Looking At It All

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate and prejudice so stubbornly
is they sense that once hate is gone they will be forced to deal with their own pain

James Baldwin

These days I don’t sense any prejudice in me.  Thirty years ago, however, I lived in Lethbridge, Alberta, near Canada’s largest Indian reserve.  (That’s what we called them back then.  Today they are appropriately referred to as First Nation reserves.)  Galt Gardens, our downtown park, was often well populated with “drunken Indians”, and my dislike of them hung on me like a stink.  I considered myself a humane fellow … but I made exceptions.

What I didn’t get at the time was that I too was addicted.  Not to alcohol or drugs, but to nose drops.  A squeeze bottle of Otrivin was essential equipment in my daily life.  A spray would open up my nasal passages briefly but would soon close them again.  I had a problem, one that I was essentially numb to.  “Carry on happily, Bruce.”

For perhaps ten years in the early 2000’s, I was addicted to sleeping pills.  As a teacher, I’d had many sleepless Sunday nights.  My doctor suggested that I add a second brand of sleeping pill for awhile.  I agreed, and soldiered on, taking three pills every night.  I didn’t realize that my mental dullness was impacting life at work and at home with Jody.  I eventually woke up, so to speak, and began a long weaning off the meds – one half of a pill less every month.

Although my prejudice against aboriginal folks declined over the years (and I don’t see any now), I look back and wonder whether it would have been there so strongly if I had been willing to look myself in the mirror and tell the truth – about nose drops, about lying to people when I was too sacred to tell the truth, about standing a girl up on a date …  I could go on.

During the last year, one reality about being a Zoom host presented itself.  I wasn’t very good at it.  The difference was that finally I could look my deficit in the eye.  “This is true, and I can improve.”  Which I’ve done.

There will be more moments of falling short, of not getting the job done.  I promise to go to the mirror … and to nod.  “This is what’s true right now.  It won’t be forever, but it is now.”


I was lying in bed just now and the voice inside said “Just be natural.” Hmm. That’s odd, I suppose, but maybe not. And definitely a good idea. I don’t usually lie down in the afternoon but I’m feeling dull, floaty. And I don’t have to search far to see why.

Part of the introductory work with my new trainer was having him take my blood pressure. 154 over 101. Ouch. What exactly has happened there? During my recent adventures with bronchitis, my exercise time plummeted. That’s probably a factor. Derek has been having me look at a whole bunch of lifestyle choices and one prominent word in my recent past has been “caffeine”. Oops. I’ve been glossing over that one.

I figure that for the last year at least, I’ve been consuming about fifteen cups of caffeinated coffee a week. What I’ve noticed is the yummy flavour, not the impact of such a decision, such as elevated blood pressure. I have a BP monitor at home and since the 154/101 moment, I’ve been doing the deed. Yesterday the score was 135 over 92 – a lot better but still not the epitome of health. “So, Bruce, let’s drop caffeine, or at least reduce it drastically.” Okay.

In the last three days, I’ve had one caffeinated cup and I’m in the middle of withdrawal. Feeling slow and not so easy, vacant in the head. It’s such a teacher. Die early because of explosive blood pressure > No thanks. Get off the stuff and go through what the body says it needs to accomplish that, even if it amounts to several days of discomfort > Yes, I’ll take Door Number Two, please.

Sitting here in the middle of this shows me vividly what I don’t want my life to be about. How can I possibly be of assistance to other people if my brain is floating along in super slo-mo? Well, I can’t. And beyond anything, contributing to others is my heart’s desire. “So, dear Bruce, suck it up.”

I wonder what other purifications are needed for me to be of the deepest service. No more alcohol? Not participating in any more toxic conversations? Diminishing the small talk?

I’m on a path here. I can feel it. And the destination? Address unknown … and yet decidedly lovely.


Last year I got off sleeping pills.  It was a long and arduous weaning after maybe ten years of needing them to cope with the stresses of teaching.  After all was done, I remember thinking that I was never going to get addicted again.

Since getting back from last fall’s meditation retreat, I’ve drunk three cups of coffee a day.  How I missed that wondrous flavour!  I was settling into a rhythm … the joy of coffee with my bacon and eggs.  And then there was Sunday.  I was at a restaurant and ordered decaf.  All was fine until early afternoon, when my brain started going fuzzy.  And I was weak.  Plus a headache starting.  Oh my.  I don’t want this.

I figured it was my lack of caffeine.  And it hit me: “I’m addicted again!”  A deep “No!” swept through me.  “I won’t have my well-being be dependent on consuming a particular substance.”  So there.

I remembered the pain of sleeping pill withdrawal and dreaded the road ahead.  But I knew that I’d walk the path of “no more” again.  So I began.  Monday was essentially yucky and I asked myself how many days this would take.  “It doesn’t matter.  Do it.”

So I’m doing it.  This is day five of decaffeinated life.  And lo and behold … my energy is coming back.  The eyes aren’t closing mid-morning.  The wool is mostly gone from my mind.  Gosh, there’s a faint light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve been strong, and it’s happening.  Once again I’m proud of myself.

Yesterday’s breakfast accompanied by herbal tea seemed like a foreign land.  “Where’s the coffee that I know and love?”  But strangely, this morning it was “Here’s the peppermint tea that I’m getting to know and love.”  How can this switch be happening so soon?  Where is the prolonged angst and weeping?  Not to be found.

And now I ask:
“What other areas of my life are waiting to be transformed?”
Perhaps the bacon and eggs


I taught visually impaired kids for many years and most Sunday nights I had trouble sleeping.  Sometimes I didn’t sleep at all.  I was scared … of parents, of not knowing enough, of making big mistakes.

Years ago, my doctor prescribed Lorazepam to help me sleep.  And when things got really bad, she added Trazodone.  During the worst times, I was eating three pills a night.  Thought I was a mature person but I crumbled under the stress.

After I retired and was caring for my wife Jody as she fell towards death, both her meds and mine mushroomed.  Through it all, I felt worlds away from being free.  After Jody died, I tried to get off Lorazepam.  It took so long, full of three-hour nights and daily dullness.  But I did it!  One of the biggest achievements of my life, I’d say.

And now I’m left with the Trazodone.  My meditation retreat is over.  No big events coming up.  It’s time.  Albert, my pharmacist, suggests that I take half a pill one night and a whole one the next, and keep that up for two weeks.  Then Stage Two.  Okay, Albert, I’ll do it, starting tonight.

I think about bedtime, after another rousing Toronto Maple Leafs game, and the fear returns.  The Buddha would say welcome it but I’m not there right now.  That’s all right.  Will I sleep two hours or six?  You know my vote.

The gossamer wings of meditation and the clay feet of addiction.  Sounds like a human being to me.


I’ve been telling myself for the last two days that I won’t write another post until I’m feeling better … but here I am anyway.  I’m weaning myself off the sleeping pill Lorazepam and it’s a tough go.  But having been on the medication for years, why would I expect any different?

I’m faded … dull … not Bruce.  And yet of course this experience is an aspect of me.  My meditation practice has taught me to sit gently with whatever life offers, even when my brain is refusing to work.  Wait a minute – how exactly have I been able to write these two paragraphs?  Perhaps it doesn’t seem like much to you, but to me it’s verging on a miracle.

My recent strength training has focused on being “fierce” and I’m doing my best to bring that quality to my withdrawal from the drug.  Yesterday, the woman who greeted me at a local natural health store told me it might take months for the effects of leaving Lorazepam to subside.  Months!  Fierceness blew up in my face as depression took over.

Today I’m not depressed, just mightily sleep-deprived.  I’m having trouble keeping a conversation going with anyone.  The thoughts seem stuck along with the words that exit my mouth.  And I’m crying a lot.  Without a logical reason, it seems.  And yet what’s logical about sadness?  I’ve cried for a beautiful tree, for Jody, for a new pro basketball player in London who sounds like a nice guy, for a golfer who hit a beautiful shot on TV, for the waitress who called all of her patrons “my dear” this morning.

My body’s not working right in a number of ways.  I’ll spare you the details.  A physio appointment this afternoon, a doctor one on Friday.  Heck, why don’t I toss a psychiatrist into the mix, just for fun?  No, don’t worry, I’ll not be needing a shrink.  I’m rolling through a time of “less than”, and in the big picture it doesn’t matter that I don’t like it.  What does matter is that freedom from sleeping aids is in my future.  Jody, in our daily talks (It’s okay if that’s outside of your reality), says “I’m proud of you, husband.  You can do this.”  And I will.

I guess there are many people who live perpetually in the fog I feel.  How sad.  We’re meant to be vibrant beings who touch each other in many ways.  I fully intend to be back there soon.  For the time being, however, I’m being as gentle with myself as I can muster.  That makes me dully happy.

Gently, Gently Some More

The walking room that I had discovered was really very beautiful.  At one end was a 4-foot-high statue of the Buddha, perched on a dark wooden shelf, so that his eyes were at the level of mine.  The first time I was in the room, three yogis were walking across its width.  Walking meditation is most typically done in a back-and-forth pattern.  I don’t like that.  (Here comes aversion)  I like the loop trip.

I yearned for walking the room lengthwise.  If I did that on a central path, I would come face-to-face with the Buddha.  The next time I entered I was alone, and so I got what I wanted.  At the opposite end from the Buddha statue, there was a little alcove between two closets.  I tucked myself in there and faced my friend from afar.  Then I slowly walked towards him, watching as he got closer.  When our faces were about two feet apart, I would sometimes bow, and sometimes not.  (Bowing is a whole other topic that I’ll save for a future e-mail.)  Then I would turn around and put foot after foot until I was in the alcove – the back wall a foot from my nose and little side walls to my left and right.

At that point, I created a meditation.  Walking towards the Buddha, I was living the teachings more and more.  (Pausing when I stood close to him)  Turning around was turning away from the teachings, and walking back was getting ever farther from them, until I was cramped physically and spiritually inside the alcove.  (Pausing)  And then to feel my turning away from the restricted life, facing the Buddha once again.  Sometimes I would say “Remembering” to myself as I walked forward, and “Forgetting” as I returned.  Again and again I trod the path.  And more and more, the small smile emerged as I turned my back on the Buddha and moved away.  I was gently holding the leaving of what I sensed was true.  There was happiness within the sadness, allowing the rhythms of life to be there.

After a few days of these sessions, I saw something: I was now addicted to a new walking meditation route.  I needed to have eye contact with the Buddha, and needed my coming-and going relationship with him.  (Sigh)

So what to do?  My experience of the moments in the room was often blissful.  I wanted to hold onto that bliss, and even push to make it more blissy.  So I got to look at that.  Needing pleasant experience after pleasant experience.  Except that this isn’t what life is like, is it?  Life keeps showing me liberal portions of both pleasure and pain.  The trick seems to be how to hold the pain.

Seeing my rampant attachment, I fantasized about having an Insight Meditation Society staff member open the door and put up a sign:  “All yogis will please walk width-wise in this room, so that more retreatants may use the space.”  That would fix me and my craving.  No more approaching and leaving the Buddha.

What do you think?  Would my life be enhanced if my deepest attachments were continually uprooted?  I don’t know.  Think I’ll sit in the question.