Every month, the disciple who was sent away after years of training faithfully sent his master an account of his spiritual progress.  

In the first month, he wrote: “I feel an expansion of consciousness and experience oneness with the universe.”  The master glanced at the note and threw it away.

Two months later he received a note: “I finally discovered the holiness that is present in all things.”  The master seemed disappointed, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash.

In his third letter two months later, the disciple enthusiastically explained: “The mystery of the One and the many has been revealed to my wondering gaze.”  The master yawned.

Next letter said: “No one is born, no one dies, no one lives, the self is not.”  The master threw this into the trash and threw his hands up in despair.

Months passed, then a year.  After the second year, the master thought it was time to remind his disciple that he had promised to keep him informed of his spiritual progress.  The disciple wrote back: “Who cares what you think?” 

When the master read these words, a great look of satisfaction spread over his face.  “Thank God!  He’s got it at last.”

I revere the people in my life
Their words and actions influence me
As no doubt mine influence them
And yet …

Praise and blame
Fame and disrepute
Are imposters

The Residue of Bias

Over the last few days, I’ve watched a documentary on Netflix: Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.  It shows a dedicated team of archaeologists, historians, workers and even a medical doctor.  They dig, uncover relics, decipher hieroglyphics on interior walls, study skulls and bones … and add to the story of Egyptian history.  I was fascinated.

One thing I love about me is my welcoming of everyone, regardless of age, gender, culture, sexual orientation and personality.  Watching this show, however, has shone light on my dark side, on my old assumptions about people.

Take the title of the documentary, for instance.  “Why doesn’t ‘Saqqara’ have a ‘u’ after the second ‘q’?  Surely to do so is normal.  We all know how to spell ‘quiet’.”  Western civilization goes with “qu”, but so what?  Who is this “we all” that spells this way?  Growing up, I absorbed the values of my parents and friends, as well as those of Canadian culture.  My view of the world was narrow.  I was swimming in the waters of ethnocentrism: “evaluating other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture”.  Today I say “No thanks” to such distorted vision.  But I didn’t have the eyes to see when I was twenty.

Temperatures at the dig were usually over 30º Celsius (86º Fahrenheit).  People working there either wore long-sleeved shirts and jeans or traditional dress that covered the arms and legs.  “Boy, they must be hot!  Why don’t they wear t-shirts and shorts?”  How my bias leaks out … unconsciously.

Another unexamined thought of mine apparently is that women wearing traditional African dress, including the Muslim headscarf called a hajib, would not be doing professional work.  Once the team found the entrance to Wahtye’s tomb, and began excavating, the paintings on the wall were interpreted expertly by a woman wearing a hajib!  My pause as I listened to her speak about the family relationships on those walls showed me that my spiritual development is incomplete.

Next to open my eyes was a medical doctor who was an expert on human bones and the stresses she saw there.  She theorized that the reason children’s skeletons were buried with their parents was that this part of Eqypt was rocked with a malaria outbreak around 600 B.C.  She analyzed the way people walked from how their leg bones fit together.  “This bone should be more externally rotated if Wahtye was healthy.”  Once again, while my current spirituality praises the insights of the doctor, somewhere lurking inside me are vestiges of a kid who learned that women don’t do important work.  (Sigh)

Towards the end of the film, various folks working on the dig talked about Wahtye and his family.  Their sensitivity to these ancient ones, their clear feeling of relationship with them, shone through:

The only place I sensed true sadness was in his burial chamber.  There were no signs of luxury or indulgence.  The coffin was just regular wood, and he wasn’t even mummified that well.  Maybe the shock of his children’s death brought him to this.


We still need to find out how he died but it’s something very beautiful, which fills your heart with joy, to reveal the face of Wahtye.


I think this skull is Wahtye.  At last I meet him!  Something was happening in this bone.  I’m trying to feel his pain and suffering.


On the walls, we see the dreams of Wahtye, what he hoped his afterlife would be.  In his bones, we see the real story – one that is just like ours.


I am humbled, by human beings of the past and present
I still have much to learn

Dream a Rotten Dream

5:41 am … this morning.  I was thrust out of a sickly sleep back to the world of solid things.  Not sickly like physical.  Sickly like emotional pain.  I’m sure you’ve been there.

I was in a university program.  It felt like accounting.  There was a prof at the bottom of a lecture hall, talking about incomprehensible concepts of mathematics.  I looked around and all of my pen-wielding classmates were nodding in approval at the wonders of calculus.  Then it was a seminar room, with everyone walking around with rolled up blueprints.  Person after person unfurled their creations, to the delight of themselves and all assembled – except me.  Someone asked me a question about balance sheets and I stuttered and drooled.  Disapproving chins dropped in a 360° dance.  I blobbed to the floor.

In the cafeteria, I sat alone, shunned by the mathematically inclined.  No cell phone, no internet, no use on the planet.  Eventually some kind soul offered me a ride home in their van.  Seven folks watched me walk up the steps of home.  No one said “Goodnight”.

(Bam!)  5:41.  My mouth was sour, perfectly aligned with my stomach.  The details of university accounting poured out easily and I knew they’d remain throughout the day.  They did.

Where did this yucky world come from?  Why did it visit me, a spiritually sensitive human being?  Don’t you graduate from nightmares eventually?

Apparently not.

Somewhat Useless

I love words, and I have an aversion to certain words.  I want to say things directly, with no humming and hawing.  I want adjectives to stand on their own.  Take “happy” for instance.  I see no value in throwing an adverb in front to water down the meaning.  “Somewhat happy” just doesn’t do it for me.  I’m on a mission to rid myself of “extra” words – ones that don’t add to the value of the statement.  In fact they detract.

I was watching tennis this afternoon.  The two players were making lots of mistakes.  The announcer chimed in with “It’s been a little bit of a messy game.”  I say just stick with “It’s been a messy game” (which is minus four words).  More impact.  In fact, “They’re both making lots of mistakes” sounds even better.  Or how about “When the pressure was on, with the match hanging in the balance, she double faulted”?  (For each point, a player has two chances to serve the ball into the service box.  If you miss them both, it’s a “double fault”.)

Here’s my personal list of no-no’s:

1.  somewhat
2.  a bit
3.  slightly
4.  quite
5.  relatively
6.  kind of
7.  pretty … as in “pretty good”
8.  a little
9.  just
10.  generally

And there’s lots of time for this list to grow!  For me, I’m going to cut to the chase, say it like a bang not a whimper, call a spade a spade.  When I do that, I stand taller.  Good for me.

Look At That!

If I had influence with the good fairy
who’s supposed to preside over the birth of all children

I would ask that her gift to each child in the world
would be a sense of wonder so indestructible
it would last throughout life

Rachel Carlson

What would life be like if all of us gazed upon the simplest things with soft, open eyes?

Of course there are the “big” things:

1.  A man down on his knee, asking his beloved to marry him

2.  A violinist, centre stage, playing the sweetest melody with the passion of the gods

3.  A spider web in the early morning, suddenly revealed as laden with dew as the sun comes from behind a cloud

4.  You sitting by the bedside, holding your beloved’s hand, as she takes her last breath

5.  A sunrise painting the sky

Hopefully it’s not hard for each of us, young or old, to see the majesty of these moments.  But can the 10-year-old and the 40-year-old see the nuances of life, and are they willing to drink them in, with the mouth forming a little “o”?

1.  A flicker of the eyes in delight

2.  The play of light as it curves across the surface of an orange

3.  Watching as a friend does a kindness to someone else

4.  Birds frolicking in the grass, seeking the seeds that have fallen from the feeder

5.  Considering the span of life experience in an elder, perhaps a grandparent

There is much to see
There is much which can cause us to pause
We are better for the lingering


I feel like writing a poem.  The challenge is that I have no topic in mind … no plan.  No rhyme or reason.  (Wait a minute, I think I just made a poetry joke!)  I’m sitting here with bits of snow falling through the sun.  Special enough to let fly with unpremeditated verse.  And I don’t even care if you like it!

So here goes:

Underwater there is no understanding
The breathing is fine as the bubbles rise up
Suspended, gyrating and upside down
I lean into the wayward current

Down here I don’t have to be smart
Being witty and eloquent is a waste of time
As the water surrounding me, the words flow by
Unknown as the source, unknown as a goal

The arms straight out, rounding their tiny circles
The legs straight down, reaching for the core
The eyes wide open, so very well lubricated
And the heart sloshing away in the wetness of it all

I could live down here with some lessons from fish
I could thrive down here as the seaweeds wave greenly
And if I die down here, all will be swept away
As I retreat to the pebbles below

Perhaps I’ll burst above the surface of the sea
And arch my back to the rising sun
Propelled to the up and off to the sides
The horizon says “Hi!” on my way

Why not the middle, lying on the waves?
Ticked underneath, shone upon from above
On my back, feeling the massage of all time
In my smile as I’m cradled to sleep

That’ll do nicely.

Well Done

Some years ago on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Seattle, a young Catholic priest stopped to talk to a parishioner and her five-year-old daughter Carmen.  The little girl had a new jump rope and the priest, being young, began to demonstrate the intricacies of rope jumping from his own childhood.  Delighted, Carmen began to jump – first once, then twice.  The mother and priest clapped loudly for her skill.  Eventually the little girl was able to jump quite well on her own and wandered off with her newfound skill.

Priest and mother chatted a few moments until Carmen – with sadder, wiser eyes – returned, dragging her rope.

“Mommy,” she lamented, “I can do it, but I need lots of clapping.”



How come so many people are stingy with praise?  Or perhaps never offer it?  My dear wife Jody told me years ago that her mom never gave her a compliment to her face.  Oh, she may have bragged about Jody graduating as an occupational therapist from Western University in London, Ontario.  But if so, Jody never heard those words.  Far more sadly, Jody had no memory of her mom ever saying “Goodnight” to her.  And it gets worse:  Not once did she hear “I love you.”


Do we think that there’s some giant teeter totter where if I raise the other person up, that means I fall?  No, life is not a “zero sum” game.  When I hold you aloft, my toes leave the ground.

So I’m on the lookout for anyone who does anything well.  My hands are ready to come together for you.


Looking At It All

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate and prejudice so stubbornly
is they sense that once hate is gone they will be forced to deal with their own pain

James Baldwin

These days I don’t sense any prejudice in me.  Thirty years ago, however, I lived in Lethbridge, Alberta, near Canada’s largest Indian reserve.  (That’s what we called them back then.  Today they are appropriately referred to as First Nation reserves.)  Galt Gardens, our downtown park, was often well populated with “drunken Indians”, and my dislike of them hung on me like a stink.  I considered myself a humane fellow … but I made exceptions.

What I didn’t get at the time was that I too was addicted.  Not to alcohol or drugs, but to nose drops.  A squeeze bottle of Otrivin was essential equipment in my daily life.  A spray would open up my nasal passages briefly but would soon close them again.  I had a problem, one that I was essentially numb to.  “Carry on happily, Bruce.”

For perhaps ten years in the early 2000’s, I was addicted to sleeping pills.  As a teacher, I’d had many sleepless Sunday nights.  My doctor suggested that I add a second brand of sleeping pill for awhile.  I agreed, and soldiered on, taking three pills every night.  I didn’t realize that my mental dullness was impacting life at work and at home with Jody.  I eventually woke up, so to speak, and began a long weaning off the meds – one half of a pill less every month.

Although my prejudice against aboriginal folks declined over the years (and I don’t see any now), I look back and wonder whether it would have been there so strongly if I had been willing to look myself in the mirror and tell the truth – about nose drops, about lying to people when I was too sacred to tell the truth, about standing a girl up on a date …  I could go on.

During the last year, one reality about being a Zoom host presented itself.  I wasn’t very good at it.  The difference was that finally I could look my deficit in the eye.  “This is true, and I can improve.”  Which I’ve done.

There will be more moments of falling short, of not getting the job done.  I promise to go to the mirror … and to nod.  “This is what’s true right now.  It won’t be forever, but it is now.”

Shared Unity

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher who knows all about bringing people together. The unity he fosters is not about folks crossing the gap from one separate being to another. It’s not about being a good listener or being compassionate to someone outside of yourself. The communion instead is people being immersed in the same reality, feeling as if they’re one body, pouring love to the fingertips and toes … and far beyond.

Another thing that’s really made a difference, for me and so many people who have undertaken a path of practice, is to have a place to practice and to have friends (sangha, community) because when we lose it someone else reminds us. I’ve been reminded as much by all the people who come on retreats. And the level of courage and the beauty of people’s devotion to awakening or genuineness, I see over and over again.

I’m thinking of myself being up there on retreat. There was a woman in the community whose teenaged daughter had died and she was on the retreat a year afterward over the anniversary of her daughter’s death. So it was really a tough, grief-filled time. And the day came and I talked with her. I said “Why don’t you do a little ritual? This morning while we’re sitting quietly, why don’t you go out at the time you know that your daughter died, and ring the bell 108 times – the great big bell that’s up there? It’s a traditional way of paying respects or honor. 108 is a kind of mystical or sacred number in India. It means everything included. Ring the bell 108 times in her honor.”

We’re all sitting in there meditating, and all of a sudden I hear her ringing this bell right outside the meditation hall. People have been quiet for a long, long time. She was really hitting that bell, as if the sound of it could somehow reach her daughter.

Usually we have the bells to begin or end sittings or call people together, so people were kind of wondering “What’s happening?” In the middle of the sitting, I said “The bell you’re hearing is because someone’s child has died a year ago today, and she wants to honor her.”

I heard this woman ring the bell, and everybody else was sitting there listening, with tears streaming down their cheeks, as if she was somehow needing to talk to her daughter’s spirit. Then she came back and sat with us.

Be Here Now

If you can drive safely while kissing someone
you’re simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves

Albert Einstein

I think Albert was on to something here, whether it’s about romance or doing your taxes.  We tend not to go all out, not to throw ourselves into an act with the total oomph it deserves.  But what does it mean to give 100% in the moment, rather than the tepid 50% we often manage to express?

I’m partial to kissing.  Let’s go there:

1.  Harder … More pressure:  I don’t think so.  The vacuum action doesn’t bring forth intimacy

2.  Faster:  No, it’s not a race to the finish line

3.  Wetter:  Sounds good but it ain’t necessarily so.  Slobberiness can get in the way of the connection

4.  Longer:  Now this is promising.  I wrote a few days ago about a couple’s wondrously extended kiss in an airport

We’re in the wrong territory here.  It’s not about technique, physical stamina, or the drive to make love.  Those are fine but actually the eyes know what real kissing is.  It’s the communion that lives when two people enter the same sacred reality.  The 50% approach won’t do – a brush of the lips on the way out the door, a peck on the cheek while you check your texts.  No.  Going into each other’s eyes please, and all the way through to where the loved one’s essence lies.  That’ll do nicely.

When we drive, our hands are on the wheel
When we kiss, our hearts are in each other’s hands