Day Seven: Cold … Hot … Cold

Late afternoon, I was walking towards Times Square when the world turned. A blast of cold air fell upon us (probably down from some strange place like Canada!). I was ready – toque, hood over toque, Arctic mitts, three coats including a down jobbie. A few folks semi-ran by me with nothing on their noggins, and their necks open to the blast. How can you do that and stay alive? Most people, though, were reasonably bundled up like me.

I’ve made it a spiritual practice to cross at an intersection only when I have the walk light. It gets my ego out of the way … no pushing forward, just letting go. New Yorkers feel otherwise. Red or green – if there’s no cars coming, it’s a go. Waiting as the stream of humanity flows by is good for me, but I can feel my heartrate surging, especially as the cold invades my eyes.

The snow started. In my mind, that’s supposed to mean it’s warming up, but not so yesterday. A whole bunch of white folks (irrespective of their skin colour) turned it up a notch. I had a bit of face skin open to the elements but that was it. There began a desperation and I started searching for an inviting door. What seemed like “finally” showed up, and just like that I was perched at the bar of an Irish pub. Thank God.

Then there was Bryan Cranston. He’s the star of Network, a Broadway play at the Belasco Theatre, and I got to go. Bryan played Howard Beale, a TV news anchor who’s losing it. The world has gone to **** and he’s “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”. The guy’s unravelling into madness and we’re right there with him, yelling from the audience. Corruption, sleasiness, violence … it’s all smashing Howard in the face. A Type-A network executive sees only ratings before her eyes and wants the man to implode on the 6 o’clock news. He’s happy to oblige.

The intensity was astonishing. I really wasn’t pissed off at the powers-that-be in the world but nevertheless I was swept up in the dizziness of it all.

At the end, there were video snips of a series of US presidents taking the oath of office – all the way back to Gerald Ford, I think. The same words but such different souls. When George W. Bush was onscreen, we were silent. I knew who was coming next, and when Barack’s gentle face appeared, we the people cheered. I trust him so.

We filed out into the night, scarves and gloves firmly in place, knowing that we had been in the presence of greatness. The frigid evening came calling and I rushed to the subway. At the other end, I prayed for a quick M14A bus. Alas, no. Three M14D ones came by as my body stiffened. “Not fair”, I wailed. But still a little smile emerged. “Don’t worry, Bruce. You’ll survive nicely.” And I did. A half hour later, the covers caressed me as I pulled them up to my chin.

Day Four: Love Blossoms

It’s not just in the orientation: love can unfold when the soil is rich. Derek and I started our day at Café 64. A woman smiled at us in welcome as we walked in the door and she never stopped. It didn’t matter who Dawn was talking to – the love came rushing out of her eyes. A couple walked in with their very young kids and Dawn was down on one knee in a flash, cooing at the infant. I shook my head in wonder as she greeted new folks. Finally I asked her: “Do you smile in your sleep?” She smiled.

Now in the hotel, our Evolutionary Collective orientation was well underway. During one practice, I was opening to the love offered by my two partners. A fellow looked at me and said “I want you to be so very happy.” No one had ever said such a thing to me. His words and eyes went deep into my heart. I was transfixed. Such a pure wish for my well-being.

Later in the day, it was again my turn to be the focus of attention. Three partners gazed into my eyes and then shared what they saw inside me. I heard words such as “spark”, “surprised at being loved”, “explosions”, “you are love”, and “both childlike and wise”. I was nourished. I was seen. Near the end of my time, the others were asked to call forth even more of me, for me to be an even deeper Bruce. Woh. And when it was someone else’s time to be at the centre, I delighted in looking way deep into their eyes and calling forth their best.

Six of us went to supper, and unlike many of my group experiences, the conversation was not watered down. We wanted to serve each other. So often comments were responded to by one of us, rather than the new speaker immediately starting up a new topic.

At one point, after I had been joking with Derek, he got really angry with me, saying that I wasn’t respecting his boundaries. I went to his eyes and stayed there. Even though I was churning inside with the criticism, I loved him from eye to eye. We maintained the gaze for a long time, and held hands for a bit. In the words of one of our witnessing companions, we “returned to love”. I was moved by our courage to “stay on the inside”, to not let the issue overwhelm the relationship. And our friends held us in love.

A white rose shone amongst us all.

Throwing

I was watching the Rogers Cup tennis tournament yesterday afternoon on TV. Rafael Nadal, the number one male player in the world, was striding onto the court. So was his opponent, but I didn’t notice him much.

As the game got going, it soon became clear that Benoit Paire had a wicked backhand. He also was no Nadal and I expected a quick match. After Benoit missed a fairly easy shot at the net, he leaned over and smashed his racket on the court. Then he stood up and threw it straight down, and it bounced crazily. His face was a seething mask of disgust, and I just stared. I know he’s playing for a lot of dollars but tennis is just a game, isn’t it?

Four more times during the match, Benoit launched his racket and I soon tired of his fury.

I thought back to other TV adventures, such as professional golf tournaments. A player hits the ball out of bounds and proceeds to imbed his club in the fairway carpet. Or perhaps flings his 4-iron into the woods. Clearly the world is coming to an end.

And unless you think I’ve risen above such displays of pique, I remember standing on an elevated tee with a shallow pond down below. My drive dribbled along the grass and plopped mockingly into the drink. Being the mature human being that I was, I picked up my golf bag (accompanied by a set of clubs) and flung the whole mess into the water. I stared at the offending equipment as it slowly submerged, and yelled some profanity. Seconds later, I woke up, stumbled off the tee and waded into the murkiness, eventually ho-heave-hoing the sodden package to the shore. Can you say “out of my mind”?

What the heck happens to us human beings when things go wrong? Whatever happened to equanimity? All I know is that whenever I’m starting to become full of myself, all I have to do is remember my glazed eyes as the clubs sank beneath the surface. That brings me back to earth.

Thank God.

Heaven and Hell

The great seventeenth century Japanese Rinzai Zen master Hakuin was once approached by a samurai warrior who asked Hakuin to explain heaven and hell to him. 

Hakuin looked up at the samurai and asked disdainfully, “How could a stupid, oafish ignoramus like you possibly understand such things?”  The samurai started to draw his sword and Hakuin chided, “So, you have a sword.  It’s probably as dull as your head!” 

In a rage, the proud warrior pulled out his sword, intending to cut off Hakuin’s head.  Hakuin stated calmly, “This is the gateway to hell.”

The startled samurai stopped, and with appreciation for Hakuin’s cool demeanour, sheathed his sword.  “This is the gateway to heaven,” said Hakuin softly.

Softly it is, I believe.  It’s a way of living with space around every word, thought and deed.  Room to breathe.  Often when I’m meditating, the breaths become so quiet that I don’t hear the air moving in and out.

Sometimes it’s the eyes of one meeting those of the other.  It could be for just a second, or far longer.  The moments of true contact are blessed … and they linger in the air for both of us to feel.

Softness and silence go well together.  The horizontal life of progressing towards a goal falls away before the vertical life of now.  In that precious instant, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Later there’ll be time for making progress.

The brandished sword hurts the swordsman, cuts him to the quick.  All is tight, from the creased forehead to the clenched fingers to the contracted heart.  My anger hurries me away to what’s next.  It closes my eyes from true seeing.  It leaves me alone.

I wander in the world, touching antagonism and love, deficit and abundance, a wrenching belly and hands wide open.  My soul knows what needs to be done, but the rest of me may have lost the way.  And it’s all okay.  There’s no need to be better.  There’s no need for any particular thing to occur.  May I merely embrace all that the moments send my way.