Just A Wave

I was returning from London this afternoon on our local freeway.  I took the off ramp towards Belmont and braked to the stop sign.  To my right were two lanes in my direction which merged into one a couple of hundred metres away.  To my left was the freeway overpass and I saw no one coming.  I pulled into the right lane and put on my left turn signal.  My side mirror showed a motorcyclist zooming along the left lane towards me.

If you were a fiction writer, how would you finish this story?  With a spectacular crash and heroic rescue?  A near miss?  The truth was far less dramatic.

I let the motorcyclist go past and then moved into the left lane.  He or she waved.

And I paused, feeling a warmth course through me.  I pondered the beauty and the simplicity.  It was a “thank you”.

***

About a week ago, I was driving to the school where I volunteer.  It’s way out in the country, surrounded by corn and soybean fields.  Almost all the students are bussed, but there is an exception.  I started braking in preparation for turning left into the parking lot.  I glanced left to the house beside the school and there was a girl walking down the driveway.  She waved at me.  The same warmth, the same smile.  Contact.

***

Three summers ago, I went on a road trip to Western Canada to visit some of Jody’s relatives and a few old friends of mine.  I stayed a couple of nights with a marvelous family near Kamloops, B.C.  We laughed a lot.  When it was time to say goodbye, I hugged everyone and got in Scarlet.  As I drove down their lane, I glanced in the rearview mirror.  Three human beings were standing in front of their house, each of them waving to me.  Ditto again.

***

Hi
Bye
I see you

The Space

I used to be in a personal development program where we were asked to “hold the space” – of commitment for instance.  So I would be committed to achieving some result, and my example of commitment would hopefully inspire others to do the same.

The space is an atmosphere of goodness, sufficiency, expansion, sweetness …  It’s like when you enter a room and you can immediately sense the spiritual environment – hopefully one of welcoming and peace, not one of contraction and anger.

I meditated for eighty minutes this afternoon.  The length of time is mostly irrelevant – the space that I reached was not.  It was pretty much indescribable but I’ll give it a go.  It felt like my breathing stopped.  Everything stopped.  Even thoughts only showed up occasionally.  My face softened and the muscles fell.  Some energy shimmered over my forehead.  Within the stillness came a little smile and an instant later all was love.  Truly all was love.  There was nothing outside of love.

Then there was a flurry of thoughts and the stillness left.  There was a pulsing instead.  I decided to just watch it.  Actually I was hoping the pulse would go away and the no-movement would return, but I was fine with that not happening.  Minutes later, all was still and love again and I sat there in that space for what felt like a long time.

Everything was fine, completely sufficient, sacred, floating, resting, in communion with life.  And then my eyes opened.  I caressed my singing bowl three times with the mallet and my meditation sitting was over.

The space lingered as I got out of my meditation chair, found my wallet, and got into Scarlet for the drive to the Barking Cat, my local pub.  Nachos beckoned.  I was still deeply within the space as I opened the door.  The place was packed and I had to search for a seat.  The PGA Tour Championship was on TV and Tiger Woods was leading, for the first time in many years.  And then what?

The space went poof as I salivated over the possibility of Tiger being my hero again.  I brought my nose towards the television to follow every shot.  Swept up and overwhelmed by an old version of me.  How easily I let the space of transcendence slip away, unconsciously.  Only after the nachos were tiny bits did I wake up to what had happened.

***

So … will I commit to the current version of Bruce showing up a lot more frequently?  Yes, I will.  I can’t afford not to, for there isn’t much cheese down the tunnel of birdie putts and monster drives.  The cheese is elsewhere.

The space that came upon me today, by grace, is available as I walk into a living room, a school, and yes, even a pub.  What can I create with kids and adults coming from such an aura of love?  Something beautiful, I think, even if that’s largely unknown right now.

May I let the space linger, even within the flurry of daily life.

Unlike Them?

I enjoy reading many of the articles in The Athletic, a sports website.  They go far beyond the score and the thrilling plays to find the human beings.  That’s what I’m interested in – how other lives can relate to mine, how there are lessons out there for me to learn.

Yesterday I read about Tyler Parsons, a 21-year-old prospect with the Calgary Flames hockey club.  A couple of years ago, while I following the progress of the London Knights (my local junior hockey team), Tyler was the goalie.  I loved seeing his spectacular saves and he seemed like a good person.  And that’s where my pondering about him ended.  But who knows what’s beneath the surface of our skin?

The article laid bare Tyler’s emotional life, with his blessing.  It was so unlike the culture of male professional sports, where one need to be tough, without feeling, totally focused on achievement.

“I finally spoke up.”  Indeed he did, and well done, young man.  Here’s what he had to say:

I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me.  I’m better now.  But before all this happened, I thought mental health and all that stuff was a bunch of bullshit.

One thing builds into another.  You start with a small issue, and it seems to just build up and build up and build up till it becomes physically and mentally painful.

Problems in your life are what molds you.  I’ve been through so much in my life in such a short span that it grew me as a person.

If I wouldn’t have opened the doors and started talking, I wouldn’t be sitting in this chair right now doing this interview.  I probably wouldn’t be playing hockey.

I’m not going to sit back here and hold it in when my words, my story, can change somebody else’s life.  If I can help somebody get out of that state, possibly save their life … because there were many times when I was in that state that I didn’t want to be alive.

It seems to me that when the world is collapsing, it’s just ME … my feelings, my woes, my long victim-laden story.  Tyler has found a way to spend time in US … empathy, kindness and compassion.  May we all find this togetherness.

 

 

 

 

Unlike Them

Last night, during a hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Florida Panthers, Maxi Domi of Montreal tried to goad Aaron Ekblad into a fight.  As they tussled, Max punched Aaron with his glove on.  But Ekblad didn’t want to fight.  Then Domi whipped off the glove and smashed him in the face with his bare fist.  Aaron was bleeding and left the game for concussion testing.  Max was ejected, and today was suspended for five games.

The culture of hockey has always included fighting.  The general expectation is that you stand up for yourself, that you fight if provoked.  But here comes a fellow who doesn’t want to play that game.  He wants to play hockey.

What does it take to create a paradigm shift?  Well, a few brave souls for one thing.  I don’t know of another sport where fighting is acceptable, where assaulting another human being is seen by many as “being a man”.  Congratulations, Aaron.  By saying no to violence, you’re beginning to create a new groove in the sport, one that will deepen as more courageous athletes join you.

Speaking of shifts, a couple of days ago, the teacher I volunteer with presented the kids with little plastic boxes for the books they’re reading.  His first question was “Who wants a pink one?”  As well as a few girls, six boys put up their hands.  I wonder how many of them would have done that 20 years ago.  (Zero)

Who are other pioneers of change in our world?

1. Women who opt for careers in areas traditionally dominated by men, e.g. police officers, plumbers and professional coaches

2. Men who opt for careers in areas traditionally dominated by women, e.g. hairstylists, primary school teachers and ballet dancers

3.  Men who cry

4.  Women who demand to be heard

5.  Kids who have ideas for bettering our world and speak of them assertively

6.  Elders who dive into sports

7.  Folks with a physical handicap who get out there and make things happen

8.  Religious leaders who see God in other faiths

9.  Politicians who applaud the good ideas coming from members of other parties

10.  Those of us who think of all of us

Come on down, you movers and groovers!

 

The Dance

I was online yesterday with some members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  Part of the experience is practicing 1-1 with one other person.  As we let go of concepts, images often come.  While I talked to “Sherry”, the dance entered my mind.  We were doing a slow waltz to the most celestial music.  We whirled so gently.  And I gazed deep into the eyes of the Beloved.  I was lost in the moving, in the glory of another human being moving with me.  Time stopped.  Even within the flow, there was stillness.  We danced.

Jody and I often danced.  We jived to the accompaniment of glorious smiles.  We did the fox trot and the waltz, imperfectly but lovingly.  We held each other close.

Decades ago, I was involved in a personal development program called Est (Erhard Seminars Training).  We leadership candidates met in person occasionally and we’d go dancing.  Fast dancing.  No-mind dancing.  We called it breakthrough dancing.  My body parts moved every whichway, unattached to my head.  When I was able to let go completely, it was glorious.

Rita and I were married before Jody and I were married.  The family lived on a grain farm in Southern Alberta.  Saturday nights during the winter were often times for old time dancing – whole families getting together in a school gym to share “The Road to the Isles”, “The Schottische” and the allemande lefts of square dancing.  I danced with lots of women, not just Rita – older ladies, kids and my dear mother-in-law Amy.  It was family.

So dancing is in my jeans.  And in my meditations.

And clearly not just me.  Here are some words from those who are danced through life:

We should consider every day lost in which we have not danced at least once

To dance is to be out of yourself.  Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.  This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking

Dance when you’re broken open.  Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off.  Dance in the middle of the fighting.  Dance in your blood.  Dance when you’re perfectly free

While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life.  I can only be joyful and whole.  This is why I dance

There is a need to find and sing our own song, to stretch our limbs and shake them in a dance so wild that nothing can roost there

To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music

Indeed, wise friends
Bring on the insanity

Lucan

I’m sipping coffee in Ilderton, a stone’s throw or two from Lucan, Ontario, where tonight there’s a hockey game. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators face off in the community centre, in front of perhaps 1300 souls.

The tickets were divvied up through a lottery and I’m excited to reveal that I …

Don’t have one

So why have I headed up here, you ask. I just want to be a part of the vibe on Main Street. Maybe I’ll hug the outside walls of the arena. Or sit down with 1000 other fans in front of a giant TV screen to watch the game.

I love seeing Mitch Marner skate, pass and score. Perhaps he’ll see me in the parking lot and invite me inside … the building, the dressing room, his heart. Oh, Bruce, you are so strange.

Main Street Lucan. I parked blocks from the arena to get a feel for downtown Hockeyville. Store after store was festooned in blue and red ribbons for the two teams. Canada Post is naturally decked out in the appropriate colours but they added wraps of crepe paper to their wheelchair ramp. So cool. Hockey sweaters and sticks filled store windows. And somewhere in town, apparently there’s a church with this message on its lawn: “Love thy neighbour even if they are not Leafs fans.”

The sidewalks were full with families walking to the game, sporting Leafs and Senators jerseys, mostly Leafs. There was joy in their strolls towards town history.

At the community centre, there were TV trucks, huge buses, lots of police cars and the general milling around of folks who had little paper rectangles in their hands. Those people went inside.

I was directed to a long line behind the arena, winding its way to a huge white tent glowing in the distance. Everyone seemed to have a ticket for the giant TV showing of the game. Somebody said there were 100 tickets left an hour ago. As I joked with the locals near me, I kept an eye on a woman in the distance. She was behind a table at the gate, and kept opening and closing a small metal box. I took this to be an excellent sign that there were tickets left. When I finally reached her table, I heard these golden words: “There are twenty left, sir.” I’m in!

I never thought of bringing a lawn chair, unlike 700 other souls. Oh well. Knowing that my feet couldn’t handle three hours of standing, I went to the front left edge of the crowd and plunked myself down behind a couple in their chairs. Between them, from the vantage point of the ground, there was a perfect viewing angle. My butt hurt a lot over the next three hours but so what? I was in Lucan, two hundred metres from my team and my hero. I was roaring approval at John Tavares’ first goal as a Leaf, surrounded by the cheers of my neighbours. Otherworldly!

Smiles everywhere
Town pride everywhere
What a privilege to be immersed in such life

Danger and Love

If you were reading my blog two years ago, you heard about Lydia and Jo, Belgium and Senegal.  In December, I’m visiting my friends in Belgium and then we’re flying to Senegal in Africa to visit their twenty foster children.  A grand adventure.

Today I went to the London Travel Clinic to find out what shots I need.  The doctor didn’t pull any punches: “You’re going to one of the most dangerous places in the world.”  Dangerous as in disease.  She described a belt which runs west to east across the middle of Africa … big problems with respect to health.  But I can get the “full meal deal” of vaccines and pills to protect me.

Today I had four injections.  In a month I’ll have two or three more.  Here’s what I’m avoiding:

1. Yellow fever – potentially fatal without protection, widespread in parts of Africa, carried by infected mosquitoes

2. Hepatitis A – contracted through impure water

3. Hepatitis B – contracted through blood or other bodily fluids

4. Typhoid – contracted by eating food or drinking water contaminated with the feces of an infected person

5. Meningitis – inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, due to infection

6. Measles, mumps and rubella – infections caused by viruses

7. Malaria – a life-threatening disease transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito

And here are some other do’s and don’ts for me to contemplate:

1. Put on insect repellent at the beginning of the day and every four hours thereafter. Make sure it has a high concentration of DEET.

2. Don’t pet dogs.  Actually, stay away from dogs.  Rabies is a common cause of death in Africa.

3. To avoid diarrhea, drink only boiled fluids or those coming out of a sealed bottle.  Stay well-hydrated.  Brush your teeth with bottled water.

4. Eat well-cooked meat, rice and peeled fruit, such as bananas. Don’t eat salads or berries since they may have been washed in impure water.

5. Stay well-hydrated to avoid constipation.  Take a supply of Bran Buds with you since African food tends to be low in fibre.  Use a laxative such as Restoralax as needed.

***

Well, this definitely gets me thinking.  Ruth, the doctor at the clinic, told me not to worry since I’ll be well protected.  Still, I need to be on high alert while I’m in Senegal.  Not exactly a “falling asleep on the beach” vacation.  Here comes a dog.  Those greens look yummy but …  Did I take that malaria pill at breakfast?

I’m a bit afraid but then clear thinking returns.  I’m committed to being safe.

I want the trip to be about people – especially Jo and Lydia’s kids, but also the Senegalese adults I’ll meet.  I’ll handle the health details, breathe easy because of that, and open myself to love.

Excess

(I sent out an incomplete version of this post this morning. Oops! If you received it, you may have wondered what follows “A 40”. Read on.)

I’m sitting in the living room of my B&B in Toronto, staring at the cover of a local magazine. There sits a gigantic hamburger in high definition, piled with two patties, two onion rings, bacon, carmelized onions, lettuce, tomato and cheese … cheese … cheese. The burger looks to be four inches in diameter and six inches high.

My knee jerk response is lust, but then I settle down. My eyes narrow and desire fades to revulsion. How would you get such a thing in your mouth? Do we really need five vivid flavours competing for space in our consciousness? Well … no.

I wonder what other examples of animal magnetism I’ll find in these pages:

1. A 40-storey condo tower will be prime real estate – at Bloor and Yonge. If you have a few million dollars lying around, you’ll be able to call “a shimmering sculpture of light and gold” home.

2. How about a fitness experience? If you join this club, you’ll feel “a great energy and flow to the space”, not to mention the change room and “its accoutrements: the towels, the shower products, the padlock-less lockers, the vanity, and even that earthy rug/mat”. Perhaps especially the vanity.

3. “I splurged on a $350 sweater for my boyfriend [Aimé Leon Dore microfleece]. We’re both obsessed with this designer.”

4. A weeklong event to “bring the city’s celebrated bars, bartenders, brands and cocktail lovers together. Come for the amazing parties and bar crawls, the one-of-a-kind seminars and tastings, and even a boozy film screening or two.”

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. If you have the money it’s one choice you can make. But subtle messages shine through:

Bigger is better
Look at me
Happiness is an outside job

I don’t think so

Notes from the Davis Cup

For the last two days, I’ve been watching men’s tennis at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto. Canada versus the Netherlands. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The place was only half full. I was sad for the players and for me. I’ve been to many sporting events when the building was packed and the energy sky high. I just love that energy. It makes me bigger. It reminds me of the spiritual realms that human beings can reach.

2. On Friday, Milos Raonic was playing a match when his Dutch opponent blasted a ball right at him. It went through Milos’ legs and struck the linesman standing behind. The man or woman (I couldn’t tell) crumpled, and Milos was there in an instant, offering support. That’s what the world needs. Sure, Milos has the status and the big bucks, but we’re all human beings who hurt every so often.

3. These players are so powerful and serve the ball at over 100 miles an hour, but it’s the delicate shots I love – a sliced backhand that seems to go sideways when it hits the court, a big backswing disguising a slow-motion drop shot falling softly out of the opponent’s reach, a lob that arches way over a player’s head and lands six inches inside the baseline. Give me the artists, please.

4. Then there are the very few fans who make a noise just as a Dutch player is starting his serving motion. No one does this when a Canadian is serving. Spare me from the world’s ethnocentric folks … my group is better than your group and maybe I can do something to have my group win. I love cheering for Canada and I also love applauding a brilliant shot, no matter who makes it.

5. The first day, I had a lovely couple on my right and two lovely women on my left. I had a great time bantering in one direction and then the other. Strangers became friends. Caution gave way to smiles. Yesterday the two women sat several seats further to my left. I don’t know why. I had fun with the couple but within that was a sadness, that a relationship had faded, that close had become distant. I hope the two women come back today but they may not. It seems that so much of life is a letting go.

6. The Coca-Cola Coliseum has been the home of the Toronto Marlies hockey team for a long time. They’re one level down from the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Inside the front entrance is a sign: “Building Maple Leafs since 1927.” Very cool. And all around the arena, on the little wall separating the lower seats from the balcony, are many of the team’s leafy logos, each with a name.

“Armstrong 1949” – the year of my birth. And that must be George Armstrong, whom I idolized in the Stanley Cup years of the 1960’s. George was the Leafs’ captain for 13 years. I looked up at all those names and thought of the history of the place. Tennis below … hockey above. May we always remember the history of those we love.

7. Daniel Nestor. The greatest tennis player in Canadian history. And yesterday was his final match, a doubles loss to the Netherlands. Daniel played poorly and later admitted that he wasn’t good enough anymore. Jean-Julien Rojer, his opponent and friend, said “You can say that eventually Father Time was undefeated because it catches up to you.”

Daniel cried as he spoke to the crowd after the match. “I love you guys [the Canadian team]. I love you fans. I love the city.” Well said.

I read an article last night about Daniel retiring. The writer said that Nestor “lost his composure”. Thank God he did. I don’t want to be a composed human being. I want to feel life, down deep in my bones.

Like you, Daniel

Parallel

I was sitting in the living room this morning with Ihor, my Toronto B&B host. We talked about life. He mentioned that his all-time favourite teacher was Mr. Whiteside in Grade 7. He helped the kids feel like human beings, like they mattered.

Years later, Ihor saw Mr. Whiteside on the subway one evening. He was snoozing. Ihor decided to leave him alone. He no doubt was exhausted from a day of teaching, marking and creating lesson plans. The intended message was simply “Thank you.” But there was no joyous giving and no likely joyous receiving. Ihor was sad in the years proceeding that he didn’t speak up.

I listened … and remembered the same. It was about 1970 and I was a student at the University of Toronto. As I approached an old stone arch on campus, I looked through to see “a little old man” coming towards me from the other side. Closer, I recognized the fellow: it was Lester Pearson, the recently retired Prime Minister of Canada. Pearson had been a leader in promoting peace in the world. He was a true Canadian hero. “Say something, Bruce!”

And now we were both entering the arch. I looked towards him with a dry mouth … and averted my gaze as we passed by. (Sigh) My sadness lingered for many years.

Ihor nodded.

Then he began again. “Many years later, I was walking on the Lake Huron sand near Wasaga Beach. A guy was walking towards me. It was David Crombie, known as ‘the tiny perfect mayor’ of Toronto. Visions of Mr. Whiteside. I walked right up to him and said ‘Hi.’ David smiled back and we had a good talk.”

I nodded.

Then I shared the story which took place in Bruno’s Fine Foods, a few decades after Mr. Pearson. I wheeled my shopping cart into the next aisle, and there at the far end was a little old man, pushing his. Closer. I knew him. It was King Clancy, a former player and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now he was 80 or 90. He reached for his shelf and I reached for mine. Soon we were cart to cart …

“Hello, Mr. Clancy.”

(Big smile) “Hello.”

“Thank you for your contributions to the Leafs and to hockey.”

“You’re most welcome.”

And we talked some more.

***

Lesson learned, eh, Ihor?
May we always remember