Four Hours of Meditating

I woke up this morning and realized I didn’t even have to leave the house.  I had three meetings on Zoom, spaced with a few hours between each one.  “Why don’t I do something radical?  Why don’t I meditate for a very long time?”  So I did.

A good writer tunes into the audience before setting fingers to keys.  I don’t know how to do that concerning meditation.  You may never have meditated.  You may have dabbled, sitting quietly for five or ten minutes.  You may have meditated longer than my eleven years.  If you’re a meditator, you may choose to focus on some object, such as the breath.  You may listen to CDs as you sit – guided meditation.  Or you may be there in silence, like me.

I want to describe my experiences of the day.  They may sound awfully strange.  Oh well.  Maybe I’m doing this for me, and not for you.  I don’t know … but here goes:

As I initially close my eyes, cozy in my bedroom chair, the mind chatters away.  Normal.  Gradually the thoughts slow down.  There are spaces between them.  When the spaces get bigger than the thoughts, I turn my attention to the flow of energy.  Virtually always at the beginning, there is a pulsing behind my eyes.  It’s “loud” and then it gradually softens, quiet like the pulse in my wrist, but definitely there.  This is the intro to something else.

In the spirit of competing with myself (decidedly non-meditative!), I’ve become curious about how long it takes each time for the pulsing to disappear.  When it does, there is an unbroken flow behind my eyes.  It’s like my eyes get bigger and softer inside my head.  Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the distinction between “almost there” and “there”.  A little smile appears when I know I’m “gone”.  Actually that word isn’t entirely accurate.  I am inside of something sweet, something airy, and yet I’m fully aware of my surroundings.  On the rare occasions when someone interrupts me when I’m “elsewhere”, it’s no big deal.  I say hi.  Nothing is lost.

Today there were three sessions: an hour, an hour-and-a-half, and another hour-and-a-half.  Each time, at the moment when the pulsing subsided, I looked at my watch.  I was gone in 23 minutes, 11 minutes and 16 minutes.  There’s no goodness or badness to it.  It’s just so.  Each time, there was a brief appearance of a pulse behind my eyes, and within a minute it faded away.

I had a Zoom meeting after the first meditation, and another after the second.  Although I probably looked and sounded normal to the participants, I was spacious, light and full of chuckles.  Nothing seemed important.  I flowed along.

Towards the end of the second meditation, my back started hurting and I was hungry.  Strangely and wonderfully, those experiences were not accompanied by a return of the pulsing.  It remained a flat flow.  I was surprised, and even that reaction didn’t disturb the everything/nothing feel that was here.  For a time, I had thoughts of going on another meditation retreat (which I’m doing in April).  I even felt my beloved driving route through rural New York and Massachusetts, remembering little towns, and still the quiet stillness, and the unending flow, were there.

During the third meditation, I thought of someone I love very much.  I started crying.  No disturbance in the Force.  I was fascinated.  At ninety minutes, my watch alarm went off and I was flooded with the sense of timelessness, a lovely disorientation.

So that was my day, with one more meeting to come.  I don’t have any conclusions about the four hours.  They were here and now they’re gone.  And I know there’s an open heart ready to meet folks on Zoom.

Oops … I Forgot (Or Never Figured Out in the First Place)

This is old news but it’s a good story … and I like good stories.

Sunday, September 12, 9:00 pm or so.  I’m sitting at the bar in PJ Horgan’s, my neighbourhood pub in Queens, New York City.  I had just finished my immersion in the US Open tennis tournament.  The men’s finals match between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev was replaying on the big TV before me.  I had settled into my nachos and IPA beer.  All was right with the world.  I was so pleased with myself that I’d fulfilled a dream, jumped through the Covid and vaccination hoops in Canada to get to New York, and spent two weeks watching the best tennis players in the world.

And then the word came to my cheesy lips: COVID.  My eyes opened wide and so did my mouth.  “Tell me true.  I don’t need to get another Covid test to get back into Canada … do I?”  My head started nodding with no accompanying thought.  (Sigh)

Quick like a bunny, I found the Government of Canada app on my phone.  “Although vaccinated Canadian travellers are now exempt from quarantine, they’re still required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test before returning to Canada [within 72 hours before the flight leaves].”  There I sat, mid-nacho, watching my beloved tennis on TV, wondering where I would get a Covid test at the last minute.  And it had to be the fancy test – PCR.  Plus I had to get the results back fast if I was to make my 12:20 pm flight.

I sat there and smiled.  I mean … What was that about?  I had apparently turned off the Covid-related part of my brain, had made a huge mistake, and here I was having happy compassion for myself.  I’ll take it.

I found the Clear 19 Covid Testing Center online.  They did PCR tests with results guaranteed within two hours.  And I could have an 8:15 am appointment in midtown Manhattan.  All for a deliciously large sum of money.  I had a Zoom meeting, which I needed to attend, scheduled for 8:00 pm.  Plus the possibility of staying one extra night at my Airbnb was cloudy since my hosts had gone to Toronto (!) to visit friends.

I paid the big bucks and girded my loins about how I was going to pull this together.

Nachos and beer rapidly consumed, I walked the fifty yards to my Airbnb and got on the phone with Air Canada.  Actually I was on the phone in seconds.  They took forty-five minutes to join me.  The Air Canada rep was very kind.  She somehow resisted the temptation to blurt out “You idiot!”  Thank you, dear rep.  She told me that in order to make my 12:20 pm flight to Toronto, they’d have to receive my luggage by 11:00.  And I’d have to show a negative Covid test result for that to happen.  So … 8:15 > 10:15.  Looked like I had forty-five minutes to play with.  “You can do this, Bruce!”  I was still smiling.

Miss Air Canada said that if I missed the 12:20 flight, I could catch a later one that went to Montreal first before gracing the suburbs of Toronto.  That would be toast for my evening meeting, plus it would cost me $150 more.  (Sigh again)

It was now 11:00 pm or so.  I packed everything that wasn’t needed in the morning.  I went to the NYC Subway app to find out how to get to Clear 19.  This would be easy peasy.  Up at 6:00, quick shower, pack the toiletries, ten-minute walk to the subway, emerge from the underground at 50 Street, find a place to eat something and walk the three blocks to my Covid saviour.

Up the steps at 50th and the first thing I saw was the Golden Arches.  That’ll do nicely.  Although the sign outside said “Dine In”, the woman at the counter said otherwise.  No sweat.  I sat on a ledge in front of an office building and munched my Egg McMuffin and hash browns to the accompaniment of hurrying pedestrians, a flurry of yellow cabs, honking here and there and, to the south, the towering neon of Broadway north of Times Square.  I was so happy!  The universe had conspired to feed me and give me copious amounts of caffeine.

8:05.  I was early at Clear 19.  8:15.  A swab was entering my nostrils (happily not all the way back).  8:20.  I was on my way, considerably lighter in the wallet and continually light in the spirit.  Life works.

Back on the subway, back to my luggage in the Airbnb, and now a twenty-minute walk to the bus that would take me to Laguardia Airport.  As I left the apartment, I made an executive decision.  I would stop at the Aubergine Café, my breakfast home for the last fortnight, and say goodbye to Mary, Jimmy and Lisette.  They had been so kind to me.  I had no room for my usual bacon, cheese, tomato and avocado bagel (Yum!) but how about if I linger over a mixed berry smoothie?

“Linger!?  You, my dimwitted Canadian friend, have no time to linger.  Don’t you remember?  You have a plane to catch, luggage to drop off, Covid test result to receive on the phone, etc. etc.!”  (By the way, that was me talking to me.)

I lingered.  And changed my order to a strawberry banana smoothie.  So good!  Lisette and Jimmy asked me to come back next year, during the 2022 Open.  I will.  Sadly, Mary had a day off.  Jimmy said he would tell her goodbye from me.

Back to walking.  I saw a bus at the corner of Woodside and 61 Street, where I had exited fifteen days ago.  The driver said that yes, he was the Q70 to Laguardia, but that the pickup spot was “around the corner, in front of Dunkin’ Donuts”.  So around the corner I went – no donut sign in sight.  I tried not to look at my watch.  “Life works!”  Remember?

I saw a fellow in a uniform, sweeping up garbage on the sidewalk.  “Excuse me, I can’t find Dunkin’ Donuts.”  “Oh, you have to turn right again.  It’s down another block.  Here, I’ll show you.”  And he did.  I heard years ago that New Yorkers were unfriendly.  Not in my experience.

It took fifteen more minutes for the Q70 to arrive.  Meanwhile I chatted with a couple from Kansas who were also catching a flight.  I can’t remember why they’d come to New York but they too loved the place.

I was so glad that I had put “Terminal B” in my phone months ago because creeping traffic and visits to Terminals C and D slowed thing down.  Oh well.

10:10.  Arrival in the concourse.  Searching for Air Canada.  I debated whether to go to one of the freestanding terminals when I reached the airline, but a friendly employee told me not to.  “Line up right away.”  Thank you.

I checked my phone.  Yes!  An e-mail from Clear 19.  I was negative.  Such positive news.

I was about thirtieth in line.  The Air Canada woman the night before had told me that I needed to download the ArriveCan app and fill out the info before getting to the agent at the counter.  I hadn’t done that yet.  No sweat, I thought.  Well … considerable sweat.  There was all this information asked for.  Thankfully, I had it stored on my phone.  I finished it around 10:35.  I was third in line.

Finally a smiling human being awaited me at the counter.  Show my two vaccinations.  Show my negative Covid test.  Show my completed ArriveCan form.  Put my luggage on the scale.

10:45.  Fifteen minutes to spare.  Piece of cake.

Produce the Result

It could be that what I’m about to write is a repeat of what I wrote a month ago.  Too bad.  It’s what’s alive.

I’m often a Zoom host on Evolutionary Collective calls.  Today there were 24 souls online … and me.  It’s a responsibility.  People are depending on me to get things right so they can spend a quality thirty minutes with a partner in a breakout room.

The first thing I noticed was that my cursor was sluggish.  I needed to take various actions, such as closing the “Screen Share” banner as the call began.  It already was taking effort to move the cursor.  I remember one time when the cursor wouldn’t move at all and I was left floundering.  But that session didn’t have 24 folks waiting to get involved.

The fear started coursing through me but I had a job to do.  So what if every move I make with the cursor feels like slow motion?  “Produce the result, Bruce.”  I could feel my lips tighten as I struggled through this, that and the next thing.  But so far so good.

Once the participants are in breakout rooms (which I somehow organized without incident), there’s a sign that shows up onscreen every ten minutes giving new instructions for the next segment.  I typed the message a few seconds after the breakout rooms opened and went on to other tasks.

I reopened the message window close to the ten-minute mark to find that my message had disappeared.  Not only that but this showed up: “22222222222222222222222222222 …” and it was growing by the second.  I went to the end of the 2’s and slammed down the backspace key.  Nothing!  The 2’s kept zipping madly.  I scrolled down to the moving end of the 2’s and tried again.  Yes!  They started disappearing but there was a long way to go.  When they’d all disappeared, I started typing the standard message.  I tried inputting “The person just speaking …”  but it came out as “Th%% p..9erson *ust s*pe3akin …”  Owwie.  I erased all that and typed very slowly.  The correct message appeared from my fingertips.  I clicked “Broadcast” and off it went to the breakouts, about two minutes late.  But I did it!

At the twenty-minute mark, I was ready with a new message that I had entered so delicately.  And off it went into the rooms.  “Ahh … this is working.”

Near the end of the meeting, my job was to paste a web address into the Chat window, so that everyone would have access to it.  Before the meeting I had copied it, all set for pasting.  But now, when I clicked “Paste”, there was nothing there!  I tried to remember the sequence of characters, and started typing.  What was supposed to be “https”  turned into “httpps” … so no one could click the link and get to where I wanted them to go.  But my heart was in the right place.

Actually my heart was in the right place the whole time.  And it may very well be that no one on the call noticed anything was amiss.  They got to practice with their partner – easy peasy.  It was anything but from my end but what counts is their end.  Wayda go, Bruce.

P.S.  For those who read my post yesterday, still no birdies.  But tomorrow is another day.

Will Ye No Return?

I flew to New York City on August 29.  Naturally there was lots to do before that.  One of the tasks was to fill my two bird feeders – one with sunflower seed and the other with nyjer seed (for the finches).

I flew home on Monday, September 13, arriving at my door as darkness approached.  The next morning I looked out my living room window … and saw that both feeders were full!  Huh?  That didn’t compute.  Then I remembered that I’d used the dregs of the old bag of sunflower seed, rather than beginning the new one.  That must be it: seeds that were after their best before date.

In the spirit of thoroughness, I also guessed that it was time to clean the feeders.  Soaking them in bleach water for a day would cover another base.  And then I’d have birdies again!  The soaking took place on the Tuesday.  Wednesday was for rinsing off the toxic stuff and letting the feeders dry.  Thursday was reassembling the feeders, filling them with fresh seed, and returning them to their positions of previous glory.  It might take a day for my winged friends to find the renewed feeders but Saturday would be a fiesta of flapping wings and full stomachs.

Except it wasn’t.  Not a bird to be seen.

Sunday the same.

Which brings us to today.  I scanned the sky and found no small birdies, just a few turkey vultures in their graceful swoops of flight.  (Sigh)  I thought of the end of things.  Could this be one of those?  Did the birdies get together and decide that Belmont, Ontario would go on their no-fly list?  I sure hope not.  I love looking out the window at the feeder perches well occupied.

It makes no sense that it would be over.  But then much of life doesn’t make sense.  Please come back.  I miss you.

Late this afternoon, I heard a chirp, and then more.  It was a baby sparrow, atop one of the feeder poles.  And leaning in for food down below was mom.  Hello!  Welcome home.  Mom leapt up to the pole and frantically fed the young one, who was vigorously flapping his or her wings.  Surely this was a sign of things to come.  Mom would be a scout, drawing her friends back to gourmet gatherings.

We’ll see.  It’s quiet out there.

On the Upside of the Grass

I went to a backyard concert this afternoon.  About fifty of us sat under the trees, listening to folk music from fifteen performers.  Finally … live music.

A week ago, I was at the US Open tennis tournament.  The sound that I loved was waves of cheering.  Today it was the sweet blending of voices and the improvised runs coming from the fingers of a fiddler.  Tennis and music – two homes for me.

One of the last songs talked about the title of this piece … a celebration of being alive, of being out and about with other human beings, enjoying community life once more.  I smiled a lot.

Earlier, Barry and Joanne joined voices in the song “Keep Me In Your Heart”:

Hold me in your thoughts
Take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes
Keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you
Keep me in your heart for awhile

And then Paul Mills came onstage to sing “Forty-Five Years”.   Stan Rogers wrote this song.  For years, before Stan died in 1983, Paul was his manager and sometimes guitarist.  Two or three years ago, I was at a tribute concert to Stan in Toronto, at Hugh’s Room.  At the break I asked Paul if he would sing “Forty-Five Years” before the evening was done.  He sadly told me that the group of performers was locked into a set list, and that my song wasn’t on it.  I sighed.

Time stretches from the past and today I got to hear the words I wanted to come from Paul’s mouth:

And I just want to hold you closer than I’ve ever held anyone before
You say you’ve been twice a wife and you’re through with life
Ah, but honey, what the hell’s it for?
After twenty-three years you’d think I could find
A way to let you know somehow
That I want to see your smiling face forty-five years from now

Paul sang
I sang along
The trees whispered

Standing O

I ran out of writing gas a few days back. Too many midnights or 2:00 am’s. Never got around to the energy of recording my thoughts. Something cool would happen, and then something else … and they all slipped by.

But here I am now. A few hours ago, my beloved Leylah Fernandez lost the US Open Championship to another lovely human being – Emma Raducanu from Great Britain. I was there … ooing and ahhing with the ebbs and flows of tennis fortune.

After the final shot, there were the speeches – first from the runner-up. As Leylah approached the microphone, we the audience stood. We clapped and cheered. There was a moment when the roar subsided a touch. And then it took off, filling every corner of Arthur Ashe. A moment for the ages, a surge that I’ve only heard once before (for a Canadian singer named Stan Rogers). Leylah’s eyes were moist in response. She answered the interviewer’s questions. She acknowledeged that Emma played better. As the interviewer was about to move on to the champion, Leylah reached for the microphone once more:

“I know on this day, it was especially hard for New York and everyone around the United States. I just want to say that I hope I can be as strong and as resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.”

Oh my God! You’re 19. You’ve beaten some of the best players in the world. Tonight you fell short of your dream. And you have the presence of mind and heart to speak of your love for New York, and your empathy with New Yorkers. Leylah, you’re a blessing to people young and old, to sports fans and not. Thank you.

Afterwards, in a press conference, Leylah reflected on her comments in the stadium:

“I don’t know much about what really happened, but with the few information that I do have, I know that New York has suffered a lot the past years when it did happen. I just wanted to let them know that they’re so strong, they’re so resilient. They’re just incredible.

Just having them here happy, lively, just going back to the way they were, having my back during these tough moments, has made me stronger and has made me believe in myself a lot more.”

Look at the gifts we give each other. How happy to be alive.

Day Ten: T-shirts

I was walking into the grounds of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center yesterday and I hear a voice: “I love your t-shirt!”  It belonged to a young woman who was handing out sunscreen at the Mount Sinai Hospital booth.  She and her friend laughed at the words on my blue chest: I Only Wear This Periodically which make sense only when accompanied by the art work – the Periodic Table of Elements.

Most of my cool t-shirts arrive as Christmas presents from my sister-in-law Nona and my brother-in-law Lance.  They have a weird sense of humour which meshes nicely with my own.

Today I arrived wearing red.  I didn’t even notice that I was passing the same booth.  “The t-shirt man!”  Same voice.  She was ooing and ahhing about today’s message: The First 70 Years of Childhood Are Always the Hardest.  I tried to convince her that I was really 39, that my in-laws are mathematically challenged, but she wasn’t buying it.  I promised her another jolt tomorrow.  Think I’ll wear black, with a message from Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist. 

“She addressed world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23, 2019.  ‘How dare you,’ she roared. ‘How dare you look away… and come here saying that you’re doing enough!'”  Three words just begging for an exclamation mark.

After tomorrow, I’ll have three more days at the US Open.  My clothing choices will return to the land of humour.  Here are some possibilities:

1.  Yes, I’m Here Unsupervised.  I Know … It Freaks Me Out Too

2.  There’s a Fine Line Between Numerator and Denominator.  Only a Fraction Will Understand

3.  Never Underestimate an Old Man Who Loves Tennis and Was Born in January

Yes.  Those will do nicely.

Day Nine: The Best Laid Plans

I had an idea of what I’d say in my WordPress post today.  I didn’t want to talk about tennis matches every day … but here I am at the US Open.  What can I say with a different slant?  I could talk about a pioneer, someone who has led, broken new ground.  “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”  Actually, a woman – Billie Jean King.  She fought for women to be recognized in the world of tennis, and for female players to be paid as much as the men.

But dear Billie Jean, the time is not right to talk about you.  I will do that later.  You have been nudged aside momentarily by Bianca Andreescu, the Canadian winner of the 2019 US Open.  She was playing against Greece’s Maria Sakkari, another charismatic player.  Their match started last night at 10:45 and ended at … 2:15 am!  I was going to write about Bianca developing a cramp near the end and grunting it out anyway, hobbling from side to side, trying to reach Maria’s laser shots.  Then I’d mention getting home at 3:00, and the precious few hours of sleep.

But dear Bianca, the time is not right to talk about you.  I’ve just come out of a match on Arthur Ashe – Canada’s Leylah Fernandez versus Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, the fifth ranked player in the world.  Elina was in masterful control, just as she has been for years.  She is seen as one of the two best players never to have one a Grand Slam tournament (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open).  The other player knocking on the door is Karolina Pliskova.

All Leylah has done so far in the tournament is beat two players who have been number one in the world – Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber.  Anticipating this afternoon’s match, one tennis journalist had this to say about Leylah:

Svitolina’s gift of a draw continues.  Fernandez looks like a star of the future, but she’s also way over her head at this stage.

The two warriors went toe-to-toe.  Three long sets, totalling almost two-and-a-half hours.  Many long rallies of more than ten shots.  Leylah finding severe angles to pull Elina off court and then blasting the ball into the empty corner.  Elina fluidly finding the open spaces with her controlled aggression.

I was enthralled with the speed of the shots, with Leylah throwing her arm to the sky after hitting a winner, drawing the crowd into a massive roar.  And we thousands of human beings filled the space with noise.

As a match duration of 2:23 ticked over to 2:24, a final shot sailed long over the baseline, and the contest was over.  We rose as one and bellowed our approval.  The miracle continues.

Leylah Fernandez

Day Eight: Laughing Faces

One of the coolest things is seeing people waving and jumping around on the big screens in Arthur Ashe Stadium.  When the players are resting between games, sneaky photographers are capturing spectator antics for 20,000 of us to see.  I love the sudden jolt from placid to animated as the stars of the show realize that it’s all about them for a few seconds.  Young, old, in between … the human spirit is on display.

Late afternoon I was sitting high in Louis Armstrong Stadium, waiting for my dear Canadian hero Leylah Fernandez to begin play.  My heart was jumping up and down, which could make it difficult to sustain life.  When you’re so full, you just have to turn around and share the joy with the folks sitting behind.  I had to make sure they were cheering for Leylah, rather than the German player Angie Kerber.

A young woman and two young men seemed quite happy to clap for Leylah.  Good.  Our little cheering section.  They were most willing to talk to an old guy.  I found that refreshing.

Interlude: It’s now the next morning, just before the first match in Louis Armstrong.  We’ve just been asked to stand for the national anthem.  It’s time to sing, and I do, even though it’s not my anthem.  Feels good.

Back to yesterday.  As Leylah fashions another improbable comeback, I enjoy the “Go Leylah!”s coming from my new friends.  They’re into it!  As a matter of fact, so am I.  I stand up and yell a lot as Leylah hits winner after winner.

As Kerber’s final ball smashes into the net, the stadium explodes!  Decibel heaven.  Leylah prances around the court, arms held high.  Did she really beat Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber in consecutive matches?  Two former Grand Slam champions?  Yes, this lovely about-to-be 19-year-old did exactly that.

Areeka, Eshan, Rohan and I go out for dinner after the match, each of us choosing our fare from the food court.  Areeka and Rohan live in Texas, while Eshan calls Massachusetts home.  We are soon joined by their friend Ronak, who lives in New York City.  The four became friends while students at the University of Texas.

We talked tennis as if I’d been part of their lives for years.  Really we were talking about life, disguised as tennis.  I thought of the US Open ticket for Friday’s day session.  “Just give it to one of them, Bruce.”  Ronak was the only possibility, since the others were heading home soon.  He beamed a “Yes!” at me.  It only took a few minutes to cancel my attempt to sell and transfer the ticket to Ronak.  He gets to see the first men’s semi-final on Friday!  And so do I … with my friend Carolyne.

Okay … it’s time to watch Belinda Bencic from Switzerland go toe-to-toe with Iga Swiatek from Poland.  I’ll see you tomorrow.

Day Seven: Old and Young and Everything Else

We’re all here.  Think of any trait that would describe a person, and it’s alive and well at the US Open.  The veteran of forty Opens, armed to the teeth with tennis statistics and history, looks across the stadium at a 10-year-old kid who’s dreaming of meeting her hero and someday playing on Arthur Ashe.

The US Open is played in New York City’s borough of Queens.  Here’s what Google has to say about the place:

Queens holds the Guinness World Record for “most ethnically diverse urban area on the planet”, and it’s also the most linguistically diverse, with at least 138 languages spoken throughout the borough.

Clothing, personality, sexual orientation, race … we’re one huge diverse family on the grounds of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.  I love moving through the crowds, seeing parents and kids hugging each other, couples holding hands, and a fellow off by himself, apparently meditating.

I love being welcomed to the Open in the morning by smiling employees and being asked to “travel safe” by the Louis Armstrong Stadium usher as I begin my journey to the subway at night.

I love eating my eggplant sandwich at a shaded picnic table and welcoming Toby, who needs a place to sit.  We talk about … tennis!  Imagine that.  He knows more than I do on the subject.  Good for him.  I offer him a free ticket for Friday, September 10 but sadly he says no.  He has to be back to work in Vermont.  I’ll find some other nice person.  My friend Carolyne is joining me on Friday so I needed to find two seats together.

Life is good.