Riardo Just Out Of Reach

The family has headed into Riardo to poke around. I’m in my room. Another life opportunity.

One reality is that my body isn’t working right. Coughing, tired, some dizzy, vague nausea. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s there. When I go into figuring out mode, I see the 35 degree Celsius heat, the amazing quantity of food I’ve been eating, the “new to me” foods I’ve been eating, and … beer. I especially suspect that last one, even though I enjoy a brew at home.

So, what is bigger and what is smaller? This morning after breakfast, as the crew were planning for the day, I realized I could do something unusual for me. I could rest. I could say no to the streets of Riardo, the ancient buildings with bricks of volcanic ash, the open-air ristorantes. I love venturing forth into new life, meeting new people, gazing in wonder at the previously unknown. But that love need not define me, need not put me into a box of identity. This morning I simply chose differently. Sleep came upon me … and then I awoke.

I gazed up to a sublime curving of light coming through the wooden shutters. I lay in a cathedral, a flow of beauty far larger than physical ills. So I sit, feeling the woes of the body, seeing art on the ceiling, waiting for the family to return.

It is enough.

Dozey

I find it valuable to write about emotional, physical or spiritual experiences when I’m right inside them, rather than “Here’s how I felt yesterday, but I no longer feel that way.”

So here I am … heavy in the eyes, spaced out, vacant.  It’s right here, right now.  And the voice starts in: “Write something tomorrow, Bruce, when you’re feeling better.  You’re too woozy right now to make much sense.  When you’re at the top of your game, that’s the time to do a WordPress post.  You say you want your thoughts to contribute to people.  There’s just not much coming out of your brain right now.”

Well, that’s one perspective – quite a reasonable one, I’d say.  Perhaps, though, the world doesn’t need so much reason.  Could it be that listening to someone who’s in the middle of an experience can be valuable to the reader, no matter what that experience is?  In my fairly stupefied state, I say yes.

“Your words will come out garbled.  You won’t find the right word for what you want to say.  You’ll make all sorts of spelling and grammar mistakes and won’t be alert enough to correct them.”  I see.  Quite a persistent voice.

What do I enjoy reading?  Stuff that’s real.  The writer is not trying to impress with their intelligence, wit or creativity.  He or she is just telling you the way it is for them.  And the readers probably can put themselves in the writer’s shoes.  “I’ve been there.”

The “there” right now is so very dull.  The clarity and joy that have often shown up recently seem to be hiding behind a curtain, and my reaching hand can’t find the hem to pull the heaviness aside.  Strangely, it’s not an emotional blahness.  I can see the animated Bruce as a silhouette just out of reach.  I know my gifts haven’t gone anywhere.  They haven’t deserted me.  They’ll come back through the fog to say hello.  How strange … right now there’s a little smile on my drooping face, even as my eyes call me to sleep.

What can we human beings create when the body is not co-operating with transcendence, power and union with others?  Can I just “snap out of it” and be all set for a brisk walk in the world?  It doesn’t feel that way.  My body will continue to do what it chooses but my heart has a say in this as well.  I get to decide the extent to which I reach out to my fellow travellers.  In every moment, brimming with energy or slumping my way along, it’s up to me.

Hmm.  I chose.  I wrote this post.  Thanks for listening.

 

Sub-Optimal or Just Fine?

Since I quit the Tour du Canada bicycle trip last June, I’ve mostly chosen to put fitness and nutrition on their neighbourly back burners. “Just not important,” I said so very inaccurately. I decided what was important was beer and nachos and such like. Add to that the joy of being online with friends and meditating and watching sports on TV, and I became a synonym for “sedentary”. I was doing lots of cool things, such as going to Belgium and Senegal, and being active in the Evolutionary Collective, but I clearly had a blind spot.

Yesterday, my trainer “Derek” and I really got going on the strength training. First the locker room and the view of t-shirted me in the mirror. Wow … look at that spare tire. I sure didn’t like that profile and I felt myself falling into “bad”, but strangely it was just a momentary dip. My gaze rose from my stomach to my eyes and I liked what I saw there.

Derek started me off with the bench press, using 12.5 lb. dumbbells. I quivered on the upthrust and the weight in my left hand went wonky. Again the contraction in my mind, and again it released within seconds. Hmm.

Next was squats, using a sufficiently high “sit down” platform to vanquish the “I can’t squat” mumbo jumbo. Fifteen reps three times with rests between. Some pain coming up, especially as 12 moved towards 15. My looking in the mirror revealed a struggling old guy, as apparently unstruggling younger guys lifted weights nearby. Contract … expand (both the body and mind).

There was a gentle battle afoot, and I realize that those two words don’t usually go together. I watched my mind and smiled. There was the pointy part: right now you’re not good enough. Then there was the “flowing to the horizon” part: I’m on a journey here. There’s a future of wellness waiting for me. If I do the regular work, I’ll be there in the fullness of time.

What’s so doable is to be sufficient in this moment. I can argue with the way it is right now, but why bother? It’s far more fun to gaze upon my daily blessings, and there are so many.

Exhausted at the Concert

I was going to a house concert last night in London, to hear an extraordinary fiddler and guitarist. During the day, I was feeling good. Before the concert, I headed to the gym for an hour on the elliptical. Since I hadn’t worked out the previous two days, I wasn’t expecting any problem. I was wrong.

Ten minutes in, something was off. My usual speed was pie in the sky. My head was dull. “Maybe I should quit after thirty.” > “No way!” And so I grunted along.

With the luxury of a day later, I see a factor here: no recent caffeine. But yesterday afternoon, I squirmed within a sea of confusion.

Time to hear Mr. Fiddler. I walked in, made a joke with the host, and then sat on a couch with three other fans, right in front of the fellow performing. I felt myself fading.

In my life, I’ve spent a lot of time reinforcing a very solid identity. “Bruce is this. Bruce isn’t that.” Since entering the world of the Evolutionary Collective, my tightly woven sweater has started loosening, even unravelling. I have many moments of disorientation, where I’m so unclear about what reality I’m swimming in. This may sound like a really bad thing but I sense that it’s not.

I sat there not being particularly friendly to my neighbours. I sat there not enjoying the virtuoso violin solos. I sat there unable to follow the artist’s words as he talked about the tunes he’d created. I was in a fog.

Slowly and unsurely, I fell into a state of being okay with my so-called deficiencies of the moment. This too was a part of Bruce. I didn’t need to be alert, communicative and engaged all the time. It was okay to be pooped, fuzzy and simply blah.

It’s such a waste of energy to get down on myself when I’m not flying high. So I will stop doing that. I will embrace the roller coaster, both the dips and the heights. There’s far bigger fish to fry in this life than analyzing and critiquing my various foibles.

I’m here to serve and it’s time to accept that some days I don’t have much to give. So be it. Then there are those other days!

Sweet and sour … together they make a delicious flavour.

A Natural Exit

When I drive into London from Belmont, I usually take the 401, our Southern Ontario freeway, which has a speed limit of 100 kph (about 60 mph).  After ten kilometres or so, I’m ready to take the Wellington Road exit.  The ramp goes straight for maybe a kilometre, and then around a slight bend is a 50 kph (30 mph) sign.

As I veer off onto the ramp, I lighten the pressure on my gas pedal and gradually decrease to the 50.  I sense I’m in a natural rhythm of blending with my environment.  It feels good, like I’m flowing from one chapter of my life to the next.

Other drivers disagree.  Usually I’m tailgated on the ramp and the crowd of cars behind sometimes reaches double digits.  Once a fellow swerved onto the paved shoulder to get by me.  At the 50 kph sign, a second lane appears, with traffic lights shortly thereafter.  If the light is red, a vehicle or two has time to blast by me on the left and then slam on their brakes.  If it’s green, a convoy flows past, with most of them then flashing into my lane, since lots of us are turning right at the next light.

I let myself feel the pressure of the tailgating, and my fear.  It’s definitely a part of life.  But it’s very sweet to maintain my flow in the midst of impatient drivers.  I’m the source of my actions, not them.  Overall, the whole thing is a meditation and I’m pleased that I choose to experience it regularly.

***

I ask myself if I’ll have the same grace as I leave this planet.  Will I let myself feel the body diminishing and the mind clouding?  Will I let the words of William Shakespeare linger?

Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace!
And lips, O you the doors of breath
Seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death

Or will I vote with Dylan Thomas?

Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

The ramp awaits
Soon, or not soon, my turn signal goes on

Bad Stuff … Good Stuff

On Sunday, I received an e-mail with a negative tone.  On Monday, I received another one, from a different person.  Both sent me into a spin.  Both had great impact on me.  I asked myself what I was feeling in response, and the answers came quickly … fear, sadness and then grief.

There followed the classic question “Now what?”  How do I hold all this?  What would the Buddha do?

I sat with me and let myself feel those feelings.  To really let them in.  And they were most willing to come in.  Soon I was crying.  A day later, not so much, but the underlying current is still woe.

The Buddha was a pretty smart guy.  He talked about the Eight Vicissitudes: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute.  He essentially said that we can be the most happy and kind creatures on Earth, and still we’ll experience the negative halves of those pairs.  So the loss is vivid and the pain intense.  What’s to be done except let it be there?  “Go away” is useless.  Covering it over with alcohol, food or TV goes nowhere.  Wearing a fake smile is transparent to the rest of the world.

So, “Hello, loss.  Thanks for coming by.  Stay as long as you like.  I realize you’ll go when you’re ready to.  After all, you’re just a visitor here.  This is not your true home.”

After yesterday’s e-mail, I was walking along Bloor St. in Toronto, quite lost.  My head had dipped down.  Happily, I noticed this.  Again and again, as the crowds surged around me, I said “Lift your chin up.”  Each time it felt good to do that, to let go of “I’m bad” and realize that there’s a lot of living to be done.  A lot of people to contribute to.  And a depressed human being doesn’t do much of that.

Here I sit, tapping away.  My chin is up.  My fingers are down.  And I have no clue who will come my way tomorrow.  What I do know is that I’ll be ready for them.

 

 

Feeding Me

One of my favourite memories of Jody’s and my home in Union, Ontario is our bird feeders.  What joy to sit on the deck and watch the hummers hum and the finches frolic.  Since moving to Belmont, I’ve missed that.  But I brought two feeders with me – a big cylinder holding sunflower seeds and other yummies (sparrow, finches, red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves and associated friends) and a small cylinder holding nyjer seed (red finches and goldfinches).  Two weeks ago, I set up a black shepherd’s hook stand outside my living room window and hung the feeders.

Within a day or two, I had multiple winged visitors.  What ecstasy!  Especially the mourning doves.  They were too heavy for the big feeder but they loved rooting around in the grass for the spilled nutrition.  As many as five of them at a time.  Every day, I love sitting on my couch near the window and welcoming the little people.  It’s like an extended family.

But then there was yesterday, and today.  I was having guests for dinner last night so I took out the hose and washed off the patio, getting as much bird poop off the stones and furniture as I could.  Then I refilled the sunflower feeder.  During the evening, I would occasionally glance out the window at the feeders.  They were empty of birdies.

This morning the same.  I sat down to blog half an hour ago and nobody was home.  I was sad.  Missing friends.  Will they ever come back?  What did I do wrong?  And I got thinking about the rest of my life.

What is supremely important to me is loving.  Being loved is very wonderful but I have no control over what comes back to me from other human beings.  Thursday was the last day of school.  Five minutes before home time, all the Grade 6’s were standing on the playground with Mrs. Fournier and me.  I so much wanted to hug each of them but of course it’s not my place to initiate physical contact.  Kids need the room to make their own choices and at 3:25 pm, that choice could have been a little wave goodbye, or no goodbye at all.  I stood.

My eyes are wet as I remember the next.  At least twelve young human beings lined up to hug me.  Life doesn’t get any better than that.  Oh, how I wish they were my children!  And in a sense they are.

I’m still sitting by the window.  A few minutes ago, a lone goldfinch perched outside for a bit, and then left.  And one mourning dove is meandering through the grass shoots.  So someone has come back.  It’s not the flurry of wings that came my way days ago, and that’s fine.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Just a Glimmer

Well, I woke up this morning [Sunday] and that feeling of immense space was still with me.  How about that?  I felt some energy moving down my body, towards my stomach.  A very quiet energy.  The moments were there and there was nothing to add to them.

The morning cold was bearable but my body really turned it on in the p.m.  No nose breathing that I could discover.  And I was zooming along the 401 at 110 kph.  Those two facts would normally have completely dominated my consciousness.  But not today.  There was a subtle current of ok-ness below.  Scarlet was going so fast but I was very slow inside.

The space would often close in just as my nose did, sometimes as a car changed lanes right in front of me.  But the stillness kept edging back into my drive.  Sweet.

Now I’m watching the Nashville Predators battle the Pittsburg Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.  In the spirit of doing something about my problems, I’m shoving gobs of mentholatum up my nose.  But still precious little breathing.  And then there’s my stomach again – not a pain but a fine awareness down there.  It’s as if my body is helping me recenter myself, again and again.

And now the softness is gone and I’m my closed nose again.  Still I think of nasally normal moments in my future.  Will I be able to access yesterday’s peace at will when my body isn’t distracting me?  Maybe.  But it seems to me that I can create other distractions pretty easily.

And so what if I’ll often be able to reach an open state of being?  How can that better the world?  Assuming that I’ll be able to do this (without effort), perhaps other people will resonate with the same energy.  Maybe our minds will be so calm that our doing becomes a blessing.

Then again, all these musings could be so much horsepucky, the meanderings of a deluded one.

***

Shortly after the reference to horsepucky, I’d had enough vertical life and went to bed.  Where I slept for the next twelve hours, nose and all.  I’m up now and the spaciousness is gone.  Well, let’s see.  Maybe I’m wrong.  I’ll go searching.  But searching isn’t it.  That’s just more effort.  Peace is as clear as the nose on my face or it’s not there.  No.  Nothing.  But that’s okay.

Y’all come back sometime …

Learnings

Well, look at this.  My fingers are caressing the keys again.  It’s been over a month, most of which I’ve spent in silence.

A little smile just broke upon the shore of my mouth, and with it a realization: I don’t give a hoot about how good this piece of writing is.  Ha, ha ,ha!  This is delightful.  The words will come, and along with them sentences and paragraphs.  Some people will like it … some won’t.  All is well.

Ah, hah.  An intruding thought.  “But Bruce, if you’re not all tied up about the quality of your work, then that work should be better.  And that’s good.”  Well, dear person that I am, that may be true but the depth of it all is “Who cares?”

I discovered some things during my meditation retreat.  And I don’t mean a cognitive understanding, but rather a full body, down-deep-in-the-heart variety.  Something that rattles my bones and leaves me both spent like a dishrag and bountiful as a mountaintop.

1. “What you contemplate, you become.”  My first memory of contemplating love was one evening in 1974, sitting under a big tree in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park.  I had just seen a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in a stone church downtown.  Perhaps for two hours, I sat there and rocked back and forth in a … trance?  Something magical was percolating through me.

Since then, I have largely contemplated love and peace in my life and I believe that I’ve become that type of person.  It doesn’t mean that I’m never critical of others but I return to the Buddha’s urging to “Begin again.”  The peace returns.  The thoughts once again flow to the goodness in the world, and my part in that.

2.  “There are two types of suffering: the type that you can’t do anything about and the type that you can.”  Partway through the retreat, we had green beans at lunch.  They were long so I cut them in half.  They were also a little hard.  I have arthritis in my right thumb.  I prepared my hand for its bean-stabbing motion and sallied forth, except that I wasn’t strong enough to pierce the veggies.  I pressed harder and had some success, managing to get a few beans airborne, but it hurt.  I stared in wonder.  And then I started laughing.  Somewhere along the line, I’ve begun accepting the pains of life, and have decided not to add stuff.  Such as:

What’s wrong with you?

You’re getting old.  Maybe you’ll die soon

This isn’t fair!  You’re a good person … this shouldn’t be happening

3.  Mr. Buddha told us that life consists of four pairs: Gain and Loss, Pleasure and Pain, Praise and Blame, Fame and Disrepute.  During the retreat, I got to experience all eight.  I’ve started to see, way down deep, that I can be the nicest guy, with the best intentions in the world and a rigorous fitness program, and life’s plate will still offer me helpings of loss, pain, disrepute and blame.  So be it.

***

On we go in life.  It’s really a fine adventure

Root Canal

Moments keep showing up in my life, ones that I want to write about.  Such as the astonishing movie I saw Monday about a Tibetan family’s pilgrimage to the sacred Potala Palace.  Or yesterday afternoon, when I started my volunteer work in a local elementary school.

This morning I told myself to get writing.  Start with Tibet and then move on to Belmont.  But I decided to eat breakfast at the Diner and then mosey over to the elliptical at Wellington Fitness.  “That’s okay, I’ll get to those stories after this afternoon’s root canal.”

Sure.

Here I sit, ready for the Toronto Raptors basketball game, feeling like lukewarm poop.  I’d say my pain is at 4 on the scale of 1 to 10.  Not bad, but there.  Also I’m lightheaded, fuzzy, flat.  So how can I bring forth the joy of seeing the pilgrimage or laughing with those kids?  I want to talk about those things but if I tried right now it would be concepts, tepid words, nothing bringing forth the “Oh My God” freshness of those moments.

Instead, my head says two things:

1. Don’t even write.  You’re too weak.

2. Speak from your current experience.  It’s the best thing to speak of.

Okay, I choose number two.

***

You can’t even string words together, Bruce.  (Yes I can.  See above)

What if I felt this vagueness 24/7?  Would I still be able to being forth Spirit?

Take the Tylenol, Bruce.  (No, at least not with this level of pain.  How about if I let myself experience exactly what’s here?)

Do some people, not in pain, feel this way throughout their lives?  I suppose.  How can they possibly conjure up love, joy and peace?

It’s getting worse.  It’s now a 5.  (I don’t think so.  You’re making it up, just so you can get some drugs into your system)

Oh … here comes a headache.  (So?)

I figure, as I move towards my 70s, that physical pain will become a larger part of my life.  Maybe not.  But if it does, and my strength, endurance and flexibility decline, should my contributions to the world also diminish?  (No)

The game’s coming on.  Wrap it up.  (No.  I’ll keep looking to see if there’s more I want to say)

Maybe you should write about the Tibetan family and all those Grade 6s tonight.  Just keep going.  (No.  Heroism not required.  I’ll get to those topics when I have more energy)

You just counted the number of points you talked about below the asterisks.  It’s nine.  Why don’t you stop at ten?  (That’s silly.  It’s not a sporting contest.  Stats don’t matter.  Just look a bit more – a few more important things to say or not?)

Not.