Connection

Last fall was not this fall. One of the many differences is my presence in the classroom as a volunteer. A year ago, I was in the Grade 5/6 class about four half-days a week. Now it’s not at all. No volunteers allowed, plus I’m too scared to go back. Advanced age, you know, and little social distancing.

What you see in front of you is the framed version of a collage, composed of 23 kids and me. We coloured our figure and added words that were important to us. Here were my choices:

Kind, folk music, elliptical
tennis, you, golf, determined
love, 70, connection, meditation
hands, January 9, 1949

Twelve months on, the words still ring true … mostly. I haven’t been on the elliptical at the gym since March, and I don’t care about golf anymore, but love is still the coolest thing around.

I miss the kids but there is still a connection between us. Unspoken right now, unseen with the physical eye, and undoubtedly joined through the heart. Our time will come. I will again sit in my favourite spot – on top of a cupboard – and feel the flow of learning and wondering.

Until then, there is the art of souls.

25 or 71?

For years I’ve told people: “The last time I looked, I was 25.”  Guess I haven’t been looking too often.

My wee backyard slopes up to a farmer’s field.  A couple of weeks ago, huge machines came by and hustled the crop of winter wheat off the earth.  I had enjoyed the waving strands and was feeling a little naked about it all.

Offending my sense of the flow of land was a border between grass and stubble: two feet of eighteen-inch-tall weeds.  Although cute white butterflies often floated over the fifty-foot length, I decided that action was required.  “I’ll chop ’em down!”

Lacking a shovel in my relatively new condo life (each of us has a separate building), I borrowed one from my always helpful neighbour.  Two days ago, I set to the task.  Moderate morning temperature, lots of sun, lots of water, and a sweatband adorning my forehead.  “I can do this.”

Being a relatively intelligent person, I got the hose out for plenteous watering.  “Look at how I’m softening the soil.  This is easy.”  Indeed, the shovel found its mark with aplomb, over and over again.  But there were so many overs and overs, and my breaks in the shade gradually grew.  Fifty feet looked like a marathon.

But I did it!  In a tidy three hours.  I had visions of bagging the resulting greens shortly thereafter, but my breathing was a mite heavy, as were my legs.  “Tomorrow.”

Early afternoon I pulled the covers up to my chin and snoozed for an hour.  Then a ninety-minute Zoom call with the Evolutionary Collective.  After that, I contemplated some meditation, maybe reading some more of Stephen King’s The Stand.  The answer to both came back clearly … “No.”  I was dull of body and spirit.

Yesterday morning dawned as a perfect bagging day … not too hot, and ripe with the thrill of accomplishment.  I started bending over to pick up the branches, the roots and the dirt.  I enlisted a dolly to transport each full bag to the side of the house.  “See how I’m saving energy?  What a good boy am I!”

I lasted eight bags full, a task which somehow took almost two hours.  “Hmm.  Thought I’d last longer than this.  Oh well.  I’ll call it a morning.”  And so to bed … for more than two hours.  Then another Zoom call.  In the evening, I watched Alice In Wonderland but I could barely keep my eyes open for her return up the rabbit hole.

Nine hours later, I awoke.  As far as I can recollect, that was this morning.  Everything in the lower half ached.  Basic bathroom tasks were problematic.  Walking was a pale version of Bruceness.  The eyes appeared to be laden with lead weights.

Essentially I’ve stumbled through my day with scarcely a glance towards the backyard.  My bed welcomed me for yet another two hours.  Is this my future – professional napping?  And another question … how exactly have I been able to gather mind and body sufficiently to write this post?  Must be divine intervention.

Back to the original question.  25 or 71?  Well, right now it feels more like 93.

Could it be that I’m aging?
Could it be that this is just fine?
Yes, that certainly could be

Take kindly the counsel of the years
Gracefully surrendering the things of youth

Desiderata

 

A Man

That’s me. And how do I know? It’s simple, really. I meet the two basic requirements:

1. anatomical equipment
2. age

That should be the end of the story. But TV tells me otherwise. Consider the supplement commercial. Now I have nothing against supplements. I take a few myself, focusing on joint care and digestive health. But what I saw yesterday was different.

Along comes this v-shaped guy who’s sprinting along. Alas … Father Time is catching up with him, and the “v” is becoming a “u”. The spring is slowing to a plod. To the rescue comes a capsule – a magic pill that will no doubt produce a miracle transformation.

The announcer knows how to get my attention:

Feeling invisible?
Get noticed!
This is man-boosting
More drive and passion
Get back your swagger
Feel younger

Two human beings take centre stage. One has recovered his “v” and sports lumpy muscles. The other has a 20-inch waist and fluttering eyes. She rubs his bicep to the accompaniment of “Ooo …”

The messages hide seductively beneath the surface: As I am (unlumpy), I’m not good enough. I need to add to what is here right now. I will be alone for the rest of my life unless I “man up”. Aging is bad.

It all seems so silly to me. Why add to uniqueness? Why focus on “less than” (or for that matter “better than”)? They’re both illusions. Commercials can hypnotize. I choose to see clearly what the truth is.

I am a man

Where Did It Go?

The subject is tanning.  I’ve had a lot of history about the topic.  A lot of angstful energy has accompanied my emerging life.

I knew the truth early: girls like guys with a tan, and I didn’t have one.  In high school, a last minute invite to a friend’s cottage called for desperate measures.  My friend had a gorgeous older sister (age 17) and my body was white.  That just wouldn’t do.  My teenaged mind knew how to fix things though, a day or two before the big weekend: buy a tube of some permatan goop and apply it liberally to all the places that should be brown.  I woke up the morning after application to find that my fine motor skills weren’t optimal.  My chest had gross orange streaks, as did my back.  And my toes?  Perfect ridges of artificial darkness framed by lily white skin.  (Sigh)  It was a forgettable weekend chock full of self-esteem spasms.

The need was still strong as I became a newbie adult.  The backyard, hemmed in by lots of bushes and trees, would provide me the solitude necessary for unselfconscious tanning.  But there was that one neighbourly window staring down in likely disapproval.  During all my darking sessions, I never saw any face looking at me but I bet there were lots of them behind the glass – laughing and immediately posting photos on Instagram.  (Wait a minute … there wasn’t any Instagram.  Whew.)

I remember being called “Whitefoot” for years.  The tan line went down from my shorts to the top of my socks.  Forearms also looked good.  But the rest of me?  Yuck.  And when inattention led to sunburn, I had the distinction of being tri-coloured.  More “woe is me” doldrums.

In prep for Caribbean vacations, I’ve hung around in standing tanning booths.  With lengthy periods of commitment, I emerged looking … good.  Naturally brown.  No doubt a man’s man.  A likely recipient of womanly attention, but on the beach it didn’t seem like any lovely lasses even noticed.  (Sigh again)

At the beginning of this summer, I stretched a robin’s egg blue sheet over a foam pad and toasted my bod on the back patio.  “It’s only June.  Imagine what I’ll look like in August!”

***

Well, it’s August, and a miracle has happened:

I’m still white
I don’t care
I’ve just lost interest … for the first time in my life

I didn’t grit my teeth.  I didn’t spew out endless and tanless affirmations.  didn’t do anything.  But the need for brown is gone.  How incomprehensible.

The divine force within you is mightier than any mountain

Lailah Gifty Akita

Elena of Avalor

I love watching shows where kids discover their own power.  For the last four years, I’ve volunteered in a Grade 6 classroom, and my mission has been to hold a mirror up to the children’s faces, so they can see their own goodness.

Subscribing to Disney Plus has been a marvel for me.  I find stories where the 10-year-old or the 16-year-old impacts life.  They step forward, rather than fall back into the shadows. They speak rather than waiting to be spoken to.  They stand tall.

A few weeks ago, I discovered Elena of Avalor – fifty-one episodes that show how the orphaned teenager moves towards being a future queen.  I’ve seen nine of them so far, and I’ve enjoyed Elena’s leadership, courage and kindness.

Last night I couldn’t remember some of Elena’s backstory so I decided to watch the first episode again.  Halfway through, something strange was happening to me. “This is very special, Bruce.  Pay attention.”  So I did.  I realized that while it’s a good story, and while Elena is pretty and smart, something deeper was roaming around my soul.

This photo speaks.  What does it say to you?  I see Elena looking at someone.  There is contact here … a deep joining that’s beyond big eyes and a smile.

This is timeless.  And I believe this is what the world needs.  Now and forever more.

Communion
Being With
Love

Eyes Facing Out

Exhibit A:  I was on a Zoom call yesterday for several hours with fifteen folks.  I received a compliment about the quality of my consciousness.

Exhibit B:  My dream last night was about me managing some large meeting.  First thing in the morning, in a separate building from the gathering, I loaded lots of coffee into a large coffeemaker and plugged it in.  When I got back to the meeting room, I realized that I hadn’t added water.  It felt like I spent the rest of the night roaming the city, trying to find the building.  Terror gripped my soul.

It certainly looks like A is more fun than B.  Sometimes it feels like my life is a ping pong game … bouncing back and forth between the two – “positive” and “negative”.

The truth is that my eyes look inward a lot, in the spirit of “How am I doing?”.  Do you think it’s possible to let go of all that?  To not keep a a running tally of my daily excellences and futilities?

Perhaps I can instead direct my gaze at the world and the multiple beloveds who live here.  What do I see?  How can I serve in this very moment?  Perhaps it doesn’t matter what comes back to me in life and my assessment of that … only what I give to life.

Am I naïve?  Hopelessly out of touch with the way the world works?  I wonder.

Look everywhere to see everything!

Mehmet Murat ildan

Strong People … Please Come Here

I listened to Kamala Harris’ speech this afternoon as she put herself in the public eye as the Democratic nominee for US Vice-President. Passionate, pointed, tender … the whole thing.

Yesterday, Donald Trump wondered why Joe Biden had picked Harris, given her attack on him about busing in a Democratic debate last year.

According to Wikipedia: “Busing is the practice of assigning and transporting students to schools within or outside their local school districts in an effort to reduce the racial segregation in schools.”

Verbatim:

Kamala Harris: Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?

Joe Biden: I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education.

Harris: There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California public schools almost two decades after [?] Board of Education.

Biden: Because your city council made that decision.

Harris: That’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA. Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.

Biden did not wither but I believe he was shaken. Many months later, Joe chooses Kamala as his running mate.

Surround yourself with partners
who are better than you are
Leave them to go get on with it

David Ogilvy

The Space Between

What if there were big spaces inside me?  What if the muscles, organs and bones chose to separate to make way for the heart?

 

What if the threads of my shirt opened themselves to let the breezes of the universe flow through?

 

What if the letters sought their own space so that the words disappeared?

Divine

 

                                                                      n

 

                                                                                                      i

                                                                                                                                                      e

        D

 

                                                                                                                                         i                                                                  

 

                                                         v         

 

What if the painting sitting before me opened to show the spaces between brush strokes, with the golf course disappearing in favour of white flecks between green and blue and brown?

 

What if the tree showed spots of blue amidst its leaves and hidden birds?

 

***

And what if the space between you and me was alive with love?

The Best Sentence

I’ve had my own idea over the years. Perhaps it all started one winter evening in 1973. I was 24 … altruistic, wide-eyed and already tender. I had just watched a live musical in an old Vancouver church – Jesus Christ Superstar. Jesus was crucified on a chain link fence. Both agony and love were on full display.

And there was a song that sung its way into my heart. It was “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”:

Yet, if he said he loved me
I’d be lost. I’d be frightened
I couldn’t cope, just couldn’t cope
I’d turn my head. I’d back away
I wouldn’t want to know
He scares me so
I want him so
I love him so

After the performance, I took a bus away from downtown and ended up in Queen Elizabeth Park. I walked over to a big old tree and sat down. For some unknown number of hours, I rocked back and forth, eyes glazed, and chanted …

Jesus Christ Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

That night changed me. Love was alive in a deeper way than before. “I love him so” became “I love you”. I began searching for the human being who would answer my prayer. Romantically I discovered Rita, and later Jody. They were receivers of “I love you”.

It took years for such a simple sentence to broaden. I began to include others in my love – not romantically but ever so sweetly. Friends not just for hanging out together but for contact.

“I love you” is still with me but a new softness has emerged. “From whence hath it come?” I don’t know. It’s love without a direction. Not me to you and you to me. It’s like hanging suspended within the immensity of love. Being caressed, being held. I still see the other human being across from me (or the other human beings) but there is a vastness of spirit that covers all.

“There is love”

When I’ve heard those words in the past, I saw them as a wishy-washy version of “I love you”, a poor cousin of the true connection between people. I no longer feel that way.

I’m brought back to Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. He wrote “The Wedding Song”:

The union of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love

We are gathered, Paul

A Singing Bowl

It’s a quiet thing from Tibet.  When I meditate, it sits there peacefully, the mallet resting in the bowl.  At the end of my meditation time, I tap the side … three times.

There’s something magical about lingering between taps, till the sound is no more.  It reminds me of giving a speech.  When my words are done, I pause at the podium until I know it’s time to walk away.  There’s a gap within which there is completion.  Same with the singing bowl.

The singing comes when you sweep the mallet around and around the lip.  Sweet … but it’s not my sweet.  I tap instead.

Should I release the idea of “quality” in my tapping?  Any old strike will do?  Well, I could do that, but it doesn’t feel right.  There’s a communion when the tone hangs long in the air.  I intend to reach that state of relating, to experience the freedom that comes with precision.

Tapping near the lip creates an extra tinny sound at the beginning.  It fades quickly to a slow vibration but it’s not what I want.  It is indeed extra … beyond the essence of things.

Hitting hard halfway down the bowl produces a jolt, rather than a caress.  The tone lasts a long time, but I still find myself shaking my head “No.”

Hitting soft halfway down begins the flow almost immediately.  It allows me to hear the nuances of quieting music.  A quiet that fades to empty space.  I nod approval.  It feels “appropriate” without that word being offered by anything other than the Divine.

At the last, when the third tone has faded away to nothing, I lean close to my friend.  The song continues.  And I smile.