Experience Squared and Cubed

I wonder if my mathematics is off. I’d say that’s likely. But whatever numbers I choose, I’ll have them point to a hierarchy: okay … good … great.

I’m looking at the moments we have during our days. Most of them seem quite ordinary, hardly noticed in the bustle of life. Then there are the special ones – they get my heart beating faster. But beyond that are moments that defy description, ones that take me to the centre of life, far above the hum and the drum.

I could rank life’s experiences on a “1, 2, 3” scale but that doesn’t seem grand enough. How about “1, 5, 10”? Getting there. No, I propose “10, 10², 10³”, or more simply “10, 100, 1000”.

10 can be life’s ordinary moments: talking to someone about sports, politics or local gossip; doing your income tax; navigating traffic. Ho hum.

100 represents the awesome play in sports, such as a great pass, a long putt or an impossible catch. Transcendent. Or the most exquisite performance of a lovely song. John Lennon’s “Imagine” comes to mind. These are moments that transport me to bliss, thanks to what another human being has brought into the world.

1000 is a different kettle of fish. I see it when I look deep into another person’s eyes and them into mine. True contact, connection, communion … so rare. I’m taking a live course on the Internet about relationships – deepening my moments with any human being willing to “be with” me. Today I gazed into my laptop screen and saw a woman from Oslo, Norway and later another one in Sacramento, California. We told each other what we were experiencing. Words like “comfy” and “cozy” came out of me. And the times of silence were sublime. At one point “Lynne” from Sacramento and I were skydiving – arms and legs all horizontal, floating free together … no fear. Then we were deep in the ocean, dancing. So sweet.

***

There’s no doubt in my mind: the numbers are real
There really are levels here
May I bring myself into a cubed world, again and again

The Masters

I like watching my mind. And there are certain stimuli that make my head spin. The Masters golf tournament qualifies.

I’ve loved golf since I was 12 and I’ve watched the Masters on TV for nearly that long. It’s a love affair. But today it’s troubling my mind and I’m curious about that. I’m curious when the events of the world prompt me into a state of deficiency while I know a sweet sufficiency is always available to me.

Part of what I love is the beauty of the golf course – Augusta National. And I know the back nine of Augusta very well. The beauty of the fairways, the beds of azaleas, the severe slopes of the greens, the ever-menacing sweep of Rae’s Creek. The course tantalizes and frustrates the golfers. Usually I’m entranced with the land and there’s some appreciation today but I’m surprisingly flat about the sense of place.

And then there are the golfers. Why am I cheering for Tiger Woods, who despite possibly being recent history’s best golfer is also a blatant adulterer? I abhor that poorness of spirit but I also worship sports heroes. Plus Patrick Reed is leading the tournament right now. Actually he just sank a birdie putt while I was typing. And I was disappointed. Patrick has the reputation of being a grumpy guy and I watch myself not wanting him to win.

Then there’s how difficult the golf course is. I want the winds to blow hard and have par be the leading score after today’s round. Instead Patrick is 8 under par. I need the golf course to win, to be a supreme challenge, so that the players struggle … heroically. Apparently not to be. Update: the announcer just told us that gale force winds are predicted for Saturday and Sunday, and suddenly I’m happy.

How strange it all is. Maybe I’m upset because I haven’t exercised today and this summer’s bicycle ride across Canada is looming. Perhaps I’m “positively addicted” to the elliptical, so that I get antsy during a day of rest.

And my self-talk continues: “You’re lazy, Bruce – just a Masters couch potato. And why can’t you access the spacious consciousness that’s usually been with you recently? Haven’t you moved beyond being upset by the ripples of life?” Well, good luck on that.

Marc Leishman is in second place right now. The announcer just mentioned his wife’s illness but I didn’t catch the gist of it. So I Googled. Audrey Leishman was overcome by toxic shock syndrome a week before the 2015 Masters. Marc was at Augusta, practicing, and rushed home. Audrey was induced into a coma and was given a 5% chance of surviving. Marc saw his future as a single parent and resolved to quit golf to be a fulltime dad. One hundred hours later, Audrey awoke. She told Marc “I love you. I’m sorry about the Masters.” She continues to recover.

And so I cry
And so I’m back
And so I learn

Garbage

It was last year at school.  I was talking to some Grade 5 students, kids I didn’t really know because I worked with the Grade 6’s.  I told them that I often walk down the main street in my village of Belmont to have breakfast at the Diner.  And there’s just so much garbage on the lawns, sidewalks and gutters.  I felt like taking a plastic bag with me and picking up the litter.

Two boys – “Trevor” and “Jeremy” – challenged me to do it.  I said I would, and I followed through – twice.  Then I convinced myself to forget all about it.  I’d occasionally remember over the next several months, but I never again pulled a bag out of the closet.

That was last year.  This spring I’ve been consistently unconscious about the whole thing, until last weekend, when I was sorting through reams of paper that had accumulated.  I came upon a grocery receipt.  On the back, in my handwriting, were three words: garbage, Trevor, Jeremy.

I gulped.  I had forgotten that they were the two kids who challenged me.  On Tuesday, I approached them and fessed up to my lack of commitment.  They nodded.  I said that I’d be walking down Main Street to the Diner on Thursday morning and promised that, unlike my history, I would do what I said I would do.

Thursday morning was this morning.  Two plastic bags found their way into my coat pocket and I set off.  I was scared, which made no sense.  I figured out that I was worried about what people would think, seeing me stooped over on their lawn.  I said that I’d have mitts on because of the cold, and it would be too awkward to pick things up.  Then I agreed to do it, but set a limit – max of 50 items each way.  And what was that about?

I shook my head at the foibles that were issuing forth and walked down Robin Ridge Drive towards Main Street.  Paper, plastic bottles, plastic wrap, plastic ties, cardboard and shingles all found their way to the bottom of the bag.  I got emotionally stronger as each item descended, and by the time I was approaching the restaurant I didn’t give a hoot about what anybody thought.  Hey, for all I know, there were folks applauding from their cars.

A garbage can stood serenely outside of the Diner.  Forty-two pieces of society, and one torn plastic bag, were deposited by a Belmont resident.  I smiled.

On the way home, the other side of the street beckoned.  I picked up fifty-nine examples of flotsam and jetsam by the time I reached my porch.

How silly to be so worried.  How happy to be so contributing.  And tomorrow morning I’ll hold up a sign to Jeremy and Trevor which will simply say … 101.  Good for me.

Astonishment

I participated in an online course about relationships on Saturday.  About twenty-five of us spent two hours together.  Most of it was a presentation about “mutual awakening”.  We reflected on what’s possible between two human beings.

And then it was time for dessert.  I had propped up my Samsung phone on a book.  The moderator’s face disappeared, replaced by a sign inviting me to “Join breakout session 9”.  I said yes and suddenly there was a woman looking at me from her living room in Alberta.  I’ll call her Megan.  Time stopped as I looked into her eyes and said hi.  And she was just as happy to see me.

The moderator had coached us about the process.  We’d start by having Megan ask me “What are you experiencing right now?”  I’d take ten minutes to reply and then we’d switch roles.  No censoring of the words spilling forth.  Not trying to make them sound reasonable.  The listener doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t evaluate the speaker’s words.  She simply stays “with” the other person.

During the final ten minutes, we’d answer the question “What are we experiencing right now?”  For that last bit, we wouldn’t be sharing “What I think we’re experiencing”.  Instead, we’d ideally move our consciousness into the other person and sense our unity.  Oh.  That sounded like a tall order.

Having been assured that there was no right or wrong way to do this, I let go.  I was in wonder, facing this person so far away geographically and somehow so close in my heart.  “How can this be?” I asked myself.  I just met Megan minutes ago.  It was clear that we had willingly entered a sacred space together, where anything that came out of our mouths was perfectly fine.

“I’m astonished.”

“I feel happy … new … wonder … chuckly … at home.”  Megan smiled and I was at peace.  I was receiving wonderful permission to be totally me in the moment.

When Megan spoke, I went inside her, or so it felt.  The first thing she was experiencing was “bubbles”.  How sweet.  And her smile spoke volumes.  I could tell she trusted me, this stranger from Ontario.

The whole group came back at the end, for comments and questions.  I put up my hand.  “I’m so astonished.  I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.  I’ve read Patricia’s book and I’ve gone on lots of retreats … ”  And then I was silent, shaking my head in wonder for all the folks to see.  As much as I love words, sometimes there are none.

The journey continues for the next three Saturdays.  I feel so open to what these mutual awakeners will bring me and ready to let go of thought in my communication with them.

Impact From Long Ago

I was walking in downtown London yesterday and was passing a group of women.  They all had Tim Hortons coffee cups in their hands.  “I could use a coffee,” intoned the inner me.  I approached one of the women and asked where I could find a Tims store nearby.  As she opened her mouth, I heard a voice off to the side:

“Mr. Kerr!”

I whirled around to see a young woman who I’ll call “Monique”.  Long ago, I had worked with a blind child at an elementary school, and Monique was one of her sighted classmates.  She wore a huge smile, as did I.  We hugged.  Sure she’d changed in fifteen years but I recognized her.

It didn’t matter what we talked about.  There was a sense of contact between us.  She told me about her musical career and I mentioned my cross-Canada bicycle ride this summer.  We joyed in each other’s adventures.  Monique’s friends simply watched us, enjoying the reunion.

At one point, I told Monique that a few years ago I decided why I was on the planet: to love people and make them laugh.  Her reply?  “You accomplished that well before then.”  What a sweet thing to say.

Later she said “You were one of the adults who influenced me most.”  Oh my.  I thanked Monique for saying something that I hadn’t heard very often over the years.  We smiled a lot, hugged again and were off into our separate lives.  But we’ll remember each other and our chance reunion on King Street.

May I always tell people how deeply they’ve influenced me.  It’s an act of such kindness.  We all deserve to be on the receiving end.

Go For The Waking Up

It’s likely that for much of my day I’m asleep, pulled by society’s values into a good/bad, right/wrong world.  And then there are moments when my mind floats free, when the peace descends and I see my neighbours with fresh and loving eyes.

On Wednesday evening I sat by my computer, waiting for a webinar called “Evolution Revolution: The Reality of Shared Unity”.  The talk by Patricia Albere was beamed out to nearly 200 people.  She invited us to join a community of souls across the world who would spend a year, each of us in our own homes, reaching out to each other, making a deep connection.  Patricia talks about “mutual awakening”, in which one person enters the consciousness of the other and the two experience being seen, in their essence, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Through “Zoom” technology, we would see each other on our screens and do exercises which could lead to a deep sense of contact.  I could be looking into the eyes of a fellow from Afghanistan or a woman from New Zealand.  Can you imagine the possibilities?  Wow.

Another part of the program is presentations by spiritual teachers and Q&A sessions where we can all see each other.  Works for me.

As I watched the webinar on Wednesday, I felt a surge of “This is it” as in what I’ve been waiting for all my life.  I yearn for a deep connection with many other human beings – local as well as across the world.

I decided to sign up, and there was a financial incentive if I did it that evening.  But I thought about my cross-Canada bike ride this summer.  How could this transformational web program mesh with being on the road for seven hours each day?  What to do? Somewhere in the messages I’d received from the Evolutionary Collective (the organization Patricia created) was a phone number.  Minutes later I found it and dialled, not expecting that anyone would answer well into the evening.

Patricia answered!  How is that possible?  Well, I guess it’s very possible, since it happened.  She was excited about my bike ride and essentially said “Come on down.”  So I’m coming.

For the next year, I will be seeing human beings on my phone screen two or more times a week, and I really mean “seeing” them, as they in turn experience my essence.

And will I be able to transfer this sense of connection to nineteen other riders this summer?  I think so.

I’m 69. I don’t know how many more years I have on the planet.  All that time is really a huge bunch of moments.  I can’t think of a better way to have those moments break through into something totally new.

This Old Guitar

I made a promise to you folks two days ago that I would play my guitar yesterday … and I did.  It had been so many years and I didn’t even know if I could remember how to tune it.

I smiled as I pulled out the guitar case from its shelf and undid the clasps.  Am I really beginning again?  Apparently so.  There sat my friend with its strap laid tenderly over the strings.

In my hands now, the instrument felt right.  “Welcome home,” it seemed to say.  I resurrected memories of group guitar lessons in Ottawa in 1971 or so.  And there I was last night, tuning.

Use the pitch pipe to get the right sound for the low E string.  Place your left index finger in front of the fifth fret on the next string – the A.  Play the two strings, one after the other.  The two notes should sound identical.  If they’re slightly off, you should feel a vibration in tone.  If they’re right on, no vibration.  Wow, it’s actually coming back!

Continue the process on the next strings.  Strum them all with your flat pick.  Be extremely happy when the sound is wonderful.  Yes!  Except for the fact that I couldn’t put much pressure on the strings with my fingertips, and that adds up to a buzzing.

Okay, so some of my chords were a buzz.  The cool thing is that my fingers remembered where to go … C, F, G, D, Am, Bm, Dm and Em.  Four major chords and four minor ones – I can play a lot of songs with just those beauties!

I used to bemoan that I didn’t know how to fingerpick, and that I couldn’t move my left fingers out of the chord shape to hit individual notes.  Would I like to do these things?  Sure.  A guitar teacher could help me.  But sitting here right now, it doesn’t feel important.  All right.  Then what is important?

1.  I want to sing beautiful songs, ones that tell a story about life

2.  I want other people to hear me sing them

3.  I want other people to be touched by the stories, and to sense how they apply to their lives

I can do this.  First, I need to create some calluses on my fingertips, so I can play for longer than five minutes.  I have to learn some songs – know the chords, memorize the words.  And I have to convince someone to listen to me.  I can do this.

I started singing and playing last night … “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”.  I loved my voice and I loved hearing the guitar filling in the tones.  Was it performance ready?  Not at all.  But, to use a martial arts term, I had put myself on the mat.  The guitar was on my lap.  The words came out of my mouth.  The chords moved with the words.  Happiness.

I thought of John Denver, one of my favourite songwriters.  He loved playing too:

This old guitar taught me to sing a love song
It showed me how to laugh and how to cry
It introduced me to some friends of mine
And brightened up some days
It helped me make it through some lonely nights
Oh, what a friend to have on a cold and lonely night

New friends are coming my way.

Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound

Okay, so what do I want to do with the rest of my life?  There are many things that draw me – meditation, sacred relationships, cycling, spending time with kids.  And then there was the package that arrived in the mail today.  It consisted of two books, each offering the lyrics and guitar chords for 1200 songs.

Thirty years ago, I wrote out the titles to 100 songs I wanted to learn – singing and playing guitar.  My results so far?  Zero.  But here I sit, wanting to sing for people, wanting to touch them with stories that open the heart.  The dissenting voice inside says there’s only so much time left in my life.  A guy can have too many projects, can’t he?  And anyway, where am I going to find folks to sing to?

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I went to a house in London where Christine and John host folk music concerts every Wednesday evening.  I had a great time.  Maybe they’ll let me sing one of these months.

Do I really want to invest the time to learn old songs?  Well … I could start with one, such as this pensive tale from Tom Paxton:

I’ve been wanderin’ through this land just doin’ the best I can
Tryin’ to find what I was meant to do
And the people that I see look as worried as can be
And it looks like they are wonderin’ too

And I can’t help but wonder
Where I’m bound, where I’m bound
Can’t help but wonder where I’m bound

Wouldn’t listeners find it easy to ask themselves the very same question?  Yes, I think they would.

But what about my guitar skills?  They’re pretty rudimentary and it’s been so long since I’ve played.  So?  I guess it depends on how badly you want to do this, Mr. Kerr.  You decide.

Okay.  I will pick up my guitar tomorrow and see what happens.  That’s a promise.

Time for bed.

Thoughts for a Sunday Afternoon

Here are some musings from Patricia Albere, and a person whose name I can’t remember … and me:

“The yonder shore that is calling us”

When I was a teenager, I loved hearing Tennessee Ernie Ford sing gospel music. My favourite song of his was “Drifting Too Far From The Shore”. Mostly I was in love with his deep bass voice but part of me needed Jesus to keep me safe.

Why meet a terrible fate?
Mercies abundantly wait
Turn back before it’s too late
You’re drifting too far from shore

Nowadays it feels like I’ve set out across the waters of spiritual life. The way is often foggy but I trust that there’s a new shore awaitin’ – some unknown land that is beckoning me. Not “heaven” per se but something in the moment that’s beyond time and space. Something full of life.

“A wholehearted expression of fully being “met” in all dimensions of love – from simple, sweet human tenderness to sacred union”

The thought keeps returning: people don’t see me. They don’t know who I am, at a deep level. I yearn for contact, connection, a meeting of the eyes. Maybe no words would be spoken, or there might be a torrent of the soul’s work. Either way, the moment is complete. No opinions, no lecturing, no posturing … just you and me.

I want one of these oh so open relationships to include sexuality – the union of our bodies as well as our spirits. But that may not come to pass. I sense that one thing is not negotiable: the merging of consciousness so that the space between us is sacred. A wholeness that transcends and includes our individuality.

“The space between us became vivid and enlivened. As I continued exploring, leaning into it more and more, it became this vortex of consciousness, which had a momentum of its own. It was very compelling and had almost a “sucking in” momentum that was changing the experience of self, my sense of self, from someone limited in my body (kind of a consciousness inhabiting a body) to, in this case, two bodies being consumed by a vortex of consciousness. Being two was secondary to the incredible oneness of consciousness that consumed us.”

What if this vortex, this cycling of energy, was my common state of being? I’d be swept up in one long “oooohhhh” experience and I’d be sharing that with another human being. Astonishing.

“A stance of receptive surrender”

Such a tricky word. It’s not a giving up. It’s a letting go. Beyond the mind and beyond my feelings. But letting go into what? Perhaps that’s the idea. I let go into an unknown. Despite having “studied” spirituality for decades, I know not. Something brand new may be resting behind my eyes. I need to wait and see what approaches me, and to have it be okay that the depth of another person will come calling. May the energies reaching out to me be a revelation.

“What we see on the surface, and much of what we have been told is true, is a very shallow view of what exists.”

Oh my. Many folks have lent me their opinions about what is true. And most of my day features surface interactions. Still, what’s possible? Right now, I’m sitting beside a fellow in a concert hall, waiting for the music. His response to my hello was lukewarm at best. So again, what’s possible? Think I’ll say hi again.

***

Well, well, well. I drew him in. We talked about how we both love sitting in the front row, in the middle. And as for the guy on the other side, I offered to sing him “a little number”. He said yes. So I sang “Three”, which as we all know is a little number. Contact times two.

“Once they taste the mystical realm, their hearts are blown open and the flow of divine love overtakes them, and they cannot return to anything less.”

I’ve glimpsed divine realms, momentarily. I know they exist. And indeed I can’t settle for a longterm flow of anything less, even though I regularly encounter folks who want to stay on the surface of things. To be blown open, to be undone, unravelled, is a terrifying and sublime blessing.

“The first quality of mystical experiences is that they defy ordinary description or explanation. Those of us who have them find ourselves at a loss to effectively share them with others.”

But still I write, even though I fear I will be perceived as deficient and weird. I remember once I had no words for a woman so all we did was hug, for at least two minutes. It wasn’t sexual. It was communal. Afterwards all we could say to each other was “That was nice.”

“In Mutual Awakening practice, we do not speak about our experience; we give our experience a voice. We are not looking at our experience and describing it. We are allowing that experience to take us over and speak through us so that even we are amazed at what comes out of our mouths.”

Ha! Am I wide enough to just open my mouth and allow what comes out? I think so … when I’m talking to a beloved. And maybe, just maybe, there are a lot of beloveds out there waiting for me to sing them a little number.

Emerging

A few weeks ago, I was leaving the Aeolian Hall in London after a concert when a young woman said hi. I knew Noelle fifteen years ago when she was a Grade 6 kid at the school where I worked with a blind student. I also remember her sister Renee and their friend Hillary. Noelle told me that the three of them have formed a music group called The Pairs, featuring homemade songs and strong vocals. She told me they were part of a concert on March 23 and invited me to come.

My brain went into compute mode. March 23 was smack dab in the middle of a five-day trip to Toronto although nothing was on my schedule for that evening. The commute time was about two hours.

I said yes.

I would drive to London, take in the show, and then drive back to Toronto, no doubt getting in at midnight or later. Some people would see such behaviour as weird but not me. Seize the day, as Robin Williams told us in Dead Poets Society.

I stood at the front, listening to the girls sing. Except they’re 28 now. Young women. Great harmonies, great songs and a lovely caring among them. I smiled and clapped a lot. The Pairs are finding their way in the world and who knows where their musical path will take them.

The concert was a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Noelle talked to the crowd about how important it is that we be good to each other. She spoke of “relentless kindness”, a sweet turn of the phrase I thought. It was clear to me that these three women were becoming full human beings, contributing to the world. And it became even clearer when I heard them sing “Woman”:

Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
Oh I may not fit where I’m supposed to be
But I do what I need to make my heart soar
Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
And I won’t let you make a man outta me

I talked to Hillary, Renee and Noelle after the music. They were all pleased I had come. Me too.

Reconnecting with folks who were once young students is rare for me. Last night was a privilege. Many kids who were in my life have now stretched their wings in ways I’ll never know about. Good for them. I like to think I’ve made a contribution to many 12-year-olds. Actually, I don’t have to think it. I have.