Tame Me

A friend of mine recently reintroduced me to the book The Little Prince.  The narrator had crashlanded his plane in the desert and was approached by a young boy.  He told the narrator about meeting a fox, who had a lot to say:

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

“What does that mean – ‘tame’?”

“It means to establish ties.”

If you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in all the world.  To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

As I love in this life, it’s clear to me that a few people have tamed me, and I them.  Although I tell myself that I don’t need these precious folks to do or say any particular thing, I am tied to them with ribbons of grace.  One I know is at a great physical distance from me, but she is as close as my heart.  Even if we hardly ever talk, maybe never see each other again, the contact is there.  I can feel it.

“If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.  I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others.  Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground.  Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.”

When I enter a room and see one who has tamed and is tamed, a hush falls down my body.  It may be a romantic impulse or perhaps not.  There is a surge of inbreath, an excitement and yet a stillness.  He or she is unique in my world.  I feel pulled towards the source of such peace.

“You have hair that is the color of gold.  Thank how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.”

Jody and I tamed each other.  There are two trees in Belmont that I’ve christened “Jody’s tree”.  And when I’m in their presence I’m also in the presence of my beloved wife.  Although many tears have dripped down my face in the last three years, our taming often produces a little smile of remembrance.  For the good times.  For the laughing and the dancing and the cuddling.  Our trees remind me.

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed.”

And weeping I do.  For what more is there in this life than relationship, in loving another as oneself?  Weeping in sadness at the distance between us, measured either in miles or in lifetimes.  Weeping in joy for the privilege of being tied to great souls.  And smiling too.

 

Laura Smith

The written word doesn’t do a great job of sensing the beauty of sound.  But the beauty of sound is alive in my heart right now and WordPress is the vehicle I have to reach you.

Think of the moments in life when the human voice has transported you to a deep place, a spacious place, a place with little reference to our wake-a-day consciousness.  Months ago, I went to a tribute concert for somebody (I don’t remember who!) at Hugh’s Room, a folk music venue in Toronto.  Amongst the musicians offering cover songs was a woman in her 60’s or 70’s.  Nice enough to look at but really nothing extraordinary in her physical presentation.  It was her turn to sing.  The band started up.  She opened her mouth and something came out.  It was a something beyond the sweet voice, beyond the inspired lyrics, and beyond the pure emotion.  It was … heart stopping.  It was Laura Smith.

I sat there, stunned.  What was happening to me?  Laura was going way inside my body and shaking the foundations therein.  I seek the words to describe all this and they’re not there.  Melting, falling, embracing, vibrating, crying.  Like nothing I’d heard before.

It may be that you were in the room that night and weren’t moved in the slightest.  But I doubt that you could have stayed stable during that short performance.  Yes, I was shaken.  Somehow Spirit or God or Grace filled me.  Laura Smith was a conduit for something immensely big.

Here are the lyrics to “My Bonny”, her adaptation of a classic folk song.  How can simple words on a screen shine on you?  I don’t know.  Maybe they can’t.  But here goes nothing:

My bonny lies over the ocean
My bonny lies over the sea
My bonny lies over the ocean
Bring back my bonny to me

The leaves haven’t even started falling
Already there’s such a chill in the air
Someone’s got a kite on the wind and their mate is calling
Well, I’ve got a tramp’s whisker that tells me you still care

So bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me
Yeah, bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me

Soon there’ll be no difference between the land and the water
I can walk on the ice to places I’ve never been
When I get as far as I can go
Oh, I’m gonna turn and throw my cares over my shoulder
Along with your memory
I’ll just let it all float down the Gulf Stream

And I’ll walk home singing
My bonny lies over the ocean
My bonny lies over the sea
My bonny lies over the ocean
C’mon bring back, bring back my bonny to me

Yeah, bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me
Yeah, bring back, bring back
Ah, bring back my bonny to me
Bring back my bonny, yeah
Bring back my bonny to me

Oh, the human longing for connection.  The sadness of loss.  The remembering.

The best I can do is point you to YouTube.  Enter “Laura Smith My Bonny” and see where your soul takes you.  I figure you’re more like me than different.  Perhaps you too will be stopped in your tracks.

Laura Smith is returning to Hugh’s Room on April 14.  I’ll be there.

There But For The Grace Of God

There was an article in the paper this morning about a 5-year-old girl who died in Toronto.  Camila Torcato was “a cancer survivor who was killed by a driverless, runaway SUV at St. Raphael Catholic School … A second or two earlier or later and the SUV would have either missed the little girl or she would have been safely inside her dad’s vehicle.”

How can this be?  What forces are at work in the world so that I get to have a fulfilling life, and potentially a long one?  Why have I experienced the sweetness of romantic love, the thrill of cycling long distances and the softness of Caribbean beaches while this little girl has not?

Will she be back in another body to do this life business again, this time culminating in her grandchildren gathered around her?  Or was this it for her, her one and only time to shine in the sun?  Endless words have been written on these subjects but the truth is … I don’t know.

I’m a happy and peaceful person.  Bad stuff still happens but my peace is bigger than all that.  But what about all those blank faces I see on the Toronto subway?  I’m guessing that many of the souls lying within the bodies are wounded.  Why is my experience of life so different from that?  Sure, a huge part of happiness is the attitude we bring to the table but sometimes the world is full of unhittable curve balls.  Why have so many folks faced challenges that I’ll never know?

Should I feel guilty about my long life or the cards that I’ve been dealt?  No.  But I’m sad that Camila, and many other human beings, haven’t been offered the gifts that I have.  There is so much pain in the world and often I just cry about it all.

Still, the crying needs to stop at some point.  I will continue to feel deeply the sadnesses around me and in me … and then lift my head and walk on.  Because the next human being on my path needs my full presence, my brimming heart.  It’s what I can do.  It’s what I will do.

 

 

The Heart Speaks

I received a handwritten letter yesterday from my friend “Angelique”.  It was 30 pages long.

Yes, it took me awhile for that to sink in.  And the letter wasn’t “I did this, I did that”.  Instead, it was an outpouring of the woman’s soul.  And I was privileged to be on the receiving end.

Page after page, my writer friend was naked, open to my gaze, no doubt realizing that I would hold her heart gently.  As I ended my journey on Page 30, I felt overwhelmed.  Fear ran through me.  How can I possibly reply to this?  I still don’t know what to do.

Angelique previously gave me permission to quote her words anonymously on WordPress, hopefully as a gift to you.  So I’ll continue that today.  But before sharing her thoughts, I’m sitting here stunned.  How often does another human being show you everything?  How often do they trust you so deeply?

I’ve begun to study the ideas of Patricia Albere.  She talks about “mutual awakening”, in which two people (family, friends or lovers) look way deep into each other’s eyes and feel the divinity there.  Angelique, I believe, held nothing back.  The eyes of the printed page seeped beneath my skin to the deepest parts.

Is it possible that you, reading some of her soul-filled comments, will feel that union as well?  Let’s find out.

When I write letters, I truly enjoy the writing itself, which is a kind of artistry.  I might start using a more beautiful pen with a plume (!) and dip it in ink or something more artistic, to truly enjoy writing to the maximum and to create a more beautiful letter (as a gift) to whomever I am writing.

I went to Plum Village in France, where Thich Nhat Hanh’s monasteries are … Everything became meditation practice and the three monasteries and the grounds surrounding them are filled with this energy.  And it is powerful! … When people first arrive and sit down to eat, many start crying because that strong energy of mindfulness brings them down to the pain inside themselves they have been ignoring being busy.

Whatever I do now is better, more profound, more meaningful, more satisfying and better received by my colleagues, friends and family, and I am much more relaxed, happy and feel as if I am always in touch with the divine, God, consciousness as I experience it – the wisdom and consciousness of the cosmos!

Sometimes I fail, and mindlessness emerges and messes up things.  I do my best to be alert and make amends right away and to change, to grow, to evolve and be more mindful.  It’s a practice, and I am committed!

My beloved father, who passed away in winter, 2007, all but physically appeared.  I could feel the heat of his body next to mine when I went for walks.  One morning, I awoke with his breath whispering in my ear “I love you” and since then I have known he is always with me.  It is impossible for us to be separate.  I often see his beautiful physical form in my mind’s eye, happy and contented with my behavior.

I appreciated the concern you expressed.  I felt it was God speaking actually in the present moment and that all was as it should be.  I knew good judgment had been used to break silence in that moment.  Thank you for allowing yourself to be an instrument of the divine at that time.

***

Angelique’s last comment, about a moment we shared during the meditation retreat, is such a gift to me.  I feel seen.  My intentions are understood.  I’m not just a separate “thing”.

We can be such blessings to each other … in the written word, while we stand face-to-face, and in our thoughts.  Thank you, Angelique.

 

Alone

Jody’s been dead for three years now, and I miss her so.  I would love to have a dear woman as my life partner but that hasn’t happened.  I’ve gone on dates but all four of those women said no to a relationship.  That makes me sad.

Sometimes I’ve fallen in love with a younger woman, someone in her 20’s or 30’s. I’ve fantasized about making love, and about communion.  But what’s life-serving is for that young woman to find a love far closer to her age than me, so they can grow old together.

Beneath the woe of loneliness is a peace, a slow current of life that keeps seeping into me.  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself in an altered state of consciousness while driving, walking down the street or just sitting in my man chair.  It feels like the depth I sometimes reached in meditation at last fall’s retreat.  How strange and marvelous.  And I want to sit with my lover and talk about it.  Oh well.

It may be that I will never again be in a committed relationship.  I may never again make love.  It’s amazing to open myself to this possibility … and to get that it’s okay.  I feel a happiness that’s deeper than all these thoughts.  And I get it: All that matters is the energy I put out in life.  It doesn’t matter what comes back.

And yet I still long for relationship.  How can the peace and longing happen at the same time?  I don’t know.  I see myself spooning with the beloved in bed, cuddling on the couch as we watch a popcorn-infused movie.  And I smile.  Shouldn’t I be sad that this isn’t happening in my current life?  Well, I guess, and sometimes I am.  But like I said, something way bigger is happening to me.  I feel it right now – a quiet energy roaming through my face, a falling of my flesh, a softening of my eyes.

I want to be of sevice, and I often am.  Actually, I’m often in communion with the person I’m talking to.  Maybe I don’t need the cuddling, just the deep sharing of the eyes.  Whether a loved one comes my way or not, there are always the eyes of the next human being to come calling.

Sadness
Peace
Love
Loneliness
Communion

The whole lifetime enchilada

Clothes Make The Man

Last week it was super cold in Toronto.  And I walked outside a lot.  In my pocket, and soon rolled up on my head, was my red balaclava – a knitted hat.  When the mercury really plunged, I did something that I hadn’t done in 25 years: I aligned the eye holes and the mouth hole with the appropriate body parts, placed my glasses into the contraption, zipped up my coat and headed out into the frozen world.  And I did the same thing today.

Walking down main street Belmont to the Diner, I noticed faces sitting behind passing windshields, faces that were tilting my way without saying hi.  As I entered our convenience store, the owner looked at me, I thought fearfully.  Someone asked if I was going to rob the place, the same comment I got twice in Toronto.

My entrance into the Diner was met with a group silence until I disrobed and revealed my inner Bruceness.  I wondered why folks didn’t seem to understand that it was darned cold, and that I wanted to keep my nose from freezing.  Instead, everyone was on high alert, wary of the intruder.  As a society, are we really that afraid of each other?  I hope not.

Farther along in my day, it was time for the gym.  The elliptical beckoned.  I had pulled a t-shirt from my dresser drawer, the one on top of the pile.  It was black with a white script: “Lovely Is Your Heart”.  It’s one of my favourites.  I don’t think I’ve worn it to the gym before.

Well … did I get some stares from the muscled gentlemen working out on machines!  No vomiting, but the disapproval of some was clear.  I’d often worn the same shirt during last fall’s meditation retreat, and at the end, when we could talk, two yogis mentioned how much they appreciated the message.  But the gym?  Another animal.

What were the athletes thinking?  That I’m gay?  (I’m not)  That I’m hopelessly sentimental?  (I am)  That I’m weird for having “Love” plastered on my chest?  (I suppose I am, but who cares?  Certainly not me)

I walk through life, choosing to be visible.  I know no other way.  It feels healthy not to be slinking around, out of the public view.  I talk a lot and no doubt many folks take issue with that.  I say silly things and perhaps some see me as the height of immaturity.  But one thing I know – I am pretty thoroughly myself.  And that makes me happy.

What a shame that it’s too cold for me to wear my Speedo!

 

Live Big

I went out to the movies tonight.  I saw “Chavela”, a documentary about a singer.  Sounds basic but it was intense.

“She not only slept with women, but also sang love songs about them, wore trousers, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a loaded pistol and credited her recovery from polio to shamans.”  All of this was shocking to Mexican society in the first half of the 20th century.  I’m not gay, I don’t like smoking, I drink only a bit and I abhor violence.  But I like the shaman stuff.

As a kid, Chavela wasn’t loved much by her Costa Rican parents.  They hid her when guests came by.  When she was 7, the minister of a local church said “You can’t bring her in here.  Get her out.”  In her early teens, Chavela had enough.  She ran away to Mexico City and started singing in the streets.  And what courage will I show in my approaching 70’s?

“Every word that rolls off her tongue is suffused with pure emotion.  Anyone can listen to her, know what she is feeling, and feel it with her.”  I saw this in the film.  Her voice was not pure.  But her soul ran through every word.

“I became obsessed with her ability to draw people in.  I was fascinated by her lightness and ease, her masculinity.”  Well, I also want to draw people in, and sometimes I do.

“Chavela Vargas turned abandon and desolation into a cathedral within which we all fit,” Almodóvar wrote after her death.  “She emerged reconciled with the errors she had made and ready to make them again.”  Hey, I’ve made big mistakes too.  I like to think I’ve learned from them but some repeats have crawled back into my life.  Still, I will not live careful.  That’s withering.

“At age 81, ranchera singer Chavela Vargas officially came out as a lesbian.”  Perhaps I’ll officially come out as a chronicler of the world’s wisdom.  That’s the secret project I’ve worked on sporadically since 1987.  I’ve accumulated thousands of quotes that touch me to my toes.  (Shh.  Don’t tell anybody)

“I am proud that I do not owe anybody anything, and it is wonderful to feel free,” she said in 2009.  “Now I have the desire to lie down in death’s lap, and I am sure that will be quite beautiful.”  And what will my response be to my final days?  Maybe the physical pain will be great but I intend to go out laughing.

What do I want?

To love people deeply
To suck the juice out of life’s bones
To have others laugh around me
To look way into human eyes and celebrate what’s there
To flood the world

Make it so

Questions

I was volunteering in the Grade 5/6 class this afternoon.  A community police officer spent some time talking to the kids about “peer relationships”.  How marvelous that these young people got to see a representative of the police force as approachable, engaging and funny.  A real human being, not just a uniform and a gun belt.

Adam asked the students some questions.  And I reflected on my life.

1.  Have I ever punched, shoved or hit another person?

Gosh no.  It’s so far away from who I am, and who I’ve been.  My mouth drops open when I even imagine myself being violent with someone.

2.  Have I ever threatened to hurt someone?

No.  If I have differences with a person, or criticism about something they did or said, I want to talk it out, without antagonism.

3.  Do I ever make fun of others, tease them or call them mean names?

No, except for playful teasing when I know that the other person sees I’m on their side.  But never mocking them for being different than me, whether that’s personality, sexual orientation, age, race or ethnicity.  To call a black person a “nigger” is completely foreign to me.

4.  Do I often make fun of others because they’re different from my friends and me?

No.  I love exploring the differences among us, in learning about folks whose lives are such a contrast to mine.

5.  Do I gossip about other people?  Do I spread rumours about them?

Heavens no.  That’s an act of violence, both towards the other person and towards me.  I can’t be happy if I’m aversive to someone else.  I do talk about people who are not right there listening, but it’s in the spirit of fascination and interest, not criticism.

***

Having said all this, I’m no saint.  Sometimes I don’t give folks enough space in their life, pressing forward in relationship when I need to back off some.  Sometimes I speak without thinking, without really gauging the potential impact of my words.  And sometimes I forget important things that people tell me.  But through it all, through those unskillful moments, I know that my intentions are good.

There’s so much pain in the world and my commitment is to add very little to the total, while adding a lot to the sum of well-being.

Oops

On Tuesday, I was sitting in my living room, ready to head off to the gym for an hour on the elliptical.  Since I hadn’t eaten for awhile, I plucked a power bar from the cupboard.  “Better have something to wash it down with, Bruce.”  I picked a Diet Coke.  The beginning of oops.

Firmly positioned on my steed at Wellington Fitness, I flung my arms and legs into space.  Hmm.  I didn’t feel as strong as I usually did.  In fact, I was exhausted after the hour.  Then it was 20 minutes of yoga … but something was amiss.  Why was I so tired?

On the drive home, the nausea hit.  Mild but irritating.  And it stayed with me for the rest of the day.  That evening, I went to a meditation group in London.  At one point, the leader talked about a possible benefit of meditation: a decrease in reactivity.  Since I’ve learned that others often find it helpful for me to talk about what’s happening in the present moment, I spoke up.  “I’m feeling exhausted and nauseous, probably because I drank a Diet Coke just before exercising.  My recent retreat was helpful in dealing with stuff like this.  Although I had a burst of telling myself I was stupid, that self-condemnation passed quickly.  I felt into my body and into my feelings (sadness) and after awhile I was left with just the physical pain, not endless thoughts about what it meant.”  It was a contribution, and I was pleased.

The pain got worse overnight.  Hardly any sleep till 3:00 am, when I started consuming Tums and Gas-X.  Not to mention a laxative.  I also placed a barf bucket close to my bed.  Proliferating thoughts returned.  “It’s the flu.  I’ll be out of commission for the next two weeks.  Tomorrow’s my birthday and I need to cancel all the cool things I’ve planned.  What a horrible way to spend my special day!”  I phoned my hairstylist’s answering machine right then and cancelled my 10:00 am appointment.  “And I’d better cancel my volunteer time this afternoon with the Grade 6’s.  And my dinner with my friend (I’ll call her Mary).”

And then I fell asleep.  I was awake at 6:30 and feeling some better.  I looked at those earlier thoughts, and within a minute of two, decided that they no longer applied.  I phoned my hairstylist and left another message that I was coming.

The vague nausea continued throughout the day.  “Surely a reaction to Diet Coke wouldn’t last this long!  I must have the flu.”  Blah, blah, blah.  Despite what my body felt like and what my mind was churning out, I saw the opportunity.  “It’s easy, Bruce, to be happy when your life is rolling along smoothly.  How cool would it be to enjoy your birthday while this pain does its thing?”

Here’s what happened:

1. My hairsylist (I’ll call her Jessica) counted down with me to 10:00 am (my time of birth, according to mom).  At the dot of 10, I rose from the chair as Jessica squealed “Happy Birthday!”  We hugged, and all was right with the world.

2. At about 1:15, the Grade 6 kids sang “Happy Birthday” to me.  I tried to convince them that I was 45 but those young ones are just too smart.  For the rest of the afternoon, I had some fun conversations with 11-year-olds.  Yay for volunteering!

3. Mary and I had a fine time at Boston Pizza.  My meal was ginger ale, chicken noodle soup and a garden salad with a non-creamy dressing.  Just what I needed.  And so was our talk.  Mary has been having a tough time lately and I think she heard me when I suggested she feel her pain deeply but not to linger on it, then to stand tall and continue moving her life towards happiness.

***

I’m happy.  This morning I woke up to energy and a calm stomach.  No flu.  I went back on the elliptical (without a Diet Coke appetizer).  I lived my birthday.  And I’m committed to doing good in the world no matter what my body is telling me.

Pastor and Me

I had breakfast with a local pastor this morning at the Belmont Diner.  I’ll call him Peter.  Due to the heavy snow falling, he was a half-hour late.  As I sat at the counter waiting for him, and engaging in conversation about the weather and (less convincingly) about the placement of garages, I felt into the sense of loss I was experiencing.  “If he doesn’t show, how will I get to see him again?  I don’t have any contact information.  And then who will I talk to locally about spiritual matters?”

On the retreat last fall, we were encouraged to classify our present moments as “pleasant, unpleasant or neutral”.  This was unpleasant.  Then we’d be asked to see what feelings were present.  This morning it was sadness and fear.  And then the experience of “OK-ness” washed over me.  I didn’t need Peter to show up.  Confidence came … that the universe would create spiritual discussions for me.  Peace was here.  And I continued on with my bacon and eggs.

The Diner door opens and in walks Peter!  I was happy.  Thank you, dear universe.  He had loads of questions about the retreat, starting with what the daily schedule was like (wakeup bell at 4:50!)  I talked about the Buddha’s focus on the present moment, on his insistence that certain types of suffering were always going to be with us (such as sporadic physical pain), but other forms of it were optional.  Mr. Buddha said that craving people and things was the source of that second type.  Peter smiled and expressed his sense of relationship with the Divine, in the form of Jesus.

I marvelled at what was happening.  There was no judgment from either of us.  And no sense of contraction that I could feel, even as we revealed our differences.  Four or five folks sat near us at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter.  Some, maybe all of them, were listening.  I told Peter that occasionally in Belmont I’m brave enough to venture into spirituality in conversation.  Often people change the topic quickly, but sometimes not.  “A lot of folks think I’m weird, Peter.”  His response?  “Welcome to my world!”  I love it.

To expand my range of spiritual contacts, I’ve decided to rejoin a meditation group in London, usually about a 40 minute drive away.  Their first meeting after Christmas is tonight but the snow continues to fall.  Travel is not recommended.  But it doesn’t matter if that reunion happens tonight.  I’m drawn to it.

Peter and I arranged to talk again next Monday.  Who knows what epiphanies might arise?  Or maybe not.  But we will connect in a way that transcends the rational mind.