Meditating

I’ve meditated for ten years, including two three-month silent retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. I would say we were silent 98% of the time.

When people hear about my quiet adventures, they literally don’t know what to say. And I haven’t been able to communicate my experiences very well.

This afternoon, I sat in my cozy mediation chair in my bedroom. I told myself to tell you afterwards what it was like. So here I am … feeling naked and unknowing. As much as I love writing, I don’t know what to say.

Trust. That’s become a large word for me. I trust myself. I trust my thumbs tapping on the phone screen. I trust that something good will proceed from right now and that this goodness will reach you.

***

Thoughts come. That’s the way it is. Deeper into the meditation there usually are larger spaces around the thoughts. That’s nice, but it’s not a goal to be sought. By grace comes the space.

Sometimes the body is tired. The large openness falls easily into a nodding off. This happened again and again today. The response is a smile, for the rhythms of life are to be respected.

As I settle into the silence, there may come a flow of energy across my face. There may be a “shimmering down”, a vibration that touches my head and seeks my toes. Beyond that may be an awareness of love, simply wafting outwards with no sense of destination. The love, when it’s given to me, brings a tiny smile to my lips and takes me by the hand to a realm without thought, without image, and yet infinitely full.

During the moments of immense sweetness, and yet with a matter-of-fact quality, I am fully alert to the physical world. There have been times when someone has spoken to me while the peace covers all. Happily, there was an acceptance here, with no sense of intrusion whatsoever.

Sometimes there’s music in my head … celestial melodies often accompanied by words:

Nowhere to go
Nothing to do
Nothing to know
And no one to be

Mostly though, the music floats away and there is silence. It’s as if a word such as “love” begins to separate in the air, and the letters are swirled away to the four corners of the universe.

Even though my hands are nestling each other on my lap as I meditate, there’s a sense of reaching out to the beings of this world … loving them, blessing them, wanting them to be happy. Somehow these wishes don’t form as conscious thoughts but I know they’re here.

My eyes know when my meditation is done, for they choose to open. My right hand reaches for the wooden mallet, and the singing bowl rings. Three times it is touched. For each, the sound fades to the merest vibration before the next tone appears.

And I wish … “Please may the shimmer stay with me throughout my day.” Often it does.

Interviewed

Yes, that’s what happened to me yesterday … for the second time in my life.

Back in the 80’s, I worked with a psychologist in Lethbridge, Alberta. We led personal development seminars and Joel was a great coach. I was a newbie, a 30-something guy armed with some knowledge of communication skills but definitely lacking in life experience.

Our local TV station got wind of the work we were doing and wanted their viewers to hear about it too. My memory is that Joel had done many of these interviews and suggested that I give it a go. Tremblingly, I agreed.

On the day of public reveal, I put on my ill-fitting brown suit and headed downtown. The chairs in the studio were comfy, unlike me. The woman asking the questions did her best to settle me down but sadly I fumbled my way along the path of vague answers and big gaps of silence. Here I was, a seminar leader with prolonged descending self-esteem.

I watched the complimentary copy of the video once, cringing at regular intervals. I felt like a teenager with a face full of acne.

***

Okay, that was a long ago then. Yesterday was a totally different now. Carolyne, the Program Director of the Evolutionary Collective, was interviewing me online. Our work is an exploration of consciousness, and a leaning into the future to glimpse where evolution may be carrying us. More than anything, we intend to bring more love into the world.

I’ve been doing the 1-1 mutual awakening practice with many people over the past one-and-a-half years. Usually there’s a vivid meeting of the eyes as we melt into each other.

It was 1:45, fifteen minutes before interview time. I’m sitting in my room at a Toronto bed and breakfast … with a big smile on my face. Instead of a brown suit, I’m wearing a bright red shirt and jeans. Instead of swallowing every thirty seconds, I’m flying free.

Carolyne asked me a whole bunch of questions about the impact the EC has had on me. I didn’t care what she asked. I was too busy laughing about I don’t remember what. There was no planning to my answers, no strategy. Things just seemed to bubble up. Plus I was in no hurry to say anything. I felt great trust that the words coming out of my mouth would be true and helpful to future viewers.

Carolyne and I giggled a lot as our time together flew by. If I knew any communication skills, I couldn’t remember them. She and I were together … that was the only important thing. Our eyes met.

***

So how can this be?
Well, 35 years must have something to do with it
I’ve learned a lot and forgotten what I’ve needed to forget
I’m more of Bruce than I used to be
Thank you, life

Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of St. Peter)

Where do I start? This was one of the most astonishing musical experiences of my life. The venue was Koerner Hall in Toronto and the twenty-one singers compose the Los Angeles Master Chorale. I bought this (front row!) ticket a few months ago, and yesterday my memory was that I was going to see some Spanish singer who was backed up by a choir. Wrong! First of all it’s Italian, and the words are the name of a piece composed by Orlando di Lasso in the 1500’s, based on the poetry of Luigi Tansillo.

The story centres on the apostle Peter, who just before the crucifixion told the Roman authorities three times that he didn’t know Jesus. Peter’s remorse was deep and stayed with him for the remaining thirty years of his life. What especially haunted him was the look of sadness and love coming from Jesus when Peter cast him aside. “It was a simple and sacred turn of the head.”

Before the performance, the director and conductor sat before us. Di Lasso was dying as he composed this work and was angry with God for extending his life month by month. His body was breaking down, as we often saw in the twisted agony of the singers. The Renaissance was ending along with di Lasso, and the world was transforming into something new, including opera and Shakespeare.

Peter Sellars, the director, told us that Lagrime di San Pietro was essentially “umperformable”, as in it being extremely difficult music. The members of the Chorale have memorized all of the seven parts for all of the 75 minutes of singing … pretty much impossible. The piece was also umperformable from the perspective of the Catholic Church – blasphemous, and likely to result in di Lasso’s imprisonment if he hadn’t died first.

Listen to Tansillo’s poetry and see if you can remember a time of deep remorse in your life:

The anguish and the shame but greater grew
In Peter’s heart as morning slowly came
No one was there to see him, well he knew
Yet he himself was to himself a shame
Exposed to all men’s gaze, or screened from view
A noble heart will feel the pang the same
A prey to shame the sinning soul will be
Though none but heaven and earth its shame can see

The twenty-one faces were so often contorted. The arms reached high … and low. Astounding harmonies came from all quarters of the stage. We the audience, I do believe, were stunned.

Imagine the performers all lying on their backs, still singing. Then they raise their arms to the heavens, hands hanging in the air. Imagine couples embracing, caressing, singing to each other with mouths only inches away, finishing with a tender kiss. Imagine two rows of human beings facing each other, moving so slowly closer, reaching out and finally touching. There is much to imagine.

At the beginning of the evening, the master of ceremonies told us that there were just a few tickets left for tomorrow afternoon’s performance. After a standing ovation which must have lasted five minutes, I sat down in my seat, whipped out this phone, and got myself a repeat place amid all this beauty. And in the front row again!

How did I ever write all these words about tonight? Immensity like this brings me to silence of the mouth and, I thought, the fingers. These digits apparently have a mind of their own.

What are you doing at 2:00 pm Eastern tomorrow afternoon? I’m in seat AA16. As of a few seconds ago, AA17 is empty. Go for it.

Wandering Down the Valley

It’s been awhile since I’ve walked the Humber River Valley in Toronto from Lawrence Avenue to Bloor Street. Today was the day.

I bundled up (Is that a Canadianism?) and headed down the path. My feet remembered the steps from months and years ago.

As I passed through the underpass below Lawrence, towers appeared on the left. Actually they were twin basketball hoops, ones that I knew. Last August, my Belgian friends Olivia and Baziel came across the water for a visit. They’re basketball fanatics and we spent many an evening hour on this court, with the kids being welcomed by TO ballers. This afternoon all was empty and cool on the cement. Young ghosts still dribbled and deked and launched three-point shots. I smiled.

There was ice on the edge of the river and ducks riding the current. There were trails across grass that had lost its green. Stuck amid the leaves, bushes and trees was garbage. Plastic and styrofoam and glass and metal dotted the land. Some would call this disgusting but my time in Senegal lent perspective. There you throw stuff away when you’re done with it. Ecology hasn’t caught up with the warmth of the people.

At Eglinton Avenue and Scarlett Road, I came upon a familiar sight: Bevo Espresso and Gelato. It was time for warmth and a cappuccino. I sat with the frothy one and thought about … tennis. I’m enthralled with the current tournament – the Australian Open. On my trusty phone, I discovered a story about Rafa Nadal, the immense Spanish champion.

Rafa had launched a wild shot that smacked into a ball girl’s head. He rushed over, clearly distraught. He lifted her cap to see if there was a welt, and then planted a kiss on her cheek. She smiled … so widely. It was an immensely tender moment and I got to be with them both in a coffee shop.

Onward down the valley. Around more turns of the Humber, tennis came to me again. The Edenbridge Tennis Club was alone in the grass, devoid of nets and people. But the thrill of the match remained, even a white umpire’s chair where someone makes the tough calls. I could feel the summer energy washing over the three courts.

An hour later, here I am in the Home Smith Bar of The Old Mill, a sweet hotel of wood and stone. A glass of Riesling sits before me and the thumbs are happily tapping away. Voices are all around, many no doubt eager to hear the jazz musician who right now is bringing his instruments into the lounge.

I won’t be staying. I’m drawn to the Toronto Raptors on the big screen at Boston Pizza, many miles away. The jazz player and I laugh together. “I’m happiest when I’m making music.” Yes. May we all be the happiest.

On I go.

Loved

I pulled into the school’s parking lot this afternoon just before the bell rang to end lunch recess.  There’s a metal gate that separates cars from children.  Gathering my stuff, I slid out of Ruby and started for the office.

And then I looked to my right.  Six or seven Grade 5 and 6 kids were leaning over the gate towards me.  One girl yelled out something like “I know who you are!”  She meant that I was Bruce Kerr but in a deeper way these young ones do “get” me.  They know I love them. They know I challenge them to be full human beings.  They know I make them laugh.

I walked up to the throng and tried to absorb all the words that were flying my way.  Apparently a professional wrestler had been speaking at this morning’s assembly and the general consensus was that he was totally cool.  As the collective babbling reached a crescendo, I understood: They wanted to hang out with me.  They wanted me to know what they were thinking and feeling.  The lean was real.

After signing in at the office, I headed to the classroom.  Silent reading held sway for the first fifteen minutes.  I sat in a chair at the edge of the carpet and pulled up The Last Leopard on my phone, the closest kids only a few inches away.  Jeremy remarked that I had quite a crew around me.  He was right.  Children often come close.

Towards the end of the day, I put on my coat and told the students that I was heading to Toronto for a few days, especially to hear a marvelous choir from Los Angeles on Saturday evening.  One boy asked me whom I was going with.  “Me.”  A girl said “Take me.”  And then a young guy said the same.  Somehow I don’t think parents would be too interested in that prospect.

***

So what do I make of all this?  Humbly, I know that I impact many children.  I wish I had grandkids of my own.  But I don’t.  What’s left for me are the hours at school, in which there are minutes of connection between 11-year-olds and a 71-year-old.

What a blessing to reach young souls
What a blessing to contribute to the lives of others
What a blessing to walk the paths of the planet … with you

The Mall

I had to buy five greeting cards today.  I knew that Carlton Cards was in White Oaks Mall  so I headed there.  As I pulled into the parking lot, I realized I hadn’t been in a mall for months.  Jody and I used to go often but that time is no more.

I entered by way of the east entrance, as I had done a hundred times before.  Inside though, I began to feel strange. The t-shirt-making shop that I had used to create unique messages on my chest was empty. The folding transparent door stood like a guardian before the empty space within.  I remembered standing at that counter, now lost in a sea of bare floor.

I knew that the card shop was at the far end of the mall. “I’ll just walk through the food court like I always do.”  As I moseyed between the tables packed with eaters, I glanced at all the mini-stores on the edges. There was Taco Bell, Manchu Wok and New York Fries. Cloudy sky bathed us through the skylight.  Strangely, it felt surreal, almost a “Where am I?” feeling.  This conglomeration of commercialism would be so foreign in Senegal, even though perfectly normal here.

But it’s more than that.  My life just doesn’t include malls anymore. Yes, I went to Best Buy last week and bought a TV but all these stores crammed together in White Oaks seemed like a foreign country.  I’m certainly not a “better” person, but I am different from the fellow who five years ago strolled through malls as a form of entertainment.

I passed by well known brands:

The Body Shop with its infinity of fragrances
Cinnabon, home to the aroma of cinnamon buns hanging in the air
Walmart … where you can get almost everything you want
Tip Top Tailors and its racks of dark suits that I haven’t worn in twenty years
La Senza, with all the fancy bras and panties that a woman could ever desire
Yankee Candle. A whole store about candles?

This stuff isn’t a bad thing. I simply bought a TV rather than a suit. But it’s disorienting to me right now to walk amid the world of “more, better and different”.  It’s a bit of a mystery … what kind of person I’ve let go of, and who I’ve become.

Math Life

The classroom day usually starts with Math. This morning Jeremy put a question up on the SmartBoard. Two graphs displayed the same data about bread: the average price of a loaf each year for five years. On the top was a bar graph. Below was a line graph. After looking at the image for a few seconds, I realized there was something very important here. The bar graph suggested there had been a moderate price increase (the bars gradually rising to the right) while the line on the line graph zoomed upwards.

But it was the same data!

Look at the scales used on the left side of each graph. The top one starts at zero and climbs in increments of fifty cents. The bottom one starts at $1.40 and climbs in increments of ten cents. There’s a little squiggle at the bottom left to show that there’s a whole bunch of information left out: from zero all the way up to $1.40. If you don’t start at zero, the climbing line appears to rise more steeply that it actually does!

Woh … there’s a lesson about life in here, not just about Math. The kids need to get this. They need to become adults who are intelligent analysts of information. What we were all looking at on the screen was how to manipulate data – how to manipulate people. If these two graphs were about crime rates rather than bread, an opposition politician could point to the bottom one and say “See? Crime is totally out of control under this government’s watch!”

As the lesson moved on to the next question, I looked over the sea of young faces. Had they heard me? Had they seen that you can’t always believe everything you read or hear or view? I pray that the answers are “Yes”.

No future bamboozling
No unexamined equating of power with integrity
No acceptance of meanness and “othering”

And if so …

No worries about passing the torch to the next generation

Misidentifying

Have you ever hurt someone with absolutely no intention of doing so? I sure have. I simply lacked knowledge, and sometimes asked the person a question which revealed that fact – a question that I intended to be a contribution.

Over and over, in many situations that I’ve misinterpreted, I tried to understand that my intention was good. I would never knowingly try to damage another being. Sometimes it’s been a hard sell to convince myself.

Many decades ago, I was talking to a teenaged Asian student. We were making meaning together until I asked him a question about a country – perhaps Korea or Japan. He stared at me, with what felt like a mixture of anger and sadness. “I am aboriginal … a Blood from Stand Off.” His words hung in the air as I slowly died inside.

Three years ago, at the beginning of my first year of volunteering in a Grade 6 class, I was walking around from desk to desk, seeing if I could be of help. A girl with glasses and shoulder-length brown hair was struggling with a Math problem. I did an internal search for her name and happily remembered it: “Jessie, let’s figure out what the question is really asking.” (Pause from the other human)  “My name is Ben.” Oh, the assumptions that Bruces can make in the world!

This year’s group is a split Grade 5/6. Today Jeremy, the teacher, asked me to hand out assignment sheets to the kids – certain pages for each grade. I looked over the span of children before me and realized that the 5’s and 6’s were mixed in together. For several of the kids, I didn’t know what grade they were in. (Sigh) Twice I approached boys who I thought were in Grade 5, but I was wrong. I tried not to look very deeply into their eyes.

So … life is full of mistakes and I’ve participated fully
It’s humbling to be wrong
It’s reassuring to know that I intend to do no harm
And still it hurts

A Natural Woman

Weeks ago, in Senegal, I think I wrote about Aretha Franklin. And now I feel like doing it again. My little voice says “Don’t repeat yourself” but it’s being drowned out by the call of the Motown Queen, and someone else. Good. Little voices should be ignored.

My friend Jo and I had lots of conversations in Africa. One was about the magnificence of Aretha. He pulled up a YouTube video that brought tears to both of our eyes. It was 2015 and Carole King was being feted at the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. Carole was in the front row of the balcony, sitting beside Michelle and Barack Obama. It seemed to be a surprise for everyone when the MC announced “Aretha Franklin!” and the curtains parted. The lady of the moment moved right over to the piano and started in on You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman.

As brilliant as the songstress was, the true joy for me was watching Carole in the balcony. She co-wrote the song. As the first chords came through, Carole’s face exploded in joy. Later she clasped her hands to her head in astonishment. As Aretha hit the wailing high notes, Carole stretched out her hands to her as the Obamas fought back tears.

I watched the video four times today. Carole was so pure in her joy and love, so wide-eyed in embracing this astonishing moment in the world’s musical life. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It is so dearly what the world needs.

I’m so glad I was there … and can go back whenever I want for a renewal of life.

Different … New

We human beings are quite different from each other. We each have a tone – an aura – that is unique in the world. Fingerprints, voice, the look in the eyes. Unrepeatable within the family of homo sapiens. But do I really get this when I see you on the street?

“Here’s Mary. She’s one of a kind on this planet.”

Usually not. It’s more like “Here’s a 40-year-old woman who probably buys clothes at White Oaks Mall, likes coffee and has an outgoing personality. She’s somewhat like other women I know.”

Not only is Mary immensely particular, she doesn’t remain the same version of Mary moment to moment. And it’s not just that she’s happy one day and sad the next. The truth is that the woman standing before me is a fresh being on planet Earth, someone who continually emerges newly. I really can’t say “I know Mary” because she rolls within the mystery of “newing” herself.

Mary!

What if I put an exclamation mark behind your name when we see each other? Actually, why don’t you try it now? Look in the mirror and say your name with a gasp of astonishment. Feels pretty good when I say “Bruce!”

Here are some faces. Perhaps they’ll inspire an exclamation mark or two. We all deserve a reaction of wide eyes and a little “O!” of the mouth.