The Trees

A friend asked me to post photos of the three necklaces. They all ooze with life.

My goal was to spend no more than $20.00 Canadian for each of them. I ended up averaging $21.00. I’ll take it.

Day Thirty-Six: Rinzin

I was on a mission. Three girls in Belmont, Canada asked me months ago if I’d bring them back something from San Francisco. They all wanted the same thing: a Tree of Life necklace. I said yes, in the spirit of rewarding people who speak up, who politely ask me to do something.

About two weeks ago in Senegal, I sat with a couple who mostly live in Berkeley, California – where I am. They told me where I’d find street vendors who’d sell these necklaces. So cool to get directions from so far away.

The Evolutionary Collective conference ended on Sunday, and yesterday I set off to find three gifts.

This is the third time I’ve been to Berkeley. I like staying at the YMCA. Each morning, on the way to my favourite breakfast spot, I pass a lovely shop offering Tibetan treasures. It was always too early for them to be open but yesterday my timing was perfect. And who knows, maybe a Buddhist tree of life would be hanging somewhere.

In I walked, to be greeted by a jolly Tibetan soul – Rinzin. In the span of multiple lifetimes, I think he’s been around the block a few times. Rinzin welcomed me with his entire heart and soul. At the top left of the photo I took of him, you may be able to make out the Dalai Lama. My new friend is the person one to the left.

I could feel it: there’s something for me to buy in here. There was a sweetness hanging in the air.

I asked about a tree of life. He wasn’t sure, but went searching. I was absolutely fine with him finding nothing. But lo and behold, he came back with an object of exquisite beauty. I felt a “yes” … such a deep yes that this pendant would be around a girl’s neck in a week or so. I stood there staring, stunned at the silver trunk and leaves of tiny white stones.

Rinzin watched my eyes widen and was ecstatic that he had contributed.

We talked about the exile of Tibetans from their homeland, and his great sadness about that. Then we both wandered off down separate aisles. I looked down and there was a shining stainless steel tree pendant. Yes again. A minute later, Rinzin pranced up with a third. All were different and all were sublime. No street vendors on Telegraph Avenue would be needed. Someone was watching out for the girls and me.

As I readied my wallet, the feeling returned: there’s something else calling me in this shop. My eyes wandered, already softened. And I came upon the banner, hanging high above the cash register. “We must try to do something good.” Yes once more. The kids need to see this. They need to feel the value of contributing. Hopefully the teacher will let me hang the banner in the classroom.

My credit card emerged but again I hesitated. Some other object was beckoning. It didn’t take long for me to discover the oval piece of coral, stained red. Its energy flew out in arrows to the curved edge of the piece. Yes, it needed to come with me as well. The smooth ruby oval was so Bruce.

And then the voice inside boomed out into the world: “You’ll be giving this away too.” > What? No way. It’s for me > “No it isn’t. It’s for life.”

Three girls will receive their necklaces next week. As for the glowing red oval … I don’t know the destination. I just know that it will reside in someone else’s home.

Ahh … the mystery
I’m not here to figure things out
I’m here to act in love
Thank you, Rinzin

Day Thirty-Five: So Alone … So Together

There was a moment in Senegal that threatened to separate me from humanity. I fought it. Then I let go into it. But it had such power to suck me down.

A group of us were sitting around. Lydia and I were the only English speakers. She’s also fluent in Flemish and French. Nano is such a cool young Senegalese woman. She definitely could be on the stage at Yuk Yuks in Paris. She dances. She throws her body around, with her arms touching the sky.

And Nano is a storyteller. She launched her into her tale with aplomb, moving every whichway, screaming her words to the heights and then dropping them to a whisper. Eyes on all sides were locked on her. And then … faces exploded in laughter as Nano bent way over.

I sat calmly, with a tiny smile. But the roller coaster ride was far from over. Six or seven more times, the onlookers rocked and rolled in ecstasy, tears appearing on cheeks.

And my heart kept falling. An intense shared experience was not shared with me. There’s no fault here, just a celebration of a woman’s hilarious adventures … in French.

I was all over the map – fine with the exclusion, hating it, rationalizing the whole thing. There was a nakedness I often felt, and a despair.

***

Yesterday afternoon, a group of us in the Evolutionary Collective explored an idea at lunch. What if we intensified our access to this inclusive consciousness by spending more time together each week online? What if we consciously moved towards a commitment to living this communion 24/7? What’s possible?

One idea emerging was to create a “text thread” among the six of us. A matrix of support for each other in real time. What if I could have pulled out my cell phone in the midst of that Nano story and shared with my “tribe” what I was experiencing? Oh my. How astonishing. Perhaps someone else in the group would read my message right then, and respond. It’s not about zooming a solution over the Internet, or fixing people. It’s about being there, in deep contact with the one experiencing something profoundly, whether it’s “positive” or “negative”.

Now wouldn’t that be a different kettle of fish?

Day Thirty-Four: Closer

Last night, the Evolutionary Collective hosted an evening in which people could join us and experience what’s it’s like to be inside this shared consciousness together. I was talking to a couple about our work. I searched for a short statement that would sum up the EC’s impact on me. And it came: Now my natural tendency is to move towards people rather than away from them. My fear of differentness has faded away, replaced by an intense curiosity about what others’ lives are like, what their passions are, their visions. I find that when I speak about my journey, things often loosen between us, and the other person goes towards their experiences and discoveries.

My favourite moments are conversations with one other person, followed by three of us, and then being alone. That preference is so bright now. It doesn’t matter the personalities, ages, cultures, situations. Just let me linger in your eyes.

And yet more folks coming together can be magical too. In our session yesterday daytime, we did a practice that deeply hit home. We were in a group of eight – two standing in the middle back-to-back, and the rest of us circled in chairs. Our teacher Patricia Albere asked us to experience the threading – the weaving – of consciousness among us, flowing through both the standing ones and the seated ones. The pair would rotate together to meet the eyes of each of us. If Persons A and B started in the middle, A would sit down after a complete turn, replaced by C. B and C went around together, then C and D, D and E … We became an organism of eight cells, blending, weaving, caressing. It was lovely. It was human beings together rather than separate, each one so vividly particular and yet also breathing in the whole.

I received a compliment last night. I sat with a couple new to this work. She said that I exuded a sweet energy. She had first noticed it when I was greeting the newcomers at the street entrance of the building. My intention was to have each one feel welcomed from the first moment they set foot in the David Brower Center. She got it then … so did he.

I did my usual squirm in response to her words but happily it faded within seconds. All that was left was a beaming “Thank you” and a peaceful space emanating from something far larger than this Bruceness. We weave together … magic emerges … it’s a mystery that need not be corralled.

Days Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three: Birthday Marathon … Lost in Space

At the edge of awakening this morning (Saturday), I heard Jody come in the front door. I smiled and got up to greet her. As I rounded the corner, she barely glanced at me, and retreated into another room.

“Where’s Jody? Where did she go?” … “She’s dead, Bruce.” And it took awhile to let that in.

My mind has crashed and burned over the past two days, with little resurrections yesterday as I was together with the members of the Evolutionary Collective. Now, at 7:45 am in Berkeley, California, my heart is rising again after twelve hours of sleep.

The flight from London, England to San Francisco lasted between eleven and twelve hours. It made for my longest birthday ever, and perhaps the dreariest one. The voice inside said “No pills” although I had a sleep inducer tucked into my wallet. I obeyed the voice.

Within the growing dullness, I could feel that I was being held by friends even though they were all far away physically. I was also being held by life, Spirit, the bigness that permeates all. Still I slumped.

At the beginning, I talked to my seatmate, a young lawyer going home. But then he put on his headphones, and that was essentially that. After dinner, I put my feet flat on the floor, extended the seat back, put on my blindfold and waited. Again, nothing of peace came.

I worried, I fretted. What’s to become of this wayfaring Canadian? Since leaving Dakar, Senegal on Wednesday evening, sleep had given me maybe one hour. I was approaching my previous record of sleeplessness – 34 hours. I remembered the delirium – the thought, jangled with desperation, that I was going to die.

Blessedly, the San Francisco Airport eventually appeared on the horizon … now about 42 hours. There was a long delay before we could get off the plane – some problem with the runway. (Sigh) Finally we moved/stumbled down the aisle. I don’t know how I managed to avoid smashing into the person in front.

Down twisting and turning corridors, grabbing on to the meaning of overhead signs, trying to remember the San Francisco subway system (BART).

Customs ahead. The lines barely registered. And then they did. My foggy eyes seemed to be saying that there were 150 people ahead of me. It wasn’t an illusion … they were right. (Sigh, sigh, sigh)

It took over an hour to reach a customs agent. He was delightful. I was a mess, but hopefully a kind one.

I got to bed at 11:00 pm at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA. Forty-six hours without appreciable sleep. Two minutes later, I was gone.

Yesterday held many joys, all revolving around love shared. We looked into each other’s eyes. We saw who was there. I spoke to the whole group a few times. What I said rang true inside, and that made me happy.

After we returned from lunch, the fade accelerated. I was in a practice with three other folks and I could feel my words starting to slur, my contact with goodness, truth and beauty letting go. I pushed myself into communion but the pull of sleep intensified.

Our day was done at 5:30 and I approached my friend Lara to see if she wanted to go for dinner later. “I need to sleep for an hour first.” Lara took one look at me and said “I’ll walk you home.” I didn’t resist. She took my arm in hers and we meandered the two blocks to the Y.

Thank you, Lara. There was no dinner for this guy. And … Voilà! … it’s today. A perfect time to be with people once more.

Day Thirty-One: Going to the Home Continent

Goodbye Senegal, for now. I love you.

I thought yesterday’s bus trip from Toubacouta to Dakar Airport would be five hours long, but doorstep to doorstep it was only 3:25.

We were dropping young Ansou off at his new hometown of Passy. His brother Ali and I have become close during two visits and I wondered if he’d be on the side of the road as we slowed into town. Actually, I knew he’d be there.

He was. I saw a boy in the distance. From my perch in the front passenger seat, I started waving, just as he too began the greeting. I hugged Ali twice in those few minutes. I wear his bracelet on my left wrist. He’s my friend.

This was one more goodbye in yesterday’s lingering departures. So many African friends, not stopped by language in the pursuit of love. I have families both here and there.

The road to Dakar was sprinkled with villages – fruit stands, parked semi-trailers, rows of motorcycles with young men astride. People flowed everywhere and the din of voices blasted through the open windows. There’s just such an incredible energy in this country.

Lydia, Marie-paule and I were flying overnight to Belgium. I was scared about my ability to stay well all the way to San Francisco. Lydia gave me half of a sleep-promoting tablet to see me on my way. It didn’t work. I got less than an hour of shuteye. I experimented with different sleeping positions. At home, I flop from side to side, but on the plane this left one foot edged onto the floor. That hurt after awhile and sleep didn’t come. I finally figured out that a symmetrical stance worked best, head straight back on a pillow and feet flat on the floor. But that didn’t produce the result either.

We landed about 5:30 am, and Jo was soon there to whisk the women home. I had more than five hours before getting on a plane to London. A flight attendant on the Dakar-Brussels flight told me about a lounge that had actual beds! Oh … give me sleep.

It turned out that this lounge was only for customers of Brussels Airlines, but I found another one … the Diamond Lounge. They had a little bed available, and a shower! I got wet, washed my hair, shaved and brushed my teeth thanks to the supplies provided. My toiletry kit was in my checked luggage. There was even a spread of food and drink. Yay. After, I set my alarm for two hours thirty hence and fell to the sheets … … Nothing. No sleep. (Sigh)

Here I sit in another departure lounge, this one in London Heathrow Airport. The direct flight to San Francisco will be twelve hours, not the fourteen I thought it was. Small mercies.

I’m now at the thirty hour point of little sleep. Another twelve hours on the plane plus maybe two hours to get to the Downtown Berkeley YMCA, and I’ll stand at forty-four. If I can’t sleep on this flight, I bet I’ll be delirious. No thanks. I have a full version of one of Lydia’s sleeping pills at the ready. Pray for me.

Day Thirty: Communion en français

I was hanging out with Fatou and Fatou at Le Bar Jean-Jacques yesterday afternoon. The aunt creates yummy meals for the family (occasionally including a random Canadian). The niece runs the bar, serving drinks with aplomb.

I was curious about who was who within the Jean-Jacques family, and Aunt Fatou did her best across the span of two languages to fill me in. So many grandparents, daughters, sons and little ones. I wanted to learn but soon I was lost. That’s okay.

The older woman left at one point to work on dinner for the clan. Niece Fatou and I sat together under the mango tree, the only folks there. We got talking, me with my stuttering French. Fatou is a young woman … and a gentle soul. There were gaps in our speaking because we were comfy with each other (plus holes in my knowledge of words).

Fatou wanted to know about the meeting I was going to in San Francisco. I told her that I’m a member of a group that intends to bring more love into the world. She smiled and replied in words I didn’t understand. I spoke of “les yeux”, about how our work revolved around a gentle meeting of the eyes. Fatou was so with me. She got it, and there was a merging of our hearts. We sat together for much time. Often there were no words. And all doing paused.

***

This morning I awoke in the dark and reached over to turn on my watch’s light. The digital screen wavered back and forth … I couldn’t read the time. I switched on the little lamp beside me. The ceiling was roaming around. Someone really should slow it down.

Oh my. This afternoon, I will start a travel adventure that will join four countries. After probably a five-hour drive to Dakar, it’ll be a six-hour flight to Brussels. Then an hour or two to London, England. The pièce de résistance will carry me over an ocean and a continent to San Francisco … a tidy fourteen hours. I tried to imagine how my spinning head would handle all that.

I got up and had a last breakfast at Mariama Counda. The omelet in front of me looked inedible. I had a coffee and contemplated my dubious future. Some song was playing in the dining area. A French chanteuse soared in her language, and the melody came from the past. What was it?

It was The Rose! I smiled. The lyrics would come to me later … but I knew I was home – at breakfast, on the road, in the air, even in San Francisco.

All is well

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
And you, its only seed

It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies a seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose

Day Twenty-Nine: Rigueur/Douceur

The kids’ vests said it all: rigor and softness. We’ll ask the children to work hard and we’ll love them.

Lydia, Marie-paule and I visited the Toubacouta school for young students yesterday. I was there first so I walked through the gate into a courtyard with swings, hanging backpacks, and shoes lined up in neat rows outside of the main building. I sat on the step and wondered if this place would be a big part of my life someday.

When the women arrived, we walked towards the door and were greeted by a teacher in a lovely African dress, splashed with colour. She smiled radiantly and ushered us inside. Kids were spread over the floor in two groups, all sitting on big mats. Eyes widened and bodies started bouncing. Marie-paule and Lydia began talking to a few adults but I didn’t want to do that. I sat on a chair beside lots of young ones – about five years old. Within seconds, legs lifted bodies, hands extended to mine and personal space was just some weird Western concept.

Kids reached for my glasses. They rubbed my white arms. They sought my grey hair. I said no to some of it but mostly I loved the contact.

A shrill teacher voice in a language I didn’t understand jolted eyes wide and sent feet scurrying back to the mat. Tiny blackboards were distributed and students got to work with their chalk. Drawings, rather than letters, were created. Rags and a bucket of water were nearby for erasing and starting again. It reminded me a lot of the Grade 5/6 class back in Canada when the kids were doing Math.

The space was packed with noise … and movement. I smiled to think of teachers’ reactions to this situation back home. Every minute or two, a Senegalese teacher would yell at some kid. At least I think that was what was happening. It was rapid-fire words with definitely an edge to them.

Later in the morning, I got to attend a language class with about fifteen kids. French was the language being learned. It appeared that a new girl was joining the class and the lesson was about how to welcome her. As well as coaching the students about what words to use, the teacher had each child approach the new one, make eye contact and shake her hand. Very cool. When each student completed the task, the teacher smiled at them, drew them close and placed a kiss on the cheek. Yes, I was in another world, but it was still reminiscent of tender moments in Canadian classrooms.

During my time in Senegal, I’ve given away most of the gifts that the kids in Belmont had made or provided – bracelets, books, beach balls. What remained was four skipping ropes, donated by a creative young lady in Grade 6. Lydia advised me to give them to teachers at the school so everyone could enjoy them. Good plan. So I did.

At recess, one of the teachers took an orange rope outside. Soon she and a child were on either end and kids took turns jumping in. I should have suspected that they’d be naturals. Then Lydia grabbed a rope and demoed solitary skipping. Woh! Small eyes followed the bouncing human.

***

Lots of young faces
A few old faces
Faces