Visibly Wrong

For the second evening in a row, I sat in the middle of the front row in Koerner Hall. Last night was a celebration of the life of Charles Aznavour, a French singer and composer or co-composer of 1000 songs.

The young man who played Charles was full of the spirit of life. It shone in his eyes, his voice and in his widespread arms. And I sat at his feet. He was surrounded by other brilliant musicians, playing keyboard, drums, stand up bass, and accordion. The songs were haunting, and almost all of them were in French. I can compose sentences on French but figuring out the fast speech of others is very difficult.

Koerner Hall seats about 1100 people and I was happy to be at the front of things. I don’t mind being seen. In fact, I love being seen … and heard.

At one point, the young Charles asked for requests. I heard voices behind me and knew I’d participate. Before the concert, a friend had waxed poetic about the song “Mamma”. I didn’t know it, but why not?

“Mamma!” I yelled.

Charles stared down at me, with a quizzical look.

The woman to my left nudged me. “He sang that one two songs ago.”

Oops. If I wasn’t just so darn loud. I imagined 1100 snickers behind me.

Happily, I didn’t let this minor interruption slow down my zest for the music. Why dampen myself? Why waste energy slumping my soul? Life continues to request that I live it.

Fast forward to the last song of the concert. I pretty much knew this was the last song because things were coming to a close … in French. The real Charles made an appearance on the big screen, accompanied by the words “You will always live in our hearts.” The instruments were swelling up to a grand finale. Yes, this was the end.

The last note hung in the air and I burst from my chair in a raucous standing O. I clapped and clapped. My excellent peripheral vision showed that no one else nearby was erect. And once more young Charles was looking down at me with … curiosity.

Anothe nudge from the left. “They have a few more songs to do.”

Ahh … to be bilingual. But no matter. I held my head high and enjoyed the rest of the concert, taking my cue from other folks about when to stand again.

Sticking out like a sore thumb. I smile at the thought of it.

What Kind of Spiritual Person Am I?

First of all, I am one of those. I know it. No calculating, no comparing “yes” and “no” lists of attributes. My heart is open.

Am I the monk in the cave, blissing out on the oneness of the universe? Certainly not. I’m in the marketplace of living, full of contradictions. Sublime … exploding. Repeat.

And so we have the subject of dinner at Boston Pizza in Toronto. I love nachos, and many a time at this restaurant chain my order has appeared crammed with cheese on the top, and virtually naked on the bottom. Should my spirituality include all, knowing that the world of form is an illusion? NO, it shouldn’t.

As a proactive human being, I asked the bartender to have the chef layer my nachos. She said she’d do her best.

A few minutes later, a full plate appeared me before me. In the spirit of doubt, I peeked underneath the pile and discovered many chips with no cheese or anything else. “I’m sending this back.” The Bruce of five years ago would never have uttered these words.

Soon the bartender returned. She told me that the chef would charge me for extra cheese to meet my request. And there’s the moment. Do I lower my head, accede to the powers in the world, and chow down on dryness? No again. I asked her to have the manager come over.

The gentleman arrived with all dispatch. He heard my story and said that he’d make it right. No surcharge. He was calm. I was calm. And the result was produced. I was a happy customer.

My perception (and I could be faulty here) is that the bartender’s brightness transformed to stone after I spoke up. Hmm. Am I willing to abide with such perceived distance in order to stand with what I see is the truth? Yes, I am.

There’s an edge to my spirituality. It’s pretty new. I intend it to stay.

Cellists

Well … here I am. After three hours stuck in 401 traffic on the way to Toronto, I’m sitting dead centre in the front row of Koerner Hall, waiting for the appearance of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra. The musicians are all enrolled in the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory. They’re on their way to professional careers.

Oops. Here they come, all decked out in black dresses and suits.

***

And now it’s intermission. The cello soloist plunked himself down about ten feet from me. He proceeded to throw his music into the hall, with a flourish of intense bow strokes, incredibly fast runs, and then the softest of tones misting down on us. I watched his fingernails shine as the notes climbed the fingerboard. His face contracted and released. His eyes rose to the heavens, dropped to his instrument and then closed. Sweat poured on his brow. His body swayed left and right.

We the audience were entranced. We stood at the end.

I remembered a young Bruce, the one who played the cello from Grade 6 till Grade 13. In my better moments, I had the same passion as tonight’s artist, but with far less skill. I loved being in the high school orchestra. It was the only “team” I ever played for, and we loved streaming through some classic symphonies together.

My body also swayed. My eyes also closed. At that age, I didn’t know much about making love, but that’s what I was doing with my cello. We soared.

I let go of being a cellist after high school. I was good enough to continue into university but I didn’t know that. Now it’s 52 years later. A wee bit of me dreams of playing again but really I don’t want to. I’ve passed through other chapters and today is a fresh adventure. Still I was with the young man tonight as he both caressed and attacked the strings. Well done, both of us.

The Best Home Is Over There In You

In Buddhism, there are four brahma viharas.  A common translation of the term is “best home” – a place to hang out that brings happiness and peace.  The virtues are lovingkindness, compassion, equanimity and sympathetic joy.  The last one has long fascinated me.

The word “sympathetic” throws me.  I don’t want to feel bad for you.  I want to feel with you.  So “empathetic joy” rings far more truly for me.  It’s about me feeling great happiness when you are happy or successful.  It points to the idea that there isn’t a limited amount of joy to go around.   There’s plenty for us all.  It’s taken me a very long time to figure this out.

I remember watching some really popular guys in high school.  They had Hollywood faces … chiselled and acne-free.  They usually were great in sports and seemed so confident in a group, always with something cool to say.  I remember wishing that something would go wrong in their lives.  How about a pimple or two?  “Tone down the good vibes, please.”  I had bought what society was selling us: that happiness is a scarce commodity.  If they have lots, there’s no way I can have much.

According to Sharon Salzberg … “As the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, puts it, there are so many people in this world, it simply makes sense to make their happiness a source of our own. Then our chances of experiencing joy ‘are enhanced six billion to one,’ he says. ‘Those are very good odds.'”  Indeed.  To multiply happiness by way of a simple shift in attitude.

How about if I surround myself with people who are smarter than me?
How about if I celebrate the skills of someone who writes better than me?
How about if I simply throw my appreciation over there into your eyes?

Soul Singers

What type of person would watch the video of a song performance ten times in an evening?  Well … a me type of person.

I loved the movie A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  It’s the story of a wearing-out singer befriending and loving a young up-and-comer.  With her voice and songwriting, she comes to displace him in the affections of the musical public.

Lady Gaga’s character wrote a stunning song called Shallow, and performed it brilliantly in the film to a rapturous audience of thousands.  The song was nominated for an Academy Award and during the ceremony Bradley and Lady Gaga, both dressed to the nines, rose from their seats in the audience, took each other’s hand, and walked onstage to the grand piano.

Words paint pictures but you need to watch the YouTube video.  It’s the one that begins with a red curtain rising and several men in tuxedos moving the piano into position.  What was present on that stage was love, eyes locked to each other’s, voices climbing together.  As in the film, there’s a moment when Lady Gaga blasts out the words as she pounds the piano keys and  gives her eyes to Bradley:

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

I cried each time as she soared.  The voice was resonant, incredibly powerful.  A glowing bridge of spirit flowed between the two.  Its what love is meant to be … all encompassing.

What if I lived my life this way?  Full speed ahead towards the human beings of this planet.  High decibel joy.  Unfettered.  Undone.

I want the whole world to see this video, especially the ending, where their heads lean together and their eyes meet.  Please go find it.  You will be changed.

Communion in the Air

I had breakfast with my friend Imogen on Tuesday.  She’s a hairdresser, and her face shone as she talked about her clients.  I’m clear that Imogen has found one very deep niche in her life.  Hairstyles and perms are just a convenient excuse for her to be with people and shower them with love.

A lot of seniors come Imogen’s way.  Some of them are alone and simply want a caring human being to talk to.  And the dear hairdresser just might be the only person who touches them anymore.

My friend told me about Grace, an elderly woman who’s sliding down the slope of dementia … ever so slowly.  Imogen has chocolate at the ready, a favourite treat.  Plus there’s plenty of time to linger and enjoy a cuppa tea together.  Imogen could hurry Grace out the door and cram another client into the time, but her bottom line is far from the world of dollars.

One day Imogen set off for a pretty little town nearby, and a workshop that she was looking forward to taking.  The teacher asked her what she did for a living.  Hairstyling led to a mention of Imogen’s shop – Shine Salon – and the lovely clientele that she was privileged to be with.  The teacher knew the shop and when Imogen mentioned her favourite customer (Grace), the teacher knew her too.  Actually, the teacher’s mom Florence was Grace’s best friend.  Even better, Florence lived upstairs in the old home where the workshop was happening.  And she was home right now!

When Florence was beckoned downstairs, her daughter said “Mom, this woman takes care of Grace.”  Florence started crying and rushed over to hug Imogen.  “Thank you … so very much.”

Oh, to have been in that room at the moment of embrace.

It’s a good world, isn’t it?
I wonder what forces are at work
so that Florence and Imogen could share their love of Grace
It’s a mystery, isn’t it?

Problems in Doing … Lightness of Being

For most of my life, I’ve done the tasks of life well. Sure, I had to study this and put some effort into that, but I usually basked in the aura of accomplishment. I’m a good teacher. I’m a good writer.

There’s a casualness in doing well. It’s predictable. And I easily fall into a peaceful rhythm. But what if something happened to disturb that rhythm, to knock me off my comfy chair? Would that be a problem? I guess. But maybe not. Perhaps that would open me into the fresh air of brand newness.

For a long time, I’ve thought that it’s easy to be happy when the world is honouring your words and actions. Far more of a challenge is to continue going towards people when I lack skill, when I fall short, or when the environment seems to be conspiring against me.

Ahh … how life teaches its lessons. Such as today.

I enjoy my work with the Evolutionary Collective. There are opportunities to meet online many times a week with folks from here, there and everywhere. A couple of months ago, I decided to start the training for being the support person in these calls, the one who organizes everything – managing the technology, putting people into breakout groups, unmuting and muting them when they share in the large group, and handling special requests. Today my job was to do the whole thing, while being coached by an experienced tech person.

I started well in the welcoming but then I piled mistake upon mistake. I forgot important parts of the sequence of tasks. I went into overwhelm when faced with the job of moving twenty-two folks into pairs in a way that followed certain guidelines. I panicked more than once, and was grateful when my friend rescued me. I had studied all the details but performed poorly in the heat of the action.

After all the participants left, we two did a debriefing session. Lots of feedback, communicated with kindness. A recognition that I’m nowhere near independent in this role. As my coach and I ended the call, there was laughter … and then quiet smiles. We were together, on a journey.

I left home soon after on my way to the gym. Behind the steering wheel was a man fascinated with the lightness that surrounded him. There was peace. My goodness, how can this be? Why am I not beating myself up, a skill which I had honed to perfection over many decades? Why was my head high, looking straight out at the world? Why was I happy?

It doesn’t seem to be about me – positive thinking, determination, a commitment to do better. There’s no doing here. Something seems to be washing over me in the face of apparently distressing conditions.

And I smile.

Upside Down

I’m a fairly intelligent person and I know how the world works.  You start with A and get yourself to B, whether that’s an easy task or something that requires great effort and creativity.  After that, it’s on to C.  Etcetera.

Or … maybe I’m wrong.  Life just might present us with stuff that doesn’t make any sense, that’s bereft of logic, often just plain weird.  Could it be that these moments are immense windows into another way of being?

I’m looking back at jolts, discontinuities, strangeness.  One happened a couple of days ago, when I was doing a Mutual Awakening practice with someone online.  I can’t even remember who that someone was, which is a bit of a jolt in itself.  In these practices, images often bubble up.  I’ve let go of figuring out where they come from.  This time, I saw a man looking at me with his eyes closed.  I could tell they were about to open.  Instead of the eyelids rising to reveal the eyes, they came down from the top.  When the eyes were fully visible, the lids didn’t stop at the bottom.  They continued down his cheeks, gradually showing an iridescent turquoise interior.  It was shining and it was huge.  Seeing into the man’s eyes, I realized that he was me.

My lips tightened.  My head tilted.  And I was transported to another place.  I knew almost immediately that I would talk to you about this mystery that takes the breath away.  Here it is Sunday and I’m talking.  It doesn’t matter how you react to this.  It’s clear to me that this break in normal reality needs to be communicated.

***

I’m thinking back to a vacation that Jody and I had in the Dominican Republic.  The dining room was close by a lovely pond bordered with tropical colours.  Long-legged pinkish birds walked in the shallows, seeking a fish buffet.  After a minute of watching the birds tense into their pouncing, I noticed their legs.  My mouth opened and I stared.  Their legs bent the other way … folding backwards.  What ever happened to A, B, C and D?

***

Last night, I went to a BeeGees tribute concert in London.  Towards the end, many of us were moving and grooving on the dance floor that was the narrow space between Row A and the stage.  One young man danced like … I don’t know what.  His fingers were jabbing in time to his neck moving back and forth, sort of like a chicken but not really.  More staring from me.

***

When the breaks in reality flood me, I get disoriented, wavery, hanging not so loose in some in-between space.  The questions explode in my head:  “Where am I?  What is this place?  How come I don’t recognize any landmarks?”

This is all okay
Just embrace the fog
Walk inside
It’s safe

Hello Ruby

Last night, lying in bed

Car rental expires in a few days
Used?  New?
Lease?
Will I be driving fifteen years from now?
Honda?  Toyota?
Red?
Doesn’t matter

***

This morning, lying in bed

RED!
Has to be red
Red is my favourite colour
Go home
… Ruby …

***

I’ve named every car I’ve owned.  At 7:00 am today, I did it again, and I didn’t even own anything.  “Her name is Ruby.  And she’s a Honda.”

Since 1988, Jody and I had bought Hondas.  When we moved to London in 1990, we fell into the arms of Westgate Honda.  Our mechanic Roy was a marvel. In 2012, we bought a second car – Scarlet, who happens to be a Toyota Corolla.  The Toyota dealership has treated me fine but lying under the covers this morning I knew it was time to go home.

I met with a Westgate salesman today – Tim.  He told me that Roy was still chugging along in the back, in his 38th year of service.  But he wasn’t in today.  No worries, Roy.  We’ll have a reunion soon.

My choices were a new Honda Civic LX or a 2017 Civic EX, both fire-engine red.  My mind roamed and rambled about 47,000 kilometres, new car depreciation, the relative drains on my pocketbook and cool EX features, but my main message to Tim was … red!  I’m such a discriminating consumer.

Part of me knew even before I laid eyes on the 2017 model: she was mine.  I was hers.  We walked out the door for a test drive and I was stopped by the Civic shape.  I simply wasn’t used to it.  Ten seconds later, as I took in her beauty, the words came easily … “Hello, Ruby.”  I do believe my new friend smiled in return.

Now inside the black interior, with Tim showing me this and that.

Now flowing down the street with a passenger view, hearing about more features.

And now behind the wheel, pulling out into Riverside Drive traffic.  So smooth.  So comfy.  So in sync with me.  Half a kilometre later, the words spilled out: “You have a sale.”

I take possession Wednesday or Thursday as a friendship emerges.  “Ruby, we’re going places together.”

Tomorrow, in the spirit of new love, I’ll drive into London, park at Westgate, and mosey up to Ruby in the parking lot.  It seems like a profoundly rational thing to do.

Ahh … beginnings

 

Goodbye Scarlet

I received word today that the insurance company considers my red Toyota Corolla a total loss after we were rearended two weeks ago. Ouch.

Yes, I have to find another car within the next few days and yes, all this will cost extra money, but that’s not the big story. For many years, I’ve developed relationships with certain objects in my life and none has been as profound as Scarlet and me.

Jody and I bought Scarlet in 2012, and even though she was officially our second car after Hugo, we tripped around in her a lot, mostly with me as the driver. I sold Hugo a year ago and sometimes afterwards I’d look over at Scarlet’s passenger seat to sense Jody in animated conversation with her husband.

Scarlet has taken me to so many concerts and sporting events in Toronto since Jody’s death. I remember one blinding blizzard on the way home. I knew we had to get off the 401 and I could only dimly make out the tall reflectors on the exit ramp near Guelph. I trusted Scarlet to make the curve and she pulled through for both of us.

The grand adventure was to Western Canada in the summer of 2015. I wanted to visit some old friends and spend time with a few of Jody’s relatives, some of whom I’d never met. Scarlet and I roamed all the way to Victoria, B.C., and I enjoyed being with my former wife Rita in Vancouver. The span of Canada west of Ontario rolled with our wheels, including a harrowing trip south of the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba to find the city of Steinbach in the pummelling rain. With the gas tank reading zero. Thanks again, Scarlet.

Then there was the fire near the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia, which threatened to leap across the road. That was terrifying. Contrast that with the immense peace of Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, and more sublimely, with the spirit of the fine folks I sat down with in every province from here to there. Scarlet and I were together through it all.

Today it ended, although Scarlet’s soul will remain with me.

I took out all my personal belongings at the body shop. And last were the piles of quarters sitting in the change container. It was time to say goodbye. Scarlet was up a couple of feet from the floor. I leaned over the driver’s seat and kissed her steering wheel, a padded one that was full of Bruce finger impressions. I stood in front of the hood, put my hands down onto the dust, and said …

Goodbye, Scarlet
Thank you