and most Sunday nights I had trouble sleeping.  Sometimes I didn’t sleep at all.  I was scared … of parents, of not knowing enough, of making big mistakes.

Years ago, my doctor prescribed Lorazepam to help me sleep.  And when things got really bad, she added Trazodone.  During the worst times, I was eating three pills a night.  Thought I was a mature person but I crumbled under the stress.

After I retired and was caring for my wife Jody as she fell towards death, both her meds and mine mushroomed.  Through it all, I felt worlds away from being free.  After Jody died, I tried to get off Lorazepam.  It took so long, full of three-hour nights and daily dullness.  But I did it!  One of the biggest achievements of my life, I’d say.

And now I’m left with the Trazodone.  My meditation retreat is over.  No big events coming up.  It’s time.  Albert, my pharmacist, suggests that I take half a pill one night and a whole one the next, and keep that up for two weeks.  Then Stage Two.  Okay, Albert, I’ll do it, starting tonight.

I think about bedtime, after another rousing Toronto Maple Leafs game, and the fear returns.  The Buddha would say welcome it but I’m not there right now.  That’s all right.  Will I sleep two hours or six?  You know my vote.

The gossamer wings of meditation and the clay feet of addiction.  Sounds like a human being to me.