To Give a Gift

The Evolutionary Collective meets in California for five days starting next Thursday. And I’m going! We’ve received e-mails to prep us for the proceedings and one sentence grabbed me and wouldn’t let go:

Bring an item that holds special significance for you that you are also willing to give to another Core member.

The Core folks have been immersed in this consciousness for years and are no doubt eager to welcome us newbies to the fold. The context of it all is love.

Something that’s significant to me. Perhaps you’re guessing that I entered into a cost-benefit analysis of my homebound objects, furrowing my brow to see what I’m just willing to let go of. And you’d be wrong.

I’m sitting in a pub, gazing at a small wooden statue of an adult and child, their eyes locked. As I read the e-mail, these two presented themselves to me immediately. I knew I loved this piece of sacred art and I knew that it would be in someone else’s living room in two weeks. I smiled. How strange. How new. Not wrapping my fingers around the wood in a death grip. Instead an open palm. Something is moving in me.

In December, I was so struck by the humanity of the Senegalese people. Their smiles were genuine. Their joie de vivre was real. I wanted to take them home with me. Instead I sought a symbol of the connection I saw. There were lots of artisans in Toubacouta but for days nothing “sang” to me. Many creations were exquisite but I needed more than that … I needed the depiction of relationship. And then I came upon the parent and child. The statue said it all. I could have it in my home. But there was a problem. I had lots of Euros but the local artists needed to be paid in CFAs, the Senegalese currency. And the money changer wouldn’t be by for a day or two. So I waited, and watched my lovelies in the shop, wondering if they’d be scooped from me by some other tourist. I could feel the wanting, the pull to make the statue “mine”. Many hours later, it really was.

Now there’s the letting go of beauty, of communion. Another object of the heart will come into my life. “All is calm. All is bright.” All is wonder in the mystery of what’s flowing.

To Sing a Song

Next week, The Evolutionary Collective is meeting for five days on the Monterey Peninsula south of San Francisco.  There probably will be a hundred of us there as we explore consciousness together.  Usually EC meetings are just during the day, but this time there’ll be some evening activities, such as … karaoke!

Woh.  I love karaoke.  It doesn’t matter if the voice is elite or if the songs are transcendent.  It’s about self-expression, from the heart rather than the mind.  The e-mail I received actually talked about that – choosing a song that speaks of love, of togetherness, of spirit.

So … what shall I do?  I suppose nothing is a choice but that feels pretty pale.  “Just go ahead and sing, Bruce.  You’ll reach people.”  Thank you, dear inside voice.  That’s what I’ll do.

I sat quietly for about four seconds and then a song burst through.  It’s resided in my heart for decades.  John Denver and Joe Henry collaborated on the creation:

The Wings That Fly Us Home

There are many ways of being in this circle we call life
A wise man seeks an answer, burns his candle through the night
Is a jewel just a pebble that found a way to shine?
Is a hero’s blood more righteous than a hobo’s sip of wine?

Did I speak to you one morning on a distant world away?
Did you save me from an arrow?  Did you lay me in a grave?
Were we brothers on a journey?  Did you teach me how to run?
Were we broken by the waters?  Did I lay you in the sun?

I dreamed you were a prophet in a meadow
I dreamed I was a mountain in the wind
I dreamed I knelt and touched you with a flower
I awoke with this: a flower in my hand

I know that love is seeing all the infinite in one
In the brotherhood of creatures, who the father, who the son?
The vision of your goodness will sustain me through the cold
Take my hand now to remember when you find yourself alone
You’re never alone

And the spirit fills the darkness of the heavens
It fills the endless yearning of the soul
It lives within a star too far to dream of
It lives within each part and is the whole
It’s the fire and the wings that fly us home
Fly us home
Fly us home

How astonishing lovely.  And I’ll be singing it to the beloveds on May 3 or so.

I have about ten days to memorize the words.  Some of them have already worked their way into my heart.  I know that the rest will follow suit in their own good time.  They’ll be part of me when I open my mouth one evening in Asilomar.

And then there’s the singing.  I sat down at the piano last night and discovered what note I needed to start on.  I chose a low F.   The song has a range just beyond mine.  If I start too low, the bottom notes will be lost in a growl.  Too high and I’ll squeak out the soaring ones at the end.  I went to bed with the problem, sweetly confident that an answer would come.  This morning it did.  I can lower the notes of the second last “Fly us home” and make it work.  I’ll now start on the E and take in a lot of air before “There are many ways”.

It’ll be a performance, I guess.  But far more than that, it’ll be a love letter.

Creating Something New

I wonder what’s possible.  Not just a better toothbrush or a smarter Smartphone, but something outrageously new, with a stunning possibility of contributing to human beings.  An idea, an object, a synthesis perhaps, that no one has ever created.

I wonder if this is merely my ego talking – an effort to distinguish myself from the crowd, to walk the red carpet of societal praise.  Maybe.  But there’s more.  I’m willing for my contribution to be anonymous – no standing ovation.  A willingness to lie on my deathbed with a smile on my lips, knowing that what I gave lives on.

I wonder if how I lead my daily life – the love I bring to people, the swooning within beauty, the eyes I offer – could be my unique gift.  Countless people project love into the world but the blossoming of my particular flavour could be my newness.

Guess I’m wondering a lot …

I’ve had an unfinished project for at least three decades.  I’ve amassed thousands of quotations on recipe cards, words that truly “sing” to me beyond Hallmark greetings and lists of thoughts that others have chronicled.  My vision is to create an online book, putting all these quotes into categories.  If forty writers have thought long and hard about the meaning of “peace”, and if each of their passages has sung in my heart, what’s possible when all those words are brought together?  “The whole is larger than the sum of the parts.”  Can that adage be profoundly true within my collection of quotes?  Can my bringing together of wisdom across time and space and philosophies and other ways that we compartmentalize deep knowledge … make a difference?  Yes, it can.

I suppose my system of categories isn’t really new.  After all, there are a lot of humans out there thinking about things.  But it might be.

And while I’m at it, what else looms just beyond the horizon of my vision?  Is there a brand new flavour that the world hasn’t yet savoured?  I wonder.

Anger

For years now, I’ve defined myself as a nice little Buddhist guy – sweetly peaceful, wouldn’t hurt a fly.  I certainly have that part of me but sometimes another version of Bruce pokes his head above the ground.

***

One day at school, a group of girls were laughing beside me.  I asked “What’s so funny?”  The main giggler stepped forward and told me that she had got some ketchup packages, squeezed the contents onto her face, and then lay down, still and silent, waiting for people to find her.  I don’t know if she was with family or friends.  I just stared at her at first.  The fury was climbing up my throat.  And then it burst out …

“What?  That’s such a cruel thing to do!  When someone came upon you, they’d wonder if you were dead.  Don’t you see what that could do to a person?”  The girl giggled some more.  “You can laugh all you want but that was a rotten thing to do.”

Was I yelling?  No.  Was my voice raised?  You bet.  And that vein in my neck was probably throbbing.  Speaking out in anger is not something I’ve done much in my life but here it was.  The insensitivity towards another human being was completely unacceptable to me.

Hmm, I thought.  This is new.  And it doesn’t feel like a bad thing.

***

This morning, I walked into the Belmont Diner.  There were six guys sitting at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter.  I cheerily said “Good morning.”  Silence.  A pause.  And then me: “Isn’t anyone going to say good morning?”  Woh.  Was that really my voice?

I realized that two of the fellows had been wrapped in a conversation, but the other four had sat there like stones.  The fury had exploded again.  Within twenty seconds, people were engaging me in conversation, and my antagonism faded to the background, but the initial spurt was vivid.

***

So, dear friends, what kind of person am I becoming?  Not all peaches and cream, for sure, but I still love peaches and I still love cream.  Bruce, antagonistic?  No way, I’ve declared.  But clearly I have that part too, lurking within.

It seems that more of me is emerging from the shadows – more love, more compassion, more energy, more anger … and more courage?  It feels right to embrace it all.

 

Stargirl

The school’s resource teacher, “Stephanie”, came up to me a few days ago and said she’d been reading a book to her young son.  As they got deeper into the story, she realized that the high school heroine reminded her of … me.  She not only suggested I read the book.  She went to the school library and scored me a copy.

Susan transforms into Stargirl and plunks herself down in her new high school.  She wears floor-length dresses, carries a rat around in her backpack, and sings “Happy Birthday” to kids in the lunchroom, accompanying herself on the ukulele.  Now, wait a minute … that doesn’t sound like me.  Stephanie urged me to be patient.  “You’ll see yourself.”

Stargirl dresses weirdly every day … me just occasionally.  I do remember one time two years ago when kindergarten kids had done my hair – about twenty closepins hung from me.  I decided to go to a community dinner that evening at the arena without removing the halo of wood.  Many, many stares greeted me, just like for Stargirl.  But mine is just an occasional burst of strangeness.

Stephanie mentioned that I don’t care what people think of me, just like Stargirl.  That’s partially true but I seek approval from a few people.  Mostly she’s right.  I say lots of spontaneous things, have been known to sing our national anthem loudly, and have done a little jig now and then.  But Stargirl is way more over the top.

“You’re kind, like Stargirl.”  Okay, I’ll go with that.  One time, when she was a cheerleader for football games, Stargirl went over to comfort an injured opposition quarterback.  She held him in her lap.  She would cheer for the other team when they were losing.  “Us versus them” was nowhere near as important as “all of us”.  Wow.  What if we just cheered for everyone in life?  I see myself as doing that.

The community of students rejected Stargirl when she had compassion for the opponent.  Only one girl showed up on her side.  The narrator of the story, who was in love with Stargirl (and she with him), wasn’t brave enough to stand beside her.  I don’t know how I’d fare in the face of massive shunning.

Stargirl was love.  No one was left out.  May I live up to her astonishing standard of care.

The Folder

It was a simple mistake.  I was at the gym yesterday, schussing along on the elliptical.  My trainer Derek has given me all sorts of sheets – some with info about nutrition and fitness and some that tracked my progress.  He gave me a folder entitled “Me to We” to put the stuff in.

I woke up this morning, looked at my gym bag and discovered … no folder.  I remembered putting it on the shelf of my locker before exercising but no memory of taking it home after.

First, there was a contraction, in the spirit of “Bruce, how could you?”  But that faded quickly, to be replaced by the urge to go on a mini-road trip.  I showered, dressed and headed off to London to rescue my prize.  I figured that either some kind soul had handed it in at the front desk or it was still sitting there in locker number … well, I couldn’t remember the number, but I’d find it.

As Highway 74 swallowed my tires, I was happy.  I was doing something about my problem right away and I was creating an adventure for myself.  The lightness inside was such a revelation.  The woe of guilt was nowhere to be found.  Instead, there was a simple “I forgot.”  No big deal.

In South London, I decided to make use of the drive-thru at a Tim Hortons coffee shop.  I was happy to be about tenth in line.  Truly no hurry.  The parade of cars winds itself around the building and there are big windows at the corner.  Many a time I’d sat at a table with a good view of the creeping cars, enjoying my sneak peaks at faces passing by.  Now, rather than it being “inside out”, it was “outside in”.  I looked in to see my usual table, currently empty.  How strange to feel the viewing from the other side.  I could almost see Bruce sitting there beyond the glass.

Gosh, this was so much fun.  I even had the thought that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t find the folder.  Whatever happened to angst and badness?  On vacation, I guess.

Finally, the gym.  “Michael” at the front desk checked the lost and found drawer but no folder peaked out.  Oh well.  So off to the locker room.  I knew that I always chose a tall locker on the left side so I started opening them: empty, empty, empty, lock in place, empty, empty, empty, empty and empty.  A little sigh, but really not much of one.  Papers can be replaced.

I thought of the occupant of locker number 57, but how would I find him out on the floor?  Could it be that my dear folder was hidden within?  Then I glanced at the shelf by the hair drier.  A light-coloured rectangular object was in repose there.  Sort of folder sized.  And it indeed was my info-laden friend.  All was right with the world.

How remarkable: no pity party … a chance to hit the road before breakfast … and the lost became found.  I had the feeling that even if I hadn’t located the folder, I still would have sailed through my day.  Strange and lovely.

Truth Telling

I’ve meditated for many years.  Twice I went on three-month silent retreats (silent 98% of the time).  I walked into class yesterday afternoon to see a young kid on the screen, sitting with her legs crossed, eyes closed … meditating.  And the Grade 6’s were quietly at their desks, mostly with eyes closed.  It was a revelation.

“Trevor”, the teacher, has introduced mindfulness to the children.  After witnessing a similar five-minute session today, I asked him if I could lead a discussion about the quiet mind.

I knew that I didn’t want to give them a lecture about the benefits of meditation.  I didn’t even want to tell them about how my life has been changed by immersing myself in the practice.  No, I simply wanted to ask them a question:

Having tried meditation a few times now, what do you think about it?

Before the kids replied, I wanted to set the stage some more:

My request is that if you volunteer an answer, you tell the truth.  Don’t look over at me, try to figure out how I’d like you to respond, and then say that.  There’s great power in the truth, whether you like something or you don’t.

I expected a few hands.  What I got was at least fifteen.

The first girl said that it was boring.  I thanked her for the honesty, and asked the other kids if they thought it took courage for her to say something negative.  There wasn’t much response to that, which was fine.  I sure thought it took courage, and I said so.

Another word spoken was “unnecessary”.  I didn’t argue with the student.  I thanked him or her.  Then another girl talked about how the meditating has helped her during basketball games.  Did saying that take courage?  Yes, indeed.  To speak publicly about how you enjoy something when the prevailing mood in the class seems to be negative about it, is a big thing!  I love the willingness to stand out, to not allow the group mentality to overcome what you honestly see as true.

One boy said something like “It would be boring.”  I encouraged him to be more direct, so that his opinion would be strong and clear.  He changed his words to “It’s boring.”  That made me happy.

It seemed to be an even split, pro and con.  “It helps me out on the yard at recess” versus “Let’s get back to doing something important.”  Both perfectly valid reactions to an activity that’s new to probably everyone.

I was so proud of those kids.  Their heads were high as they spoke – no sense whatsoever of apologizing for their opinion.  And no bombastic declarations.  Just quiet and firm statements of personal truth.

Plus this Bruce guy didn’t have to wax poetic about the virtues of meditating.  Maybe some kid who panned the practice will get curious about what a positive child said and give meditation another try.  Or maybe not.  Either way, what I experienced this afternoon was the freedom of the truth – no fudging, no not quite saying what you mean.  Instead, simply being real.

Tiger

Tiger Woods won The Masters golf tournament yesterday.  Tears filled my eyes.  And I asked myself “Why?”

For me, The Masters is the important tournament in men’s golf.  It has a such a long history (1934), and it’s always held at the same venue – the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.  The course is extremely difficult, especially on the undulating greens.  It’s a classic test of golf.

Tiger won his first Masters in 1997, at the age of 21.  I was at the age of 48, already immersed in love for the sport.  As a teenager, I hit balls towards the far fence of a field on my grandpa’s farm, and then searched through the stubble so I’d have more shots to hit.  At home, the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto was where I grew in the game, often playing alone with my thoughts.

Tiger became my hero in 1997.  He hit the ball so far.  He had charisma, something that I wanted.  And he was black, showing excellence to my context of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  The truth is that Tiger helped me become a fuller person.  He was there on my journey to have far more of Bruce expressed in the world.  And when he hugged his ill father after walking off the 18th green at Augusta, I melted.  Here was a loving human being as well as an elite athlete.

Twenty-two years later, he bounces away from the 18th once more, arms aloft.  This time, his young son Charlie is rushing towards him, and the tender embrace is offered to a new generation.  It was just as sweet.

Much has happened since Tiger’s last major win in 2007.  We’ve heard of his affairs, his car accident, his aching back.  The “comeback” theme is heavy in the media.  I appreciate the man’s effort to return to the top of his sport but my damp eyes come from another source, I believe.  Tiger’s win yesterday allows me to revisit a younger Bruce – hitting balls toward that fence, trying to get over the creek in two on the 18th at Don Valley, walking fairways at the edge of sunset in search of a little white thing.  I get to celebrate the journey I’ve travelled.  I get to honour a younger version of me.

Thanks, Tiger, for pointing to a goodness that’s been inside me for a long time.

Long Haul Trucker

I went to a men’s breakfast at a church in London this morning.  Before the food was rolled out, I took a seat in the foyer next to a fellow wearing shorts.  He was an old guy (sort of like me!)  We talked a bit of this and that and then I asked if he was retired.  He was.

“I was a long haul trucker for 45 years.”

I love learning about other people’s lives, especially if they’ve done things that I never have.  I’ve often wondered what a trucker’s life is like.  The flow of the open road sounds marvelous but being alone for so long feels like misery.  I’m not a “go it alone” type guy.

Robbie has been happily married for many decades.  But he’d often be on trips for five weeks at a time.  I asked him if 90% of his married life was spent away from each other.  “Yeah, that sounds about right.”  I asked how you keep a relationship going through such lengthy absences.  He smiled immediately and his eyes seemed far away.  “It’s not a problem.”  I looked again, and there was love.

My new friend mentioned that he had an accident once but that was 8,000,000 miles ago.  I asked about driving across the continent in winter.  “I know what to do when it snows, even when there’s freezing rain.  There’s a lot of weight in that rig but I just go slow when it’s slippery.”  Alrighty then.  Clearly driving truck isn’t for me.  I get so tense when the temperature is around 0º Celsius and the clouds are dripping their blessings.

I asked about whether trucking companies put pressure on drivers to cover a lot of ground fast, to absolutely make deadlines that are thousands of miles away.  “No, I had plenty of time to meet their schedule.  But I didn’t want to sit in coffee shops blabbing to other guys for two hours.  Can’t make money that way.”  Okay, I like making money too but I also want to spend time with folks.

Robbie said that often he’d have a trip that went something like this: Toronto > Laredo, Texas > Vancouver > Boston > home.  I can only imagine.  Did he drive alone?  “Yes, I love the peace and quiet, just turning on the cruise control and watching the world go by.  I’m a loner.”

He showed me a photo of his bright blue rig.  He was beaming.  “Two bunk beds in the back of the cab.  Lots of room.  After I got my max ten hours of driving in, I’d pull off somewhere and snooze away.”  Oh my.  So alone, but that’s what Robbie chose, so good for him.

Now the man is retired but I can see the blacktop in his eyes.  He says it’s a challenge for both him and his wife now that he’s home so much, but no big deal.  Here’s a fellow who has so many miles to look back on.  He seems at peace with himself.

We’re both a lot hungry and the bacon, eggs, beans and pancakes are ready for us now.  And anyway, I’ve already been nourished.

The Dance

I went to the school board’s dance festival this morning – nine elementary schools doing their thing.  The music was high energy and I tapped out the beat in the bleachers.  It brought me back to the disco on a Cuba vacation.  What a joy to move, to throw the arms into the air with gay abandon.

The kids helped me remember how dearly I love to dance.  I remember my wife Jody staring at me as I gyrated to the tunes.  Apparently I didn’t look too graceful but I was sure having fun.

I also remember Halloween dances at a long ago elementary school.  All costumed up, I moved amid the 12-year-olds – not as fast as them but usually just as expressive.  Oh, the joy of mindless response to great melodies and rhythms!

For the last year, I’ve been careful.  What a yucky word.  I was worried about the pain in my knee and my hip.  “Don’t break something, Bruce.  Take it slow and easy.”  Especially after today, I’m tired of measured and moderate.  My trainer and I have set me on a course to health in its many forms, including having stronger muscles around my knees.  Does this mean that my future holds dancing, maybe even running?  “Why not?” I say.

The gym was crowded with young dancers and their loved ones.  Troupes of kids dressed all in black, or all in white or tie-dyed t-shirts rocked the house.  Most wore big smiles.  Some were athletic.  Some seemed focused on remembering the steps.  The occasional kid was overweight but moving smartly nonetheless.  Some children were tiny but still pumping their arms madly beside classmates a foot or more taller.  There was even a line dancing group topped with cowboy hats, taking us through our paces in Cadillac Ranch.  No one was left out.

Boys were in short supply but they didn’t care.  It’s possible that “friends” back at school razzed them for choosing hip hop over football but the faces still shone as Magic in the Air had kids in the audience shaking their bods along with the performers.

Well, young ones, you inspired me today.  I also have two feet and fully functioning legs.  It’s time to launch assorted body parts into the air again.  There’s a place for calm and an equal spot for raucous.

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world
for I would ride with you upon the wind
and dance upon the mountains like a flame!

(William Butler Yeats)